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Sir Frank Markham
Sir Frank Markham

For politicians, of course a pre-requisite has to be the ability to spout utter twaddle with feigned conviction. Whilst as for the aspiration to become an M.P., what other ‘profession’ offers positions of power, pay and privilege without the tedious need for diligent study.

In fact it seems of little surprise that the recent past has unearthed all manner of chancers and inadequates. But one M.P. deserving of local respect was Sir Frank Markham, and not least because of his eminence as a local historian!

Born at Stony Stratford, he left school at the age of 14 and became a messenger boy at McCorquodales, at Wolverton.

Then following the outbreak of the First World War he was recruited in 1915 by Walter Carlile, of Gayhurst House, as a clerk in Sir Fabian Ware’s Red Cross Unit in France. He duly served throughout the war, not only in France but also in Greece, Mesopotamia, and India, becoming a lieutenant in the Indian Army. However, in 1921 he resigned his commission and through hard work achieved academic and sporting success at Oxford University.

After leaving Oxford he then assisted Sir Sidney Lee with his works of the ‘Life of Shakespeare’ and the official biography of Edward VII, and when Sir Sidney died in 1926 he was commissioned to complete the task.

Upon this merit came election as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and later, having accepted the position of Secretary to the Carnegie Trustees Report on Museums, he became Secretary of the Museums Association, by which over the course of 12 years he would visit some 3,000 museums all over the world.

As for politics, for three years he was Chairman of the South Kensington Labour Party, and in 1924 contested the safe Conservative seat of the Guildford Division. There he raised the Labour vote by over a thousand, and in 1928 became the prospective Labour candidate for Chatham, where he enjoyed much popularity for his work regarding slum abolition, pensions, and education.

In 1929 he was elected to Parliament for the Rochester division, and although resident in Stony Stratford from 1935 to 1945 would represent South Nottingham as a National M.P., in alliance with the Conservatives.

Following the outbreak of World War Two he volunteered his services as a captain on the General List, and in the region of Arras, France, was entrusted with the special duties of extracting units of the British Expeditionary Force, for which he received special commendation from the War Office.

Later, the damage that military jeeps were causing to the ruins of a famous Roman city aroused his heated protests, and with these having attracted the influence of Sir Leonard Woolley, and Sir Mortimer Wheeler, a department placing certain areas under their protection was the result. After the war, with the same compatriots he then helped to trace treasure which had been looted by Nazi leaders, including Goering and Himmler.

Now as Major Markham, in 1945 he began the writing of one of his many local historical books, ‘The History of Stony Stratford,’ in conjunction with Dr. F. Hyde, whilst in political realms in 1951 he began representing the Buckingham Division in Parliament. In fact it was in the Crypt Chapel of the Houses of Parliament that in January of that year his youngest daughter, Vivien, who had been a teacher at Manor Road Infants School, Bletchley, married Pilot Officer Ian Bjorkegren, of the R.A.F.

On the recommendation of Winston Churchill, Frank Markham was knighted in 1953, and in November 1959 denied rumours that he was going to the House of Lords, saying that the Upper House had never appealed to him, as he had always been opposed to the hereditary system of honours. Sir Frank retired in 1964, and is locally best remembered for his two volumes of ‘A History of Milton Keynes & District.’

As for lesser mortals, personally an academic life has never appealed, although briefly I did consider a political foray, until it became clear that the ‘writing den’ in the garden couldn’t be claimed as a second home.