Chapter 12

Chapter 12

I have forgotten to mention that a sister of Esme Bedford had married a rather eccentric landowner, Beau, in Warwickshire, Beaumont Fetherston Dilke, whose family property was Maxstoke Castle, near Meriden. Hugh used often to stay at Maxstoke, and the family were all close, important friends. Beau was in the Colonial Medical Service, being a doctor and was frequently abroad leaving Stella to look after Maxstoke, and Beau would come home to find another baby to greet him.

As Beacon Hill was considered too small to accommodate a nanny and baby, it was decided that we must move. The Court was too big for Nellie Grazebrook living there on her own, so she suggested that we take it over and she would move to a smaller house. But this was all for the next year, and there was, in the meantime, Christmas.

Hugh and I went up to Hauxley for this our first Christmas, and I was very pleased that it was not at all evident what condition I was in as, in those days, these things were kept more private! All I remember of this visit was a large party at Alnwick Castle, in which the Percy children did not join in with the rest of the children; so exclusive were the Percys.

I asked mother if I could come to Hauxley for the birth of my baby and left Beacon Hill for home about March 20th, expecting the baby sometime around the 27th. On my walks down the road to the fishing village, I always remember seeing the hedges already sprouting green. I used to think all the time “Who are you, and why are you choosing us as your parents?” This was how I greeted this child and each one after, never with the idea that they were “mine” or “ours”. And I always felt that it was this sense of personal detachment and looking for Karmic connections that made us such a little group in all their early years (they were all born before I had been married five years!).

On March 26th at about 7 p.m. my first labour pains began, and of course the nurse wasn’t due to arrive for a couple of days. So, with no telephone in the house, Dora had to bicycle down to a telephone kiosk and managed to contact the district nurse and Dr. Welsh, who had to come all the way from Felton. After a very trying twenty-four hours, Idonea duly arrived, a seven and a half pound baby. She was very beautiful, perfect complexion already, tiny ears flat against her head, and of course I thought she was quite wonderful. Is there anything to compare with the sensation of first sight of one’s first baby? My own maternity nurse was able to come the next day, but the district one had been splendid and very kind until then.

Mother had invited the Bishop of Newcastle for a short visit at this time, and in spite of the fact that I was still a bit shaken and exhausted, she did not put him off, which meant that Nurse and baby, who were in the East guest room, had to move into my room. This was really very bad for me, as it meant I had no quiet nights in which to sleep and recover. Luckily the baby didn’t cry too much, but I was thankful when the Bishop left and I had my room to myself again.

We stayed at Hauxley for four weeks and then back to Hagley, but into The Court, which Nana had been getting ready while I was away. Hugh had only been able to come and see me after two weeks, because of commitments at the Works, so it was wonderful to be at last together with him again. I felt very bad that Hugh could not spare time to come and see us before then, but he was one of five managing directors, each in charge of a department. I was always keenly interested in the Works and went quite often with Hugh to see what was going on. Nana stayed till I was fit enough to manage everything by myself, and had engaged a permanent nanny for the baby, who we called Idonea Kathleen (after Kathleen Risk who was a godmother) Cresswell, as I wanted my own name to be remembered!

Sometime during the early summer, we had a terrific cloudburst. The downpour was so tremendous, the five or six lakes in Hagley Park overflowed. As The Court was at the bottom of Hagley Hill, we were in direct line for this torrent of water. Idonea was in her pram in the garden and was rescued as the rain started, but the flood came right through the hall. We managed to sweep the water through the drawing room and out by its French windows. I was stuck up the stairs, holding Idonea, and couldn’t cross the hall because of the flood. Our two collies, on the other side, howled miserably, as they couldn’t get across to our side. In time it stopped, and Hugh could not believe what had been happening to us, as the cloudburst was so local. There had been no rain at all over Birmingham and Smethwick.

Hugh had various friends with whom he played bridge quite often. I never liked Hugh’s Cousin Walter; he and his wife Rosie led a real suburban, bridge-playing life in Edgbaston. They didn’t think much of me either since I did not play bridge! Nor did I really want to learn. I imagined that these people played for pleasure, and yet so often at the end of a rubber there were fierce arguments and recriminations, which made me wonder – the unpleasantness just put me off from wanting to join in.

Friends Hugh saw quite a lot of were Nellie’s nephew Owen Grazebrook and family from Stourton Castle, the other side of Stourbridge. Through them I met younger members of their family, Nancy and Christopher, the first people I had met of near my own age. After all, there were six and a half years difference between Hugh’s age and mine. Knowing Nancy and Christopher was certainly lovely during the first years of my marriage, as all Hugh’s friends were at least middle aged and from the business world of the Midlands. But in time I got to know members of the Lea family, Tom and Barbara and their children, who lived over at Arley, in the Kidderminster direction. Tom’s mother, Lady Lea, became a warm friend and helped me a lot over gardening. Another friend was Stella Sutton, and her children, but I met them later after we had left the Court. The Sutton children and mine knew each other well, and we came to each other’s houses. The Leas (two girls, no boy) came to stay with us during the war at St. Bride’s House. My great shock and sorrow was when I lost both Barbara Lea and Stella Sutton within a short time of each other, through cancer. These deaths affected me deeply as they were both about the same age as me. After their deaths, their children and ours hardly met again and their lives all went different directions.

On November 17th, 1928, Cecilia was born at about 4:00 p.m. Hugh was at home and playing hymns on the piano when she arrived! Idonea’s nanny had said she could not look after two babies without a nursery maid, so she left. The nanny I engaged then was very large, always dressed in starched white, and had been in a family of eleven children, so having to care for just two was quite a rest. She was a splendid person and a wonderful nanny. If Tiggy, as she soon became called because she reminded me of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs. Tiggywinkle, so much as whimpered, Nanny would go rushing off to see what was the matter. I thought Tiggy was getting thoroughly spoiled, but she cried very little and was a very good baby.

On December 19th, 1929, John arrived. He was a large baby, nine and a half pounds, and I managed without chloroform, which pleased me a lot. Hugh was at the Works when he had a telephone message to say he had a son. Harry Davis went straight across to the pub opposite The Court to drink to John’s health and made the comment, “Anyone can have a daughter, but it takes a man to have a son.” He had three daughters and no son. We called the baby John William Ferguson–the Ferguson after Mrs. Chance’s relations – and decided to have him christened in Bromsgrove Church, where so many of the Chance family were recorded.


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