Frances Hannah Maskell (née Waddell)
(1 Apr 1920 – 30 Mar 1989)
As befitted a girl in those days, Frances' earlier years were passed in a right and proper degree of almost total obscurity. After all what parents would want a daughter to be the subject of publicity, unless she were to be engaged or to be married? And Frances was very dutiful as well as (very nearly) beautiful.
As remarked by Francis Bacon, "There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion". Some slight departure from perfection is essential to catch and captivate the eye.
Indeed, it is said that Mahommedan tradition dictates that any form of art, such as an intricately-woven carpet, however skilfully executed, should embody a slight flaw lest it presumed to perfection, and that of course would be presumptuous, even blasphemous, as of course only God himself is perfect.
And at a more everyday level, it's undeniable that to be totally snug or comfortable, just one very small part of you, an elbow say, should be slightly chilly or askew in order to heighten the contrast.
Her parents were surprisingly lax about their children's remediable medical problems – Walter's four smashed front teeth, Sandy's lazy eye and Frances' gap teeth. So much more could have been done even in that pre-cosmetic era. And so Frances' image comes down to us in all its gamine charm.
Every large family has its particular mix of hierarchies and alliances, favourites and outcasts. In descending order of age, Walter was the black sheep, Robin was the lone wolf, Sandy was the true-blue one, Frances was the closest to her mother (Hannah), and Jane was closest to her father (Robert).
They were all of them very remarkable individuals in their different ways and you'll just have to read their profiles to get a more complete idea of them; though Robin's life was cut cruelly short at the age of 21. The following excerpts really just set the scene.
Memory of a 1928 Summer Holiday
A bygone way of life in which two young sisters (Frances and Jane) could be sent off on lengthy train journeys in the charge of a 13 year old brother (Robin).
The Facts of Life
Recalled as best I can from a surprising late-night telephone call from Jane, the questions every parent dreads and then tries to delegate.
Frances and Jane (corrected)
Transcribed by my brother Simon from a letter sent by Jane only a couple of months before she died. Simon's comments or queries are highlighted in orange; my corrections to certain dates and timescales are highlighted in blue. It's particularly interesting to realise that Jane's relocation to Canada wasn't originally seen as permanent, but simply to 'make space' at Elm Lodge for Frances to recover from distressing developments in the family she'd been looking after in Rome.
Until the early 1930's, when Robert insisted on taking a salary-reduction in sympathy with the workers' wages being cut (by order of the Directors) in the steel mill (Brown Bayleys) of which he was Works Manager, the Waddells could afford to employ a cook. But then they had to let her go, in the modern euphemism, and Hannah was faced with feeding six people three times a day (Walter had left home by then).
It has to be said that cooking didn't come naturally to her (and why should it have) and there was one celebrated incident when Robert acidly enquired, "Hannah, what is this upon my plate that smells like dead men's underwear?" I expect he was lucky not to have it scraped into his lap.
(As my father Walter, post divorce, frequently reminded us when my brother Simon or I shuddered at the sight of what he'd produced for our supper, all his father Robert could cook was baked bananas, cue for us to say "poo gosh no thanks", but actually they're delicious if done with brown sugar and a touch of cream...)
Jane was the academic sister, slightly brisk by nature, and Frances was contrariwise seen as being charming but slightly slow on the uptake. So while Jane was passing all her School Certificate exams with flying colours, Grannie dispatched Frances to a finishing school in Edinburgh where the girls were trained in the arts of cooking and science of domestic management. And she flourished magna cum laude. Not at all slow on the uptake.
And in fact she was accomplished in other ways too - she played the piano passably well, and in due course acquired very serviceable French and Italian, and she got on very well with children. And I'm fairly sure that when she returned home, the obvious way forward was to become a nanny, or au pair, to a suitably well-bred household.
I think she quite possibly decided upon the Armitages, who in fact owned Brown Bayleys. The reason I put this forward is that I recollect in passing, from one of Jane's many phone calls, which used to touch on many topics, there was a certain parental dubiety about this, as Robert had left Brown Bayleys in 1937 and it was thought unseemly for Frances to enter the Farnley Hall household in such a lowly and unattached capacity.
On the other hand, there are no indications that Robert William Armitage or his sister Georgiana had a young family at that time, although they were both in the appropriate age range. Maybe Frances just looked elsewhere.
Then came the war, and as Jane put it,
Please click here for some images from Frances' ATS career. My wife Sonia once threw a telephone at her boss (a very senior executive at Tube Investments) and he was really rather proud of her for doing so. She also threw a plate at me on another occasion, but I ducked rather than catching it, so it broke, and I earned a night on the sofa.
Frances' adult life was demarcated by her ailing father Robert Waddell, her longest-term employer David Craig and her eventual husband Hugh Maskell. We now turn to the first of these rather complex individuals.
Frances had been a mere 19 years old at the outbreak (1939) of the Second World War, but it's greatly to her credit that she became (as previously mentioned) an officer in the ATS and did her duty for King and Country. By the time the war was properly over (late 1945) she was 25, and still faced many months before demobilisation. She probably rejoined her parents in 1946.
But meanwhile (1944) her father had suffered a serious stroke and the family income had dried up. Nevertheless, he persisted with his long-time ambition of buying – and moving into with his dutiful wife Hannah – a Dutch barge, which initially he kept on the [river] Hamble. And Frances was now having to move in as well.
Much later (Jan 1987), she remarked to her stepson David, that her father was weary of constant travel [both before and during the war] as a consultant engineer and that living on a boat 'was the fulfilment of some pre-war dream of getting away from it all, but it was a terrible experience for us as a family.'
But, she went on to say, she then got a job 'looking after some army man's house in return for living in the cottage near Aldershot ... later I got a job as secretary with a solicitor in Chichester for 2 years ... through Monica Roberts I got a job looking after a family in Paris, and later through Virginia [Clarke, née Surtees] as nanny to a high powered airline executive in Rome for 4 happy years... then I had my time as matron at [St George's Windsor] and after a wait I married your father.'
For Grannie, it got a good deal worse, as the privations of life aboard a cold damp barge continued, but at least Frances had escaped to the cottage near Aldershot. The barge was moved to Birdham and then disposed of, Robert and Hannah moving first into Well Cottage, Birdham and then, finally into Elm Lodge, Fishbourne. By this time Robert's health was in total decline, needing round-the-clock nursing.
Frances returned home, where she and Granny worked shifts day and night to keep Robert going. Professional nurses, though heroic, can at least retain a professional detachment from their patients, but family carers bear a double burden. Sandy would visit periodically, and insist on arranging professional care, but after each departure the family team would dismiss the professionals and resume their regime of total care for husband and father, now a shadow of the forceful intellect and caustic character who had once bestridden the household.
By the time he died (Jan 1952) both Frances and Grannie were utterly exhausted (Jane says that Frances suffered a nervous breakdownA) and I think that was about when that Jane returned from Stratford, where she'd been involved in stage management behind the scenes at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. She spent several years working at County Hall in West Street, and it was probably in that same period that Frances worked at the solicitor's office mentioned above. When I was first sent to Elm Lodge at the age of eight (1953) both Aunts were still resident at Elm Lodge, so she'd not yet done her stint in Paris.
A Jane has also remarked that because of, or perhaps in spite of, Frances' first-hand experience of nursing her father, she (Frances) expressed an interest in nursing as a career, but that this was not encouraged. Perhaps, firstly, because it was seen as just a temporary emotional rebound, or secondly because she didn't have any School Certificate qualifications, or thirdly because of Grannie's likely image of nurses as hard-bitten gin-swilling Sarah Gamps.
Frances' adult life was demarcated by her ailing father Robert Waddell, her longest-term employer David Craig and her eventual husband Hugh Maskell. We now turn to the second of these rather complex individuals.
So far, this ramble down Memory Lane has been very useful for me in setting the scene mentally, but it's hardly the stuff that keeps you on the edge of your seat. That's about to unfold. But first, please click here in order to learn something of David Craig and the tragic death of his first wife Betty (but as the caveat warns, pay no attention to the soppy stuff).
The Craig family had been a highly-respected Anglo-Italian family in Rome for two generations and I've seen his middle name rendered as 'Leonardo' on at least one document.
And also, indeed, David and Betty Craig were already well acquainted with Virginia, wife of the British ambassador Sir Ashley Clarke, as she was godmother to their youngest daughter Annabel. So who knows what chemistry, though not yet biology, was already latent between David and Virginia, at least on her side?
Regardless of that speculation, Virginia was doubtless hugely involved in arranging Betty's funeral, which involved contacting Betty's family in England and organising their travel over - indeed in the case of Betty's father, even his passport (he'd never had one, the only time he'd been abroad was to fight in the First World War - no passport required!)
And she may well have been involved in arranging David's transfer by a special slow train to hospital in Rome.
But how on earth was Frances identified as being the ideal nanny and governess for the four motherless young Craig children?
Her obituaries said that it was as part of her remit as the British Ambassador's wife that Virginia first visited David in hospital soon after the dreadful accident – but they were of course already on friendly terms.
She instantly realised that his four young children – the youngest of whom was her god-daughter – were now motherless, and the ideal solution would be a British nanny/governess (despite their partly Italian heritage)
She contacted her step-father the diplomat Sir James Leishmann Dodds for advice, and he said he'd ask his sister Jean Waddell (née Dodds), married to Peter Waddell (a senior member of the Indian Civil Service), the brother of Robert Waddell, Frances' father!
And Jean said anybody who knows anything about anything, would tell you that Frances Waddell is the bees' knees in looking after small children. And so everything connected up – Frances and Virginia would soon have become well-acquainted.
Four very happy years ensued for Frances and the Craig children. Frances brought warmth, light, and stability to their lives, and for the next years, while she was there, all felt right in their world.
And then suddenly, in 1960, everything went terribly wrong. The 'Elm Lodge' mythology was that, as I expressed it,
So, after a decent interval, he proposed to her. He was a good-looking and highly successful executive and man of the world, honourable, with a ready-made family who had fully accepted her into their hearts, wot was not to like? She must have had any number of previous proposals and cannot have been surprised by his initiative. And after all, she was by then past her mid-thirties and it was surely time to commit – especially as she had already mastered Italian as well as French, and would have moved easily into the cosmopolitan world that Craig inhabited.
But she bolted back to England...
But the now-adult Craigs are of the opinion that it was Frances who fell in love with David Craig – who was not merely a highly-capable airline executive but also had a glamorous background as an aeronautical research engineer in the hot topic of jet propulsion. What was not to admire?
[This was probably] first at RAF Cranford. Then [the] laboratory was evacuated - and [probably] several more times - because of the risk of bombing.
The following passage appears in a website compiled by Sir Frank Whittle's son. [Craig] would have been one of the recruits from Cambridge mentioned below.
The Reactionaries were former members and associates of Whittle's company Power Jets Limited who, during the years 1937 to 1945, were involved in developing Whittle's novel concept of forward propulsion of aircraft by reaction from the backward momentum of a high velocity stream of hot gas. This was regarded as a vivid and practical illustration of Isaac Newton's Third Law, that "Action and reaction are equal and opposite".
The concept of The Reactionaries was initiated in April 1946 at the Hind Hotel, Lutterworth by a group of engineers and others, in order to maintain contact with Sir Frank Whittle and each other wherever their careers might lead them. Some had been amongst the very first to work on developing the jet engine when he recruited promising graduate engineers from Cambridge and, not surprisingly, many of them went on to have distinguished careers.
But at some point in early 1960, Frances suddenly became aware that Virginia, the trusted intermediary between David Craig and herself, had betrayed the trust, and the confidences that Frances might well have shared with Virginia about her (Frances') growing tendresse towards Craig had been treacherously breached. The male of such relationships is always the last to know to what is going on, of course, but Virginia's laser sights were now focussed on him.
It's also virtually certain that Frances would have been horrified by the (at least potentially) adulterous liaison between David Craig and Virginia. She (Frances) couldn't possibly have condoned such a breach of the Christian code of conduct.
A close competitor with such repugnance would have been the gossip starting to circulate in the closed diplomatic community of Rome, which would have totally humiliated Sir Ashley Clarke, and made his ambassadorial status utterly untenable. Although David is said to have already felt that a relationship with Virginia would be unworkable in the long term, the first priority, to save face for everybody involved, was that he, Virginia, the family, all had to pack up and leave. Oh yes, and the wonderful Miss Waddell too.
And so they all had to head back to England (though I don't know how this was explained to the children).
The children were brought to England in Jun 1960. As they recollect,
It was definitely Virginia's intention to have us all in boarding schools ASAP. She had already arranged Susan's dispatch to boarding school in England before we even left Rome."
David moved to London at some point in 1960, but shuttled back and forth to Rome as he was involved in some organising way with the Olympic Games, held in Rome that summer, August to September.
Virginia had moved to London earlier, probably in March, to a rented flat in London. Her situation in Rome would have been very awkward, and she would have moved out of the Embassy as soon as the scandal broke. And there was no question of her remaining in Rome where her life would inevitably overlap with the husband who was now divorcing her.
There can be no doubt that Frances would have remained in Rome until the children's immediate well-being was assured, And in June that year, Gillian, Michael, and Annabel flew to England, and went straight to Bourne House (see below), via Elm Lodge. Susan, who was already at boarding school in England (as pre-arranged by Virginia even before the family left Rome), returned to Rome and stayed with her best friend's family for the summer.
Gillian (aged 10), Michael (aged 8) and Annabel (aged 6) were enrolled at a boarding school in Selsey (slightly less than 9 miles drive from Elm Lodge), called Bourne HouseB which ran a summer school. Frances continued to watch over them, sorting out practicalities such as uniforms and name tapes for when the proper school term began. But they didn't board there for long.
Michael was sent off to prep school somewhere, while Gillian and Annabel went to live with Frances at Elm Lodge, continuing at Bourne House as day girls (Frances presumably providing the transport, though I know from experience it's quite a tricky drive).
But Gillian soon went off to join Susan at boarding school, while Annabel was taught at home in Elm Lodge with Frances - which suited Annabel 'just fine'. She remembers reading English books together, things like 'Ant and Bee' to help her learn to count in English, and the Beatrix Potter books. Not surprisingly, though fluent, she spoke English with an Italian accent then.
Annabel remembers Grannie Waddell only vaguely, as a presence in the house. But I can well imagine that Grannie, always quiet and calm, about whom everyone else unknowingly revolved, would have strongly recollected her own upbringing, fatherless and motherless, by a benevolent aunt.
This idyllic arrangement continued for several months until (at least) Oct 1960, when Annabel was relocated to London to live with her father David and his new wife Virginia Craig, at which time she began her official primary, and then secondary, education at the justly renowned Lycée Français "Charles de Gaulle" in South Kensington (where, for some inexplicable reason, so many political advocates of the disastrous British educational system choose to send their own offspring).
And at this point Frances' composure collapsed and she suffered her second nervous breakdown (the first having been after the protracted illness and death of her father). The Achilles heel of self-controlled perfectionistsC (such as we Waddells tend to be) is that things build up inside like the pressure in a dam, and then our restraint fails catastrophically. The betrayal by Virginia, the dashing of her hopes with David, and then the parting from the children, overcame her, and she retreated to a nursing home for some months.
Whether or not it was there that she met Hugh Maskell is a moot point.
So there was a gap of about 2 years, from mid 1960 to early 1962, that Elm Lodge could cast its soothing influence on Frances, and Annabel for just 6 months of course. In late 1962 I went off to university (which was disastrous) and Elm Lodge took a back seat for at least a couple of years.
Frances' breakdown would perhaps have lasted from late 1960 until late spring of 1961. There were then just 12 months or so before Grannie set off for Canada, and the house was rented. So at some in-between point Frances met Hugh. And where did Frances reside till Grannie got back?
B Interestingly, my (late) brother Simon, at the age of 5 or so, was consigned to a boarding school in Selsey – quite possibly Bourne House – in the mid-1950's, as my mother Katie felt it would be too tiresome to cope with such a live wire during the complications of moving house from Stalybridge to central London, via Fishbourne in West Sussex, in the middle of an adulterous affair on her part. At that time Bourne House (if that was the one) was ruled by a Gorgon known to all and sundry as Ma'am, who enforced discipline by whacking the children's bottoms with the flat side of a hairbrush ... but she eventually admitted defeat with Simon, and so Katie moved him to St Pirans, a pukka prep-school in Maidenhead – with equally disappointing results: Simon remained captain of his soul and master of his fate, despite frequent corporal punishment.
He also remained unable to tell the time, or to read and write without great effort, until the age of 10 when he was transferred to a primary school in London.
C She used to make the most brilliant Dundee cake - David loved it. Aside from allowing Frances to make cakes, their cook Linda wouldn't have let anyone in her kitchen! The topping of almonds were always set with perfect symmetry in a circle. So neat (and so difficult to achieve). She was incredibly neat in everything she did, sowing with tiny, even stitches.
There was a particular shade of blue that Frances use to wear, not navy, maybe a cross between sapphire and cornflower blue. They called it 'Miss Waddell Blue'.
She was always calm, and would describe someone getting upset, as 'getting into a lather'.
Songs she'd sing were 'I saw three ships come sailing by', 'Over the hills and far away', and one they called the 'Umpa sumpa song' which was actually the French song 'En passant par la Lorraine avec mes sabots'.
Annabel interestingly describes her father's marriage to Virginia as doomed to failure, and indeed in Britain nowadays the statistics reveal that remarriages are even more fragile than first marriages. Though in Britain these days so few people bother to get married, as the relationship isn't seen as a commitment anyway.
But back then, even when marriages were supposedly life-long, Virginia was of course an aesthete and David was a technocrat, so that was possibly part of the trouble. And of course Britain in the early 1960's was a dreary place in which to live, even in London, as I well remember as a survivor of that period, and especially (I should imagine) in contrast with the vibrant cosmopolitan atmosphere of Rome.
And so the marriage went tits-up (as my father would have described it) within a couple of years. And all the disruption, dislocation, relocation, and emotional trauma had been for naught?
It's noted in Virginia's obituaries that she always refused to mention, let alone discuss, her second marriage - as though she had stooped to conquer some passing fancy of embarrassingly lower caste. Far more likely, and justifiably, she was belatedly ashamed at all the damage she had wrought upon a perfectly happy family, albeit that she'd played a major part in rescuing it in the first place. Just because you've made it doesn't mean you can break it (unless it's table-manners, as adults used to say of their own infringements of the rules).
Once Annabel completed her education at the Kensington Lycée (ca 1972), the Craig children had all reached maturity. And they had each and every one stayed in touch by cards and letters with Frances meanwhile. But soon after she became married to Hugh, he sent a letter to their father David to say that this was upsetting Frances and that they should cease any further communication with her.
Actually, Frances did continue to write for quite some time thereafter, so putting the lie to Hugh's assertions, and we can draw our own conclusions as to his motives.
A deafening silence
Following Grannie Waddell's funeral in Jan 1974, up until Hugh's death in 1989, my wife Sonia and I saw nothing of Hugh, and very little (if at all) of Frances – even on the occasions when her sister Jane visited from British Columbia. Though maybe get-togethers with inner members of the family such as Sandy and Helen were arranged separately. But one knew better than to mention Hugh.
Then, suddenly, just as in The Wizard of Oz Dorothy stepped into the Technicolour domain of Oz, communication with Frances was re-established, I can't quite remember how that happened on the Waddell side. Perhaps Jane had engineered it.
And in 1990, Annabel visited Frances, by then widowed, in her flat (27 Cunliffe Close) in Oxford to which she had moved with Hugh some years before.
No, Frances couldn't come to the wedding, but would Annabel go to see her? And of course she did, and thereafter they stayed in touch until Frances' death.
|Mary Miles||William Maskell|
(17 May 1814 –
12 Apr 1890)
(17 May 1814 –
12 Apr 1890)
theologian and collector of liturgical miscellanea
|Mary Louisa Florence Maskell
William Miles Maskell
(5 Oct 1839 –
1 May 1898)
Stuart Easton Maskell
Alfred Ogle Maskell
|Monique Theresa Stein
|‑3||William Miles Maskell
(5 Oct 1839 –
1 May 1898)
|Lydia Cooper Brown
(m 15 Sep 1874)
|Alice Ann McClean
|‑3||Stuart Easton Maskell
|Agnes Maria Fellowes
23 Mar 1920)
|William Edward Maskell|
(10 Feb 1873 –
29 Jun 1956)
|‑3||Alfred Ogle Maskell
|Lily Campbell Sheppard
|‑2||Lt Col William Edward Maskell OBE
(10 Feb 1873, Otley –
29 Jun 1956, W'ward Ho)
an Admiralty clerk at this time,
rapidly promoted from 2nd Lt to Lt Col during WW1
|Maria Cecilia Brands
possibly of Belgian origin
|Hubert Edward Thomas Embert Maria Maskell|
(10 Apr 1909 –
30 Mar 1989)
|‑1||Hubert (Hugh) Edward Maskell
(10 April 1909 –
30 Mar 1989)
tea planter in Ceylon
company director in Sussex
|Helen Ida Clermont Mitchell
(2 Aug 1914 –
9 Dec 1984)
(m 27 Jul 1939, Kensington)
|David William Maskell|
(b Q3 1940, Surrey Mid E, 2a 583)
|Frances Hannah Waddell
(1 Apr 1920 –
27 Jul 2002)
(m 27 Sep 1963, Marylebone)
|‑1||Helen Ida Clermont Mitchell
(2 Aug 1914 –
9 Dec 1984)
(26 Nov 1910 –
17 Jan 1985)
(m Q2 1951, Lewes, 5h 574)
(b 16 Jun 1951)
|0||David W Maskell
|Sarah (Sally) M L Odd
(m Q2 1967, St Marylebone, 5d 1651)
I'm very grateful to Iain Fraser for introducing me to the pre-Hugh Maskell generations.
As remarked at the outset, Frances' adult life was demarcated by her ailing father Robert Waddell, her long-term employer David Craig and her eventual husband Hugh Maskell. We now turn to the third of them, his influence on Frances and indeed upon the Waddell family as a whole.
It has to be said that, although he was by no means a 'bad guy', he did often come across as a trifle smug, sometimes even verging on the oleaginous, and in his later dealings with the rest of the family, more than a touch of the Murdstone emerged. We didn't dislike him, but it was difficult to relate to him either.
Hugh was fortunate that his generation was pretty well the last that could expect to forge a career in the British Empire, which had provided such opportunity for over two centuries by that time, and so much material for the novels and short stories of Somerset Maugham. He chose Ceylon, and for a decade it evidently served him well, but then the Second World War loomed, which set the stage for the Britterdämmerung that continues to this day as we languish at the bottom of the international Premier League.
He was only 30 at the beginning of the Second War, but the subject of his wartime activity never came up in conversation – quite possibly he was posted back to India, whence he'd only just returned to England to get married! Neither do I know how he earned an honest crust after the war ended, but one has to accept these lacunae in family history.
In fact, we have to fast forward some 15 years until about late 1960 onwards, when he and Frances quite separately and independently decided to enter the same nursing home for intensive TLC.
The notion held by the Craig family that Hugh was overcome by grief at the death of his first wife at the time he met Frances is not borne out by the fact that she was still alive and well at that time. His stay at the nursing home was for some other reason, probably post-op recuperational rather than psychological. But for whatever reason he was there (possibly the death of his mother), it was instrumental in bringing him into contact with Frances, who was in desperate need of solace.
Needless to say, none of this featured in 'Elm Lodge' Waddell mythology, which held that they had met at the Chichester tennis club at some unspecified point in late 1960 onwards and took things from there. Well, a harmless fiction.
One definite benefit of this for me was that I was introduced to Hugh's son David, a thoroughly nice individual some five years older than me, and he acted as guide and mentor for a while – including a visit to the Chichester Festival Theatre for a performance of the Royal Hunt of the Sun, a bizarre recreation of Pizarro's murder of Atahualpa for his 'roomful of gold.'
Following their marriage in 1963, Frances joined Hugh at Hill Top Farm in Pulborough; at that time Grannie Waddell was still living at Elm Lodge, where Sonia and I visited her after I restarted university in London. But by then she (Grannie, that is) was well over 80 and shortly thereafter agreed to sell Elm Lodge and move into a very pleasant retirement home, Fitzhall, in the village of Iping near Midhurst. What a wonderful place that was! Spacious accommodation, extensive grounds, and very pleasant ambience.
(The only slight drawback was that another resident, St.John Ervine, a retired playwright and erstwhile drama critic for the Observer, and by now somewhat non compos mentis, took a tremendous shine to Grannie and used to wander into her room at night. He'd lost a leg in the First World War, and eventually the Fitzhall staff hit upon the brilliant notion of confiscating his prosthetic leg at lights-out time.)
Sonia and I used to drive down every two or three months or so, and take her to a pleasant local hostelry, where she would very much enjoy a barley wine (heady stuff, be it noted).
But all good things come to an end, and in the late 1960's Hugh and Frances decided to move to Compton Dando, a village near Bristol, a much further drive away from Norwich, where we now lived. Grannie was relocated to a nursing home in Bath, at 5 Pulteney Street, pleasant enough, but with much smaller rooms and no view to speak of. But a couple of years later, we too moved to Bristol, not too far away, and though trips to the pub were no longer an option we were able to visit her as often as possible.
However, to every positive there's a negative. Frances' temperament had seemed to toughen following her marriage, and perhaps as a reflection of Hugh himself, she became surprisingly authoritarian.
The first manifestation of this had been in 1965, when I was due to attend a wedding in Chichester; Frances decreed that I had either to attend in (hired) morning dress or not at all. Sonia and I were poor as church mice anyway, and the business of changing from mufti into full fig, in a public car park after a long drive, and then back again afterwards, wasn't a great deal of fun. But just two years later, when Hugh and Frances were due to attend our wedding … you'd never guess ... Frances said it would be a frightful expense and inconvenience were Hugh to attend in formal gear. But then he did anyway! After all it was a purely personal decision.
The next manifestation came after our move to Bristol in 1971, closely followed by my mother Katie's move to a converted gate-houseD in the grounds of Midford Castle, the latter then residence of Isabel Briggs (said to be a successful authoress and literary agent), for whom my mother was supposed to be PA. This arrangement just didn't work, emotionally or (she said) financially. At any stage of the week, or hour of the night, there would telephone calls to say her mind was in turmoil and I had to go over and help. All this was in addition to regular weekend visits.
But she had also been in touch with Frances to complain that we were uncaring and unsupportive, both emotionally and financially. So Frances, fully believing this nonsense, wrote me a blistering letter echoing all these charges and demanding that I made much greater efforts on Katie's behalf.
Oddly enough, Frances had been sole trustee, on behalf of my brother Simon and myself, of a relatively tiny fund set up years earlier while our parents were still married. And Katie had successfully urged that now was the time for the money to be made available to Simon and myself – about £500 each. But what Frances didn't know was that Katie had thereupon 'revealed', to me at least, that the trust had been set up with 'money that was rightfully hers' and that if I had an ounce of decency I'd hand it over to her. I didn't believe her but did so anyway.
And Sonia wrote privily to Frances to tell her all this. The Frances of old might well have dithered, but this was the new Frances, and she not only severed all social contact with Katie, but also forbad her ever to see Grannie again – an even harsher decree, as Katie had always revered Hannah personally as well as mother in law.
The third and probably most awesome manifestation (that I'm aware of) came not long afterwards - Grannie died in Jan 1974, so it was probably a year or so previously. Simon and his wife Nicole were on a visit from Switzerland to say hello to all the family, and had got as far as Bath, to see Katie (by then resident in the village of Batheaston, working for a local firm of stockbrokers). And, they thought, an ideal opportunity to pay a brief visit to Grannie, hardly two miles away in the city centre.
So off they duly went, parked as close as one ever can to Pulteney Street, and rang the bell at No. 5. Matron answered the door as usual, evidently asked them in, and after due preliminaries showed them into Grannie's day room. But suddenly, like an avenging Fury, in burst Frances and ordered them to leave – they had no business to be there, she said as they left, except by prior appointment. At that point Simon's customary sang-froid deserted him and he told her to f*ck off. So then and thereupon they too shared the same fate as Katie!
But, at about this same time, my father independently decided that the time had come to introduce Grannie to my sister (born du deuxième lit) – Grannie's only grand-daughter, as an earlier instance had been still-born. Sonia and I, unaware of this, were spending the weekend with Elsa Douglas in deepest Mowsle Barton, so to speak. The telephone rang suddenly, as telephones do, and William (in an emotional state) said that he'd been told that they'd been refused permission to introduce themselves at 5 Pulteney Street, and what was going on? How he had found out Elsa's telephone number is not the least of the mystery surrounding this episode. Who, for example, had issued the ban?
So by this stage of the family roller-coaster, my father, mother, brother and sister had been cut off from contact with the one person to whom they all related. In my father's case there were controversial issues as regards his borrowings from Grannie, and there were some suggestions that Hugh was correspondingly bearing a disproportionate fraction of her upkeep at Pulteney Street. I've seen the figures, and that wasn't wholly true.
D The other side of the gatehouse was occupied by a young chap with an inventive turn of mind, and a growing family. Like so many women of her background she rather dismissed people like him as "a little man", of the sort that fix your plumbing or mend your car. His name was James Dyson, now the richest man in Britain.
Port after Stormie Seas
Following Grannie's death, Sonia and I were more focussed than ever, I with intensifying research, she with her physiotherapy training course. In the following year, 1975, our firstborn arrived, and we saw little or nothing of Frances and Hugh. And the year after that, in 1976, we moved to Reading (and Katie moved to Oxford, purely coincidentally).
Indeed, I think we then saw nothing of, and heard little from, Frances until after Hugh's death in 1989, though they also had moved to Oxford (27 Cunliffe Close) in Oct 1986 to be nearer his son David, a senior academic at the University of Oxford, in case of emergencies as Hugh's health had started to decline.
Perhaps hers had too, as she had by then become very tentative and hesitant about things, obviously missing Hugh's firm hand on her mental tiller. And at some point I realised that she had converted to Roman Catholicism, another refuge for those who find it difficult to think things through for themselves.
She next moved to sheltered accommodation at Wyndham House in Plantation Road, and then, as she grew more infirm, to the Lady Nuffield Home in Banbury Road, where in due course she died some three years after Hugh.
She had been a shining light in so many people's lives, mine too.