by Julia Riding
August 10, 2002
Dear all, I write this having swept back from Eastbourne on a tide of goodwill and good fortune after the inaugural (and possibly last) meeting of the Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society in the flesh as opposed to the ether. A most fantastic time was had by all, and photos and letters and MS were produced, pored over, pronounced upon, and enjoyed. We did the house, we did the Market Cross Inn, we put flowers on the seat, and we stood on top of Firle. I think I'm probably the first back, and will write further in due course. Gerry, we raised a glass of the "nappy ale" to you - several times - and wished (of course) that you could have been with us! I know Pat is on his way to Ian and Doth hopefully at the end of the week.
On Thursday 8 August I came to Eastbourne for the inaugural meeting of the Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society in the flesh. I had lunch up on top of Butts Brow at Willingdon and was astonished at the extent of Eastbourne across Hampden Park and out to the Crumbles and Pevensey Bay - the new houses and business parks are nearly swallowing Pevensey by now. I think Butts Brow may have been the sweep of rolling downland JF had in mind in many of his books, and I always associate it with "The Lonely Road". In JF's day you could look across the lakes in Hampden Park and into the wildness of small fields and hedges and isolated farm cottages, and beyond it to the Pevensey Levels - eerie on a winter's afternoon when the sea mist rolls in or the view is veiled by rain.
I then went on to try and find a parking place in Eastbourne - no chance - I had to pay at the tennis centre - and booked in to the Gladwyn in Blackwater Road. Very nice, small hotel, newly decorated, and if you are visiting Eastbourne I recommend it. I then (of course) pottered around to the bookstores and in Camilla's in Grove Road there was someone looking at JF's books so I said I was looking for those as well, and he said he was there for the JF commemoration so I said: "you must be Sam" and he said: "you must be Julia". Quite the proper place for a meeting, all told! We bought a couple of books each and then walked into Eastbourne and up Terminus Road and I told him how it had all changed, and we looked at the Pier and the Bandstand and the Carpet Gardens still looking very summery.
We met Pat at the hotel when we returned, and Stuart turned up at about 6 pm and we spread all of Pat's things over the table in the lounge (good thing no one else wanted to sit in there!) and proceeded to enjoy manuscripts and a spectacular find - I will leave you to guess what it was - and looked at photos and letters and articles and generally behaved like people at a feast! We had supper at Maxine's in Grove Road and then staggered back to the hotel for a well earned rest!
On Friday after a huge breakfast we met up with Stuart who decided his car was the largest, and he knew Eastbourne. The weather looked distinctly unpromising, it had been raining in the early hours and absolutely poured down during breakfast, but we stalwarts were not put off! We went first to Denton Road, and we were invited into the house where Jeffery Farnol had lived, and saw his study, and heard about the way the Atkins are putting the house back together as one residence from three flats. Regrettably, of course, they cannot restore the magnificent spiral stairs which went up three floors to the top of the house, but there are some sections of the banisters still in the house. Moira House, where Jane went to school, is just over the back wall, you can see its gables through the trees. We were shown a chair dated 1910 with JF's name carved on it, which the Atkins are going to have treated for woodworm and restored.
We went out to Wilmington via Birling Gap - more of the cottages have been pulled down as unsafe, there is only one to the right of the central one now. We put flowers and a plant with a card signed by us on everyone's behalf, on the seat, and took photos - a kind passer by took some as well of all of us.
We went on to the Smugglers Inn (Market Cross Inn) at Alfriston for lunch and waiting for us were Laurence Oakeshott, Jeffery Farnol's nephew by his sister Dorothy, and Laurence's son and daughter in law and two granddaughters, and Cilla Allen and Jean Griffin, cousins in the second degree so to speak, their fathers having been JF's cousins. It was a spectacularly successful day, and we talked and talked and talked, and looked at photos and family trees and all kinds of things.
The four of us walked on top of Firle after lunch and it was one of those very bright days when you really could see all the way to Battle. We also watched a man making a crop circle in the wheat field below Firle! We argued as to whether it was an alien and if so where the flying saucer was, and concluded it must be "cloaked" to make it invisible.
We had supper at a fish restaurant in the old Barclays Bank in Terminus Road, and then since it was a fine evening we went down to the beach, on the retreating tide, and skipped stones across the waves and put a target stone on top of a groyne and threw stones at it. Needless to say, we slept very well that night!
Sam had to leave early the next day (Saturday) so Pat and Stuart and I headed out to Patcham to find the Farnol family graves, his mother being buried there, although not his father who had made a second marriage and is presumably buried with his second wife. JF's father in law and mother in law are buried there in a family plot with two of their daughters including his first wife Blanche.
We rounded off the morning with lunch at the Eight Bells at Jevington and then headed back to the hotel because I had to get home on the Saturday evening. No doubt Pat and Stuart continued the festivities after we left. I hope this gives you a flavour of the event, and no doubt Sam and Stuart and Pat will weigh in with observations of their own in due course.
by Sam Rimington
August 15, 2002
Hello everybody, Like Julia, I am just returned home and I am struggling to get my head around all the experiences I have had in the last week; in addition to the 'Laying on of the Flowers', and all that that entailed in Eastbourne, I have since spent three days staying with friends to the west, in the 'New Forest'.
The Farnol meeting was all I had hoped it would be (and more!); I met Pat as soon as I arrived, and the following day I was browsing the secondhand bookshop-Jf naturally- when a lady browsing towards me put two and two together and decided I 'must be Sam'. I had already guessed she might be Julia, and said so, so our meeting, and introduction to each other could hardly have been more apposite!
The following day, Friday, being the 50th anniversary of Jeffery's death, we three, together with Stuart Malin who had joined us, processed to Jeffery's home in Eastbourne, where we were entertained most kindly by the present owners. We saw JF's office, and where his weaponry had hung. What really had me wide eyed with amazed delight was a hand made chair, sadly in pieces, which Jeffery had actually made himself; seeing that he had actually carved his own name on it, and the date, it had me completely bug eyed; I had to touch it, like a religious icon! Hopefully one of the others will be able to expand the story of that visit; I do hope too that their photographs will have come out!
We chose flowers at a florist's in the village (with considerable care),and went on to the Long Man of Wilmington for the flower ceremony where Jeffery's ashes are scattered, a very moving occasion, and where I really became aware of the significance of what we were doing, or what I was doing at any rate. All my lifelong devotion, indeed, all the love I have had for JF's splendid stories since my early teens, was at long last given proper expression; for me it was a very special moment.
We happy band of Farnolites then went on into Alfriston for lunch with Jeffery's descendants. They apparently found US, through their interest in family history; they found 'Farnol', and all it's special interest for us, while surfing the net. It was a lovely meeting, and we had a very happy meal together. I think 'mine host' had not realized what difficulty he was to be experienced in persuading us to leave,late in the afternoon; for once we started exchanging information, the time just flew!
I do hope the other three will be able to flesh out the bones of my story with their contributions; it might even warrant a separate page of it's own! I wonder too if Wendy, Jeffery's great- niece-in law, might, with other family members, consider submitting at least some of the family's Tree for inclusion, if they and our webmaster did think it appropriate!
All in all a wonderful visit which I will always remember; it may be the only time we are all together, but I think it quite possible that I will be returning to Eastbourne for a longer visit, in twelve months time if not before!
Best Wishes everbody, especially our friend the Yuletide Kid, who I know would have loved to have been there had it been possible
by Pat Bryan
August 26, 2002
being an account of Four who made a Journey to the South Downs
The Frenchman beside me had been dead since dawn.
(Actually, he was a French-Canadian and was merely sleeping, as I flew across the Atlantic, heading for Eastbourne, last home of John Jeffery Farnol - The Man Who Wrote Best-Sellers.) Ok, that's enough of that; one sentence of trying to parody JF is enough - he was unique.
It was actually Julia Riding's idea - 'Lady Julia' as the Yuletide Kid calls her - that we might meet in Eastbourne on August 9, 2002, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Jeffery Farnol's death. For some time, it looked like it might not come about - I lived some 4000 miles away, for a start. However, against all odds, come about it did - and the first and most probably last Jeffery Farnol Reunion came to order on the evening of August 8, 2002, in the lounge of the Gladwyn Hotel in Eastbourne.
Sam Rimington has told in his Forum post how he met, first me, then Julia, in Eastbourne. We were all staying at the Gladwyn, and that helped. So, there we were, just sitting around, enjoying a libation, when a trim bespectacled man came into the room. He, of course, was Stuart Malin - and thus, as JF might say, the Three became Four.
I had been fortunate enough to acquire a raft of pictures, documents, letters and other memorabilia while researching and writing my biography of our favorite author, and subsequently, compiling the short story collection by JF titled 'The Privilege of The Sex'. Many of these I had brought with me, together with a number of original Farnol MS that had been sent to me by Robert Ellenwood of California. Julia had brought actual letters that JF had written to a fan in the U.S., which she had purchased over the internet. Sam had compiled for us a history of the Mechanic's Libraries organisation of which he has been a part for many years, showing us how he came to Farnol. And Stuart brought us the first few pages of his Companion to the Novels of Jeffery Farnol, a massive cataloguing and cross- referencing of all the characters, places etc in the JF books, upon which vast undertaking he has just embarked. So, as you can see, we were all set for a feast of the soul.
For the next couple of hours we passed all our goodies around amongst the group, and the talk flew fast and furious. I had brought some snapshots of The Yuletide Kid (Jerry Christmas) with me, so he. too, was there in spirit. As also was Bob Ellenwood - he had been kind enough to send me a baker's dozen of MS, and I felt he'd like me to share the bounty with the others, which I did. Each now had a chapter or two, in JF's own handwriting, of 'Pageant of Victory'.
This nourishment of the mind continued as we went out to dinner and nourished our bodies. Maybe there were no 'vasty neat's tongues and noble barons of beef, and hams, pinkly succulent', but I did have a half shoulder of lamb (a small one, thank goodness), and we enjoyed draughts of good Sussex ale.
The next day we all piled into Stuart's car, and went first to 14 Denton Road, Meads, about a ten minute drive from the hotel (actually, it was only a five minute ride, but we had to backtrack a couple of times!). We pulled up outside 'Little Dene' - the home of Jeffery, Phyllis and Jane from 1936 until his death in 1952 - and all piled out. Julia had written to the current owners about our plans, but had received no reply, so we were uncertain of our reception. We three men bravely decided that we would send Julia to beard the owners in their den, and bear the brunt of their disapproval if they were too dismayed by the appearance of a bunch of Farnolatics on their doorstep. We needn't have worried. Jane's husband, Brian Curtis, had phoned the week before from Australia to warn them of our imminent arrival, and they welcomed us most graciously. Drs Nick and Sue Avery have their surgery in the house, and were able to entertain us between patients. They invited us in, gave us coffee, toured us around the house, showing where the three-story spiral staircase had been, and where other rooms had existed in Farnol's time. We deduced which room he had used as his study by means of an old photograph we had with us. We saw the stables where Jane kept her horses. And Sam has told of our excitement at finding an old chair carved by 'Jack Farnol' in 1910, in pieces in the garage. To me, after my two years of research and writing of the biography, it was almost like coming home!
Then it was on to the next pilgrimage - the Jeffery Farnol Memorial bench overlooking the famous prehistoric outline of the Long Man of Wilmington, or Sussex Giant. We picked up some flowers and a potted plant on the way, and then drove via Beachy Head and Birling Gap through the beautiful South Down country. I don't know where I expected the Memorial Bench to be; I think I had assumed that it was on a hill somewhere. It was, in fact, by the side of a quiet country road, alongside a flint stone wall, in absolutely the very best spot from which to view the Long Man. I could see why it had been Jeffery's favorite place, and why the placing of the memorial bench there was so right. There was a small parking area close by, and a number of cars were parked there, with some sort of official plaque and explanation of the Long Man on a kind of pedestal. I wondered how many of those who visited the site over the years might have sat on the bench, and perhaps thought a moment or two of Jeffery Farnol. We placed the flowers on the bench, and anchored the little potted plant by the side, and took turns photographing each other. I then waylaid an unsuspecting passerby, and dragooned him into taking a shot of the Four, which he had to do with each of our cameras, and did with remarkable kindness and grace.
By now, we were starting to run a little late for our next appointment - our meeting with members of Jeffery's family in the 'Market Cross' Inn in Alfriston, made famous in 'Sir John Dering'. We hoped to see landlord Peter Bunkle there (JF used the name of a villager of his day, a real Bunkle, as the basis of the character in his book, as he did with other Alfriston villagers), but, of course, he was no longer in evidence. What we did see as we walked into the tiny 'snug' of the Inn was a jolly gathering of Farnol family, courtesy of Wendy Oakeshott, who had arranged the meeting. Wendy is the daughter-in-law of Lawrence Oakeshott, Farnol's nephew, and she and her daughter Katherine have taken on the task of assembling a family tree. Wendy's husband Bill, and their two daughters were there, as was Scilla Allen and her husband, and Jean Griffin and a friend. I won't attempt to go into the family tree here, but both Jean and Scilla are cousins of Jeffery's once, twice or thrice removed. Suffice it to say that they were all there, and a delight to see. And, for me, most important was the presence of Lawrence himself, who knew JF and visited frequently with him at his home, both in the pre-divorce days in Patcham, and afterwards in Eastbourne.
What a joy it was to talk with Lawrence about his famous uncle, and to compare notes with him on many facts that had puzzled me during my research. He was disarmingly frank about JF's relationship with his first wife, Blanche; helped identify unknowns in a couple of photos from that time, and took me to task on a couple of opinions I had expressed in my biography! For the next three hours we all chatted and circulated and compared notes about our favourite author and their famous family member, until we sensed that perhaps the pub staff might wish us to wind up our meeting. By the time we left, posing for photos outside the inn, strolling down the picturesque main street of the village, we were the only customers in the pub. We said our goodbyes with handshakes and hugs (and, for me, a kiss from Wendy - who can resist an author with a beard?), and went our separate ways. But at least we can all keep in touch through the magic of email.
We, the Four, went home by way of Firle Beacon, where John Dering sat and viewd the whole sweeping prospect of the Downs before him, and which Julia has described so well in her photographic essay on the JFAS website. We breathed in the crisp, fresh air, and walked some way up the path towards the height of land. People with their dogs passed us, and we stopped to chat and be greeted with lolling tongues and wagging tails (from the dogs, that is). There were black-faced sheep grazing nearby. It was all as it might have been in Sir John's day, and Jeffery's day - except that, far down in the valley, someone was making a crop circle. We couldn't see from that distance whether he was an alien from outer space or not.
Fish and chips that evening in Eastbourne's best seafood restaurant - Sam insisted on having 'mushy' peas - and then a stroll back to the hotel along the front. Both Julia and Stuart had lived in the Eastbourne area at one time, and decided, along with Sam, that nothing else would serve but for them to hobble across the shingle beach to the sea, and see if they could skip stones across the briny. I, as the senior statesman of the group, added a much-needed touch of responsibility to the whole sordid affair by sitting on the breakwater and guarding their shoes.
We said goodbye to Sam, who was heading in the wee small hours of the next morning to visit a friend in the New Forest on his way home, chatted briefly, and so to bed.
Next morning, the Four, now become Three, drove to Patcham churchyard to visit the graves of Kate Farnol, Blanche, and the elder Hawleys, JF's in-laws. There was a wedding at the church - rather a grand one, with the Patcham Silver Band playing on the village green, and an antique car and bus (a real 'sharrabang') to convey wedding party and guests. The Hawley grave contained not only Hughson and Jennifer Hawley and Blanche, but also Nydia Watson, Blanche's sister, and a mystery guest named "Budge", wife of Walter Benyon-Tinker, aged only 22 (Farnol dedicated 'Over The Hills' to Benyon- Tinker in 1928). We still don't know the connection, although it may be that she is the daughter of Nydia (Nan), who predeceased her mother. Patcham village was very crowded, as was the whole of Brighton, and we had to wend our way back through strange streets, but eventually escaped. I found out later that there was a gay-lesbian pride gathering in Brighton that weekend; the press also reported that some individual had removed the handles and glued shut the doors of every public toilet in the town, which probably accounted for the strained expressions on the faces of all the car occupants we saw streaming in and out of Brighton.
After lunch at a pleasant pub called 'The Eight Bells', with more nappy ales and hoppy sausages (apparently made with real hops in them), we headed back to Eastbourne, and Julia then left for home. Stuart and I had supper together and said our goodbyes.
Later, I was to meet with our JFAS instigators Ian and Doth Edmondson-Noble in Didsbury, near Manchester, and spent a very pleasant couple of hours with them, with more and varied Farnol discussion. This took place in 'The Station', a pub with the smallest rooms I think I've ever seen (there were only two tables in ours).
It wasn't a 'small hedge tavern', but I think JF would have approved.
Pat and Doth
And so ended the very first Jeffery Farnol Reunion. I think we all agreed that it far exceeded our expectations; we all got on so well together, and had such a marvelous time, that I, for one, might be reluctant to try and repeat it, lest it prove a disappointment. We'll see.
I'll let Bob Ellenwood have the last word, quoting from the letter he sent me enclosing the original Farnol MS:
"Well, at 10 am on Saturday, August 9, 1952, the world lost a writer of tales of adventure, of Romance with a capital R, of historical novels most exciting, of evil doers finally getting their just dues, of courageous heroes and swooning maidens, of meadows and tree-lined country roads, of sparkling brooks and sweetly singing birds, of ancients and young ones, of sword fights and fist fights, of ships at sea and horsedrawn carriages careening along winding roads, of mysteries most intense, of characters unforgettable, and in it all, there was always the Farnol theme: right shall triumph over evil, the good in the world is so much greater than the bad, and in the end, love shall overcome in true happiness."
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