Unpacking Treasure Troves

One problem of running a website of local history is generating new content and new interest when, by definition, all material is in the past.

We have tried to do this by presenting history in a number of different ways and interviewing people who can provide personal insights. Also, from time to time, previously unseen material comes into our hands but such nuggets are hard to find. Thus we have been delighted to receive, within the last few months, two packages of material that can best be described as ‘treasure troves’ of local history.

Two unexpected Troves

Both these packages relate to Long Marston and to a lesser extent Puttenham before and during World War II and relate to that well know figure who has featured in several of our interviews and articles – Gordon Savage, Headmaster of Long Marston School from 1934 to 1944. The material was originally contributed by Gordon’s son Peter some time ago and has now been unearthed, firstly by Colin Moore, Managing Editor of Village News and secondly from the loft space of Long Marston School, following an initiative by interested locals. We much appreciate the help of all concerned.

Treasures Revealed

There is significant overlap between these two sources so best to combine and summarise the most important findings. First there are some excellent photographs of events pre and during wartime. There is the 25th Jubilee of King George V with Gordon Savage striding along in his plus fours looking to be very much the centre of things as, by his side, two unnamed residents struggle to carry the most enormous flag you have ever seen. And there are some superb pictures of the wartime firefighting group, led by Chief Fireman Savage.

It is at this point that we should mention that there may be an understandable bias in some of the material, bearing in mind the source. For instance there is a short biography of Gordon produced by son Peter which describes how he became ‘Leader of the Village’. And the text describes how, in 1935/6 Gordon enlisted the support of the village elders in starting the first ‘Fruit, Vegetable and Flower show’, which over time became known as the Village Show that we know today.

The material from the school also contains the programme for that first show with the name of the ‘Long Marston and Puttenham Horticultural Society’ at the top. This leads to the question of whether Gordon Savage also led the foundation of that society, something which we are still researching with our friends from the modern day Horti. However there seems no doubt that our existing website articles on the Village Show may have understated the contribution of Savage and the Horti.

The Versatile Mr Savage

This material also makes clear that Savage did many things that made him more than a headmaster and also gained him a reputation that extended well outside Long Marston. He was the originator of SCOOP, the school magazine and this new treasure trove gave us another original copy from 1940, to add to those of 1941 and 1942, which we had already seen.

We also learned that he bought a printing press for the school, something quite rare in those days and, in addition to SCOOP he worked with school students to produce a number of innovative publications. How the labour was shared between the two is uncertain but the Headmaster was undoubtedly the driving force. We had already learned of (and reviewed) his excellent history of Puttenham and now we have found an even longer book – 68 pages – covering a detailed history of the Grand Union Canal.

External Recognition

The impressive amount of research and quality of writing make the Canal book an impressive publication even by the standards of today. The archive contains a letter of thanks and much praise from the Chairman of the Grand Union Company.

The extent to which Gordon achieved external recognition is confirmed by another letter from the Herts County Education Officer, praising him and his pupils for the excellence of the post bombing edition of SCOOP. This letter also mentions a book of poems written by students, which we had previously heard about but are unable to find. He congratulates Savage on ‘a school which can produce such excellence’.

Extra-curricular activities

This external recognition may (or may not!) have been increased by another document found in the archive; a paper produced by Savage recommending fundamental changes in the way that children in rural areas were educated. He put forward what seems to be an extreme proposal for each school to have a five acre smallholding around which the school’s entire curriculum would be built.

Savage seemed to believe that children living in the country should only be taught ‘useful skills’ and these could all be taught around the activities of these five acres. In addition to producing fruit and vegetables, there would be poultry and pigs, with the girls allowed to organise the cooking. This education was designed to lead the pupils into further tuition in Agricultural Colleges where they would develop into useful citizens. There is no mention of what might happen to those who did not see farming as their future career path.

There are other indications that Gordon Savage was a man of the country. His son’s archive reveals how he started his own smallholding on Watery Lane. He started in a small way in 1935 but by 1941 had 500 chickens as well as goats, bees, rabbits, pigs and sheep. He wrote regularly for the Poultry Farmer magazine advising others how to do what he had done. He also started a Young Farmers’ Club at the school.

Enter Mrs Savage

Other delightful pieces of treasure are written contributions from Gordon’s wife Margaret. She does not hold back, even when talking about her own family, calling them a ‘snobbish lot’ who insisted that Gordon had to be a headmaster before he could marry her. She then shows her own snobbish side by confirming Gordon’s position as ‘Leader of the Village’. She comments that one of the wives of the farming families – Mrs Gregory – tried to claim such a title for her husband but her efforts were ‘treated with disdain’.

There is also another interesting comment from Margaret that, before the war, married women were not allowed to teach yet we also found out from later SCOOP editions that Margaret herself was teaching in the aftermath of the bombing. It is about the bombing that Margaret’s writing is most powerful; we had heard accounts of that day from children but Margaret’s description of how she and her two little ones hid under the metal table after hearing a ‘loud crunch’ is compelling.

The archive also includes a lovely picture of Gordon and Margaret together in their garden at Astrope. They left Long Marston in 1944 when Gordon was made Headmaster of a secondary school in Welwyn.

Further Work

We will now look into this material in more detail and decide how much further research this inspires and how we can use this new treasure to create additional material for our website. One idea is to use our story telling format to create a series of ‘days in the life of’ Gordon Savage. Though some of his pupils may have had some reservations – remember Don Winfield’s comment, ‘Savage by name, Savage by Nature’ – there is no doubt that this was a remarkable man who gave much to Long Marston.

To view the scans from the school archive, go to Google Drive

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