Obituary:Margaret Pollard

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The Independent Online
"Every tradition was once an innovation and every antique a red- hot artefact," Margaret Pollard wrote in 1947, in Cornwall, her book about her adoptive area. Linking the past and the present was very much part of her life; she was born in 1903, and her life spanned vast material changes and shifts in attitude.

Illustrated by Sven Berlin, Cornwall remains a period piece of post-war Cornwall, before massive changes destroyed its individualistic and idiosyncratic past. Humorous, perceptive, and intelligent, it crystallised that period, though her conclusions on the value of identity and difference are still relevant. It is dedicated to the Bishop of Truro, Dr J.W. Hunkin, for whom Pollard worked as secretary for some years. She ends the book with an exhortation: "Bedheugh bynatha Kernewek" - "Be forever Cornish".

In 1938, Pollard had become a Cornish-language bard, a member of the Cornish Gorsedd, who gather to celebrate the culture of Cornwall and act to protect its linguistic and cultural traditions. She took the name Arlodhes Ywerdhon - "Irish Lady" - after a rock off Land's End, so-called in memory of a shipwrecked Irishwoman marooned on the windswept rock, who could not be rescued, and whose ghost is said to appear in stormy weather.

Pollard published Bewnans Alysaryn in 1941, a pastiche on the ancient Cornish Miracle Plays, one of the main sources for modern Cornish. Carader, the first Grand Bard, called it an important work in "Dasserghyans Kernewek", the "revival of Cornish". She was also the Gorsedd harpist for many years, playing a small Irish harp.

An intellectual and romantic idealist, Pollard was also intensely practical, an expert embroiderer, an authority on goats, and a worker for the conservation of Cornwall. For 14 years she was the Cornish secretary of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and she fought to protect Cornwall from insensitive over-development. In one of her poems, based on the rhythm of "Widdecombe Fair", she summons supporters:

For they be a-building in Wide-

mouth Bay,

With their bungalows, garages,

cinemas, restaurants, tea-houses, caravans,

Jerry-built villas and all . . .

Another of Pollard's songs celebrated the saving of Mayon Cliff, 39 acres at Land's End, from "bricks and a load of concrete". She was also a staunch supporter of the National Trust in Cornwall, and was part of an anonymous group known as Ferguson's Gang, which helped with funding to save the Cornish coastline. Secretly, a member would arrive at National Trust headquarters in London, leaving a pseudonym to identify themselves as part of the gang (Pollard's was Bill Stickers), drop the bag of money and disappear.

In 1957, she became a Roman Catholic and Ferguson's Gang helped to provide land and finance to build a Catholic church on the site of the medieval chapel of Our Lady of the Portal and St Piran, in Truro (it was completed in 1973). Members of the chapel kept in daily telephone contact with Catholics all over Cornwall, with the recitation of Hail Marys at a given hour.

She was born Margaret Gladstone in 1903; her family was well-known in the political world, her father a nephew of the Liberal prime minister W.E. Gladstone. Her education was scanty, but she inherited her father's academic interests, and, after he died in 1920, she went up to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she was the first woman to gain first class honours in Oriental Languages, Sanskrit and Pali. In 1952, she received her PhD, and later published articles on Sanskrit and Eastern Christian texts.

In 1928, she married Captain Frank Pollard, an authority on Cornish history, a county councillor and naval captain - he was later known simply as "Cap'n Pollard". They enjoyed sailing together. In Truro, they lived in harmony, both pursuing their own interests in fulfilling lives.

Long before Captain Pollard died in 1968, she began giving away her worldly possessions. In old age, she lived cheerfully in one room in happy and what was to her comfortable untidiness. She was still humorous, witty, perceptive, a commentator on the world around her. A tall, statuesque figure, dressed in long skirt and with a scarf tied round her head, she remained a European scholar, a romantic Cornish enthusiast, but above all a caring and committed Catholic.

She continued to work into her seventies, with translations from Church Slavonic, and she continued to compose witty, singable hymns in Latin, Cornish and English. She collected funds for black nuns in South Africa, and, near her 80th birthday, led a pilgrimage to South Germany.

Ann Trevenen Jenkin

Margaret Steuart Gladstone, writer, bard and Sanskrit scholar: born 1 March 1903; married 1928 Frank Pollard (died 1968); died Truro, Cornwall 13 November 1996.