William Keswick of Eastwick Park and Alice Berrington -
Your father's second wife. His first died....
Yes, of cancer. She was French, Amelie Sophie, and they married in China or Hong Kong I suppose.
Your father's business was Jardine Matheson.
Yes. He was head of Jardine's. He went out as a young man before the Suez Canal was cut. They got off at Alexandria, took a train to Cairo and stayed I suppose in Shepherd's Hotel. It became famous but was very primitive in those days. Then instead of waiting for the train to go down he and two other men hired horses and rode down to Port Said across the desert which he enjoyed enormously.
He amused me so much in his letters..."I and two other gentlemen". Nowadays you would never dream [of saying that. You might say] "went with two other chaps" but in those days he went with two other gentlemen. They got to Port Said and waited for the ship.
They bought that cane furniture .. you must have seen that chaise longue. You bought your own furnishing. They had a very bad passage but after a couple of days he settled into it and got used to the motion.
They arrived in due course. I can't remember how long it took. Then they landed at Canton. They found the Chinese very strange looking. Of course in those days they were strictly segregated. There's a lot of talk now about why they didn't learn Chinese. You see there was no-
You had a relative who thought like a Chinese person?
That's John. Both he and Tony were more or less my contemporaries or a little younger. They both learned Chinese. Tony spoke very well but John thought like a Chinese. He got on with the Chinese as Tony never did. Nobody I think realises how tremendously bi-
Your father returned to England.
Yes. I can't remember when ....I suppose I have been told but you see you don't listen when you are young. I suppose in the 1880s and retired young. But all the Jardine's people... Jardine's you see was a branch of the East India Company...no they were not but Jardine Skinner was the original firm when they were in India and they moved on from there to China.The head office was Matheson's in Lambert Street and still is. So he came back and was head I suppose of Matheson's in London. Then he went back after cousin Sophie died he went back to China for a bit. Then he retired altogether.
You were born and lived in London?
No, my father was a Member of Parliament then and we lived at Eastwick but they used to take flats in London. I was born at St Ermine's Hotel because my mother thought it would be simpler. What the hotel thought nobody asked. But we had a suite.
We stayed there quite a lot. It was great fun at the opening of Parliament because all the peers... in those days it was carriages and pairs. They all parked along...do you know St Ermine's Hotel? In that little side street by St James's Park. All the pages after the ceremony came rushing round, gathering up their trains over their arms and all the peers. The carriages and pairs were whistled up.
It was lovely for us, my sister and I with our noses flattened against the window. Another thing. It was a great haunt of Americans. We looked on Americans then as something quite strange, rather out of a zoo. A small girl roughly the size I was had a check frock -
Your happiest memories are of Eastwick where you lived?
Mind you, it was awfully flat. They went up to London, my mother and father, on Mondays. Sometimes my mother stayed. My stepfather used to drive the phaeton to Leatherhead Station. The train was kept waiting for him as they knew he was coming. He arrived, dashed off, flung the reigns at somebody, and rushed into the station. Well I can't imagine him rushing as he was portly and solid, slow moving and Scotch. Anyway he caught the train but mostly they went up and the whole house sank back. It was quite different.
You and your sister had a governess.
Yes. Nanny looked after us. Nanny used to read to us -
Miss Stert. She was a bit of a sadist. She was brutal in a lot of ways. She used to come in the dogcart. I don't remember in summer. It wasn't so dramatic I think but you know a dogcart was very high and she was wrapped up. A funny little hat with fur round it, a muff, a fur and in very cold weather there was a little charcoal burner that you could put inside your muff which you lit and kept your fingers from freezing. Then you had a bearskin rug and if it was wet you had a mackintosh. It weighed a ton on top of that. And the coachman all wrapped up and layers of things. She got all frozen and rather bad tempered.
I didn't do many lessons. I was rather bright. I'm said to have read the titles in The Times to my father when I was five. The doctor thought I was being too precocious. So I wasn't allowed ..... I never remember learning to read but I wasn't allowed to do lessons which was a great pity. Nowadays I would have been encouraged but it probably works out in the wash. Anyway, they did lessons. I can't remember what I did.
Of course we had ponies. I started... I was very small when I first rode. But I do remember on my fifth birthday I was led off a leading ring. It was a great event. I was given, I think it was a penny. My pocket money to quite a large age was a halfpenny a week and then you went up to a penny.
But on my birthday -
Absolutely safe. You see the doctor lived just further on.
Who was your doctor?
Doctor Procter and Doctor Fisher. But if you got ill...well you didn't get ill. You just suffered. But Nanny took our temperature and if it was under the hundred we just stayed in the nursery and didn't make a fuss and probably had slush to eat -
It was a very good thing. You learned not to fuss and you didn't die. We developed resistance. When I think of the germs that I drank in the water at my grandmother's house near Dublin ..came off the roof and every now and then the filter was cleaned. What came out of it was nobody's business. What came though it....but you see we all got resistance. I don't know if we ever had tummy trouble, occasionally I suppose.
What we did get were awful colds. You see the cold at Eastwick -
But my recollection is mainly...of course there were double doors and a bearskin mat between so there was practically no draft. Great heavy mahogany doors. But you left the library fire and you got into the cooling chamber between the two rooms, stood on the mat and you shut the door. You ran like mad.
Then in the hall there was a boiler down below somewhere that did the hot water. There was a brass ventilator in the floor and a lovely hot current of air came up and you stood over that as a child with your small skirt, gathered up the hot air, shut it in and then ran as fast you could to the nursery where there was another fire.
But the passages were icy and the bedrooms.... well you had a fire and the night nurse....and of course a bath which was bliss. A bath, hot water in front of the fire. You go out in front of the fire and were scarred. But don't fuss, It's not hurting you. Always no fuss.
If we went to the sea, extraordinary, so decent. A tent was put up in which we undressed and dressed. Then we were scarred when we came of the sea in a bath towel full of sand. Don't fuss, don't fuss. It doesn't hurt.
Which seaside was that? Littlehampton, Worthing or...
No. We went to Bognor the year King Edward died and everybody was in black. I do remember that. Everybody automatically got into black. One wretched woman was caught away from home and she was in bright pink. She looked miserable on the platform.
No we didn't go to the sea much. It was later. Yes we did. I'm talking nonsense. We went to Sheringham on the east coast and we went to Port Rush one year. That was very venturesome. Of course the journeys were endless.
My father's people lived in Dumfriesshire and my mother's -
They must have taken a room as we lay down. Then what seemed in the middle of the night we were got up and taken to the train. I think it went about half past ten or something and then about three o'clock in the morning we were got up. I don't know if we had sleepers, that would have been spoiling. So we sat up. Then at some ungodly hour we were shaken awake and put on the mail boat.
Oh how it smelt. I don't think it was ever ventilated. The smell of stale seasickness and disinfectant was unbelievable Then we arrived at Dun Laoghaire as it is now -
There is a wonderful anecdote about when your father was re-
Yes I think it was 1906. We went out in the pony cart election campaigning. My mother wouldn't canvas. She wouldn't ask for votes. She would just say "I hope you are coming to the meeting". We paraded around [in the] pony cart all decorated in orange and purple rosettes on the pony's bridle and so on. I had, I can't think it was a flag but anyway I waved it and I said "Vote for Aston". Aston was the opposition.
Orange and purple were the Conservative colours.
Yes, awful. However my father got in with a big majority and then the last election..... I can remember that I was shocked to the core. I thought all these people....and even before the voting we had a triumphal progress. People did love my father. He was a very....one of the nicest things when we were going through -
His portrait was painted which was presented -
How old was he when he died?
Eighty I think.
At one election the bell was rung.....
Oh yes. I think that must have the 1910 one when the Conservatives were being knocked for six all over. At each election the bell in the tower was rung as soon as the result came through and while the butler rang it each time, the third time Mrs Blint, the cook and housekeeper said the ladies should have a go. She should be allowed to do it. So she pulled and pulled and up came an agitated man from the village. The bell was tolling, was it true that Mr Keswick had been beaten? So she was pushed on one side and .......pulled it wildly, everybody. You see it was the big house.
I remember Guy Fawkes Night and all the fireworks. The fireworks were fun and we were given two shillings each -
There was a footman and a buttons -
The Moons here and mostly the Listers at The Grove. My earliest days. Then later on the Reeds came to Flushing House and that was just across the field. We used to go across. We had ponies...and then the Tenants when we were young. They went away and lived....they were a family of eight. There were four elders who were too old for us altogether but there were four -
Then you see we birds-
Because we had nothing else to do and the keepers.... we had two keepers, Bob Lure who was very funny tempered but nice and Alan who could shin up a tree. It was unbelievable. He could go up a tree without a branch like a monkey. We looked at nests and we learned a lot from them.
Then old Tailor who lived down by the level crossing that I couldn't find. He was ...... I don't know what he did for a living but as a sideline he poached. He showed me how to set a snare. I must never have a bend in the wire. Smoothly the animal was caught. He led me to believe that it died quickly but I don't know if he was speaking the truth or not.
Did you see anything in his snares ever?
No. But Bob the keeper kept an eye on magpies and things of that sort and foxes. Foxes surreptitiously because that was in the days of hunting but of course the Surrey Union was never any good as a hunt. Too much wood I suppose.
Did your father have any hobbies?
No, he was very much wedded to his work and he did a lot of....he was on everything and in everything. But I don't know what hobbies he had. Childhood was so different then but he must have been extraordinarily patient or had an extraordinary gift of concentration because I used to spend a lot of time when he was there in his study.
He had a great big desk and there was a newspaper press. I don't know if anybody every took a newspaper out but it was an enormous thing, about three feet high and a thing at the top that you could turn round.
Then there was another thing we called the jelly-
Your own geese?
I don't know.
Of course the farm was a great attraction. One of the things my mother wasn't awfully popular about at the time when she took over an old widower's household with servants fixed in their own ways and the farm. I can't remember how many dozen eggs a day they were eating. My mother thought it was quite time it stopped. She put her foot down on various things of that sort.
I can remember the first extractor. I suppose before that steam was extracted by hand. I remember the dairy. There was a house in the wood. It was quite extraordinary when you stepped down how cool it became. You went down two steps and I suppose the base of it was about two feet below ground level. The temperature on a hot summer's day was degrees colder than outside.
There were these slate slabs and great bowls of milk which used to be skimmed for cream and then a separator was bought and it was a great event. It was rather like the old fashioned washboards. You scrubbed and the cream went down one side and the milk went down the other into two great things. To a child it was fascinating.
The straw was a rick and was cut out. Hay was quite different. Of course you never sold it straight away. A man came round and it was stacked and it had a lovely smell. I must write to that Doctor Miriam Rothschild. The grass was called sweet vernal which I believe is extinct now. I don't know but I believe it was the most scented of the grasses.
You see there was the lovely mixture -
Used it for fodder. I don't think at Eastwick it was ever sold. That was more after we went to Homewood. My stepfather was running the farm we had there. The man used to come round.
But then there was a stack of straw, great bales of straw and it was taken out for bedding. You could climb to the top and slide down which was very high when one was eight years old.
There was always something to do. There was a new calf although one was extraordinary innocent about how new calves happened. Too ignorant in a lot of ways. Then there was the chalk pit which is now full of houses. There were the most lovely white violets there and we used to go over and birds' nests. That you could slide down too.
All sorts of silly childish amusements. I think a modern child would be so surprised but it might enjoy them. I don't know. I was talking the other day about vegetables. How bored one gets. How even comparatively recently things went out of season. Then the peas came and the beans came and the asparagus came and there was something new. Now you get everything all the year round.
In the calendar, the limit of a horse was roughly ten miles. An elastic ten. But the primroses came out, then the bluebells came and on my sister's birthday which was 21 April we used to walk through the woods across the Common and out to Mark Oak. What was a little cottage where old Mrs Tyrrell who was a hunchback sold ginger beer and things. We used to have tea there. Then the pony trap met us and took us home.
We picked masses of primroses, bunched them up and the next day they all went to St Thomas's Hospital. But it was a routine. Another thing was sweet woodruff which I think is extinct. Is there some still about? At that time it only grew on the ...if you leave the Bagden road, Bagden Hill and go inland so to speak into Polesden. There was a place where the was a mass of it. You know I checked it on a speedometer from Bagden it must have been six miles there and back from Eastwick. We used to walk. Turning quite a walk. One went up as if going to Polesden and then turned into the left and walked along. But that path is destroyed now. It was a little narrow path then.
A steep hill outside?
Well you didn't see. We didn't go on to the hill. We were higher up. Another thing, we rode and you could ride across, across the Dowlans. All built on. What I was saying was the best arable land in Surrey.
Before it was built over, yes. And of course coursing which put me against coursing for life. I don't know about real coursing. I read now that the hares could get away but they couldn't then. They stood on the two roads and on the Bookham side there was the crowd and the people and they let the dogs loose. On the far side the hare was supposed to get away but there were always people there. I only saw it once and I went home and wept. I've been against coursing ever since. I didn't think the hare had a chance but I didn't know. That was sheer prejudice aged eight.
We used to ride across Norbury and up to Boxhill. You used to go Norbury and then down across the road and up to Boxhill. My sister knew where the old pub was. I can't place it now. Then there was the forge which was lovely. At the foot of Boxhill. Where there was that low tearooms for a long time.
My mother and I went there once not so comparatively speaking long ago, coming back from Sandown races. We'd had no tea and we thought we would go in there. It was most unbelievably full of welching bookies. Never seen so many toughs in my life. Long ago.
I remember the pony cart which was more or less ours and the dogcart. I'm going in order of precedence. Then the victoria and the brougham which stood level. The victoria in fine weather. Then there was the bus. It was a wagonette in fine weather and the roof. In the coach-
They were shoeing animals and it was in the dusk and the fire. Life was so much more dramatic. I get the smell of burnt horse hoof, the fire blazing and dying down. It was absolutely fascinating. I remember driving past it that night but always the forge was fascinating.
Then there was the one in Bookham, I think it was the Hampshire's. There was the village hierarchy. Willy Hampshire -
Did your father go to Epsom races?
Did he have a special seat?
A box. It was a very social event. I don't think he enjoyed it. Yes, I think he did, probably. I didn't, you see, know my father really. We were in the nursery and they had a house party and they went. They went to Woodcote Park and at that time they cut off a mile or two and they used to go up the drive to the house. You could drive right up to the paddock. I suppose the horses were stabled at Woodcote. I can't remember.
Woodcote? That's the RAC Club?
Yes. I was going to ask them if I could go one day and then I didn't bother. I think I will one day. I did go once and my mother went and paid a call afterwards as a thank you. Civil thing. The horses were allowed to their dirty business but it wasn't approved of and you know it was extraordinary how the horses never did do dirty business at the wrong minute.
But when the cars came I think there were some people called Raleigh who lived there. They wouldn't have it. But if people did come in a car, a footman came out and spread....you know how old cars leaked oil from the engines. A footman used to come out and spread newspaper under them so that no oil contaminated the gravel.
They didn't put it under the horses?
No. Presumably as soon as the horse moved on it was shovelled up. I don't know. But you could drive up. My father you see was an old man then. They were decanted in the paddock and then they went to their box. I suppose the horses and the men met them again in the paddock when the races were over.
When you became an adult you didn't yourself work except for charity?
No. It wasn't done when I was in young days. I can't remember. But we were at Homewood then. No. I just enjoyed life really. I danced and played tennis and was social. Then I got bored with it.
But an awful lot of nonsense is talked about the Depression. It did make... the First War....taxes went up enormously and one's income went down and we were nearly always rather screwed for cash. It is very difficult if you are not well off in a big house because people expect you to do this, that and the other. Not that we were penniless but it did mean we had different standards and that things had to be considered.
That was after the First War. Then afterwards the Depression, then again dividends went down and taxes went up. You weren't qualified for one thing but it was frowned upon that anybody who wasn't driven to work should go and take a job from somebody who needed it. So you just got bored.
It costs a lot of money to do nothing. And clothes. You had to have a lot of clothes. I'm amazed now when I think. Now you have a pair of jeans and you are dressed for almost anything, aren't you? Whereas then you had your tennis frocks and your little black suit to go to London on a cold day and your little silk frock and edge to edge coat on a hot day and a hat and gloves.
Yes, quite a lot. One of my half sisters lived in France. She was a funny woman, a very quick-
When I was 18 she wrote and said: "You are old enough now to have a mind of your own. Will you come and stay with me? I'm coming to London. Come back with me." So I went.
She was a great character, Margot. She must have tipped very heavily because she stayed at the Rubens and when they used to push the luggage from the Rubens Hotel to Victoria Station I can see them now. The head porter and degrees of little porters lining up and sending us off. All doubtless having been tipped.
Anyway we got to Paris and we stayed there. She bought a car and we drove down. The first night was 1 May which we hadn't realised. It's a great thing in France and wasn't here then. We couldn't get into a hotel anywhere.
I was beginning to get awfully edgy. A French cousin of hers and Margot and myself said: "Kay, don't fuss. The Almighty doesn't like it. If you don't fuss He will look after you and it will be all right." I always remember that: "The Almighty doesn't like it!" It stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.
Did the Almighty find you a place to stay?
Yes he did. In a minute hotel. I slept in a room about the size of this sofa. Emile, the French cousin, slept in a cupboard under the stairs. Margot slept in the one and only spare room. Spotlessly clean, excellent dinner. They were just fun. The family and all.
This started me on travel. Then I went out to China for a bit. Then I took a secretarial course. I had a job -
I went out to stay with cousins and on the way I met the man who was the head of ... they had finished building dykes. He had been home on leave but he wanted a secretary so I got a job. We went and inspected dykes up the Yangste. Unfortunately just after I arrived. If I had had a few weeks in China first I would have appreciated it much more.
All the Chinese hordes -
All the Chinese had visiting cards with the Chinese name on one side and the European on the other. I was supposed to know who they were. Of course I hadn't a clue. Then I worked in the office which was a revelation too.
The Chinese eye for line can be overdone. The boy used to come in with piles of documents in the office. If there was any paper out of true he would square them up absolutely which became a bit trying.
They have got this extraordinary eye for line and all the pagodas. I went up the second -
One of my other pet remarks, I was struggling with the flood relief commission's accounts and I went to see the Chinese accountants. The report was being written. I said I'm sorry I can't understand it. He said: "Miss Keswick, what is a nought?" So we had a few millions instead of a few thousands.
When we see these billions that we spend now I say to myself: "Well Miss Keswick what is a nought?" I don't think there were 10,000 steps but there were quite enough. But it was lovely. Then when I got to the top there was a snow storm so I didn't see very much but all the temples and things were most beautifully sighted. There's a little temple at the top between the two things. You stayed in a mission then.
Well it was my biggest trip. I stayed in China and stayed on another mission. I went to see Confucius' birthplace but there wasn't very much and his tomb too. Now it's all been tidied up and you go on expeditions. It was run by a woman and her son. I think the man must have died or perhaps he wasn't there.
My Chinese didn't rise to enquiries. I learned Chinese to say: How much is this?" Anyway, I arrived really hot and dirty and said: "Could I have a bath?" and it was all open to the public and I was bathing in here somewhere and the window was somewhere that chair is.....there was a large crowd. So I said something or other to the good lady -
Now it's all touristified and awful
Then I came back and did good works in London. It was all at the time of the Depression you see. I went up to Jarrow. I don't know if you remember.....
Mind you, there was an awful lot of hooey in that. All the bad hats joined it and all the most respectable didn't. Don't take me wrong on this. The suffering was......
It was quite awful. I went there twice. In the fortnight I was there I never saw a person even hint at a smile. Just these long, long faces and everybody grey. They weren't eating enough.
The only good we did actually was that we hired a hall -
No, the people who really suffered most were the people like where we lodged who had small businesses because they fell between every net that was available.
Helen Kathleen KESWICK born 3 January 1903 in St George Hanover Square, London. Died in the March quarter of 1997 in West Surrey.
In The Life and Times of Turville Kille and Stories of Old Bookham from 1898 by Wendy Young (published 1998), Kathleen Keswick is quoted remembering Melvin Saunders, the prize-
Later in the book she is mentioned again as never forgetting the time when her mother sang in the Victoria Hall in East Street, Bookham, which belonged to Mrs Mary Chrystie, the village property owner. Turville (1898-