This blog post was written by Julie Lee, a volunteer at Trafford Local Studies.
“On Earth the broken Arcs, in the Heaven a perfect round”1
So reads the epitaph of Second Lieutenant Mark Hovell, MA. He “was to become one of many young men of great promise whose lives were wasted in the slaughterhouse of the Western Front…”2
He is buried alongside thousands of other soldiers in the military cemetery at Vermelles, Northern France. Hovell was from Sale, Cheshire and was only recently married when he died at the Front aged 28. A history lecturer at the University of Manchester Hovell had almost completed a significant piece of work on Chartism3 when he was called to France. As he left for the Front, Hovell consulted a colleague and former lecturer of his, Professor T. F. Tout:
“… I promised that, should the fortune of war go against him, I would do my best to get it ready for publication. Within a few weeks I was unhappily called upon to redeem my word…”4
This he did, and Hovell’s influential work “The Chartist Movement” was published posthumously in 1918.
Born on March 21st 1888, Mark Hovell had shown promise from an early age, winning a scholarship to grammar school at the age of 10. He excelled academically, gaining a first class degree in history from the University of Manchester, before embarking on a teaching career. He became heavily involved in the Workers’ Education Association, as well as lecturing at Manchester University. During the 1912-13 academic year he went to Leipzig University in Germany. His many letters home talk of his admiration for many aspects of German life, “of the ways in which the Germans studied and practised the art of living, their adaptation of means to ends, their avoidance of social waste. He was struck by the absence of visible slums and apparent squalor“5 but also by the marked hostility he encountered towards the English.
By the time of the outbreak of war in August 1914, Hovell was back at Manchester University as a lecturer in military history. Victorian Social and Economic history had been his specialism, but “this (military) study the University prepared to develop in connection with a scheme for preparation of its students for commissions in the army and territorial forces…”6 He was then sent for officer training in the Spring of 1915.
On June 3rd 1916 he married his sweetheart, Francis (Fanny) Gately, headmistress of the local infants school Springfield in Sale. They managed a rainy week’s honeymoon in the Lake District before Mark was back training with the 1st Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment).
In July 1916, he received his orders to France. The Division he joined there were quite broken, having suffered heavy losses at the Somme, but he embraced the experience, writing to Professor Tout:
“Behold me at last an officer of a line regiment, and in command of a small fortress, somewhere in France, with a platoon, a gun, stores, and two brother officers temporarily in my charge. I thus become owner of the best dug-out in the line, with a bed (four poles and a piece of stretched canvas), a table, and a ceiling ten feet thick. We are in the third line at present, so life is very quiet. Our worst enemies are rats, mice, beetles, and mosquitoes. “7
He was fortunate to come across an acquaintance there: Rev. T. Eaton McCormick of his local parish of St Mary’s, Ashton on Mersey, who took Holy Communion with Hovell a few days before he died.
On August 12th 1916, on Hovell’s second visit to the trenches, orders were given to explode a mine beneath the German trenches. As the mine exploded, one of Mark’s men was overwhelmed by the fumes, and as Hovell went to his aid, he too was overcome and he tragically fell down the shaft. His burial was overseen by Rev. McCormick who wrote to Mark’s mother:
“It was truly a soldier’s funeral, for, just as I said “earth to earth,” all the surrounding batteries of our artillery burst forth into a tremendous roar in a fresh attack upon the German line…. He has, as the soldiers say, “gone West” in a blaze of glory. He has fought and died in the noblest of all causes, and though now perhaps we feel that such a brilliant career has been brought to an untimely end, by and by we shall realise that his sacrifice has not been in vain.“8
Mark’s legacy remains for all to see: his daughter, Marjorie, was born 7 months after his death. She became an accomplished artist, teaching at the Manchester College of Art.
The “Mark Hovell and Shuttleworth Prize” was founded in 1918 by his widow, in memory of her husband for performance in exams for pupils studying history at Manchester University.
Hovell’s work on Chartism (in a time when there was still no universal suffrage) was pioneering and contributed enormously to the early study of this period of Victorian Social and Economic history:
It “became and remained for many years the definitive history of Chartism…”9 and “remains import (sic) both for its contribution towards the opening up of Chartist studies and for the influence it had over later historians of Chartism”10 As with so many personal stories of the First World War, one cannot help but wonder what might have been..
- From the poem “Abt Vogler” by Robert Browning.
- From http://gerald-massey.org.uk/hovell/index.htm
- Google defines Chartism as “…A UK parliamentary reform movement of 1837–48, the principles of which were set out in a manifesto called The People’s Charter and called for universal suffrage for men, equal electoral districts, voting by secret ballot, abolition of property qualifications for MPs, and annual general elections..”
- From the preface to “The Chartist Movement” – Illustrated (Kindle edition) by Mark Hovell
- Pg 11 “Victorian Labor History: Experience, identity, and the politics of representation” by John Host.
- The Chartist Ancestors Blog by Mark Crail
- Mark Hovell – From the preface to “The Chartist Movement” – Illustrated (Kindle edition) by Mark Hovell.
- Cover of “The Chartist Movement” by Mark Hovell, edited and completed with a memoir by Professor T.F. Tout
- Photograph of Vermelles British Cemetery, http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/2000089/VERMELLES%20BRITISH%20CEMETERY (Copyright and database rights in all material on this site are the property of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission unless otherwise stated. This material may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium for personal use or for internal circulation at an educational establishment, provided it is not altered or used in a misleading context and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is acknowledged as the source of the material.”)