The life and times of an English baby boomer
Neil Hall tells the tale of going back - resplendent in the reds and purples of his late-1960s newly-acquired hippydom - to see his family in West Sussex,
His parents were appalled. His beloved grandmother, however, thought he looked wonderful.
It was typical of the woman and a happy memory of Neil’s life-long association with Lodsworth, home to his maternal grandparents.
Neil recalls it all in his new book An English Baby Boomer: My Life and Times, available on Amazon and through the Lodsworth Larder.
Neil describes the volume as a personal romp through the second half of the 20th century, autobiography blending with social history, jokes, poetry, travel and much else.
His point is to chart just how hugely his world - and our world - has changed. A baby-boomer, he was born in 1947, arriving at a time when Britain had an empire; at a time when his father, like men up and down the country, would never leave the house without a hat.
Small wonder the parental reaction to Neil’s brief hippydom was so curt - though not so from Gawky, Neil’s own name from his grandmother, a corruption of the Zulu word for grandmother he picked up in his very earliest years.
“I was born in South Africa, but West Sussex is the root of my story. My grandparents moved to Lodsworth in 1926. My grandfather had gone through the first world war. He had been an international polo player. He played polo for England, and he was one of the best polo players there had ever been. He became friendly with Lord Cowdray, and they started going to polo together.”
Times were very different back then. Neil’s grandfather was Lt Col B H Mathew-Lannowe DSO; to Neil, he was “sir”.
“I never had a close relationship with him at all. He was a rather austere man. He had been through all sorts of wars. He was at Ladysmith in the Boer War. He had been on the Afghan border. To me, he was so distant and so old.
“I remember once we went up to London when I was about five. We went sight-seeing, and my grandfather went to his club. That’s what one did back then!
“I was born in South Africa and then we went to live in Germany, but Lodsworth was always the place for holidays. Things are so different now. Back then you wouldn’t think of going off to Marbella or Corsica for holidays. Holiday for us was coming back from Germany and going to Lodsworth to stay with my grandparents.”
Young Neil felt a particular affection towards Gawky: “She was very kind. She used to spoil me. In Midhurst, there was a wonderful toyshop called Maids. It was full of toys, and I was a child! I remember it had plain floors, no carpets, but linoleum, and it was just full of toys. Gawky used to run me into Midhurst and buy me a present and we would then go back to Lodsworth for tea.”
Once they had moved back to England, Neil and his parents used to go down to Cornwall for a month every summer, where they would be joined by his grandparents for some of the time.
“And they would ‘treat’ us. I would not say that they were rich, but they were quite comfortable. They were able to lavish treats on my younger brother and me.”
The local connections continue on the other side of Neil’s family.
“My father was brought up in Sutton and his father was Oliver Hall RA, a noted artist and friend of Elgar and John Galsworthy. His son changed his name for professional reasons to Claude Muncaster and was also a noted artist.
“Oliver was President of the Society of Sussex Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, and Claude was also a member in the 20s. Claude became President of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and lived in Petworth and subsequently Sutton where he is buried. A fine landscape of the Downs hangs in the church at Sutton.”
Neil recalls: “My aunt, the late Mrs Susan Maxwell, was a noted antiques dealer in Midhurst where she lived at the Mill House having moved from Ambersham House. She was a brilliant property restorer and decorator.
“She transformed more than 200 house for Lord Cowdray during her career. Her grandson Nicky Evans is a noted polo player.
“The family were enthusiastic participants in the local point-to-points during 50s and 60s.
“In the 60s my parents acquired a farmhouse on the Stopham Estate before retiring to Bury. As a teenager the farmhouse was home and I used to career around the Sussex lanes on my Lambretta, earning cash from picking fruit and jobbing gardening!”