The 2005 Romany Society Weekend in North Yorkshire

The 2005 Romany Society Weekend in North Yorkshire

From Romany Magazine, the Society’s Journal. by Phil Shelley:

Friday 7th October saw the beginning of our annual pilgrimage to one of the areas beloved by Romany. Lynn and I were particularly excited, as we love the North Yorkshire Moors, and we knew that our experience would be enhanced by the presence of our fellow Romany enthusiasts.

All through the afternoon and into the evening the pilgrims arrived at the White House Hotel from almost all corners of the kingdom. It was heartening to note that some new faces were present, as word spreads that we are a warm and friendly bunch.

Dinner provided the chance to catch up with old friends, and the opportunity to make new ones. We were briefly joined by our weekend guides, George, Mary and Sue Swalwell, who were on their way to a family celebration. Towards the end of the evening, Ray Hollands, who was instrumental in organising our event, gave the weary travellers their orders for the following day.

Grey skies greeted us on a rather cold and windy morning. Undaunted, however, we drove a short distance to the Sleights area, where we were to visit the farm where Romany’s vardo had resided for several years. Well wrapped against the breeze and threatening rain, we descended the hillside to the ruins of the miner’s cottage, where Eunice, Glyn and June had stayed, while Romany, hardy soul, had slept in his tent, with Raq at his side. Many of us were struck by Romany’s careful selection of this site, as there wasn’t a breath of wind to be felt and the air was several degrees warmer! George regaled us with tales of his adventures with Romany, and every person there learned at least one thing they hadn’t previously known. There must still be so many people with personal memories that remain, as yet, unrecorded; all like pieces of a vast jigsaw puzzle, some missing forever, others yet to be found.

The hardy descended further to the river bank to view the badger setts, so well-known to Romany. Imagine our disappointment to find that, since our last visit in 2002, all trace has now disappeared. It’s hard to imagine a natural abandonment of this ancient settlement; sadly man’s interference seems much more likely.

On the way back up the hillside I took a call on my mobile phone from a reporter working for the Yorkshire Post. Our Patron, Terry Waite, was to join us later that day (a prior engagement preventing his presence on Friday) and, as usual, this was creating some interest.

We met Terry at the Victoria Farm Garden Centre, where the resourceful Ray had organised lunch; and a real home-made affair it was, with a great array of sandwiches, savouries and cakes, washed down with plenty of tea and coffee. Terry had arrived some time before us, and in his usual way had befriended the proprietor, who was delighted that Terry had set a trend in purchasing a very reasonably-priced walking stick. I am happy to report that the Romany Society then proceeded to almost clear the centre of its entire stock of sticks!

On then to Sandsend, where, once more, Jonathan and Vivian Winterschladen entertained us at Romany Cottage. This was a first visit for many, including Terry, and we were heartened to hear that the family has no intention of changing things. Whilst some may describe the cottage as ‘primitive,’ it remains virtually unaltered since Romany’s time. One feels that whilst modernisation could improve creature comforts, it would be at the expense of a total change of atmosphere; and the ghost of Raq, which is occasionally to be heard running down the stairs, might be forever lost!

In the late afternoon, all members who had caused trouble the previous evening, were punished by being forced to listen to my illustrated talk, ‘Romany, the story of an extraordinary naturalist’; let that be a lesson to you all!

Our Patron hosted the Gala Dinner, with George and Mary as honoured guests. In his after-dinner speech, Terry praised the work of farmers such as George, and highlighted how important they were in the Romany story. He was critical of successive governments in their abandonment of the farming community, and their belated recognition of the very environmental issues that Romany had warned about over seventy years before, at a time when being green had yet to become fashionable.

Our evening concluded with an extensive raffle, presided over by Terry, whose humour added greatly to the task. Sunday morning’s weather was much improved as we joined the congregation of Sleights Methodist Church, for Sunday worship. Afterwards, we were treated to refreshments, and met several of the congregation who had known Romany. Terry took a press call at the orchard-site of Romany’s vardo, and we met a local man who remembered the time when the caravan had also rested at Carr End Farm, directly opposite the church. This was previously unknown to us, and certainly Eunice makes no mention of it in the biography of her husband.

The entire 2005 weekend party visiting George and Mary Swalwell's home in Sleights

The entire 2005 weekend party visiting George and Mary Swalwell’s home in Sleights

Finally, George and Mary invited the entire party back to ‘Dunfarmin,’ their lovely home in Sleights. With their dining-room table groaning under the weight of food, we all felt it our duty to relieve the pressure on the table legs; after all, we didn’t want it to collapse, did we?

Terry, George and I gave a lengthy telephone interview to the Yorkshire Post (a subsequent report appearing there), and then it was time for a last ‘team photo’ on the porch, and the happy party broke up (until next year, of course!). We have great plans for a possible Cheshire-based reunion for 2006.

The Romany Society Weekend in Cumbria, October 2003

The Romany Society Weekend in Cumbria October 2003

From Romany Magazine, the Society’s Journal 2003. By Lynn Shelley:

Well, yet another Romany Society weekend has passed, and although I have enjoyed each one, this year’s was truly special.

Phil and I had arrived at the Edenhall Country Hotel a day earlier than other members, as he wanted to be sure everything was in order. During the late afternoon of Friday our friends began to assemble. In most cases it was a full year since we had last met, and all the Romany gossip had to be aired before freshening-up for dinner!

Our meal was later than usual, due to the delayed arrival of our Patron, Terry Waite, who does seem to have his share of problems with train journeys. Despite his arrival that morning from the USA (he hadn’t slept in a bed since Wednesday!), Terry was in fine form, showing no obvious signs of the inevitable jetlag.

Saturday morning saw us travelling in convoy to Glassonby Methodist Chapel for the first event of the weekend.

We were welcomed to the Chapel by the Reverend Alan Gawthorpe. Stalwart member, Arthur Kidd, who is well known for setting Romany traps for passing walkers, spoke of Romany the Minister, and his own experiences of hearing him preach at the Chapel. Phil was asked to say a few words, and he described the warmth and fellowship felt by society members; something he hadn’t experienced in other organisations.

Moving outside, Terry unveiled the bronze memorial plaque commemorating Romany’s many visits to the Chapel. He described Romany’s concern for nature, and his worry that we were not taking care of our planet, rather prophetic words written and spoken over 60 years ago.

After Terry and Phil had given press and TV interviews, we drove to Old Parks Farm to see our information board in its rightful place. Following the foot and mouth disaster of 2001, we were delighted to see farmer, and society Honorary Life Member, David Raine, whose cattle are now back.

We walked to the memorial birdbath, where Terry and Phil spoke again, and member Joyce Gelleburn described Romany’s last visit to Old Parks. Following a minutes silence flowers were laid on behalf of all members. The autumn colours we had chosen – red and gold – perfectly reflected the beautiful day and magnificent scenery.

After a superb lunch at ‘Brief Encounter,’ Langwathby, where Gordon and his staff treated us royally, it was on to Kirkoswald Primary School for a spot of tree planting!

Two young pupils joined Terry in planting a rowan tree to commemorate our visit

Two young pupils joined Terry in planting a rowan tree to commemorate our visit

Head Teacher, Helen Armstrong, greeted us and took us to a classroom where the children’s designs for their new wildlife area were on display.

Again under the scrutiny of the press and TV cameras, Terry told the 100, or so, people present of his time in captivity, when he longed to see a little greenery. Phil presented the Romany Society grant of £200 to the School Support Group, which will help in the funding of a bird watching hide.

Two young pupils joined Terry in planting a rowan tree to commemorate our visit, and the outline of his hand was drawn onto a block of sandstone. This will eventually be carved out and placed under the tree. He spent a considerable time, surrounded by children, chatting to them and giving autographs.

Being with the children that afternoon was very special, and for many was the highlight of a weekend packed full of significant events. Romany’s memory will surely live on if we continue with activities of this nature.

The Gala Dinner that evening was attended by a number of local members, with Guests of Honour being Arthur Kidd and Kathleen and Keith Harrison.

Our final morning together was spent in the company of the congregation at the Methodist Central Hall in Carlisle, founded by Romany in 1923.

Terry unveiling the plaque

Terry unveiling the plaque

Phil thanked Tamar Dixon for inviting him to speak. He could not have envisaged some 15 years ago, when he first became interested in Romany, the day when he might address a group of people in the very church in which Romany had preached. He read an extract from a Romany book and then handed over to Terry, who spoke movingly of his time in captivity and the importance of his childhood memories of the Romany books.

The events of the weekend concluded with Terry again unveiling a bronze plaque, this time commemorating Romany’s time at the Carlisle church.

So, what a weekend! How will we possibly follow it next year? I suspect it will be a case of ‘watch this space!’

The Thanksgiving Service for Romany 20th November 2003

The Thanksgiving Service for Romany
20th November 2003

From Cheshire Life magazine. By Phil Shelley:

“Romany comes home”

One could be forgiven for imagining that a naturalist who died sixty years ago would be forgotten in today’s hi-tech, wildlife-images-served-on-plate environment. Why, then, should almost one hundred people descend upon a Wilmslow church, on a cold, wet evening in November to celebrate the life and works of such a man? Why had so many, including Terry Waite, CBE, travelled the length of the country just to be there? Perhaps the reason is that the Reverend George Bramwell Evens, arguably better known by his writing and wireless broadcasting pseudonym, ‘Romany,’ was no ordinary naturalist. Or was it that his BBC programme, ‘Out with Romany,’ attracted 13 million listeners a week? It is a fact that, upon the announcement of his premature death, distraught callers, who could not believe that their hero had gone, besieged the BBC switchboards, perhaps hoping to hear a denial. Many northern schools closed on the Monday following, as so few pupils felt able to face the day.

Terry Waite

Terry Waite

Undoubtedly Romany was unique. No radio or TV naturalist since has so inspired a generation; some say that he single-handedly changed the face of British broadcasting. His gentle, unassuming style of presentation, delivered in his deep, ‘chocolate-brown’ voice, transported so many youngsters (and adults, too) away from the nightly horrors of wartime Britain, to the world of the country lane and field; to a world deep within their subconscious, where imagination was the key to unlocking the scenes he described so well. They really felt they walked alongside him and his young companions, Muriel and Doris, and, of course, his loveable cocker spaniel, Raq, the forerunner to Blue Peter’s ‘Petra.’ Romany taught his audience to love nature, though most listeners’ would dispute that it was teaching. Nevertheless they learned. Town-bred children, who are adults today, well-remember hearing the otter’s splash, the pink-footed geese chattering as they flew in from the north, or the lonely, mournful cry of the curlew as it sailed over his vardo (gypsy caravan). Romany’s ready access to their subliminal mind may well be the answer to his longevity. Did they really hear these sounds or see these sights? Of course not, but he was so credible that many today still swear they had! Consider how many of today’s children’s presenters will be so fondly recalled sixty years on?

Rev Ray Hollands

Rev Ray Hollands

And so on 20th November 2003 the pilgrims came to Wilmslow. Why there? Because Romany spent the last four years of his life in the town. In 1939 he moved to in what was then a leafy suburb of Manchester; the closest he could get to his beloved countryside, and yet remain in commutable distance of the BBC studios. It was on that same afternoon in 1943 that he died suddenly at his Wilmslow home, fittingly just after spending some time talking to two local children while he was working in his garden.

The thriving Romany Society, of which Terry Waite is Patron, organised the ‘Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Works of the Reverend George Bramwell Evens, Romany of the BBC.’ A grand title for a grand evening, held at the Wilmslow Methodist Church in Water Lane.

Roly Bain

Roly Bain

Although there was the potential for a mournful evening, this was just the opposite. Romany would not have wanted it any other way (in fact, he would have been more than a little surprised that there was such an event at all.) The Deputy Mayor of the Borough of Macclesfield, Councillor Paul Whitely, accompanied by the Deputy Mayoress, Mrs Joyce Whitely, witnessed the event. There was music: ‘Lullaby of the Leaves,’ his signature tune, ‘Smilin’ Through,’ one of his personal favourites. There were reminiscences from Terry Waite, a lifelong fan of Romany, and the Reverend Father Ray Hollands, who was inspired to join the Ministry because of his interest in Romany. Roly Bain, the well-known clown-minister, who is one of Romany’s grandchildren, made a very personal, family-oriented contribution. The evening closed with Phil Shelley’s pictorial tribute, set to ‘On hearing the first cuckoo in spring,’ by Delius, causing many an eye to blink away a tear.

Although the number of people with personal memories of Romany is diminishing, the Romany Society aims to perpetuate his life, works and ideals: his writing, his early concerns about the destruction of our planet, so far ahead of his time, his childlike wonder in our natural world that we, and more importantly, our children, seem to have lost along the way. In memory of Romany the society operates a grant system, which sponsors a number of young-people’s projects to bring his name to the attention of tomorrow’s adults in order that his memory may live on.

© Copyright Phil Shelley November 2003