My father believed that I must be taught the skills of a country gentleman. However, our attempts to join the local hunt were never really very successful. Our horses were good after a fashion when, alone in our own locality, we’d be following quiet pursuits like ley-line hunting, a great passion of my father. They got quite uncontrollable once they found themselves in the company of all the other horses on the hunting field.
I remember Bridget Devereux, Milo, Viscount Hereford’s sister, looking magnificent wearing what I remember as orange lipstick, on a splendid mare, requesting that I get my horse under control.
Attempts to teach me the other pursuits of a young gentleman, shooting and fishing, also proved abortive. Both my father and I, I think, actually had an aversion to killing.
The war was over and now much was changing. But for many years yet I would be able, at the start of the school holidays, to take my horse to be shod at the smithy in Ashton, standing fair and square on what is now a busy road.
I was growing up. There was a feeling of terror tinged with excitement as we drove in crinkly clothes to dances in neighbouring mansions, the girls in dresses whose décolletage was supported with non-sensuous whalebone, and males in white shirt-fronts hard as cardboard.
How permanent all these mansions seemed, yet many would not last long. Armies, schools, hospitals, whatever groups had requisitioned them in the war, would leave; there might be a few years grace; after that, in many cases, the rumble of falling masonry would herald their destruction.
Many families, at their own behest, destroyed or sold their mansion homes. Foxley was destroyed by the Davenports and its army camp squatted, Garnstone by the Verdins, half of Garnons by the Cotterells, Hampton Court was sold by the Herefords.
At Kentchurch Court, always one of my favourite of all places anywhere, a great flood swept through leaving the Scudamore’s nanny islanded on a table amid a sea of mud.
I rode over to Downton Castle and persuaded my parents to go as far as Hafod in honour of the three young men, Payne Knight, Uvedale Price and Thomas Johns, who had played an important part in the romantic revolution of two hundred years before.
The most exalted in rank of our county nobility, in Soho in London, ordered sex dolls and a series of other pornographic accessories, requesting that they be sent to his London club in a taxi. The taxi driver hung onto the sex dolls and instead of delivering them, sold the story to the tabloids.
At Lucton School, a particularly North Herefordshire institution, the headmistress was allegedly giving informal sex classes to the senior boys in her pink boudoir while her husband, the headmaster, was banished to the attic. Later it was revealed that the school was heavily in debt. It was closed at half term and many of its students were not able to take their exams.
While I was bicycling with my father one day along a straight stretch of road, he was surprised to see me veer and ride my bicycle into the ditch where I crashed and fell off.
‘Why did you do that?’ he asked.
‘I was experimenting to see if I could ride with my eyes shut.’
While looking for eggs in a part of the next-door farmyard that had originally been a moat for Eye, Antonia and I noticed a small bricked-up opening. We removed the bricks and discovered a dark passageway, damp and dripping, leading under a cottage and herb garden into the heart of the cellars of the manor. An army of armed men and women could be concealed there preparatory to leaping out onto the unsuspecting inmates.
As more petrol became available, my parents’ social life stretched further afield. At one house to which they were invited, in the murky dining room as dinner was ending, their host produced a torch and shone it in turn on the pictures round the walls;
‘On your left you’ll see my great Uncle Charles, and here above the fireplace is my great Aunt Mabel.’
Many long entrenched local families had left the county but still, at a lecture on the battle of Mortimer’s Cross, I was interested that the names of most of the protagonists belonged to families still living in the county.
Leominster slowly and apparently systematically was destroying its heritage, including the Corn Exchange Cinema, the Odeon (Clifton?) and its Georgian Town Hall.
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