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A Tribute to

 

Journalist and Travel Writer
HV Morton

 

(1892-1979)

 

"His writings combine the discipline of a journalist who has an interest in all facets of life, together with the heart of a poet who has an intense love of this homeland"

Kenneth Fields, This England Magazine, Winter 1991


Background

Photograph of H V MortonFollowing the centenary of Henry Vollam Morton’s birth in 1992, and preceding the formation of a Society last year, as well as the continued production of publications on the travel writer’s life and works, an official nomination was put forward to Tameside MBC for a Blue Plaque to mark the birthplace of the twentieth century British travel writer.

Apart from some fifty books written over the course of his life, HV Morton’s work includes hundreds of published essays and feature articles. Letters and e-mails in support of the plaque were received by admirers across the globe, praising the recognition of his birthplace.

Many of his books remain in print today and his legacy of travel lives on. He has considerable international popularity, many regard him as one of the greatest travel writers of the twentieth century. He is considered an inspiration to global travellers who follow his escapades each year.

Early Life

Henry Canova Vollam Morton was born at 17 Chester Square in Ashton-under-Lyne on 25 July 1892. His parents moved from Glasgow in 1891 after getting married in 1890. Joseph, his father, was offered a job as sub editor on the Ashton-under-Lyne Herald and accepted it in order to pursue a career in journalism. Margaret, his devout mother was originally from Invergordan, Scotland. The street on which they lived was prosperously middle class and earliest memories are said to be ‘the sound of mill-girls’ clogs as they clattered off to work in the morning’ (Michael Bartholomew, In Search of HV Morton, 2004).

‘Morton’s mother was ‘known throughout the worst slums of Ashton as ‘Cousin Maggie’. She started a League of Good Conduct and founded a cot in the children’s hospital. The police were always calling on Saturday night to ask her to go with them to streets which they patrolled two by two, and settle some family dispute. This she never failed to do. She civilised the slums of Ashton. As a small boy I can remember seeing our kitchen full of crossing sweeper boys, their brooms in the scullery, sitting down to a great meal of bread and jam or bread and dripping.’ (Michael Bartholomew, In Search of HV Morton, 2004).

Henry and his sister, Marguerite, were baptised in St Peter’s Church, Ashton-under-Lyne on 11 th September 1895. They grew up in Moseley, Birmingham, after their father was offered a job as Editor-in-Chief at the Pearson’s Group of Newspapers in Birmingham. Henry attended the reputable King Edward’s School but decided at 16 to leave for a career in journalism.

A Journalist On Fleet Street

HV Morton learnt the trade of feature writing in Birmingham and later furthered his professional skills on Fleet Street. His natural ability to produce highly descriptive stories at an equally fast pace was recognised. Following his father in learning the rudiments of newspaper production, he worked in different departments across the Birmingham Gazette & Express. Leaving the company as Assistant Editor in 1912 Morton moved to London to develop his career working for Empire Magazine, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail.

His career was interrupted by the declaration of War in 1914 and he was commissioned in the Warwickshire Yeomanry until his return to Fleet Street in 1919. In 1923, he was chosen to cover a unique event, the discovery of the Tutankhamun tomb at Luxor, Egypt. The report was circulated to newspapers worldwide. His popularity soared whilst writing a series of vignettes or ‘word pictures’ on the city of London, which became the most popular column in the Daily Express. He was soon approached by the Chairman at Methuen Publications who published the word pictures and produced Morton’s first book The Heart of London (1925).

Image of a Book by H V MortonImage of a Book by H V MortonImage of a Book by H V MortonImage of a Book by H V Morton

The Travel Writer

In 1926, Morton decided to go In Search of England - a unique tour of the country in a bull-nosed Morris. Britain was open for discovery to anyone who could afford a small motorcar. Morton seized the opportunity. Originally starting as a Daily Express project, his literary journey was set to become a bestseller and was published by Methuen in 1927. The articles were written at a transitional period in British history capturing the spirit of 1920’s England. Today, the book remains a valuable source for those seeking the opportunity to visualise England at this time.

Early success encouraged him to travel around the British Isles and Europe. In the Steps of the Master (Rich and Cowan, 1934), a journal of Morton’s travels through the Holy Land was the first of his biblical trilogy whilst exploring the places associated with Jesus Christ. He wrote over fifty travel books during his lifetime and eventually settled in South Africa where he died at the age of 86 at his home in Somerset West.

Photograph of the HV Morton Blue PlaqueBlue Plaque Location

The HV Morton Blue Plaque was permanently located in Henry Square, Ashton-under-Lyne in December 2009, close to the birthplace of the travel writer at Chester Square.

H.V. Morton Society

In December 2003, the HV Morton Society Link to External Website was set up by Peter Devenish and Kenneth Fields. The membership continues to grow and information can be retrieved from there.

The society aims to promote interest in, and provide information on the life and work of the travel writer and journalist HV Morton.

Kenneth Fields claims that ‘what made HV Morton different from other travel writers were his wonderful gifts for poetic description, searching observation and sense of humour which are a timeless attraction for each new generation of readers’.


Acknowledgements

  • The family of HV Morton
  • Bill Johnson
  • Peter Devenish
  • Kenneth Fields
  • Methuen Publications Ltd

The Tameside Blue Plaque Scheme is managed by the Arts and Events Team.

For a comprehensive listing of further Blue Plaques featured around Tameside please contact us :

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