The Bridge Interviews
Raymond & Joan Moody
This month The Bridge went to meet a couple who can rightly be described as a Burford institution. Raymond and Joan Moody have lived in the town for many years, know practically everybody and have been involved in many aspects of Burford life. They have also collected and published a vast amount of information on the history of the area.
Raymond grew up in the Essex village of Stambourne. Joan, the daughter of a Congregational minister, comes from Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. Raymond has degrees from what Sir Humphrey Appleby called both our universities; after doing National Service in the RAF he read chemistry and physics at Downing College, Cambridge, followed by theology at Lincoln College, Oxford. He then took an ordination course at Mansfield College. He and Joan met at Cambridge in 1950 where she had arrived fresh from boarding school to undergo teacher training at Homerton College. Raymond says he spotted Joan across a crowded room and immediately decided he would like to marry her. They were married in 1955.
Raymond was ordained as a minister in the Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church) but says “no one has been able to discern any denominational allegiance in me”. (For many years he took services at the Methodist Church and St John the Baptist Church in Burford and at other C of E churches in the benefice). His first job was running South Bar Church in Banbury but he did not take a liking to the place. In 1960 he and Joan moved to Burford and he became head of religious education at Burford Grammar School and chaplain to the boarding house.
They bought a house in the High Street when they came here and have lived in it ever since. The house has had a chequered history. It was once part of the (then) vicarage, part of it dating from early Tudor times and part from 1672. It was used for billeting soldiers during the Second World War and then by the district council as temporary accommodation for people awaiting rehousing. It was in a very dilapidated state. Raymond set about rebuilding it with his own hands. He put in a new staircase, removed an internal wall and did all the plumbing and wiring. He used a chestnut tree to make a pillar to replace the wall and out of the rest fashioned a beautiful set of cupboards in the kitchen. Their large living room is lined all along one side from floor to ceiling with books. These are about a third of their collection; the rest are upstairs.
Burford Grammar School had been threatened with closure in the 1960s as it only had 200 pupils and was not thought to be viable. Closure was resisted and a compromise was reached by which the existing school continued at the bottom of the hill under the headmaster and Burford Grammar School Modern Side was established under the second master in concrete huts at the top. The school became a comprehensive in the late 1960s. Soon after that American families (who had their own schools) left Brize Norton and were replaced by RAF families (who didn’t). The school rapidly grew from 600 to 1300. Joan stepped in to help and became head of the first year.
In 1984 the county council, noticing that the school was full of pupils from Carterton, started a junior comprehensive at Carterton and Burford School was downsized. Raymond, the oldest staff member, agreed to retire and Joan followed in 1985. Since then they have been able to devote themselves to their many interests.
Chief among these is local history. In 1978 Joan published a paper on The Great Burford Smallpox Outbreak (which carried off an eighth of the population in 1758). Raymond wrote one on The Landscape of Burford and they jointly wrote The Ancient Boundaries of Taynton. They were then commissioned to write The Book of Burford (1983). This was followed by The Inns of Burford (1996, revised 2008), A Thousand Years of Burford (2006), Burford Through Time (2010) and Burford’s Churches & Churchmen (2014). They have also written pamphlets on other subjects, some of which are on sale in Burford News. Next on the stocks are The Civil War and the Jacobites and Twelve Letters to My Grandchildren, a work on family history for private circulation. Most of the books have been self-published under their own imprint, Hindsight of Burford. Raymond puts the whole book together on his computer and the printers just print it. (They are very computer savvy and make a lot of use of Facebook to keep in touch with friends).
Burford, Raymond explains, is fortunate in having an exceptional collection of documents on local history housed right here in the Tolsey. In many places such material is stored in county archives with limited public access. He has carried out exhaustive research, for example examining between one and two thousand property deeds. 40% of the houses in the High Street have documents going back to the 17000s. Another valuable source is a book by Richard Gretton called The Burford Records: A Study in Minor Town Government (1920). Facts about the town come pouring out of his mouth: names of 18th century vicars, details about notable locals, ghostly legends. He has plans about future articles and talks. A talk about John Meade Falkner, author of Moonfleet, will have taken place by the time you read this.
Raymond is concerned about how historical records will be kept in the future. Computer technology is constantly updating with the loss of material stored in previous, obsolescent equipment and fewer people write letters. Each generation loses some of the history of their forebears and, as he says, “You never know the questions you should ask your grandparents until it is too late”.
When younger Moodys left home, Joan and Raymond set off on their travels. These took them particularly to France and Italy. Raymond can get by in French and Italian, is fluent in Latin and can read the New Testament in Greek. His Hebrew, he admits, is a bit rusty. They have been to Ravello about 30 times. In Venice they discovered the carnival. They went back another ten or so times and designed and made the most beautiful, elaborate costumes for themselves. An example appears on our front cover. (Hint to Burford Festival: these would make a wonderful exhibition). They would dress up in these, complete with masks, and go out to meet their friends. (How the friends would identify each other we haven’t worked out). Eventually they decided that they had had enough of standing on the freezing Riva degli Schiavoni in February in carnival costume and called it a day.
Travel gave Raymond an opportunity to indulge another passion, photography. He has an archive of 30,000 photographs. (Yes, you did read that right). He has had some from different holidays made into books and is planning a book of his photographs of Burford.
Oh, and we haven’t mentioned that Raymond served on Burford Town Council for 22 years, being mayor for six years (1985-1991).
Joan and Raymond have three children and five grandchildren aged from 30 to 15. All their children grew up in Burford and were educated at the primary school and at Burford School. Jeremy, who got into Oxford at 16, is the secretary of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers and a visiting professor at the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester. Nicholas served in the army and now runs risk management for the Met Office at Exeter. Clare is an MEP for the South West and Gibraltar constituency. One of their grandsons, Oliver, is science correspondent for The Times.
Burford, says Raymond, is a special place and everyone seems to come here at some stage. “If you were travelling from Alpha Centauri to Betelgeuse you would probably pass through Burford.” He thinks it is fortunate, for us if not for people of the time, that it was not connected to the railways in the 19th century. More recently strict planning policies have prevented large housing estates from being built here. He is, however, concerned that far too much housing is being built now without regard to infrastructure. The area has inevitably changed because of the influx of new residents. The villages used to have their own character. “You could tell which village a child came from by the type of misbehaviour they indulged in.”
As he approaches his 88th birthday Raymond says he is slightly cross about getting older. (Joan is a little younger). He likes to quote Michael Caine who, asked how if felt to be his age, said: “Not so bad, considering the alternative”.