5 April 2010

George Bramwell Evens, aka Romany, and the Wilmslow vardo, Cheshire, UK

'Romany' was the familiar name for the Methodist Reverend George Bramwell Evens (1884-1943), who wrote many books and newspaper articles on natural history, and who became well known in the 1930s and 1940s for his 'Out With Romany' BBC radio programs on Children's Hour.

His mother Tilly Smith was a gypsy, and Romany said in his book A Romany and Raq (1930), the latter being the name of his dog:

'I do not remember a time when the countryside had no fascination for me. Give me a lane and a hedge, and heaven lies in exploring its shadows and becoming intimate with its shy inhabitants. Probably this is due to the fact that I spring from pure gipsy stock. In my veins runs the blood of nomads who have sought the solitudes for hundreds of centuries. It is this ancestry which has made me a roamer, and like a bird hearing a migratory call, so the fields and the woods lure me from city life.'

On Romany's death, the BBC didn't play any 'funereal' music because they thought he wouldn't approve, but played Delius's 'Rhapsody on Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring', adding to its young listeners 'Perhaps you would like to imagine you are out with Romany once again as you listen to it.'

At Romany's memorial service, his friend Geoffrey Dearmer read a poem dedicated to him, which is reproduced on the interpretation plaque near the preserved vardo close to the center of Wilmslow, Cheshire. I trust that no one will have any reason to object to my reproducing it here, as I find it such a moving tribute:

'Farewell to Romany

Goodbye, dear friend. If we no more shall roam
Fresh woods with you, nor fields your voice made cool;
Nor find the fieldmouse in his harvest home,
The brown trout in the pool;

Nor with hands made more gentle at your words
Pick up the shrew mouse or the trembling hare;
Nor, with ears wiser, name the singing birds
In trees no longer bare.

If we no more with you shall do these things
Let us, at least, say sometimes when the clear
Spring skies are full of song and woods with wings,
"I wish that he was here."

Then shall we keep our memory green and true;
Then shall the lovely world more lovely grow,
And you, dear Romany, I think that you
Would wish to have it so.'

Through the Years With Romany was published by Eunice Evens three years after the death of her husband at the age of 59, and in this book she describes Romany's, or rather Bram's, purchase of the vardo in 1921, of their using it for vacations in Yorkshire, Cumberland, and Westmorland, and of Bram's and her own slight ineptitude in repairing and generally restoring the vardo, but love shines through everything she writes about their arduous work together on it.

The Evens family moved to Wilmslow immediately before World War II, and to a certain extent Romany's studio-broadcast (but realistically sounding) nature walks provided an antidote to the horrific events of the day. In his radio programs, Romany's supposedly young friends, acted by Muriel Levy and Doris Gambell, not forgetting Raq and his horse Comma, all featured. Romany was in the vanguard of natural history broadcasts, and can be seen as the precursor of the likes of David Attenboborough and David Bellamy. The preservation of the vardo is a glorious memorial to George Bramwell Evens, and includes a headstone to mark the spot where Raq was buried.

For unfortunate (and somewhat crazy) later developments, see the link below:

The Vardo's later history


David Anthony Evens said...

Thanks for this post - I'd never come across the poem before. It's rather nice; the use of colour and assonance give it the feel of the countryside. I have the feeling Romany would have approved.

My grandfather is a cousin of Romany's (presumably a couple of times removed), and the example of his famous relative led him to pursue a career in the BBC. Indirectly, he's a man who's had a significant influence on my life, but I don't know a great deal about him. Blog posts like this are very helpful to me, so thank you.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Many thanks for this contribution, David!

brookie said...

Dear Tony
i came across a couple of old snaps of Rev G Bramwell Evens , ive no idea who he was , but looked him up in Google , very interesting ..

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thank you, Brookie. He was indeed an interesting man, although I admit that I wasn't aware of him before visiting Wilmslow, which was only by chance as I was flying from Manchester the day after. But then, many discoveries we make are by chance.

Deborah Hamilton said...

I am just reading 13 notebooks written by my grandfather James Gray who died 49 years ago. He praised Romany who he had met being born at a similar time. Grandfather recalled ' He was a most unconventional parson which probably had much to with my admiration being a rebel against tradition and the cobweb covered creeds and dogmas of established churches. He was a great lover of nature, animals and birds. A man of tolerance and wisdom and radiated a spirit of kindliness rarely encountered even among the teachers who propagate the gospel of Jeses (not the Pauline Christ)
Deborah Hamilton , grand daughter

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Thank you very much for this quotation, Deborah. Did he say anything else about Romany?