And so we spent our last evening in England…
It rained the night we stayed at Sandybrook Hall and the night was black. Black as a shroud. Black, black, sloe black, crow black, bible black, like the sky above Dylan Thomas’ fictional Milk Wood.
We came to Sandybrook Hall near the end of our time in England. Linda finished her job as a nanny in London on the same day that I finished working for John Hayward at Knoll Farm in Hampshire where I had spent the summer driving a tractor for harvest. We stayed with Alan and Stuart at Codford while we said our goodbyes to Ann, Betty, and the Wylye Valley then went over to Wales and spent a couple of nights with Janice and Brian. While we were there we went for a drive up over the hills to the little town of Hay-on Wye where there are twenty or more second-hand bookshops.
When we left Wales we stayed the weekend with John and Sally then drove north up the M1 to Derby and out to the town of Ashbourne, on the outskirts of which lies Sandybrook Hall. The present owner of the house, Tony Gather, wasn’t home but a chap living in one wing of the house that has been turned into flats offered us his spare room for the night.
So, we stayed in the house built by my ancestor Sir Matthew Blakiston, 3rd Baronet of the City of London on a wet, dark and windy night. There was no presence to be felt; no traces of the Blakistons of the past; no ghosts; no feeling of a return to my roots. It was just an old, creaky house.
Next day, we met Tony Gather and took some photographs of the house from various angles. Mr Gather had a book with a small history of the house which read:
“In 1812, Sir Matthew Blakiston, 3rd Baronet, purchased the estate from the Hayne family. The house, completed in 1815, has a well-proportioned West front of 2 full height (2½ stories), canted bays either side of a Tuscan porch leading into an elegant hall with a Hopton Wood floor [Hopton Wood is not a timber. It is actually a type of limestone quarried nearby at a place called Hopton Wood] and a cantilevered stairway at the end with a delightful wrought iron neo-Grec balustrade of interlaced loops and a Gothic [sic] window above. The South front is less felicitous, being of five bays, the central one pedimented. There is a pretty stable block to the north, c. 1775 which boasts a lantern and a clock tower by Ellerby of Ashbourne. The estate seems to have been too much for Blakiston and was thereupon let to Archibald Douglas of Derby, followed by his heirs, the Coopers, but by 1841 Lucius Mann, Blakiston’s nephew, was installed. The Blakistons re-occupied it until 1883. Peverill Turnbull was the next tenant, followed by his widow. It was finally sold in 1946 to the late Mr G.E. Gather, succeeded by Mr A. Gather [the current owner]. Part of the house has been converted into flats since 1963 but it has lost none of its charm in the process.
In the Ashbourne church there is a marble plaque to Sir Mathew Blakiston, 3rd Bt., but of the rest of the family nothing remains. We visited Trent College on the way to Stratford with the idea of seeing the rugby memorabilia and sent them of black is British Lions days, but it was all in storage pending the building of a new sports wing. We did, however, meet the rugby master who showed us the school’s rugby records back to 1911 – none too impressive either!!
We stayed the night in a camping ground in Stratford on Avon and next day we returned to London for the last time.
The nurses put us up for the night and after an early tea I caught a bus into Piccadilly and from here to Hammersmith where I went to see Jethro Tull at the Hammersmith Odeon. They were brilliant as ever: the stage was set up as a small cafe with the antics of Ian Anderson et al backdropped by tables and chairs, with various waiters wandering on and off the stage throughout the performance.
On Thursday we visited Juliet at her work then spent the afternoon trying to sell Eric to dealers down the East End1. No one offered us more than 75 quid so we offered it to Alex smart for 120 pounds. She accepted.
On Friday we moved over to Angela and Andrew’s place at Leamington Road villas and spent the day buying foreign currency and doing last minute things. Saturday was our final full day in London and after we had delivered Eric over to Alex we caught a bus up to Westminster and I ceremonially threw my old faithful sand shoes2 into the Thames off Westminster Bridge.
We spent the afternoon and evening with Jules, Slob, Emma and some others from Fulham Road at a pub down by the river called The Dove. Juliet ended the evening in tears after her ex-boyfriend, a total fuckwit called Chris, with whom she had high hopes of getting back together with, dumped in no uncertain terms. Cunt!
We were all extremely drunk and on that hot London night we walked along the streets in the darkness singing songs and clowning around. And so we spent our last evening in England: with our friends, having fun…
1In London’s East End we had tried to sell Eric Escort to a few car dealers, none of whom were interested. When we suggested to one guy, an East End wide boy in a pork pie hat, that we could maybe park outside a car auction and try to sell it there he said: “Yeah, I wouldn’t do that…they’d come out and belt ya!”
2I’d bought my Aerosport high-top sneakers in Melbourne a few days before we left Australia bound for Britain. They had been through Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, Nigeria, C.A.R, Niger, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, Greece and Turkey, and had been my footwear of choice throughout our time in the United Kingdom. They had travelled well…and I consigned them to the Thames to continue their travels.