Remembering Hans Leo Lehmann and his family in Epsom: II
I first met Hans in about 1983, when he heard that the Bodleian Library had a manuscript of the Journal of William Schellinks, the Dutch artist who in 1661 visited Epsom Wells. He had obtained a copy of the relative pages describing this visit and was trying to read this. He asked Jean West if she knew anyone who knew Dutch, and she mentioned my name. I went to see him, and he showed me these MS pages. I found these very difficult to decipher, having no skill at the time in reading old script, but I was able to correct a vital word, to his immediate admiration.
Having dealt with that translation (published in 1985) we went to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, late in 1984, to have a look at the complete manuscript of Schellinks’ journal and decided to have a go at transcribing and translating the whole of his travels in England.
This started a cooperation which we both found very rewarding: he had great skill in research and was immensely knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. He had a vast library, which filled every bit of space in his study and his house. He also had a good memory and knew where to find most things. I had the language and the contacts for assistance with seventeenth-century Dutch language and history.
We obtained a photocopy of the manuscript of the Journal of William Schellinks; I learned to read secretary hand, and started translating. This translation he typed on his £400 computer, which he had acquired and learned to master soon after it became available.
We used to meet two or three times a week in his study, when we discussed subtle points of the language and started translating. Punctually at eleven, Ellen appeared with coffee and after she got used to the strange partnership she was persuaded to join us, and we talked about family and our different backgrounds. I got to know the Jewish calendar of festivals and days of mourning: on some days he did not work, on others he was fasting and then there was no coffee. When a member of their family came to visit them, I was always introduced and over the years came to know them all.
Before the translation was finished I had to deal with another project – much to his disapproval – so he bought a Dutch dictionary and taught himself Dutch and tried to speed up progress by doing his own translating, which I vetted, when we sometimes ‘crossed pens’ defending our versions. When the translation was done we started on the background research, verifying Schellinks’ statements, a very satisfying process convincing us that Schellinks was a thorough worker. For this we travelled together to many County Record Offices and local libraries of the places he described. We also made contact with research establishments in Europe, particularly Holland and Copenhagen, where we discovered that another version of the Journal existed. In this phase, Hans’s knack in getting the best out of curators and catalogues taught me a lot.
We found some fascinating documentation in the Public Record Office, which helped to explain what Schellinks was doing in England. We also studied Dutch history in the Institute for Historical Research, which gave us an insight into the political relationship between England and Holland in the seventeenth century.
Hans found a manuscript in the Bodleian Library of the journal of a German student, Christoph Georg Stirn, who in the early part of the seventeenth century described his travels in Europe. Hans obtained a copy and started to transcribe and translate. At the same time we were trying to find a publisher, a frustrating business, but with eventual success: The Journal of William Schellinks was published by the Camden Society in 1993, nearly 10 years after Hans and I got together. Hans saw the completion of the work, all but some editing and the indexing, but he died in April 1992 after being increasingly incapacitated by a stroke.
He instructed me to deal with the disposal of some of his work. His transcript of the Court rolls went to the Surrey Record Office; those of the Epsom Land Tax returns and documentation on Epsom Wells to Bourne Hall Library. His Dutch transcripts of Schellinks were accepted by the Bodleian and his incomplete work on Stirn by the Royal Geographical Society.
After his death, Ellen stayed mostly alone, in Woodcote Road. Since she had no family in England, my wife and I continued to visit her and support her in whatever way we could. This became increasingly difficult and we convinced her family that she could not continue to live alone and she went into a nursing home near Kenwood in September 1995, where we visited her about once a month and found her well cared for. When it became clear that she no longer recognised us, we reluctantly gave up. She died in January this year at the age of 91. Before the house was cleared, the family generously allowed us to select any books and documents of interest and many were chosen and sold by the museum in its shop, a beneficiary I suggested, remembering its work on getting the Residential Copyholds published.
Hans was a member of Surrey Archaeological Society and Nonsuch Antiquarian Society for many years and regularly attended the meetings in Ewell, getting a lift from a fellow member or sharing a taxi with Clifford Wright. Until he had a cataract operation his eyesight was very poor and he used to sit on the front row peering at the screen through his pocket telescope which Ellen gave to me. Hans Lehmann was made a Vice President of the NAS in appreciation of his work on the copyholds of Epsom.
I shall always remember the family with great pleasure.
N.B. Peter Lehmann kindly checked the facts for me.