Memories of the co-creator of Womersley, my father, Martin Parsons:
My brother, Richard, and I were both born in Melbourne, where we lived for the first few years of our lives. We had a lovely home and garden on Willesden Road in the suburb of Hughesdale. One of my vivid memories was the lemon tree our father planted in the middle of the lawn. While we lived there, Granny came to stay and was delighted to be able to pick a lemon from the tree for her gin and tonic. So, from then on, Richard and I referred to it as the Gin and Tonic tree...
Everyone who knew Martin will relate how he did rather like a drink or two and was always very hospitable. In his twenties, he set up the Pink Elephant Tie Club which only ever had very few members: the conditions of entry inevitably involved the consumption of a "couple" of drinks which, in Australia meant any number more than two and preferably considerably more. After work, he would call in at the now iconic Young and Jackson's bar opposite Flinders Street Station (not far to stagger for the train home) for a couple. Asked once if it was about time he went home for supper, he remarked that there was a (metaphorical) pork chop in every glass! And so it was, on the second anniversary of his death this week, that I decided to remember Fa (as Richard and I called him) with a couple of real pork chops bought from our local butcher within the nearby Garden Centre, Wyatts, tenderised in my favourite of Fa's creations, Lime, Black Pepper & Lavender. Oh, and it was all washed down with a bottle of Melbourne's beer, VB: hardly the best beer in the world, but from my home town, so it tastes special.
This year, we are privileged to have been selected as Food Heroes by fine wine merchants, House Of Townend, who have put a lovely photograph of Fa on their cover. This was actually a picture taken by Joan Russell for the feature in Yorkshire Life in 2010 and shows him with a huge basket of geranium leaves in his garden in Yorkshire. This is a particularly lovely story since one of Martin's greatest friends, with whom he went to Eton and did his National Service, is David Butler-Adams, Past Master of the Vintners Company (2000-1) and Consultant to House of Townend.
|Martin Parsons. Photo by Joan Russell
David gave the address at Martin's very colourful funeral in 2010 and has kindly allowed us to share the notes of his words which are a fitting tribute to such a colourful character:
"Born at Nymans, the Messel home, on 23rd December 1938 in the snow! Often having a bad cough as a child, a hyssop bush was planted beneath his window, maybe the start of his love of herbs!
Aged 8, he was sent to Prep school at Summerfields in Oxford. From there, he progressed to Eton where four of us here today became good friends. We had stamp collecting and tennis in common as well as trying to do as little work as possible!
My first visit to Birr (the family home in Ireland), in the early 1950s, was unforgettable. Marts insisted on my taking some pills to stoop me getting ill from so much rish food! Footman behind every chair in the dining room, Connors (the butler) in charge and Hoysted driving the car. His Papa always charming and Mama quite strict as well as beautiful.
On leaving Eton, we found ourselves on the same train going to Caterham on my birthday, to join the Irish Guards at their National Service depot. Basic training was tough and I remember one evening Marts wanted to go to the loo. Permission had to be granted and Marts duly went the 100 yards down to the latrines. Half an hour later, no sign of him and I was sent to investigate... he had passed out from the fumes of the open anthracite fire lit to stop the pipes from freezing!
Martin received an injury which prevented him from completing his National Service. He went on to work at De Steins Merchant Bank for a while before moving to Australia in 1961 to join Consolidated Zinc in Melbourne. He followed this up with a nine year stint at Qantas, where he made all the travel arrangements for international medical conference delegates and during which Aline followed him out to Australia.
1964 saw a get together of friends and family in Ireland: how we managed to drink at Molly's Bar, return to the house where we had some of the famous Birr Cocktails then still had to make sense to Lady Rosse at dinner, I shall never know....
Martin and Aline were married at St Michael's, Chester Square in London, followed by a very pissy party!
They returned to Melbourne where Rupert was born in 1966 and Richard in 1968. Then, in 1972, Martin's aunt Bridget died, leaving her London home in Lennox Gardens to Martin. So the family moved back to London and, a year later, to Yorkshire. I remember well the barbecues in the snow.
In 1976, Martin, Aline and the boys moved to Womersley, the family home for many generations and still the home of Martin's grandmother, Lois de Vesci, who lived to the ripe old age of 101. The house was already in a poor state, with leaky roofs, but the kitchen garden allowed plenty of scope for Martin's botanical enthusiasm to finally be set free. Martin and Aline set up their Craft Shop and Herb Centre in 1979 and soon started making herb jellies and, eventually, fruit vinegars to a traditional Yorkshire recipe.
After years of trying to maintain the house, though, in 2004 it had to be sold and Martin and Aline moved to a far more manageable (and warmer) home nearby.
2009 saw Rupert take time out from his horology profession to take on running Womersley which was, by then, an exclusively food business.
Apart from Marts' great love and expertise in the field of herbs and plants, especially medicinal, the vinegars are still unbeatable.
You could not find a more generous, fun loving person who never complained. But, of course, like all of us, his secret of success was to find his adorable Aline who, against all odds, kept him on the straight and narrow and moved him out of "the fast line..."
Thank God for his 71 years, he will be sorely missed."
|Martin in his Greenhouse, with one of his favourite Apache Chillies. Photo by Joan Russell