BACKSTORY: Part One, The House of Blakiston.

Over the next few weeks, my diary entries are pretty sparse. In late February and early March 1989, Linda and I were living a quiet life in Melbourne, Australia, working long hours and saving our money for the next leg of our travels which would take us to England. So, while not much is going on, let’s re-cap my backstory and find out about some of the aspects of my life that had occurred before we set off to travel…

I come from Geraldine. Someone had to. My hometown, Geraldine, on New Zealand’s South Island, doesn’t have any notable citizens. We can’t lay claim to being the birthplace of a great politician, or an eminent scientist, or even some famous deviant, serial killer or chef. The closest thing Geraldine has to a celebrity is Jordan Luck: frontman of the band The Exponents. And even then, Mr Luck is actually from Woodbury, five miles west of Geraldine. He did, of course, attend Geraldine High School, my alma mater. He was, in fact, a year ahead of me, and his sister, Tamsin, and I were in the same year. But although The Exponents are an iconic New Zealand band, their fame, unfortunately, hardly extends beyond our shores.    

Furthermore, the South Island of New Zealand doesn’t exactly occupy a prime position on the globe. Our island is close to the uttermost end of the Earth.  It’s about as far south as you can go on the planet. Go much further and you start to go north again. Beyond Bluff, the southernmost town in the British Commonwealth, next upright creature you’ll run into is an Adelie penguin.  That’s how far south we are.

fac bene nec dubitans

As well as coming from the arse-end of the planet, I also come from a long line of travellers: restless souls who roamed the globe searching for adventure and a better life. Some of them were seekers of political change, such as John Blakiston (1603-1649), whose signature appears on the death warrant of Charles the First, executed by Cromwell and his henchmen – of which JB was one, the traitorous bastard  – during the English Civil War.

warrant
The Death Warrant of Charles I. John Blakiston’s signature and seal is second from the top of column three.

My great-grandfather, Charles Robert Blakiston came to New Zealand in 1860 having first tried his luck in the Australian goldfields.  When he arrived in the settlement of Christchurch (which is today New Zealand’s second largest city) he traded a horse for a plot of land which he subsequently sold to the fledgeling city for a fortune.  He ended up a successful lawyer and member of the New Zealand Provincial Government. His son, Arthur John Blakiston, born in 1862, managed a high country sheep station for forty years and lived long enough to be photographed holding me as a five-month-old baby in 1963.

fullsizeoutput_448
My father Arthur Norman Hunter Blakiston, 64; my great-uncle Arthur John Blakiston, 103; Ferguson Arthur James Blakiston, 5 months.

Another of my great-uncles, Thomas Wright Blakiston, was an eminent explorer, soldier and ornithologist. He fought in the Crimean War, was on the Palliser Expedition which mapped the border between Canada and the United States, explored the Yangtze River during the Taiping Rebellion, and lived in Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido, for 21 years. There will be more about TWB in later posts.

Then there was Lionel Blakiston, Thomas’s cousin.  Lionel was a British telegraph engineer who emigrated to Rhodesia in the 1880s and was subsequently killed in the Mashona Uprising.  Upon hearing that Mashona tribesmen had taken a group of women and children hostage, he rode to their rescue, bringing them home to friendly territory but getting mortally wounded in the process.  A street in Harare, in present-day Zimbabwe, bears his name along with a school, whose coat of arms is that of the Blakiston Family: a cock gules above a bar argent.

In 1760, my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Matthew Blakiston was elected Lord Mayor of London.  He lived for that year, as all Lords Mayor did at the time, in the Mansion House, a grand, collonaded residence opposite the Bank of England.  His wife, Emily, is the only woman ever to have given birth in the Mansion House. Lords Mayor were usually older men for whom the post was the final, crowning achievement at the end of long, successful careers.  Blakiston, however, in keeping with a family trait of marrying and producing offspring late in life, was still in the process of creating a family when he became Lord Mayor and his son, Matthew, was born at the Mansion House that year.  

For his efforts as head of the City of London, Matthew Blakiston was created a Baronet in 1763, exactly 200 years before I was born.  He died in 1791 and was buried in the graveyard of St. Martins-in-the-Fields.

The Baronetcy is a hereditary knighthood: a “Sir” rather than a Lord, and not a peer. Although the term “baronet” has medieval origins, the modern Baronetcy was established in 1611 by King James 1 as a method with which to fund his Irish wars.  The idea was that any man who could provide the Exchequer with the money necessary to keep thirty soldiers in the field for three years would be granted a Baronetcy. The title would be handed down from father to son, thus ensuring a continual supply of cash to fund whatever war happened to be going on at the time.  

Do well and doubt not.
                        – Blakiston Family Motto

This proved to be a nice little earner for a while; at least, that is, until the sons succeeding to the title began to run out of money.  Just because the title of Baronet had been granted to a wealthy great-grandfather didn’t necessarily guarantee the family fortune would still be intact for his great-grandson to invest in dubious overseas campaigns.  The Baronetcy, therefore, lapsed in its role as a revenue supply for the army and became simply another hereditary title.

The Baronetcy awarded to Matthew Blakiston was passed down from father to son for seven generations until it hit a dead end.  The 7th Baronet, Arthur Frederick Blakiston, a decorated First World War hero, member of the first Barbarians rugby team and Master of the Wylie Valley Hunt, died “without issue” (i.e. without children). It seemed that the title would become extinct.  But the tireless heralds at the Royal College of Arms, keepers of the arcane language and symbols of the realm, were on the case. They traced the male line to my father, Arthur Norman Hunter Blakiston, who acceded to the title of 8th Baronet in 1974.  

Dad never set any store in airs and graces.  A privately-educated, university-trained solicitor he was nevertheless a rough diamond.  He called a spade a fucking shovel and to him, a man’s worth was proved by his actions, not by his breeding.  The title of Baronet was the absolute antithesis of the egalitarian principles he lived by. But he was a perceptive man and he realized that one day, his eldest son might have a use for the title, so he reluctantly accepted it, and that was that.  

He seldom spoke of it.  His friends occasionally ribbed him about it.  My mother’s friends began calling her Lady Blakiston and our house became known as Sandybrook Hall, after the family seat in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.  At school, I was sometimes teased about it. My best friend, Keats, used to call me Sir Bastipol Bock for reasons known only to him. But it was nothing that caused even the remotest bit of hurt and the perpetrators would soon tire of hassling me and find some other unfortunate to pick on.     

My father died in 1977 when I was fourteen.  He was seventy-eight years old. Students of arithmetic will notice that he would have been sixty-four when I was born and they are right.  He was sixty-five when my brother Joe came along. That same family peculiarity, of having children late in life, that had seen Matthew Blakiston’s wife produce the Mansion House’s only baby, had surfaced again.  

It meant that instead of being born in the 1920s, as would have been the case if dad had taken the usual route and started a family in his twenties, I grew up in the 1970s.  It meant that instead of being a fan of Bing Crosby or Cole Porter, I was able to become a fan of Pink Floyd, Genesis, My Chemical Romance and John Denver. It meant that instead of having to go off to World War Two and have my brains blown out for King and Country as my Uncle Jim (my mother’s brother) did, I was able to watch the Gulf War on CNN.  It meant that I would be able to be a part of the technological revolution created by the internet and social media. And it meant that in the year 1988, instead of being a grandfather of seventy-something years, I was able, as the 9th Baronet of the City of London, to set off out into the world…

TO BE CONTINUED

11/5/90

LADY ANN, STONEHENGE AND SALISBURY. We set off from Grove House at around 11 after John and I had planted a walnut tree in the field, and drove the 40 or so miles down to the village of Corton near Warminster¹ to meet Lady Ann Blakiston, wife of the late Sir Arthur Frederick Blakiston, the 7th Baronet. We spent about four hours with Lady Ann listening to her chatter about her beloved “Blackie” and the Blakiston family, a subject that both Linda and I are becoming tired of hearing about. 

After leaving Corton we drove up to Stonehenge which proved to be something of an anticlimax. While it is impressive that Neolithic people could have raised the stones its small size was a bit of a disappointment. The place was crawling with tourists so we were content with looking at it from outside the fenced enclosure then drove down to Salisbury to see the Salisbury Cathedral.

Most of the cathedral was closed for renovations so we drove up to Great Wishford to pick up Caroline form the very exclusive boarding school she attends then back to Lydiard Millicent. 

¹ Although we didn’t know it then, Corton would become our home for almost a year.
² See my post The House of Blakiston for a description of my family history.

25/03/89

We caught the 8:46 train from Slough to Paddington then the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross. We emerged from the station to the most wonderous sight. There before us in the bright English sun, was Trafalgar Square! The statue of Lord Nelson, flanked by 4 lions, rose directly in front of us, grey stone buildings surrounding us on all sides, Whitehall, The Strand and Pall Mall, leading off to our left, right, and ahead. Pigeons were everywhere, perched on walls, monuments and small children who screeched with delight every time a pigeon landed on its shoulder.

The church of St-Martin’s-in-the-Fields, standing on the South West corner of the square, was our first stop. It is a smallish church, the size of Chch Cathedral¹, with Roman pillars at the front. Inside, I asked about where Matthew Blakiston² was buried but all graves had been removed and the Crypt had been turned into a restaurant. We had a hot chocolate down there then went back out into the sunlight.

fullsizeoutput_d36

St-Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Elizabeth Tower and Horse Guards.

We decided to walk down Whitehall and about 1/2 way down we happened to see the changing of Her Majesty’s Life Guards. Two fierce-looking guards dressed in red and balck with shining helmets were mounted on horses outside the gates of the barracks where, at precisely 11:00 AM, the new shift of guards rode out and exchanged places with them. We jostled for position with the hoarde of tourists & the whole thing was

fullsizeoutput_d09

Horse Guards.

fascinating.

We continued on down Whitehall past Downing Street, guarded by two Bobbies³, until we came to wonderful scene of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben rose above us on the left of Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey, parts of which are [sic] cloaked with scaffolding, stood across the grassd area of the square. It was almost too much to take in at once. Everywhere we looked we saw buildings and places we had only dreamed about. We walked along past

fullsizeoutput_d0a

A Bobby at Horse Guards.

the Houses of Parliament, climbed the 13th century jewel Tower, pushed and shoved our way into Westminster Abbey along with a thousand others then wandered through the medieval cloisters at the rear of the Abbey where the 10th century monks who died of the Black Death lie alongside of a grassy quad where several boys from the Abbey school were playing cricket.

 

We had lunch at a street café then caught a river cruise down to the Thames Barrier† and back. The history of London flowed over us like the cold, dirty water of Old Father Thames flowed over the piles & steps of the London docks: Tower Bridge, Executioner’s Dock, Waterman’s Steps, hundreds of old, old riverside warehouses decaying amidst the new docklands developments of flats, pubs and houses.

When we got back to Westminster Peir it had gotten quite cold so we wandered back up to Picadilly Circus and caught the tube back to Paddington then home to Slough.

¹The Anglican cathedral in the city of Christchurch back home in New Zealand.
²My ancestor, Sir Matthew Blakiston, Bt. was Lord Mayor of London in 1760. He was created a Baronet in 1763 and I succeeded him as the 9th Baronet in 1977. When he died, Sir Matthew was buried in the crypt of St.-Martin’s-in-the-Fields. See the post The House of Blakiston for more information.
³ British police are known as Bobbies after Sir Robert Peel who introduced the world’s first organized police force in London in 1829.
† The Thames Barrier is a flood control dam built across the lower reaches of the River Thames.
 

 

 

24/09/88

Mucked around home all day then caught a 6:50 bus into town. Had a drink at a pub then tea at the Milano Restaurant.

****

My diary entries for the next few days are pretty run-of-the-mill. But rest assured, dear readers, the adventures are about to start! In the meantime, here’s some background information about my life before we set off to travel…

blakiston-coat-of-arms-blakiston-family-crest-7

BACKSTORY. PART 1: The House of Blakiston.

I come from Geraldine. Someone had to. My hometown, Geraldine, on New Zealand’s South Island, doesn’t have any notable citizens. We can’t lay claim to being the birthplace of a great politician, or an eminent scientist, or even some famous deviant, serial killer or chef. The closest thing Geraldine has to a celebrity is Jordan Luck: frontman of the band The Exponents. And even then, Mr Luck is actually from Woodbury, five miles west of Geraldine. He did, of course, attend Geraldine High School, my alma mater. He was, in fact, a year ahead of me, and his sister, Tamsin, and I were in the same year. But although The Exponents are an iconic New Zealand band, their fame, unfortunately, hardly extends beyond our shores.    

Furthermore, the South Island of New Zealand doesn’t exactly occupy a prime position on the globe. Our island is close to the uttermost end of the Earth.  It’s about as far south as you can go on the planet. Go much further and you start to go north again. Beyond Bluff, the southernmost town in the British Commonwealth, next upright creature you’ll run into is an Adelie penguin.  That’s how far south we are.

As well as coming from the arse-end of the planet, I also come from a long line of travellers: restless souls who roamed the globe searching for adventure and a better life. Some of them were seekers of political change, such as John Blakiston (1603-1649), whose signature appears on the death warrant of Charles the First, executed by Cromwell and his henchmen – of which JB was one, the traitorous bastard  – during the English Civil War.

warrant

The Death Warrant of Charles I. John Blakiston’s signature and seal is second from the top of column three.

My great-grandfather, Charles Robert Blakiston came to New Zealand in 1860 having first tried his luck in the Australian goldfields.  When he arrived in the settlement of Christchurch (which is today New Zealand’s second largest city) he traded a horse for a plot of land which he subsequently sold to the fledgeling city for a fortune.  He ended up a successful lawyer and member of the New Zealand Provincial Government. His son, Arthur John Blakiston, born in 1862, managed a high country sheep station for forty years and lived long enough to be photographed holding me as a five-month-old baby in 1963.

fullsizeoutput_448

My father Arthur Norman Hunter Blakiston, 64; my great-uncle Arthur John Blakiston, 103; Ferguson Arthur James Blakiston, 5 months.

Another of my great-uncles, Thomas Wright Blakiston, was an eminent explorer, soldier and ornithologist. He fought in the Crimean War, was on the Palliser Expedition which mapped the border between Canada and the United States, explored the Yangtze River during the Taiping Rebellion, and lived in Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido, for 21 years. There will be more about TWB in later posts.

Then there was Lionel Blakiston, Thomas’s cousin.  Lionel was a British telegraph engineer who emigrated to Rhodesia in the 1880s and was subsequently killed in the Mashona Uprising.  Upon hearing that Mashona tribesmen had taken a group of women and children hostage, he rode to their rescue, bringing them home to friendly territory but getting mortally wounded in the process.  A street in Harare, in present-day Zimbabwe, bears his name along with a school, whose coat of arms is that of the Blakiston Family: a cock gules above a bar argent.

In 1760, my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Matthew Blakiston was elected Lord Mayor of London.  He lived for that year, as all Lords Mayor did at the time, in the Mansion House, a grand, collonaded residence opposite the Bank of England.  His wife, Emily, is the only woman ever to have given birth in the Mansion House. Lords Mayor were usually older men for whom the post was the final, crowning achievement at the end of long, successful careers.  Blakiston, however, in keeping with a family trait of marrying and producing offspring late in life, was still in the process of creating a family when he became Lord Mayor and his son, Matthew, was born at the Mansion House that year.  

For his efforts as head of the City of London, Matthew Blakiston was created a Baronet in 1763, exactly 200 years before I was born.  He died in 1791 and was buried in the graveyard of St. Martins-in-the-Fields.

The Baronetcy is a hereditary knighthood: a “Sir” rather than a Lord, and not a peer. Although the term “baronet” has medieval origins, the modern Baronetcy was established in 1611 by King James 1 as a method with which to fund his Irish wars.  The idea was that any man who could provide the Exchequer with the money necessary to keep thirty soldiers in the field for three years would be granted a Baronetcy. The title would be handed down from father to son, thus ensuring a continual supply of cash to fund whatever war happened to be going on at the time.  

This proved to be a nice little earner for a while; at least, that is, until the sons succeeding to the title began to run out of money.  Just because the title of Baronet had been granted to a wealthy great-grandfather didn’t necessarily guarantee the family fortune would still be intact for his great-grandson to invest in dubious overseas campaigns.  The Baronetcy, therefore, lapsed in its role as a revenue supply for the army and became simply another hereditary title.

The Baronetcy awarded to Matthew Blakiston was passed down from father to son for seven generations until it hit a dead end.  The 7th Baronet, Arthur Frederick Blakiston, a decorated First World War hero, member of the first Barbarians rugby team and Master of the Wylie Valley Hunt, died “without issue” (i.e. without children). It seemed that the title would become extinct.  But the tireless heralds at the Royal College of Arms, keepers of the arcane language and symbols of the realm, were on the case. They traced the male line to my father, Arthur Norman Hunter Blakiston, who acceded to the title of 8th Baronet in 1974.  

Dad never set any store in airs and graces.  A privately-educated, university-trained solicitor he was nevertheless a rough diamond.  He called a spade a fucking shovel and to him, a man’s worth was proved by his actions, not by his breeding.  The title of Baronet was the absolute antithesis of the egalitarian principles he lived by. But he was a perceptive man and he realized that one day, his eldest son might have a use for the title, so he reluctantly accepted it, and that was that.  

He seldom spoke of it.  His friends occasionally ribbed him about it.  My mother’s friends began calling her Lady Blakiston and our house became known as Sandybrook Hall, after the family seat in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.  At school, I was sometimes teased about it. My best friend, Keats, used to call me Sir Bastipol Bock for reasons known only to him. But it was nothing that caused even the remotest bit of hurt and the perpetrators would soon tire of hassling me and find some other unfortunate to pick on.     

My father died in 1977 when I was fourteen.  He was seventy-eight years old. Students of arithmetic will notice that he would have been sixty-four when I was born and they are right.  He was sixty-five when my brother Joe came along. That same family peculiarity, of having children late in life, that had seen Matthew Blakiston’s wife produce the Mansion House’s only baby, had surfaced again.  

It meant that instead of being born in the 1920s, as would have been the case if dad had taken the usual route and started a family in his twenties, I grew up in the 1970s.  It meant that instead of being a fan of Bing Crosby or Cole Porter, I was able to become a fan of Pink Floyd, Genesis, My Chemical Romance and John Denver. It meant that instead of having to go off to World War Two and have my brains blown out for King and Country as my Uncle Jim (my mother’s brother) did, I was able to watch the Gulf War on CNN.  It meant that I would be able to be a part of the technological revolution created by the internet and social media. And it meant that in the year 1988, instead of being a grandfather of seventy-something years, I was able, as the 9th Baronet of the City of London, to set off out into the world…

TO BE CONTINUED

OCTOBER 1991

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.  

Sandybrook Hall

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.

ERIC

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 Westminster Bridge

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.

1/5/91

FINISHED WITH TUCK’S FARM We spent the morning packing up and I got paid £1,300-00 for my weeks of work at Tucks Farm. I’d done a lot of extra work for which I had expected a bonus but none was forthcoming. So fuck them!

We had lunch at the Lydiard Millicent pub then went to John and Sally Blakiston’s. Later on, we went into Swindon and banked my cheque and did a few other jobs including booking one-way flights to Vienna for Friday!!

Along with us, John and Sally had a girl called Heather, from Norfolk, staying at Grove House. She gave us her address in Norfolk and told us we could come and stay with her whenever we like.

FOOTNOTE: The owner of Tucks Farm, Louise Hastings, was a mad old lawyer. Her and her husband used to have screaming arguments on a regular basis while I was there. While I was researching the details of this entry, I came across this story from the Express newspaper.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/7331/Evicted-by-granny

28/9/90

I drove Betty down to Wilton where she was taking a party through Wilton House, the family seat of the Earl of Pembroke. She has worked as a tour guide at Wilton for many years.

The tour lasted about an hour and the old house has a veritable treasure trove of paintings, antiques and memorabilia from its 400 year history. The most striking parts of the house are the Cube Room and the Double Cube Room. The Cube Room is exactly 30 feet wide and high, ornately decorated and with a large painting of Icarus on the ceiling. The Double Cube Room is 60 feet long and 30 feet high, also elaborately decorated with swags of fruit, flowers and foliage gilded in different shades of gold. 

The room remains the same today as when it was completed in 1653 and the walls are covered by large paintings of the Herbert family by van Dyck including a small portrait of the ill-fated King Charles I.1 

When the tour was finished we went for a walk in the gardens then I had a quick look at the elaborate model railway in one of the buildings. On the way back to Corton we stopped to take Betty’s dog, Brum, for a walk and carried on back to Corton. In the evening I went up to the Dove for a beer.

1 Avid readers of this blog will remember that my ancestor, John Blakiston, was one of the signatories of the Death Warrant of King Charles.

25/7/90

I left Grove House at about 9:00 and began hitching towards Warminster. I walked the first 3 miles to the town of Wootton Bassett¹

Just outside the village I got a ride to Calne and after lunch (three packets of chips and a couple of fruit juices) I hitched on to Melksham. Finally a truckie gave me a lift to Warminster and I rang Ann [my relation, Lady Ann Blakiston]  and she came and picked me up. 

After I had settled in at her cottage in the village of Corton, she took me around to a dairy farm run by twin brothers Richard and Robin Witt and I arranged to work for them at hay-carting for tomorrow.

¹Now known as Royal Wootton Bassett for a fascinating reason. During the Gulf Wars of the early 2000s, military personnel killed in the fighting were brought back to England via the nearby RAF Lineham air base. As the coffins were driven through Wootton Bassett, the town’s residents would line the streets in salute. Read more about it here:  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Wootton_Bassett

22/7/90

Around mid-morning I took young Matthew Blakiston into the Swindon Hospital to see John. We stayed there for an hour or so then went back out to Grove House where I made a start on pulling down an old, disused shed. 

After lunch I finished the job and cleaned up then had a beer and a snooze for the rest of the afternoon. I went back in to see John in the evening and later, after tea, shot 2 rabbits out in the field behind the house with John’s shotgun.

21/7/90

GOING AWAY We got out of the youth hostel at 7:00 and drove into town. We said goodby there and then, in the car park, not wanting to drag it out, and I drove away. I drove away from my Linda! My thoughts were occupied with the task of getting out of Exeter and onto the A303 main road but as soon as I was clear of the city and settled into the driving the empty space inside began to grow and by the time I reached London I was feeling lonely and unsure.¹

I dropped the car off at the AA, rang Louie² and arranged to meet her at Waterloo Station so I could give her the tent that we had borrowed from one of the regulars at the Red Lion. I went across town on the Underground and lay on the grass in Jubilee Gardens [behind Waterloo Station] for 2 hours. When she turned up, with a friend of hers called Kerry, we had a beer in a nearby pub then they left me to go back to work. I was now alone in London and unsure what to do next.

So, I caught a train out to Reading and rang Sally Blakiston.³ She told me that John was in hospital with a damaged neck (he’d fallen off a horse) but she implored me to come and stay so I hitched a ride from Reading to Swindon and with the sun long gone down I began the four mile walk out to Lydiard Millicent [the village where John, Sally and their 3 children lived]. I got there just after 11 and Sally made me welcome with a cup of tea and a sandwich then produced a camp bed for me to sleep on as the rest of Grove House was full.

After a shower I lay in bed and although the gap left by Linda was still painful, it felt good to once again be among people that I knew cared about me after only 12 hours.   

¹This was the first time Linda and I had been apart since we had left home in September 1988. She and her parents were going to Ireland; I was going to try and earn some money carting hay on farms in Wiltshire. Our plan was to rendezvous in Scotland three weeks later.

²Our friend and former workmate from the Red Lion.

³My cousin John’s wife.