Mr Gordon West

by busMr Gordon West37, (1896-1969?), journalist, boxer, actor, traveller, political analyst and author, wrote two bestselling travel books, Jogging Round Majorca and By Bus to the Sahara – the latter still-in-print, and illustrated by his artist wife Mary (a modern copy coincidentally on the bookshelves of JTR’s granddaughter) as well as Lloyd George’s Last Fight inspired by his time advising the former PM on US Presidential electoral campaign practices. He also became the Foreign Editor of The Sketch. For once we have stories of both our guest and their spouse to tell, even though Mary Gordon West was not at the dinner.

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Can you help find a picture of Gordon: for now the colourful promotion material for his Saharan travel book has to surfice.

SEATED BESIDE

On a table of four it probably didn’t matter much.

WHAT’S ON HIS MIND?

He seems to be between books at this stage, so perhaps focused on reporting and looking for the next story. He has a successful political book and travel book behind him…. What next? Does he anticipate another travel book?

WHAT GORDON DID … HIS STORY SO FAR

Gordon James Hope West was born in Ash, Farnham, Surrey, on 7th March 1896, the son of Margaret Hope, born c1855, of Carlisle and James West, born c1836, confectioner, of Portsmouth. He had one sister Cathleen/Kathleen, eight years his senior. The family lived at Aden, Ash Vale. Military records show he had brown hair and grey eyes, 5‘ 10”.

Gordon studied at the London School of Economics and served in the Royal Navy in the First World War from 1916 to final discharge in 1919.[1] He then began his career in journalism, became the Editor of Publications for the Liberal Party, and then in the 1920s Foreign Correspondent for the Westminster Gazette.

On 9th September 1924 Gordon, aged 28, married Mary Coghlan, née Adamson in the Kensington registry office. Mary, age 38, was born on 14th May 1886, possibly in Dundee, Angus, Scotland, the daughter of Stephen Adamson, a contractor, deceased at this time. Her previous marriage to John Charles Coghlan had ended in divorce. In 1924 Gordon and Mary were living at 12a Colville Gardens, Kensington, in 1926 /1927 at 16 Stanley Gardens, Kensington, and in 1928 at 129 Elgin Crescent, Kensington, all in the Notting Hill area. The W. H Andrew witnessing the marriage may have been a former Royal Navy man, so possibly a friend of Gordon’s from their Navy days.

In the late 1920s Gordon and Mary explored the then little-known island of Majorca, which was the inspiration for his first successful book, Jogging Round Majorca, a book which Lloyd George enjoyed a great deal when it came out in 1929.[2] His association with Lloyd George started in 1928 when the then ex-PM (but still in the frame) sent him to the US to investigate and report on Presidential election methods, following the candidates Herbert Hoover and Alfred E. Smith. Gordon was accompanied on the US trip by A.J. Sylvester (LlG’s private secretary) – sailing home on the White Star liner Homeric in November 1928. Gordon was then 32, implying born 1896/late 1895

This trip led to the publication in 1930 of his book Lloyd George’s Last Fight, which doubtless gave him much in common to discuss with his table companions. In the 1930s he frequently attended, often with his wife Mary, Anglo-Hungarian events in London, one in July 1932 which Lady Rhondda and Miss Margaret West also attended, and another one shortly before the dinner (albeit without Mary).[3]

puzzle-piece2-50Any clues as to why Gordon may have been following Hungary at this time?

WHAT GORDON DID NEXT

In the 1930s he and Mary – “the Spirit” – travelled to Morocco and together wrote and illustrated respectively his second travel book, By Bus to the Sahara. – Mary is credited as Mary Gordon West, the name she used as an artist. A modern reviewer tells it well:

“Without doubt one of the most charming travel books ever written, Gordon West’s classic By Bus to the Sahara follows the incredible journey undertaken by the author and his wife, affectionately referred to throughout as ‘the Spirit’, as they make their way – largely, although not exclusively – by bus across Morocco to the Sahara desert.

The colourful account overflows with charm and beauty, as it chronicles the Wests’ exploration of the land of palm groves and oases, mosques and muezzins, and the ancient walled cities of an old Empire – by bus.

Setting off from Tilbury with two suitcases, a large painting box and a roll of artist’s canvass, they sailed to Tangier, and there entered the world of French Morocco, a world of sheiks and harems, the ancient Berber tribes of the Atlas Mountains, of French Legionnaires drinking ‘earthquakes’ in seedy desert bars, of beautiful old Moorish palaces and mountain mud villages.[4]

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Mary Gordon West’s Sahara bus

On 25th April 1936, when resident at 160 Piccadilly (according to ship’s registers, though at times this can be a business address). they sailed to Morocco, returning on 15th May. This however would not be the main trip on which the book is based, as they sailed from Southampton for this voyage. A new floating dock at Tilbury had been opened in 1930 to allow more liners to sail from there, with a new rail link from London.

At the time of the September 1939 census they were living in Brighton at 35 Compton Avenue: Gordon West, author, journalist, editorial staff, born 7th March 1895 and Mary West, artist, born 14th May 1886. They were also listed in the London electoral register at the same time, at 60 Drayton Gardens, Kensington, SW10 and they may well have just been staying by the coast.

One example of Mary’s art is on permanent public display in the house next door to their former Drayton Gardens home in Kensington. Over the doorway of No 58 Drayton Gardens is her painting of the former farmhouse that stood there and it was celebrated later in The Sketch in 2nd July 1952, when the newspaper incorrectly identified Mary as the sister of the resident of No 58 (they corrected themselves a week later). We may assume she became involved as she once lived next door!

60Drayton
Nos 60 and 58 Drayton Gardens, SW10, with Mary Gordon West.

60Drayton2

During the Second World War Gordon became Foreign Editor of the Daily Sketch.

But of the two of them, Mary does have two of the best stories to tell (albeit rather too late for our dinner).

First, in June 1937, she won a bet made two years earlier that she could be exhibited in an official London art gallery within two years, despite never having picked up a palette before. On 24th June 1937 the Lancashire Evening Post reported she had won her bet, being exhibited at the British Empire Art Exhibition in South Kensington.

However, I doubt if she knew what hurdles she had to overcome to get to the exhibition a year later: An Australian newspaper picks up the tale:

WOMAN ARTIST

STRANDED IN SAHARA: RESCUED BY FOREIGN LEGION

By Air Mail, London, June 25.

“An English woman artist owes her escape from a typhus-stricken area in the Sahara desert to men of the Foreign Legion, one of whom was a former burglar from London. The artist, Mrs. Mary Gordon West was staying in Erfond, a remote mud village near the Sahara in South Morocco, and was about to return to England for the British Empire Art society’s exhibition at South Kensington, when an outbreak of typhus cut her off 1,300 miles from home. Natives were dying in hundreds and her only chance was to cross the wild Atlas mountains by dangerous tracks and so reach Tangier and a boat on another route. Men of the Foreign Legion formed an escort. ”One of my worst experiences” Mrs. West said this week was the journey from Rabat, headquarters of the Foreign Legion, to Kingahir. the legion post, where I stayed two months. My quarters were a mud hut and I was not comforted by the thought that visitors who stayed there the previous year had been massacred by wild tribesmen. One of the legionaries deputed to look after me was an Englishman of good family, who had taken to crime, and had from England to escape the police. He told me he used to specialise in cat burglary — visiting large London and country houses when dances and parties were being held. He made a lot of money out of his last haul, fled to Paris, where he spent it recklessly, and then joined the Legion under an assumed name”

The Geraldton Guardian and Express, 12th July 1938

As they say, one is supposed to suffer for one’s art.

puzzle-piece2-50Gordon and Mary show a degree of flexibility in stating their ages when travelling – Mary knocking almost a decade off her age, Gordon fluctuating a year or so. But hopefully we have the right people. Pinning down their dates of departing this Earth has been difficult. The Times records that a Gordon West died on 13th August 1969, living at Greenford Road, Sudbury Hill, Middlesex – a journalist and editor of “Tobacco” for many years.[5] The death records show that on 13th August 1969 a Gordon West died in Brent, giving date of birth 7th March 1896 – almost the identical date, but a year later) to Gordon the journalist, author living in Brighton in September 1939 (born 7.2.1895). The Wills show Gordon West of 4 Northwick Park Harrow died on 13th August 1969. The Electoral rolls show a Gordon W West living in 20 Northwick Park and other streets around with an Isabella F West in earlier years. All rather curious and needs clearing up. We can never rule out duplicate people but the story does seem to hang together.  Can you help?

BACK TO TABLE 20


[1] It is knowing that he served in the Navy that we have been able to identify his full name and parentage, the papers giving the correct date of birth and noting that he was a journalist.

[2] Jogging Round Majorca,   Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 2.11.1929 https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000250/19291102/326/0007

[3] The Times, 1.3.1933, and also 8.7.1932; 11.2.1938; 16.3.1939

[4] World Travel Blogs Nige Burton, A romantic 1930s adventure by bus to the Sahara, Posted 11.8.2009 http://www.worldtravelblog.co.uk/a-romantic-1930s-adventure-by-bus-to-the-sahara/

[5] The Times, 16.8.1969. p18

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