“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
The English People, Part 1
Agincourt has had its share of foreign visitors.
My own family counts for some of them: Aunt Grace’s husband is French and Great Uncle Anson’s wife and their three children hail from the Euskadi, the Basque homeland of northern Spain. But in this neck of the woods, someone from Alabama might be considered “foreign”, so let’s set our sights a little higher.
Two of our most interesting foreign visitors with no local connection may have been Alec and Margaret Parks, who came for a two-week visit in the Spring of 1990.
It all begins with our late great local historian Hal Holt in the 1980s. Hal had been investigating some of the British wheeling-dealing in Iowa agricultural land a century earlier, most of it in Larchwood up in Lyon County. Some of you will know that the Close Brothers organized the “Iowa Land Company” for investment by British capitalists, acquiring nearly 50,000 acres toward that end. Much of it was intended to be sold as small holdings—the sort of homestead farming seen in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois in the relentless march of Manifest Destiny— but the sale of large acreage involved others in the speculative game. Richard Sykes was one (owner of the Larchwood townsite) and Francis Logie-Pirie was another. Hal became interested in Logie-Pirie and opened a correspondence with the local historical society in East Sussex, Logie-Pirie’s county of residence.
Volunteers, many of them retired, handle inquiries in Britain’s local history network, and Hal’s letter (this was long before email expedited this sort of thing) came to the attention of one Alec Parks, retired headmaster of a school in Durham far to the north. Parks replied to Holt’s questions, providing insight to the wealth that had enabled the displaced Scotsman Logie-Pirie to engage in American speculation. And that might have been the end of it, if we were dealing with folks other than Holt and Parks, cut from similar cloth and curious about each other as much as their historical interests. Hal shared their evolving correspondence with me; Alec was someone he had clearly begun to like.
Then, one evening, Hal got a phone call: a cheery British accent at the other end introduced itself as belonging to Alec Parks and wondered if a visit to the Colonies might be in order. Alec and his wife Margaret proposed a visit in the Spring, a prospect eagerly accepted by Hal and his wife Muriel. The insertion of the Parks into the rhythm of local life will not likely be forgotten by many of us for years to come. But the details of that visit will have to wait for another installment.
In the meantime, enjoy the image of a memorial bench placed in Alec’s memory along the Cuckoo Trail in 1995. It seems entirely in keeping with the man we met nearly twenty-five years ago.
I hope to rest on that bench some time soon and savor a few of memory’s happier moments.