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Peter Herbert 1936-2022

As many members will already be aware, our beloved Club President Peter Herbert passed away in December at the age of 86. A service of thanksgiving for his life was held on 15th February in a packed St. Martin's Church Blackheath, where the mourners included many of his friends both from the cricket club and from the village.

His son James gave a wonderful eulogy that very much captured the essence of his father, and if you'd like to read it then it can be found below...

Peter Herbert - Eulogy given by James Herbert at Thanksgiving Service, St Martin’s Church Blackheath, 15 February 2023

Thank you all for coming – it is wonderful to see so many people who have come to celebrate the life of Peter Herbert.

My father was born in London but brought up here in Blackheath at Tangley Way, a couple of hundred yards from where we are. It was wartime when they came here and like many young boys dad had memories of looking up at the fighters in the sky, seeing soldiers on the heath and even a German flying bomb exploding in the woods behind the village hall.

So Blackheath is a place with which Peter had a connexion for nearly all of his life and it is fitting that his final journey should start here at St Martin’s.

Like many of his generation, childhoods were influenced by Edwardians, if not Victorians, and it cannot have been easy to be the son of such an eminent man as Edwin Herbert. But he was always surrounded by his much loved sisters, Elizabeth, Jane and Alison and his kindly mother Gwen.

Peter Herbert was the embodiment of the folly of judging by outward appearance. Assumptions might be made about the blazer-wearing, Oxbridge man, or from his manner, his background and experiences. But those assumptions would probably be wrong.

Certainly he was a traditionalist but Peter was also liberal and creative. I'm not sure that many people know, for example, that he started his career in advertising as a copywriter coming up with slogans for consumer goods. One client was Rowntree’s sweets and he was proud to have drafted their 1960s line: “bags I the Jelly Tot in the Jelly Tot bag”.

My father had qualities which, whilst not necessarily fashionable today, never quite go out of fashion. Loyalty to his friends, politeness, civility and good manners, a thirst for knowledge, understatement and modesty trumping ostentation, good sportsmanship. And it wasn’t his style to run down other people. Institutions, maybe, but people, no.

Despite some misfortune and ill-health Peter rarely complained. A recent tumble was dismissed as no worse than a hard rugger tackle. By the way, it was always “rugger” and never “Rugby” - that was a very different game played by teams of 13 northerners.

Peter's life had many themes. Take sport. He was a keen and a good sportsman, a goal keeper at school – he told me recently that he had been coached at Boxgrove by an Italian professional ‘keeper who was a prisoner of war at the nearby Merrow Camp. No doubt with sweaters for goal posts.

He was a rowing cox at Oxford, though too heavy at nine stone, he said, to be considered for the university boat. But cricket was his great love, playing at school, at Oxford and in the Royal Navy and, of course, here at Blackheath for many years. He was a decent batsman - the Blackheath records from his era show that he was equal tenth in the list of half century scorers going back to the 1800s. He always maintained his links with Blackheath becoming president of the club and supporting it in many ways over many years. He presided over the club’s Annual Meeting just before he died.

Music was another passion - how could it not be given his family’s musical tradition - listening to classical music and performing with a fine voice as a singer with the Bach choir, Blackheath Choral Society and Guildford Choral Society. As children how we loved the annual day out at Dorking listening to the competing amateur choirs at the Leith Hill Festival. Not.

National service saw dad slinging his hammock as a midshipman in the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean. He loved his time in the Royal Navy and while his contemporaries might have spent their time in the oily bilges of the great ships, Sub-Lieutenant Herbert was mostly engaged in whizzing up and down the channel in motor torpedo boats including in the experimental and delightfully named, HMS Bold Pathfinder. Like music, sailing was something of a family requirement - though when acting as chief mate to his father on their yacht Wayward, there were, shall we say, some salty differences of nautical opinion.

Another lifelong passion was steam engines and engineering and dad was something of an amateur mechanic. Very amateur in fact: the faulty lawn mower, carburettor, alternator or whatever was carefully dis-assembled on a Saturday to be fettled and triumphantly put back together on Sunday afternoon. But on Monday morning there always seemed to be a critical component still on the work bench and the garage would have to be called.

Those of us who knew Peter well know that he was not the greatest administrator, but I'm sure we all recognise that we should value the readers and the listeners as much as the doers.

And Peter was a great reader with a quite remarkable general knowledge. It was knowledge that he wore lightly and deployed elegantly. He had a particular interest in history and engineering and talk could range from Rome to the English Enlightenment and then on to epi-cyclic bicycle gears. He might explain the principles of the jet engine in one breath before turning, in the next, to the origins of the Thirty Years’ War.

My father was good company and a great conversationalist. Not one to tell gags but a spinner of tales and anecdotes: some of which might even have been true. The kind of man you hoped to see in the pub rather than hoped to avoid. He had a remarkable ability to talk to anyone, to make new friends and to sustain those friendships. And the evidence is all around us today in the many groups of people from which he drew those friends.

Friends going back to the 1940s, to Boxgrove and Malvern and Oxford. And the cricketers, the advertisers, the city types, the commuters, the Surrey friends and neighbours, the naval and maritime groups and the community close to his home and at the Stag at Eashing - a focal point for the last 40 years. And of course he had huge affection for his grandchildren and close family and his extended family on both the Judd and Herbert sides.

So as I come to the end of the impossible task of compressing decades into minutes, how to conclude?

Well, on the eve of my departure for university dad said he needed to give me some advice. Oh dear. My toes curled as I wondered what embarrassment was about to come forth when he leaned in, only to say: “When you get there, don’t be the sort of chap who doesn’t buy his round”.

And actually if we deconstruct that advice it’s a pretty sound manifesto for life – put in as much in as you take out.

So we salute the gifted amateur; the Corinthian spirit; the reader; the thinker, the ideas man, the walking encyclopaedia.

The friend, cousin, uncle, brother, grandfather, father and partner to Margaret for 35 years.

And as he sets off today to the celestial pub and pint and a natter with his chums we say goodbye to a fine companion and, you know, rather a good bloke.

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