Great Trade Route by Ford Madox Ford

Ford was indeed English, born as Ford Hermann Hueffer in 1873. He spent much of his life outside Britain – particularly in America. However, he also spent time in Germany recovering from mental illness and in France where he died in 1939. He was thus spared the horrors of seeing another World War. The first had affected him badly – he served at the Somme and suffered shell-shock as a result. In 1919 he changed his name in an attempt to wipe out his German ancestry.

Ford’s time in London found him mixing with other novelists and biographers. At one time Henry James and H G Wells were among his neighbours. Another was Joseph Conrad, another of Hugh’s favourite authors, with whom Ford collaborated on three novels. Ford actually moved to the house on the downs where Conrad had lived between 1898 and 1907. Henry James lived in Lamb House in Rye, also a home of E F Benson who was read by Hugh. Both Conrad and Wells appear several times in Great Trade Route. 

Ford was well-known as a literary critic, publishing The English Review and later The Transatlantic Review. Hugh may have been familiar with this journal, leading him to think of Ford as American.

Lamb House, Rye, sometime home of Henry James

Great Trade Route was published in 1937.  As I understand it, the book describes a round trip from the Italian Ligurian coast to Memphis. Ford devotes a large section  to his travels in America. So, it may have been the description of the Eastern States that appealed to Hugh. Ford’s mention of New Jersey describes it as ‘this Cinderella State’. From childhood, he had been fascinated in Columbus, hence the starting point. His plan was to travel overland to Antwerp, by sea to New York, then to Memphis. Via the Mississippi, he would then visit the Atlantic Islands and sail back to the Mediterranean. Ford describes the Great Trade Route as being from China to the Isles of Scillies. Sometimes, his geography lacks accuracy but, as he travels, he lingers.

The Long Weekend by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

The Long Weekend  was written as a Social History of Great Britain. It covers the period from 1918 to 1939, the time when both Hugh and Jim were living their impressionable years. The authors start by assessing social attitudes at the time of the 1918 Armistice. They note that the war had been a great leveller and class divides were slipping away. Servants disappeared as Jim’s family clearly demonstrates. Meanwhile, Glasgow, which had seen a rise in employment with wartime shipbuilding, saw declining conditions. Women had to fight to retain the jobs they’d carried out during the war and mechanisation meant a rise in unemployment. No wonder Hugh’s parents sought better conditions in the States.

A school trip

By 1924, Hugh and his mother and siblings had had a taste of life in America but were living back in Scotland. This was the year of the British Empire Exhibition mentioned in The Long Weekend. Jim attended this on a trip from her West Kirby school. Her souvenir autograph book is two inches wide, bound in red leather and embossed in gold with ‘WEMBLEY 1924’. Its pages are filled with signatures she collected on the day,  whether from stall-holders or members of the public. Jim was clearly drawn to the world of travel at that early stage, as the wide collection of nationalities bears witness.

New technology

Jim read of various predictions, one being twenty-four-hour flights between London and New York, in contrast with her Atlantic voyages. Graves and Hodge also predict the advent of ‘tele-pictures’, electricity replacing smoke-producing fuel and Europe at peace! Hand-to-hand fighting would be a thing of the past and therefore any war would last a matter of weeks.

The 1926 General Strike has a paragraph mentioning volunteers working at Liverpool Docks. The Wall Street collapse of 1929 had an adverse effect on employment figures in Britain as well as in the US but the housing boom increased standards of living. So the Britain which Jim had seen change as she grew up and the one to which Hugh was returning were very different from the one into which they were born. Labour-saving devices came in and people developed leisure activities.

Fashion and leisure

For women, as skirts and hairstyles became shorter, dancing and smoking became the norm. They could also exercise more freedom to go out without a chaperone. Marriage was their aim but in its absence, women took up music, art, a job or university. The increase in women’s rights led to their emancipation in 1928 so Jim never had to wait for the vote. This was the year the Whyte family emigrated. It would have come as a shock to witness the economic collapse of 1930 but this time there was no turning back.

The Roys were also suffering as 1930 was the year of the death of Jim’s father following weeks in hospital. When all health care had to be paid for, although not being a problem for this man of independent means, there were repercussions for the rest of the family.  

Jim was nearing the end of her teacher-training and her reference from the Principal, Miss Monk, praises her courage in the face of a trying year.  Much of the investment income ended when her father died and Jim felt that she must help to support her mother and siblings. She went back home following the end of her course and taught at a Liverpool school. 

Whilst the country in general was experiencing a boom, according to The Long Weekend, Liverpool had its slums. Jim was somewhat cosseted but the effects of the Depression remained. The fall in world trade had left many unemployed. Scotland was particularly badly affected and the Whyte family was not alone in seeking new opportunities in America.

Graves and Hodges go on to describe what was happening in sport, leisure and the arts. Cruises were beginning, records were broken in the sporting world. People thronged to the talkies, classical composers veered away from traditional tempi and tonality. In the literary world, Shaw was making left-wing statements in his writing whilst J B Priestley provided comfort for ordinary people. The W H Hudson memorial stands in a corner of Hyde Park.

An educated society

Some writers were more sexually-explicit than ever before. This reflected and was reflected by changing norms in society in which a decline in religious practice was noticeable.  Graves and Hodge mention favourite authors – the Bloomsbury set, T E Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Vera Brittain – all of which found a way into the Hugh/Jim ‘library’. Britain was almost fully literate for the first time and people lapped up knowledge not only through reading but also by attending ‘night classes’. Jim herself taught adults and young people in the evenings.

Open-air swimming baths were springing up all over the country as we know from Jim’s memorabilia. What a profound difference they made to her life as she joined a swimming club, took part in opening galas – Hoylake (1931), New Ferry (1932) – and eventually became a judge for swimming competitions. In 1927 hiking and rambling became popular and it is amazing to think that walking, which Jim loved, was a relatively new social activity.

Matters royal

The silver jubilee celebrations of 1935, designed around the theme of Empire, were an attempt to cheer up the country. If nothing else, they fostered not only a national pride but a renewed interest in the Royal Family that was to reach its peak the following year.  No one could have predicted that the new king would abdicate the throne for the love of Wallis Simpson. He had earned love and respect from the people.  

In the wake of the Jarrow Marches, Edward VIII visited South Wales during yet another Miners’ Strike and many workers subsequently deplored his treatment at the hands of the government. The story would have broken in America too and it is reasonable to suppose that Mr and Mrs Whyte and their family would have taken a special interest in the crisis. Following the Coronation of George VI, new fashions in clothes emerged, both in design and materials, some taking a lead from the new Queen and some instigated from the States. Women began to wear trousers, both literally and metaphorically.


A later chapter of The Long Weekend discusses the interest in cars with new safety measures such as Belisha beacons (named after the Minister of Transport) and the law introducing driving tests.  Jim had learned to drive and used the car for leisure as well as for getting to work. There was also an increase in foreign holidays. Although not strictly a holiday, Jim travelled to Sweden in the early 1930s to attend holiday courses in Physical Education. Jim’s life epitomised modern trends and it is therefore no surprise to find her in 1940 applying for the ESU scholarship.

Throughout the book, Graves and Hodge stress the power of the press to inform public opinion and politics in particular, none so much as in the build-up to war. In the days when television had not yet reached most, people were becoming better-informed not only through newspapers but by the popular cinema newsreels and ‘listening in’ to wireless. In their final chapter the authors show how Chamberlain was blind to the consequences of the actions of Fascism. It spread, not only in Germany but to Mussolini in Italy and Oswald Mosley in Britain, until war was inevitable.