Walter Pardon

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Walter Pardon:, Norfolk singer and melodeon-player, 1914–1996.

Walter Pardon lived all his life in the redbrick farm workers’ cottage where he was born on 4th March 1914, in the village of Knapton, Norfolk.  All the male family members, on both sides, had been farm workers of one kind or another for as far back as anyone could remember, so young Walter was unusual in that he was apprenticed at fourteen to a carpenter in the village of Paston, and spent all his working life as a carpenter, interrupted by four years in the army (again as a carpenter, at Aldershot) during the Second World War.

This was by no means the only unusual thing about him … to begin with, he was an only child - a rarity in that time, place and social stratum.  Perhaps he enjoyed the solitary life, and the independence it brought, since he remained a bachelor all his days.  But the most remarkable thing - perhaps almost unique for a male traditional singer - was that he rarely if ever sang outside the family home.  Yet he kept a huge repertoire of songs alive in almost total isolation for over 20 years, between the last of the family singing sessions and his being ‘discovered’ by the 1970s’ folk scene.

Walter’s uncle, Billy Gee (born 1863), lived with the family for many years and had learned many of his songs from his father, Walter’s grandfather, Thomas Cook Gee (born 1827).  In the early 1930s, when the Depression was at its worst and young Walter was finding carpentry jobs few and far between, he and Uncle Billy found themselves with time on their hands: “He worked on the golf course as a groundsman and when times were bad he’d be laid off … We’d sit of an afternoon in one of the sheds.  He’d keep a bottle of something or other under the floorboards and he’d get that out and we’d sit there, the two of us, him singing and me listening.  And that’s how I got most of my songs.”

Roy Palmer's article in the Oxford DNB gives this assessment of Walter:

As a singer Pardon was quiet, even slightly introspective. He would begin a song in a gentle, thoughtful way, and draw in listeners, almost as if by enchantment. He allied sure musical instinct with excellent diction and first-class memory. A quiet, modest, and intelligent man, he read avidly — Dickens and Hardy for preference. When at the age of seventy-five he decided that his powers were on the wane, he gave up singing in public.

Walter died in hospital in Norwich, 9th June 1996.