My Grandfather: The Retfordian
I contacted John Palmer in hope of finding further information about my grandfather Nelson Alexander Brian Huey (1902-1972). ‘NAB’ died when I was aged five and both my father - his middle son Peter - and my paternal grandmother Mary had also passed away by the time I wanted to know more about the Huey family. I found out a fair amount about his parents John & Emily, his grandparents (Hueys & Nelsons in County Tyrone and Waddingtons, from Mexborough, and Robinsons of Gainsborough) and even most of his great grandparents. I even knew that, surprisingly, there were a number of Nelson Hueys (and Samuel Nelson Hueys) in the family tree. Originally named in honour of a famous ancestor (Samuel Neilson, a leader of the 1798 Irish Rebellion). However, NAB remained an enigma. Portrayed in snapshots through anecdotes and hearsay. A well-respected, albeit somewhat austere, boss. A conservative and stern future father-in-law who, having donned an after-dinner smoking jacket, would communicate the requirement for silence with a brisk shake of The Times. The unforgiving father trying to drive his son along an unwanted career path in medicine that he himself was driven to by his own father, but not able to pursue. NAB only succeeded in ultimately driving his son away from home. Perhaps making his son feel as bad as he had felt about himself. The older, more easy going, mellowed father to a third son conceived when he was 46 years old. So, hearsay, anecdotes, and speculation had left me with at best a hazy outline of NAB Huey. Incidentally, amongst other nicknames (see below) he was also known as ‘Tiny’ – unsurprisingly he apparently disliked this play on his taller than average body frame.
NAB’s obituary (which appeared in the press, with a photograph, is reproduced below) gave a clue of sorts, at least to his education.
Obituary: Mr Nelson Alexander Brian Huey, Carlisle
The funeral of Mr Nelson Alexander Brian Huey, aged 70 of Rose House, Stanwicx, Carlisle took place on Thursday last week. His death having occurred the previous Sunday. Mr Huey who was 6' 4" high and nicknamed General de Gaulle, because of his likeness to the French statesman, worked for 25 years in Carlisle as a government valuer. In fact, he was affectionately known as father of the valuation office at Rufus House, headquarters of the city health and social security department, where he worked. On his 70th birthday, last January, his colleagues threw a surprise party for him.
Born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, Mr Huey was the only son of Dr & Mrs John James Huey. Dr Huey was the Medical Officer of Health for Mexborough. Mr Huey was educated at Redford Grammar School, Yorkshire. He lived in Carlisle for 30 years and is survived by his wife Mary and sons Peter, Brian and Shaun. Mrs Huey has this week received a letter of sympathy from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Anthony Barber. He says I am sorry to hear of the death of your husband who has given a valuable service. He also extends his personal sympathy to Mrs Huey.
Redford Grammar School, Yorkshire eventually drew a blank. However, Retford GS 24 miles from the family home in Mexborough (see below, NAB helpfully circled by my grandmother Mary...) sounded more promising. Just the kind of place the local doctor John James Huey and his wife Emily, a member of a prominent local family (Waddingtons), may have sent their son.
Nelson and sister Kathleen outside Ash Mount, Doncaster Road, Mexborough c1910.
John helpfully sent me a CD with early editions of ‘The Retfordian’ NAB would have been 12 in January 1914, so the 1914-1917 editions would be most likely to produce a hit. Sometimes it is helpful to have an unusual surname (though as I found, to my great surprise when discovering NAB’s ancestors, not at all unusual in parts of Ulster in the 19th Century).
NAB in about 1970, on back row with eldest son Brian and youngest son Shaun.
Middle row: son Peter, wife Mary (nee McCarthy) daughter-in-law Mavis.
Front row: Grandchildren Dale, Craig, and Karen Huey (the latter two children of Brian & Arlene Huey on a visit from South Africa).
The Autumn 1914 edition of The Retfordian reported that on the 15th July School Sports Day, young Huey had finished 2nd , behind an I. Houfton in the 100 yards (under 14). NAB would have been aged 12. Young Houfton also won the High Jump and the “Leslie Cup” which appears to have been awarded annually to the most successful junior athlete. There were over 30 visitors, Mrs Gough dispensed tea and cakes, and Miss Dora Pegler gave away the prizes. “Huey’s side” won the junior Tug of War. It had been an “ideal sports day...the field was a perfect picture... Everybody was happy and in the best of spirits.” Heady days...
The Summer 1916 edition of informed me that Huey had played at the left
of three centre-backs for the second XI in a 5-1 home defeat by
Doncaster 2nd team on the 5th February. A more respectable result, a 4-3 away loss to Newark GS, on the 16th February had seen Huey at the centre of the three.
The Autumn 1916 edition reporting on another Sports Day records that Huey,
now a senior, had won the High Jump, the 100 yards, the 220 yards, was second in
the ¼ mile, and third in the Hurdle Race. Due to these results, he was awarded the “Wilson Cup”. Presumably for best senior performance. There was no chance of a repeat performance from that promising youngster Houfton; whom it seems had left form iiiB earlier that term.
There was also a distinctly different feel to the social significance of the event to the school: “In no way were the occasions made more of than the mere events either demanded or justified. The only visitor was Geoffrey Harryman, who left for the Front a few days later; and his visit to us a sad memory, as the next news of him was his death. Miss Gough very kindly gave away the few prizes and cups to the winners. The optimists amongst us more or less vaguely believe that next year the Sports Day will ‘resume normal.’ May the wish be the prophet of the fact.” (p.93).
NAB in 1961, with daughter-in-law Arlene Huey, mother-in-law Alice McCarthy, and son Brian.
By Spring 1917, Huey is shown as a Prefect and there is evidence he was a ‘Boarder’ rather than a ‘Day Boy’. He is playing in the first XI football team and was in the side who won, 4-1, at home to Gainsborough (7th October). He also played in the home defeat to Worksop College (5-7 on 21st October).
I also found out that he had been in Merton House. The following passage from the inter House matches made me chuckle: “...There were many exciting games, e.g. the drawn game already mentioned [5-5, between Merton and Country], when Fuller i played a rare game for his side (scoring four goals), and was well backed up by Dransfield (one goal) at outside right, Huey at centre back, and Wells at back. [re a different match]... Eves i especially trying to force two or three players as well as the ball through the goal, Fuller i, Dransfield, Beaver, and Huey were playing neat, tricky football, and scoring eight goals to two of their opponents.” (p21/22).
The Sports Day features again in the Autumn 1917 edition. Huey won the: ¼ mile, 200 yards, 100 yards, High Jump, & Long Jump. He came second in the Hurdles. He, unsurprisingly, again won the “Wilson Challenge Cup” for best senior performance. However, once again the day was “of very quiet character”. Miss Arblaster, of the Girls’ County High School, presented the prizes.
The same edition again records him as one of six Boarder Prefects. He also is shown as the captain of the Cricket team for his House (now School House rather than Merton).
NAB now ‘Pops’ in mid 1950s with Mary & Shaun watching Cricket at Carlisle.
I then found the school picture on the website (‘probably of prefects, sixth formers and masters taken in 1919 or earlier’). Whilst it is easy to over-interpret such things, I recall my grandmother Mary nearly dropping a tray of her best china as she walked in to the living room in her home in Keswick to find me reading a newspaper in the chair that was NAB’s seat (in their Carlisle home). Her shock was at how I was sat in exactly the same position with the same expression on my face.
My rational response at the time was that if people are of a similar height
and shape then their bodies simply fold the same way. I would do well to recall the wisdom of my youth as my reaction mirrored Mary’s when I saw the young man in the photograph above. He sits as I sit. His hands fold like mine. At a stretch I would even say he has, what has (thanks to my cousin Craig) become known as, the Huey ‘beer-drinking’ top lip; also possessed by my 21-month old son James. Whether it is the young Nelson we may never know. However, for now, I shall picture it as so. Now I have an image, a construction, of my grandfather as a young man. Achieving on the sports field in a time when his strengths are, understandably, unlikely to give him the same recognition and validation as they would have done pre-war. The Retfordian being packed with suffering, the Roll of Honour shifting from the original honourable volunteers, to an increasing list of deceased Old Retfordians. Perhaps he was not as gifted academically as some of his descendants and ancestors. Perhaps he was. Or at least had the same potential, but was put-off by the demands of a father who had himself struggled to achieve a
qualification to pursue his chosen profession, and who’s own upbringing
(John Huey's mother died young when he was 16, the eldest of four
siblings on an isolated hill farm in the far west of County Tyrone)
had perhaps left him limited in his ability to nurture and accept his children for what they were. Despite the ever present opportunity for speculation, I shall now focus on what I think I know; not what I don’t. I will now always try and see in my grandfather the able young prefect and sportsman on a ‘picture perfect field’ at Retford School.
This picture from the website has a young gentleman on the front row (second from left) who looks suspiciously like a Huey!
Dale Alexander Huey, 5th November 2010.