CONNECTIONS . . . . . . . .
I set forth a list of web sites concerned with the life and works of HV Morton. In addition I include reviews of the two HV Morton biographies and an eclectic list, not just of web-
John Baker's website is one of the most comprehensive about Morton on the web. A self confessed "ordinary bloke" living in New Zealand, his web site is a single main page which is marvellously detailed giving an extensive and well researched biography and bibliography. Two links at the bottom of the page allow readers to view or download an account of Morton's coverage of the opening of the Tomb of Tutankhamen (and the politics which surrounded the event) and a photogallery containing an illustrated bibliography.
Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council has a section dedicated to HV Morton which was set up following the dedication of a commemorative blue plaque in his honour at the town of his birth Ashton-
Is there anything that Wikipedia doesn't have information about? Probably, but there is certainly a section on HV Morton which is most informative. Any Wikipedia article has to be treated with a little scepticism, as anyone is able to edit any of the content but it appears to be fairly accurate and has a comprehensive bibliography. I have a feeling the recently arrived editor 'Bilgoman' will probably ensure things are kept correct, the name rings a bell somehow!
Elsewhere in Wikipedia a short 'stub' article is available on his book 'The Ghosts of London'. As a sign of his popularity and influence a Wiki search for HV Morton turns up around 20 references to him where he is cited as a source in articles on subjects as diverse as Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress' to the Laurel and Hardy film 'Saps at Sea'.
No one is anyone these days without a facebook profile, and that even goes for HV Morton. At the time of writing an HV Morton Community page is being set up -
Biographies of HV Morton:
(Methuen, London, 2004. 248 pages with illustrations, notes and index. Also now available in paperback. From major booksellers and on-
The first and most important thing to say about Michael Bartholomew's “In Search of HV Morton” is that this is an excellent read. The text flows, it is accessible and, unlike some biographies, it has a good structure and narrative. The reader is taken from Morton's childhood, cycling around the lanes of Warwickshire and discovering a passion for place and history through his journalistic career, finding his niche as the foremost travel writer of his time and then, finally his gradual disillusionment as England began to take a different direction from the country he thought he knew and loved.
Early in the work Bartholemew takes time to explain the distinction between the droll, urbane narrator of his tales ('HV' Morton) and the real man ('Harry' Morton) behind the books. Morton's contemporaneous diary writings are contrasted with his works of literature throughout as a device to move through Morton's life and explore the motivation behind both narrator and author. Any reader coming to this work hoping to read about the simple, solitary, companionable traveller of Morton's books is in for a disappointment. Like the top rate journalist he was, Morton knew how to deliver precisely what his audience wanted and went to great lengths to maintain the illusion and charm of his books by keeping a low public profile. Fortunately for us (and perhaps less so for the reputation of 'HV') Morton left a large number of notes in the form of diaries and half written memoirs which formed the basis for much of Batholomew's book, enabling his story to be told.
This account of the life of Morton is even handed and largely non-
This book is a sympathetic, 'warts and all' portrayal of the real man behind the public persona; above all it is a balanced account. It is direct and unstinting, delivering praise and criticism alike where they are due. By the conclusion any Morton admirer will be the better for having read it and will have an understanding of the real depth behind both 'HV' and 'Harry'.
With an enormous amount of detail crammed into its forty eight pages, far more than might be imagined from its modest size, this booklet is clearly born out of respect for a great writer.
The period covered starts as long ago as the meeting of Morton’s parents in Glasgow and continues through all the major events in his career and private life to his eventual retreat from "a vulgar world" and his final resting place in Somerset West, South Africa. During this journey events are largely allowed to speak for themselves. The various flaws in Morton’s character are certainly not glossed over -
Numerous personal insights into Morton's life make this biography a most enjoyable read. We hear how his Scots mother first introduced him to stories of the heroes of her native country, we are told how Morton took the death of his father, we learn what his family really thought of Morton’s ability as a driver and hear of his tendency to home sickness while living in his South African "English enclave".
Throughout the book the narrative is enlivened by many fascinating anecdotes from Morton’s friends and contemporaries to whom Fields has obviously had generous access judging by the list of acknowledgements at the start. By means of such devices the reader learns, among other gems, about Morton's relationship with Lord Beaverbrook, proprietor of the Daily Express, and how Beaverbrook's insight into the young Morton starts him on his future career by encouraging him to write about his beloved London.
Morton's various literary awards are dealt with in some detail and it is here that I would perhaps take slight factual issue with Fields. Having said that Morton was crowned as a Welsh Bard on 12th August 1933 later, when he is awarded the Commander of the Order of the Phoenix by Greece in 1937, Fields remarks that Morton never received any British awards -
The work is generously populated by photographs and line drawings of key people and places as well as illustrations of book covers, awards and newspaper clippings, all of which serve to lend a personal touch and bring Morton’s career to life.
Each of Morton's works are discussed in context as the text unfolds and there is a comprehensive bibliography aswell as a handy index at the end of the book. There is also a chronological list of the principal events in Morton's life spanning the period from 1892 with Morton's birth to 2004 and the unveiling of a commemorative Blue Plaque at his birthplace in Lancashire.
This biography is readable and highly informative, more a commentary on than a critique of the life and works of HV Morton, a man whose friends recognised as “humble, charming and witty” and who the author describes as “a hardworking and talented writer”. It has real warmth and it may well be that this is the way that Morton himself would have wanted his story to be told.
I have often wondered whether, if Morton had been at his height today, he might have produced his travelogues as a popular television series rather than in book form. The journalist Andrew Marr's series "A History of Modern Britain" was one of the BBC's finest; enjoyable, informative and entertaining and possibly gives an insight into how Morton might have presented himself had television been at the fore of populist entertainment when he was writing, rather than newspapers and books.
Marr's grasp of the 'big picture' is breathtaking; even to one who grew up during the very years he scrutinises, his work gives a vivid, fresh perspective. The behind the scenes wheeling and dealings in politics, finance, entertainment and general society is gripping. It is surprising to find that my ordinary little life has actually been part of history as the news items and events which I absorbed passively, with varying degrees of interest or indifference, are re-
So, when I decided to read the book of the series in order to get more depth and background, I was delighted to find a lengthy reference to HV Morton's books in the preface as Marr sets the scene for his analysis of post World War II Britain by discussing the years between the wars. He describes how Morton and his chosen genre are part of an "ancient tradition of English writing, running back through Thomas Hardy, Kipling and Chesterton right the way to the poets of Jacobaean times". Marr comments that the timing of Morton's journies was at once "a little late" (Britain had been heavily urbanised and insustrialised for around a century by the time Morton undertook his first journies) yet also "just in time" as he records a period "before the urbanites move in and finally finished off the traditions that reached back to the middle ages".
While acknowledging that Morton's tour “In Search of England” was important in capturing post industrial Britain at a time before supermarkets and high speed road networks, starting in the seventies, finally killed it off, Marr isn't entirely uncritical of Morton. He points out that, although Morton's search for 'quaintness' was fruitful, he dismissed Birmingham, where he spent much of his youth, merely as 'that monster' while Manchester is mentioned only as 'an ominous grey haze in the sky' (I have mentioned elsewhere that Morton himself addresses these shortcomings in his second England book, “The Call of England”). Elsewhere Marr describes Morton as "pootling" through a "nostalgic, muzzy haze" but this is mentioned in the context of the way many people (including the government in Westminster) viewed inter-
In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) a brief biography of H V Morton is to be found, written by CR Perry. Published originally in 2004 and since updated, it gives a professional and comprehensive picture of Morton and adds a few details which I hadn’t picked up from other such works. For instance Perry reports “Morton was keenly aware of his readers, particularly those in the lower-
The DNB requires a subscription to access the full article or alternatively members of many public libraries are entitled to free access as part of their membership. So, yet another excellent reason to join your local library!
Television Programmes concerning Morton:
Nick Crane is a cartographer and presenter of numerous BBC series. Episode eight of his Great British Journeys series, featuring Crane dashing around the country in a Bullnose Morris in a recreation of some of Morton's Scottish travels from “In Search of Scotland” and “In Scotland Again”, caused considerable controversy during the brief existence of the HV Morton Yahoo group. Some members felt it represented a fresh take on Morton and his works and would help spread the word about him whereas others felt that some of Crane's comments were ill conceived and made without a real understanding of his chosen subject.
These have been a couple of reviews in the Telegraph (with a good section on Morton at the end) and, specifically about the Morton episode, in the Scotsman. The whole series, I feel, is highly likely to be enjoyed by anyone interested in Morton's travelogues.
People are often puzzled about the need that readers have for the type of writing that Morton and others produce which depicts, some would say, a somewhat idealised view of the places he writes about. In her article ‘The Rural Myth’ author Isabel Taylor makes a few well thought out suggestions as to what lies behind this need and reports that such a ‘take’ on the countryside is nothing new.
The Albion Magazine in which the article is published is well worth a read for anyone interested in England, its land, culture and people.
Your esteemed webmaster (that’s me) has been privileged to have been comissioned to contribute an article to the Albion Magazine comparing and contrasting the impressions of England as portrayed by Morton in his two ‘England’ books and his contemporary, J B Priestly in his “English Journies”. Two authors, writing on the same subject but irrevocably divided by politics and, most importantly, by the great depression. The title (with link) is Three Books, Two Authors, Two Englands: A Comparison of the Inter-
'This England' is a quarterly magazine which styles itself as "the lovliest magazine in Britain since 1968" with one of its slogans at the time of its lauch being "as refreshing as a cup of tea!". That pretty much says it all really. The magazine presents an unashamedly patriotic and sentimental picture of England, harking back to a bygone era of warm beer, cream teas and cricket on the green. For the purposes of the HV Morton afficionado it was also the place where Kenneth Fields had an article on Morton published in the Winter 1991 edition.
The Church Times archives features an article from issue 7632, 26th June 2009 by Terence Handley MacMath following in the steps of 'In the Steps of the Master' to "test [Morton's] observations of the Holy Land". Detailed bigraphical details illuminate much of Morton's life, not just his time travelling in the East and MacMath gives a balanced and incitful account of his own travels, contrasting the Palestine, Jordan and Israel of Morton's time with that of the present day.
Here's an interesting little piece of history -
The national portrait gallery online has a small selection of pictures of HV Morton. My favourite is this one which shows the author in action -
The Oxford University Press Journal 'Twentieth Century British History' has published an article about Morton with the following reference:
Perry, CR., In Search of H. V. Morton: Travel Writing and Cultural Values in the First Age of British Democracy Twentieth Century Brit Hist (1999) 10 (4): 431-
Only the abstract is available for open access but it makes interesting reading.
The above article was cited in the paper in the Journal of Transport History article 'Evaluating British railway poster advertising: The London & North Eastern Railway between the wars' by DCH Watts of Coventry University (unfortunately, again only the abstract is available on-
... Well, possibly Wren Sidhe of Bath Spa University, (a writer described in the 'Paganism Reader' as "rooted, not only in Goddess Spirituality but also in Lesbian Eco-
We are told that "Morton’s discourse of the rural defined ‘Englishness’ as masculine and ‘Nature’ as feminine" and that the intention is to examine the hypothesis (springing from this most dubious of premises) that "interwar discourse of the rural located Englishness in a heterosexual bond between a masculine national subject and a feminine nature or landscape". Morton's description of the colour of a road as "white" is suggestive of racism and the fact that he shows no interest in "women whalers" apparently marks him as a mysogenist. Great offence is taken by the author to Morton's (lighthearted) remarks that the market for carved jet and gold has been ruined by changes in women's fashions. There is a note of disapproval when, in Morton's writings on cities or cathedrals, he "frequently describes them as ‘married’ to each other, or bound together in some other heterosexual familial relationship".
I'm afraid this article reveals as much about the assumptions and prejudices of its author as it does about HV Morton's; it is simply a clash of stereotypes. This piece of work truly has to be read to be believed.
Country Life Magazine has been photographing the gardens, houses and countryside of Britain since it was launched in 1897 and consequently has built up an extensive and sumptuous picture library which is now available on line. The library is a treat for anyone interested in rural life, there are photos to be found of magnificent landscapes, buildings and architecture as well as superb and candid scenes of wildlife (the red squirrel is one of my favourites).
For the Morton aficionado obviously the first thing to do when encountering such a site is to start searching for Morton connections and this is exactly what society founder member Peter Devenish was doing when he came across this wonderful set of photographs. It is a set of six black and white studies of HV Morton's wife, Mary and their son, Timothy taken on the steps of their home, South Hay, in Binsted, Hampshire, in 1942 by AE Henson. They are a real delight, there is a happy informality about the subjects as they strike different poses on the steps, Timothy holding his favourite soft toys, looking for all the world like Christopher Robin with Pooh bear, and the family dog lying on the grass at the foot of the steps. One stands out as particularly touching, showing mother and son holding hands, Mary smiling, Timothy looking quite serious with a toy dog tucked under his arm and a much loved teddy carefully propped up on the step next to him.
Mary and Timothy Morton at home in South Hay, Binsted
[© Country Life Picture Library]
Country Life have most generously made the full version of this picture available for HV Morton society members to enjoy and it can be found, by clicking on the thumbnail above, in the members’ section of the site.
"the man who led the charge into the countryside was a journalist in a Bullnose Morris"
Journalist and blogger Peter Watts describes HV Morton as an "insatiable London enthusiast with the knack of knowing not so much the right people as the really interesting ones". In his account of the finding of "The Cheapside Hoard" as depicted in Morton's later work "In Search of London" it becomes clear that Mr Watts is a bit of a "London enthusiast" himself as he describes a 20 year old Harry Morton in the company of archaeologist GF Lawrence as this momentous find was unearthed. According to Morton biographer Michael Bartholomew, Lawrence (or "Stoney Jack" as he was otherwise known) was a great influence on Morton's early years in the capital, helping cement his enthusiasm for archaeology and ancient history as Morton paid frequent visits to Lawrence's digs and to his little shop in Wandsworth.
This link takes the reader to a selection of articles by Watts concerning Morton -
Want to know more about the car that HV Morton drove for much of his travels (and which he occasionally referred to as 'Maude')? Have a look at the Bullnose Morris Club for the history and pictures of this famous car. Wikipedia also has a comprehensive section on the car.
You can read about my exciting encounter with a Bullnose Morris in this blog article (it was brilliant)!
Michael Moran is an Australian travel writer and explorer living in Poland. His great uncle was concert pianist Edward Cahill, also Australian and Michael is currently researching his life with a view to writing a biography of him having been awarded a literary grant by the Australia Council to do so. Coincidentally, Edward Cahill chose to retire to Somerset West, Cape Town, South Africa at the same time as HV Morton and the two of them became firm friends; Morton describes Cahill as “a small, boy-
Michael’s researches, which he records on his blog, took him (with some help from the HV Morton society) to Schapenberg, the home of HV Morton during his South African years. He has taken some excellent pictures of the house, including one of Morton’s study and has also posted a black and white photograph of Morton and Cahill together. As a result his blog is well worth a look for any Morton afficionado.
The house at South Hay remains occupied to this day and not long ago HV Morton society member David Jago took a trip to see it. With the kind permission of its current occupants he took some wonderful photographs of the house, its grounds and interiors, including the fireplace in the library where Morton had his and his wife Mary’s initials set into the brickwork of the surround. It is obvious that the house and gardens have been lovingly cared for over the years and have been allowed to retain all their original character. David has very generously made these photographs available for members of the society to enjoy; it is fascinating to compare the present day South Hay with the photographs taken by Country Life in 1942 (above).
I would respectfully remind readers of the copyright restrictions that pertain to all material on this site.
For details of free membership of the HV Morton society please visit the Society page of this site.
Schapenberg, Cape Province, South Africa -
Following the close of the Second World War HV Morton became disillusioned with the direction Britain was taking during the ‘Austerity Years’ and he decided to settle with his wife Mary and son Timothy in Schapenberg, a region in Somerset West on the edge of the winelands just East of Cape Town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
Here the Mortons built a house for themselves with a library modelled on the one Morton had built at South Hay, where Morton lived for the rest of his days. He still delighted in travelling and continued to write many of his best known works while based there including “A Stranger in Spain”, “A Traveller in Italy” and “The Waters of Rome”. He visited England regularly, seeing friends and family, attending his club, the Garrick and of course, as always, writing, not just researching his latest 'London' book “In Search of London”, but also undertaking journalistic projects including the reporting of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the silver wedding anniversary of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for the Illustrated magazine.
The current occupant of Schapenberg, Mrs Marion Wasdell, has generously contributed a number of current photographs of the house and grounds to the H V Morton society and has kindly allowed their publication in the members' section. It is interesting to compare Marion's photographs with those of Michael Moran (below)