We were very fortunate last week to have a talk given by our Patron, Dr Desmond Morris, who was present at the Launch of the Friends of 6 July 1993. I have been very keen to invite him to talk to us for some time, but when he was living in Oxford, it seemed a long way to ask him to travel; he's now living in Ireland, but we are now able to invite people into our living rooms via Zoom, so distance is no problem.
Desmond ranged from the beginnings of the Morris's involvement in Swindon and then he reminisced about his time in Swindon from 1933-51 with some wonderful tales which are mostly captured on video here:
However due to relief that I'd let the record 84 Zoom participants into the talk, I didn't manage to record the first part of the talk where Desmond traced the ancestral route to Swindon as follows:
After being injured in the Napoleonic war, James Morris, originally from the Welsh borders, didn’t make it home, but stopped off in Swindon where he remained and opened a bookshop in Wood Street. His son, William Morris, Desmond’s great grandfather thought it was unfair that ordinary people didn’t have access to newspapers because they were so expensive, he used to go to London, bring back old newspapers and rent them out to people. At that time, there was stamp duty on news items, whereas fiction, like Charles Dickens publications didn’t attract it. William discovered that if news publications were produced monthly, there was no stamp duty on them. On 6 February 1854, William Morris produced the first monthly newspaper in the country for 1d. Desmond held up a copy of the paper, the front page of which advertised Morse’s Herbal Ointment which cured many maladies. This was produced by Levi Lapper Morse, you can still buy the jars the ointment was sold in today online.
The newspapers were originally sold from the bookshop before moving to larger premises at 100 Victoria Road, where they remained until the offices closed recently and the Swindon Advertiser newspaper production was moved to Richmond House, Hindle Way, SN3 3RB.
The talk was fascinating in many respects, the funniest part was when Desmond Morris described going out with Diana Dors and trying to remove the copious amounts of lipstick which ended up smeared over his face. We have 3 of Desmond's surrealist paintings in the Swindon Collection of 20th Century art, 'Girl Selling Flowers' seen below was painted when Desmond was 18, and depicts Diana Dors and those amazing lips, peroxide blond hair and huge eyebrows:
Graham Carter wrote this lovely piece inspired by Desmond's talk:
It was certainly an evening to remember, and judging by the number of emails thanking Desmond for the talk, I think many others felt the same.