Brown, Neave (1 of 19). National  Life Story  Collection: Architects' Lives

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  • Recording date

    2013-12-07, 2013-12-14, 2014-02-08, 2014-03-08, 2014-03-15, 2014-03-29, 2014-04-26, 2014-07-27, 2014-08-10, 2014-08-17, 2014-12-06

  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, London

  • Interviewees

    Brown, Neave (1929-) (speaker,  male)

  • Interviewers

    Franklin, Geraint  (speaker,  male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Introduction to recording location. Explanation of origin of name, Neave Sinclair Brown and uniqueness of Neave as a given name. Paternal great-grandfather itinerant shoemaker. Paternal grandfather, James Neave Brown, founded successful shoe business, J.N. Brown and company limited. Made boots for working people in the Midlands. Owned large Victorian house, the Grange at Erdington, outside Birmingham. NB paternal grandmother Canadian. NB lists staff at the Grange; description of house. [00:07:56] NB born in America; American mother; arrived at the Grange at three years of age. Father the second son of JNB. Maternal grandfather John Sinclair Clark [JSC]; the Sinclair family emigrated to Nova Scotia, Canada from Scotland. JSC born in a log cabin; looked after two sisters after father died. JSC self-educated. Received PhD in classics from University of Heidelberg and first professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota. Maternal grandmother Hattie [Harriet] Benton born in Syria; HB’s parents Methodist medical missionaries to the Syrian Druze. HB educated at Smith College [Northampton, Massachusetts, United States]; maintained contact with Syria. NB’s mother [Beatrice Evangeline Clark] had two sisters, aunt Margaret [Clark-Williams] [MCW] who became a psychoanalyst, and other sister [Miriam Sinclair Clark, married name Miriam Clark Potter] who became writer of children’s books in America. Benton family were academics; one was the chairwomen of Vassar College [Poughkeepsie, New York]. ‘Unlikely mix-up’ of mother’s and father’s families. [Brief interruption] [00:12:10] NB’s father [Percy Bourne Brown] a pilot in the First World War but never saw combat as injured in a flying accident. PBB lived well in apartment near the Berkeley Hotel in London. PBB bankrupted twice, and sent by his parents to New York with an allowance. Worked in advertising agency where met NB’s mother, also employee; married and lived in Utica, New York. Parents moved to Rose Valley, and father founded milk marketing business, bankrupted at time of Depression. Return of family to England when NB was two and sister [Barbara Bourne Brown] was four. Move of NB, with mother and sister, to Chicago, living for six months with uncle Zene [Zenas L. Potter] and aunt [Miriam Clark Potter]. Uncle worked in advertising and invented the ‘green giant’ [for the Minnesota Valley Canning Company]. [00:15:24] Return to England when NB was three, reunited with father. Stayed in small cottage in grounds of the Grange. James Neave Brown had by then died. Description of NB’s maternal grandmother, her dress and lifestyle as wealthy widow. Painting entitled ‘When did you last see your father’ and suit of armour in the hall. JNB had four children: Charles, Percy, Muriel and Hugh. Story of Hugh’s death. Muriel a pianist; forbade by JNB to perform in public; died in mental home. Charles married a Canadian, had no children. His desire to adopt NB; description of his behaviour. ‘Tormented family’ of father. [00:22:18] Upbringing of mother in Minnesota. The three girls allowed to wear jeans. Description of John Sinclair Clark: open-minded, liberal intellectual, yet devout Methodist. Notions of the freedom of the individual. [00:23:23] NB born in America. Impression of the Grange as child. Mentions uncle Charles’ racing dogs. [00:24:40] Move of family to thatched cottage called Benton Potts on Hawridge Common near Tring [in Buckinghamshire]. Father worked for Electrolux, away from home at lot. Move of family back to Grange, then to Abbots Langley [in Hertfordshire]. Involvement of father in family business. JNB left business to his widow and money to his eldest son, Charles Brown. CB established business to rival family business. [00:28:07] Return of family to the Grange. NB and sister briefly lived with Not and Annie, the chief gardener and his wife, the cook. Description of their council house outside Birmingham. [00:30:46] NB’s awareness of family problems. Story about CB and cat. Remarks on mother’s family background and contrast with father’s family. Move of family to Sutton Coldfield when father taking over family business from CB. Move of family to Skegness when sister contracted tuberculosis. Initially stayed with a Mrs Bottomley in boarding house, then seaside house, then semi-detached house. NB and mother lodged for six months with John and Mary Milne in Leicester. His family business weaving stockings. Move of family to 1 Shirley Avenue, newly-built house in Leicester. After a year, family moved to new house in Solihull. 13 moves between the ages of three and ten. Remarks on impermanence of his childhood and the permanence of architecture. [00:38:36] Comments on mother and relationship with father. Description of appearance and character. Mother read to children; passed to NB love of literature and poetry. Mentions books read as child. Mother’s American accent. [00:42:55] NB attended preparatory school at Betteshanger [Northbourne Park School] for a year. NB’s illness, bedridden for four months up to outbreak of Second World War. Description of aunt Margaret [Clark-Williams] and uncle Howard [Williams]. Their life in Europe before returning to America before outbreak of War. HW became partner in Erwin Wasey advertising agency. HW came to England at start of War to manage Erwin Wasey’s London office. HW’s visit to NB’s family in Solihull, and family’s decision for NB to return to America with HB. NB’s reaction to plan; departure and flight to America.

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