Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chapter 4 1971-72

John 2009

Digression from our story 4 May 2014

I must apologise for not working on my blog for several months.   Dear John died on 20 January at the age of 83.   We had enjoyed a lovely family Christmas and over the next three weeks he just faded away, dying in his own bed peacefully, without pain.

All the family had visited him in those last days and he wanted to go.   I have been very moved by cards from people who knew him at Morlands;  who worked for us in Glastonbury Prints and Galleries;  who enjoyed his U3A art groups;  and from neighbours and friends whom we have known since we came to Glastonbury in 1952.

We held a private cremation and later, a memorial in the Quaker Meeting House in Street, where many people – including our children and grandchildren – spoke about their love for him.   Later, someone said how lucky that we had moved a year previously from our bungalow to this flat – so darling Johnny is still here with me.   I have this photograph of him on my dressing table, together with his hat.

Thank you, everyone, for all your love and support.   I feel very privileged to live in Glastonbury and to have so many friends.   And most important of all, thanks to our family who made so many of the arrangements and who have been so supportive over these last few months.   I couldn’t have coped without you.


By the end of 1971 “Glastonbury Prints” was beginning to take off.   At Christmas, my step father Bernard said:  “Would you like to share my bedroom at Torquay?”   It took me a moment or two to realise what he was suggesting.   The Torquay Gift Fair is held in mid January from Thursday to Sunday and at that time spread across the town in various venues including the rambling Palace Hotel.   Of course we agreed and arrangements were made for me to take a turn at manning the “stand”.   Bernard had in fact booked two bedrooms in which to show products in his portfolio;  one which included displays by Taunton Vale Industries, The Russian Shop and Copco, while we shared the other bedroom with a potter, a weaver of ties and someone else I think. 

The potter moaned about wasting time trying (unsuccessfully) to sell his products when he would much rather have been producing them.  This is the age old grumble of the professional craftsperson – but alas it is no good making beautiful objects unless one can sell them.   I am afraid that John (the artist) and myself (office and sales) had many bitter arguments over the next decade regarding the relative importance of production and sales! 

Frank Campbell, our dentist, offered us his holiday cottage somewhere not far away in which to stay.  John of course was still working at Morlands and was unable to take part in this venture, so I drove down to Torquay and took over one of the beds at the Palace with our display – I think I only stayed a couple of days, whereas the show would have lasted from Sunday to Thursday..  

The range was developing from black and white posters to silhouettes and then to drawings of flowers;  it was Bernard who passed on a customer’s suggestion that they would be better if they were in colour, after which  John took on our first hand painter.  I should explain that John’s original drawings were created in black ink, using a rotring pen.   He would take the completed drawings up to Radstock Reproductions to be converted into a printing plate and then to Bigwood & Staple, Bridgwater.   Here John had a special relationship with Gordon who actually did the printing.   In spite of fierce unions in those days, Gordon allowed John to attend the printing session and to comment on whether the inking was to his liking etc.

We were still using the address of 88 High Street – the shop called “Pat Li Shun” at the top of the High Street.  I had to collect the post from there every day, which would be left perched precariously on the electricity meter in the passage of the next door property where Alban Leyshon conducted his printing business.   We owe a lot to Pat and Alban for their help and advice in those early years.  

Here is a copy of our first price list, printed by Clarks Printing Works based in Magdalene Street – they did a lot of general printing for us in the early days and introduced us to Clifton Studios in Bristol who later helped with publicity material.   Some time after we had registered our trading name as “Glastonbury Prints”, I was told that the printing works used to call themselves by that name too! 

So many people have helped us with our business over the years – was it Cyril Driver, of IMCO Plastics, who told us later about the Old Ciderhouse?   And I think that Dudley Tremaine tipped us off regarding 5A, which we moved into in 1973.   Dave Rockey also gave us good advice  - and Roy Simpson of Palmer & Snell was very kind  when we bought “Number 10” in 1975.    There must be many others whom I don’t remember now.

John must have been working in our garage in his free time during those first few months, putting prints into mounts and frames ready to be packed into boxes (with lots of newspaper) and rolling the posters into tubes for dispatch by parcel post to the customers that Bernard and other agents were visiting on our behalf.   I was  driving regularly to Whitehouse, Willetts & Bennion Ltd in Worcester to collect ready-made picture frames and John had designed a metal template for cutting oval mounts, so our production consisted of putting all this together according to the orders we received.  Bernard had introduced us to his colleagues in the gift trade - Mona Russell, who lived near Harrogate, and to “the boys”, Phil and Dave, who covered the London area.   They would visit customers and send us orders and later, when we had our own stands at gift trade shows, they would help us for a day or two,  taking it in turns to support their “principals” – agents usually acted for 6 or 8 manufacturers.           

Our trade price list dated March 1972 lists:-   
black/white framed prints           £1.39 including tax 
hand coloured framed prints       £1.67                 
posters                                              40               

We were beginning to grow out of the garage and Frank Campbell came to the rescue again.   “Frank says we may rent an attic room at his dental surgery on Magdalene Street,” said John.   We accessed this by the back door which led from the garden and climbed two flights of stairs – there must have been room for a bench and stacks of frames and mount board and the specially designed packing boxes which we had ordered from Ashton Containers, Bristol.  One of these orders was delivered to Pat Li Shun’s shop in the High Street and were left piled up on the pavement, so I had to rush and collect them in the car and take them down to our attic room.    

 My records show that we took on our first full time employee, John Chaffey, on 14 August 1972 at £2.35 an hour.   He had been introduced to us by his wife, Elizabeth, who worked as a receptionist in the dental surgery.   He was joined by Joy Bailey on 13 October at £1.28/hour and by Pauline Gillard;  they worked part-time “cox & box”.

In the spring I had embarked on a Foundation Course at the Open University, together with Elizabeth Chaffey , so we had quite a bit in common.   This was the second year of the O.U. and in the Prospectus for 1972 the Vice Chancellor, Walter Perry, describes how they had accepted 25,000 students in 1971.   I had left Sidcot School at 17 in 1948 (I never took Higher School Certificate) and went to live in Chelsea with my father and step mother, who had returned from India after Partition.   I then attended Mrs Hoster’s Secretarial College in Grosvenor Place where I achieved certificates for 100 worlds a minute in Pitmans shorthand and 48 words a minute in typewriting.   But I always felt I had missed out on higher education.

At Mrs Hoster’s I was surrounded by debutantes who had been presented at Court.  I remember that we had a good view from the second floor, over the wall into Buckingham Palace Gardens where several of them were enjoying their tea.   My Great Aunt Mary Birley had been presented at Court before the war - she was head of all the Guides in England.  There was a photograph of her on the grand piano in her house at Wrea Green, near Blackpool, where I had visited as a child, in full court dress with tiara.   I thought she was the dowager Queen Mary.   She in turn had presented my aunt Felicity Hodder-Williams, which somehow meant that I was eligible to attend Queen Charlottes Ball – but I never did!   This ceremony was abolished in 1958.

But the secretarial course was a good grounding for self employment.   Two children were now at Quaker boarding schools.  Rob (17) was at Leighton Park, Reading and Julie (16) was at Sidcot,  while our youngest daughter Ruth was a day pupil at Wells Cathedral School;  we still seem to have had two of the ponies, though I had sold Misty earlier that year;  with the demands of the Open University and the burgeoning business I was beginning to sag.

Even with secretarial help from  Vera Osmond, whom we employed on 19 September at £2.29/hour, when she would spend a morning or two each week dealing with orders and keeping accounts in her beautiful tidy writing (not like mine!), we were beginning to accept that a business we had started a year or so previously as a kind of hobby was beginning to be a serious project.   My mother and step father, Bernard, were encouraging us by introducing us to the gift trade, although my mother was becoming increasingly ill and sadly died of cancer in September 1972.   She was only 63 but had smoked most of her life, (as did John’s mother Deena, who died a decade later).    Anyway in spite of this sadness and with little time for revision,  I managed to take the Foundation Course exam for the Open University in the autumn and gained a certificate, but after that the business became my main responsibility.   Elizabeth however continued with the OU for the full six years and gained her degree.   (Both John and Elizabeth Chaffey died in Crete some years ago where they had been living since retirement.)

John’s health was a growing problem and we decided to take the plunge;  he should leave Morlands and concentrate on “Glastonbury Prints”.  In my letter to Pat Morland (Managing Director and second cousin) dated 21 November 1972 I write: 

“Perhaps you hadn’t realised how many hours a week – often part of the weekend – that John spends lying down feeling utterly useless, and of course this has put a tremendous burden of responsibility for home and family on my shoulders.   I have nearly given up several times!   However, this Glastonbury Prints business is just what makes us both happy – we like working together, and again I feel I can help to earn our living, and will enjoy shouldering some of that responsibility now the children are more independent.”

It is Christmas 1972 and John’s cards are on the table in the dining room.   I can’t remember what these cards were – probably National Insurance and tax details – but I do remember that seeing them caused a shiver down my spine.   I was very aware of the saying “to get one’s cards” which, according to the MacMillan Dictionary of Contemporary Phrase & Fable, dates from the 1940’s and means to be dismissed from a job.   I wrote to our doctor, Peter Nicholson-Lailey, on 10 December:

“Well, we’ve taken the plunge…After the initial shock and fright, we are feeling very happy.   I think we have a good chance of making a living eventually from Glastonbury Prints… John plans to spread his working days to suit his own ups and downs… Thank you for all your support.”

I remember that Peter said to me after we had taken the decision to become self employed:  “You will be all right as long as everything goes well.”   And we heard later that John’s mother, Deena, did not approve of John giving up a perfectly good job in order to pursue an unknown venture.   However, John’s father wrote around this time:   “Your news came as quite a surprise, but the more we think about it the more certain we are that your decision was the right one.”

Here is the article in the Central Somerset Gazette dated Friday December 22 1972 “Two Morlands Directors Announce Resignations.”   Mike Mathias, then a local reporter (later editor of the newspaper) came to see me when the news broke.   “What really happened with two Morlands directors leaving the firm? he asked.   “It’s not my story,” I was obliged to reply.   The truth was that when John gave Pat Morland his resignation, Pat said “If you go, then Dick must go too.”   So Dick Bracher, another director, was sacked.   There was no way I could admit that to the Press of course.   Pam and Dick sold their house in Wick Hollow and moved to Surrey.   Dick had been involved with the Wick motorbike scrambles in Glastonbury and after leaving Morlands, he went to work for the RAC organising motorcross events – I still keep in touch sometimes.

This meant that it looked as if there had been a boardroom row, in spite of the public relations statements made to newspapers.  I felt that John’s resignation had been somewhat tarnished.   However, it worked out in our favour in the end, as Dick was awarded a Golden Handshake and of course John received one too - £15,000 – which was quite unexpected!   And the Directors treated us to a farewell dinner and a lovely silver plated model of a stag.

Because our doctor wrote a letter to the tax office saying that John had left because of very poor health, no tax was deducted from the Golden Handshake, which I think we spent on buying a Volvo estate car.   This letter also gave me a fright, as it made out that John was in danger of dying from a stroke because of his high blood pressure.   I thought how on earth am I going to manage on my own with no regular income and three children still at boarding school?

When John had one of his migraines, he needed to sit quietly for several hours each time until the pills took effect.   This proved difficult while he was at Morlands of course;  when we became self employed, he could work round it on most occasions, though one was always aware that he could succumb to a migraine at random and this was a worry when a special event had been arranged.
With hindsight, I am glad we left Morlands when we did.   At least we had the shop to fall back on when we (and Morlands) came unstuck in 1980/82.  We didn’t actually go into liquidation, as we sold our house to pay off our debts, but I know that the trauma of Morlands’ bankruptcy scarred so many people;  one or two members of the family who were involved at the time can’t bear to talk about it now.   Years later we were in Cadbury Garden Centre, near Weston, when we were approached by a (younger) man.   “Do you remember me?   I am Colin Snow and I used to visit your shop sometimes as a sales agent.   After you came on hard times, you were respected in the trade for paying off all your debts.”   What kind words!

With hindsight, I am glad we left Morlands when we did.   At least we had the shop to fall back on when we (and Morlands) came unstuck in 1980/82.  We didn’t actually go into liquidation, as we sold our house to pay off our debts, but I know that the trauma of Morlands’ bankruptcy scarred so many people;  one or two members of the family who were involved at the time can’t bear to talk about it now.   Years later we were in Cadbury Garden Centre, near Weston, when we were approached by a (younger) man.   “Do you remember me?   I am Colin Snow and I used to visit your shop sometimes as a sales agent.   After you came on hard times, you were respected in the trade for paying off all your debts.”   What kind words!

Although we had become a limited company in 1979, our house was held as security by National Westminster Bank, so we would have been obliged to pay them off anyway.  And there would have been other complications concerning the mortgage with CoSIRA (Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas) which we had taken up when we bought “Number 10” in 1975.   Maybe if we had gone into liquidation, we could have avoided paying our gift trade suppliers.

After the closure of  the hand coloured prints business, which we had renamed “Glastonbury Galleries” in a useless rebranding attempt around 1980, the shop survived.   After paying off the CoSIRA loan, we should have charged ourselves about £14,000 per year rent, but if we had done this, we wouldn’t have been viable!

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