Extracts from
"The Journey"
by Robert Barham.

Chapter Four

There is only so much you can get out of books before you have to start to travel and get a real feel for the places, and people you are writing about. I decided it was time to go to Archie’s birth town of Bristol, and finally see where he spent the first fourteen years of his life.  I had been to Bristol many times in the past, mainly with my father in the mid to late seventies to visit the antiques shops there. But it had been quite some time since my last visit. My wife Joan joined me on the trip.

As we drove off the motorway into Bristol, the signpost were all too familiar; Fishponds, Redland, Horchurch, all places that I had been reading about over the last year and a half.  Our hotel was right in the middle of Bristol, and most of the places we had come to visit were within walking distance.  First thing on Sunday morning we headed off to Archie’s birthplace in Hughenden Road. The house bears a blue plaque outside which reads, "Archibald Alec Leach, better known as Cary Grant was born here on January 18,1904".  It is a tiny terraced house, towards one end of the street. Nearby there was a small green. It all must have looked virtually identical to the day Archie left it over eighty-five years ago.  It was an odd feeling, thinking of the image of the film star on the big screen, and seeing his humble birthplace.  Next we headed back into town to the place where Archie first discovered his love for the theatre, The Bristol Hippodrome.  The Hippodrome is very close to docks. Today, there is a road, and then a large paved area out to the front of it. Years ago there was just the road, and the river ran just beyond that.  In the early 1900’s the Hippodrome building stood alone, now there are buildings to each side of it.  There is however a small alley just to the side of the building, which we walked down.  Halfway down on the right hand side is a small doorway that leads into the Hippodrome.
The alley had a very strange, almost ghostly feel to it. You could very clearly imagine all the performers who had walked through that door, including Archie as a small boy, discovering for the first time, his love of the stage.

When Archie’s mother had been committed to Fishponds mental asylum, he began to find himself more and more alone.  His father would often leave the house early in the morning, and return late at night.  Archie would take to wondering the streets after school; he would often end up at the docks, watching the tall ships bringing in their precious cargos from all over the world.  The docks in those days would have been a hive of activity, which maybe the young Archie would find comforting. He often dreamt of stealing aboard one of those ships, and heading off to a new land, and a new life.  Nowadays the docks are empty, or being converted into the latest fashionable dwelling.  We had lunch at one of the many cafes on the Quay side and then headed for Fishponds.  What I would find at first amazing, and then quite disturbing, was how near Fishponds asylum is to Hughenden Road.  All those times that Archie must have wondered where his Mother was, and whether he would ever see her again, when she was less than two miles away. Archie could have walked there in less than thirty minutes!  The sadness of the whole situation was now so clear, and it began to make me quite angry.  Elsie had obviously been in a poor mental, and probably physical state when she was committed by her husband.  Now I've no doubt that she needed help – but for Elias not to tell their only son where she was, or, take him to visit her astounds me!  I talked this all over with Joan and her view was that we have to remember the times in which they lived.
In the early 1900’s England was still very much in Victorian mode.  The values, life style, and whole structure of that period still stood.  Mental illness at that time was little understood, and viewed with little sympathy. It was something of a disgrace to be kept out of public view.  Men had so much power over women in those days. Even if Elsie protested, whatever Elias wanted stood.

It is well reported that Elias took another woman into his life, a lady by the name of Mabel Bass.  I couldn't help but wonder exactly when the new romance started. Could it have been that Elsie's illness had been the perfect opportunity to get her out of the way, leaving him free to be with Mabel?  Or was the truth that a heart - broken Elias would find love again some years after his wife had been committed to Fishponds, with little hope of release?


The Journey by Robert BarhamIn late 1996 Robert Barham began work on a musical about the early life of Cary Grant. The musical was entitled "Archie". During the course of his research, Robert came across a number of extraordinary coincidences between his own life, and that of Cary Grant. In "The Journey", Robert tells the fascinating story of his three years writing and researching the musical, from page to stage. A tale which would take him from London, to Cary's birth town of Bristol, and finally on to Hollywood. 

To order The Journey, go to http://www.lulu.com/content/877810.  You will then have the ability to download this e-book for $5.90.


Chapter One  |  Chapter Four  |  Chapter Six

Chapter Eight  |  Chapter 11  |  Epilogue

  Autobiography  |  "Archie" the Musical  |  The Journey  |  Guestbook  |  Home

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