Saturday, August 13, 2011

Denis Compton, John Fothergill and Market Harborough

Today I picked up a copy of An Ambition Realised, a privately published memoir by Tony Hackett, who grew up in Market Harborough during World War II. Rather alarmingly, I recognise several figures in it from my teenage years in the 1970s.

Looking at the early chapters, two points of interest has struck me.

The first is that, in his benefit year, Denis Compton's XI played a benefit match here against Market Harborough. Compton himself scored a century and lit a cigarette as he walked back to the pavilion after eventually being dismissed. Hackett does not give a date for the match, but it must have been in 1949.

The second is that Hackett had dealings with John Fothergill at the Three Swans:
I delivered newspaper to the hotel and most days he complained that I was late with them. He usually dressed in a smock, often dirty, and underneath wore breeches, stocking and silver buckled shoes.
Someone else who was in Market Harborough at the time, Bryan Magee, remembered Fothergill in his Growing Up in a War:
What impressed me about him more than I can express was that he had written one of the books we had at home, An Innkeeper's Diary. He must have been the first author I met. Needless to say, I had not read the book, but I was familiar with it as an object, and knew that it was about the job I was seeing him doing, namely running a hotel. 
He must have been the best-known hotelier in Britain at that time, because his book had been a best-seller in the thirties and was currently in Penguin Books at a time when Penguins were the only mass-circulation paperbacks. 
I saw him as an outlandish figure. He wore his hair to his shoulders, and buckle shoes, and went out of doors in a cape, none of which I had seen a man do before. Yet he was not effeminate. He had a wife and two sons, and was very much the boss, both of his family and of the hotel. 
He spoke to everyone in a direct way that I found disconcerting. He was simply saying what he thought and felt, but I had never heard anyone do that. If he thought you had an ugly face he told you so. Sometimes you could scarcely believe your ears. ... 
But some of the most interesting things about him were things I did not know, and would not have understood. He had been a close friend of Robert Ross, who in turn was the closest and most loyal friend of Oscar Wilde. After Wilde's imprisonment, Fothergill visited him in France and stayed with him there. 
A mere eight of nine years after I knew Fothergill, the opportunity of asking him about all this would have been valuable beyond price, but it was wasted on me when I was ten.
You can read more about John Fothergill in a recent Leicester Mercury article. Fothergill wrote two other books about the hotel trade, including My Three Inns, the last section of which deals with his years at the Three Swans.

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