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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-sites and shorter biographies, but of books and other media in addition which refer to Morton incidentaly, as part of their own content and which, for no reason other than personal idiosyncracy, are meaningful to me as being 'In the Spirit' of HV Morton. Readers are advised that I have no control over the content of external web-sites.

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Web sites about Morton:

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.

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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-Under-Lyne which is now part of Tameside. The site features a biography of Morton and quotes from Kenneth Fields who, along with Peter Devenish, founded the HV Morton Society and together with Peter is the source of much that is known about the author today.

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Aftermath is a well presented and authoritative web site dedicated to commemorating the First World War. The author has included a section devoted to HV Morton with a biography here http://www.aftermathww1.com/mortonbiog.asp and links to some excerpts from his London books: Among the Kings, Cenotaph, Behind the Window and Ghosts of the Fog.

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HV Morton started his journalistic career in Birmingham so it is fitting that Birmingham City Council libraries should have a web-page devoted to him.

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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'.

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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 - any admirer of Morton who is also a face book presence is urged to go along and sign up post-haste.

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Biographies of HV Morton:

A review of ‘In Search of H.V. Morton’, by Michael Bartholomew

(Methuen, London, 2004. 248 pages with illustrations, notes and index. Also now available in paperback. From major booksellers and on-line through Amazon UK, etc.)

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-judgemental (despite the occasional 'spin' placed on some of Bartholemew's words by other reviewers). Bartholemew obviously admires Morton's talents as a master of descriptive prose and he presents Morton's questionable political views as more naive and simplistic rather than anything more sinister; more prejudice than politics. Morton's womanising and racism are presented, mostly in the form of extracts from his diary, and the reader is left to judge for him or her self. We are told of a man who, while privately contemptuous of the direction Britain was taking at times, was prepared to put his talents to work, on occasion for no financial return, to support the governmnent in its efforts during the war. Morton wasn't without a social conscience and his 1933 social commentary “What I saw in the slums” is compared favourably with the better known “Road to Wigan Pier” by George Orwell; Bartholomew suggests that Morton's depiction of women in the slums is "just as powerful and... less patronising" than Orwell's. We are told of Morton's quiet bravery - castigating himself in his diary on the one hand for his cowardly feelings during the London blitz yet, despite his fear, going into the city to cover stories for his paper. At a time in Britain’s history when invasion appears imminent Morton writes about the distinct possiblility of being killed defending his village against the German foe while at the same time is enraged as his gardener is enlisted into the armed forces.

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'.

Niall Taylor 2010
about me :: contact me

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 - his first wife, Dorothy is firmly acknowledged as the innocent party in their 1933 divorce for instance, but on the other hand, they are not dwelt upon in this intimate tribute to an author hailed in his own lifetime as “the world’s greatest living travel writer”.

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 - has this foremost Morton archivist forgotten that Wales is part of Britain!

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.

Niall Taylor 2010
about me :: contact me

A review of ‘H.V. Morton: The life of an enchanted traveller’, by Kenneth Fields

(Self-published; November 2003, revised April 2009. Soft covers, 48 pages including some illustrations, bibliography, principal events and index. For further details and to purchase please send an email to Niall Taylor, coordinator of the HV Morton Society)

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Books influenced by or referring to Morton:

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-told as vivid drama by an author now privy to the goings on in the 'smoky backrooms' where the big decisions were made. Marr has a deft grasp of the broad sweep in the same way that Morton did.

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-war Britain at the time. All in all Marr's account of Morton's “In Search of England” is fair and balanced and acknowledges the real demand for a canon of literature encompassing the 'rural idyll' from a nation still reeling from the horror of the trenches and desparate for peace.

When writer Joe Bennet returned to Britain after an absence of 15 years he decided to reacquaint himself with the country by retracing HV Morton's steps in his various books about England, Scotland and Wales. What resulted was a book entitled “Mustn't Grumble” which is described by reviewers as "A travel guide for the un-romantic". The author seems rather shocked to find that much has changed in Britain in the 80 or so years since Morton wrote his books - apparently, despite the title, Bennet grumbles; quite a lot infact. The book has several favourable reviews and is certainly on my ‘must have’ list.

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-middle class, insisting that the price of his guides be kept low in order that they might appeal to, and at the same time educate, a large audience...”; also we are told that the intended title of Morton’s (never completed) auto-biography was to be “Fair Generally”.

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!

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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.

If you would like to ‘live the controversy’ and see for yourself the BBC website gives details of the programme. The series is also available in DVD format with, inevitably, a spin-off book.

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-War Travelogues of J. B. Priestley and H. V. Morton.

'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 - in the Saturday 7th April 1934 edition of the Melbourne Argus newspaper Morton is gently taken to task for citing an inaccurate date for the execution of 'Dick' Turpin.

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Journals, newspapers and magazines:

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 - swathed in oilskins, typewriter on lap, pipe in mouth, on the deck of a trawler staring at what looks like an enormous cod with two fisherman looking on. The rather damp paper in the typewriter and the studied poses suggests this is probably a picture that has been carefully set up rather than casually ‘snapped’ in mid sentence (would anyone actually type on the open deck of a trawler?) but never the less it is interesting to see. It was presumably taken while on one of Morton’s Scottish journeys, there is an account of a trip on a trawler in “In Search of Scotland”.

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): 431-456.

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-line). Morton appears on page 34 as Watts mentions his "reflexive and ironic approach to his enterprise", namely so called 'motoring pastoral' (a term coined by David Matless), representing "a new form of movement and a new purpose for the leisure journey: a search, by car, for beauty rather than speed". He also suggests that Morton’s work "demonstrates his veneration of the ‘timeless’, pre-industrial landscapes and traditions he describes". Who could possibly disagree with that?..

... 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-Feminist Spirituality") who, as early as the second sentence into her paper entitled 'HV Morton’s Pilgrimages to Englishness' (now no longer available on line), is suggesting, not entirely unreasonably, that Morton's journey in his books about England is only meaningful because it "confers national identity on him". The next sentence however, announces "If his search inevitably ends with finding England in himself, this suggests that the masculine subject is the best representative of Englishness: for a man to search for England and then find himself suggests a clear identification of masculinity with Englishness, and vice versa". In this piece which sets out to "ask to what extent masculinity is coterminous with national identity" we are treated to a post-modernist, feminist slant on Morton's works.

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.

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Academic Papers concerning Morton:

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Pictures concerning HV Morton:

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.

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 Web-sites with an HV Morton association:

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 - "Stoney Jack and the Cheapside Hoard" is at the top of the page but the others - "My London Library: No 5 – Night Haunts", "Why is there no London monument for the Blitz?" and "What is London?" - are well worth looking at.

Peter Watts’s London blog “The Great Wen”:

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)!

The Bullnose Morris Club:

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-like man” with “tiny, immaculate hands” and wrote an introduction to a pamphlet which was issued at a charitable recital given by Cahill. More details can be found in HV Morton Society Snippet no 110.

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.

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.

Incidentally, the village of Binsted still commemorates their Morton connection. There is an excellent web site available which gives a concise history of the village with HV Morton mentioned roughly half way down the page. Other interesting points of note about the village are its connection with Viscount Montgomery of Alamein who lived there for some time after the war and the fact that it is one link in a chain of 'Semaphore Villages' set up as a signalling relay system in the early 1800's. Unfortunately there is no modern picture of South Hay but there are enough pictures and information to get a good feel for the village in the present day.

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 - photograph courtesy of Kenneth Fields

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)

"the man who led the charge into the countryside was a journalist in a Bullnose Morris"

Countrylife