Fred Grubb, hiker who walked a life journey in literature
20 July, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Fred Grubb, who died recently aged 86, was a key figure in Hampstead’s literary tradition
POET, teacher and mountain walker Fred Grubb, who has died aged 86, was a key figure in Hampstead’s literary tradition who counted among his friends and contemporaries Ted Hughes, William Empson and Alan Brownjohn.
His home in his later years had been Henderson Court, where his room was packed with books and journals, pieces of his own work, many of which were unpublished. Here he ran poetry readings with others who lived in the sheltered block.
Mr Grubb’s mother had died when he was aged two while his father, Sir Kenneth Grubb, the president of the Church Mission Society, was often away, researching the Amazon basin. He lived with his grandparents in Birkenhead before moving to Highgate with his siblings in 1940 as a 10-year-old.
He was conscripted to do national service but it was not a success, and he often recalled how he accidentally shot his commanding officer in the ankle while on a rifle range. Instead of being court-martialed, Mr Grubb was moved to the Education Corps and stationed at Edinburgh Castle, where he taught new recruits basic English. It was a job he enjoyed and he went on to read English at Cambridge, where he met and befriended Ted Hughes.
Later he would work as a tutor for the Open University and also taught English at universities in Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, all while continuing to work on his own poetry.
His first collection, Title Deeds, was published in 1961. He was regularly published in magazines and journals and was given the first bursary awarded by the Arts Council for a creative writer. He was also known among friends for his lengthy correspondence, drawing on the influences of the great Victorian letter writers, crafting long diatribes packed with criticism, satire, politics and comment.
His niece, Marion Winslow, recalled how Mr Grubb would appear at family gatherings wearing hiking boots and carrying an air of the bohemian nature of Hampstead in the 1960s about him. Among his passions was walking in the Pyrenees. He travelled there many times over the years, often hiking alone, or driving a motorbike through the mountains.
One such trip saw him injure his leg, which did not heal properly. Eventually the scars became ulcerous and later on in life he was a double amputee. Another Pyrenees adventure saw him walk into a Spanish village where a film crew were shooting a version of a favourite book, The Leopard, by Giuseppe Lampedusa and starring Burt Lancaster. Mr Grubb was out of funds and quickly made himself useful on set, staying for six weeks and earning his bed and board.
He was left-wing, and European and internationalist in his outlook – he was fluent in French and read poetry in Spanish and German. Brexit will prove to be a monumental error, he believed.
Moving in literary circles, he had no truck with artistic pretension, stating in an interview with the New Journal in 2009 that he “neither owns, attends, hears nor sees telly, radio, discs, cinema, theatre, concerts, galleries, newspapers, junkets, house or car and dislikes all ornaments…”
Mr Grubb was not religious, but had an active interest in the Quakers. He requested his funeral be conducted according to their traditions, aware that the Grubb family had a long history of Quakerism dating back to the times of the English Civil War.
His funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium two weeks ago, and family members plan to take some of his ashes to scatter in the Pyrenees.