Historical Polish For My Car (17 January 1975)
From time to time newspaper offices are invaded by students seeking information on local history or on some aspect of it for their theses. Quite often I myself used to be drawn into the exercise, though I could hardly afford the time. Sometimes I wondered what the eventual theses would be like. I never saw one. I guess there were some rare concoctions.
Once, to save time, I offered to jot down the main facts for a thesis of the required number of words provided the student would wash my car. The offer was accepted with glee. I wrote down a few facts which could have been obtained anywhere without much trouble. Later the delighted student told me high marks had been given for research and gave my car an extra polish, the only polish it ever had while in my possession.
But there was another, more private reason for my somewhat immoral action. I had left school at what today would seem an incredibly early age, but journalism is a great educator and now, at the age of 60-odd, I wondered how I would rate in the world of dons and lecturers without having made a systematic study of any subject whatever. In the event, I was not displeased.
Since then, in the past two years, a great and happy change has occurred with the publication of Sir Frank Markham’s two-volume History of Milton Keynes and District.
If I were now asked for information on any aspect of local history I would say to the student, “Have you read Markham? If not go and read him. You will most likely find all your questions adequately answered. Take note of the short list of corrections to the first volume given in the second volume. Only if you have done that and are still not quite clear may you come back to me. I shall then probably refer you so some other local person with special knowledge of particular aspects.”
It is possible to pick a few small holes in Sir Frank’s second volume. It would be astonishing if that were not so, for new information on old matters is constantly coming to light. One of these holes concerns the local brickworkers.
On Page 297 of the second volume Sir Frank writes: “Concerning the numbers employed in brickmaking in North Bucks, it is surprising how little influence they exercise compared with the other two great industries, agriculture and railways. Very few brickmen ever stood for local councils, they had no great banners and held no great parades, and where the NFU, the NUR and ASLEF were always vocal and persistent, the brickmen were as quiet as chemists.”
Sir Frank said something on the same lines in a subsequent talk at the Rectory Cottages, Bletchley. He soon received the following letter from Mrs Olive Dimmock, of Brookfield Road, Newton Longville:
“I was very interested in your talk at Rectory Cottages on Thursday and enjoyed it very much.
“I did wonder why you said that the brickmen of Newton Longville were not interested in politics. In 1900 and on they were almost without exception staunch liberals.
“They attended all meetings, elections, etc. being driven by the brickyard steam engine and were often ambushed on the way home by the opposition, resulting in free scrapping for all.
“I have heard the tales so many times, as my father was very prominent among them . . .”
Sir Frank, with Mrs Dimmock’s approval, has asked me to make this correction for him. This I gladly do.
It seems to me that Sir Frank was thinking of later years than those referred to by Mrs Dimmock, and had forgotten or had not known about earlier times.
I happen to know that the chapter on local brickmaking was one of the most difficult Sir Frank had to cope with. I was also one of those who read it before it was published, but I was totally ignorant on that point. So thank you Mrs Dimmock, on my own behalf.
Nevertheless, my earlier remark stands. Read Markham and you will have a 99.99 per cent chance of being right. Who could wish for more?