Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Mark Rutherford exhibition

Continuing the Mark Rutherford theme, an exhibition at Honeywood Museum, Carshalton Surrey will be held from Wednesday 12 June to Sunday 28 July 2013. William Hale White made Carshalton his home, living at one time in the house which is now the museum. The exhibition shows how he kept his books secret from his family; and why he insisted on nine-inch thick brick walls to divide the rooms in his house. He lived a number of parallel lives but still, at 55, found time to learn to ride a boneshaker bicycle! The exhibition also gives insights into the Victorian Carshalton that he knew for almost 30 years. 
The Friends of Honeywood Museum are mounting two events during the exhibition: 
- on Friday 12 July at 7.30pm Mark Crees will give a selection of readings  - Mark Rutherford's People;
- and on Saturday 13 July at 2.30pm there will be a guided walk to places in Carshalton associated with William Hale White.  
(Tickets for both events are £3.50 (£3.00 Friends); bookings 020 8770 4297). 
Based on a contribution by Nick Wilde

Mark Rutherford (William Hale White) anniversary

Mark Rutherford, born William Hale White in Bedford in 1831, had his life celebrated on Saturday 22 June 2013 at a symposium commemorating the 100th anniversary of his death on 14 March 1913. The Symposium, organised by the Mark Rutherford Society and held at Dr Williams’s Library in London was opened by his great-grandson, John Hale-White (below) and chaired by Professor of English Literature at the University of Bedfordshire, Bob Owens.

William Hale White is generally regarded as the most important novelist of the nineteenth century to have emerged from a Nonconformist background and to have taken Nonconformist life and experience as his main subject.  He is undeservedly neglected and the Society’s aim is to redress this.  His portrait (above, left) is by Arthur Hughes, drawn in 1887.
He is best known for six novels written under the name Mark Rutherford, published between 1881 and 1896: 
The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford (1881); 
Mark Rutherford’s Deliverance (1885);
The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane (1887); 
Miriam’s Schooling (1890); 
Catherine Furze (1893); and 
Clara Hopgood (1896).
The ‘Mark Rutherford’ novels share a power and style which are distinctive in the literary history of their time. George Orwell described Mark Rutherford’s Deliverance as ‘one of the best novels written in English’. D. H. Lawrence wrote, ‘I have always had a great respect for Mark Rutherford . . . so thorough, so sound, and so beautiful’. Arnold Bennett regarded him as ‘a novelist whom one can deeply admire’. Claire Tomalin wrote that White’s novels ‘draw directly on a private store of memories and emotions, and you sense quite strongly that he took up a mask in order to be nakedly confessional in a way he could not otherwise have managed’.
Professor Owens opened the Symposium briefly summarising Mark Rutherford’s life and importance.  Roger Pooley, Professor of English Literature at Keele University followed with an assessment of Nonconformist culture and politics in The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane. The panel closed with Professor Valentine Cunningham of Oxford University on ‘Mark Rutherford and the Plight of the Dissenting Aesthete’.
After a lunch break in which academics and enthusiasts alike discussed Mark Rutherford over a buffet lunch, some early researchers were remembered.  Nicholas Jacobs looked at the contribution of young German researcher Hans Klinke who wrote his thesis in the late 1920s as well as noting that there were translations of Rutherford's books in French, Italian and Czech as well as Japanese. Nick Wilde read a letter from 95-year-old American Wilfred Stone recalling his work on Rutherford in the 1950s and Mike Brealey (author of Bedford's Victorian pilgrim: William Hale White in context,  Paternoster Press, 2012) told us about an early British pioneer of Hale studies, Henry Arthur Smith, whose thesis appeared in 1938. The afternoon concluded with Jean-Michel Yvard, from the University of Angiers in France, who discussed whether Mark Rutherford was an agnostic or a believer and Max Saunders, Professor of English at Kings College, London (author of Self Impression: Life-Writing, Autobiografiction, and the Forms of Modern Literature, OUP, 2010), spoke about the nature of fictional autobiography.
The day finished with an entertaining monologue by Mark Crees, Chair of the Mark Rutherford Society, imagining himself at Mark Rutherford’s grave in Groombridge, Kent.
Report contributed by Nick Wilde
PS Mark Rutherford's descriptions of nonconformists in mid-nineteenth century Bedford is drawn upon by the author of BHRS's 2013 volume The Rise of Methodism: a study of Bedfordshire 1736-1751, to be published in 2014.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bedfordshire Local History Association Summer Meeting 2013

Forty-six local historians from twelve local history societies around the county assembled at Maulden Village Hall on Saturday 15 June 2013 for the Association’s AGM and a day of lectures and a visit on the topic of “Bedfordshire Railways”.
David Thomas gave a very interesting illustrated talk focussing on the Bedfordshire branch of the Oxford to Cambridge Line.  This began in the county with the London & North Western Railway line’s first stretch being built here from Bedford to Bletchley (still in operation) in 1846.  In 1851 the Bletchley to Oxford extension was built, and finally, in 1861-2, the Bedford to Cambridge extension.  The Oxbridge line’s main stations in Bedfordshire were at Ridgmont, Lidlington, Marston, Bedford, Blunham, Sandy and Potton with additional small halts, bringing the number of stops to 15 within the county.
Because of the importance of the universities at Oxford and Cambridge, this cross-country line was sometimes known as the “Varsity Line” and its trains “brain trains”.  It had connections with six main lines heading north, west and east from London and therefore gave great flexibility to passengers from Bedfordshire who could travel around the country, by changing at points on the line to other railway companies’ services, without having to go into London first (as is the case today!).
Unfortunately, following Dr Beeching’s rationalisation and drastic reduction in the railway system from 1967 onwards, the Bedford to Cambridge line was closed, with the Bedford to Cambridge lines lifted, leaving only a service from Bedford to Bletchley, meeting up with the London Midland Region main lines from London to the Midlands and the North West.
David Thomas then traced the more recent developments, including the closure of the old St John’s Station in Bedford, with the line being diverted to Bedford Midland Station in 1984 (with a later, new, halt at Bedford St John) and the overall modernisation of signalling and level crossings along the Bedford Bletchley line in 2004.  Earlier, in 1961, Marston saw the installation of the second-only automatic continental level crossing barriers in the country.  Warning signs, unusually, were in both English and Italian, as there were so many Italian-speaking workers at the local brick works!  Recently, it has been confirmed that there are firm plans to reinstate the Bedford to Oxford railway service in the near future.
The second speaker in the morning was Nigel Lutt from the county record office (BLARS) who gave a very informative illustrated talk outlining just some of the many archive sources for material on railway history in Bedfordshire, not all of them in documents where you would expect to find them.
Attendees to the conference were then treated to a very tasty hot lunch, after which they were able to view the range of interesting displays in the hall relating to railway topics, with displays from the ADALHS regarding temporary railways in Maulden Woods (operated by the Canadian Foresters during WWI), Warren Wood and Wrest Park.  Fergus Milne brought along examples of his railway art and there was an extensive display from BLARS.
For the afternoon session, members moved by cars to Millbrook where David Thomas, who lives in the Station House there, showed his collection of railway memorabilia.
Although less ambitious in its scope and number of speakers than in previous years (& consequently less well attended than, say, 2012, when there were 91 attendees from some 20 Beds societies) the BLHA committee is to be congratulated on putting it on and thanks given to the new Millbrook History Society for organising it.  The annual event is an almost unique opportunity for local historians to get together and catch up with each other’s researches, activities and publications.  BLHA’s own umbrella website is an excellent, one-stop source of contacts for all the many local history societies in Bedfordshire, with links to their websites and, in many cases therefore, to their programme of talks and visits.
BLHA is looking urgently for volunteer societies from its membership to take on responsibility for arranging a conference for 2014 (and also for 2015).  Societies which have not yet taken this on, perhaps finding the thought rather daunting, can receive much help from those other societies which have organised conferences in previous years.  
To discuss conference possibilities for future years, contact Clive Makin, BLHA Secretary, at 01582 655785 or via email  :
For information on Bedfordshire railway history, see F.G. Cockman The Railway Age in Bedfordshire (Revised edition 1994)
Written by Stuart Antrobus