It all began with a book: "The Good Life – Between the Two World Wars with a Candid Camera" by V C Buckley. Chris Kang of Sacramento, USA, acquired this book some time ago, and fell in love with the photos in the book which are of the Vale of Evesham, and vowed to visit this area of England some time.
And that is what he and his wife, Beth, did in 2018 and again this October 2019. Even though they do not have ancestors from the region, they were so impressed with the Badsey Society’s website which gave them extra information about the places mentioned in The Good Life, that they have become overseas members of the Society. We were pleased to be able to entertain them on their two visits.
So what is the book about and what attracted Chris in the first place to this beautiful part of England? And who was the author? V C Buckley or, to give him his full name, Vivian Charles John Buckley, was a travel writer and photographer. He began publishing books in the 1930s, but The Good Life was not actually published until 1979 and harked back to an era between the wars long gone. As the publisher’s blurb says: “This fully annotated collection of personal photographs provides a wonderful composite view of a gracious, easy life-style now long past and gone forever ….. a treasured glimpse into an era of great elegance, innocence, exhilaration and romance.”
The book contains sections on his schooldays, London, motoring, the long weekend, going abroad, dining out, America, Hollywood, at home and people. It is in the long weekend section that there are a few photos of Wickhamford, Bretforton and the Evesham Mop.
Local Places featured in The Good Life
V C Buckley included two photos of Wickhamford Manor, one of the exterior and one of the interior. The text to accompany the photos says:
Wickhamford Manor, in the Vale of Evesham, Worcestershire, is a glorious half-timbered Tudor manor house with walls of mellow Cotswold stone. There have been no additions to the house since 1470, but the inside has been modernized with skill. Before the Manor came into the hands of the Crown in 1539 it belonged to Evesham Abbey and was a retreat for monks. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Manor became the property of the Worcestershire family of Sandys, through whom there is a connection with George Washington. Penelope Washington, daughter of a Mrs Elizabeth Washington who married a Samuel Sandys, is buried in the church adjoining the Manor; the Washington coat of arms is “Argent two bar gules in chief three mullets of the same” – or, in other words, three stars and three stripes. Could this be the origin of the stars and stripes on the American flag? When I used to visit the Manor it was owned by my friends, the Lees-Milnes.
Buckley also includes a photo of Penelope Washington’s memorial in Wickhamford Church. Was it through V C Buckley that the American fascination with Wickhamford began. Penelope’s relationship to George Washington was fairly remote (second-cousin-twice-removed) but if you look in the Visitors’ Book at the Church of St John the Baptist, Wickhamford, there are a number of American visitors.
Weathervane Cottage, Wickhamford
V C Buckley lived here for a short time in the late 1930s. In the text accompanying the photo, he says:
Weathervane Cottage at Wickhamford, not far from Broadway in Worcestershire. I rented this thatched roof cottage in 1936* from the owners of the Manor for £50 a year. It had two living-rooms, two bedrooms, an acre of garden and a garage. It had been built in the 17th century but had all modern conveniences.
* A newspaper article of 1938 tends to imply that he moved there in 1938. A further newspaper article of 1937 backs this up when a Mrs Ethel Mary Marguerite Dixon is recorded as living at Weathervane Cottage.
Prior to his 2019 visit, Chris wrote to the current owners of Weathervane Cottage to see if it would be possible to look round; the owners very graciously granted permission. The photos below were taken by Chris Kang which gives some idea of how the cottage may have looked in Buckley's time.
The Fleece Inn, Bretforton
V C Buckley visited the neighbouring village of Bretforton, where he fell in love with The Fleece Inn, now owned by the National Trust. He wrote:
The interior of the Fleece Inn at Bretforton, not far from Stratford-on-Avon, Worcestershire. When I discovered it, the brass shone, the oak beams were polished to shine like satin, there were huge log fires in winter and always the most hearty of welcomes. It represented to me the unspoilt rural life of England.
Buckley took a photograph of one of the customers, describing him as “One of the Inn’s oldest customers in his “Sunday best”.” On his 2018 visit, Chris Kang was delighted to sit in the very same chair where Buckley had taken the photo 80 years earlier.
Evesham Mop Fair
Evesham Mop Fair is still held to this day on the first weekend in October, but now just comprises fairground rides and stalls. V C Buckley obviously attended the Mop in October 1938 and wrote:
At the 1938 Evesham “Mop”, a fair dating from the Middle Ages, an ox is roasted in the main street.
Vivian Charles John Buckley was born on 26th June 1901 in Brompton, London, the elder of two children of Charles Mars Buckley, a brewer, and his wife, Ida (née Fennings). He was baptised at Brompton on 24th July 1901; the family then lived at 67 Egerton Gardens, which was the home of his Fennings’ grandparents. A younger brother, Gerald Mars, was born in 1909 in Chelsea. By the time of the 1911 census, the family lived at 4 Hans Crescent, SW London, in a household which included seven servants (cook, kitchenmaid, two housemaids, nurse, butler and footman); Charles’ occupation was now described as “private means”.
Vivian was the grandson of Mars Buckley (1825-1905), an Irish businessman from County Cork, who had emigrated to Australia in 1851, and who founded the prominent department store, Buckley & Nunn, in that year, which operated in Melbourne for over 130 years; the store was finally taken over by David Jones in 1982. Charles Mars Buckley (1870-1946), the youngest of his eight children, returned to live in England in the 1890s, marrying Ida Fennings at St Saviour, Chelsea in 1898.
Vivian was educated at Lockers Park Preparatory School, Hertfordshire, where Lord Louis Mountbatten was a fellow pupil. The diarist, writer and architectural historian, James Lees-Milne (who was seven years his junior) of Wickhamford Manor, was also a pupil. It was whilst at Lockers that Vivian began taking photographs. Vivian then went to Eton College where he was a classmate of King Leopold of Belgium, the Duke of Gloucester and Prince Nicholas of Romania.
After graduating from Cambridge, Vivian Buckley began working as a shipping agent. In 1922, in the company of his parents, he went on a trip to China, the first of many trips overseas by boat. In 1926, when employed as a Parliamentary Secretary and living at 57 Brompton Square, he embarked at Southampton bound for Genoa.
Shipping records reveal that Vivian travelled frequently abroad in the 1930s. He was then living at 4 Egerton Gardens, Brompton, with his parents and brother. He was working as an estate agent in 1931 when he sailed from Southampton to New York but, by the following year, he was beginning to establish himself as a writer. An item called “Some Impressions of Honolulu” by Mr V C Buckley was broadcast on radio on 13th January 1932 at 10.20 pm, lasting 15 minutes.
In January 1933 V C Buckley had his first book published: "With a Passport and Two Eyes". Further books followed: "Tickets, Please" (1935), "Stop and Go" (1938) and "Happy Countries" (1940). A chapter of "Tickets, Please" was written in May 1935 when Vivian stayed at The Sandys Arms, Wickhamford, for two weeks. It appears that he was travelling with a companion as another guest stayed for exactly the same dates, saying "The ideal pub for the theological student." Buckley wrote in the Visitors’ Book: "May 15-29, V C Buckley, Authors are not always easy to please when they are at work – but nothing could have been more comfortable than my two weeks here."
Seven months later Buckley sent the landlord, Bertram Ockwell, a copy of his new book, "Tickets, Please". Inscribed at the front with the words:
With best wishes from the author and good luck to The Sandys Arms at which Chapter 8 was written!
V C Buckley, 4.12.35.
A report in The Gloucestershire Echo of 1st November 1935 said: RAILWAY PARTY. I went to an amusing cocktail party last evening at the house of Mr V C Buckley, the author. Mr Buckley has written a new book with a railway motif, and the party was organised “to match”. A man dressed in railway porter’s uniform took the invitations, which were in the form of railway tickets, at the door, and the interior of the room was gaily bedecked by railway posters and other reminiscences of the iron road. Even the conversation flowed easily on railway topics.
This report appeared in The Hull Daily Mail as well, so it does not necessarily mean that Vivian was staying locally. He maintained a base in London where his parents still lived, travelled extensively abroad, and short stays in various parts of England.
As well as being a writer, Vivian undertook four coast-to-coast lecture tours in America. He also gave lectures to groups in England. A newspaper report of February 1934, reveals that Vivian addressed members of the Wives’ Weekly Social Club at Plymouth on the subject, “Impressions of Russia”.
It is thought that Vivian came to live at Weathervane Cottage, Wickhamford, in the summer of 1938. His family was friendly with the Lees-Milne family who owned Wickhamford Manor and many of the cottages in the village, including Weathervane. Vivian rented it from George Lees-Milne for £50 a year. As well as having stayed at The Sandys Arms in 1935, Vivian also had a connection with the village through Mrs Ryder who lived at Robin Cottage, the neighbouring property to Weathervane Cottage. Shipping records reveal that on 7th April 1933, 31-year-old Vivian and three women embarked at Swansea bound for Los Angeles. One of his companions was 45-year-old the Hon Mrs Dorothy Beryl Ryder of 5 Lowndes Court, SW1, who also lived in Wickhamford for some of the year.
On the eve of war, Vivian Buckley was staying at Weathervane Cottage. He appears on the Electoral Roll for 1939, but not in the 1939 register, as he was then at his London home in Egerton Gardens with two servants; he was described as “author of travel books, lecturer and journalist”. In the final chapter of "The Good Life", he explains his movements in August/September 1939:
On 30 August 1939 I telephoned my parents in London and insisted that they leave at once and come to my cottage at Wickhamford, near Stratford-on-Avon in Worcestershire. They duly arrived with our faithful old Nanny West, my Corgi dog, mountains of luggage – and their gas-masks.
After dinner that evening I announced that I was leaving next morning, as I did not like the possibility of dear London being bombed while I was safely ensconced in the countryside. Everyone thought I was going to my doom and that London would soon be a smoking ruin. My mother was tearful, my father said, “I trust that with your world-wide travel experiences you will get army intelligence work,” and the lady from the Manor begged me to find her son Jim, who was already on Air Raid Precautions duty.
As I stood at the front door I looked back through the latticed windows into the little garden and thought of Thomas Moore’s words: The memory of the past will stay, And half our joys renew.
It was the last time I ever looked through those windows. At the top of Fish Hill I saw the lovely Vale of Evesham, and at Uxbridge I suddenly noticed lots of black dots in the sky – London’s protective balloon-barrage. At Northolt Aerodrome, fighter planes were lined up in front of hangars.
Buckley’s parents did not stay for long in Wickhamford, however. By the time that the 1939 Register was taken on 29th September 1939, they were living at Squitchey Lane, Oxford. The occupants of Weathervane Cottage in 1939 were Hilda Fraser Brown and her widowed mother, Caroline Hodgson, who had previously lived in Birmingham.
Buckley returned to Wickhamford in April 1940 when he took a photograph of the Wickhamford Women’s Voluntary Service Knitting Party which was published in The Evesham Journal. This was organized by Mrs Lees-Milne so one assumes that Buckley stayed at the Manor on that occasion.
Vivian Buckley continued to lecture after the Second World War but, by the 1950s, he was described as being involved in welfare work. He was now living at Flat 39A, Eresby House, Rutland Gate, SW7. He does not seem to have written any more books until the publication of "The Good Life – Between the Two World Wars with a Candid Camera in 1979". He is not known to have returned to Wickhamford.
Vivian Buckley died at Flat 39, Eresby House, Rutland Gate, Westminster, on 2nd August 1993, aged 92. He was buried on 9th September 1993 at West of London & Westminter Cemetery, Earl's Court, Old Brompton .
Reviews of V C Buckley’s Books
With a Passport and Two Eyes
Derby Daily Telegraph, 25th January 1933
THE NEW RUSSIA – IMPRESSIONS OF A YOUTHFUL GLOBE-TROTTER
Mr V C Buckley, a youthful globe-trotter, takes us on an interesting armchair tour of places so far apart as Hollywood, Leningrad, Sydney and Hong Kong in his entertaining book, “With a Passport and Two Eyes” (Hutchinson, 12s 6d), just published.
He contrives successfully in this profusely illustrated volume to catch the atmosphere of his diverse resting places, and reproduces vividly the multi-coloured glory of the world’s beauty spots.
Russia, Mr Buckley believes, is the most interesting country in the world because she is beginning her life all over again. This, coupled with the wonderful glamour of the past, decided him to visit this vast country.
Mr Buckley, referring to Britons abroad, writes: “I must honestly confess that I don’t like meeting vast herds of my own countrymen, for we seem to carry round with us a kind of solid roast-beef-and-Oxford-Street atmosphere, that immediately envelops whatever we may be looking at.”
The globetrotter’s arrival in Japan coincided with the Eastern tour of our great overseas ambassador, the Prince of Wales, and on every hand were signs of the Prince’s enthusiastic reception.
“Practically every shop we went in,” says Mr Buckley, “told us the things the Prince had purchased from them, varying from a carved walking stick for Harry Lauder to a damascened cigarette case for himself. If the Prince really bought all they told us, coupled with the gifts he had received, the Renown must have resembled an over-loaded cargo steamer on her homeward voyage.”
Belfast Telegraph, 15th November 1935
Tickets, Please (Hutchinson & Co, 12s 6d) by V C Buckley, who in racy fashion takes us over half the globe. He writes of what he heard and saw in many lands with a keen sense of observation and a dash of humour that make this volume most readable. From California to Cairo he takes us, but whether he is dealing with the thrills of Hollywood or the mysteries of Pharaoh’s tomb, he is equally at home. The closing chapter on Palestine strikes a more serious vein in one of the most interesting books of the autumn. The illustrations lend enchantment to the verbal views.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 24th January 1936
Those who read “With a Passport and Two Eyes” will find similar enjoyment in Mr V C Buckley’s latest book, “Tickets, Please”.
Mr Buckley has the gift of appreciation, goes out of his way to dip beneath the surface wherever his travels lead him, and brightens his descriptive passages with deft touches of humour.
He has discovered the art of writing for ordinary human beings, and has the gift of making interesting friends.
In “Tickets, Please” (Hutchinson, 12s 6d) he takes us to California, Mexico, Egypt and the Sudan, and chats, by the way, on Hollywood and Chicago, trains, motor-cars, shops and “hitch-hikers”.
Stop and Go
The Bystander, 12th January 1938
“Stop and Go” by V C Buckley (Hutchinson, 12s 6d) is a book of travel impressions – nothing much below the surface, but ingenuous and easy going. He begins with descriptions of Ireland where, for part of the time he was the guest of John McCormack and where, among other places, he visited a Trappist monastery. Shortly after the abdication, a lecture tour takes him to America, where he chit-chats amiably on his experiences and is flattered by the interest which Americans take in our affairs at home. On his return he seeks rest and fresh copy in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Principality of Lichtenstein. After that we get descriptions of three English homes – Rufford Abbey in Northamptonshire; Wickhamford Manor in Worcestershire; and Boskenna, a country house situated between Penzance and Land's End – and the book closes with some impressions of London and of a Levée at Buckingham Palace. Mr Buckley clearly enjoys mixing with his fellow men; he likes showing them the sights – he makes a point, for instance, of speaking to obviously foreign tourists, so that he can point out special items of interest. And so, if you like being shown the sights, here is a companionable volume. The 52 photographs taken by the author are particularly good.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 13th July 1940
The latest of V C Buckley’s engaging travel stories is “Happy Countries” (Travel Book Club, 3s 6d).
The book, illustrated with 44 delightful photographs taken by the author, is based on a tour in Scandinavia and Finland undertaken in peace time.
Mr Buckley has a particular flair for this kind of literature, and he has missed nothing of the almost startling variety of scenery and enchantment which Scandinavia has to offer, and which he obviously enjoyed before returning to his newly-acquired “dream cottage” in the heart of the Cotswolds.
- Thanks to Mary Richmond (daughter of Margaret and Bertram Ockwell, who ran the Sandys Arms pub from c 1932-1948) for the photos of the excerpt from The Sandys Arms’ Visitors Book and a copy of “Tickets, Please”.
- Chris and Beth Kang and Alan Tutton for recent photos.
- Mrs Daffurn of Elm Farm, Wickhamford, for the photo of Weathervane Cottage in 1939.
- Other items are from “The Good Life – Between the Two World Wars with a Candid Camera”.
Maureen Spinks, October 2019