Damon Hart-Davis: Memories

Mum's Parents: Dorrien and Joe

[I don't think that I have a photo of Dorrien and Joe.]

Dorrien and Joe Alpin lived in Mirfield (West Yorkshire) when we did, but seemed so far away. I think that I may have walked or biked to them just once. I called them Granny and Grandpa.

Their semi-detatched house was in Gregory Springs Mount, at the far side of a a circular road / cul de sac, and I now realise on the other side of the River Calder from us at Uplands Drive (and along "Granny Lane"). Their house backed onto a farmer's field, and unlatching the gate through their high hedge and turning right on the path along the edge of the field, led to a wood.

Their back garden had a greenhouse or two that spelt of tomatoes, and a slightly green and slimy water butt, and a prolific netted damson tree. Dorrien liked her gardening, and their living room (with the big old-fashioned stereo center with turntable and radio, and TV also in a wooden cabinet with doors, and high-backed chairs, looked on through their huge picture window. Dorrien listened rapt to Gardeners' Question Time on the radio every week.

Upstairs was a spare bedroom that I sometimes slept in, and also where Joe made wine. I used to watch the bubbing of the air traps, and smell the slightly sickly fermentation.

I always thought of their house as cosy and snug, with soft carpets and their comfy high chairs in the living room.

Being Yorkshire, Granny made me tea the Yorkshire way that Joe liked it, with so much sugar that the spoon could stand up. And bread with beef dripping, prizing the tasty dark bits. And of course the roast dinner that the dripping came from, with Yorkshire puddings!

They had a small old twin-tub washing machine on wheels in the kitchen, with a US-style vertical agitator on one side and spinner on the other. I was a bit shocked in fact on first staying in a US home, to see what they considered normal matched my granny's hideously-dated and inefficient setup...

Joe was a driving instructor, independent I think, with his dual-control Mini Clubman. He promised to teach me to drive, but age and cancer got to him, and I eventually learnt while at university in Edinburgh.

(I think that Granny once took me to the place that she used to work in Dewsbury, the next big town along, maybe as a typist? My memory is vague.)

One of the best books that I've ever been given, and that I still have, is The Amazing World of Nature (Readers Digest 1969), a big hardcover trove of fascinating pictures and stories. Dorrien wrote in it for me: To Damon With love from Granny and Grandpa Alpin Christmas 1975. I wrote on the following page, in a childish hand: Damon Hart-Davis 29 Eyncham Road, and stamped twice my name in blue with a rubber stamp that I had!

Dorrien and Joe had two daughters: my mum Adrienne, and her elder sister Penny. With Penny's son Christopher and me and my brother Jason, that makes three grandchildren.

Dorrien and Joe were both from large (~13 sibblings?) Yorkshire families.

Dad's Parents: June and Rupert

June and Rupert at home in Marske
June and Rupert at home in the Old Rectory, Marske-in-Swaledale, North Yorkshire. (Original at the Gallery.)

I've only ever known June as my other grandmother, sweet and small and gentle. She is not my genetic grandmother, see Adam's notes below.

And Grandfather Rupert I've always thought of as a half-deaf slightly gruff growly person when I was a kid, and subsequently learning that he was military makes sense.

Their huge house in Marske-in-Swaledale, the old vicarage for Marske likely having more rooms than the rest of the village, was amazing. A beck (small river) at the bottom of the garden, fields around it, a lovely view, two staircases so we as kids (my brother and cousins Amy and Simon) could chase one another up one and down the other. The thousands of books lining every wall and which subsequently were sold off en masse to a university. Everything smelt of very slightly musty books, in my probably wonky memory... And so many bedrooms — maybe 14 I think I may have counted.

(Even the toilets had bookcases, and the corridors were lined too: more library than any library I've ever been in, including the British Library, the Royal Society, and various university libraries!)

I remember the grandfather clock in the front hallway, and the cool space outside the kitchen at the bottom of the other stairs. Black and white tiles in both, I think. Also near the kitchen, the nice cool pantry.

Rupert was a great-great-great-grandson of King William IV, twice illegitimate! Rupert received a knighthood in 1967 for services to literature, so June and he became formally Sir Rupert and Lady June Hart-Davis.

(Rupert has a Wikipedia page where you can read more about him, as well as leaving multiple volumes of autobiography and letters behind. Once in the school library in sixth form, the librarian said I didn't know that your grandfather was married to [Dame] Peggy Ashcroft! to which I responded Nor did I!, and she showed me in Who's Who...)

After Rupert died, as I recall, June moved first to a house in Marske, then a townhouse in Darlington, then a retirement home in Richmond, where I visited her once.

Adam's Comments

Adam sent me the following photos and notes ():

June was not my mother. Dad and Comfort (Mum) separated and divorced around 1960. Dad went off to Yorkshire and married Ruth (Simon), who then died, and he married June (Clifford) around 1968. I think you must have met Mum when you were tiny, but we left for Canada in 1968, and she died before we came back.

I trawled through some old photo albums and came up with a few pictures.

Family shows Dad, Mum, Duff, Bridget, and me as a baby in 1943.

Hendaye Plage beach pics are 1956 - Dad, Mum, me, Bridget.

The pics labelled Mum are 1962, with Duff, Phylla, and Bridget; and Mum with her Fez, which I brought back from Fez.
Finally Dad with you in 1967.

([Photo credits] The one of you with Dad is mine. The ones on the beach were taken by whoever is not in the picture, Dad or Bridget or me. Duff was away in national service. The one of me as a baby was probably taken by Diana Gamble. The one of Mum, Duff, Phylla, and Bridget may have been taken by Phylla’s sister Olivia. I was in India at the time.)

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