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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    IVOR GURNEY IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE


For much of his second spell in High Wycombe (l9l9-20) Ivor lived not at the Chapmans but in digs (still extant) at No 51, Queens Road, a quiet, now slightly run-down terrace down an alley adjoining the station and just off London Road. One can visualise him still, loping past the characteristic late Victorian-Edwardian arched doorways and cutting up Birdcage Walk past what is now the Irish Club to check train times to Marylebone or Paddington, a copy of Hugh Walpole or Robert Louis Stevenson in hand; or hurrying in early morning, as he puts it, 'disconsolate and grumbling towards London and College and music, that one learns to hate'.

During l920 Gurney returned first to Gloucester, where he sojourned with an aunt, and then London, although in June-July l921 -- his last weeks at the Royal College -- he could be found lodging at The Five Alls, in Stokenchurch, just above the ridge. His burning of midnight oil, nightwalking routine and prolific workload (he wrote the bulk of some 900 poems and 250 songs in the period l9l9-l922; the almost frenzied emergence of his F W Harvey cycle was typical) finally took its toll. In l922 he was relegated to a mental hospital, first in Gloucester and then at Dartford in Kent, close to what is now the M25, where he continued to write and compose longer than is often realised, and he died there of tuberculosis on Boxing Day, l937.

Tragically, Mr Edward Chapman, who had offered to adopt Ivor, for all his illness and unpredictability, when pressures at home made him vulnerable, received a posting at Gloucester little more than a year after Gurney's incarceration. The family later moved to Chosen Hill, in rural Churchdown on the city's outskirts, from which Gurney and Howells, separately and together, drew such inspiration. Had things worked out thus, Gurney might have enjoyed very different final years, and might have survived to see the ultimate triumph of his best work.

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Copyright © 24 July 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK






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