Diana’s words, for me, have a very complete flavour of those days and that North Herefordshire environment.
Describing how her family lived in the castle, she told me how, not so long before her death in 1949, her mother had ‘a lady’s maid who was very devoted and looked after her, and they had a temporary butler who was the husband of somebody who lived at the lodge, he used to turn up dressed as a butler and then they’d get a temporary cook and I remember going to a registrar office or somewhere to help them find a cook in Hereford and very good people on the estate came in and worked part time, but it wasn’t gracious living by any means.
‘They weren’t using the big state rooms at that time. And there was very little heating but there was some central heating in one room which was a room which wasn’t used, known as the Ambassador’s room, Teddy Croft Murray did it up beautifully with startling wallpaper, they put my mother in there when she became ill although it was under dustsheets, it was very eerie, it wasn’t properly furnished and had dustsheets everywhere, but it had central heating and it was about the only room that had.’
‘Croft Castle had this extraordinary mysterious aura about it. Your father, for example, asked Lady Croft, our cousin, is it true that the builders found a skeleton walled up in a place where they were doing some work.
‘”Hush,” said Lady Croft, “we don’t talk about it because of the servants, you see.”
‘Christopher, full of curiosity, said, “Did you get the coroner and the police because a skeleton, even if it’s 200 years old, you have to report it.”
‘“Shh, we don’t want the servants to hear about it.”
‘They were very, I would say, uneducated, the Crofts who lived here before my father’s time and they hardly invited people in at all, just occasionally they had a hunt ball, and once, not in the time of the Crofts but in the time of the Kevil Davises, during that brief hiatus when there weren’t Crofts at Croft Castle, there was a tremendous fancy dress ball here and there was one person who came so beautifully decked up in Elizabethan things, everyone was saying what a marvellous costume this one had got, and in the end they came to the conclusion that he was a ghost, he was too perfect.
‘Another story concerns another ghostly person, immensely tall, who when he stood up his shoulders were at the level of the great fireplace. Once there was a crowd of people all going to a hunt ball and the Oxford stroke was one of them and the stroke said, “I’ve left my cigarette case in the Oak Room, I’m just going back to get it,” and he went back and collided on the level of the tummy button with this immensely tall person who some think was Owen Glendower.
‘The stroke came out of the Oak Room all green and shaking. I met someone years afterwards who told me this story, she’d danced with him at the hunt ball and he’d been green and shaky all evening.
‘But was Owen Glendower very tall? Perhaps not. We don’t know, do we? But this stroke collided with his midriff.
‘There was an interesting incident in one of the towers here. It has a wooden floor at ground level with floorboards that hadn’t been taken up, apparently, for several hundred years. Jimmy got somebody from the farm and they got a ladder and took up the floorboards and he climbed down what seemed a very long way. But there wasn’t any oxygen so he began passing out down at the bottom of this ladder, and the farmhand had to go down and carry him up again. If he had been alone he might not have been so fortunate.
‘My uncle, Jimmy Croft, was very keen on cockfighting. If he’d survived the war he’d have become a magistrate, that’s what would have happened because young gentry automatically became JPs. He not only did cockfighting but also used his employees to help him and one chap who worked here told me that they went to a cockfight and they were in a car and they had all these cocks in the back of the car and they had to stop at Ludlow where the road goes over the top of the hill, two policemen were standing there. When the car started up the fighting cocks started crowing all at once. They were terrified they’d give the game away. Luckily the police don’t seem to have noticed.
‘Fighting cocks are like bantams, you know, they’re rather pretty creatures. They used to have cock fights in the cottage in the park here where they went to live. That’s typical of them, they said, “The castle is too expensive, we’ll close it down.”
‘They didn’t want to pay servants, you see, they went to live up in that little cottage where the floors are still stained with blood.’
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