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In which readers are introduced to the web site and, briefly, to HV Morton. I describe how I came to know the author and why my interest in him continues and I mention a little about my home town and its connections with Morton. A series of little coincidences is explored.
The Aims of this web-site:
This web site is one of many to be found concerning author and journalist HV Morton. It is my personal tribute to a fascinating, paradoxical man and his works and also to the HV Morton Society which, through painstaking research and meticulous organisation, helps illuminate the author further, turning up new and fresh information and distributing it to members.
I hope to be able to provide a resource for those interested in HVM including a bibliography, a list of web sites, books and media about him as well as other sources which refer to him or his works more indirectly, as part of their content. I have also included a list of books, web-sites, music and other publications which, for purely idiosyncratic reasons, I find reminiscent of Morton in the hope that fellow admirers might also appreciate them in the way I have, in the 'spirit' of Morton.
I also hope that, by reading this website, anyone not already familiar with his works will be inspired to read one or two or more of Morton's books, many of which are still in print, and to join the HV Morton society to learn even more.
Feedback of any sort is always welcome - any suggestions, corrections (even minor ones) or comments are gratefully received. Drop me a line to let me know what you think of the site (to join the HV Morton society visit this page).
At the top of each of the five main pages which are accessible from the navigation bar I have placed a small paragraph giving the name of the page you are on. If you get completely lost there is a contents page, accessible from the navigation bar which contains an index and site map from which the other pages can be reached as well as sub-sections of those pages.
You will remember, lady, how the morn
Came slow over the Isle of Athelney,
And all the flat lands lying to the sky
Were shrouded, sea like, in a vale of grey
As, standing on a little rounded hill,
We placed our hands on the Holy Thorn.
(from HV Morton's 1927 'In Search of England')
One of my favourite dust jackets - Middle East
The battered and somewhat faded cover of my first ever “Morton” - In Scotland Again.
Born in 1892 to Marguerite and Joseph in Ashton-Under-Lyne, England, HV Morton was a prolific journalist and author. He cut his journalistic teeth by following in his father’s footsteps by training as a reporter with the Birmingham Gazette & Express. Later he moved to Fleet Street in London, renowned still today as the journalistic heart of Britain, where he worked for the Empire Magazine, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail. With the close of the First World War during which he served with the Warwickshire Yeomanry Morton returned to journalism, setting his foot on the international stage with an eye witness account of the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1923. Following this he embarked on a career as a travel writer and it is this aspect of his writing that he is best know for today. His first book, ‘The Heart of London’ was a collection of essays about different aspects of the City originally published in serial form in the Daily Express. From there he went on to write two further books about London. His book ‘In Search of England’, published in 1926, was an account, again originally published in serial form, of his travels around the South and West of England and became a best seller. It was followed by a sequel (‘The Call of England’) and accounts of further travels through Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Pursuing a lifelong passion for archaeology and ancient history, Morton later wrote of travels in the Middle East, writing books which dealt with the civillisations and religions in these areas, particularly the development of Christianity.
Morton's life had begun in a time of Edwardian certainties, long before such modern concepts as cultural equivalency and equal rights were in vogue, with his father rubbing shoulders with the great and the good during his childhood. Deference and rigid class and racial divisions made it seem the sun would never set on the British Empire. Many felt it was the duty of the educated and cultured Christian European to pass on the legacy of civilisation and fair play to the rest of the world for the benefit of all so that others might learn and improve by it. There is a nobility about his writings which reflects his formative years, a simplicity, almost a naivety which, whether artifice or not, would be simply inconceivable in current, more cynical times.
His writings are straightforward, accessible and highly readable, exactly what one would expect of an author who was also an experienced journalist. As one of the few writers to record Britain by the then novel means of motor car journeys on Britain’s new and rapidly expanding road network at a time when the country, while still extremely rural, was in the throes of industrialisation his journals are quite unique. They are a snapshot of a time and a country which, for better or worse, will never be seen again.
One thing which tends to be mentioned pretty consistently by many commentators on Morton is the romantic, almost poetic nature of his writings. His books appear strangely nostalgic; although he was writing about his own present there is a real feeling of history and an impression he may have been anticipating the loss of much that he was recording. There is a placid, almost dream-like, quality to his prose which draws one in and will entrance those prepared to consider the works as one has to consider the man, which is to say as being of their time.
He has been accused (most notably recently by Nicolas Crane in his BBC series 'Great British Journies') of glossing over encroaching modernity, of deliberately turning his back on progress in favour of a somewhat rose tinted, romanticised past. But Morton is aware of this. He says of himself, some 70 years before the redoubtable Cranes's entertaining but never the less decidedly 21st century take on him when, in the introduction to the second of his England books, ‘The Call of England’, Morton confesses that in his earlier volume (‘In Search of England’) he “deliberately shirked realities” and made “wide and inconvenient circles” to avoid modern towns and cities, instead devoting himself to “ancient towns and cathedral cities, to green fields and pretty things”. He now declares himself not afraid to “displease the tourist” in an attempt to present a “fair and accurate picture of Old and New England”. In short, Morton is progressive and realistic about change and modernity; he is adaptable and is his own critic. By no means is he a simple caricature for high tech., modern Man to curl a superior lip at. With the mechanised horrors of the Great War so painfully fresh in public memory at the time of his writing it is quite understandable there would be a strong public demand for a nostalgic, idealised view of Britain at peace which Morton was able to cater for and no critique of Morton and his works should fail to take account of this.
Certainly he was a creature of his time and to our modern ears some of his words will appear patronising, even superior. His views on what we now refer to as 'ethnic groups' and to the 'lower classes' would cause many to cringe if expressed today; his attitude to women left a lot to be desired. Most worryingly perhaps, from our modern perspective and however we might wish otherwise he wasn’t entirely hostile to the teachings of the fascist movement as it arose across Europe in the 20’s and 30’s. We have to remember though that he didn’t have the benefit of hindsight that we do. For him at that time the industrialised slaughter of the concentration camps of the Second World War was not only unknown but unimaginable and when the crunch finally came Morton was prepared to put his life on the line in defence of his country against Hitler during the Second World War. Morton commanded a Home Guard unit at a time when Britain faced a real and iminent threat of invasion and wrote in his diary about the possibility of his dying alongside his comrades in defence of his village against the invader.
Author and journalist Andrew Marr addresses this contradiction which gripped not just Morton, but significant numbers of the British people at all levels of society who desparately wanted to put the "War to end all Wars" behind them. In the preface to his book 'A History of Modern Britain' Marr states, "It is easy to feel appalled and bemused by the enthusiasm of so many intelligent British people for Mussolini and Hitler but there was more to it than cowardice and racism. There was an important yearning for government that actually worked - that ended unemployment, built big new roads, developed modern industries and, yes, made the trains run on time". Marr goes on to make the point that it took the Second World War to make democracy 'fashionable'; a feeling which we take for granted today.
To me Morton is to be admired, not inspite of but actually because of his flaws; like the blemishes on an apple picked fresh from the tree they are a sign that we have got the real thing, not some enhanced, artificial, mass produced perfection. It is important that we recognise him for his shortcomings as well as his great accomplishments and, what’s more, that we concern ourselves with the writing rather than the man. Too many of the world's troubles today have arisen from an inability to see heroes not as perfect, infallible beings but as normal people, with all the frailties and flaws that are part of the human condition. Morton wasn't perfect but he was one of the people, one of us, and we are all the richer for having him and his legacy.
We are all of us full of contradictions and we are the better for it. I prefer writing with a good, old fashioned fountain pen but I have a fascination with word processors. I enjoy the simplicity of folk music yet one of my favourite gadgets is my trusty MP3 player. While I insist, depite modern trends, on wearing a tie to work I also think my teenage son looks pretty good in his 'hoody' and while I love the music that for me encapsulates Britain such as Holst, Elgar, Britten and Vaughan Williams, I still get completely carried away listening to Led Zeppelin, the Jam and the Kaiser chiefs. I am not religious yet I love to sing out a good hymn, I like churches and enjoy bible stories. Nothing is simple, least of all human beings, and anyone who expects otherwise has got another think coming!
This is the spirit with which I approach Henry Vollam Morton.
The abbey ruins in Glastonbury where, in 1926, Morton sat watching an archaeological dig and writing parts of chapter 6 of 'In Search of England'.
My Journey with HV Morton has been a series of little coincidences.
The first time I heard of him was in a second hand bookshop while I was on holiday in my native Scotland with my wife and two young children. There I discovered a rather battered old copy of 'In Scotland Again'. I bought it out of curiosity and spent what free time I had during an otherwise very active holiday reading it from cover to cover; I was smitten. I would sit in the evenings, in our cottage on the shores of Loch Caolisport on the Mull of Kintyre without the dubious benefits of television or other modern conveniences in front of an open fire, sipping whisky and reading about Morton who was also on a journey in Scotland, also sitting on occasions in front of similar fires, also sipping the Uisge Beatha, the water of life. The only whisky he mentions by name is Talisker, which happens to be my favourite.
On a later excursion to the Auld Country, visiting my parents where they live in the Upper Clyde Valley I attended a collectors' fair in the nearby market town of Biggar. Amid the memorabilia I came across a small collection of around half a dozen of Morton's books. After dipping in to a few and reassuring myself of his inimitable style I bought the lot.
My wife and I fell in love with Ephesus during a holiday to Turkey in 1995. On revisiting it in the scorching heat of 2010 with our young family and being equally moved, what do I find in my email in-box on my return but a post from HV Morton society founder Peter Devenish reminding members of the author's love for the same place as described in his 1936 book ‘In the Steps of St Paul’.
Even the place where I have chosen to settle with my family is redolent with ‘synchronicity’. Our house is at the very foot of the "little rounded hill" which is mentioned as the place where the Holy Thorn grows in a poem in the dedication at the start of Morton’s 1927 book ‘In Search of England’ (although sadly the Holy Thorn these days is more likely to be festooned with New Age baubles than “shrouded, sea like, in a vale of grey” as Morton describes it). In my travels as a vet in the area I have treated animals in farms and houses in Meare, Westhay and Godney, all places also mentioned in the same poem. I have spent many a quiet hour among the ruins of our local abbey where Morton too visited and where he wrote sections for inclusion in the main book (chapter six to be precise).
So it seems that HV Morton has been travelling with me for some time, even before I was aware of him and his works. This web site is my personal tribute to him and to the HV Morton Society.