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The Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre

The Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre  

The West of England Chess Union’s annual jamboree has been held at the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre on the outskirts of Taunton for about a decade, with the host being Taunton Chess Club member, Martin Worrall, who also happens to be a technician at the centre.  

I’ve often wondered about the origin of the name/s attached to the centre, though have never quite got round to enquiring about it, assuming that it was probably the surnames of a couple of town councillors – the mayor, perhaps, and some local community activist. However, this year I made a point of asking Martin about it and he drew my attention to a plaque in the corner of the foyer, which told a very different story. (see picture 1 below) 

The name, in fact, refers to Mrs. Kathleen Tacchi-Morris who lived for 50 years at Long’s House, a rambling 17th century manor house in North Curry, just 5 miles east of Taunton, until her death in 1993. In their later years she and her husband had set up a trust fund to be used in the promotion of peace and harmony throughout the world. In 1999 the trust donated £1 million, together with a £2.1 million grant from the Arts Council, to create the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre.  

Yet behind this bald fact lies a story of an extraordinary life lived by an extraordinary lady from an exotic family. She was born in 1899 in Johannesburg, the eldest of five children to Percy George Tacchi and his wife, Rebecca Kathleen. Although both Londoners, Percy and Rebecca met in South Africa, where Percy was working as an engineer in the goldfields and Rebecca was training to be a doctor, as there was little chance of that happening in England at the time. After they got to know each other, Percy contracted typhoid and as Rebecca nursed him back to health they fell in love and got married. Shortly after Kathleen was born the combination of life in the goldfields and the Boer War decided the young family to return to the UK.  

Percy continued as an inventor, specialising in wheeled vehicles. While in South Africa he had set up a small company, Tacchi and Wright, building bicycles for the indigenous populace. Back in England he developed the first 4-cylinder motorcycle for Wilkinsons. (see picture 2 below). 

By this time, Kathleen was 10 years old and attending a school from which she was expelled for organising a pupils’ strike against the excessive corporal punishment that went on there. She was then sent to a boarding school in Manchester and got expelled from there as well after just four weeks, for complaining about the treatment of girls. From then on any education was received at home and was somewhat ad hoc. They lived in semi-rural Acton at this time, where they had a house built in Nemours Road.  

In the meantime four siblings arrived on the scene; in order of age they were Percy George junior, Mercia Olga, Maurice Phoebus and Ruby.  

Her father was a socialist and a member of the Fabian Society, taking Kathleen to all their meetings, where she got to know many of the founding members, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Annie Besant (future President of the Indian National Congress),  Leonard & Virginia Woolf, the Pankhursts and Sidney & Beatrice Webb.  

She also went to ballet lessons from an early age, before getting her first paid employment in a drapers shop in Leytonstone at 12½p per week. She spent WW1 at the Hotel Cecil, the HQ of the Air Force doing not a lot, as she confessed. After the war, most women workers had to give up their day jobs to make way for the returning soldiers and Kathleen had to scratch around for work. She phoned around numerous firms saying she’d heard they needed someone in the office, which of course they didn’t. One company challenged her by asking where did you hear that story from? Kathleen took up the challenge by going round to see the person she’s spoken to and on meeting her, gave her a job immediately. It was with a film-making company in Wardour St. and she was suddenly mixed up in the world of film people, socialising with the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. She had small parts in a few films utilising her dancing skills, including Coming Through The Rye, a 1923 silent film  starrng Alma Taylor and Ralph Forbes, and Men Are Not Gods (1936) directed by Alexander Korda. (see pictures 3 & 4 below).

Her film colleagues urged her to push harder for a foot up the ladder to stardom, which undoubtedly she could have done, but dancing was in her blood, not acting. Partly to escape the cinema circus and to concentrate on the dance she went to Paris in 1922 enrol at the Jacques-Dalcroze school.  

Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865 – 1950) was a Swiss composer, musician and music educator who developed eurhythmics, a method of learning and experiencing music through movement. Turning the body into a well-tuned musical instrument, Dalcroze felt, was the best path for generating a solid, vibrant musical foundation. The 57 yr old composer was smitten with his young student and regularly took her to the Paris Opéra where she met the likes of Diaghilev, Isadora Duncan and Picasso, who used to do their décor. Kathleen wasn’t entirely convinced with all of Dalcroze’s techniques but was able to adapt them to her own needs.  (see pictures 5 & 6 below)

On returning to England she trained groups of dancers who performed at the Hammersmith Palais and the Victoria Palace. In the early thirties there were trips to Antibes where she got mixed up in the Edward and Mrs. Simpson affair. Then in 1936 she married Walter Allan Stagg (1903 – 1984) an Equipment Officer in the RAF. They bought a house in North Curry before Stagg was posted to Malta. Kathleen quickly came to hate her lot, as her efforts to start a children’s dance school were forbidden by the rule that forces personnel should not fraternise with the locals. She gave her husband the ultimatum “Leave the forces or I will leave you – your choice”. He stayed on, Malta took an almighty pounding by the Luftwaffe throughout the war, and he went on to become one of the RAF’s top brass, being awarding the CBE in the Queen’s Coronation honours. 

Kathleen went back to their house in North Curry, a village she had come to love in her short time there. She met Richard Rodham Morris (1903 – 88) who came from a long line of auctioneers and estate agents, stretching back in North Curry throughout the 19th century. They married in Exeter in 1945, much against the wishes of his wider family, who were all country Conservatives, while she was cast as a communist atheistic free-thinker. Yet the marriage worked well enough, as “Rod” was in awe of her energy and enthusiasm and just let her get on with whatever she wanted to do.  

First of all she sacked all the servants at Longs House and turned over the vacated rooms and outhouses to her pet projects – initially looking after the local mothers of black children who’d been abandoned by their families and US fathers. There were also German Jewish refugees. A large barn was converted into a theatre and Lydia Sokolova from the Diaghilev ballet came down and taught ballet while Kathleen taught eurhythmics.  

This went on until 1950 when her life took an unexpected twist, best told in her own words.  

“It was an accident really, because I’d had three operations on my hip. I went to lecture on eurhythmics in Bradford and was staying there with friends. There was a newspaper on the breakfast table saying something about a conference on peace in Sheffield. I said “D’you know, I’d like to go to that. “Well let’s go”. I wasn’t allowed in as I hadn’t got a pass, but I waited outside. The doors opened and I could see Picasso on the platform. I thought ‘Goodness gracious me!’ So I wrote a note on the back of an old envelope in my handbag saying ‘Tacchi’s outside – please can she come in?’ I gave it to a policeman and said ‘Would you take that to Picasso?’ He said ‘Who’s Picasso?’ I said ‘He’s the second on the left.’ Picasso said ‘Of course, bring her in!’ So I went in and found myself sitting on the platform, and that was the beginning.  

“The place was packed with people; well-known people, writers and all sorts. It was terrific. I said to Picasso, ‘Why aren’t the women in this as well?’ He said ‘Well do something about it’ and I said ‘All right, I will’. He said ‘Promise you will?’ I said ‘Yes’. He said ‘We’re asked to shift this whole thing to Warsaw and I can’t go. Will you go there for me?’ I said ‘I’ve only got ten shillings on me’. I sent a telegram to my husband, saying ‘I’m going to Warsaw’. He sent one back saying ‘I take a dim view of this’, but I took no notice, I just went.’  ….. When I saw the ruins of Warsaw and heard the story of their suffering, I knew that the rest of my life would be devoted to the struggle for peace.’  

She founded the organisation Women for World Disarmament which she ran tirelessly until 1987. 

In the 1950s her parents came down to live with her. Percy had all the space he needed for his workshops, while Rebecca died there just a few days short of her 100th birthday.  

During 1987 she was involved in setting up the trust whereby, after their death, the house and grounds could become an international centre for youth, to promote peace. Also that year, she arranged for her Women for World Peace organisation to be merged with the Campaign for World Disarmament, which allowed her to retire. Rod died in January 1988 aged 85 and she died 5 years later aged 94. (see picture 7 below)

A much fuller account of her remarkable life story may be found in the book Women Remember – An Oral History  (Routledge 1989) by Anne Smith, from which I have tried to extract the essence and combine it with other material available on-line. She also wrote a short autobiography entitled I Promised Picasso. Although it was never published there is a typescript version archived in the Somerset Heritage Centre, Brunel Way, Langford Mead, Norton Fitzwarren, Taunton, TA2 6SF. This is kept with her many other papers relating to her long and active life.  

It’s not clear whether the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre is exactly what she had in mind when she made her original legacy plans, though it teaches dance and drama, both dear to her heart. In any case, far from being a white elephant, it is a successful venture with increasing activity year on year, with, for example, the number of technicians required to service it all up from the original 2 to 5.  

She would be amused to think that the warfare that is chess is strictly of the non-violent kind, and so accords with her precepts. 

The Arts Centre entrance

The inventor with his Wilkinson TAC motor-bike.

(3) Kathleen Tacchi in a publicity film shot.

(4) Another publicity film still.

(5) Emile Jaques-Dalcroze

(6) Eurhythmics in action

(7) Kathleen Tacchi-Morris reflects on her incredible life.

WECU Jamboree 2014 Results (15.09.14.)

The West of England Jamboree has been the Union’s annual pre-season get-together and rust-remover for many years and is still well-supported, even though, as in football, the concept of a season with a long summer break from the sport, is almost extinct. One hundred players and organisers gathered at the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre on the outskirts of Taunton as per usual, although the word “outskirts” is also becoming redundant, as the town’s housing is  rapidly encroaching on the area with large new estates making the approaches to the centre look unfamiliar to even the most regular participant.

This year there were four teams of 12 in each section, with Cornwall entering a team in the Open Section for the first time in a number of years, probably decades – and a very competitive team it was, too. In the Grade-limited Section there was a team from Wiltshire, after an absence of c. 20 years – a welcome move in both cases.

Although headed by Somerset in the early stages, Devon’s strength-in-depth made certain of their win in the Open, winning all 6 of their games in the lower half. Gloucestershire scored 3.5 out of 5 at the top of the order, but then fell away, while Cornwall scored 4 pts from their top 7 games.

In the Graded Section, Devon’s Torbay League scored heavily in the lower reaches, while Wiltshire scored at the top and bottom of the order, the two teams coming 1st =. The Wiltshire Captain, Roy Ludlow took the trophy 1st, saying his wife would only allow him to keep it in the house until the Torbay Congress in November, where he’d gladly hand it over to Rob Wilby.

The event was organised by Ben Edgell. Jerry Humphries acted as Arbiter in the Open Section and another colleague did likewise in the other room. Martin Worrell, a member of Taunton C.C. and a technician at the Centre, kindly provided free tea and biscuits all afternoon.

Photographs to follow shortly.

The details were as follows: 

    W.E.C.U.         Jamboree  
    OPEN         SECTION  
Bd. team player Grd     team player Grd
1 A1 Jeremy Menadue 189 ½ ½ B1 Phil Meade 182
2 C1 Dominic Mackle 203 0 1 D1 Jack Rudd 224
3 B2 Thomas Thorpe 179 ½ ½ C2 John Stephens 194
4 D2 David Buckley 207 ½ ½ A2 Theo Slade 179
5 A3 Mark Hassall 178 1 0 C3 Kevin Hurst 191
6 B3 John Jenkins 176 1 0 D3 Peter Chaplin 189
7 D4 Mike Richardt 184 0 1 D4 Peter Kirby 173
8 C4 Steve Homer 188 1 0 A4 Grant Healey 178
9 C5 John Fraser 182 ½ ½ B5 Phil Dodwell 163
10 A5 David Saqui 173 0 1 D5 Pat Krzyzanowski 182
11 B6 Barry Whitelaw 159 0 1 A6 James Hooker 170
12 D6 David Littlejohns 178 ½ ½ C6 John Wheeler 181
13 A7 Simon Bartlett 169 1 0 B7 Alun Richards 136
14 C7 Jon Underwood 179 1 0 D7 David P-Kooiman 178
15 B8 Ian Blencowe 130 0 1 C8 Dave Regis 176
16 D8 James Byrne 165 1 0 A8 Gary Trudeau 155
17 A9 John Wilman 154 0 1 C9 Alan Brusey 176
18   d/f   0 1 D9 Gerry Jepps 163
19 D10 Andrew Gregory 158 1 0 B10 Jim Caterer 128
20 C10 Bill Ingham 176 1 0 A10 Richard Smith 149
21 C11 Brian Hewson 174 1 0 B11 Peter Bending 122
22 A11 Martin Jones 121 0 1 D11 Darren Freeman 158
23 B12 John Harris 115 ½ ½ A12 Barry Childs 107
24 D12 Alex Conway 156 0 1 C12 Meyrick Shaw 170
                 

                                            Summary

  Open 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Tot. Pos.
A Cornwall ½ ½ 1 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 ½ 3rd
B Glos ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 4 4th
C Devon 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 1st
D Somerset 1 ½ 0 0 1 ½ 0 1 1 1 1 0 7 2nd

  

    GRADED         SECTION  
Bd. team player Grd     team player Grd
1 A1 Andy Bellingham 154 0 1 B1 Chris Purry 152
2 C1 Trefor Thynne 161 0 1 D1 Jim Sherwin 198
3 B2 Roger Knight 152 ½ ½ C2 Mike S-Brownbridge 164
4 D2 Andrew Cooper 174 1 0 A2 Adrian Champion 151
5 A3 Neville Senior 150 1 0 C3 Paul Brooks 154
6 B3 Jim Fewkes 150 ½ ½ D3 Ricardo Rei 168
7 D4 Tim Woodward 146 1 0 D4 Chris Fewtrell 149
8 C4 Andrew Kinder 146 0 1 A4 Chris Strong 148
9 C5 Rob Wilby 140 0 1 B5 Mark Baker 147
10 A5 Tristan West 147 ½ ½ D5 George Georgiou 139
11 B6 Simon Pickard 121 1 0 A6 Stan Wojcik 140
12 D6 Roy Ludlow 128 0 1 C6 John Allen 132
13 A7 John Wilkinson 115 1 0 B7 Simon Gray 114
14 C7 Vignesh Ramesh 131 1 0 D7 Gareth Williams 118
15 B8 Stan Hill 114 0 1 C8 Ben Wilkinson 129
16 D8 Richard Carver 116 0 1 A8 Roger Waters 112
17 A9 Mike Cooper 119 0 1 C9 John Dean 119
18 D10 David Brown 102 0 1 D9 Geoff Berryman 108
19 C10 Tony Tatam 107 1 0 B10 Mike Ward 93
20 C11 Roy Greenhalgh 100 1 0 A10 Roger Fenton 98
21 A11 Vic McAndrew 91 0 1 B11 Mike Walters 101
22 B12 d/f   0 0 D11 d/f  
23 D12 Robert Sparks 72 1 0 C12 Nandaja Narayanan 101
24 B9 Ivan Stringer 110 ½ ½ D9 Gordon Chapman 104

                                            Summary 

  Graded 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Tot. Pos.
A N & W Somerset 0 0 1 1 ½ 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 4th
B S & E Somerset 1 ½ ½ 0 1 1 0 0 ½ 1 0 0 3rd
C Torbay League 0 ½ 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1st=
D Wiltshire 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 1 1st=

 

Bd. 1 in the Open - Menadue vs Meade - game drawn.

Thorpe vs Stephens - a placid start before a frantic finish.

Homer (W) beat Healey in a clever endgame combination.

General view of the Open Section - Conway vs Shaw nearest.

James T. Sherwin vs T. F. Thynne - quite a game in the Graded Section.

Devon Captain and WECU President elect receives the Jamboree Cup from Organsier Ben Edgell (l)

Rob Wilby (l) & Roy Ludlow share the Graded Cup