Archive | October, 2013

Bits and Pieces, and Puzzles

19 Oct

I’m still pulling out material from my notes for the new paper I’m writing. So far my research has been focused on getting through the diaries, but I’ve also spent a few days at Tatton going through some archives there. A lot of the information held there on Maurice is old exhibition notes and notes written by previous house managers, often without author or date or any hint of purpose, so it makes it difficult for me to use as a reliable source. Some of the information I can already say is incorrect from my limited research, so perhaps the writers made mistakes, or just wanted to use Maurice to tell a good story. Where I’m finding interesting information that would perk up my PhD, I’m hoping that there is some old original source for it somewhere that validates it, so I will keep digging deeper through the archives. Here are a few stories from the archive that I’d like to share.

One newspaper article describes Maurice’s dislike of being photographed. Apparently, one young photographer levelled his camera at him one day:

‘Young man’ said Lord Egerton, ‘if you take a picture I shall have to buy you a new camera because I shall wrap that one around your neck’.

It also describes Maurice interacting with boys on the Tatton estate. It says ‘a party of boys were swimming in Tatton mere, as they were allowed to do, when ‘Lordy’ came zipping along in his motor boat. He threw a line to some, told them to hang on and started off again up the lake to give them a thrilling ride…too thrilling for one. ‘Not so b…. fast, Lordy’ he yelled. The memory of this often brought a chuckle from the old baron. There is a story of the time when he used to drive up to Kilrie, the children’s home in Northwich Road and ask for ‘the naughtiest boy you’ve got’- and take the ‘naughtiest boy’ out for the day’. These are some of the stories that I love, and can well imagine to be true!

However, not all boys were welcome. One story repeated in several testimonies is Maurice’s aversion to black boys, and his fury when a black boy boxed at his boy’s club in Knutsford in 1952. Apparently, two black orphan boys living in the village were the only two excluded from his boys club. Stories like this tarnish the image of my hero, but are only to be expected from someone of Maurice’s era and outlook. I know from my research that his relationship with black ‘boys’ in Africa was much more complex than simple master/servant roles, and that he could be respectful of other cultures and customs. The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s would have been a great threat to his way of life, and it was likely that this frustration shaped his decision to exclude the black boys in Knutsford.

Another incident involving boys in 1924 re-establishes the idea of Maurice as a hero. A scout taking part in a camping trip on the Tatton grounds drowned in Tatton Mere. The scout master could not swim, but Maurice witnessed the event, and stripped off and dived in to search for him. Unfortunately the boy drowned, but in the inquest Maurice was praised for his brave actions. I can’t help thinking that if that had happened in today’s world of health and safety legislation and blame culture then Maurice would have been found responsible and the estate would have been shut down.

Maurice stayed at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in 1938. I’ll be very interested to find out if it was a routine quarantine, or if he was being treated for a disease caught on his travels. Afterwards, he wrote a letter of complaint about his care. I can easily imagine his frustration about being contained there, and fury at the lack of respect he felt he deserved. Here is Maurice’s letter (unabridged as I simply can’t edit his fabulous complaint):

July 19. No mirror provided in the room except one built into the inside of the clothes cupboard. I asked for more blankets. None brought. I asked for a telephone. None brought. Eventually I found a machine in the clothes cupboard.

The nurse brought the toast and butter, but no knife. The nurse brought me a cup of coffee. A few minutes afterwards another nurse arrived with the wash-out apparatus. Just as I had finished with one wash-out, another nurse arrived with a dysentery injection. When I exclaimed at 2 injections coming so close together, she discovered that she had made a mistake and a dysentery injection had not been ordered at any time.

A man marched into the room with a ladder and smoking a stinking cigarette and announced that he was going to clean the windows. Was quite surprised when I told him to get out.

The man who came to take a blood sample left part of his gear behind, and came back for it, but I did not find it among the bedclothes until some time later.

When getting into the lift the first day after an examination by the doctors, the lift boy went on reading a paper until I told him to wake up, and take me up to my room.

My room is only separated by a thin partition from the bath-room, consequently I hear every sound in it. The tea is of very poor quality considering the price charged for a room (30/- a day)

I can’t decide if I’m more amused by his ordering out the window cleaner, or ordering about the lift-boy!

As we have seen, Maurice is a skilled complainer. During World War 2 when the RAF used Tatton Park, Maurice seems to be tearing his hair out at having his home invaded by these noisy and slovenly visitors. Here is his letter of complaint:

‘May I remind officers not to throw razor blades into the wastepaper baskets. The maids are apt to get their hands cut when picking out the rubbish. Tins or saucers or other receptacles are being provided for the purpose’

‘will officers who open their bedroom curtains when going to bed please only do so after finally putting out their light. I am responsible for the blacking out of this house and I don’t at all want a £10 fine as was recently imposed by a local magistrate. Will all be as economical as possible with the electric light. I make my own electricity and it costs money. Also coal is not easy to get and diesel oil is continually going up in price’

‘several officers have come here in a somewhat irregular manner. Ones in residence having handed their bed, or half of it, over to another, without a by your leave. This bed-crashing without any notification to anyone must now please cease!’

‘but if there is ever anything at all that I can do for visitors will they please come and have a yarn about it’

‘I noticed some sick lads lying outside the stable yard this evening. Tomorrow would they not like to be brought on to the lawn in front of the house overlooking the Italian garden.  If so will someone please come and have a yarn with me about it?’

To me, this letter really shows all the sides of Maurice’s personality- he is very careful about saving money, he likes to be respected and keep in control, but he is also very generous and open- offering to ‘have a yarn’ about any problems, and offering sick men the best view over the Italian gardens.

After Maurice’s death, it appears that the press had a field day speculating who would be his heir. The Knutsford Guardian called it ‘the Riddle of the Century’. Apparently an office caretaker came forward to say that he was Maurice’s grandson, claiming that Maurice had a son who married a hindu woman. He wasn’t the only one to claim that Maurice had a son; a second man, a postman, also claimed to be a grandson. I have also found a reference to an adopted ‘son’ of Maurice living in Kenya. Perhaps my favourite potential claimant was a Knutsford man called Maurice Egerton, apparently named after Maurice (but why? Out of respect, or hope that he would pay an interest? Or perhaps something more…). As a child, Maurice heard the boy sing in his school choir and arranged for him to have singing lessons and have his voice recorded.

So these stories give an idea of what I’m up against- a whole host of unofficial histories telling fascinating, but possibly false or constructed stories about Maurice. I always wanted to take the stories we tell about Maurice today at Tatton back to basics to distinguish fact from fiction, so I will continue on my mission.

A bit of a long post this week, but I’ll finish up with a round-up of the latest PhD news. I met all 3 of my supervisors this week for a nice chat about my progress and my plan for this year. I’ve also been going to the Monday night lectures at MMU. The theme is the ‘Gothic’, so I’ve been learning about zombies and horror on television. Next week it’s Gothic Music. Not my usual cup of tea, but it’s nice to think outside of the box! I’ve spent the last 2 days setting up the half-term activity at Tatton, which is a Maurice Egerton- themed mystery quiz. I’ve brought out 8 objects from the Egerton collection for display as a trail around the house. It began today, and I haven’t had any phone calls yet so I’m hoping it’s going well!

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The Matabele Uprising

13 Oct

I’m currently going over my notes on Maurice’s diaries to find relevant snippets for the new paper I’m writing about how the collection was collected. Writing a paper is proving to be pretty slow and hard work for me, and doesn’t give me anything very interesting to share. But reading my notes again reminds me of how much I’ve already found out, and how exciting it will be to carry on researching after this paper is written. So I’ve gone back to the beginning to diary No 1 from Maurice’s trip to Matabeleland to share some interesting stories with you.

I thought that Maurice travelled there with his father Alan de Tatton, but Maurice never mentions him in the diary. But as he often says ‘we’ did this and that I’m assuming he is referring to them both. His safari starts on March 9th as he goes out with several others on horseback in search of game. The safari is very self-sufficient, and the game caught is primarily seen as ‘meat’ rather than an object to be collected. Maurice kills his first animal, a Duiker, on March 10th and says that he goes back to camp hungry for it’s liver.

Maurice is only 21 at this stage, but already believes that he fits in with the safari lifestyle and older more experienced men in the group. He uses their language with ease, using terms like ‘spoor’ (meaning animal tracks or traces) and later on in the uprising ‘kraal’ (cattle enclosure) and ‘laager’ (mobile fort). This always makes me think of one of my favourite stories from Roald Dahl’s autobiography where he describes the strange language spoken by the strange breed of the ‘Empire Builder’ that is indecipherable to him as an outsider. I’m keeping a glossary of these terms and it is like I’m learning a new language! Maurice is also critical of other men who don’t fit in as well as he does. He talks of them leaving two men behind because one is afraid of lions and is a ‘nuisance and encumbrance, although he gave much amusement’.

On March 25th he hears that the natives have risen and murdered several Englishmen. Maurice’s excitement (not sure this is the right word given the threatening circumstances?) bubbles over and his writing in the diary becomes frantic and almost illegible. He joins an encampment in Gwelo and describes the inexperienced nature of his companions who are walking around with dangerously loaded rifles swinging about. One man accidentally shoots off his own hand, and another shoots his friend in the foot. The diary makes for strange reading. One minute he describes the day’s list of casualties and various amputations in his matter of fact reporting style, the next he describes the scores of the cricket games played between various encampments and musical concerts. It doesn’t appear that he ever leaves the laager, and does not have to fight or put himself in danger. I wonder if this is due to his status, or young age? He does have to patrol the laager, and on April 24th the Lieutenant accuses him of falling asleep on duty and neglecting his post. When he has reported other similar incidents, the accused men received heavy fines and many hours of hard labour. However, Maurice just has to call up one witness and his case was dismissed. This seems to be more evidence of his receiving preferential treatment!

There is much anticipation of a visit from Cecil Rhodes, who eventually rides into their encampment on May 5th. However, Maurice seems disappointed with him, stating that he is smaller and older than he imagined and his speech was quite inaudible to nearly everyone. It must be sad, but common, to be let down by your heroes when you meet them in the flesh!

On May 14th he is finally allowed to go out on a march and is glad to be out of Gwelo after being cooped up for so long. I’m struck by the contrast in the way he views the native people before and during the conflict. Before the uprising, Egerton takes photos of ‘natives’ playing instruments and dancing is interested in their lifestyles. During the uprising he makes derogatory comments about the now re-named ‘niggers’, who are very much the enemy, and takes part in pulling down their huts and looting their kraals. I’ve been interested reading through the diaries about his descriptions of the habits and customs of native peoples. He holds so many superstitions and false opinions about them- such as believing that if a black person bites you it causes fingers to drop off, and even that they don’t need as much sleep as he does. It can be a bit uncomfortable reading these clearly racist comments- but to Maurice these opinions were part of a general way of life.

After marching to Bulowayo, the conflict ends for Maurice on May 31st, just 68 days after it started. On this day he could be found at the silver grill dining on welsh rarebit and potatoes, almost as if nothing had ever happened.