02 January 2023

Childhood memories
brought to life by classic
cars in Stony Stratford

A Ford Popular in the Stony Stratford Vintage and Classic Festival revived many childhood memories (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

It baffles how I can remember the telephone numbers in the houses I lived in as a child, and the registration numbers of family cars through my childhood, but I am unfailing in my capacity to remember crucial numbers that are important in life today, such as mobile number, my NHS number and even – especially at times when I am running short of cash – the number of my bank card for ATMs.

Throughout my life I have never learned to drive. But the memories of cars that drove through my childhood remain in my mind.

There was ZL 5776, the Morris Minor that seems to have stood outside my grandmother’s house in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, for many years.

There was the old Ford Popuar that stood in the yard of a neighbours’ house, stripped of its wheels and engines and wheels and packed full of soap boxes and that was always a joy for us to play in as children.

There was the model yellow Austin Mini that I hoped and wished Santa would leave for me under the tree one childhood Christmas. I was about nine, I think, and I crept downstairs in the middle of the night to find it and to play with it in the silence between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. But from his bedroom above, my father could see the light I had switched on, casting its beams on the front garden. In his characteristic anger, he rushed down, promptly confiscated it, never to be seen again.

There was SZD 634, the Peugeot that seems to have been in the family though much of my childhood and my teens, taking me to school in Gormanston at the beginning of each school term, and only seen again at the end of term – but also taking us on family holidays to Bettystown, Co Meath, Virginia, Co Cavan, and Salthill, Co Galway.

There was the teenage friend in Rugeley who bought a second-hand (pr thrd- or fourth-hand) Merc, just for the fun of it, and another in Lichfield who drove around in a flashy beach buggy. I remember when I was in my late teens training as a chartered surveyor, and Sir Charles Wolseley was then a chartered surveyor with Smith Gore in Lichfield, driving a trademark red sports car around town, commuting daily between Lichfield and Wolseley.

There was Jemmer Murphy’s Capri in Wexford that we all wanted a lift in the early 1970s.

The Wolseley name recalls Frederick York Wolseley (1837-1899), a younger brother of Sir Garnet Wolseley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I never did learn to drive in my adult years. But many of those cars came to mind on New Year’s Day during the Stony Stratford Vintage and Classic Festival, and many similar cars were there to revive those childhood and teenage memories.

But some of the cars also caught my imagination on Sunday because of the family names associated with them.

I have long been intrigued by the genealogical connections between the Wolseley and Comberford families. On Sunday, one of the cars on proud display was a Wolseley 15/50 dating from 1958. It was repainted five years ago, but otherwise the car is in its original condition.

Herbert Austin introduced the first British-designed motor car in England in 1895 and adapted the name Wolseley in honour of his long-time employer, Frederick York Wolseley (1837-1899), a younger brother of Sir Garnet Wolseley.

Talbot was a luxury car manufacturer founded in 1903 by the Earl of Shrewsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A 1934 Talbot BA 65/75 has coachwork by the Carlton Carriage Co. The name Talbot also features regularly in Comberford family history, and the talbot is one of the principal figures on the Comberford family coat-of-arms.

Talbot was an English-French luxury car manufacturer founded in 1903 by Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 20th Earl of Shrewsbury, and Adolphe Clément-Bayard. Their business was based in Barlby Road, Kensington, London. In the depression in the mid-1930s, the business was bought by Rootes Brothers and in 1938, the Company was renamed Sunbeam-Talbot Limited.

The Talbot name died out in the 1950s, but it was revived under the ownership of Peugeot and used between 1978 and 1994.

Cars like this 1930s Talbot were designed by the talented Swiss engineer Georges Roesch. His designs were noted for their excellence of engineering and the use of high quality materials. His cars were considered as the luxury sportscars of the day.

This car was delivered in May 1934 and spent its early years in Yorkshire. It was later bought by Eric Marsden around 1943 when the mileage was about 20,000. Marsden later moved to the Isle of Wight and put the car away in his garage, undriven for 45 years until he sold to it the Talbot specialist lan Polson as a restoration project.

Ian Polson restored the chassis and sold the part-finished project to David Thompson, who carried out a full and very comprehensive restoration in the 1990s. The drophead coupe bodywork was built by the Carlton Carriage Company and has been fully restored to its original conditionAbout 150 Talbots of the 65 and 75 series remain. Originally, three cars built with bodies to this design, but it is believed that this car is the only survivor.

Did the Riley name inspire TS Eliot’s characters? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A Riley Lynx 12-4 Tower (Registration Plate ACR 308) is a 1937 Special Series model, first registered on 19 October 1936 in Southampton.

Riley was a family firm formed in Coventry in 1903, originally making cycles, having previously been involved in weaving machinery. It was famous for its wheels which were sold to 183 other motor manufacturers, including Rolls Royce.

Riley progressed from wire wheels through motorbikes and tricycles to motorcars in various works around Coventry. Most items were designed and made in house including the engines, for which they became well known when used in ERA racing cars and others. Riley’s won their class in many races around the world including Le Mans, Brooklands and various rallies.

Sadly many company documents were destroyed in the Coventry Blitz in 1940-1941, with loss of many definitive production records. It is thought that about 500-600 cars like this were produced, and about 120 are still identified and running around the world.

The Riley company was renowned for high-quality engineering and corporate integrity, claiming to be ‘As old as the Industry, as Modern as the Hour’. It succumbed to over production of too many types during the 1930s. Following financial difficulties, Riley was bought out by William Morris, later Lord Nuffield. After World War, the company was moved to MG at Abingdon, eventually becoming part of BMC then British Leyland where it continued making cars until 1959.

I wonder sometimes whether the name inspired singing of the bawdy song One Eyed Riley in The Cocktail Party by TS Eliot, or the more lavishly named Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. The name and IPR is now owned by BMW.

ZL 943, a 1949 version of the MG TD, was first registered in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Childhood memories of car number places, of course, also drew my eyes to ZL 943, a 1949 version of the MG TD.

After World War II, MG wanted to bring out a new sports car, and so in 1949, as an interim design, they rebodied the pre-war TC model, with new front suspension and replaced the spoked wheels with solid metal wheels.

They only made a few of these before upgrading the engine unit, and also redesigning the dashboard instruments and piercing pepper-pot holes in the wheels to help cool the brakes. These last two changes are the only obvious sign of difference of this rare early model against the prolific TD made from 1950 onwards.

This MG TD was originally registered in Dublin, and when it was bought in 1967 for £180 it was in a shabby condition. ‘Zulu’ has always been in use, and is showing signs of age. It has e has never been restored, has been kept tidy, roadworthy and MOT’d … and it has been driven many miles round England and France over the years.

With ZL 5776 outside my grandmother’s house in Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford collection)

Praying at Christmas through poems
and with USPG: 2 January 2023

‘Ring out the old, ring in the new,/ Ring, happy bells, across the snow …’ a bell in the Church of Christ the Cornerstone in Milton Keynes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

In the Calendar of the Church of England, today [2 January] commemorates Saint Basil the Great (379) and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (389), Bishops and Teachers of the Faith. Today, many of us are still ringing in the New Year, even if we are returning to work this morning after a long holiday. How many of us heard over the last few days those words written in 1850 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892):

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

For my Christmas poem this morning I have chosen ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells,’ which was published by Tennyson in 1850, the year he was appointed Poet Laureate. It forms part of ‘In Memoriam,’ Tennyson’s elegy to Arthur Henry Hallam, his sister’s fiancé, who had died at the age of 22.

Although Tennyson has probably gone out of fashion, many of us remember reading at school poems such as ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ ‘Crossing the Bar,’ ‘The Lady of Shalott,’ ‘Locksley Hall’ and ‘Ulysses.’ A number of phrases from Tennyson’s writings have become commonplace in the English language, including: ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw,’ ‘’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all,’ ‘Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die,’ ‘My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure,’ ‘Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers,’ and ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new.’

But for a long time I had forgotten ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’ until some years ago when I was reintroduced to Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man, where the second, seventh and eighth stanzas are set to music by Jenkins in the finale (‘Better is Peace’).

Tennyson was born in Lincolnshire in 1809, the son and grandson of Lincolnshire rectors. His father, the Revd George Clayton Tennyson, was the Rector of Somersby; his maternal grandfather, the Revd Stephen Fytche, was the Vicar of Saint James’s, Louth, and of Withcall (1780).

Trinity College, Cambridge … Tennyson entered as an undergraduate in 1827 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After attending local grammar schools, Tennyson entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1827, where Byron and Thackeray were undergraduates too in the early 19th century.

At Cambridge, he joined the Cambridge Apostles, a discussion group that began in Trinity in the 1820s and 1830s, and that has played a part in forming the minds of many leading members of the British intelligentsia. Other ‘apostles’ around that time included George Tomlinson, later Bishop of Gibraltar, the theologian and Christian Socialist Frederick Denison Maurice, Charles Darwin’s brother Erasmus Alvey Darwin, the future Archbishop of Dublin Richard Chenevix Trench, and the Dublin-born theologian Fenton John Anthony Hort. Later members included AN Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, GM Trevelyan, EM Forster, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Rupert Brooke, Lionel Penrose, Eric Hobsbawn, Jonathan Miller and Anthony Kelly – and the Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt.

Soon after going up to Cambridge, Tennyson published his first collection, Poems by Two Brothers (1827). Two years later, in 1829, he was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold Medal at Cambridge for ‘Timbuctoo,’ and in 1830 he published the collection Poems Chiefly Lyrical, which included two of his most celebrated poem, ‘Claribel’ and ‘Mariana.’

However, the death of his father in 1831 forced Tennyson to leave Cambridge without receiving his degree, and he lived with his mother at his father’s former rectory for some years. In 1833, he published his second book of poetry, which included ‘The Lady of Shalott.’

He later moved to High Beach, near Epping Forest in Essex, and from there to Chapel House in Twickenham. His two-volume collection in 1842 included ‘Locksley Hall’ and ‘Ulysses.’ In ‘Ulysses,’ Tennyson had a very different understanding about Odysseus and his return home than the approach of Constantine Cavafy in yesterday’s poem, ‘Ithaka’ [1 January 2023].

Tennyson reached the height of his career and his fame in 1850 with the publication of his masterpiece, In Memoriam AHH, a tribute to his closest friend at Cambridge, Arthur Henry Hallam.

In Memoriam was an immediate success, and that year Tennyson was appointed Poet Laureate in succession to William Wordsworth. His later works included ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ (1855), and in 1885 he was given a peerage.

Tennyson was born into a strongly clerical family, and I mentioned on New Year’s Eve [31 December 2022] how some influences from Tennyson are reflected in TS Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding.’ But Tennyson’s views of Christianity were often unconventional. In In Memoriam, he wrote: ‘There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.’ In Maud (1855), he said: ‘The churches have killed their Christ.’ In Locksley Hall Sixty Years After he wrote: ‘Christian love among the churches look’d the twin of heathen hate.’ In his play, Becket, he declared: ‘We are self-uncertain creatures, and we may, Yea, even when we know not, mix our spites and private hates with our defence of Heaven.’

Tennyson died on 6 October 1892 at Aldworth, at the age of 83, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. A memorial was erected in All Saints’ Church, Freshwater, on the Isle of Wight, where the rest of his family is buried, and there is a large statue of him the ante-chapel in Trinity College Cambridge.

Tennyson’s statue in the Ante-Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

According to a popular story, the ‘wild bells’ in the poem were the bells of the church at Waltham Abbey. The story is told that Tennyson was staying nearby at High Beach when he heard the abbey bells being rung. It was a stormy night, and some accounts say the bells were being swung by the wind rather than deliberately.

However, Tennyson may also have been influenced by his memories of the bells in the Clock Tower in the Great Court at Trinity College, Cambridge. The clock strikes the hour twice, first on a low note and then on a much higher one – Wordsworth had earlier described it in his ‘Prelude’ as the clock ‘with a male and female voice.’

The ‘Great Court Run’ involves attempting to run around Great Court within the time it takes the clock to strike the hour of 12, including the preparatory chiming of the four quarters and the two sets of 12 as the clock strikes each hour twice. The course is 347.5 metres long and striking the hour at 12 can take between 43 and 45 seconds. Great Court is the largest court or quad in either Cambridge or Oxford, and Trinity undergraduates regularly attempt this feat, while athletically-inclined members of Trinity attempt the run every year at noon on the day of the Matriculation Dinner. The Great Court Run forms a central scene in David Putnam’s film Chariots of Fire (1981) – which I watched again on BBC on Christmas Eve – although it was filmed in Eton and not in Trinity.

Despite Tennyson’s often belligerent nationalism, this poem expresses interesting values that make this an appropriate poem to select this morning. Despite Tennyson’s unconventional ideas about Christianity, he concludes with visionary hope in the prayer: ‘Ring in the Christ that is to be.’

The bells in the Clock Tower in Trinity College, Cambridge, strike the hour twice, first on a low note and then on a much higher one (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ring out the old, ring in the new, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

‘Ring in the thousand years of peace’ … the peace bell at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Refugee Response in Finland.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by the Revd Tuomas Mäkipää, Chaplain at Saint Nicholas’ Anglican Church in Helsinki, who tells how a USPG grant is helping to support Ukrainian refugees.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for those fleeing Russia because of changes in their society and for fear of being conscripted. May they be upheld by courage and met with compassion.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Ring in the love of truth and right / Ring in the common love of good’ … a bell in the campanile in Saint Mark’s Square, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)