Chapter 6

Chapter 6

An important event naturally was the death of my father while I was away at school. He had been invalided out of the army, and a cousin on the Denman (his mother’s) side, Mrs. Dolly Winkworth, befriended him and looked after him. He was by now so embittered against my mother for refusing to let him see his children, an act included in the separation agreement drawn up by the lawyer, that he even changed his will and left everything to the daughter of cousin Dolly Winkworth, Mrs. Molly Wrangham. Molly fell out hunting and suffered a serious concussion. While recovering, she threatened several times to take her life. No one paid her any attention. One evening, she threw herself under a train on the underground. This left the eldest of her two young sons to inherit the large Cresswell property and that’s when, as I said earlier, the property was bought by the Newcastle Council.

When John was drowned, my father looked on this as a judgement against him for having disinherited him. He felt that the whole of life was against him, and in his despair, he decided to end it all, via a case of whisky, with which he went to a house in the New Forest. He died of cirrhosis of the liver, and was buried in the churchyard of the little church at Cresswell, where John is buried also. Father’s lover Nana, “Mrs. McGaskill,” knew father very well; and she told me about him. I realised what a tragic waste of a potentially useful, brilliant life — and how I missed him. He was only 45 years old.

Having left school, and with nothing to do, I discovered that mother had a friend who, amongst other things, gave piano lessons. She lived the other side of Warkworth, within a bicycling distance, and I asked if she would give me lessons. This was a wonderful outlet for me, till mother discovered what I was doing. She explained that this friend, Dorothy Sanderson, earned her living by teaching; and as I had no idea of this, I was naturally paying nothing, so mother stopped the lessons. This was, of course, a terrible blow as I was working toward one of the College of Music exams.

But during these summer holidays, the Risks had invited me to stay with them, I think somewhere near Kingussie. It was wonderful weather, and Kathleen and I went off on long bicycle rides, mostly over moorlands. There, lying out in the heather, I told her all that Marna Pease had been telling me about Steiner. And, just as with me, Kathleen discovered what could be described as the “other side” of all her Celtic studies. She, being also such an accomplished artist, was blessed with the kind of imagination which could immediately “live into” Steiner’s revelations, and what meant the most to her were his series of lectures on the Gospels.

At this time a new mine shaft was being sunk between Hauxley and the sea, and we made great friends with the man who was in charge of it all, by name Vernon Merivale. He came from a very well known engineering family, and had recently been de mobbed from the army. Mother tried to possess Vernon completely, by never letting me in on their conversations. I was fond of my mother and admired her enormously, and always wanted her to be fond of me. But she was jealous of me. Vernon and I also had a lot in common, and I used to go often down to his lodgings in Radcliffe for long conversations, of course on philosophical type subjects. I also at that time was trying to learn to play golf and would bicycle over to the golf course at Warkworth, with my bag of clubs on my back, for Vernon to give me golfing lessons. I have to confess that most of the time we sat talking, and I did not advance very far up the golf playing ladders, but Vernon also gave me the thrill of going to the bottom of the new pit shaft, from where it would go out under the sea. He told me afterwards that I was very unpopular, as the custom is for such a visitor always to empty his pockets of cash, for the pitmen at the bottom. Of course I had no idea of this – he ought to have warned me!

On the death of my father’s father, Granny married Lord Ravensworth, of Ravensworth Castle in Co. Durham. She became known as The Countess and lived in great style at Cresswell, with butler and footman, lady’s maid and the usual number of house servants. She invited me over to stay at Cresswell; Kathleen, who had been staying with me at Hauxley, was invited as well. I had at that time a little Shetland Collie dog. What amused us both was when the footmen at dinner would solemnly bring in my dog’s dinner dish carried on a tray. Also amusing we thought, every morning Kathleen and I annoyed the head gardener very much as we would go into the vinery and take down a bunch of grapes each. Often we spent time down on the shore.

On another occasion when I was invited to Cresswell, Granny had a party of young people brought by Rosemary. We must have been around 20 and 21 by then, and I was really overwhelmed by Rosemary’s sophistication and also by her outstanding beauty. Slightly taller than I, she had dark hair and a very slim figure. In the party was a young man called Mike Ellison, and surprisingly he preferred me to Rosemary! Always having been treated as a “nobody” at home, I was naturally surprised when I was noticed. In fact we were immediately attracted to each other and decided that we must see more of each other.

I stayed on after the rest of the party left, and helped Granny with her correspondence, as her sight was very bad. One letter caused her a certain amount of embarrassment, as it concerned money that was due to be sent to a certain Mr. Wadworth in America. This was the handsome young groom whom Granny had fallen for after many years of widowhood, and brought into the house as footman and then, in her infatuation, decided to marry! My father’s rage at this can be imagined – and eventually the young man had been persuaded to leave and had gone to America. There, safe from any danger of extradition, he settled down with another wife, and raised a family. This all at the cost of a handsome settlement from Granny. It was this that I found myself dealing with amongst her correspondence, although I had already known of the situation.

Back home at Hauxley after my visit at Granny’s, Mike did come and visit us, and we were allowed to become unofficially engaged. Mike gave me a most beautiful emerald and diamond ring, also a super three-speed bicycle.

My mother’s mother, Grandma, decided I needed a change of scene, and decided to take me abroad with her. First we stayed on the Riviera – I can’t remember where – but Mike followed me down there, to poor Grandma’s consternation! He had eventually to go home, and we went to Genoa, where, among other things, I was fascinated to see how the women, sitting outside their shops, used their very long finger nails to make the beautiful gold and silver filigree jewellery for which this area was famous.

From here we went to Milan, and Grandma did her best to interest me in wonderful architecture and paintings. But I was too much in love with Mike at the time to reward her with proper attention! We went to Lake Garda, and eventually home, where Mike was ready to welcome me. I must add here that not only did Uncle Gerard come on this trip, causing Grandma about as much anxiety as I did because he was a bit odd, but that she was well into her 80’s and still full of energy, and I think patience as well.

After some time, Mike began ridiculing my other world ideas and enthusiasm. As what I believed in was the most important thing in my life and my whole driving force, I realised that I could not possibly live with Mike, and broke off the engagement. It was the custom to return any gifts if the engagement were broken, and it was very hard having to hand back the beautiful ring (which Mike said had cost him all his savings) and the splendid bicycle, and it took me a very long time to get out of the misery all this threw me into.

What helped me to recover was an invitation to go and stay with a couple Nana was looking after at the time. Sally McKenna had been a school friend of Rosemary’s and had married Cedric Thomas, a member of the old established iron and steel firm of Richard Thomas of South Wales. Sally had asked Nana to help her with her housekeeping. So I stayed with them at their house in Mumbles, and as Sally was very well off, Nana persuaded her to give me some of her unwanted clothes, which of course were smart and fashionable, not to be compared with the really awful way mother had me dressed. It was in fact in an evening dress of Sally’s that I had my photograph taken by the well-known London photographer, Bassano.


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