Last week-end I was at a course at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. It’s always nostalgic being back in Birmingham. I went there at the age of twenty-two to do an MA on Pre-Raphaelite illustration of Shakespeare’s plays and spent the rest of my twenties there. My mother moved there around the same time and stayed for thirteeen years, so I always think of her there. Birmingham’s a fine city, and it is also a good place for day trips to Oxford, Stratford, and other places well worth a visit.
One trip that sticks in my mind was a day out in Lichfield. It was May 1980 (I explain how I know this later on) and the Birmingham branch of the Victorian Society had arranged to see some Victorian silver plate – I think – belonging to the cathedral. I was in two minds whether to go as I wasn’t feeling very well, but in the end I decided that the day out would do me good. I caught the bus into town and then the train out to Lichfield.
I was the only person to show up. Actually that is not quite true. After perhaps quarter of an hour someone else turned up, but not before I had sensed the discomfiture of the poor man who had given up his afternoon for this event and suffered agonies of embarrassment myself. Some years later I worked for the Victorian Society and events were well organised and attended by then. But the intensity of my embarrassment that day burned it into my memory.
And how do I know it was May 1980? At some point I browsed the second-hand bookshops and was delighted to find a copy of Time Was, the reminiscences (as it says on the title-page) of W. Graham Robertson for £1.75. It was a real find. Robertson was a late Victorian man about town, the friend of many artists, writers and actors. It’s a charming memoir full of anecdotes and was an essential source for the Ph.D that I’d then begun. In it I wrote my name and ‘May 1980 Lichfield.’ It’s open on the desk beside me as I write.
Incidentally you don’t have to be a Quaker to stay at the Study Centre – or be studying either – as it offers great value B & B to anyone and is a lovely place set in ten acres of garden and woodland. I can’t recommend it highly enough.