The Great Western Railway Register of Uniformed Employees records that my grandfather, Harry Hones (H/013/001), became a ‘Lad Porter’ at Reading Station in July 1885 at the age of 14.
He was apparently fined 1/– in 1887 for ‘larking about’ but he overcame this blot on his copybook to become a Porter (1889) and in 1896 moved to be a Shunter in Penzance. By 1897 he was back in Reading as a Breaksman [sic] Guard in the Goods Yard. In 1898, he became a Passenger Guard at Westbourne Park and then Hammersmith before moving back to Cornwall in 1902. Based at St Blazey & Penzance, the family lived in Par.
He was the Passenger Guard on the route from London to Penzance and could well have met Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch when he was travelling to his home in Fowey.
There is no GWR record of when exactly he became the Guard on the new elite train formed in 1904 and named The Cornish Riviera Express. This would have speeded up Q’s journey considerably as he did not have to change trains at Plymouth and was met by taxi at Par for the short road trip to Fowey.
The GWR record does indicate that my grandfather was ‘commended’ in 1911 but had some undated reduction in pay – probably because of illness – in the years just before his death in September 1914.
After leaving Oxford, Q moved to work for the publisher Cassells in London in 1887. Within three years he had three novels in print – Dead Man’s Rock (1887), The Astonishing History of Troy Town (1888), The Splendid Spur (1889) – and was writing for the new weekly paper, The Speaker, and such journals as The London Illustrated News and The Graphic.
For all this time, he was frequently visiting Fowey. In his biography of Q, Brittain (1947) wrote: ‘Many of his stories were written in the train between London and Fowey; others, as he tells us, “under the stars over Plymouth Hoe in night-pacings through an interval thoughtfully provided for me by the Great Western, breaking trains on the way home”.’ A little bit of Q’s ‘tongue-in-the-cheek’ writing!
Early in 1892, Q moved with his family to Fowey and by the summer were living in The Haven. Their home for the rest of their lives.
He was essentially ‘a man of the sea’ – with a great interest in, and knowledge of, everything maritime – but it is apparent that he also held a ‘soft spot’ for railways. There are a number of his short stories which are about a journey by train – often whimsical – ‘Cuckoo Valley Railway’ – and occasionally with a twist in the narrative, as in ‘The Bend of the Road’, which defies rational explanation.
A thoughtful, far-sighted realist, in his introduction to a book produced in 1930 – Cornwall: Coast Moors and Valleys – A survey and suggestions for their preservation, Q asks the reader ‘to consider how recently this isolated country [sic] has been discovered’. He refers to Rambles beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins (1851) and continues with a brief history of some of the early mineral railways which operated in the county in the mid-19th century before the opening in 1859 of Brunel’s ‘magnificent bridge’ across the Tamar. Q could envisage the tourism of the future.
Q’s familiarity with travel by railway continued when he was the Professor of English Literature at Cambridge and Brittain described the story – and story it always was! – of Q’s departure from Jesus College at the end of term; ‘ ..a few of the higher officers were allowed to go with him to the railway station.’ Then the railway staff took over! ‘Everyone there from the station-master downwards, seemed to be very willingly at his beck and call, and the train did not move until he had found a compartment that suited him and the luggage and spare bowler had safely been stowed.’
When Q left home each term the railway officials at Par (the junction for Fowey) always gave him the same quasi-royal reception as those at Cambridge. What is more remarkable is that, as travellers noticed, the officials at the great termini of Paddington and Liverpool Street, with their thousands of passengers, treated him in exactly the same way.
I have always assumed that it was often my grandfather who, as the Guard, over the years saw Q safely on and off the train.
My father was a pupil at Fowey Grammar School when the family lived in Par. In May 1907, at the school prize-giving, the Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Treloar, presented him with signed books as prizes for English, Maths and Science. When he left school in 1909, he joined the ship-brokers Toyne, Carter & Co. working in their office on Albert Quay as a junior shipping clerk.
Initially he travelled daily from the family home in Par but when they moved to Penzance in 1911, he began to live in Fowey, taking lodgings with the Dyer family, just around the corner from the office. Throughout his time, he may not have had any direct contact with Q – but he would certainly have known him as a very familiar figure in the town. It is not known whether Q was ever aware at that time that the young shipping office clerk was the son of the GWR guard that he had known on his travels by train.
My father would have been well aware that Q was busy in Cornwall for much of 1915 when he was raising, equipping and training a new pioneer battalion for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. How much this influenced my father to volunteer himself at the end of 1915 we shall never know but, after initial training he was transferred to the 10th Pioneer Battalion in the summer of 1916. Letters and postcards show that he was occasionally ‘seconded’ to the Royal Field Artillery where he made contact with Q’s son Bevil – but he was still with 10th Pioneers in Germany in 1919 before he was able to return to civilian life.
After his 1921 marriage to his ‘Penzance girl’, they lived in Golant for a year and he commuted daily on the branch line from Lostwithiel to Fowey. After I was born in 1922, the family moved to a house in the town and in 1926 to a newly built house on the outskirts which was the family home until my father’s death in 1962.
For 50 years they lived in the small town where, it was often said, ‘everyone knew everyone else’. As a result, my parents were well known to the Quiller-Couch family through being involved in such activities as the WRVS and attending St. Fimbarrus church, where my father had been treasurer while Sir Arthur and his wife were regular members of the congregation, The small pew which they used now has a memorial brass plate to commemorate the link.
My father also always had a wide interest in ‘education’ and was very aware of the work done by Q for the whole county. He was a Governor for his old school, Fowey Grammar School, while Q was chairman
Not surprisingly, he arranged that I could have an interview with Sir Arthur when I was seeking advice in 1939 about my future career. For a callow youth, it could have been a daunting experience but my memory was always of the kindly way in which the eminent professor quietly listened and advised the boy he had known for years. He knew that I was not another A. L. Rowse (A Cornish Childhood: Cape, 1982) and so gave me more modest and realistic targets to aim for! I was sad that I was far away in Gibraltar and missed being able to pay my deep respects at his funeral.
When I was a boy I saw ‘Miss Foy’ as a somewhat formal lady – courteous but always a little ‘distant’, not easy for a youngster to know. I would say that she had little contact with children and did not find it easy to relate to them.
The death of her brother meant that she had a very important role in the life of the family. There are many evidences to show how often Q was the proud father as he encouraged her to be involved in such sporting activities as a rowing trip on the River Avon and sailing the yacht he had given her in Fowey. In an account of the annual regatta he wrote about ‘another race in which my daughter sailed against fourteen competitors and came in third.’ In the 1930s I saw her sailing her boat in the ‘Handicap class – and in the 1950’s she was joint owner of a Troy (T2: Emerald) and was regularly racing in that class. She was known locally as confident and quite adventurous at the helm.
It was only much later that I became aware of how important she had been to her father – often behind the scenes – not only in supporting her mother to manage the family household in The Haven but also with the many ‘outside’ activities in which her father was a leading figure.
In The History of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club there is a detailed account of the club’s Regatta Day ‘at Home’ when ‘many famous people and the cream of Cornish society attended. A delicious tea was provided for the guests. Often as many as 250 attended’. Foy took over the task of dealing with this and ‘notes in (her) own handwriting provide an insight into the complexity of the arrangements’.
When I started researching Q’s life, I wrote to her in 1972 when she was living in Lanhydrock House to see if I could visit her next time that I was in Cornwall. I will quote some of her warm reply:
‘My home life at Fowey was so happy that I look back on my connections with that ‘dearest of small cities’ as my father used to call it with pleasure.
Your father was going to allow me to see some of his War diaries, but unfortunately I had to go away for some reason and then alas it was too late.’
(Very unfortunately all his diaries, maps and notes were lost when my mother moved house after my father’s death in 1962. Some were relevant to the movements of Foy’s brother Bevil.)
She then wrote about the future of ‘our old home The Haven which I have made over (with the library) to my only relative – a cousin on my Mother’s side’ and the unlikely possibility that the family could retain the house as it was. (The cousin was Guy Symondson – also now deceased. I have a letter from his wife on his behalf giving us encouragement in our research on Q and permission to use any of his work in the future.)
She ended her letter with ‘I caught a glimpse of your mother in Redruth. Please give her my best remembrances’.(I have left all the spelling as it exists in Foy’s original letter.)
Sadly she was taken ill soon after we had corresponded, moved into a nursing home and a visit was not possible.
I can only continue the connections between Q and the Hones family by trying to ensure that his life and work do not get forgotten.