Today it is customary for a person to boast of their humble origins but Sir John Pritchard felt a need to hide the past. Close friends of many years might spend wonderful hours of conversation with him over a glass of wine or a delightful meal. He was always charming and yet there was a limit beyond which they could not pass. When a journalist tried to probe into his family background, the questions were parried suavely with 'Ah, now you're delving into pre-history.' It was not only a question of personal vanity, wanting to hide his true age and that he had changed his name. There was a very good reason why nostalgia was not part of his personality. He had had a terrible relationship with his father.
Whilst he carried with him the letters he had written to his mother wherever he went, his father's diaries were found in a battered suitcase under the usual debris accumulated in a lifetime at the back of a garage. These diaries are a remarkable find, being the daily chronicle of a young man beginning in 1891, at the age of seventeen, until 1952. With their hopes and aspirations, they are a product of the Victorian era with all its prejudices and class-consciousness, its glories of Empire coupled with his own romantic attitude to life. Named after the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward Pritchard was born in Gravesend, returning there with his wife in the latter years of his life to die and be buried in a family grave surrounded by headstones belonging to the large family from which he came. One of the most beautiful passages in the diaries recounts his joy at walking along the Strand beside the sea and smelling the salty air once again.
The inhabitants of Gravesend, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary in close proximity to Tilbury, earned their living from that great port and its trade. The Doomsday book of 1086 records the existence of ferries between Essex and Kent across the Thames. In parish records of 1799 a Mr Pritchard, curate of nearby Prittlewell, together with several others, was drowned off Gravesend in a ship carrying too much sail. There are records of one Joseph Pritchard, also from Prittlewell, whose son Simon married Sarah and was father of the next Joseph Pritchard, a waterman. This Joseph Pritchard, John's grandfather whom he never knew, having finished his apprenticeship in 1852, left for the Australian gold fields, ferrying miners to the workings and was presented with a nugget from which two rings were made which are still in the possession of the Pritchard family. Becoming a Trinity House North Channel Pilot on his return to England, he lived at 24 East Terrace, Gravesend. His eldest son, also named Joseph, after being apprenticed to his father to become a River Thames pilot, went to sea instead.
His brother, John's father, although generally known as Ted, preferred the formality of Albert. He was apprenticed to a printer, work that he hated as he was incompatible with both authority and his workmates. At the same time he earned money playing the violin at local 'gigs' such as the Clarendon Hotel weekly dance and taught players in the Temperance String Baud. A completely self-taught musician, he had bought several instruments through mail order until finally finding his metier with the violin and viola. As the son living at home, he was deeply affected by his father's illness and death from thrombosis, heart disease and dropsy. When Joseph Pritchard died in December 1891, his seventeenyear-old son recorded in his diary that there were thirteen wreaths, that the River Pilots had sent 'a splendid everlasting wreath under a glass case' and that the Trinity Church bell had tolled all day.
Completing his apprenticeship, Albert decided to earn his living from music. Touring the country, taking whatever work was available playing at gigs and with the Rob Roy Company, an itinerant group of musicians in Scotland, he finally found regular work at the Royal County Theatre, Reading. There he met some 'nice' people who invited him 'to tea and a musical afternoon at 203 Caversham Road, Stanley Villas, with, amongst others, Miss Amy Shaylor, the daughter of the house', aged sixteen.
Albert became very friendly with her elder brother Stanley and invited Amy to come to the theatre where he was playing but she was always chaperoned by her mother. Considerably older than Amy, he recorded that he liked walking with her. Mr Shaylor's work, as a launch builder, then took him to London and the Shaylor family moved first to Ealing then later to Chiswick. It was on one of his frequent visits to them, in 1898, that Albert proposed to 'dear Amy'. Marrying five years later in Lowestoft on 29th April 1903, where he was playing in a small orchestra at the Marina Theatre on the pier, on 'the happiest day of my life' they must have looked a strange couple. Amy, young and petite, weighed only 8 stone 5 lbs and Albert Edward, over six foot tall, weighed 17 stone with size 13 boots and a 17 inch collar. With a very conventional gentle common sense, matter of fact 'a spade is a spade' manner, she was the opposite of her husband's highly eccentric, pompous, dictatorial but rather suave, oleaginous manner towards authority.
When their son Eddie was born the following February ('A son born to us'), Albert pronounced that he 'would be our pianist'. Unfortunately, Eddie was a born violinist but his father would have none of that - a pianist he was to be. It was the beginning of a disastrous relationship between father and son and the struggle between them exhausted Amy.
Friction did not only exist at home. Albert argued continually with the theatre managements where he played. He remained as forst violin in an orchestra of twelve at the devonshire Park Theatre in eastbourne for a year as he enjoyed playing for visiting companies such as the Moody Manners Opera Company in Il Trovatore. After several short-lived appointments, finally he was taken on as leader in an orchestra with two violins, cello and piano at King's Hall, Leyton for the 'animated pictures and variety' and after another disagreement with the management, went to the Scala Cinema, Leyton. The family rented a very small terraced house at 17 Cromwell Road in the working-class area in Walthamstow. Here in the living room with its heavy, dark furniture, in the days before television and radio, people would meet to make music and Albert would give lessons to young boys who, disliking his pedantic manner, never remained his pupils for more than a few weeks.
Already in his forties, he applied to be a batman in the First World War but was declared unfit for military service as he was beginning to be troubled by his heart and suffered from eczema and other nervous problems. Amy, after an operation for a tumour at Guy's Hospital, suffering from a thyroid problem and considerable nervous tension from the pressure at home, developed an emaciated look. In the last year of the war, with sugar rationed and long queues for meat and other fresh foods, Albert waited at the Labour Exchange hoping for part-time clerical work during the day. Amy, at the age of thirty-seven, gave birth to a boy, on 5th February 1918.
DIARY ENTRY: 4.OOam. Our second son born, to be named Stanley Frederick [John]. Eddie was mystified as to Amy's illness.
Unhappy with the constant friction between her husband and the fourteen-year-old Eddie, Amy focused her attention on Stanley and, like many a mother, considered her child to be the most beautiful, even entering him for a 'beautiful baby' competition, where he received an honourable mention.
As a little boy Stanley loved going to parties, particularly those in fancy dress. His favourite costume was that of a Red Indian with a feathered headdress. A bright child, he was accepted early at the Maynard Road Infant School. The girl who sat next to him remembers his first day there; a 'podge' who seemed to be 'bursting out of his clothes'.
Shortly after his younger son's fifth birthday, Albert, noticing that Stanley was 'listening Intently' to his violin playing during his regular weekly duets with a neighbour, announced that Stanley was to be the violinist of the family and started to give him his first lessons. John would often relate that he was not allowed to eat lunch until he had practised for half an hour as he would not have been so alert after his meal. Resentment towards the violin built up but in later years John had cause to be grateful for the knowledge gained.
Life at home was not easy for the young child. His father, unable to find work during the day, obsessed by his family medical history and suffering from the same obesity as his father, would walk and walk and walk, in a languid and heavy manner, throughout the day. Rigid in his routine, it was always the same walk, often stopping at a neighbour's house, sitting himself down in the kitchen where he would bore the housewives with his repetitive stories. Despite his limited lifestyle, he was very conceited and would have an irrelevant nickname for everybody. Having always had varicose veins he developed the theory that the worst thing he could do was to play the violin sitting down on a chair for hours with his knees up, that to do so would prove fatal, which led to continual arguments with the cinema management as he insisted on standing while he played. With age, becoming slightly deaf, intonation too became a problem. In his diaries, during courtship and the early days of their marriage, he referred to 'dear Amy', taking long walks together, proudly parading their infant son. Now their relationship was one in which they never seemed to be seen together except when helping at the Church. Even there, Amy avoided his company, preferring not to have direct confrontation with him over every petty matter.
The friction between Eddie, now twenty and his father centred on the young man's outright disobedience regarding girlfriends and the time he came home. Amy, who was seeing the doctor frequently, just could not cope. Finally Eddie left a note on the kitchen table about his 'sweetheart' and when he did not come home early enough, his father decreed, 'Amy - he is bolted out.' Eddie went to live with his Shaylor grandparents who had also rented a house on Cromwell Road. The effect of the arguments in the small house on the young, sensitive brother was quite traumatic but protected by his mother, Stanley learnt how to get his own way without direct confrontation. An uneasy truce between the father and eldest son brought Eddie home again, contributing £1 a week for board and lodging. Shortly afterwards on 3rd Otober 1932, Albert formally recorded in his diary: "Eddie married Winifred Ada Fawkes. The reception was held at the YMCA Hall in Upper islington with the honeymoon in Torquay." Afterwards in the family tradition, they celebrated with music at home. No one was happy with Eddie's choice of bride. Looking at photographs one sees his somewhat weak face smiling broadly next to a woman whose martinet approach to life makes one think that Eddie had 'jumped out of the frying pan into the fire'. It was a childless marriage.
Eddie's marriage now meant that the father concentrated his attention on the younger child. Despite frequent absences from school, the reaction to events at home, Stanley was first in his class, resulting in a double promotion and found himself sitting next to Percy Timberlake. Throughout their schooling their musical paths were intertwined. Timberlake remembers that the music teacher, Mr W Creuse, was talking about music not always being in unison, that sometimes there were parts to the whole. As an example he chose the two boys to sing the song 'Cherry Ripe'. Stanley took the alto and Percy the treble with great success, much to the teacher's delight.
At the same time, March 1926, Stanley Joined Miss Geary's Sunday music class. 'Old Mother Geary' had a brood of daughters, all of whom were music teachers and were involved, in a small way, with Stanley's music-making. Mary Geary went to the Orford Road Baptist Church and would have nothing to do with the Church of England; daughter Elizabeth was Church of England, attending St Stephen's, where she used one of the halls for teaching. Stanley scathingly referred to them as the 'Misses Jeery'. As piano teachers they were not of the same calibre as any of the other musicians who were to influence Stanley later.
Amy, whose instrument was the piano, divined that Stanley's approach to music was going to be with her own instrument. Unknown to Albert, she arranged for her eight-year-old son to go for lessons to the house at 114 Grove Road of Dorothy Parks, the best piano teacher in the area, depriving herself to provide for her son's musical education. The opportunity presented itself when her husband was in hospital for eleven weeks with complications after an operation in the summer of 1926.
John considered that joining the choir at St Stephen's Church in May 1927 was his most important early influence. As a chorister under Mr Charles Mayhew, Stanley sang in church for weddings and played the violin at concerts, winning a book as first prize for his violin playing. Sensing the child's keen interest, Mr Mayhew allowed him to play the organ and always included the young boy in the group he took carol singing, which Stanley enjoyed as he liked the feeling for ensemble. Albert noted proudly in November 1928 that Stanley "sang alto in quartet at service." Understanding the pleasure it gave her son, Amy, from a Wesleyan background, was confirmed in the spring into the Church of England by the Bishop of Barking and joined the Parish Council.
Albert always joined the throng watching the Lord Mayor's Show, every Royal Wedding and State Funeral and when a member of the Royal Family died, would edge the diary page in black. At half-term he took the family to the City of London to see the Guildhall and then St Paul's to climb the 368 stairs to the library and whispering gallery for sixpence. Amy took Stanley to Westminster Abbey to hear the choir and then, like any other parent, to Selfridges to see the Christmas displays. During the Christmas holidays she took him to hear oratorio in St Paul's and, at Easter, Handel's Messiah at Leyton Chapel.
The mother and younger son were drawing closer together with Stanley's piano playing as their bond. It could not be kept secret for much longer and suddenly Albert mentions it for the first time in his 1928 diary, when his son was playing in a piano and violin competition at Mathers Memorial Church, Brettenham Road, London E.17.
DIARY ENTRY: His programme: Piano - 'Humoreske' by Rowley. Violin - Miniature Sonata in D by Gurlitt (accompanist Mr Taverner). He received 29 marks out of 40 for the violin and 77 out of a 100 for the piano.
Except for competition marks and prizes Albert Pritchard never mentioned Stanley's piano playing in his diaries.
He was now playing piano solos at St Stephen's Church (such as the 1st movement of Schubert's Sonatina in G minor) and playing string trios at home with Percy Timberlake and his father. Totally in keeping with his unmoving, unsmiling manner, Albert treated these occasions in the front room of 17 Cromwell Road with great seriousness, as if they were professional musicians working together. He would start the session by saying, 'I'll take the tenor' and would announce in a formal, pompous manner what they were going to do. At every mistake he would stop, tap the stand and say, 'No gentlemen - it doesn't go.' Then, 'Back to the commencement, gentlemen, please.' In this somewhat comic situation the two boys would have a whole series of private jokes together, all directed against the old man.
Difficulties with his father were exacerbated by the latter's problem in finding work and lack of occupation. When 'talkies' arrived at the local cinema, Albert Pritchard became unemployed, never to find regular work as a musician again. Except for occasional jobs such as acting as a temporary postman at Christmas and addressing envelopes on a piecemeal basis, he was without any regular income. He wandered the streets, unable even to afford the thruppence for a hot bath at the Municipal Baths, his annual treat. He filled his days with twice weekly visits to the Labour Exchange and a journey every Tuesday to the Musicians' Union, followed by a walk along the Embankment, beside the Thames, listening to a military band. Returning home, he would regale the family with stories he had heard of events and personalities at concerts. One can imagine the young impressionable boy sitting in the kitchen listening to these tales, which had grown in the telling, much as the old man must have listened to the stories of his own seafaring father. Amy found occasional work helping with school dinners but they were dependent on the generosity of her family, friends and Eddie. The diaries for these years provide a tragic picture of the Depression. It was a great relief to them when, a decade later in 1939, Albert was able to draw his old age pension.