In Memoriam: Robert George Lavington Heath

19.3.1915 - 9.6.2008

One of four boys, Robert Heath was a Master Printer and supervised the printing section of "R.S.Heath, Printers and Stationers" of the Strand, Calne, Wiltshire. He co-managed the business with his brother Frank. You can see the shop in the photo of the Strand (show here, right) from the Frith Collection site pages for Calne. It is the centre and left section of the building with the awnings central to picture. This whole building and several to the left were demolished resulting in the A4 roadway being widened by about a yard! Progress, and then the M4 came along. The brothers then continued to operate from a shop they were already running in Chippenham until they sold up, apparently for a good price, to a jewellers and they both retired. My uncle Frank stayed in Calne while father moved eventually to Bath living in the same flat for thirty years or so.

The Calne property was acquired from one Edwin Baily by Alfred Heath, my great-grandfather, in 1859. In the 1871 census Alfred is living there with three children by Elizabeth Pontin, his first wife and with his second wife, Mary Rose Pontin (nee Hitchcock, Elizabeth's sister) together with the first three of their nine (!) children. Robert Stiles (R.S.) is three.

As well as running the business grandfather Robert was an accomplished actor, singer and raconteur who impressed the locals and in particular a young lady called Kathleen Wood who played the piano. They were married in 1912? and my father, Robert, the first of four boys, was born on March 19, 1915.

Robert Heath was educated at St. Probus School in Salisbury and then went to Wellington School, the one in Somerset, not the military establishment in Berkshire. His father died in 1935 and the business fell to the four boys to run. The running of the firm was interrupted by the war during which father spent some time in Belgium supporting the troops liberating the Lowlands. He met up with the Dierickx family of Turnhout which eventually led to two summer holidays in Le Coq-sur-Mer (Den Haan) where my brother and I were given our first taste of "abroad" i.e. Coca-Cola and french-fries in a paper-cone with mayonnaise. In 1948 we moved to a house in Devizes with a large garden. Father kept up a substantial vegetable garden and after the failing Walnut tree was removed from the centre of the lawn populated it with several apple trees and if that wasn't enough planted a cordon of 50 apples and pears, all different. We lurked outside the house a few years ago and were invited in by the owner (only the second since we sold in 1954) and father was delighted to see that a few fruit trees had survived the intervening years. The skills he gained allowed him to continue to help with pruning wherever he could even when other work was beyond him. He suffered a stroke shortly after his 90th birthday and spent the rest of his days in a nursing home.

The collection of records which were among the formative musical experiences of my youth were acquired in the late thirties and forties and were added to with many LPs and eventually CDs. He played the piano, not very well, eventually giving up realising his daughter in her teens outshone him pianistically and musically. He didn't go to concerts or seek out Jazz or Classical performances with the one exception of the Duke Ellington concert at the Colston Hall, Bristol in the late fifties, which was a pretty big evening for me too. By chance he was in a Belgian night club where Hot Lips Page, the American jazz trumpeter, was performing and has an Autograph to prove it. "To my friend Bob, --is it de I before de E or de E before de I?--". He much admired Humphrey Lyttleton's Jazz programmes collating hundreds of tracks garnered from Humph's shows, re-recording them into groups on about a hundred cassette tapes. He kept his piano music with him long after he gave up playing, scores of Chopin Beethoven and even James P. Johnson reminding him of earlier times.

Clive Heath

Photo of the Strand, Calne, 1957The Strand, Calne, 1957. Photograph: Francis Frith Collection
Photo of RGLH on his first birthdayRGLH on his first birthday
Photo of RGLH at WellingtonRGLH at Wellington
Photo of RGLH's Grandfather Alfred HeathRGLH's Grandfather Alfred Heath
Photo of RGLH's Father Robert Stiles HeathRGLH's Father Robert Stiles Heath
Photo of RGLH in UniformRGLH in Uniform
Photo of RGLH in retirementRGLH in retirement