From cotton village to communism (via Leeds)
The journey from war-time childhood in a Lancashire cotton village to undergraduate life in Leeds in the 1950s is vividly captured in a new autobiography by Dr James Walsh, which has been published posthumously by his widow Vanessa Rosenthal.
Dr Walsh – known as Jim – first came to Leeds in 1948 and his long association with the University culminated when he was appointed Registrar in 1979. After his retirement in 1992, he was given the title of Emeritus Registrar and the following year he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his outstanding achievements.
“Jim decided to write an autobiography for his grandchildren – even though he didn’t actually have any when he started it!” says Vanessa. “The book is called Under the Apple Boughs – a quote from the Dylan Thomas poem Fern Hill, which reminded Jim of his idyllic rural childhood in Barrowford, near Nelson. It’s a fascinating story, covering his life during the years 1939-1961. He talks in great detail about his experience as an undergraduate at Leeds, in particular, how he came here as a rather reserved country boy who’d attracted some notice as a Young Conservative delegate at the 1948 Tory Conference in Brighton, and 18 months later was an active member of the Communist Party. His membership brought him into contact with such figures as Eric Hobsbawm, Ralph Miliband and Doris Lessing, all of which is covered in the book.”
Vanessa edited the book and, as well as detailed accounts of such momentous occasions as Jim’s trip behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ to Eastern Europe in 1952, it includes many photographs. Vanessa has also interleaved Jim’s story with her own, contemporary letters to him explaining how she is gradually coming to terms with his death in 2008.
“I hope the book will be of interest to University staff,” continues Vanessa. “It’s very evocative and I’m sure there are plenty of people who will remember the times and some of the occasions he writes about. And for those who don’t have direct experience of those things, it’s a very rich account of how life was for young people growing up during and immediately after the war.”
Reviewing the book, renowned journalist and writer Brian MacArthur commented: “Under the Apple Boughs is a classic account of a northern working-class boyhood in the 1940s, interspersed with his widow Vanessa Rosenthal’s searingly honest letters telling of her anguish and despair after his death. Two moving human documents within one cover.”
Under the Apple Boughs by James Walsh and Vanessa Rosenthal is just £9.99 and is available at the University bookshop and the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, via Amazon or direct from the publisher. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to order it directly.