When you discover that the wife of a peer used to travel around the country in a Romany caravan dressed in a green blouse, crimson skirt, yellow-spotted silk muffler, brown velvet slouched hat and a rope of corals, selling baskets and clothes pegs, you sit up and take notice. Well, you do if you’re a house historian and the lady in question used to own the country house a century ago that you are researching. On one occasion Lady G covered 900 miles in 13 weeks, driving the horses herself, and sometimes camping in a tent next to her caravan. As word of her exploits got out, people would look out for her and she delighted in showing them her caravan.
This led The Tatler to report on other members of society who had taken up caravanning and to seek the views of the author Rider Haggard, who urged people to ‘draw your caravans with farm horses or oxen, but not with petrol‘. Such was the popularity of caravanning among the upper classes that the Austrian Minister of the Interior promised that whenever the pennant of the Caravan Club flew there he would do his best to see that travellers had every courtesy shown to them.
It was an exhilarating change to take on a project in Dorset in the spring, work in a different archive, and visit the seaside to boot. Our returning client whose Warwickshire home we had previously researched was moving to Poole and wanted us to find out the history of his new property.
As a result of this commission I learned about the battle of Abu Klea in the Sudan, the relevance of one of Sir Walter Scott’s poems to our client’s house, and was introduced to ships’ plates. A former resident of the house was an accomplished artist and painted images of ships on ceramic plates which became collectors’ pieces. A later owner had been an enthusiastic motorist who had been fined in 1909 for ‘driving a motor car at a speed dangerous to the public‘ (15mph). He later married a French lady and the couple sailed regularly to South America and Africa.
I’m always coming across newspaper advertisements for the return of lost property and was drawn to one for this poor heifer from my Cheshire client’s estate in 1817. I say, ‘poor heifer’ for in addition to being dark, brinded (marked with spots or streaks) and stirk (young), it also had two warts on its neck which were its notable distinguishing features. Half a guinea (10s 6d) reward was offered to anyone returning the animal if it had strayed, and 30s for the apprehension and conviction of the offender if the animal was stolen.
Personally, I think they must have been careless with their animals, because some years earlier they had lost their dog. Dire warnings were given to anyone attempting to disguise or hide the animal.
Getting sidetracked is an occupational hazard, but is sometimes serendipitous, and often entertaining. John Richardson’s Local Historian’s Encyclopedia is a much-thumbed volume in my library in which I came across jigger, hush-shop and kidley-wink in rapid succession.
A jigger was an illegal distillery, a hush-shop where spirits were illegally sold, and kidley-wink a west-country term for an illicit alehouse. Whether tiddlywinks were played in kidley-winks is not known.
People may have been seen recovering in a local alehouse following a fund-raising event hosted at my client’s home in Cheshire during which ‘Miss Crum favoured the assembly with a solo violin recital‘.This entry was posted in News