To the east of Eye Manor there was sometimes just visible through the trees part of another large mansion, in its own park and with its own 14 acre lake and island. Here were the huge red sandstone palladian pillars and porch of Berrington Hall.
It was closer than Croft Castle and I often rode over there, galloping pell mell through its woodlands, going past the boathouse where my sisters and I would sometimes venture out onto the lake engulfed in waterlilies by moonlight.
Recently I read a diary kept by young Mabel Ward in Herefordshire 100 years ago. The rather formal social life she described was not that different to that which my parents were trying to prepare me to enter.
Mabel’s father was Rodney Ward, a land agent. She was much taken with the energetic seventh Lord Rodney whose family owned Berrington. He was a hero, back from battles in lands far distant. On his return, the village and hall were decorated with arches and flags inscribed, ‘Honour the Brave’ and ‘Abou Clee for Lord Rodney’.
Abou Clee was a battle in which he rode with the Heavy Camel Regiment and with them eventually reached the Nile.
‘I and Lord Rodney beat Ethel and Brian easily,’ Mabel wrote in her diary. ‘They showed us some swords and things from the Sudan and a ladies costume that Lord Rodney is going to introduce to England. It is quite simple. All it is is a leather girdle with some fringes hanging down.
‘On the 28th July, Mr Harlech and Lord Rodney came to Yatton Court. They tried to fish. Lord Rodney caught a branch once, and Alice’s hair twice.’
‘On Friday 27th November, Mr Harley and Lord Rodney came to dinner at Yatton Court. There were 10 courses. The gentlemen joined the ladies at ten, only to be fleeced by them at Nap. There were shooting stars, and we went out to see them. Ethel and I went to the beginning of the Yew avenue with Lord Rodney, he thought we wanted to put him into the river. We were called back by Papa. Aunt Isobel was horrified.’
Punctuality was not Lord Rodney’s strongest point. Mabel, on another occasion, wrote; ‘We started home from Elton Hall at three, for we expected Lord Rodney at four, driving his coach. He did not come till nearly half past. We were awfully cold going, but warm coming home. We all came out on the porch to see him arrive. He had four greys, two grooms, his valet, and another man. He came in for a short time to have a drink. He asked me why I didn’t come to the races. I replied there was no one to take us. He said, “Oh, I would have!” I said, “You ought to have told us that before.” Of course it was humbug, he might just as well have, as Mr Webb said the coach was but half full, not even the Harleys went with him. It would have been delightful, though Ma says she would not have liked it.’
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