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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