James Mason – Northerner Reborn?

Professor Paul Ward, Edge Hill University

3rd February 2020

 ‘Spring and Port Wine’: James Mason, Hollywood Star and Northerner Reborn 1909-1984.

On Monday the Bolton branch of the Historical Association welcomed Professor Paul Ward from Edge Hill University. Professor Ward specialises in 19th and 20th century identity and Britishness, with a particular interest in northern history.

He began by introducing examples of British actors, such as Bob Hope, who had become successful Hollywood stars. What was interesting about James Mason was that he had done this only to later in life try to recapture his British, and particularly his northern identity. A Hollywood star wanting to return to the North; the audience were hooked.

Mason came from a wealthy, upper middle-class family of textile merchants from Huddersfield. With this new-found wealth, a young Mason was sent to Marlborough College for schooling and only returned to Huddersfield during the holidays. This is where the detachment from Huddersfield began for Mason.  At 18 he went on to Cambridge to study architecture and while there he discovered acting. In 1927 the British government had sought to protect the British film industry by introducing the Cinematograph Film Act, which stated initially that 7.5% (later 20%) of films shown in Britain had to be British made. These ‘quota quickies’, often on before the main feature, were where fame began for Mason.

At this point his relationship with his home town further deteriorated. Mason had begun an affair with a married woman, and this met with disapproval in non-conformist Huddersfield. He was known to have said that he had “Little affection for Huddersfield.” A further rift developed when the Second World War began, when Mason impatiently and unpatriotically declared himself a conscientious objector.

Nevertheless, during the 1940s he had become a top star in the Gainsborough Melodramas such as “The Wicked Lady”, where he often played a cad or womaniser. Professor Ward showed a clip of this film to the delight of the audience.

Shortly after the war, Mason moved to the United States. This was seen as a betrayal of war damaged Britain (economically at least) and his relationship with his hometown of Huddersfield deteriorated further after an interview was reported in a local newspaper in 1947.

Mason had always been reluctant to talk to journalists, however, in 1947 he spoke to Life Magazine. In this interview, the magazine reported that Mason “dismissed Huddersfield” as being unimportant in his life. Furthermore, he stared as Rommel in the Film “Desert Fox” (1951) and his role seemed to ‘normalise Rommel’, which did not endear him to the British public, so soon after the Second World War.

In Hollywood his stardom continued to rise in films such as Julius Caesar (1953) and The Man Between (1954). There was also the possibility that he was looking into US citizenship. A return to the UK seemed highly unlikely.

However, on a visit to the UK in 1956 Mason is recorded as stating that it was ‘good to come back again’. By the early 1960s he had left the US for Europe. However, this was not a return to Britain but Switzerland (for tax purposes). Nevertheless, he would frequent visits home from Switzerland.

Subsequently, he became involved in the ‘kitchen sink dramas’ of the British film industry of northern England. These included ‘A taste of Honey’ and ‘Georgy Girl’ (1966) where Mason struggled to recapture a Yorkshire accent.

The lecture then arrived at a very interesting question. What is meant by ‘the north’? What was clear was that there were varying definitions, largely depending on your geographical perspective. For someone from the south east of England, the description of the north was much more generalised. For people from the north the diversity was much starker. This was illustrated by the introduction of Bill Norton’s 1970 film ‘Spring and Port Wine’. The audience could not help but notice that in this film, set in and filmed around the mills of Bolton, Mason’s accent was clearly from Yorkshire and not Bolton!

It is clear that Mason did have a difficult relationship with the north and particularly his home town of Huddersfield, that later in life he tried to reconcile. In 1972 he was in a Yorkshire Television Film about Huddersfield, ‘Home James’. At the beginning of the film he discusses how difficult it is to get to Huddersfield by train having to change by various stations, but then declares that it ‘is well worth it’. His difficult relationship is further demonstrated when he states; ‘when I was young I had little affection for this part of the country and in fact when I finished my schooling I couldn’t wait to get away from the place…but recently, returning because of family reasons I have become more and more won over by it’.

Ward concludes that, despite trying to be a ‘northerner reborn’ Mason was never successful at reconciling with his Northern past. He died from a heart attack in Switzerland in 1984.

Change to Lecture Programme

Professor Richard CarwardineIn a change to our advertised programme, on Monday 6th January we will welcome Richard Carwardine, Emeritus Rhodes Professor of  American History at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to speak about ‘Lincoln and the Champions of Righteousness: How Religious Nationalism Fuelled the American Civil War’.

The lecture will begin at 7.30pm in Bolton School Girls’ Division, and we would be delighted to see you there.  Attendance at the lecture is free for Historical Association members/students and £4 for visitors.


War and the Enslavement of the Enemy’s Women: from the Iliad to Islamic State

We’ve been sent details of an event being organised by Sophie Therese Ambler, who gave the first talk of the season to the branch this year. She would be delighted to see us at a lecture at Lancaster Priory in November:

‘War and the Enslavement of the Enemy’s Women: from the Iliad to Islamic State’.

Lancaster Priory on Friday 8th November, 18.00-19.30.

The talk will be given by Professor John Gillingham FBA (LSE), as the keynote lecture of the British Commission for Military History, hosted by the Centre for War and Diplomacy at Lancaster University.

For thousands of years one of the reasons that men went to war was to capture and enslave their enemy’s women and children. Beginning in Europe about a thousand years ago this all changed. Within war-torn Europe women and children could feel relatively safe. By the twentieth century the more chivalrous attitude to non-combatants had become a global norm – though one that, as recent events have shown, is still not universally followed.

John Gillingham is Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Fellow of the British Academy. A leading authority on military, political and cultural history in medieval Europe and the crusades, his books include Richard I (1999), The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values (2000), The Angevin Empire (2001), Conquests, Catastrophe and Recovery: Britain and Ireland 1066–1485 (2014) and William II (2015). There will be a chance to ask John questions after his talk.

Tickets can be booked at Trybooking.co.uk.

Where was the coffee in Restoration England?

Professor Phil Withington raised this question because political historians have suggested that England was particularly precocious in drinking coffee in the 17th and 18th centuries. Moreover, they have associated coffee with the existence of a civil society and the enlightenment.  But Withington pointed out that historians such as Pincus and Ellis, who put forward these views, don’t give any empirical evidence that coffee became ubiquitous so quickly. Also, they see coffee and coffeehouses as synonymous.  In fact, the coffee market seems to have been weak for the decades after coffee was introduced, and it is particularly difficult to find evidence of coffee in the provinces.

Professor Phil Withington

Professor Phil Withington

In order to demonstrate these points, Professor Withington used diaries by Pepys and Hooke, evidence from the Old Bailey Online database, port books, inventories, and depositions from church courts and quarter sessions.

First he compared the assimilation of coffee and tobacco in the 5 decades after their introduction to England.  This showed that tobacco became a mass commodity only after the first 30 year period, once the trading company was established, but that then it spread rapidly.  Coffee did not.

As the major trading nation of the period, Professor Withington suggested that if the Dutch weren’t trading in a commodity, then other people probably weren’t either.  Anne McCant has found the trade in tea took off much more quickly than that of coffee, while S. D. Smith has showed that this was probably as a result of economic factors which expressly favoured tea while penalising coffee, rather than due to taste. Coffee came into England via the Levant company in the Mediterranean. Levant merchants open the first coffeehouses in London and they are the ones drinking it until the 1650s.  It was an elite product.  Only in the 18th century do the East India Company start bringing it in on a large scale via a different route.  So there is a good reason to be suspicious of the idea that Restoration London was flooded with coffee.

Pepys is often used to make the case for there being lots of coffee, because we know a lot about what he ate and drank in public and private settings.  In all his diaries, despite being in coffeehouses a lot, he only records drinking coffee once and that is at the house of his boss at the Navy Board, not in a coffeehouse. On other occasions he mentions drinking in coffeehouses, but it’s chocolate or other things he drinks, or he doesn’t mention drinking at all and seems just to have been there for the conversation.  Hooke’s diary is more of a scientific self-observation of what he does each day, what and where he eats and drinks.  Hooke visited a coffee house every day, but most of his consumption was chocolate or wine.  Coffee is mid-way up the list of his consumption, however, most of it was consumed in a single 20-month period out of his entire diary.  Hooke’s diary demonstrates that a range of beverages and foodstuffs was consumed in coffeehouses.  Meanwhile, coffee is rarely mentioned in Old Bailey Online records before 1700.  Coffeehouses do appear, but as the location for gaming, language lessons, political debates, and financial advice.  After 1700 there is an increase in records of domestic-set problems featuring coffee, such as the theft of coffee pots.

Outside London, the uptake of coffee is much slower than that of tobacco. There was not much coffee in provincial England before 1700, and although it grew after 1720, sugar and tobacco were still much more popular and available.

Prof Withington questioned whether historians were correct to conflate the coffeehouse space with the beverage coffee. In the provinces, there aren’t separate spaces for caffeines (as opposed to alcohols) in different buildings, they are served in coffeerooms either within a ‘coffeehouse’ or as part of a tavern.

Finally, Professor Withington concluded that the answer to the question ‘where was the coffee in Restoration England?’ was ‘not in the coffeehouse’.


Hallie Rubenhold at Bolton School

Hallie RubenholdBolton School have advised us that author, historian and broadcaster Hallie Rubenhold will visit Bolton School on Thursday 10 October 2019 to give a talk based on her Sunday Times Bestseller ‘The Five; The Untold Lives of The Women Killed by Jack the Ripper’.

The book seeks to reclaim the voices of five women whose lives have been forgotten in favour of fascination with their murderer and promises to change the narrative of the Ripper murders. It offers new insights, challenges assumptions and moves away from the myths surrounding London’s most famous serial killer to look instead at the facts and life experiences of the ‘canonical five’: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

Hallie’s talk will reveal the full lives that these women led, tell the stories of their surprising triumphs and heart-breaking difficulties, and make it impossible to remember them only as nameless, faceless victims.

Copies of ‘The Five’ will be available for purchase and signing on the night.

Event Contact: Mrs J Hone, Academic Enrichment Coordinator for the Arts (jhone@boltonschool.org)

This free event is open to everyone and will take place in the Girls’ Division Great Hall on Thursday 10 October 2019, beginning at 7.00pm. Refreshments will be available beforehand from 6.30pm. Parking will be available in the Girls’ Division Quad, which will be clearly signposted on the night. The talk is part of an ongoing series of Arts and Sciences Enrichment Lectures hosted by the Girls’ Division.

New history podcasts

Simon Shaw has been in touch with the branch to draw attention to a new podcasting venture that aims to spotlight extraordinary characters from the past, yet who often remain unknown outside of their locality. “Invisible Lives” is a recent introduction to the world of podcasting, telling true stories from our history that are rarely heard. Simon has enjoyed a lifelong enthusiasm for local history, digging out curious legends about interesting characters and extraordinary events. Now he’s keen to share that interest with on-line listeners in this not-for-profit venture.

Importantly, he’d like to enlist the support of people like our branch members, people who work hard to preserve our regional and national history.  He’s keen to ear from people who have a story they would like to share in one of the featured segments.

To understand the nature of the initiative, he recommends that you take a listen to an episode at http://www.buzzsprout.com/330380. You can hear the stories either through the podcast module on iPads, or via iTunes, by searching for my name or “Invisible Lives.” He has recently published a segment about a unique location in British Suffragette history; a little known account of a refuge for women emerging from the trauma of imprisonment where a living memorial was created. Tragically what was probably the first feminist landscape in political history has now been lost.  The full story is detailed in the Eagle House segment on the Podcast listings. It’s around 13 minutes long, but the story is told in a series of short chapters. He hopes that listening to this pod  will inspire people to nominate their own stories for consideration. If so, please drop him a note to invisiblelives@yahoo.com so that he can send a more detailed briefing about possible stories. Please pass this email on if you think others may be interested in listening and participating.

Exhibition at Bolton Museum

Whitman and Moran: Scenes from Long Island

Until Sun 21 July

Up Close Gallery

Bolton Library and Museum Services is celebrating the 200th birthday of the great American poet Walt Whitman with a series of special events. Whitman’s links with Bolton stretch back to the late 1800s and the founding of the Bolton Whitman Fellowship.

This exhibition pairs lines from Whitman’s poems with etchings by the celebrated printmaker Mary Nimmo Moran, who was married to the Bolton-born artist Thomas Moran. Many of Mary’s prints depict locations near to the Morans’ home on Long Island, New York. Walt Whitman was born on Long Island and his poetry is filled with descriptions of its unique scenery. These poetic evocations of place find their parallel in Nimmo Moran’s landscape etchings.

New Programme Now Available

The branch programme for 2019-20 is now available on our website!  We have lots of exciting events coming up, including a talk by Dr Sophie Ambler on the subject of her new book, Simon de Montfort; a heat of the Historical Association’s Great Debate; lectures relevant to the A level curriculum on seventeenth century popular politics and the American Civil War; and a new venture – two short papers in one evening.

Keep an eye on the website as more details are added for each event, and join us for another series of thought-provoking and entertaining evenings.

Event at Bolton School

Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War

Bolton School will host a free talk from author and political journalist Tim Bouverie based on his new book, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War. The event promises an eye-opening look at history, in particular the events leading to the Second World War. Members of the public are invited to join Bolton School pupils and staff for this free event.

Appeasing Hitler examines the disastrous years of indecision, failed diplomacy and parliamentary infighting that enabled Nazi domination of Europe. Beginning in 1933 with the advent of Hitler, the book sweeps from the early days of the Third Reich to the beaches of Dunkirk, offering a timeless lesson on the challenges of standing up to aggression and authoritarianism, and the calamity that results from failing to do so.

Anyone with an interest in the Second World War and more generally in political history is sure to find this a fascinating talk, and it will no doubt be particularly useful for students taking History at GCSE and A Level.

Tim is a former Political Producer for Channel 4 News, where he covered major political events such as the 2015 and 2017 General Elections and the 2016 EU referendum.Appeasing Hitler is his first book.

This free event is open to everyone and will take place in the Bolton School Girls’ Division Great Hall on Wednesday 3 April 2019, beginning at 7.00pm. Refreshments will be available beforehand from 6.30pm. Parking will be available in the Bolton School Girls’ Division Quad, which will be clearly signposted on the night.

Event Contact: Mrs J Hone, Academic Enrichment Coordinator for the Arts (JHone@boltonschool.org)

This event is part of an ongoing series Arts and Sciences Enrichment Lectures hosted by the Girls’ Division. The full programme of events is available on the School website here: https://www.boltonschool.org/senior-girls/extra-curricular-activities/enrichment-lectures/



Student exhibition takes inspiration from the past

An exhibition at Bolton Museum this month might be of interest to our members:

University of Bolton School of the Arts: Making Textiles – History, Identity, Innovation

This exhibition showcases the work of staff and students from the BA (Hons) Textiles and Surface Design course at the University of Bolton. The students and their tutors have used the museum’s historic textiles collection as the starting point for the creation of new work.

The museum’s collections are a rich resource for understanding the town’s identity and experience of living in Bolton. For decades, Bolton’s identity was closely bound up with its position as one of the country’s leading textile producing towns. A huge number of local people were involved in some way in the spinning, weaving, bleaching and dyeing of cotton.

The University of Bolton’s Textiles and Surface Design students follow in a long line of textile “workers” – machine operatives, pattern designers, production assistants and development managers. Though grounded in the history of their discipline, all are pushing the design and production of textiles in new and often surprising directions.

From https://www.mylifeinbolton.org.uk/EventDetails.aspx?EventID=67860&s=5248527818427387904&e=5248528034427387904