Beryl Outhwaite (nee Miles) 1919 – 2014
Beryl and Jan came to live in Towersey some thirty-five years ago. Over this period she has now become a popular and much loved member of our community. She is to be seen at most of the village functions, helping on stalls, serving refreshments and always willing to do whatever was is asked of her. Beryl is a stalwart of the Wednesday Coffee Morning Club, arriving before everyone else and preparing the coffee and teas ready for serving at 11am. Cash raised from the raffle and lunches is sent to a different local charity each month.
How Beryl came to live in Towersey is really a tale of coincidences. When the Second World War began in 1939, Beryl was twenty and working in an office in London, and having a desire to help in some way she joined the Women’s Land Army as a tractor driver, and was posted to Mendlesham, Suffolk. Her main interest at this time was poetry, reading and writing it. Ploughing, harrowing, harvesting corn – and even clearing ditches in winter – provided rich material for poems, and soon she had quite a collection. Beryl sent these to a great aunt who also loved poetry knowing she would enjoy them. To her surprise her aunt wrote back to tell her she had made them into a little book, called Poems of a Land Girl, sent it to a printer, and telling Beryl she could expect 500 copies and perhaps sell them for charity. On returning from ploughing one evening, Beryl found a parcel awaiting her. Whilst opening it her landlady commented on an article in the newspaper about an American lady who had opened her library to British soldiers, and suggested Beryl send the top copy for to her for luck. This she did, and soon a reply came saying how much she had enjoyed them, and offering to place some in a bookshop in New York.
Some five years later after the war had finished, Beryl received an invitation from her American friend to join her and her husband on a banana and pineapple plantation in Australia,and so spent many months ploughing with horses instead of tractors.
Moving on to Sydney, to work in a shipping office, Beryl was introduced to the Australian explorer, Gordon Donkin who was shortly to lead an expedition to the Australian interior in search of Aboriginal cave paintings. He invited Beryl to join him, helping with the truck. This was too good to miss and she jumped at the chance. The trip lasted six months and covered 8000 miles, and formed the basis of her first book ‘ The Stars my Blanket’, On returning to Sydney, Beryl obtained work as a store detective, which enabled her to spend her evenings typing her copious notes for her book.
There followed another 5000 mile, six-month photographic expedition with Gordon Donkin to New Zealand, which was to give her the second book ‘ Islands of Contrast ‘. About this time Beryl met a violinist interested in the origin of languages, and as she had been among the aboriginals this led to an interesting conversation. When they parted he suggested that she should know Rudolf Steiner,whom she had not heard of. It was said with such earnestness, that it left a lasting impression. Back in England she completed the manuscript of her first book, and only lacked a publisher. Soon after, whilst giving a lecture in Guildford, the chairman, being impressed, offered to give it to her son who owned a bookshop and would find a publisher. Within a week, Beryl was amazed to get a letter from John Murray Publishers – publishers of the works of Darwin, Disraeli, Byron, Scott and Jane Austin. When ‘The Stars…’ was published, John Murray wanted a second book, so ‘Islands of Contrast ‘ about New Zealand followed.
They then asked her to do a book about Luxembourg. As it was such a small country, Beryl decided to do it by bicycle, and so needed a base to work from. On returning home she found a letter from a certain Francis Toomey, who had read the first book, and discovered that Beryl was her second cousin twice removed, and would like to meet her. When Beryl replied saying she was leaving for Luxembourg, she had a second letter offering to put her in touch with another second cousin who lived in Luxembourg.Her name was Alison, who lived with her husband in Luxembourg City, and they had an attic bed-sit free which they made available to Beryl. As they were in Brussels at his time, they arranged to meet on Brussels station at midnight to give Beryl the key as she passed through. Thus the title for book number three, ‘ Attic in Luxembourg ‘was born. After the Luxembourg book was published, the publishers asked Beryl to do Scandinavia. Beryl felt that she would not be able to do all four countries justice, so they agreed that she should choose just one country.
Later, when walking down Piccadilly looking for inspiration, she came to a travel agent and upon entering came face to face with an old acquaintance called Jens from Denmark, and this coincidence convinced Beryl that her next book should be about Denmark. Thus ‘Candles in Denmark’ was to be the fourth book. This time, six months on a motorised bicycle. It was decided that the fifth book should be about Mexico. Beryl bought a Spanish course and, to familiarise herself with Indian cultures of Mexico, spent a day at the British Museum. Seeing a book on the Lost Continent of Atlantis in a bookshop, she decided to buy it, to read while crossing the Atlantic. The owner of the bookshop told her that a Mexican lady had just been in and he thought the two of them had much in common, and so gave Beryl her address in Mexico. After a 3,000- mile bus journey from New York to Mexico City, Beryl came across the address while unpacking in her hotel room, and on the spur of the moment, sent a note suggesting they meet for coffee. They became friends straight away, and Margarita, having a spare room which she usually let to students, offered it to Beryl, who happily accepted it. Beryl stayed with Margarita for the eight months spent in Mexico, going from there to explore the country in old second class buses or on foot.
When Margarita’s houseboy was married in his remote Indian village, Beryl was godmother at the wedding. A chance meeting with two American photographers making a documentary for Encyclopaedia Britannica took her down silver mines and to a mediaeval pageant in a Spanish hacienda. Thus ‘Spirit of Mexico’ became the fifth book.
Sometime later, back in England, Beryl walked into a bookshop as the owner was pinning up a notice advertising a talk on the work of Rudolf Steiner. It was seven years since she had heard that name in New Zealand but she decided to go. A young woman, arriving late, took the vacant seat next to Beryl. Her name was Freda and they became acquainted during the interval. Being impressed with this talk, Beryl went to another at the Rudolf Steiner Hall in London. There, in the foyer, she met Freda again, who introduced her to a friend called Jan (John Outhwaite).Within a few months Jan and Beryl were married and spent the next thirty-three years studying Rudolf Steiner together. Although Beryl’s travel/writing career ended with marriage, she continued lecturing for the next ten years. Then one evening, lecturing for the 650th time in a particularly large hall with no microphone, Beryl’s voice gave up. It needed six months speech therapy to regain her voice, but she was unable to continue lecturing.
Beryl and Jan decided to buy a cottage in the country and lead a more domesticated life. Jan took a map of southeast England and drew a circle through all the airports, and pointed to the middle, saying they would go there away from all the flight-paths. The place he pointed to was Thame in Oxfordshire. The next day they went to see it, and in the window of an estate agents was a picture of ‘ A Cottage in Towersey ‘. They obtained the key and went to see it. Perfect! They bought it on the spot and lived there in complete happiness for the next twenty-four years. Sadly Jan died in 1994. Beryl lived happily in their cottage in Towersey for another twenty years, among the many friends they made until her death in July 2014.
John Davies. January 2005.