A Publication of

THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY

Founded 8th May 1999



Newsletter No.9 8 May 2002

Kathleen Falkner
The Society has suffered a grievous loss with the death of Kathleen. From the first she was a stalwart and exceedingly generous supporter of the cause. We shall miss her greatly and a tribute is enclosed with this Newsletter.

John Noble's death is another blow to the Society. He was the grandson of JMF's closest friend, also John Noble. He grew up at Ardkinglas house, built in 1907 by Robert Lorimer, one of Scotland's leading architects, for his great-grandfather, Sir Andrew Noble. He was educated at Eton, where he achieved fame when he and a friend cheated in the steeplechase by having one of them begin the race whilst the other, dressed in identical kit and hiding near the finish, jumped out to win in some style. In later life he was an oyster grower and founder of Loch Fyne Oysters and Loch Fyne Restaurants. The Daily Telegraph recalled him as "a man of great charm....renowned for his [occasionally subversive] sense of humour and his exceptional generosity. Whenever he was at home, Ardkinglas was open to all. "Christopher Hawtree and I can both testify to his charm and generosity, when he entertained us in the early 1990's when we visited Ardkinglas to research the huge treasure trove of JMF letters there. He was one of the first to join the JMF Society, but modestly declined the offer of becoming President. He will be missed.


New Members
Since the last Newsletter in July, the Society has welcomed four new members.

Julian Payn, although now living in the USA is British and grew up in Brighton. He wrote, apropos of Moonfleet, "never has an author captivated me like this and sent me on such a quest to learn more about Falkner himself and Weymouth". Since then he has purchased Kenneth Warren's biography of JMF and a copy of the Poems and read The Nebuly Coat and engaged in correspondence, through me, with Peter Davey. Not a bad start.

Andrew Nye lives in Swindon and is a Headmaster. When he wrote, he was about to re-read Moonfleet, with a view to introducing it to children in his school. I think he relishes the challenge of using a book "which is culturally remote from their experience" . George Woodman's article in the July Journal reminisces on his attempts to interest a class of 13 year-old girls in Moonfleet. Andrew reminded me of the lovely walking country to the south of Swindon, on the Marlborough Downs. Barbury Castle is "still a wild and romantic place of sheep and skylarks".

Giselle Panero is our first member living in South America -in Buenos Aires. She recalls visiting Fleet Old Church at the age of fifteen, a perfect age for empathising with John Trenchard. She was "so much enchanted by it" that she returned there in July 2001. Thanks to our Society leaflets left there, she was able to get in touch with us. JMF certainly visited South America to push armament sales for Elswick but, I think, only went to Brazil and Rio. There is a future article in there somewhere.

Carroll Bishop, who hails from Toronto, made a chance remark on the weymanforever@yahoogroups that we both belong to. Although dedicated to the appreciation of Stanley Weyman, other authors are often referred to. Caroll responded to someone who had asked "Who the heck is John Meade Falkner?", with "He's heaven -wrote Moonfleet and The Lost Stradivarius and, oh, that one about the flawed church". Naturally, I wasted no time suggesting she should join us. Carroll is a writer from a writing family and organised the William Morris Society of Toronto. Carroll got the first Jung newsgroup online and has produced and directed The Immortal Hour by Fiona Macleod [b. Wil1iam Sharp], friend of Yeats and Rossetti. She is particularly fascinated by the era 1890-1910.


George Woodman wrote in respect of Christopher Hawtree's recent article on JMF and Reference Books. It inspired him to look up Dorothy Eagle's The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles and found quite a generous appraisal. He points out that JMF also figures in Everyman's Dictionary of Literary Biography.

Page and Allan Life wrote in January in appreciation of the comments Mark Valentine unearthed in The Spectator and to say that they are collecting every edition of The Lost Stradivarius they can find. Page says, "My favorite [other than the original, of course] is the Oxford World Classics paperback". Edward Wilson, take note.

Raymond Moody is clearly not content with authorship of two fascinating articles on Falkner and Burford for the JMF Journal [the second is in the forthcoming July issue]. He has recently figured in The Times - in the "Not Dead Yet" column - and then in The Daily Telegraph as a voice of Middle England over punitive inheritance tax issues. Believe me when I say our Society does not pay for authors' articles: I might write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in case he thinks this is where our members' wealth is coming from!

Moonfleet - the Opera

Exciting news from the Royal Grammar School, Guildford - the Director of Music there, Peter White, has been commissioned to write an opera for the Croydon based Trinity Boys Choir. The latter have an extraordinary reputation for the quality of their singing, performing and recording all over the UK and abroad. Last year they took part in a superb production of Benjamin Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne.
The choice of subject for their fortieth anniversary production -to be performed in the Fairfield Hall in 2004 - was left to Peter. He was determined "to write an opera that contained some 'meat' and was not simply a collection of little ditties felt to be suitable for young children. When I was twelve I was a soloist in the fIrst production of Alan Ridout's opera The Children's Crusade, which followed the fortunes of refugee children during the Second World War. The impact on me was enormous and I have always wanted to produce a work of similar weight and 'darkness'....Moonfleet is the ideal choice." The libretto is being written by Martin Cawte, an English teacher at Portsmouth Grammar School and a tenor in the choir of Portsmouth Cathedral.
Watch this space.

Bell-ringing in The Nebuly Coat

An article written for the JMF Society by David Rowlands


Colonel J.H. Taylor has recounted * how, on visiting his house in about 1930, Dorothy L. Sayers was drawn to his collection of detective and mystery fiction. She took down from the shelf The Nebuly Coat and referred to it as "a book of which she was very fond and much admired". Moreover, she was able to turn to the hymn tunes of the appendix [as played on the hours by Cullerne bells] and hum them spontaneously from the score.
Trevor Hall goes on in his interesting essay to define the similarities between the churches, the bell-ringing and the storms that damage the countryside of The Nebuly Coat and The Nine Tailors - Miss Sayers' renowned mystery story based on the English art of change-ringing.
For some reason over the years it became common for "ringers" to try and find technical errors in The Nine Tailors [there are very few indeed and none that invalidate the bell-ringing aspects of the story], yet to ignore The Nebuly Coat - probably because of its scarcity until recent times.
A short while ago I made some comments on The Nebuly Coat and in passing stated that Miss Sayers was far more accurate in her description of the change-ringing than was John Meade Falkner. I gave my reasons in rather technical terms and was asked to state them in terms suited to the non-ringer; hence this note.
It all hinges on chapter 18 of The Nebuly Coat. You will remember that Cullerne church/Minster has 8 bells but lacks bell-ringers experienced enough to ring a "full peal" [i.e. 5,040 changes] to welcome home Lord and Lady Blandamer from their honeymoon. The ringers of Carisbury are invited to come over to St. Sepulchre's and to ring that peal, despite the architect [Westray's] concerns about cracks in the tower. He is over-ridden both by the clergy and by his chief, Sir George, and the peal takes place. Falkner sets the scene well, describes the necessary maintenance of the bells and frame and says "and when the day came, the ringers stood to their work like men and rang a full peal of grandsire triples in two hours and fifty-nine minutes". This is excellent, accurate and believable. [lnformation he may have got from any peal board in any 8-bell tower in the country, in fact.] So far so good. Later, when the peal is almost over he is again correct - "the 5,040 changes were almost finished". It is the little bit in between where he throws away all his accuracy and believability. Westray - you may remember - stays in the church throughout the 3hr. peal. He goes up to the bell frame, the ringing chamber, finally listening inside the church from the organ loft where the sound of the bells is much muted. In order to provide more of what Pooh Bah would have called "verisimilitude" he demonstrates once and for all that he knows nothing of change-ringing, making two mistakes in quick succession: one of which the veriest tyro at ringing would pick up! :-

"He could hear deep-voiced Taylor John go striding through his singing comrades in the intricacies of the Treble Bob Triples "
Now "Taylor John" is the heaviest [or "tenor"] bell of the ring of 8. [A set of bells is called a "ring", not a "peal". Falkner uses "peal" quite correctly for the performance.] In triples, as any ringer knows, the tenor bell does NOT "go striding through" the other bells, mingling with them in the changes. He stays at the end of each row of changes, in eight's, marking time with his deep "bong", just like a drum. [It is known technically as "covering".] Triples are changes on 7 bells in which the bells change in 3 [i.e. Triple] sets of pairs. The maximum changes possible is in fact 7x6x5x4x3x2xl = 5,040 the exact length of a peal. So a peal of triples on 7 bells with the 8th bell covering, is the extent of changes possible.
His other mistake in the same sentence, is one that a modern ringer might pounce on - but for the wrong reason! To a modern ringer the term "treble bob triples" is a nonsense - nothing like that is rung today; it's a meaningless term. "Treble Bob" is rung on an even number of bells [like the 8 bells of Fenchurch St. Paul, where Dorothy Sayers correctly has the tenor, "Tailor Paul", rung among the other bells, i.e. not "covering"]. Falkner's immediate error is to re-describe the "grandsire triples" as "treble bob triples" which is utter nonsense. the two "methods" [as we call them] could not be more different. Moreover Treble Bob Triples probably WERE rung in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but would not produce a true peal of 5,040 changes.
In many ways it is surprising that a man of Falkner's abilities and background was not a ringer - he reminds me somewhat of Sir Arthur Heywood, the great "Minimum gauge Railway" engineer who was a superlative practical and theoretical ringer. Had he only shown the chapter to someone who was a ringer, he could also have saved the situation. Never mind, he's in good company .a great many other writers [including Walter de la Mare] have fallen foul of ringing terminology.
Agreed his mistake makes no difference whatever to the outcome of his excellent novel - for the majority of readers. But any ringer coming on this passage is going to cry "Rubbish! He doesn't know what he's talking about!".

[* = Hall, Trevor H. Dorothy l. Sayers: Nine Literary Studies, chapter 4 (The Nebuly Coat) and chapter 6 (The Documents in the Case), Duckworth (London), 1980]
P.S. Thanks are due to Mark Valentine for asking David Rowlands to write this article.


Membership Subscriptions
Most of you renewed your membership in January. However there are a few still outstanding. If your envelope has the "Black Spot" on it, then Blind Pew has swapped Societies to suggest immediate payment! I do hope you all feel you are getting good value for your 5.00 / $10.00 subscription. It just about covers the printing and postage costs of the three Newsletters and Journal each year. Cheques should be made payable to "The John Meade Falkner Society", not to me.

Best Wishes
Kenneth Hillier
Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne
Derbyshire. DE731BX, England, U.K.
Moonfleet@greenmantle63.freeserve.co.uk