A Marlborough of the mind – by Judy Golding
Marlborough goes very deep in our family. We all felt its pull – for different reasons perhaps, but in all cases powerfully and emotionally. Some of us simply loved it. My brother and I adored the old houses, the covered ways on the north side of the High Street, the rosy hung tiles on the sides of the buildings, the sense of mysterious age.
We loved the bus journey from our home in Salisbury, and even now I look at the bus stop and feel the sharpness of loss: where is my grandfather? Where is that familiar, calm figure, waiting for me as the red double-decker number 9 from Salisbury swings round the end of the High Street and comes to a halt?
Alec Golding, my grandfather, moved to Marlborough 109 years ago, in 1905, as science master at the grammar school. He worked there for the next forty years, and lived in the centre of the town till his death in 1958. At 29 The Green he and his wife brought up their two sons, both pupils at the grammar school.
The younger, my father the novelist William Golding, longed as an adolescent to escape Marlborough: its smallness, its – to him – steely boundaries of class (he learnt later that this was a feature of England, not just Marlborough).
Unlike the rest of us, who adored it, he was not fond of the extraordinary house where his family lived – for him it was too near the graveyard, too overshadowed and too haunted. In response, perhaps revenge, it stayed embedded in his dreams for the rest of his life, sometimes in images of poignant beauty, sometimes as a gateway to surreal landscapes, sometimes as a disturbing location for his recurrent nightmare of being executed.
In his novels, the town is transformed many times to serve an imaginary landscape. Savernake Forest becomes the last home of the Neanderthals in The Inheritors, the old house on the Green is the source of childhood nightmares in Pincher Martin, the memories of school (and of his father as the teacher Nick Shales) underpin Free Fall.
And I am certain that his childhood walks among the towering trees of Savernake Forest provided the timber that Dean Jocelin obtains for the building of his cathedral spire. In The Pyramid, my father draws a picture of his home town, and of his own early life, distorted by his desire to arraign what he saw as the English pyramid of class – and above all his own guilty involvement in its resultant cruelties.
Did he ever acknowledge his debt to the town? The grammar school paved his way to Oxford. The local bookshop (pre-dating the White Horse Bookshop, later enthusiastically used by all our family) faithfully obtained for him volumes that might have been considered a minority taste. He recalls as a very young man collecting a volume of poetry by Edith Sitwell from the shop and – showing off his literary enthusiasm – sitting to read it on the pavement, as if he could not bear to wait till he got home.
Above all, the town and surrounding landscape were a resource for him, for his memories and his imagination, even if his use of it might sometimes be thought unappreciative. His Marlborough of the mind was very different from the actual one we all know and enjoy – but he could not have had the imaginary landscape without the real one.
So that is what lies behind our family’s small involvement in the Marlborough Literary Festival: a desire to give something back to the beautiful Wiltshire town that filled our heads with memories, and, in my father’s case, with stories.
Copyright © Judy Golding 2014. All rights reserved.
William Golding Limited provide sponsorship each year to bring a notable writer of fiction to the Marlborough Literature Festival – ‘The Golding Speaker’.
On Friday (September 26) The Golding Speaker will be Louis de Bernières – the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. At 7.30pm in the Town Hall. Admission by ticket from The White Horse Bookshop.
This year’s Marlborough LitFest coincides with the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies – you can find out more here.