Walker Dunelm: a sad farewell to contributor Patrick Ford

STEVEN DOWNES, Editor of Inside Croydon, pays tribute to one of this website’s earliest contributors

Patrick Ford at a family event in 2019, shortly before his death

I’d known Patrick Ford for most of my life, though for the past few years we’d been cut off from one another, separated by that cruel fog that was his Alzheimer’s disease.

For as long as I’d known him, Patrick had been at turns an inspiration and an encourager. So when he discovered that I was trying to write a Private Eye-style, satirical take on local life and politics in this corner of south London, he was both curious and intrigued.

Patrick, the father of my best mate at school, had introduced me to Private Eye when I was 14 or 15. He’d been buying the fortnightly snub at authority since issue No2.

A career-long librarian and lifelong rambler who knew how to write delightfully engaging prose, Patrick, fortunately for me and Inside Croydon’s loyal reader, did not need much cajoling to take up the pen name of “Walker Dunelm” to start a sadly too-brief series of detailed guides to rambles in and around the Croydon area, utilising a life time’s careful notes of the details of paths, OS grid references and observations made along the way.

The first of Walker Dunelm’s “Weekend Rambles” appeared on Inside Croydon on March 12, 2011, detailing a less-than-demanding five-mile stroll around Banstead and Oaks Park. Patrick’s enticing ramblings would take in Chartwell, and inevitably Churchill, Chipstead and Mugswell.

In all, Patrick filed 11 Weekend Rambles in the course of a few months, all of which can be found on the site here, as we had intended, a useful compilation of interesting and engaging walks. We both had collections of well-thumbed Wainwrights, and we had talked about maybe incorporating these gentle rambles suitable for all ages to encourage them to get out and about (Patrick was by this point well into his 70s), together in a published guide to the Greensand Way long-distance footpath, from notes he had compiled throughout his adult life.

But the regular emails from Patrick began to peter out, unbeknown to me at that time, as gradually the illness to which he finally succumbed in a Wallington nursing home on April 13 this year took hold.

Patrick Ford was born on April 22, 1934, in Tolworth, near Kingston. The Second World War denied him most of his primary schooling, though he still managed to win a place at Kingston Grammar, where one of his contemporaries was Michael Frayn, the renowned playwright.

While there, Patrick discovered the subversive sounds of jazz and bought his first drum kit, much to the surprise of his respectable parents.

They were keen walkers, and so began his love of the Surrey Hills. At Durham University (hence the choice of “Dunelm”), he continued with the walking, but now up and down the Dales of Northumberland and Yorkshire.

After university and National Service, he returned to live in London and he worked as a musician in Soho and Manchester.

Playing his music in London, he got to know both Ronnie Scott and Peter Cook, which was where his introduction to Private Eye came from. In Manchester’s clubland, he encountered a less-savoury character in one of their local DJs, Jimmy Savile, whom Patrick remembered as a rogue and a bully long before the celebrity villain died.

Married to school teacher Joyce and starting a family, they moved into a house in Balham, but most weekends they would take their sons, Andrew and Robert, off to the Weald, North Downs and South Downs, where Patrick developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the lanes and footpaths of the area. And accumulated his notes on the Greensand Way.

A long-time member of the Labour Party, after Joyce and Patrick moved to Carshalton, he served for around a decade as the treasurer of his Constituency Labour Party, only standing down from the role when in his 70s and, finally, a younger volunteer to take on the duties.

I would see Patrick and Joyce every so often, usually over a pint in the Duke’s Head at Wallington whenever Andy was on a visit from the north, where he works as a union rep in the NHS. I remember discussing the Eye, and some of its coverage of local Rotten Boroughs, and how he still retained a keen interest in the politics of our town halls.

Slowly, gradually, Patrick’s lively interventions in our discussions of the latest nonsenses became less and less, as his illness quietened him.

The final guided walk under the pen name of Walker Dunelm was published in 2018, after Patrick had been taken for a walk around Knepp Park in Sussex by his family, and Andy put together some of the memories from a day of sunshine amid the fog of Alzheimer’s.

Patrick’s final years were not without difficulties, though he was very well cared for at home by Joyce and his family, and it was only in the last few weeks of his life that he needed to be looked after in a care home, which was where he died, peacefully in his sleep, on Easter Monday. Fortunately, despite the coronavirus separation rules, he was not isolated or alone at the end.

In the days after his death, his family discovered among some of Patrick’s papers those notes on the Greensand Way. Patrick Ford’s guide to one of his favourite walks and rambles might yet be published, in fond memory.

Patrick Ford, musician and librarian, b Tolworth, Apr 22, 1934, d Apr 13, 2020. He is survived by his wife, Joyce, two sons, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

  • The funeral of Patrick Ford will take place on Tuesday, May 5. Attendance will be close family only because of covid-19 restrictions, but it is hoped that the event will be live-streamed: due to start at 12.40pm, it can be viewed at https://www.wesleymedia.co.uk/webcast-view using log-in 25452 and password ykcswvwt

There is the intention of having a wake in Patrick’s honour later in the year.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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