Obituary: Gerald Cadman
by B(etty) F(isher).
Proceedings of the West Anglian Field Club,
Vol II No 5 (1911)
I’m an inveterate rummager-about in those baskets charity shops often have, filled with out-of-date street maps, antiquated local history guides, yellowing sheet music and miscellaneous postcards. I’m always on the look-out for curiosities so I thought I’d share with you this item I acquired last year before lockdown put a stop to all such browsing.
It’s a special eight-page issue of the apparently now defunct Proceedings of the West Anglian Field Club, dedicated solely to the obituary of one Gerald Cadman, written by one B. F. (whom I take to be Betty Fisher, who’s listed as Secretary among the Club’s officers).
Gerald Cadman turns out to be a colourful character despite his sober profession of accountant, so what I want to do is pick out certain key points buried in Mrs Fisher’s prolix prose, which rambles on over nearly eight quarto pages.
The deceased was the son of an accountant, Geoffrey Cadman, who hailed from the northeast of England before moving to the Welsh Borders to marry Winifred Evans. Gerald was their only son, joining his father’s accountancy practice; he remained a confirmed batchelor all his life, according to Mrs Fisher.
Despite — or maybe because of — his profession Gerald seems to have become obsessed with things rather less cut-and-dried. He was briefly a corresponding member of the Society for Psychical Research, contributed folkloric snippets to Notes & Queries, and went on outings with Herefordshire followers of Alfred Watkins looking for British trackways. He was also a founding member of the West Anglian Field Club, holding the post of Treasurer before his death.
So far, so straightforward; I’ve omitted all the mundane circumstances of his life, the death of his parents, the business reasons for his retirement to an old weaver’s cottage in the village of Pindleswell. But it’s in the vicinity of Pindleswell that his story comes to a strange climax, even though Mrs Fisher tells it in so flat a fashion.
He was proud of his presumed antecedents: his forename was chosen because of his mother’s claimed descent from Giraldus Cambrensis, Gerald of Wales, via a clandestine love affair; his father fancied the surname was a link with the early poet Caedmon, though it was as likely — if not more so — that there was a connection with the Dark Age name Catamanus, Cadfan in Welsh. Betty Fisher (who, reading between the lines, seems to be rather enamoured with Gerald) seems to swallow this dubious genealogy hook, line and sinker.
On his retirement to the very village where Mrs Fisher lived he joined a group addicted to the planchette or talking board, what we’d call the ouija board, receiving messages from Caedmon and Gerald of Wales, among others. The group of eleven village worthies clearly welcomed him with open arms, until the night when the message “You will all die” came out of the ether. After this Gerald, already heavily into bibliomancy, became entirely focused on the number eleven for clues, searching it out in the pages of the bible and in his extensive collection of folktale studies.
We now come to the very odd circumstances of his death as told in this obituary. Convinced that alignments of ancient sites in the locality would prove significant in elucidating how and why the deaths predicted by the planchette would come about, he began probing and excavating around a group of standing stones, the Bobbins, aligned with a nearby tor, St Margaret’s church and the village well. Deliberately starting on the day of the spring equinox in 1911 he attempted to locate the eleven megaliths he believed existed in Pinfold Field, of which one, Peg’s Spindle, was standing, three were recumbent, and the rest presumed hidden under the turf.
On the eleventh morning after the vernal equinox he was apparently investigating under Peg’s Spindle when the pillar, already leaning at a precarious angle, unaccountably fell, crushing him.
As B. F. aptly ends her valediction,
Gerald Cadman’s richly tapestried life may read as though woven from spun yarn, but I like to think he would have gained great satisfaction from knowing he died on the eleventh day of spring, 1911.
One will look in vain to find Cadman’s name in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Gerald Cadman, born 31st March 1865, died 1st April 1911