Mavis Batey: from codebreaker to campaigner for historic parks and gardens
- Written by Sarah Jackson
Back to Bletchley Park
Mavis's latest project is a book about her famous code-breaker boss at Bletchley, Dilly Knox, a brilliant but absent-minded man, who had been known to stuff his pipe with sandwiches rather than tobacco. ‘A far cry from James Bond,' says Mavis with a smile.
Another current project dear to her heart is the American Garden Trail which she is helping to set up at Bletchley Park.
‘There were 300 Americans working with us, and that's where Churchill's ‘special relationship' through Intelligence began, so we wanted to do something that would be commemorative of that,' she explains. ‘Not only did we have a special relationship in the war, but there is this special gardening relationship. The emigrants took our flowers to America and soon people like Bartram were sending back wild plants which became garden plants here.'
The trail begins, appropriately, from a giant Californian sequoia, planted in Victorian times, on the front lawn of the house where Bletchley staff played rounders together (confusingly, the Americans had different rules!). Each of the 50 American states has its own tree and flower emblem, which will be represented in the planting running alongside the lake where Mavis often strolled, escaping the thick fug of tobacco smoke in the huts where the code-breakers worked.
A response to her surroundings has always been a strong motivation for Mavis throughout her career, especially if it had a literary connection. Her husband's rooms overlooking the Deanery garden at Christ Church got her thinking about Lewis Carroll and ‘Alice', just as Nuneham had sparked her interest in garden history. Pushing her grandchild along the riverside at Richmond led to the book on Pope and her interest in the Thames landscape. ‘Like everybody else, it's where you are...I do what comes my way,' she says modestly.
Mavis Batey has been a tireless campaigner, never afraid to act alone if necessary. Asked over the phone by a civil servant whether there was any local opposition to a planning proposal, the solicitor replied: ‘There is, and she's sitting next to me...'
You should make your voice known. You never know how things are going to turn out.
A strong belief in community action coupled with unfailing optimism has underpinned her work. ‘Practically all of our legislation comes from grassroots campaigning,' she says. ‘You should make your voice known. You never know how things are going to turn out.'