HAROLD JAGER'S HOYLAKE DIARIES 1924
Introduction by his son, Rev. George Jager 1991
" I was expelled from School". This was the first clause of my father's first and only published book Brief Life. After this dramatic opening, he went on to explain that he was expelled, towards the end of his last term at Birkenhead School, because of a disagreement between his father and the Headmaster, both men of strong principles. Harold was, in any case, due to begin at Rugby School next term, and there to be followed by his brothers Bertram and Arthur. They lived with their parents, and May, their step-sister, and their two younger sisters, at 'Lingfield' a big house near Birkenhead Park. My mother's family, the David Maclvers lived nearby at another big house, 6 Manor Hill. My grandfather, George Jager Junior, had, as an infant, nearly died of cold and hunger when his father George Jager Senior, and Martha his wife, had moved to Preston to make a fresh start; but as soon as they arrived were frostbound for two months. George Jager's Memoirs, which he wrote and rewrote in his old age, tell of his progress, after many hardships and adventures, from being a boy at Chelsea Workhouse to becoming a very successful Sugar Refiner.
His success began when George Jager Junior was able, as a boy, to exercise his business gifts, and together with his father, as George Jager & Son, to go forward in what was then a very profitable trade.
When Harold began at Rugby School, it was agreed that he should go on to the 'Science side', so that he could eventually take over the Refineries. But the situation changed dramatically while Harold was still at School. The advent of subsidised Beet sugar, meant, as my grandfather saw, that there was no longer going to be so much profit made from the refining of Cane sugar. Moreover, Harold's younger brother, Bertie, showed practical gifts that would mean that he was now the best choice as Manager of the Refineries. So my grandfather decided that it would be best to encourage Harold in his ambition to become a Barrister, and that he should go up to Balliol College at Oxford, instead of going into the business.
Somewhat to the surprise of the College authorities, my grandfather insisted that Harold should make all his own arrangements for his University career. So father was admitted to Balliol, and was happy there and began to study law. He became a friend of a brilliant young man, also from Birkenhead, F.E.Smith, who later became Lord Chancellor and First Earl of Birkenhead. My father's book, Brief Life, published while he was at Hoylake, is a celebration of that early friendship. After living very different lives at Oxford ('F.E.' was often deeply in debt; but was always in such demand that he could repay what he owed), they both went to London to 'eat dinners' (my father at the Middle Temple) and so to train for 'The Bar'. When the time came for them to 'go into Chambers' as Barristers, they shared 'Chambers'!
Unlike 'F.E.', my father was not in great demand as a Barrister. Few 'Briefs' came his way, and so he was glad to be invited to join the Northern Circuit as 'Junior'. There was not much financial reward; but he was a respected member of a very agreeable fellowship, and there were plenty of opportunities for political speaking, often as a guest at very grand houses.
The problem was:- What new occupation could my father take up, which would enable him to spend most nights at home with Dorothy and the children (soon to number three), would provide a reasonable income (for an income which was generous for a young bachelor, was not adequate also to provide for a wife, three children, and a nanny and a cook!), and would also give him an interesting and worthwhile employment. My father knew that he was competent and reliable; but not especially gifted.
The answer came through a chance connection with prospecting for Pyrites (a source of lead, as well as of several other minerals) in Cumberland.
He there met a man, whose name I shall discover as it will be in the records of 'Purex. Ltd', who had discovered a new process for making White Lead, the white powder which was then the base for the best paint. White Lead had many good qualities; but it had one fatal flaw. It was the source of the fatal disease of 'lead poisoning'. My father's new friend had discovered a new process for making White Lead which he believed would provide an even better product than the existing one, and would not prove to be poisonous to those who were engaged in its manufacture. So after much thought and discussion, it was decided that my father should put most of his money into developing and exploiting this new process. His friend had set up this business in a new factory at Greenford, Middlesex, handy for the railway, and on land that had not yet been developed. So my parents sold their little house on Bidston Hill (6 Vyner Road) and found a suitable house in Marsham Lane, Gerrards Cross. To the subsequent confusion of their neighbours, they called it Number 6. It was handy for the station (particularly as the last stage could be run downhill) and there was a direct service to Greenford (as well as a very superior service to Marylebone, by the new Great Central Railway, as its Managing Director, Sir Sam Fay, lived in Gerrards Cross).
So father began work in a white corrugated iron office, at the Purex Works. His partner soon found that he had plenty of problems. The process was to consist in burning the Pyrites into a very fine powder, and in filtering out this powder from the very hot smoke in which it was suspended.
But there were all kind of problems with the filters, and neither my father, nor anyone else, could provide satisfactory answers to these problems. However my father had plenty to deal with in and out of the Office in buying and selling, and in keeping the little work force as happy as possible, and life in Marsham Lane went on very happily. They had agreeable visitors, and a pleasant golf course and club (I found it altogether superior to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake!), and Aunty Dums came to stay with us whenever a new baby was expected. The Great War, when it came, made little difference; but eventually my father's turn came to be 'called up' and for one memorable year we let 'Marsham Lane' and went to a rented house at Shawford, near Winchester, so as to be within reach of the Camp at Twyford, where my father was stationed. "We" were, of course, my mother and us five children, with Rotha as baby, and Nellie Close, (as she then still was) as Nanny, and her friend Sylvia as Cook General. How we got to Shawford and how we got on there must be told elsewhere.
At the end of that time, my father was demobilised, and we went back to live at Gerrards Cross, and to the little Office at Purex. Problems continued, but Purex continued to make paint, and my father to sell it. One continuing problem was that the Purex White Lead was of a finer grain than the normal product. This meant that, although Purex covered the surface well, and gave splendid protection, the paint was too transparent! But Purex continued to sell, and the common 'post war' difficulties were, somehow, overcome.
Meanwhile, life at home went on very happily, and the family began to go to school. Joanna and I went to 'St Georges', a nearby school in Marsham Waye where Miss Morse was Teacher, assisted by her brother, Mr Morse. He had the upper class. Thanks to my mother's good use of the text book "Reading without tears", I, aged, I suppose, eight years old, was put into Mr Morse's Class, while Joanna went to Miss Morse's, the class below. But my promotion was short-lived! We began to do Arithmetic. I could add well enough; but I had never even heard of 'taking away'! Mr Morse could not believe it! He marked the Blackboard with a sequence of ever-bigger noughts, and I was sent 'down' to join Jay and the other non-readers. I never saw him again! He became ill and died. Then the time came for me to go to Boarding School, Moorland House in Heswall, near Birkenhead. My cousin, Teddy Jager, was already there (two years older than me), and also our cousin David Maclver. His brother, Peter, was to start at the same time as I did. So I was taken up to Birkenhead (I think in 'Swiftie', our little car) to start school next day with Teddy, and with the little brown leather attaché case, which after seeing me through two schools, later found useful employment as a tool-bag.
My stammer, and the fact that I was much better at book-work than at games, meant that I did not much like school, and much preferred the holidays at Gerrards Cross. The others in due time, went to St. George's and its successor, and, after two years, Ham joined me at Moorland House, to which of course, we went by train, with a longish walk up from Heswall Station.
I do not know at what stage our mother became really ill. Children, even up to their teens, were not told about such, or any other, anxieties. I remember that there was an anxious time before and after Giles was born, and we had to rent a house at Bont Thu between Barmouth and Dolgelly, as mother was too ill to go back to Gerrards Cross to have the baby there, as had been planned. I think that she was never really well after Giles was born. I remember the time when sne was not well enough to 'swing' Swiftie's engine before our little trips to picnic down the Misbourne Valley, and so we had to get our one-armed postman to do it for her. (For a '1914 model', Swiftie was very modern, and did have electric starting; but would need manual help when cold!). But life went on, with occasional trips to London by train (including more than one to "see a man about my stammer"), and occasional trips in the car to see Auntie Lois at Bushey, and the frequent visit to and from her dear friend Mrs May in Marsham Waye.
All the same, it was a complete surprise to me when, not long after Auntie May and Granny Jager had helped Mummy to see me off to Devonshire for my first term at Blundells, my father suddenly turned up, in evident distress, to see me at school. He was on his way, in Swiftie, to see me, and then go on to Jay and Di at Howells and Ham at Moorland House, to tell us that Mummy was dead. The car had no spare wheel, as he had broken one of the wheels in a sudden swerve, I think in Uxbridge, while on his hurried way to see me.
He spent the night at the Palmerston Hotel in Tiverton, and I walked down to breakfast with him there, and then he was off to Denbigh. I suppose that Rotha and Giles were at Wanlass with Grannie MacIver, and Elizabeth Richie, who looked after Giles a great deal during subsequent years. As a man of his generation and an Old Rugbeian, my father had kept all knowledge of his troubles and anxieties from his children, and so, when death came, it hit us so much harder than it would have done if he had made us aware of the actual situation. It was no news to him; but years later I saw receipts from a London hospital. She had had at least two operations for cancer. I saw the term out, and did well enough in my schoolwork for it to be decided, next term, at the beginning of the school year, I should go into 5A1 and so should take School Certificate next summer term. So I became a 'High Flyer', which was probably not a good thing.
It was about the same time as my mother's final illness that the final crisis came at Purex. A fear that had been with him for some time was confirmed. So far from being a safer process than the old way of making White Lead, the onset of lead poisoning among the key members of his staff proved that the 'Purex' was was even more lethal. The only thing to do was to 'sell-out' at once to 'Hadfields', a rival Paint Manufacturer who did not use White Lead. They may well have protected the jobs of some 'Purex' people; but it left my father with no job, and no reason at all for staying on at Gerrards Cross.
My father had long been a Director of George Jager and Son, and now Uncle Bertie very generously suggested that, although trade was now even more difficult than their father had feared, and war-time difficulties had forced 'G.J & Son' to sell their Refinery to MacFies, my father should come back to the Firm as an active partner.
So, after a good deal of house-hunting, my father saw an Auction Advertisement for 'The Old Garden', Hoylake. This bungalow was four minutes walk from Hoylake Station, and the garden backed on to the Royal Liverpool Golf Course. There was no time to see it before the sale, or even to assess the exact amount of bedrooms etc; but it was an opportunity not to be missed! My father went to the sale and bought 'The Old Garden', though I have often regretted that he did not also buy the unused 'Kit-car', made from designs published (I think) in 1905, which was resting in the garage, and was sold as a seperate item! I suppose that it was bought as scrap; but what a fortune could have been made by anyone who had had the foresight to see what a market there would eventually be in 'veteran cars'!
'The Old Garden' was one of my father's more successful gambles. Before the day was out he had been offered more than the price he had bid; but, although the house had a bedroom too few, and was surrounded by a wilderness instead of a garden, he had decided to keep the house and partition-off part of the dining room to make an extra bedroom. This was 66 years ago, so that Jay and Di are now just about Hoylake's oldest inhabitants. The old gentleman who had been its owner died in residence, and had become too old to learn to drive the car that he had made from bought in castings etc. The shed in which he built it is still in use, though the blue-prints that had adorned the walls had to be removed when the shed was decorated (it was a very superior shed, with a chimney and, I think, a sink), and became Mr Abbey's comfortable sanctum in the years of his retirement. Mr Abbey had been a Ship's Steward, and, after too many other factota had been tried and found wanting, became my father's best friend, and answer to his domestic problems.