Viviane Bryant


Viviane Bryant was born in France, the daughter of a Northumberland father and a Belgian mother who had met and married during the First World War.  Her parents moved many times during her childhood, but from the age of 13 she lived in homes in London where she attended the Godolphin & Latymer School at Hammersmith.  She became head girl there and was greatly influenced by its headmistress, Dame Joyce Bishop, who was one of the great teachers during that period.  It was through her father’s and Dame Joyce’s joint encouragement that she gained a scholarship to Girton College in Cambridge and obtained a First in Classics.

After her marriage to Edward (Ted) Bryant, she lived in Hemel Hempstead until their house on Berkhamsted Common, near Potten End, was built; she remained there until she died.  The first half of her life was therefore one of frequent changes and the second half was spent entirely in this area, where she put down the roots which she had never had in her early days.

She was immersed in Potten End life from the first.  She was an active member of the Holy Trinity congregation (Ted Bryant became churchwarden in 1955, and his period as churchwarden to 1991 was one of the longest in the church’s history); her children attended the local school, which in those days taught pupils up to the age of 11.  She was part of Hilda Davies’s Mothers’ Union and was the first secretary of Joan Jones’s Churchwomen’s Fellowship.

It was, however, the chance discovery of the Potten End School logbooks in the clearance prior to the demolition of the old school building that stimulated Viviane Bryant’s interest in Potten End’s history.  These logbooks, beginning in the 1860s, were laboriously transcribed by hand.  This was followed by innumerable meetings with the older inhabitants of the village and repeated trips to Hertfordshire archives to gather information.  Thus, over a period of about 15 years from the late 1960s, a substantial quantity of research material, all carefully assessed, indexed and cross-referenced, was accumulated, with the view to the eventual preparation of a History of the village.

During the 1970s and until 1982 she gave several very successful exhibitions on Potten End village life in the past, published articles in local history magazines and gave talks about Potten End’s history.  She was also very active in the Berkhamsted Local History Society; she was a great friend of Percy Birtchnell, the Berkhamsted historian, and was the society’s archivist until 1983, just a few months before she died.

Viviane Bryant had a major cancer operation in 1981; by then much of the text of her History had been prepared – in the days before home computers, all typed on a manual Imperial typewriter.  Her two periods of remission in 1982 to early 1983 gave her the opportunity to add to, revise and polish the text.  Nonetheless, by the time of her death in August 1983, there were sections on family life, the home and modern developments which had not been written, though the material was ready.  As Ted Bryant’s Foreword to the History makes clear, the book as published is an interim work.  Much of Viviane Bryant’s extensive archive was deposited with the Dacorum Heritage Trust at various stages in the 1980s, and further substantial deposits were made there after Ted Bryant’s death in 1998; it therefore remains available for local historians interested in Potten End and the Chilterns generally.

The publication of her History of Potten End in 1986 was a source of great pleasure to those who knew the effort and labour that Viviane Bryant had devoted to the work.  It is remarkable, all these years on, that, even in its interim form, the book is still the primary authority on village history, and that second-hand copies of the book that become available are immediately snapped up.  She was excessively modest and self-effacing, but one feels confident that she would have been both astonished and delighted that the book is not just remembered but in demand.  Those who knew her will be happy that she is not forgotten in the village that she loved.