Frank Mansell

Posted on 28/08/2016 By

Frank Mansell

Frank Mansell.

It’s the twenty-third of August 2016. Bobby and I are sitting at the Laurie Lee bar in the Woolpack pub at Slad in Gloucestershire. Him talking to anyone who will listen. Me thinking about Frank Mansell. A poet and close friend of Diddley’s.

Frank Mansell

Frank Mansell, Poet

She grew up and went to her first school in Slad. A beautiful village in a valley near Stroud, made famous by Laurie Lee’s iconic book “Cider With Rosie”. His autobiographical story of growing up in a disappearing world. Where the traditional village life of centuries was being lost to the march of progress. Particularly the motor car.

Frank Mansell - Slad School about 1957.

Slad school about 1957. Diddley at teachers left hand….

Frank Mansell. Slad school today. Private residence.

Slad school today. Private residence.

He had a great friend in Frank Mansell. Another poet with his head in the clouds, writing beautiful words while climbing telegraph poles as a Post Office engineer. A demon fast bowler for the village club of Sheepscombe nearby to Slad.

What follows is Diddley’s own account of her friendship with Frank. A suspicion of poetic licence not realised following Bobby finding letters and poems that revealed a real friendship. Between a fourteen year old girl and a forty seven year old poet. That was entirely proper but not something that would be acceptable today I suspect.  Frank fancied Diddley’s mum Sarah. The feelings were not reciprocated due, apparently, to his excessively large underpants. But his friendship with her daughter endured until he died in 1979. By then long distance as she had married and moved away. Her most famous story being driven in his three wheeler Robin Reliant van a la Del Boy to Cherington lake. A beauty spot. To talk about vegetarianism. Astrology. And drink Glenfiddich whisky at fourteen……

Frank Mansell - Cherington lake snowdrops

Cherington lake snowdrops.

When she and Bobby married, he was often taken to Frank’s grave at Misserden in February at snowdrop time. To Sheepscombe cricket club, where a dramatised Laurie Lee perspective had Lee himself talking about Frank bowling and an actor running into bowl where the batsmen could only see the top of his head at the beginning of his run. The pitch being on the side of a hill. We would love to see that film again.

Frank Mansell - Diddley placing snowdrops on Frank's grave.

Diddley placing snowdrops on Frank’s grave.

Frank Mansell - Frank's grave now.

Frank’s grave now.

Frank the poet became Frank the cat in his memory. A cat who was buried after being knocked down by a car and reincarnated when it was realised as he purred by his own grave. Wrong cat.

Frank Mansell - Frank the Cat ... winking.

Frank … winking

Frank’s most well known work is his book Cotswold Ballads. Her most prized possession. If you look at the frontispiece you will notice “Foreword by Laurie Lee”. “Wood engravings by Robert Ball”. Bobby’s real name. She lost a record of Frank reading his poems with some sung by folk singers. Bobby wrote to the SNJ. The Stroud News and Journal. Some people replied. Including Robert Ball himself. Then a very old man. Bobby asked him if he called himself “Bob” and “yes” was the answer. So we had Bob Ball talking to Bob Ball and no mention of that fat bloke with braces. He sent the recording. Nowadays we can all enjoy it through the Sheepscombe village website>>

http://www.sheepscombe.org/frank-mansell/4582675963

And fittingly the recordings were played at Diddley’s funeral. A poem by Frank himself and a folk song.

Frank Mansell - Cotswold Ballads

Cotswold Ballads.

Frank Mansell - I'd rather go hedging.

I’d rather go hedging.

Frank Mansell - Robert Ball wood engraving.

Robert Ball wood engraving.

We love the stories about Frank. Love his poetry that evokes a very special relationship that Bobby and I now have with this beautiful part of the world. When we spread Diddley’s ashes on Swifts Hill high above Slad they floated unerringly towards the Woolpack. And left us with a legacy to pass onto Diddley’s grandchildren.

Frank Mansell - Ashes on Swifts Hill.

Ashes on Swifts Hill.

If you go back to the Sheepscombe website and click on “Cottagers Reply”, you will hear Franks wonderful Gloucestershire accent for yourself and see below the cottage he referred to. The Salt Box. We went there and by chance met Robert Eaton who know owns the cottage. His was such an interesting conversation that we will save it for a future blog. Next February, when Bobby will bring his family at snowdrop time to be shown round Salt Box and hear more about their granny’s young days. Me, Bobby, granddaughters Jasmine and Layla, Jay, Jasmine’s partner and Bobby’s first great grandchild. We will stand by Frank’s grave and remember two of life’s wonderful characters. Drinking Glenffidich by moonlight in a Robin Reliant van at Cherington lakes

Lighting a candle to Diddley

It seems Bobby is well into his Uley Brewery Pigs Ear. So this week’s candle is lit in a pub. The Woolpack, Slad.

Frank Mansell - Laurie Lee's bar, The Woolpack, Slad

Laurie Lee’s bar, The Woolpack, Slad

Frank Mansell - Salt Box

Salt Box.

Frank Mansell


  1. Avatar Fliss Drewett says:

    Bertie. It seems you have your own poetic memories of Diddley. You weave your memories and paint a picture of times gone by and people much missed. Take care of Bobby. x

  2. Avatar Katreya says:

    This is such a romantic, poignant story. Diddley, Frank (the poet), Frank (the cat), Bobby & Bertie, Laurie Lee, snowdrops, I loved it.

    • Avatar Peter Sandwell says:

      Bertie and Bob, I must say this is lovely stuff. You know Anna and I love Cider with Rosie, Slad and the Woolpack. You given me lots more things to look for next time including the snowdrops at Cherington as well of memories of Diddley(?)
      No comment about two R. Balls apart from the amazing coincidence.

  3. Avatar Chris Norman says:

    Robert Ball senior, was a lovely caring man and my ‘A’ level art tutor in my first year at art college in 1962/63. Another unsung artist as his politics didn’t fit.

  4. […] Ahhhh .. those summer days. This is Lefkada, in the Ionian Sea, just south of Corfu. Very green and peaceful . So says Mary Brown. A great friend of Diddley’s. This picture will feature in a future blog. Mary and Diddley (and Bobby) worked in the same office. Bobby tells me that Mary was the main matchmaker in setting him off on the romance of the year and seventeen wonderful years married to Diddley. It was Mary to whom Diddley went for comfort when she thought her cat Frank had been killed on the road. Mary who stood by the grave as Diddley buried Frank in her best Laura Ashley dressing gown. And Mary who celebrated his reincarnation when Frank turned up to purr by the grave and they realised. Wrong cat…… (see Frank Mansell earlier blog). […]

  5. […] loved the poet Frank Mansell. See his blog last September. This is another of Frank’s poems, about his own house, set to […]

  6. […] with an ageing poet in past blogs. Together with the nearby graveyard of St Andrew Miserden where Frank is buried in a churchyard of snowdrops in the most beautiful setting imaginable. Once again this is […]

  7. Avatar Jim Allen says:

    My name is Jim Allen. From 1976 until mid-1979, my family and I lived in Far End House,Sheepscombe, next to John Workman. I never made it to The Woolpack, but did see Frank Mansell several times at The Butcher’s Arms. My wife saw him at the WI one day.
    Can you give me a written source for the words of the poem “The Farm Dog”? My eldest Border collie is about to leave us, just as the farm dog did in the song/poem, and I would like to have the text to read over him before we bury him. No cold Cotswold clay here in Maryland, USA.
    Thank you for any help or direction you may be able to give me.

    • Avatar Bob Ball says:

      Dear Jim
      I have sent you an email. The Farm Dog is in Cotswold Ballads and is copied in the email. I shall be back in the Cotswolds on 15th February walking up Swifts Hill with her friends to where her ashes lie. By Laurie Lee”s poetry post. We will then retire to the Butchers Arms. Please let me know how you get on. If it is not too indelicate to ask but I would love to put this on the blog at a later stage. Even a picture of his grave. By all means tell me off if you think that inappropriate. My wife would have loved to have read this.

  8. Avatar bob ball says:

    Farm Dog
    We laid him down deep on the good Cotswold stone,
    Too deep for the plough or the frost to come down;
    By the blackthorn we laid him, so rigid and thin,
    Cold clay was the blanket we covered him in.

    The gentle brown head, that was warm on the knee,
    Looks out to the east where the sunrise will be;
    The tail, ever eager to welcome a friend,
    Across to the west where the daylight will end.

    The corn will come green and the days will grow warm,
    Another will guard the approach to the farm;
    But none will be sharper or keener of sight
    Than he who lies under the blackthorn tonight.

    His life was all duty, a permanent prowl,
    The terror of foxes and guardian of fowl,
    Inspector of callers, disperser of crows,
    Destroyer of rodents and herder of cows.

    Now strangers will trespass, the foxes grow bold,
    The rodents will revel as never of old;
    And many a pullet will go to her fate,
    For want of the watchdog that’s gone from the gate.

    We laid him down gently on good Cotswold stone,
    Too deep for the plough or the frost to come down;
    By the blackthorn we laid him, so rigid and thin,
    Cold clay was the blanket we covered him in.

    Frank Mansell

    • Avatar Jim Allen says:

      Thank you, Bob. I may have replied already, buy I know it was incomplete.. Our first BC was named Brith, a Welsh word meaning ‘pied’, as in magpie. We got him in Jan 1996, just after I retired from the U.S. civil service and was able to pursue things other than work and football. Since then we, my wife and I, have had 11 more BCs. Twoi are left now, Sunny and Nick, ages 13 and 11. The farm is history, as are the sheep and all the equipment. The “boys” are still keeping me fairly fit for an 82-year-old. Sunny is ailing and not likely to reach 17, the age at which my Zip died in 2017
      If you and your wife decide to visit the Colonies, you are certainly welcome to visit us either here in Maryland or in Vermont (usually June-early October.

  9. Avatar Jim Allen says:

    And only now do I see Robert Ball’s name in the credits. Wow! Thank you for being patient with me.

    • Avatar Bob Ball says:

      This was only the second blog I had ever written. In August 2016. To hear from you now is enormously gratifying that I have created a lasting memoir. My wife, the famous Diddley, would be so pleased that I have kept these memories of her and her hero Frank Mansell alive for posterity.

      • Avatar Jim Allen says:

        I, too, thank you, Bob. Am pleased with the blog and with our exchange of thoughts.
        Please keep up the good work!!

        Jim

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