Many people refer jokingly to discoveries, inventions, memoirs, as jottings ‘on the back of an envelope’. This is the real thing.
In 2011 Leamington History Group inherited an intriguing little archive from local historian Toby Cave. At first sight it was just a small brown cardboard box full of all kinds of scraps of paper covered in pencilled notes, some fastened together with rusted pins or paper clips. On closer inspection the scraps turned out to be a mine of information.
The notes were compiled by a very long-lived local historian, Herbert Mansfield Jenkins, born in Leamington in December 1899. He attended a school in Binswood Avenue and went on to become manager of Midland Bank in High Street, Kenilworth. His grandfather and uncle Alwyn were iron founders, and his father Charles started working life in the industry, as a Kitchen Range maker, but later became an auctioneer’s clerk.
Mr Jenkins researched meticulously at local libraries for his articles and talks about people, places, dates, architects, planners, politicians, events and anniversaries. They were associated with the early history of Leamington and have now been superseded by later books on the town which are a great deal easier to access via the internet. Mr Jenkins was a reader at Birmingham Reference Library and he also had access to the Willes archive through the County Record Office.
He made many specific references with quotes from both P F Robinson (a London architect and planner, responsible for much of the development of the New Town) and J G Jackson (Edward Willes’ land agent, who masterminded the 19th century planning and layout of Jephson Gardens).
Mr Jenkins’ scraps of paper tell an interesting tale of their own. He was one of the ‘make do and mend’ generation and he didn’t waste anything: a single scrap of re-usable paper, a ticket, a leaflet for an event at a local church, the back of an envelope, a page from an accounts ledger, or even personal correspondence.
Could Mr Jenkins have been an Air-Raid Warden in WW2? A few notes are written on the backs of Air Raid Wardens’ report sheets, so it seems possible. He certainly was a long-standing member of the Dugdale Society and wrote articles and gave talks for them. He was a member of the British Council of Churches, Vice-Chairman of the local branch of the United Nations Association, a member of the National Trust, the Leamington Horticultural Society, the Warwick Society, the Church Missionary Society and Leamington Christian Council.
Herbert Jenkins was also a regular at the Birmingham Reference Library and subscribed to the New Statesman. He corresponded with William Cooper, who wrote a history of Lillington, and Bryan Little, an author, historian and lecturer who lived in Bristol and gratefully picked Mr Jenkins’ brains at regular intervals. He was also ‘on call’ at the Leamington Courier, receiving regular (written) cries for help from the editor of the day for an article on a significant event or anniversary. The requests came shortly before the paper was to go to press and were swiftly followed by a note of thanks when he came up trumps.
Mr Jenkins contributed a memoir to ‘The Leamington we used to know’ – one of the first Leamington Literary Society publications, published in time for the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977. He also remembered the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, when imitation medals stamped with the profile of the queen were worn by children at his school. He described this as ‘an eruption of red, white and blue ribbon’. He recalled Leamington in the last decade of the 19th Century, the house he grew up in opposite the Regent Hotel, the widespread dependence on the horse as a mode of transport, Bath Chairs at the rank at the corner of the Pump Room Gardens, and so on.
Queen Victoria passed through Leamington from time to time, as she travelled by rail from London to Balmoral. Standing one day with a small crowd in a field close to the railway line, where until recently the Ford Foundry stood, young Herbert Jenkins watched the Royal train go by. Through the window of one of the carriages, he glimpsed ‘a small pale face framed by a black bonnet, and a figure enveloped in black draperies’. Job done!