This article was kindly sent by Mike Bostock (July 2020). His grandfather was butler to Sir John Ward of Chilton Lodge from 1910 to 1932, and Mike has written a description of life on the Chilton estate at this time based on public information, first hand conversations and extensive reading of the Ward family papers held at the Museum of English Rural Life.
The Hon Mrs John Ward
In Search of a Man
In search of a man:
John William Dixon - Butler at Chilton Lodge, Hungerford 1910 to 1932 and how he shaved the most beautiful woman in the world.
Hello, welcome to my little historical journey.
I must confess that I am not an historian and in fact, this is the first ‘historical’ piece I have researched and written since leaving school. Equally, I have no idea if its contents will be of any interest to anyone outside of my family (and then, I expect, only to some of them), those who know now or who have memories of the Chilton Estate of long ago and perhaps the residents of Hungerford.
However, I sit like many and watch fascinated, at the TV family history programs featuring people I have never heard of and will never hear of again.
The search for family insight can be quite addictive and the results exhilarating in a strange morbid way. I think the researcher needs to come up for air from time to time before the past becomes as important as or more important than the present. After all, conversations with dead people tend to be one sided and can create more questions than answers.
It is surprising how many family misunderstandings or inaccuracies can be understood. For example, I grew up being told that my dad had two half-sisters. As a child I had no idea what a half-sister was! Did two half-sisters make one whole sister? Which half was the sister and was the other half his half-brother. Now I know!
I apologise for succumbing to the odd disrespectful or irreverent comment; my humour is suited to puncturing solemnity.
All I can say is that this quest to gain some insight into my paternal grandfather, Book One of this trilogy, was great fun and I heartily recommend anyone to undertake a similar project.
I was born Michael John Dixon in June 1948. My dad was John Dixon born about twenty feet from the front gates of the Chilton Estate, Hungerford, in 1916 and who sadly died in 1962, a relatively young man; a disaster for our whole family and one which was to have major consequences for the rest of our lives. Not the least of which for me, was an adoption driven name change, from Dixon to Bostock, the result of my mother’s second marriage and something I regretted in later life; subject matter worthy of a book, but not one for this story.
A consequence was that by the time I was old enough to be interested in my family heritage, my dad was already dead and I could not ask him questions about his parents. As his dad, John William Dixon, my grandfather, had died in 1932, 16 years before I was born, I had very little knowledge of him on any level. I recently inherited a collection of old Dixon family photographs; I could not even, with any level of certainty, identify him in the fading sepia images.
My heritage was confusing enough as it was. From an early age, I was told that I was a mix of upstairs and downstairs, not uncommon from the Victorian era of those who were served and those who did the serving. How many maids were ‘served’ on the landing I wonder? My maternal grandfather, John Stanley, grandfather’s grandfather was the younger son of Lord Derby (or was he?) and my paternal grandfather, John William Dixon, ‘served’ (or did he)?
I will refer to him now as JWD.
The Stanley history is well documented but the world has not heard of JWD for a long time, if ever.
From my distant childhood, I remembered my mother telling me that JWD had been ‘something to do with’ Lady Ward of Chilton Lodge, Hungerford before he died of pneumonia in Savernake Hospital in 1932 following a fall in which he broke his hip. His ‘something to do with’ might have been butler, gardener, game-keeper or even King’s Messenger’, I was told.
As a young boy, I had found, in this same collection of old Dixon family photographs I was to inherit decades later, a picture of the most beautiful woman I had ever seen (until I met my wife, of course). I learned that this was someone called Lady Ward but had no idea who that was apart from this vague connection with my grandfather. I think this photograph fully supports my boyhood impression.
Lady Jean Ward circa 1910
And so I decided to investigate my Dixon heritage and in particular that of my grandfather along the lines of the TV program ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’.
A purchase of Ancestry.co.uk revealed some interesting information and provided a clear pathway to the family’s eventual move to Hungerford.
In the early 1800s the Dixon family was well established in Cumbria as farmers; in fact they owned three farms. I assume that they weren’t making a substantial income. This description of early Cumbrian farming by the Cumbria Industrial History Society is not encouraging:
‘For most of the past 7,000 years, inhabitants of Cumbria have supported themselves by farming the land. Much of the county is hilly or marshy, with poor soil, harsh climatic conditions and long hard winters and indifferent communications. Most farming was small-scale and subsistence in character.’
By the mid 1800s they had moved to the midlands, attracted no doubt by the demand for labour in England’s fast expanding industrial heartland and were involved in the weaving mills; the men built and fettled the looms and the women wove. Perhaps they had been sheep farmers and followed the wool to its next stage of processing.
By the late 1800s they had moved to the East-End of London and were listed on the census as milliners and drapers. So they had moved on from making cloth to making clothes from that cloth and selling them - a continuous connection from wool, to weaving cloth, to selling cloth, to tailoring clothes.
By this time it is fair to assume that a young JWD, now in his twenties, knew how to dress smartly and later photographs show him as a very dapper dresser, always with a three piece suit and, if outside, a trilby or fedora hat. Unfortunately, always the obligatory cigarette, style at a price.
John William Dixon, circa 1920 – can’t help but admire his style.
Perhaps this would be a good basis for becoming a butler; another natural progression?
In 1905, whilst still living in the East-End, JWD married Ellen Louisa Mason at St. Lukes church, Chelsea.
John and Ellen Dixon on their wedding day, 24th August 1905
In short time they had two girls, Mary in 1906 and Stella in 1909, my dad’s two half-sisters. It is easy to imagine that JWD would want to take his new family out of the dirt, pollution and noise of London and move into the country.
The solution was soon in the making.
In 1908, Sir John Hubert Ward, second son of the Earl of Dudley, married Jean Reid, daughter of the fabulously wealthy American Whitelaw Reid family. Mr and Mrs Whitelaw Reid purchased Chilton Lodge and its estate for £45,000 (£3.8 million at today’s value) as a wedding present for Jean and Sir John, a country retreat for when London life at their Park Lane Georgian palace, Dudley House, became a little too much for the happy couple.
Chilton Lodge, Hungerford.
Given JWD’s family desires, it seems he applied for the job of butler to Sir John and was successful.
Hon John Ward circa 1910
So in 1909, the Dixon family arrived in Hungerford. A substantial house, known as ‘Butler’s House’, came with the job in the village of Chilton Foliat just outside the main gates to the Chilton estate, ideal for bringing up the family.
This ideal was not to last long.
Ellen contracted TB, a disease of the lungs with no effective cure. Sadly, she must have been suffering from the condition when she was carrying Mary and must have known that she would not live to see her girls grow up. Ellen died in 1910 leaving JWD a widower with two young children and a job that would take him away from both the home during a normal working day or night at the ‘big house’ but sometimes away to other Ward owned properties.
Luckily for JWD and for me, he met, possibly through Ellen’s illness, the local district Nurse and Midwife, Emily Elizabeth Whitehead, newly arrived from Birmingham. They married in 1913 and my dad was the first and only product of this marriage in 1916.
Emily Elizabeth Dixon (nee Whitehead) circa 1930
By this time JWD was in his early forties and Emily, known as Em, was in her mid-thirties so it was not a great surprise that the family stopped at three.
Stella died in the Second World War and had the family bragging rights to be the first civilian in England to be killed by a German bomb. I can find no evidence that this is true but it was widely believed within the family. This happened in Birmingham where the Whitehead family originated.
Em, on the other hand lived to a ripe old age and ruled me with a Victorian rod of iron whenever she was left in charge of me. On her retirement, she moved into The College Alms Houses for ‘distressed’ gentle ladies at Froxfield from around 1950 to close to her passing in 1959. See www.duchessofsomerset.co.uk/
We regularly visited her and occasionally I stayed on my own with her. I remember it as cold, uncomfortable, austere and frightening and that was just my grandmother! Today the place is very different and seems a delightful place to live.
Em., as she became bed-bound, did move into our family home in Chiseldon, Wiltshire for the last year of her life. My last strong memory of her was of her encouraging me to eat one of her pills. They were red and attractive looking and indeed coated in sugar. She watched my intent sucking until the sugar gave way to the iron within, a vile seemingly immoveable taste. She found this immensely amusing. I hope she treated her patients a little more kindly. Possibly she was teaching me never to take and eat pills when I knew not what they were but I think not.
JWD was to work for Sir John and Lady Ward until 1932, in fact, until his death from a fall or so I was told but was this true?
Armed with this information, it was time to drive to Hungerford and ask questions. Obviously the place to start was Chilton Lodge where I knew the fourth generation Ward family still lived although the family name had changed to Scrope. With a small amount of trepidation I drove through the impressive gates and along the long long drive up to the house, a large, rather than beautiful, pile. The Hungerford Virtual Museum describes its final basic design from 1800 as:
‘This time it was designed by Sir William Pilkington, and comprised a south front and a west front each of five bays, the south being particularly handsome incorporating a full-height Corinthian portico, with an east front of seven bays, and with a large north stable court’.
Knowing my place, I knocked on the back door and met the house-keeper. During a brief conversation she admitted never having heard of my grand-father. However, the current head of the family, Adrian Scrope, was the family historian and he was the man to talk to. I duly left my card and asked that he call me if possible.
Within a couple of days I received a call from Adrian and I explained my quest. Again, he had never heard of my grand-father but kindly agreed to investigate. I think there is always an element of fear that the story as told to me was a cover and that in reality, JWD would turn out to be a massmurderer, a convicted horse thief or at least a philanderer whose past was carefully buried by my shamed family.
Not so. Within a couple of days, Adrian called me back to confirm that JWD had indeed been the butler to Sir John and had occupied the Butler’s House for the duration of the period of employment 1910 to 1932.
He offered to help me in two further ways:
Firstly, he suggested that I contacted one of Hungerford’s oldest residents who remembered the town as far back as the thirties.
Secondly, he recommended that I researched the Ward family archive (a vast stock of family letters and documents) at Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life.
I duly met with the ‘old and highly respected resident’ and for several hours learned of past Hungerford characters some of whom I remembered from my boyhood visits in the 1950’s with my grandmother. The most fascinating, in fact the ‘bombshell’ came when he told me that he had lived next door to the ‘Butler’s House’ and remembered my family in the early thirties, at least he remembered their two dogs. He was born at home in 1928 and so it was highly likely that he was delivered by my grandmother, the local midwife and his neighbour.
I was treated to many Hungerford tales including the secret romance of a local celebrity with the Agha Khan, conversations between whom were listened into by the local switch-board operator and discretely spread through the town, and his personal memories of Miss Flo Monk running the local youth club in the 1940s and 50s, a lady I remembered so well from my childhood. On one never to be forgotten night, whilst playing table tennis against a local youth, her knickers fell down (an elastic failure) Not to be beaten, Flo whipped them back up in time to hit the next and what proved to be, the winning shot. She obviously was called ‘flo’ for a reason.
Before leaving the area and heading off to do desk research in Reading, I thought I should pay my respects to these characters so important in creating my life.
A brief search of the Church Yard revealed all three burials of JWD, Ellen, JWD’s first wife and Em, his second and my grandmother. Ellen is by herself in mid ground and Em is buried with JWD a suitable distance away. I can hear my grandmother saying, ‘you will not be buried with Ellen, you will be buried with me’. I can’t help feeling that Ellen got a bad deal*.
Extraordinarily, in the spirit of the life hereafter, JWD is buried at the feet of Sir John. The Ward family tomb marked by a small wall and containing several large but flat family tombstones, lies next to my grandfather’s grave. Literally, he is at Sir John’s feet. It gives the strong impression that he is still serving Sir John now and for ever more, perhaps even serving him spirits?
Sir John’s grave with immediately behind it JWD’s grave – as in life so in death?
Foot note: Mary Dixon, Ellen’s daughter, died in the year 2000. In 2016, her daughter, also called Mary, came to visit the UK from South Africa where she now lives. She collected her mother’s ashes from her brother’s house in Yorkshire and travelled down to meet me. I tookher to the churchyard and Mary added her mother’s ashes to Ellen’s grave; happily, she is no longer alone.
So I now knew a lot more about my grandfather but mostly his profession, the key dates of his life and death. I still knew very little about the world, his world, in which he lived. What was life like on a country estate before, during and after WW1? What was life like for a real life Carson?
Perhaps the Ward archive held at the Museum of English Rural Life could provide some answers.
MERL, based in central Reading is part of Reading University and a treasure trove of rural exhibits. But like most museums, for every item on display there are many more archived away. However, a trawl through the museum’s database and a written request will see the chosen documents ready to be inspected within a few days. The reading room is large and light and perfect for studying documents that may not have seen the light of day for decades or even hundreds of years.
Thankfully, the Ward family had saved all or most of their personal letters and the documentation relating to the running of the estate, literally many thousands of documents.
My researches at MERL lasted many days over several weeks.
In summary, I found only a few mentions of my grandfather, some of which were meaningful and which I will describe shortly, but not enough to gain a really good insight into his character. However, the archive gave me a Pandora’s box insight into the lives of the people he worked for and with, the lifestyles of these people and the massive inequalities and hardships of the staff at a time when life generally was hard.
I was stunned by the good fortune of my access to these papers at all. I could so easily have found no source documents relating to the life of one ordinary man, living 100 years ago, let alone the hundreds of letters written by the key players of this small, relatively isolated world. We all recognise that for most of us, we will be totally forgotten after 100 years. Should we do more to perpetuate our memories at least amongst our family members or is this just a form of pompous self-indulgence? Only time will tell.
As I said, I found only a few mentions of JWD but some were more illuminating than others.
The first mention of him I found, comes in a letter from Mr Crosbie-Hill, the Estate Manager to JWD.
The Estate Manager’s role was critical to the smooth running of a country estate. They were responsible for making sure that every aspect of the administration and activities carried out on the estate were as per the owner’s wishes and where these were not particularly well known and in the owners absence, his decisions required to be highly likely to be approved of by the owner. Bear in mind that where multiple properties were owned in England and abroad, the owners were absent for much of the time in any one of them and communications were so slow, decisions had to be made without the owners fore knowledge. A high risk role but one which Crosbie-Hill seems to have carried out with enormous diligence and success for a number of years. His paper trails were comprehensive and meticulous. Every document carries numerous comments in his tiny but readable hand written script.
In this case my grand-father was about to find out how diligent he was.
On the 21st September 1915, Mr Crosbie-Hill sent a letter to JWD requesting that he desist from poaching on the estate. Not what I was expecting! He states that this covers, ‘pigeons, rabbits and hares’. The letter is surprising to me for two reasons. Firstly, as a senior member of the household staff, not being allowed to hunt these lower order animals seems unnecessary or even petty, especially at a time of war. Possibly, food was becoming so short that all sources on the estate needed to be protected and stock piled for the coming winter?
The second odd reference in the letter is that Crosbie-Hill refers to the damage caused if Lady Ward heard that her valet, JWD, was poaching on the estate.
Given that the typical duties of a valet include ‘shaving and ‘dressing’ m’lord, it is curious that Crosbie-Hill clearly describes JWD as her ladyship’s valet.
Duties of Valet as described on www.victorian.com:
‘The valet’s duty is to wait upon his master. In the morning he attends to the lighting of the fire and the warming of his master’s bedroom. He then cleans his boots and shoes and brushes his clothing, which he arranges on a table or chair. He prepares the master’s bath, and if it is wished, hands garments to him as he dresses. He is sometimes expected to shave his master. Later he puts the dressing room in order, brushes clothes before putting them away, cleans combs and brushes and is at his master’s orders whenever required. Valeting is often done by the butler and footmen or second men. The latter take turns in valeting guests.’
It is likely that the war-time constraints caused a certain amount of double duties for JWD and normal butlering for Sir John was added to by some limited valet duties for her ladyship.
Whether JWD shaved the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’ or not, his small act of rebellion resulted in me looking far more fondly on him. There were no more reports of poaching although I hope that he was able to continue without discovery.
There are two examples that illustrate JWD may not have been the easiest person to get along with or maybe he just did not suffer fools gladly.
In one instance in 1920, a family called Houston, the mother grandly named Mary de Erine Houston, was involved in a butter scandal based on the estate dairy. Mary ran the dairy and her husband was the estate cowman/herdsman. As was normal with all these kind of jobs, a house came with the employment. At this time, the house was of massive importance. If you lost your employment and with it the house, you could quickly be homeless with no social support; a quick route to the workhouse. Workhouses were not abolished until April 1930 but many continued into the 1950s under the control of local councils.
The scandal appears to involve the legitimate ‘free’ distribution of butter for one specified hour each day to estate staff, for which Mrs Houston was responsible. She admits that she has dispensed the butter outside of the prescribed hours but that this is because some of the staff could only get to the dairy at those times. Did she have a small business on the side, a slippery slope? Mrs Houston fought her corner as she claimed that Crosbie-Hill had been trying to get her out of her home for years through bullying including the ripping up of flowers she planted around the dairy.
She seems to have upset JWD as Sir John writes in a letter to Crosbie-Hill from Dudley House, Park Lane, ‘Dixon is delighted at the idea of surviving and says he would go anywhere rather than stay next to the Houstons.’ This is probably in reference to the sacking of the Houstons and their departure.
Sadly, a letter dated November 1920 from Mary Houston to Sir John, reads ‘I have thought it might interest you to know that my husband died here on Saturday last after a few hours illness’.
A tragedy or perhaps just a wind up? I wonder, were their last words ‘I can’t believe he’s not butter’.
Intriguingly, another mention of JWD comes in a letter from Mrs W Barrett dated 28th May 1915 directly to Sir John. It appears to be her notice of quitting her job and therefore her home, a big decision. It includes the statement ‘I wish to leave this day week as we cannot live next to Dixon any longer’. Oops, what could my grandfather have done now?
The Barretts seem to have moved out later in the year and now lived in Newbury. By October, Amy Barrett writes to Sir John begging for her job back and claiming that it had all been a big misunderstanding; the tone of the letter is heart breaking. Apart from her own disastrous situation, she explains that her young daughter of 15 is old enough to work and desperately needs a job and for that she needs a reference from Crosbie-Hill and that this had been refused.
There follows a conversation between Sir John and Crosbie Hill in which they discuss that on the one hand they do not wish to re-employ her but on the other, staff was difficult to recruit at this time during the war. The net result was that she got lucky, was re-employed and her daughter got her reference. Such a minor thing to read about but so important to them at the time. No job, no home, no hope, all averted.
It seems my grandfather’s life was filled with the minutiae of estate life but an observer of much larger events.
One such event was the visit in October 1912 of King George V to Chilton Lodge. I had previously found within my Dixon family memento box, a letter, dated October 14th 1912 from the Kings Messenger, York Cottage, Sandringham, to my grandfather, concerning his Majesty’s visit. The letter requests transport to and from Hungerford Station and a single room, hopefully for the messenger not for the King!
Letter to JWD from the Kings Messenger 14th October 1912
concerning King George V visit
The Hungerford Virtual Museum carries a detailed description (and many wonderful photographs) of the visit and I assume JWD played his part.
Excerpt from the Hungerford Museum:
The visit was of a purely private nature - the King visiting Chilton (Chilton Lodge) for a few days shooting. However, Hungerford was a very patriotic town. Once it was known that the King was to travel by train, there was a clear opportunity to decorate the town - and committees were established to co-ordinate the plans.
The King was to arrive on Mon 21 October. Over the previous week, much work went into erecting the various decorations and devices which were to transform the town.
All the decorations, from the top of Park Street, where the Railway Company’s efforts ended, to the limits of the town at the west end of Charnham Street, were one concise design. There were Venetian masts placed in huge barrels covered with tri-coloured paper and surmounted with greenery. From the masts, festoons of flowers, with double lines of fairy lights were arranged, along with Japanese lanterns, trophies, and illuminated crowns. At various points grand decorated arches were erected across the street, including patriotic words such as “God save the King" and "Speed the plough”.
The wide High Street was a blaze of colour, by day and by night. In the light of day, one could appreciate the garlands, pennants, trophies, and devices of greenery. There was gay-coloured bunting and thousands of flags, imparting a vivid colour scheme. After dark, the thousands of fairy lights were particularly picturesque.
The grand finale to the decorative scheme was the novel arch adjacent to the Sun Inn in Charnham Street. It was the only arch funded privately, and was constructed by Messrs H Gibbons and Sons Ltd, the local iron works. It consisted of two elevators, ploughs and agricultural implements, with flags rising from sheaves of wheat placed at the top, while streamers of straw trailed down either side. “Loyal Labour” were the words on one side of the arch, and “Industry” was the word on the other side. A seed machine, turnip pulper and water barrel were among the agricultural implements placed at the base. It was seen at its best when lit by 150 electric globes, "each of 16 candle power", these powered by a special generator mounted on a 60hp Daimler chassis.
The King’s Visit
The railway station also received special treatment by the GWR Company. It was completely transformed, special attention being directed to the platform and buildings on the down line, at which the King alighted, but the waiting-room and platform on the other side, and the over-bridge were not overlooked. Trophies and shields were extensively used, along with bunting and flags. The walls of the offices and waiting rooms on the main building were covered with crimson cloth, heavily fringed with gold, while from the veranda small flags and shields were displayed. A specially improvised gangway, through which his Majesty passed to his motor car was arranged, the large booking hall being screened off for the purpose. The Royal Coat of Arms occupied a prominent position over the door, while other devices were picturesquely arranged. The platform was covered with a Royal carpet of the familiar fleur-de-lys pattern. An interesting feature of the decorations here was the inclusion of American flags, Mrs Ward (the King’s hostess at Chilton) being a daughter of the American Ambassador. The front of the station buildings, and even the chimneys, were also decorated. The same scheme as that adopted by the committee for the decoration of the route through the town, viz, festoons from Venetian masts, was employed in the embellishment of the station approach.
The railway bridge across the High Street had been completely covered with dark red cloth, outlined with gold fringe, and relieved by fringe festoons and trophies.
Many people added to the general effect by decorating their own private and commercial buildings, all following the agreed scheme.
Throughout the Monday, finishing touches were made, and trains (from the west and east) brought many visitors to the town. Crowds started building at 6 o'clock, and by seven o'clock the streets of Hungerford were filled with people taking up various vantage points from which they might see the King and his party. Station approach, Station Road, Park Street, High Street, Bridge Street and Charnham Street were solid with people.
The magnificent Royal train, consisting of four first-class coaches, and the Royal saloon, drawn by the powerful engine, “King James”, bearing on its side the Royal Coat of Arms, glided into the station punctually to the minute at 7 o'clock. The 76 ton 4-6-0 GWR engine 4024 "King James" was one of the ten 4000 Class locomotives, built in Swindon in 1909. It was renamed "Dutch Monarch" in 1927 when a new King Class of GWR engines (the 6000) was introduced. A similar engine - 4003 Lode Star - is shown in the Photo Gallery, and is preserved at the Steam Museum, Swindon.
The King and Queen had been at Sandringham over the weekend, and had returned to St Pancras only that morning. He held a meeting of the Privy Council, and met an Indian Prince, before travelling to Paddington, from where the Royal train had left at 6.05pm.
There was a large reception group, including the Feoffeess, representatives of the police and Railway Company. Mr J C Adnams, the Constable, who was the inspiring genius, and Mr H D’o W Astley (the Steward of the Manor, and Town Clerk) presented the King with a Lancastrian red rose (picked from the garden of Mr George Platt).
In less than five minutes the King's car, which included the Hon John Ward, Colonel Sir Frederick Ponsonby, and Sir Charles Cust, RN, slowly left the station; the town band played the National Anthem. The car was surrounded as it proceeded at little more than a walking pace through the town, with the church bells ringing in the background. There was no great display of bodyguard, no lining the route with soldiers.
The king smiled, the crowds cheered, and waved hats and handkerchiefs.
Unfortunately, the weather was poor, and just after the King had passed through the town, a heavy deluge of rain extinguished most of the thousands of fairy lights that had only recently been lit by dozens of helpers.
The only formal incident in the procession through the town was the salute of the Fire Brigade, who stood to attention at the Bear Corner.
As the King's car left the limits of the town and passed under the electrically illuminated Gibbons' arch, it speeded up along the Chilton road.
On arriving at Chilton he was greeted by the villagers, who turned out in force. The car passed under an arch erected at the bridge, and the carriage drive through the park to the mansion was lighted by 200 torch-bearers.
During the week:Each day, following breakfast and transacting urgent business, the King's party had been away from Chilton at 9.30, driving to the Woolley Estate, which was well-known as one of the best partridge grounds in the country.
Shooting started soon after 10 o'clock. The party included the Earl of Ilchester, Lord Herbert, Lord Wolverton, Sir Frederick Ponsonby, Sir Charles Cust, and Captain the Hon Richard Molyneaux. Thebag on the Tuesday consisted of 234 brace of partridges, 160 hares, and 107 pheasants. Mrs Ward and the other ladies of the party joined them at lunch at Farnborough.
For four successive days a crowd of villagers and visitors assembled in Hungerford Newtown to watch the King's car on his way to Woolley.
Lunch was held in a tent at 1 o'clock, the ladies joining the guns, and on the Thursday the Vicar of Hungerford (the Rev T S Gray) had the honour of lunching with the King.
Whilst at Chilton, the King enjoyed Kennet trout (9lbs 4oz in all) sent by the Feoffees, and also had Devon beef supplied by Messrs Hutchins and Co, of the High Street.
END of excerpt.
Sir John was actively employed by the King and as an Equerry was trusted with messages taken to France and Germany through-out the war. He was also Keeper of the King’s Horse, an important historical role.
In April 1915, Sir John writes to Crosbie-Hill ‘I have been in France on a mission for the King’... ‘things are going well in France and Germany are not’.
The major battle at that time was the ‘Battle of Neuve Chapelle’ (10 - 13 March 1915), launched with the aim of capturing the high ground of the Aubers Ridge and in so doing, to create a threat to the German Army in occupation of the city of Lille. Although the British broke through the German Front Line and captured the village of Neuve Chapelle, the German Sixth Army carried out counter-attacks and the British attack was halted from advancing any further. This was the fore runner to the deadly Battle of the Somme.
Clearly, Sir John is operating at the near heart of the war effort which came in very handy in respect of some estate issues.
In January 1916, Sir John writes to Crosbie-Hill and marks it as PRIVATE: ‘I hear from a minister that the jolly government intend to put such a price on petrol that it will be impossible to run a car.’ He then instructs Crosbie-Hill to lay in a big store’ and ‘buy 1,000 gallons’. Sometime after this, Crosbie- Hill writes to Sir John, ‘I have finally arranged to take 1,000 gallons in two gallon tins, delivered at Chilton at 2/1d per gallon’. Hill also purchased a store measuring 6’3’’ wide, 6’ in length and 5’10’’ in height. Clearly, health and safety or bombing from enemy bombers was not something they had to worry about.
Against this background, the various other references to my grandfather are few and far between and concerned with the everyday life of the estate, characterised by children’s party organisation (where I found the only mention of my dad as an attendee), various tasks concerning Lady Ward’s dogs, postal duties, trips to Dudley House etc. etc.
I had always been told that JWD had fallen, broken his hip and subsequently died of pneumonia in hospital in 1932 whilst being treated for his hip - a believable story and not uncommon in those times especially for elderly people. I wanted to know more about it; how he fell, what was he doing, poaching or polishing?
In fact, it became obvious that two entirely separate incidents had become conflated. It is a classic example of how even family history from the recent past and handed down by word of mouth, can be just plain wrong.
Throughout all the letters I read, there is only one mention of a fall and that was in February 1924. Lady Ward writes from Villa Rosemary, Cap Ferrat on the 24th February, 1924, ‘what a perfectly horrid accident poor Dixon has had. I am so sorry about it. I do hope his fall will have no lasting side effects’.
A little later on the 3rd March, Sir John writes, ‘Poor Dixon, he must have had a horrid time. Will you thank Starkey-Smith for his letter to me about him’
JWD clearly recovers from what sounds like a really bad fall but resumes his duties and there is no further reference to this accident.
However, in March 1932 he is admitted to Savernake Hospital and is operated on for a duodenal ulcer on the 25th. March.
On April 6th my grandmother writes to Mr Turnbull (the new Estate Manager) thanking him for his kindness and expressing relief that Dr. Hayden has said JWD is doing well and that he will let him come home as soon as possible.
On the 17th May he dies at home in the Butler’s House in Chilton Foliat with Em by his bedside.
The death certificate gives the cause of death as the duodenal ulcer and broncho pneumonia, emphasema. Clearly, the operation was not successful and possibly it burst when he was already in a weakened state from the pneumonia.
On the next day, in a letter, dated 18th May from Sir John to Turnbull, he writes: ‘Poor old Dixon. I am sorry he has gone. He was a wonderful servant of the real old type and we were devoted to him but he had been facing back the last two years probably had the illness on him all this time.’
On 22nd May my grandmother writes to Mr Turnbull thanking him for his kindness and ‘words of encouragement, offer of funeral cars, and floral tribute’.
Letter from my Grandmother to Turnbull, the Estate Manager
It is pretty clear that JWD died of a long term illness, the duodenal ulcer and there was no link between the fall in 1924 and his eventual death in 1932.
I think you have to suffer from a small dose of historical OCD to find these ‘facts’ important!
Clearly apart from hospital bills which appear to be being paid by Sir John and house leaving communications, JWD passes out of this world, the Ward archives and even the Dixon family memories.
At least, thanks to the Ward’s foresight in keeping this vast wealth of information, I feel I know JWD much more than before. On first thoughts, I cannot see myself in him to any great extent. But on reflection, maybe we are similar. I like to think of myself as a free thinker and beholden to no man. But being honest, I worked in industry for my entire working life and largely complied with its many rules. There were also times when I did not and these equated to JWD’s poaching. I also poached rabbits never lions!
I concluded that JWD was a man of his times and of his heritage; a very good basis for Carson. I hope he felt his life was worthwhile.
But what of the Wards? While I did not find as much information on JWD as I had hoped, there was an abundance of letters and documents written by and about both Sir John and Lady Ward.
There is a lot of information on both the Wards and Reids concerning their heritage, career roles etc., largely available on the internet and so I recommend that if you are interested in them, try some internet browsing. I will largely restrict my writings here to some interesting local incidents which both give an insight into the character of Sir John and Lady Ward and which memories are now only contained in their family archives. However, I do need to provide some context.
So, if Carson was modelled on JWD, how does Sir John rate against Downton’s Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham?
In summary, every aspect of Sir John’s writings, reactions to situations, attitude towards his staff and estate workers, relationship with British institutions and family relations is a perfect match. As I read more and more of his letters, the image of Robert Crawley and the actors voice were irrevocably fixed in my mind. As I read each letter, it was Crawley’s voice that I heard. Of no historical accuracy or importance of course but one step closer to Sir John in my mind.
We all know the levels of inequality were great then and after a few decades of an emergent middle class in the mid to late 20th. century, are now again increasing in the new century. If there is a difference, between then and now, it seems it is old versus new money. Without in any way, ignoring the unfairness of any system that could create the levels of inequalities in the early part of the twentieth century in the UK, at least characters like Sir John saw that they had a responsibility towards their staff and the wider population to some extent. However, I think this relationship between master and staff, was restricted to the understanding that if you as a worker did your job, did not take advantage in any way then you were safe for life albeit an ever so ‘umble one. If on the other hand you were believed to have taken advantage, even in a small way, then that contract was completely broken. The rich had a God given right to be rich and the workers to be poor. This was not a matter of conscience.
In summary, The Wards lived in and owned (or leased) four massive properties. Dudley House, (Park Lane), Villa Rosemary, (Cap Ferrat), Kinnaird, (a Scottish hunting fishing shooting estate) and Chilton. In addition they owned the motor yacht, Rosemary. When in America they stayed with the in-laws in their mansion, bigger even than the UK properties, at 451 Madison Avenue, New York.
Dudley House, Hyde Park, London
451 Madison Avenue, New York
Chilton Lodge, Hungerford
Villa Rosemary, Cap Ferrat
Kinnaird, Ballinluig, Perthshire
How to choose, decisions decisions?.......
On 23rd June 1908, the 38 year old Sir John Hubert Ward married Jean Templeton Reid at the Chapel Royal, St. James's Palace in a ceremony attended by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. The wedding was celebrated at Dorchester House, and was one of the greatest society events of the year.
The Ward’s lifestyle is exotic by any standards, with letters variously from, not only, Dudley House, Park Lane (frequent stays), Villa Rosemary, Cap Ferrat (frequent stays), Kinnaird, Scotland (frequentafter 1927) but also from H.M. Yacht Victoria and Albert, Copenhagen (1913), 451 Madison Avenue, RMS Aquitania, Cunard liner (1921) and Pavillon Sevigne, Vichy (1932).
However, it is clear from the many letters written by Sir John and sent to Crosbie-Hill that he knew each and every estate worker and obeyed the strict code which under-pinned this rural society for centuries. And which maintained the status quo.
By contrast, the staff were housed in small estate cottages often with no running water and no mains drainage. For example, as late as 1931, Mrs J Smith wrote complaining that the door to her outside loo was hanging off and she could now be seen ‘doing her business’ from the road. In addition, the night soil bucket had not been collected for over one month.
I cannot help but compare the image of Mrs Smith and her early morning ablutions with Sir John and my grandfather’s early morning valeting.
Even my grandmother had to send a letter to Turnbull in March 1932, begging for the roof repairs to be done and the paper hanging off her bedroom wall to be stuck back (stuck back not replaced) before JWD returned from hospital suffering from pneumonia!
The Ward’s wealth received a further boost when in April 1932, Jean’s mother, Elizabeth Mills Reid, died and left a substantial estate to the Ward family. A letter from Mrs Reid’s solicitor, states that Sir John is to receive $200,000 ($3.4 million at today’s prices) and each of the two children, Edward and Alexander, $100,000. Jean’s much larger share was still being calculated!
We can but hope that this funded a new outside loo door for Mrs Smith.
Despite this huge wealth, Sir John takes a keen interest in the expenditures and income of the estate and is regularly checking that the best price is being had for everything from dairy products to a very small sale of some bedding plants. Weekly wages are all detailed and approved by Sir John even though the starting rates are just 7/6 pence/week for new hands rising to 12/6/week for established estate workers.
Whether through snobbery or in the maintenance of ‘standards’, Sir John has strong ideas on how the staff and locals should behave.
In 1921 Sir John writes to Crosbie-Hill, ‘I am very sorry but I cannot have bathing in the river, it would become a custom and would never do’.
In 1927 Sir John writes to Crosbie-Hill ‘do not let Moore call his house ‘The Bungalow’ it’s awful, call it ‘the Kennels’, anything but ‘Bungalow’.
In April 1928 Sir John writes to Turnbull ‘I don’t like the idea of a woman master at all’.
The mind boggles.
There is a curious sequence of letters between Sir John, his solicitor and Barclay’s Bank in which Sir John raises a loan of £2,000 in 1912. The purpose is simply stated as being for a tenant and asked that although Sir John is responsible for the loan, the tenant be allowed to pay this off ‘year by year’ at whatever amount they are able to manage in that year. The bank duly agrees although demands a 5% interest. Sir John finds this too high and offers 4% which I assume was accepted as more correspondence continues with the bank clearly curious as to why Sir John was doing this at all. It does seem a little odd. I wonder…….
The earliest signs that Sir John’s health is failing comes in April 1934 in a letter from Lady Ward saying ‘Sir John is ill with a strained heart’ By the mid-thirties, the couple are spending most of their time at Villa Rosemary, perhaps the weather is kinder to a failing Sir John. During 1937, Sir John’s letters fall to a trickle with most now coming from Lady Ward and starting ‘Sir John has asked me to……’
Later in the year, Lady Ward writes that Sir John has a cold and sits in his room and sees no one.
The last letter I found actually from Sir John is dated Easter Monday 1938 and contains the intriguing question ‘what happened about the skeleton found at Chilton, anything known of who it was?’ A genuine mystery case or product of hallucinations?
They must return at some point during 1938 to London and Villa Rosemary is quickly sold for 700,000 Francs.
Sir John passed away at Dudley House on the 2nd December 1938.
The next letter dated in December 1938 from Lady Ward refers to Sir John’s death and goes on to thank the Chilton garden staff for the beautiful wreath ‘which would have meant a great deal to him’.
So the man who employed my grandfather for the last twenty two years of his life also passes on but only as far as the St. Mary’s churchyard where they are laid out in the same relationship they had in life.
JWD at Sir John’s feet.
There was nothing in Lady Ward’s letters to turn me against her or shatter my childhood illusion. A product of her inherited wealth and privileged society absolutely but I will not condemn her for that.
Her role seems to have been to organise the family and in particular Sir John. Given the four houses and regular movements between them, this was clearly a full time job. She is the target of many charity requests which are always agreed to and is often involved in helping estate staff and local residents who are effected by problems. A mark of the respect she was held in, is shown by the invitation by Mrs Churchill to join the Royal Order of St. John of Jerusalem, founders and operators of St. John’s Ambulances. Her personal interests seem to increasingly centre on her horses and dogs which she breeds and enters into Crufts.
Her letters are friendly, kindly, relaxed, littered with humour and totally without arrogance. You can see why Sir John fell in love and was entranced. Her American attitudes perhaps a breath of fresh air compared with those of the English upper classes at that time?
English aristocracy meets US money certainly but a fair swop never-the-less. Both parties appear to have got a great deal.
I suspect my grandfather would have been enormously fond of her. I think she would have turned a blind eye on his poaching antics.
The graves of Lady Ward, on the left and Sir John Hubert Ward to the right
with John William Dixon waiting quietly behind.
Can you help?