1. Rolf Gardiner

Wilf was 18-years-old when he met Rolf Gardiner through their mutual links to the Kibbo Kift youth movement. Gardiner was five years older than Wilf and from a very different social class: Cambridge educated and from a wealthy, cultured and well connected family. His uncle, Henry Balfour Gardiner, bought the Gore Farm estate in Dorset and handed it over to Rolf in 1927. The young Gardiner was one of the first truly organic farmers, and he used innovative, pioneering farming techniques in his successful reforestation project on the estate. Despite their different backgrounds and partly because of their different upbringings, the two young men became close friends. Wilf said of Gardiner:

Rolf was intrigued with me because I was an uneducated person and he’d never met such a person before who seemed to have what he regarded as an attitude to life that was real…so he invited me to come and work on a farm down in Dorset which he owned, it was actually bought and presented to him by his uncle who was Balfour Gardiner who was a friend of Vaughan Williams…..2

They first met on a hike from Newbury to London in 1926, which Gardiner had organised, and again on a ten-day hike from Ely to London which ended at Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve 1926-27. Here they met up with The Skelton Folk Dancers to see in the new year. Wilf said of the occasion:

we practised, you know, at different towns and villages and pubs that we discovered, arrived at, you see, and we danced in the new year and sang wassail carols and so on, it was all very ‘oldy worldy’, and it was enjoyable, it was great fun. This is what Rolf Gardiner was you see..1

Wilf worked with Gardiner at Gore Farm throughout 1928 where the two men became close friends.  It was during this time that Wilf met Vaughan Williams, who painted some of Wilf’s hand crafted furniture. A passage in the book Rolf Gardiner: Folk Nature and Culture in Interwar Britain gives a fascinating insight into Wilf and Rolf’s friendship:

For much of the summer and autumn months Gardiner and his friends E C Knight and the young Wilf Franks, assisted by numerous hired labourers, set about the task of rebuilding and getting the land into some sort of order….Each morning Gardiner and Franks would get up at 7 am and indulge in their ‘early morning torture’ a character building run in the nude across a stretch of Cranborne Chase…they then set about their domestic chores, which might involve darning socks or carrying the washing to Shaftesbury on their single serviceable bike. And then, when the men arrived, the normal days work began. 4

Gardiner had spent part of his youth living in Germany and had maintained and developed many contacts there. He was passionately involved with folk music and dance and was developing cultural ties through youth movements in England, Germany and Scandinavia. He was a charming and charismatic figure who organised large social gatherings and cross-cultural events involving youth groups from across Europe. The historian David Fowler describes Gardiner as being:

An important thinker and activist in the field of youth cultures and youth movements during these years…It was a youth culture rooted in outlook and rooted in relationships with like minded people and also with communities different from one’s own6

It was Gardiner who arranged for Wilf to go and work on the construction of the Musikheim college in Frankfurt an der Order, Germany and later organised and funded his studies at the Weimar Architecture & Design School, the Staatliche Bauhochschule. There is a certain irony that in the years directly following this arrangement, Gardiner’s political views would move to the far right, so much so that in 1933 he would exchange letters with Joseph Goebbles,5 while during his time in Weimar, Wilf would discover the utopian left wing politics to which he would dedicate the rest of his life.

A 1934 letter written by Michael Tippett to his fellow composer Alan Bush indicates that Gardiner and Wilf had some kind of falling out during Wilf’s time in Weimar.

Rolf does not wish to because of the Weimar affair. This you must keep to yourself – in fact you ought’nt to know, so forget it at once, & there is some chance that anonymously he may help this year – in some way or another, particularly, he needs Wilfs apologies, confession etc. However as long as we are clear it is not a serious matter – & its much better he shld [sic] be out of it rather than upsetting Wilf by ‘moral uplift’ as at Weimar.7

It is not clear what the “Weimar affair” is referring to but it is possible that Wilf’s new found Marixst politics and his sudden departure from the now Nazi controlled Weimar Architecture & Design School led to some kind of confrontation with Gardiner, who may have been annoyed that his friend chose to walk away from an education that he had arranged and financed.


  1. Teesside Archives audio recording. 1988.
  2. Teesside Archives audio recording. 1988.
  3. Matthew Jefferies and Mike Tyldesley. Rolf Gardiner: Folk Nature and Culture Interwar Britain. Ashgate. 2011. p99
  4. Matthew Jefferies and Mike Tyldesley. Rolf Gardiner: Folk Nature and Culture Interwar Britain. Ashgate. 2011. p98
  5. Matthew Jefferies and Mike Tyldesley. Rolf Gardiner: Folk Nature and Culture Interwar Britain. Ashgate. 2011. p158
  6. David Fowler. Youth Culture in Modern Britain,c.1920-c.1970. Palgrave Macmillan. 2008. p58
  7. Letter from Michael Tippett to Alan Bush. 1934. Held at the British Library.

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