“I have visited Lanhydrock several times in later years and always think of the graciousness, generosity, concern and kindness of the [Agar] Robartes family”
The late Rev. Laurence E. Byrne C.R.L. November 1984
Despite the devastation caused to the family by the death of Tommy Agar-Robartes, the son and heir to the Lanhydrock estate, in 1915, there remained at Lanhydrock a large family with considerable talent and potential. However, the deaths of Thomas Charles, 6th Viscount Clifden his wife Mary Dickinson, and their children Alexander, Constance and Cecil cast a shadow over the inter-war period. Despite the sadness Eva, Victor and Violet led successful public and charitable lives. After the death of her mother in 1921 Miss Eva capably managed the day-to-day running of the house until her death in 1969.
Gerald returned to Lanhydrock as the 7th Viscount Clifden in 1930. The eminent historian A.L. Rowse described Gerald as ‘..a most cultivated and scholarly human being’. After an impressive diplomatic career in Britain and Europe between 1906 and 1930 his contribution to Cornish life became significant. Gerald sold the house and estate at Wimpole and introduced some of the furniture to Lanhydrock, where it can still be seen in the Drawing Room. He organised the planting of the great magnolias in 1933 which were approved by Vita Sackville-West in 1938 and to which the head gardener Peter Borlase referred to as ‘..such a spectacle that I cannot imagine the garden without them’. Ably assisted by his sisters he became a great patron to local charities, County Director of the Red Cross in Cornwall and assumed the responsibility of Lord in Waiting to King George VI.
Mike England, the Lanhydrock historian has produced this paper, as we approach the seventy-fifth anniversary of the arrival of the evacuees to the house in June 1940. Mike has collated and transcribed first hand accounts of life at Lanhydrock during the war. His efforts have formulated our understanding of this period of history by making the stories accessible to all readers. Indeed, through the oral tradition history becomes living and approachable to younger generations. The idea of this gathering is to both re-unite acquaintances and to create an awareness of events surrounding the evacuation. Pauline Castle recalls that ‘The evacuation was a sad time for everyone…’ Indeed, the range of emotions experienced by the evacuees can only be imagined by those of later generations.
In 2000 we invited the surviving evacuees and staff who knew the evacuees back to Lanhydrock for a reunion. On behalf of The National Trust I would like to thank, Celia Brown nee Grainger, Alex Hodgkinson, Madeline Peathey Johns nee Hodgkinson, Brian McNally, Dennis Munroe, Denis Quin, Antony Quin, Roderick Toms, Tom Webster, Daphne Woosnam nee Castle, and their respective guests, for attending. Apologies and best wishes have been received from Anita Burgh nee Eldridge, John Charlesworth, Pat Neave-Hill nee Lelli, Brian Reynolds and Pauline Wilkie nee Castle. My sincere apologies go out to those evacuees that I could not trace and who would have liked to be involved in this event.
Paul Holden, House and Collections Manager.
The Lanhydrock Evacuees by Mike England
Of all the events and good causes which Gerald, Viscount Clifden, and his two sisters undertook, the most interesting and unique for them, was the hospitality they provided for a group of evacuee children from London. Violet took a leading role in this venture. She had attended the arrival at the Lanhydrock Village Institute and had brought back seventeen, instead of ten children. Her kindness and endearing nature is reflected in her comment that,”Well you couldn’t just leave them”.
For a few dramatic years, these children became the new family at Lanhydrock House. Others were housed and looked after in and around the park. Said Daphne Woosnam, “It was really remarkable when you think they had no experience of children. I can see Miss Violet now with the dogs at her heels and children hanging on her arms and a basket and we’d all go up to the kitchen gardens. She’d got a birthday cake from Bodmin and walking down there, she ate a pastry in the street and Miss Eva told her off. There was always great excitement on birthdays. John the bus driver and Edna the conductress used to bring out birthday cakes for us. It was great fun. The ladies would cry ‘sweeties’”. The sweet ration was a bulk order purchased from the home-made Sweet Shop in Bodmin. Every other night was Sweetie night! Daphne continued “We would run and cluster round the bearer of such excitements hoping that by the time it was your turn that there would still be a favourite peppermint rock type sweetie left”.
Another of Lanhydrock’s great excitements was the primitive lift. “Miss Violet’s great pleasure was to take us between floors in the lift, it was regarded as a very special treat, as the lift was very old and might break down at any minute”, said Daphne. Violet was still very active and played golf and tennis at this time. Daphne accompanied her to Rock where Violet played the St Enodoc course. Daphne sat on the beach and read books, a favourite pastime of hers. “I can even recall the pleasure of having an empty beach to myself. I used to so admire the golfing stockings worn in those days”, said Daphne, “and at one point we were given some to wear”. The tennis court was in use then and Miss Violet taught some of the children to play tennis. She continued to coach until she slipped and broke her wrist. Violet was in her mid-fifties at that time. “I was told”, said Daphne, “that she herself had been coached by a Wimbledon `star’ of that era. I used to practise on the outside wall” of the Rackets Court, though “I was never any good at it”. The Racket’s Court was opposite the Servants Hall, now the restaurant, but was pulled down in the 1960’s. “On wet days we were allowed to go in there”, said Alex Hodgkinson, where “we loved scribbling on the walls. Once we had a snail race up the walls!”
School, of course, continued for the evacuees and the activities organised by Everilda and Violet were in addition to lessons and school events. Croquet was encouraged on the lawn and also clock golf. “Miss Violet was always involving herself with our activities”, said Daphne, “and in the Summer time, treats were organised, outings to the seaside. I well remember us all setting out; the old Rolls driven by Mr Baker, the Austin (8 or 10) driven by Mr Odgers, and following on the Pony Jingle, with Miss Violet and the `big girls’. I remember we walked up hills to give the pony a breather”. On one of the Padstow excursions, Alex’s sister Madeline “was rescued from drowning by Miss Violet”, said her brother. “My sister had tripped up and got disorientated; into the sea rushed Miss Violet fully clothed and pulled Madeline out!. We could go into the sea where there wasn’t any barbed wire and splash about”.
“The first winter we were there it snowed very heavily” said Alex. That was 1940. “Miss Robartes (Eva) and Miss Violet got a group of us together, and they brought a toboggan and a surf board along, to go down the slope, a little one on the croquet lawn. We graduated to tin trays borrowed from the Pantry and down the slopes in the woods”. On a similar occasion, Daphne described their activities on the croquet lawn where “we made a snowman. John, (Coad, Butler) came out bearing a tin tray, and some kind of top hat and scarf and he said, “His Lordship thought you could use these”. What are the trays for? We asked. “You can slide down the banks on them’, said John Coad”. Under the trees they had made this wooden slide, a seesaw and some swings. Viscount Clifden had this specially done, probably by one of the estate carpenters. When not at play the children were encouraged to write home regularly or they were allowed to use the telephone, Bodmin 180. “Miss Eva or Miss Violet would take turns to come out or call out, ‘Don’t forget, tell your mother this and tell your mother that. Do send your mother all good messages'”. Daphne always wondered what she meant by “good messages”!
The spring flowers at Lanhydrock, especially snowdrops and daffodils, remain beautiful to this day. The children would often pick some and send them to their mother’s in London. Violet would assist Daphne “..with a box of damp cotton wool and a selection of flowers, violets included, packed and sent off to London. My mother told me years later what a joy they were to receive. I can remember her very clearly recounting the story of a very bad night of blitz bombing (the nights were spent in a Public Air Raid Shelter), emerging in the morning to find her home almost gone and then to receive a parcel of hope (in the shape of Cornish wild flowers), she sat and wept”. It was a moving family memory and a typically thoughtful act of Violet’s. Pauline Castle has a strong remembrance of Miss Violet “..coming from the woods with a large basket of hydrangeas, which she had cut to stand in the hearth of the large granite fireplace in the Hall. Daphne was also grateful for Violet’s care, humour and concern when she was isolated in the dressing room of the East bedroom. She was supposed to have contracted German measles. Only a housemaid would visit with meals and to see to the fire. “Miss Violet would come and stand under the window and chat and I would lower a basket on a string and she would put items of interest in the basket for me to haul up. I was interested in drawing, so into the basket went drawing materials. I remember her warm smile with great pleasure”, some reassurance for the long days and nights alone when “the flickering firelight heightened my fears. I was sure there was a ghost (in the East bedroom) just waiting to pounce as soon as it was dark”. Daphne mixed fear with fun, occasionally creeping into the end bedroom where she “would bounce around in the big four-poster bed” whispering “ghosts, ghosts”. Her rash did not prove serious. It was possibly “nettle rash!”
The family will always be remembered by all who knew them for their kindness and, especially for many of the evacuees, particular acts of humility. “Violet had acquired (difficult in those days) foaming blue bath-salts, beautiful perfume and of course we all had to go to the bathroom. It was all frothed up and we were thrilled by this and Miss Violet was hopping around. Then one of us was invited to get into the bath. Miss Violet said, ‘Daphne would you get undressed to see if it turns you blue?’ and Miss Eva said, ‘Oh! really Violet!’ and the atmosphere sobered up. Everilda, however, was not a spoil-sport. She played an active role in many of the evacuee activities. She would show the children her personal possessions such as the dressing-table set of silver (mirror, hair-brush, comb etc.). On the back of the mirror was her name, Everilda, in green stones. Perhaps Eva’s best contributions were shared with Violet, as is the case of the amazing Mrs Tom Thumb, a “visitor” to Lanhydrock. “We walked very excitedly to see this visitor”, said Daphne, “and we were told that it was Mrs Tom Thumb. And there she was, it was incredible – this little, tiny woman, her head seemed to be a bit large for her body but there were her tiny little hands and feet. And she sang and danced. And then I suddenly realised that she had taken both her feet off the table she was standing on and it was Miss Eva and Miss Violet behind a curtain. One was the head and one was the feet. It was great fun.
Both sisters encouraged the evacuees to read in the same way they had been trained themselves. “Miss Violet found that I particularly liked to read historical romances and she took me to her room and over her bed she had this bookshelf, I think the whole works of Charlotte M. Young and I could borrow them one by one”, recalled Daphne. “Each time we took one back we used to have a little chat about it. What do you think of this? What do you think of that? What was interesting about this book? She had enjoyed such books when she was a ‘gal’, as she would say, and they all had to comment on the stories they had read. It gives me such pleasure to remember it. Daphne du Maurier had been to Lanhydrock, Miss Eva told me, and she said that if she had been to Lanhydrock before she wrote ‘The King’s General’, she would have portrayed Lord Robartes in a different light”.
Though not the puritans of John Robartes period, the sisters and Gerald were still keenly Protestant, despite some suggestions of High Church sentiments. The evacuees were from a Catholic school but were warmly welcomed except in the church. When Daphne tried to go in there on one occasion, “Miss Violet barred the way and exclaimed, ‘Oh, no, my dear!’” The children received instruction from Father Byrne, a very young priest. He would cycle out from St Mary’s Abbey, Bodmin and the evacuees would walk there for Mass, unless it was raining. The Gatehouse was used as a church, Daphne relates, “We had communion as the sun was rising. It was lovely”. She appreciated the Robartes’ tolerance to them; “It must have been difficult for people who were not of that persuasion (Catholic) to see that these children continued in their faith”. Father Byrne recalled that, “I said Mass for them at the Gatehouse at 8 a.m. every Sunday morning, going onto another Anglican lady’s house at Hengar at St.Tudy (6 miles away) for another service for children evacuated there, and finally on to Boscastle. All this I did on a push-bike which amounted to a round trip of 30 miles in all weathers. According to the regulations at the time, a priest and Catholics had to fast from food or drink from the night before. In view of the physical effort to cover the round I was given permission to have a drink after my first Mass at Lanhydrock which Lord Clifden generously arranged. It was a gesture of humanity and kindness. Each Sunday I went to Lanhydrock to give religious instruction to the children at 4 p.m. and was always invited to tea in the big house with Lord Clifden and the ladies.”
Facilities were provided for the children. A piano was put in the squash-court (since demolished). There were forms for sitting on and of course, it was marvellous for ball-games and skipping. The present Harness Room was given for use as a club room to play in. The children would explore these old stable rooms, upstairs as well as downstairs. The “dressing-up clothes”, so beloved by the Robartes children, were made available. Daphne recalls wearing a crinoline dress with a outer coat of Paisley cotton. Later it was made into two smaller dresses for Madeline and Margaret, the two smaller children. As a special treat on one occasion, Daphne got what they called the cockles-and-muscles dress. It had never been taken out of its box before but they could look at it. The day came when Miss Violet took it out of the box and it almost fell to pieces. Where it had lain in the box all the creases had rotted! It had belonged to Mrs Yarde-Buller, or Mary Robartes, the eldest of the family. She would have used it in the late 1880’s and 1890’s. The dress is still in a box in the attic rooms at Lanhydrock with a few remnants from that happy nineteenth century time, such as the “replica Earl of Radnor’s crown”, also used by the evacuees” When you stop to think of it”, said Daphne, “of Miss Eva and Miss Violet and the dogs, it was like bedlam, noisy and exciting, another world”. Of course there were antics and escapades but “I like to think we were well-behaved children”. When she returned to Lanhydrock four years after she left, Daphne was amazed when Miss Eva told her, “Oh, when we had to tell you off, it was so difficult to keep a straight face. Oh, you’d be so upset if you felt you’d done something wrong”. Daphne didn’t always do her homework.In the early days their “they would always come and say good-night to the little ones, they would have dressed for dinner and we would hear the gong and off they would go. After a while (and I can still smell it) came the wafting of cigarette smoke from the smoking-room. (I’m not sure who smoked). I would hang over the banisters to give a shout or at least have a quiet look”. On their outings with Violet up to the kitchen gardens they were provided with scaled down tools to use in their own “little garden plots by the kitchen garden wall. Often, Miss Violet would shut us in the raspberry beds until she came to collect us. Quite a few evenings of the week we would be involved in charades”, which would take place in the Morning Room and Drawing Room, using the sliding doors which were opened and shut for each part of the children’s act. It is not surprising that she was not always able to keep up with her homework from Harleigh School, which became the Grammar school after the war.
In the Nativity Play, Alex Hodgkinson recalls, “I played the part of Baby Jesus and all the costumes were made of crepe paper. Miss Robartes and Miss Violet let us use a hamper full of costumes and beards and we had great fun putting them on”. On this occasion Gerald Clifden, who had posed for a photograph with the evacuees in front of the Gatehouse previously, also took part in the photograph of the Nativity Play at the Village Hall. “We didn’t see much of Lord Clifden”, said Alex, “because of his duties as Gentleman (Lord) in Waiting to the King”. Pauline Castle confirms this, “Our Lordy had many duties to perform-which kept him very busy-so we never saw much of him. When he returned to Lanhydrock, he would always find time for us. If we were playing in the park, and Lordy happened to pass by in the car, he would give a wave and a smile. That was our Lordy!” Gerald was also at Truro for much of the time, but he did occasionally show up and mix with the children. “Viscount Clifden was a retiring shyish man”, said Daphne, “but would often put in an appearance when we were gathered together for some reason or other. His party trick was to shoot us with his walking-stick and we would suitably oblige by falling over, either dead or take a long time dying. We were often taken to hear our `Lordy’ speak at gatherings”. According to Alex Hodgkinson, Gerald Clifden was still keen on shooting at that time. “The Shoot took place in the field in front of the House”, said Alex. “Lord Clifden and his friends would line up along the edge of the field and the pheasants and partridges were driven towards them. I always fancied the shooting-sticks, which could be folded down to make a seat. As far as I recall they seemed to get a good `Bag'”. One escapade concerning `Lordy’ was recalled by Brian Reynolds, another evacuee, who lived with Mr and Mrs Chapman. “Mrs Chapman was the daughter of the Butler at Lanhydrock Big House”, said Brian. “Just before church one Sunday, one of the evacuees smuggled out Lord Clifden’s cricket bat. I used it to hit a large stone and shattered it. If it’s still there it’s stuck together with mud”.
Daphne’s brother, Dennis, was very young and came to Lanhydrock later than the others. He became a subject of interest to two other family members, Canon Yarde-Buller and his wife, Mary or May who lived in Truro. At night when Dennis was tucked up, Canon Yarde-Buller would come and talk of this and that, of seas and islands, sand and tides. Dennis still remembers some of his chats, especially his description of an atoll. On several occasions the car was sent from Truro to convey this tiny child down there for a day and he would return with hand-carved wooden objects, presents for us. Canon Yarde-Buller’s hobby was woodcarving.
The evacuees appreciated the wonderful treatment they received at Lanhydrock. Alex Hodgkinson recalled that the two sisters ran fetes in the Gardens for the Red Cross and for the local church. They found accommodation for visiting parents. His mother staying locally with Mrs Saunders. The family catered for the children’s spiritual needs by allowing Father Lawrence to say Mass in the Gatehouse, or if he couldn’t arranging transport to Bodmin. They also visited the children in Hospital, arranged visits to the Cinema in Bodmin and a organised a Pantomime. Lanhydrock hospitality was not something confined to the country gentry. Violet helped the children with their regular letters home, “coaxing” news out of them in the Gallery and writing it down. “Then she would weigh the letter on the small letter scales and seal it with sealing wax”, said Alex. “We were often invited to look around the Gallery, or shown how to use the telephone, shown the doll playing the piano etc… Miss Robartes and Miss Violet introduced us to Mr Cole (Groom) and his pony, Kitty. We were given rides on it and were photographed on it in the gardens in front of the Gatehouse. We were given rides in the Park”. Nearby was “a Yew tree with a lightning-blasted branch, which was a meeting place for young couples, which we called the `love-tree'”. Photos still exist of two or three children sat up on `Kitty’, with William Cole in attendance and the other children standing nearby, taken in October, 1940.
There were outings to see the King when he came to Cornwall and “blackberry-picking and collecting foxglove seeds for the ‘war-effort’”. Alex also remembered their Kitchen Garden activities which the ladies, especially Violet organised. He was impressed by the “high walls and a dummy cat with glass eyes to scare the birds off”. Although each of them had a “little plot about 10′ x 3′ and sowed flower seeds, I’m afraid”, said Alex, “I neglected mine but the others grew some good plants”. Everilda showed Alex how to knit when he “was in quarantine with chicken pox. Miss Robartes gave me some silky kind of wool and showed me how to use the needles, how to make a join, and how to “plain’ and how to purl”. Birthdays and Christmas were special occasions to be celebrated despite the war and circumstances. “Christmas Day started quietly; there was none of the usual bustle. All the Household went to Church. Afterwards we were given our presents and we went to see the Christmas Tree in the Servants Hall, and everyone wished each other Merry Christmas”. Alex’s father came down one year and “got us all singing carols. In the afternoon Miss Robartes and Miss Violet entertained us in the Library with a Marionette Show… Their favourite song was “Ta Ra Ra Boom Te Ay'”.The ties and affection shown to the London children did not end with the return of peace. “Ever since we were at Lanhydrock”, said Alex, “we have been sent a present, a Christmas pudding and a Christmas Cake every year, until Miss Robartes passed away”, which was in 1969.
The evacuees must have been totally overwhelmed by their experiences at Lanhydrock. The family welcome and affection were matched in different ways by the Lanhydrock staff, and the love of Lanhydrock has remained intensely with them. Some have returned many times and stayed nearby on holiday unable to erase the deep, abiding memories. Said Alex Hodgkinson, “I have told my wife Janet and my children Philip and Claire over and over again about my stay in Lanhydrock”, and Daphne and her sister have experienced the same intense memories. “You had this feeling, looking back now”, said Daphne, “that Lanhydrock as a whole, they welcomed us. It was as if everyone gathered round the House, with all the children. There was this sort of rapport between everybody… We had the best of upstairs and downstairs. We had the servants, they were our friends and also the Robartes”. And of course there were children staying in properties nearby. “It was really like one big village”, for the local people were also very welcoming. They had shared out the children at the Village Institute under the direction of Canon Wood, the Billeting Officer and his helpers. The excitement of seeing the ‘Big House’ is unimaginable to later generations. However, what is understandable is the sadness that the evacuees must have felt when they heard about London raids. A stark image of wartime England is expressed by Daphne’s remembrance of the house being, “so exciting and mysterious because of the subdued lighting, especially in the Nursery Wing. The black-out was responsible for this, blue bulbs in the lights which gave only the barest of visibility”.
Their rooms were in the Nursery Wing. The “big girls” bedroom was the Day Nursery. Pat Lilley, Daphne Hall and Celia Brown were three of the four girls sharing this. In the Night Nursery were the senior boys, Anthony and Dennis Quinn, Lawrence Hall and Eddie Peatcon. There were two smaller rooms for the younger boys and girls. In another room was their “Housemother”, Mrs. Lee, who had a daughter, Peggy. Later, there was another Housemother, Mrs. Castle, with a daughter, Daphne. “Our communal room was the “Still Room””, said Alex Hodgkinson, “which we called the “Stool Room”. This room is part of the restaurant today where the meals are prepared.” Daphne Woosnam enjoyed the servants’ facilities as well as their own. The restaurant rooms on the corner were the Housekeeper’s and the Housemaid’s rooms respectively. In that Housemaid’s sitting room “on winter’s evenings,” said Daphne, “I would sit with them in their cosy room. Log-fired, chintz chairs, the housemaids in their uniforms sewing and I would do my homework; but not for long, as one by one the housemaids were “called-up” and left for the forces.”
It was a strange time to be at Lanhydrock with a new tide of history sweeping over the house and occupants. “I think looking back,” said Daphne, “we were in on the end of the gracious living scene. The house was full of servants when we went and there was a bustle and life about the house. Old Mr. Coad, as he was called, was Head Butler. Mr. Coad died not long after I came to the house.” Marwood Coad was the victim of a road accident in London. He was knocked down and never recovered. His place was taken by his son Victor. In the Robartes tradition he was called John, so as not to confuse names with Victor Robartes, though Victor did not live at Lanhydrock. Daphne remembered George Archer, who was valet and chauffeur to Gerald Clifden. George also left for the services, “but not before he married Evelyn, ladies -maid to Eva and Violet.” George was really called Cecil, but because of Cecil Robartes he had to use his second name of George, though Cecil had died in 1939. “Evelyn Archer always had a smile and a joke,” said Alex Hodgkinson, “and sometimes invited us into the housekeeper’s room” to listen to a gramophone record or cut up sheets into bandages for wounded soldiers. The popular songs of the day were, “Alice Blue Gown”, “Daddy wouldn’t buy me a Bow-Wow” and “Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line”, which was later banned.”
On their way to school in the village hall, said Alex, “we would pass the oil engine, which would drive the generator.” This was up above the “church circle” across from the Home Farm buildings. “The house wasn’t connected to the National Grid, but had this generator which would make a steady “bomp bomp” noise. The generator charged up whole banks of accumulators, attended by Mr. Davies, the electrician. When we got some tadpoles from down by the Spinney, Mr. Davies would let us use a cracked accumulator, which made an excellent aquarium. The crack was stopped off with Vaseline.” The carpenter was Mr. Thomas who would give them “old pieces of wood to make simulated harbours and ships. We used to be fascinated with the wooden cockle shells he made, when drilling holes in wood.” Alex learned how to make “Swanee” whistles out of ash twigs, which he believed were unique to the Lanhydrock area. He sent two of these to Canon Harmer in 1987 and they are still in the House Museum today. “I was shown how to make them by a local boy,” said Alex, “and I haven’t seen them anywhere else. And I have travelled a lot.” They were made welcome everywhere they went; by John Coad, the butler, who was usually very busy; by Mr. Odgers, the chauffeur, who made “Shushing noises” when cleaning the car, “as if he was grooming a horse”; Charlie Stephens, “the yardman would always have a chat with us”, although Daphne thought that Charlie “didn’t care for kids”, but he did sell them all sorts of little goodies.
Pauline Castle remembers Tom ‘Henry’ Webster, the Pantry Boy, as “an older cheeky devil of a brother, with dimples, that you loved and was our joy”. Pauline continues, “ We heard Henry shouting from the Servant’s Hall, ‘Come and see’. In we went, but no sign of Henry! Then all of a sudden one of the cupboard doors flew open, and Henry jumped out. He had a torch in his mouth, and it terrified us”. Daphne recalls, “There was also an “odd job man” who came in daily. How well I remember these dear people and their many kindness’.” Evelyn Archer had “under her care and direction” three housemaids. Each of these “had their own little rooms with shelves and many cupboards in which was kept all one needed for the cleaning and polishing of such a large house. There was also a daily lady who used to scrub the downstairs passages. Mrs. Dickinson was the cook, or I believe she was called housekeeper, with an under-cook called Hilda, and a scullery maid. Mrs. Dickinson had been cook to the Duke and Duchess of York,” before they became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1936. “The kitchen was a hub of activity, mornings and evenings,” recalled Daphne. Mrs. Dickinson “was quite remarkable. She had quite a unique position in the house. Her kitchen I always felt was a joy, especially when it was busy. They had the bantam eggs boiled, coloured and then hidden in the High Garden,” which was a treat for the children. “We knew Mrs. Dickinson as Mrs. Dick,” said Daphne, who was surprised as she grew older that everybody “was given their right titles” as well as their names, e.g. 4th housemaid or pantry boy, Tom. It sounded “a little disrespectful, but it was all with love and affection and certainly there was no disrespect.” Mr. Odgers, a chauffeur, and his wife were “so welcoming when they saw us and they didn’t have any children; so it was quite new to them. He loved to show us his top hats. The door was opened and they were on the shelf.”The staff, like the Robartes, enjoyed and tolerated the visiting London children. They were “devils” said Evelyn Archer, but they provided the life that the “Big House” needed. They visited school friends in neighbouring houses. “A favourite place to go was Len Coad’s farm,” said Alex. “The Mowey was a great place to play, tumbling amongst the straw sheaves and hay. Sometimes the waterwheel was going round, driving the mill which ground the grain for feed.”
These friends in local homes would often play at Lanhydrock in return. Brian Reynolds was several years older than Alex and did not usually play with him “except I think I sneaked into the Long Hall and with him and a girl called, I think, Pal Lally, we slid up and down the polished floor in our stockinged feet. I also remember the swimming pool in the woods which was, of course, empty,” though Daphne remembered falling into the pool on school prize-giving day and having to change out of her wet uniform. Alex Hodgkinson remembered the plug being removed, (not by him), from the pool. When the water had drained away the old family swimming pool, a feature of the Robartes children’s life at the beginning of the century, was never refilled. Unused then in any case, its condition gradually deteriorated and it was a major reclamation job by the National Trust in the 1990’s.
Brian Reynolds also “had to help in the giant kitchen with the washing-up”. After 12 years, he was one of the senior evacuees. His reward was “to have left-overs that the Lord of the Manor and his sisters didn’t require. They were rather elderly”, he thought, (though they lived on another 25 years), “and didn’t eat very much. I remember that the food was sent up on beautiful large silver trays but would only have a small bit of rabbit and mash potatoes. Rarely it might be sardines on toast”.Brian thought that their teacher, Miss Dowling was “wonderful”, “Irish and very good-looking, but oh so strict”. He thought she was old then, about sixty, but she was probably in her thirties. She organised their “stage shows and took us around entertaining in other village halls, seats 3d and 6d. With the money she took us to Bodmin for the pictures or to the Newquay beaches”. By that time, the Head Master, Mr Brennan had gone back to London. As some children also returned to their London homes eventually “the remainder of us were transferred to the Lanhydrock Village School”, said Alex Hodgkinson. This meant a longer walk, said Alex, “up and down the Drive and up the lane or across the fields and woods, twice a day”.
Brian recalls how he was sent on one or two dubious errands. One was to a “farm on the Bodmin road” owned by Mrs Chapman’s brother-in-law. “He made cream which was illegal and I had to go once a week to get a jar of it. I was only told to go for it at night and always use the path through the woods. How I hated that! Another illegal matter was when they killed a pig on the farm. I’m sure it could be heard at Bodmin Police Station. I realise now that they most likely got a joint of pork. Cutting down trees on the estate was not allowed but Mr Chapman and I used to go out at night, cut one down and chop it up for firewood. We were never caught, though one night it snowed and we left a trail right back to our house. It makes it sound as though I was having good training to be a criminal”, said Brian, who, however, worked in a munitions factory briefly, joined the Merchant Navy in 1945, when 16, for four years and then spent forty years with the Post Office. It was a culture shock for the London children living at Lanhydrock. Whereas in London, said Brian, “a bus passed every few minutes, in Lanhydrock we only had one a week. Our house had no gas, lights or running water. We had an oil lamp and candles and if we wanted water there was a pump outside. To flush the toilet you had to pump 100 times; not 80, 90, not 95. Any less and you had to start from one. The radio was battery powered and it was only switched on for the nine o’clock news, never at any other time. All cooking was done by the fire”.
Coming back to Lanhydrock as many evacuees do so often, their memories are deep a result of being made at such an impressionable age. In the park there is some difficulty identifying places they once knew and frequented. Others look different with the passage of time. The River Fowey seemed shallower to Brian Reynolds than he remembered. He had “wallowed” through the “lower level of the grounds” which “seemed to be always swampy”, probably the same area where Daphne was warned by Charlie Stephens when she picked water-cress; “That’s the cess-pit!” On one occasion Brian had fallen in the river “and nearly drowned”. Other boy evacuees, said Alec, had made a punt to use in the river. Brian told the Chapman’s he had “been caught in a heavy shower but I don’t think they believed me”, he said. In turn, the House is also vastly different to the returning evacuees. In the Gallery, said Daphne, “there were flowers, hydrangeas in the fire-places (as elsewhere in the house), a musical box, a ship in a glass case, a priceless doll and the lady with the piano; all the knick-knacks which made it home – Tommy’s gas-mask. It was much more homely! There were double violets with heavy heads, grown for Miss Violet, always on the dining-room table. The Gatehouse model ink-stand was in the Music Room as were the Spaniel dog models”. The male servants’ bedrooms were in use as were the female rooms, now attic work -rooms and storage places. The Linen room suffered from cockroaches which “would scuffle from within doors and cupboards”. Unlike the many modern cleaning machines there was only one Hoover during the war period, “but that was in great demand; Otherwise only carpet-sweepers”.
It was a shock for some of the evacuees when the National Trust took over. They had lost the personal family link with the House. Since that time they have largely enjoyed the regeneration of the House and its success in recent years. There are now so many rooms open to the public compared to the gradual closing down during the war, with the family reduced, black-out regulations, shortages of fuel and a reduction in servant numbers. The park too was vastly different. During the war parts were ploughed to aid food production. There were often soldiers camped there, “British near the avenue”, said Daphne “and Yanks further up in the woods”. These would attend dances at the Village Institute where Daphne attended on later occasions. Gerald Clifden was not too happy with certain military movements in the park and submitted moderate claims for damage later which were partly met. Brian Reynolds paid a return visit in 1995. In the kitchen “it was strange to see so many of the pots and pans hanging up that I had washed 54 years ago”, he said. “I certainly made a good job of it as they still gleamed”, he joked. That is more of a tribute to the staff at Lanhydrock who maintains the House in such impressive condition in modern times.