Local Face: Brian Woledge

  |  Published: Aug 1st 1994

When Brian Woledge was elected to the Fielden Chair of French Language and Literature in 1939 it was quite an event. At last an Englishman had been appointed to the Senior Chair of French in the United Kingdom. Almost immediately, University College, London was evacuated to Bangor so it was not until 1945 that the Professor started looking for a family home in a pleasant location and "Speen Lodge" at the junction of Dobbins Lane and Chiltem Road, in Wendover, was just perfect. From the windows the V E Day bonfire on Coombe Hill could clearly be seen.

In those days the railway provided an easy link to London and the North. Steam trains took passengers as far as Rickmansworth where an electric locomotive was coupled up to the carriages for the last haul to Baker Street and the rest of the underground system. The Woledges had relatives in Yorkshire and the easy way for the family to visit was to catch the local train to Aylesbury and meet the express train from Marylebone travelling up to Sheffield.

The High Street had neither roundabouts nor pelican crossings in 1945 but it did boast two Chemists including Sergeant's which is now Lloyds. The Literary Institute (now a dentist) issued ration cards and children, including those of Professor Woledge, went to the school near the Clocktower. Brian Woledge was born in London but his family moved to Leeds when he was a baby. Leeds was one of the foremost centres of French studies in the country and that is where he studied French and English Language and Literature: his BA was awarded in 1926 and his MA in 1928. He also met and later married Chris Craven, a fellow student. Brian's main area of interest was the Arthurian legends. To study the original texts, and learn Old French he went to the Sorbonne. In addition to her languages degree, Chris was studying economics in Brussels.

Brian's first University teaching post was in Hull in 1930 then he moved to Aberdeen where he developed his own method of teaching Medieval French and the evolution of the French language. Here their children were born, and as Chris took on the role of mother she also became Brian's collaborator. The Woledges were heavily committed to the Wendover WEA Chris was often the secretary or chairman although Brian did take executive office occasionally. Originally meetings took place in the Old School and subsequently in the Library Meeting room. In addition to the courses, Chris organised the annual outing to Stratford and the Ramble involving a 5-6 mile walk and pub lunch. In anticipation of retirement, the Woledges started to build at the bottom of their garden.

Someone asked if it was to be a swimming pool but instead, they had commissioned a specialist architect-builder to construct a Danish house for them. It was extremely modern for pre-oil crisis 1969 with sealed unit hard wood double-glazing and central heating including individual thermostats on each radiator. Now, in 1994, it is still as heat efficient and "state of the art" as when it was new and sensational in Wendover. The original family home was sold to the Bridges who are still close friends as well as neighbours.

In anticipation of infirmity, the house was designed with flexibility for living on the ground floor only and when Chris became ill, the upper floor was used by the carer. Sadly, Chris died last year ending a happy partnership of 59 years. Brian's sight had deteriorated so that he still has a carer, Janine McEneaney, from the organisation Oxford Aunts. It was Janine who encouraged Brian to take up swimming. Brian also still attends a WEA class in domestic architecture visiting buildings in Wendover, Great Missenden and local villages. He has sold most of his collection of books but finds Weston Turville based Calibre invaluable as a source of talking books. After all, it is never too late to learn!

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