EAMS: Early Memories

Thursday, January 19, 2006


The first of my school friends who came to stay was Gloria J-----. Gloria was a little older than me, but we had been best friends at school for some time and shortly before Christmas, when we were aged about eight or nine, I went to her birthday party. It was at this birthday party that my mother suggested to Gloria's parents that it would be nice for me if she would like to come and spend Christmas with us at Belfield. Of course Gloria and I were delighted with the idea, and greatly excited.

To start with, the visit went well. Gloria enjoyed playing on the swing under the yew tree, and even decorated it by buying several packs of different coloured raffia from Herrings (the art shop in High West Street, Dorchester) which she then used by tying one end of each strand of raffia to the ropes, from top to bottom, so that when we used the swing, all the raffia strands made a rather nice wooshing sound as they swept to and fro. But after the excitement of this had worn off, Gloria no longer wanted to play in the garden, but retreated indoors to the drawing-room fire where she sat, shawl around her shoulders, doing her needlework.

This was not what I had in mind. What I wanted to do most during the holidays was to play outdoors, whatever the weather and however cold it was - and that included climbing trees, for which Gloria had no aptitude.

Up until then, I had no experience as a hostess over such a long period, and was used to having things pretty well my way. In a fit of devilment - but never really expecting poor Gloria to react in the way that she did - I grabbed the William IV naval sword which was kept in the hall umbrella-stand, drew it from its scabbard, and chraged whooping into the drawing-room in my best pirate fashion. I was rather keen on pirate stories at that time, and acting them out in the garden.

The unfortunate Gloria screamed with horror, jumped to her feet, and dashed from the room with me in hot pursuit, out into the garden with Gloria still screaming loudly as she ran. I could hardly believe how successfully my ploy was turning out; at last, I thought, we are going to have some fun.

But not so. Mr W----- heard Gloria's desperate screaming and fetched my mother, who ran to see what was happening. On seeing her would-be rescuers, Gloria fell weeping into my mother's arms and was led back indoors to be comforted. I was in deep disgrace.

The next day I refused to play with her at all, and after breakfast managed to disappear into the one part of the house I had not shown to her: the attic where I kept my museum. Some time later, I heard the bell ringing and came downstairs to the kitchen where Gloria was waiting with my mother. I took one look, turned round, and ran back to the attic.

Not surprisingly our relationship never recovered, and once back at school I do not think we ever spoke to one another again.

Far more successful were several visits, during the summer holidays, of my next best school-friend, Diane H-C---. Diane lived with her widowed mother in Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill. Her late father had been a bank manager in Ludlow, where they had lived before he died.

Years later, I admired some small landscape oil paintings hanging on the wall by my mother-in-law's bed in Doncaster. She told me they had been painted by a great friend of theirs when they had been living in Ludlow before the War. He was a bank manager there, with the name H-C---.

Diane had inherited her father's artistic talent, but he probably would not have been happy with the turn her stage career took after she left school, about which her mother was strangely naïve. She told us that Diane had got a marvellous well-paid job as a hostess at Murry's Night Club in Soho.

"The men are all so kind to Diane", she told us. "They give her such expensive presents, and take her out to dinner." She could not imagine why.

Another former school friend called Josephine S-------, whose birthday parties I used to attend, became a topless dancer at the famous Windmill Theatre at about the same time. Perhaps my father got me away from Arts Educational just in time.

Diane was no more an outdoor tomboy than Gloria had been, but I had learned my lesson and never tried to get her to climb trees. Instead we would put on little theatrical performances staged under the yew tree, to which our mothers, my father and Mr and Mrs P----- would be invited.

Her mother and mine became good friends too, and we all enjoyed their visits, which continued even after I had gone to Queens Gate and was more into horse riding than theatricals. My stepmother Evelyn was not really interested in continuing the friendship with Mrs H-C-, and the last I heard of Diane from her mother was a few years later when she told me that she had got married in rather a hurry to a young man of whom even her kind-hearted mother did not approve. They had a baby, but Mrs H-C- did not see them very often.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006


As well as the Portland expedition, we went on others to both Cerne Abbas and Abbotsbury. I remember our picnic on Giant Hill when we went to Cerne, and trying a sip or two of cider which I did not like very much, but pretended I did in order to appear "grown-up".

We went to Abbotsbury by train from Weymouth via Upway Junction: one of the small stations between Weymouth and Dorchester which no longer exist. The first station was Radipole Halt, followed by Upway Junction, Upway Wishing Well Halt... and I think the last one was called Winterborne Came Halt. The branch line from Upway Junction also stopped at Portesham, but it terminated at Abbotsbury. It had never continued on to Bridport which, together with West Bay, was served by another branch line from Maiden Newton.

I expect we visted the Swannery, but the part of the day clearest in my memory was our walk up to St Catherine's Chapel; the first part being along a very muddy and deeply rutted lane, before the long and steep climb to the Chapel at the top of the hill. Once there, the view down to the Fleet, and along the Chesil Beach stretching to Portland in the distance, has always remained most memorable and is just as impressive as it was that first sighting.

We would have returned home to Belfield at the end of a long day, perhaps enjoying a cream tea on the way, and as we all sat around the dining room table for dinner, Elizabeth B--- was once heard to murmur: "Ah, gracious living!"

Belfield had remained a place of pilgrimage for various members of the Buxton family who, from time to time, used to call at the house and introduce themselves to us. They were always made to feel welcome, and we enjoyed learning more about the family and their historical connections with Belfield.

In August 1946, a Captain R.H.V. Buxton and his wife made such a call on us whilst they were in Weymouth for the day. We happened to be out, but Mr W----- the gardener was there and had taken them on a tour of the house and garden. After returning to his home in Romsey, Captain Buxton, who had last visited the house twenty years earlier, wrote a letter of appreciation to my father, commenting on how pleased he was to see everything in such good order despite the Army's wartime occupation. His great-great-grandfather had been Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton Bt. (the grandson of Isaac Buxton, the builder of Belfield). Sir Thomas, with William Wilberforce, had been a prominent campaigner for the abolition of the Slave Trade.

Another quite frequent Buxton visitor was Miss Howell. She was rather elegant in an almost 18th century manner, with her white hair swiped up into a loose bun on the top of her head. To me she looked very like the portraits of Queen Charlotte. The last time I saw her was when she came to see us, only a few days before we left Belfield in July 1957. She was almost as devastated as I was over our impending departure.

Not long after the end of the War, my Whittaker grandparents and Auntie May left Grange-over-Sands and moved to Bournemouth. They bought a house in Winton at 51 Norton Road called "Monksrest", a name which gave my parents cause for great mirth. However they were not so amused when the Whittakers all came to stay with us at Belfield for a few days. On being asked which train they intended returning home on, they said, with some indignation, that their tickets were valid for a month, so why the hurry to get rid of them?

Indeed, Grandpa meant to make himself useful around the house, and had brought his screwdriver with him. He used this to dismantle most of the door handles, which he decided needed repairing, but managed to leave them in an even worse state than before.

If there was any friction amongst the adult - and there always was between my mother and her family - I was blissfully unbothered by it. Whenever we went to stay at "Monksrest", Grandpa would always give me a stick of Bournemouth Rock when seeing me off at the station. I accumulated quite a lot of sticky half-eaten sticks of rock in my bedroom back in London.

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