George had a happy secure childhood up to the age of ten. He said his mother was always there, good-tempered and understanding, while his father, a self-employed workaholic builder, put in brief appearances during which George learnt roller-skating, cycling and swimming; it was the foundation for a lifetime’s interest in individual sports. For several years his mother was ill, then she died of cancer in 1929. A very capable, jolly aunt, the father’s sister, had offered to bring up George and his younger brother, Len, who had been born slightly brain-damaged, but his father refused.
Their father consigned the boys to a fee-paying orphanage, in Woodford, North London, owned and run by a fanatical, evangelical Baptist. This orphanage was run on the principle that ‘the Lord will provide,’ meaning that no appeals were made for food and clothing for the children. Prayers, grace and Bible study took up much of the children’s day and in return The Lord was trusted to provide. Well, as George would say, “The Lord did not provide very much.” George detested his time at the orphanage and had to work hard at overcoming his resultant repudiation of religion.
When George’s father remarried five years later, his new wife, Edie Bailey, was eager to have the boys brought home, but the father resisted so strongly that a year-long battle had to be fought out before she finally triumphed. Edie welcomed the boys with little luxuries, such as a taxi ride and a visit to the theatre, and provided such a warm loving home that she won from George a deep, abiding affection.
George never forgave his father for that bitter, frustrating year waiting to be allowed home from the orphanage. For a time he worked unwillingly in his father’s building business but quickly found a job he liked at the Mentmore pen factory, responsible for special orders. He had also tried to join the RAF; he wanted to fly, but was turned down on bad eyesight.
George’s spare time was packed with activities: sports, visiting the opera and learning languages. It was at the Linguist Club that George met a German refugee who introduced him to anarchism. In a Soho cafe called the Coffee An’ he met Ike Benjamin and other members of the Stepney branch of the SPGB, and Harold Walsby. All the time he was reading and studying (using his lunch money for books). Not carrying any of the baggage that came with a secondary education his mind was clear for reception and rejection of ideas; all were considered.
But it was not to last. War came and George registered as a political conscientious objector. He was directed to do non-combatant work for the armed forces. He would not do this; he obtained false identity papers and went on the run. For a time it was quite exciting, but not being registered for employment he could only make a living on commission work which was mainly door-to-door selling in provincial cities. In Glasgow he got a job as fire-watcher at a newly opened arts club called ‘The Centre,’ in Scott Street, close to the Glasgow School of Art. David Archer, a patron of young unpublished poets and a former Soho habitue, was its founder and benefactor. Here for the first time in his life George got to know artists, musicians and poets. He met established painters like Yankel Adler, Josef Herman and J. D. Ferguson, as well as young art students, like Alison McIntosh, whom he was later to marry.
As children, Sharon and Richenda heard their mother call their father ‘Jack’ and believed that this was an affectionate version of ‘George.’ Only later in life did they discover that she had first met him as ‘Jack Hyams,’ his alias while on the run during the war – such romance! The poet, Sydney Graham, helped George with poetry composition. For a while George thought he was going to be a poet and throughout his life he read for relaxation: Milton, Kipling, Auden, Thomas Hardy and others. To our delight he often recited passages and apt quotations would be dropped unexpectedly into the conversation.
By nature George was a risk-taker, but his abstract thinking sometimes overrode the necessity to take suitable precautions. The authorities caught up with him and he landed in Barlinnie jail for three months. After release he still refused to comply with directives and carelessly found himself in prison again, this time in Wandsworth. However he made good use of this ‘time’ by making a study of Shakespeare’s plays. Afterwards, drawing a comparison between the two establishments, it appeared Barlinnie was to be preferred, scrupulously clean, with a firm, strict regime, whereas Wandsworth was dirty, relaxed and badly organised.
He remained in London after he was released and along with Walsby and several others became engaged in organising a group called the Social Science Association of which he was secretary. It was in this capacity that he contacted George Orwell and was invited to tea, although nothing much came of the meeting. George was never a socialiser; small talk was anathema. The SSA published several pamphlets and when the atom bomb was dropped they worked day and night to get out a pamphlet that was the first publication on sale devoted entirely to the atom bomb. Through a contact of Walsby’s they got it distributed through W H Smith’s shops and bookstalls where it sold very well.
A short time after the war ended Walsby happened to be asked by his friend, David Low an antiquarian bookseller, if he could recommend a suitable young man as an assistant in his business. George was recommended and accepted. This job proved to be a turning point in his life. He thoroughly enjoyed the work and it was not long before he set up in business on his own account. Marriage followed and he and Alison were soon fully occupied running a business and bringing up their two daughters, Sharon and Richenda. George maintained his interest in ideology but he had to suspend his activities in this field for some years. Never an idler, George worked long hours for many years, proving himself an astute businessman. He worried endlessly over each decision but the business was successful. His son-in-law, Nicholas Goodyer, joined him and gradually took over the management of the business, thus providing George with the freedom to continue his ideology activities.
The children’s interests enabled him to continue his outdoor activities; swimming, riding, etc. and after they grew up he went on to sub-aqua diving, then yachting and sail-boarding. He went skiing a number of times with Sharon and Nicholas but this was curtailed by the arrival of their children, Catherine and Richard. For several years George spent most weekends sailing the Channel, to the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands and France, and on long summer holidays he made several trips to the Azores, usually single-handed, with no radio. He was also taking risks with hang-gliding, but gave that up after breaking his arm by falling onto the top of a Welsh mountain. He learnt to fly a Cessna and held a light aircraft pilot’s license but found flying an aeroplane “a very dull experience.” Of all the sports he enjoyed the sea was his great love and up to the end of his life he was sail-boarding in Portland Harbour. Latterly he had taken up hill walking with a group of friends including his sister-in-law, Brenda.
When he first met Harold Walsby, George was a member of the SPGB and initially he argued against Walsby’s theory of ideology. As George said later “I went into Coffee An’ one night wearing my intellectual SPGB bovver boots and came out battered, beaten, bemused and bewildered.” George was quickly converted and over many years worked with Walsby, following him into and out of Hegel. Walsby died in 1973; for some time he had produced no new writing, but was taken up with algebra. George may have found this frustrating; certainly it was after Walsby’s death that he returned to his work with systematic ideology .
Progress in thinking about systematic ideology can be charted in George’s journal, Ideological Commentary, and also in his three published books. Great help at this time came from Richenda, a professional computer manager who provided invaluable advice, initially in a computer system for the business and then in word processing. George was quick to spot technological advances that would enhance his ability to put his ideas across and was soon able to advise the expert in her own field!
A brief word about George’s health; he was slim, fit and lively but, in fact, was none too healthy. From his early years he knew he had a duodenal ulcer. He was often very ill and his life was punctuated with four major operations. The condition controlled his entire manner of living, especially eating and traveling. But in the end it was his heart which dealt the final blow.
George’s family miss him greatly, as a role model of hard work and achievement, as a source of knowledge and wisdom but mainly as someone with whom to share life, laughter and love.
NIAT – Nothing Is Absolutely True
continue reading George Walford, A Memorial (1998):
Introduction | Notes and Quotes | Trevor Blake | Alan Bula | George Gook | Mary Anne Knukel | Encounter in Autumn by Dr. Zvi Lamm | Seeking George Walford by Paul Minet | Peter Shepherd | John Rowan | George R. Russell, SPGB | Thoughts on Ideological Minimalism by Eric Stockton | Reminiscences of George Walford and the Walsby Society 1976 to 1994 by Adrian Williams | Jack as I Knew Him by Brenda McIntosh | Alison Walford, Sharon Goodyear, Richenda Walford