bbc.co.uk
Home
Explore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
3 Oct 2014
Click for a Text Only version of this page
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
Home Truths - with John Peel BBC Radio 4

Radio 4

Home Truths
Listen Again
About John Peel

Help
Feedback
Like this page?
Mail it to a friend


Meet Gervase Markham

And the word became flesh as Ian Peacock meets the man behind the improbable name of Gervase Markham...

Earlier in the year, the serendipity of Home Truths connections was never more in evidence than when John Peel's casual musing on the subject of Dot Com (was there such a person?) led to one Gervase Markham e-mailing him swiftly back with the reply "Dot Com's alive and well in California.." Expressing the view that someone with such a name couldn't possibly exist, John was swamped with correspondence and cuttings relating to Gervases and Markhams, past and present... At this point, Ian Peacock, favoured Home Truths reporter, was dispatched to record two of them for posterity - grandfather and grandson, as it turns out..

The Reverend Canon Gervase (it's pronounced Gerviss) W. Markham, MBE MA is ninety years old and lives in a small village in Cumbria. His lifestyle is far from that of a retired clergyman - he speaks roughly twenty languages, plays croquet, runs a huge camp or choristers every summer and arranged for a fifty ton granite millennium monument and a pop festival last year. His name has been in the family for several hundred years, and conscious of the preceding generations, he calls himself Gervase Markham V, "And I always sign myself Gervase W. Markham, and my grandson, I call or write to as Gervase R." His energy is boundless - according to his grandson he still gardening, and building walls - just him, "He'll ask me to give a hand with a particularly heavy stone, but normally he's tossing the rocks around like there's no tomorrow... absolutely amazing."

The Markham's have been around for generations, four of them as Sheriffs of Nottingham and one a favourite of Elizabeth I. The most famous was Gervase the author. Grandson Gervase explains, "Two of his more famous books - are Cheap and Good Husbandry and The English Houswife.. a lot of his books are made up of household hints he collected from various famers' wives - he'd no idea whether they were any good, so half his stuff is really good and half is complete rubbish..." Gervase the younger displays similar characteristics as his 17th century relation, "I did manage to flog water I'd bottled from the spring here to the entire village - I bought a bike from the proceeds. The sign of a good entrepreneur is someone who can sell something which people should be able to get for free!"

The Markhams, it seems, are never at a loss. When Gervase Markham V retired from being a vicar, he set himself a challenge stiff enough to make lesser men blench, "I wanted to read all the great books of the world in their original language..." and went on unnervingly, "I started with the easy ones, Homer and Virgil." He's worked his way through Dante in Italian and Don Quixote in Spanish and is currently studying Russian with War and Peace as his next objective. He also treated a mildly shocked-sounding Ian Peacock to a reading from the New Testament in Greek (in a modern Greek accent of course).

On the face of it, the old-fashioned scholar who has no computer or wireless and his dot com whizz kid of a grandson, may seem worlds apart, but there is an oddly similar quality about them - is it the Gervase gene?

What impact do your ancestors have on your life or your sense of identity?
Is there one relation who's proved a particular inspiration to you?
In what way have they influenced your life?

Join the discussion on the Home Truths Message Board  

Listen Again
Hear John Peel's Tribute Program

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy