In the third of our ‘Aylesbury Vale in Fives’ series, we lift the lid on a quintet of people who, though perhaps not as well-known as others, had a lasting impact on not only the Vale but in some cases the whole country.
They have been chosen by Roger Bettridge, county archivist at the Centre for Bucks Studies.
Images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.
VERNON SCANNELL, POET AND NOVELIST, 1922-2007
Scannell – real name John Vernon Bain – was born in Skegness, Lincolnshire, in 1922 but moved with his family to Aylesbury in 1931. He attended the Queen’s Park Boys’ School, now the Queen’s Park Arts Centre, until 1936.
While there he flirted with boxing and was rather good at it, being crowned national schoolboy champion, but by the time he was 17 he knew he was destined to be a poet. His devotion to literature was born not from school, but a self-education in rebellion against a cruel father. At the outbreak of the Second World War, his colour blindness saw him rejected for flying duties with the RAF. However, after serving in Normandy and surviving combat, he spent the rest of his post-war life writing. He published his first poem in 1958 and penned 53 in his lifetime, many of which won awards.
RUTLAND BOUGHTON, COMPOSER, 1878-1960
Boughton was born in Bicester Road on January 23, 1878, so he was an Aylesbury boy through and through. He was educated at the grammar school but his aptitude for music was self-taught and he began composing when he was just a child. He went on to study at London’s Royal College of Music under Charles Stanford and produced more than 100 pieces of music during his career.
Though he is perhaps most famous for being the brains behind the first ever Glastonbury Festival, but these initial performances were a world apart from the raucous raves they are today. The Somerset countryside hosted Boughton’s classical concerts from 1914 to 1936. He counted playwright George Bernard-Shaw among his friends, and their relationship was fuelled by a mutual delight in exchanging tongue-in-cheek correspondence.
SIR AUSTEN HENRY LAYARD, AYLESBURY MP, 1817-1894
Born in a hotel in Paris, Layard was made Liberal MP for Aylesbury in 1852, and though he was the under-secretary for foreign affairs for a few weeks, he openly criticised the government for the way it handled the Crimean War. He was vigorous in his outspoken crusade against the Earl of Aberdeen over the incompetence of the British foreign policy. This campaign was so successful it resulted in a vote of no confidence against Aberdeen in 1855 and the appointment of his replacement – Henry John Temple, the 3rd Viscount of Palmerston.
The new prime minister knew it would be a good plan to get Layard on side so gave him the title of under-secretary in the war office. However, Layard couldn’t regain political standing after attacking the government’s oppresion of people in the colonies –in particular the harsh treatment meted out in the Near East and Indian Mutiny.Instead he nurtured his second love, art, and travelled the globe producing many pieces before he died.of cancer in Woking on July 5.
DAME LILIAN BARKER, PRISON ADMINISTRATOR, 1874-1955
A no nonsense Islington girl, Barker was appointed governor of the Borstal Institution for Girls at Aylesbury in 1923. At that time, little was known about borstal training for girls and she took a drop in salary for the post. Barker, who lived in a cottage in Wendover Dean, revolutionised the system and her contemporaries said her nightly cigarettes with the girls were one of the secrets of her success. However, her butch appearance caused speculation that she was a man. She was described as ‘short and stocky, with iron-grey hair cut short under a pork pie hat, and almost always dressed in a tweed suit of severe cut.’
SIR HENRY LEE, QUEEN’S CHAMPION, 1533-1611
Lee was born in Kent, the eldest of four sons to Sir Anthony Lee of Quarrendon and is most famed in the Vale for founding Aylesbury Grammar School in 1598. He entered Henry VIII’s service at the tender age of 14, and had to grow up fast after succeeding his father just two years later.
He was knighted, declared Queen’s Champion and Master of the Armoury under Queen Elizabeth I, whom he adored. He clearly had a penchant for women named Anne, because he married two and openly took up with another – Anne Vavasour – which raised eyebrows, as this disreputable woman was mother to the earl of Oxford’s illegitimate child.