Diana’s daughter Caroline provided me with more clues about Croft Castle at that time, and about her uncle, Lord Croft.
‘My Uncle Michael Croft invited us to stay but made sure he wasn’t there. We came along with our housekeeper, Frau Schatsky.
‘We stayed at Croft and Frau Schatsky was given a room in the servants quarters facing north. Our rooms were in the best part of the castle, facing south.
‘It didn’t feel very occupied. Michael had sold the castle to a distant cousin, Owen, with an Argentinean wife who had never signed a cheque or done anything herself, never done any cooking, and when Owen died and she just panicked and didn’t know what to do with this enormous castle on her hands. She was advised by one of Owen’s nieces to demolish it and sell all the silver and all the paintings and have the trees all marked for felling and Uncle Michael was informed of her intentions, and he phoned up my mother and said, “Isn’t is sad, Cousin Stella wants to demolish Croft,” so my mother really took it in hand, eventually she got Michael to put in what he’d received from Owen, £25,000, and she set up an appeal, eventually the house was taken by the Trust and opened to the public.
‘My father was very much against my mother spending any money so that for years we had this kitchen in a housemaid’s cupboard down three steps, you could just squeeze two people in, and it had a butler’s sink and a cold tap.
‘I remember Christopher and Lettice having these two sage green Jaguar cars, they’d hung onto them almost like twins and from the ‘30s, “his and hers”, and Christopher and Lettice were quite delightful and felt that I must be shown all the new sights of Herefordshire.
‘Lettice could never resist a picnic and a picnicking we would go in one of these Jaguars and see one of the churches dotted around the county and it didn’t matter what the weather was like, if it was raining Lettice didn’t say “Oh dear, it’s raining, we won’t go today,” we went! We used to shelter in the porch of a church and by then the weather would have improved.
‘I remember Lettice’s orderliness which seemed to provide an anchor or framework for her unconventional bits. She could have just been an ordinary county woman, perhaps doing a bit of voluntary work. But instead she knew that she had to try and make Eye Manor viable and she learned to make corn dollies, teaching herself. She didn’t just do it as a craft, she did it by going into the history of corn dollies. When she did something she did it very deeply.
‘I remember piles of special corn that she had grown for her by Harry Conod, the farmer, stored in a room off the kitchen.
‘She would slave away making tea and cucumber sandwiches and Victoria sponge cakes, I was pretty useless, didn’t get up till 11 in the morning. I did help a little with preparing these mountains of sandwiches.
‘Lettice was always very efficient, there was never a question of supper turning up at nine in the evening. She was a perfectionist, she would not tolerate slovenliness.
‘There was one occasion when I laid the table in the hall at Eye and laid the cutlery as I was taught by my Mum with the desert spoon and fork above the place mat. I did this all the way. When I came back the table had been re-laid.
‘I said to Antonia, “It looks as if someone has altered the cutlery,” and she said, “Yes, I’m afraid my mother likes to have it done this way.”
‘Christopher always took it on himself to do the washing up, and sometimes I helped him and the pantry was a small but very well lit place with sunlight pouring in from the skylight above and glass-fronted cupboards, and places for knives and forks, glass, china, but the scullery on the other hand seemed to be very dark, ill-lit, and it had this permanent feeling of dampness as if the floors had been hosed every day.
‘I think Christopher and Lettice fell in love with Eye Manor and they didn’t want to revert to county life pre-war style. They just loved Eye Manor for its own sake.
‘My own parents couldn’t resist an invitation. Your parents were very discriminating about where they went.
‘My Mother didn’t go in for gentility. She once had some grand people to lunch and she served a joint straight out of the oven in its baking tin.
‘Three days before I was born my father was taken away in the general panic to round up anyone who was German or Austrian and there was no preparation made to receive these hundreds and hundreds of refugees, and so my father was taken to the winter quarters of Bertram Mills Circus at Ascot to sleep in the elephants’ house.
‘When the government had got themselves a bit more organised, some of them were taken to the Isle of Douglas, a whole square of houses was requisitioned by the government.
‘My mother had raced out of the cottage with a sketch book and a bottle of Indian ink and a pen as Freddy was taken, which proved invaluable because my father produced sketches of the camp and when he was taken to Douglas he shared a room with the artist Kurt Schwitters. Kurt got hold of some oil paints and he cut up large sections of the linoleum floor in this requisitioned house to use as a canvas.’
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