Langwathby in the 1950s and 60s. At the Little Salkeld end, there was a large and distinguished house between Stamper’s farm and the council houses, set back next to the railway cutting up a longish drive. The Morleys lived there.
To my young eyes, Mrs Morley looked as if she were the ancient of days (‘whatever that means’, I thought). She went about on her bike and did her shopping in a grubby Gabardine mac, her hair looking as if she’d been plugged into an electric socket. There were rumours. She collected nettles for soup. Was she a witch? We children never saw Mr Morley. Was he a recluse? Was he a spy? Maybe he did secret government work, like Uncle Quentin of the Famous Five.
Before long, the wildly imaginative soup cleared somewhat. Mrs Morley had been an orthopaedic surgeon. A woman orthopaedic surgeon in those days! Her husband John had been a professor at Manchester University. Education then was a way of bettering oneself, as my father often said (would that it were still so), so suddenly the Morleys acquired a different sort of glamour. Mr Morley was now Professor Morley. Academic snobbery or what! Google tells me that Mrs Morley was born Margaret Gregg in 1892 to parents who lived in Styal, Cheshire. She studied painting in Paris, was a VAD in WWI, and became an orthopaedic surgeon. She married the widowed John Morley, soon to be Professor of Surgery in Manchester. Professor Morley died in 1974 and Mrs Morley some years later. What a terrific life! I wish I’d known her.
Just as John Morley was morphing from Uncle Quentin to esteemed Professor, another elderly retired ‘couple’ moved into Bank House (where my father was born) opposite the Shepherds Inn. I came across them when I started on the organ rota for Evensong at Langwathby church, so I suppose that must have been about 1963. The newcomers sat at the back of church on the right. They made friends with me. They asked for the Welsh tune to Jesu, lover of my soul, so one Sunday they got it. This wasn’t a good move, for it displeased some of the villagers who were born in the 15th century and who preferred ‘the proper tune’ (an early lesson in congregational politics).
By now I was less prone to exotic imaginings. I took them as I found them. They were Mr John Elam, another retired orthopaedic surgeon, and his sister Mrs Tipper. They took an interest in my academic progress. Mrs Tipper was encouraging about my Cambridge application. They gave me a four-volume set of the first edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians. I still have it.
Slowly, slowly, Mrs Tipper’s past revealed itself. ‘I was a metallurgist’ she told me in a rather offhand, matter-of-fact way. How unusual. I’d never come across one of them before. I might not even have heard of one. Mrs Tipper was not just any old metallurgist, but one of the most eminent metallurgists in the world. Dr C F Tipper had the highest doctorates in science that it is possible to get, and from not one but two universities, London and Cambridge.
She had been a Fellow of a Cambridge College. She was the person who in WWII had hit upon the reason why some ships broke in two. Her name is immortalized in an industrial test. For many years, she was the only woman academic in the Cambridge Faculty of Engineering. All this, and she called herself Mrs Tipper. With the self-absorption of adolescence, I never took much trouble to find out about her. Another missed opportunity! She died in 1995 aged 101, the year after a tree had been planted at Newnham College Cambridge to mark her centenary. You can read about her here.
What brought these remarkable and pioneering women to a small village in Cumberland?
Fishing in the river Eden.
Postscript. I’ve just discovered that Mrs Tipper was the great great granddaughter of organ builder Joseph Booth of Wakefield. Well, well, well! See here.