Ford Madox Ford (1873 - 1939)
Ford Madox Ford was born at 5 Fairlawn Villas [ now 245 Kingston Road ] on 17 December 1873. Christened Ford Herman Hueffer, he was the eldest son of German émigré Francis Hueffer and his English wife. Catherine Madox Brown. A musicologist and author, Francis had emigrated to England in 1869 and later became music critic for The Times.
Young Ford grew up in a somewhat bohemian environment and frequently came into contact with eminent artists and intellectuals of his day. Visitors to his family home included the eminent art critic, John Ruskin, the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle and the pre-Raphaelite artist, William Holman Hunt. Ford also met the Russian writer Ivan Turgenyev and the political emigre Prince Kropotkin.
Ford was one of three children and lived in Merton with his parents and siblings until the premature death of his father in 1889. 5 Fairlawn Villas was in a row of 23 dwellings on Kingston Road which now form part of the John Innes Conservation area. In "John Innes: His life and legacy," Neil Priestland describes the buildings as "11 pairs of houses and one single one on the north side of the Kingston Road... built in 1861 to 1863 by William Blackford, a property developer and son of a Wimbledon bootmaker. He left a gap between numbers 18 and 19 where John Innes would lay out Wilton Crescent. These dwellings were numbered from the Kingston end.”* Fairlawn Villas are clearly marked in a sketch map of Merton Park dating from 1871.
Ford did not attend local schools but was sent first to an advanced primary school in Kent and then to University College School in London's Gower Street. At the age of 16, he and his brother Oliver went to live at the Regents Street home of their maternal grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown. There is no record of Ford ever returning to Wimbledon after this date.
Ford achieved considerable literary success from an early age and by the outbreak of war had written a number of well received works including The Good Soldier, published in 1915. In the same year, at the age of 42, Ford volunteered for the army, becoming an officer in the Welch regiment. [ Robert Graves also served in the same regiment. ] He fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and in July that year, developed shellshock after being concussed by an exploding shell. After convalescing in the south of France he was sent back to the front but became ill again and had to be invalided home in 1917.
Directly after his return from service, Ford published a collection of poetry titled On Heaven, and Poems Written on Active Service (1918). This included the poem, Antwerp, later described by T.S. Eliot as ‘the only good poem I have met with on the subject of war.’ Perhaps controversially, the poem questioned why the Belgians resisted the German invasion, when it would have been easier to let them pass through on their way to France.
Later, Ford also drew on his experiences as a soldier for a series of novels, published as a single volume under the title Parade’s End. (1924–26) This is now considered one of the greatest pieces of literature about World War I.
According to Pericles Lewis, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University (1998-2012,) Ford “was friendly with the British propaganda minister, C.F.G. Masterman." He eventually wrote two propaganda novels, despite his German parentage.
Throughout the war Ford served in the British army under his own German name. However in 1919, he changed it by deed poll to Ford Madox Ford, apparently at the request of his publisher.
* John Innes was the Victorian property developer responsible for the creation of the Merton Park estate.