By Lucy Edgeley and Frances Marquand
Doctor Jerome Mellor boarded a flight from Sydney to London in November 2023 with a bust of Edmund Blunden in his hand luggage. Its destination was Merton College, Oxford.
The story needs an explanation!
When Jerome, as a boy of seven, saw the bust of his godfather, with whom he shared a birthday, sitting on a packing case in the Blunden’s back yard he swiftly removed it and took it straight to his father’s study in the nearby house where the Mellor family lived.
This was in Hong Kong in 1964; the Blundens were preparing to leave the island permanently for England. Bernard (Bunny) Mellor, now Registrar of Hong Kong University (HKU), had been a student of Edmund’s at Merton where the two men had struck up a lifelong friendship. When Edmund became Professor of English at HKU in 1953 their families ended up sharing a Hong Kong garden from 1953 to 1964 where their children played happily together (Bunny had five sons and Edmund four daughters). The children too have retained their friendship into adulthood.
Jerome remained the guardian of the bust, taking it with him to Australia when he moved there. Recently he had begun to feel that the time had come for the bust to be returned to England. He approached Merton to see if they would accept it as a donation. He received a very welcome response from the college and 23 November 2023 became the date for its handover
The spirit Jerome displayed as a seven-year-old had not left him: he gathered together as many Mellors and Blundens as could make it to Oxford on that day, and with the help of Spencer Wisdom, Head of Oxford University’s Development / Legacies Department, organised a very special day of celebration for The Handover.
It started at the Ashmolean Museum with a superb guided tour, highlighting the very best that great treasure trove contains – it left us all wishing for more time, vowing to return. On to Quod Restaurant, where we were joined by WW1 poetry experts Dr Jane Potter and Dr Santanu Das. Lunch was delicious – and lively: the conversations between old friends and new simply buzzed. And in the middle if it all Jerome produced the bust from his rucksack and up and down the table went Edmund Blunden (EB). Fan and Lucy, two of Blunden’s daughters, were very moved by such a living likeness of their dear dad. Thence to Merton and a warm welcome from the Warden, Professor Jenny Payne, to whom the bust was duly handed, together with Bunny Mellor’s copy of the poetry collection ‘A Hong Kong House’ inscribed with a poem written for him by Edmund Blunden.
And finally a tour of the ancient college and up to the bust’s resting place, the oldest part of Merton Library, on a shelf overlooking scholars and rare books and close to a bust of Thomas Bodley, 16th century founder of Oxford’s famous Bodleian Library.
EB would not be unhappy with such a literary companion, such a venerable home.
The creator of the bust (which is made in plaster) was K.Y. Wong, a student at Hong Kong University. Alas we have no further details of the artist nor of the history of the making of the bust, but undoubtedly Bunny Mellor was involved and EB must have sat for it – it is definitely from life.
Bernard (Bunny) Mellor (1917 – 1998) was a student at Merton from 1936 – 1940; he went on to lead a remarkable life, including an illustrious career at Hong Kong University and beyond: www4.hku.hk then Citations – Past Congregations – Bernard MELLOR
Merton College was founded in 1264, and was the first fully self-governing College in the University of Oxford. Its library was built on the south and west sides of Mob Quadrangle in 1373-8 and is the world’s oldest continuously functioning library for university academics and students.
Dr Jane Potter is Reader and Senior Lecturer in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University.
Dr Santanu Das is Professor of Modern Literature and Culture at Oxford University, and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.