Melford Memories and local confusions
I'm still shaking my head in sorrow over my failure to persuade anybody to republish the wonderful 'Melford Memories', by Ernest Ambrose. This book was written in the late nineteen-sixties by a well-known local man who had been at the centre of Melford life for ninety-four years. Even in the last years of his life, his memory was pin-sharp and his wit was finely honed too. Despite the title, it is not just about Long Melford but casts light on the whole area. For many years Ernest was the organist at Borley Church and is one of the few reliable witnesses of the famous affair of the 'haunting' of Borley Rectory
Ernest was an intelligent and articulate man who witnessed nearly a century of change in the region. His remeniscences cover all aspects of village life from poaching to bell-ringing. To anyone interested in our local history it is essential. The book went out of print in the late seventies and there is a whole new generation who have not got the book. For anyone who moves into the area, it is the first book about the locality I'd recomment, if only because is is such a damned entertaining read.
In late 2003, I contacted the Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society to ask them if they minded me reprinting some of the chapters of the book on this website. They had originally published the book, but the call was a courtesy as publication rights would have lapsed after three years after the book went out of print unless they had specifically retained them for longer, which they didn't.
As I expected, the Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society were very affable, and happy to go along with the idea of reprinting the book. They said that their own publication program was well planned out in advance and they had no plans of their own to publish the book and didn't mind if we did. They were rather surprised by our interest and enthusiasm for the book. They had no worries about us publishing it on our internet either, as they also had no website of their own, beyond a rather desulty page on a Melford 'village website'.
I was also very keen on getting the consent of the closest relative of Ernest and his wife, the latter who actually wrote the book. Nobody then could tell me of any relatives at all, and still cannot. As far as I could make out, the copyright lapsed when Ernest Ambrose's estate was wound up in around 1980. The search continues.
The next stage was to raise the money for the republication. Doing a website version involves only photocopying the book so that it can be fed through the automatic sheet-feeder to the OCR software, and the many hours of painstaking proof-reading. A physical printing of the book would seem sensible to do at the same time, once one had a clean typescript, and this would require sponsorship.
At this stage, Richard Morris, the author of our first publication 'Foxearth Brew', stepped into the breach and harnessed his considerable media talents to attracting sponsorship. The work of attracting sponsorship went well, and a number of private individuals in and around Long Melford dipped into their pockets to become subscribers for a printed version. We ran stories in the local paper and Richard made an enormous breakthrough in interesting the LSE and Alistair Campbell in the project, and though them, to Tony Blair. At this stage, the budget of £2000 looked as though it was in the bag. I began to imagine a whole new generation of Melford residents reading 'Melford Memories' with fascination and enthuseasm, sharing the glow of Ernest's zest for life.
Then came the blow...
The Long Melford Historical and Archaeological Society withdrew their permission. Asking them had been a courtesy as they had no residual rights in the book beyond the copyright over the typesetting and presentation of the book. We'd have redone all this anyway. They even started back-peddling over 'allowing' us to do the website version, and said they only meant that we would be allowed to quote sections of the book.
The problem, apparently, lay with the publicity and 'puff' we'd given the book in order to raise the level of interest for getting sponsorship. According ot one member I questioned, their younger committee members began to question the wisdom of giving away their 'crown jewels' to another Local History Society. They'd read the newspaper stories of our sponsorship efforts and, one imagines, made a vast over-estimate of the commercial potential of the book.
The waters then got fearfully muddied and confused when they apparently informed us that they'd found out the copyright holder but weren't going to tell us who it was, and they also told us they had decided that not only did they not want us to publish the book, but that they had no intention of publishing it themselves. They refused the compromise plan of a joint publication. I'm hoping to get a clearer statement from them about their position, since I'm making a mess of trying to understand it and describe it fairly here.
Of course, we would not want to do anything to upset a neighbouring Local History Society, and are startled and puzzled by the apparent hornets nest we have accidentally stirred up, so we regretfully had to abandon the whole project.
It is hard to work out anyone who has gained anything from this mess. The great loss is to the community who have been deprived of the opportunity of enjoying one of the best Local history books ever published. And we have ended up vaguely feeling like naughty schoolboys simply for wanting to revive an important literary classic.
We've now had a communication from the Secretary of the Long Melford Historical And Archaeological Society. They are now saying that the society 'discussed' republication of the Ambrose memoirs some time ago. The only problem was copyright, still held by the Ambrose family. They say that by sheer chance, they may be on the way to finding the present copyright holder, but of course still don't know if permission to republish will be given.
If so the LMH&AS has the funds and 'could' go ahead.
I'd always understood that the meeting to discuss republication had decided not to go ahead. It is clear from the judicious word 'could', in the phrase 'the Historical Society has the funds and could go ahead' that no firm decision has yet been made to republish the book so we have to keep our fingers crossed.