Ullswater: Lady Lowther and Thwaitehill Farm
Lady Lowther was the estranged wife of the then Lord Lonsdale and when she came to Thwaitehill farm to live she had the house extensively altered. Thwaitehill was just up the road from our home at Sharrow lodge and Lady Lowther liked young company. So we spent many happy hours there. She had 2 sons and a daughter. James, Anthony and Ann. James I knew little about except he eventually became Lord Lonsdale. Anthony I knew little more, he was at the time an army captain. Lady Lowther always called him Captain. Ann was in her early, late teens and at boarding school, we saw her when she came on school holidays. I learnt in later years that she married and was in Germany. There, she died in a motor accident in 1966. I visited Askham the home of the Lowther’s with John in 2000 and at the church saw Lady Muriel Lowther's grave also Ann's grave.
In the early, mid 1940s, we boys spent many hours up at Thwaitehill farm. Lady Lowther seemed to enjoy our company and we hers. Thinking now, I would say she was lonely. Other than Secarno and her busy farm manager there was no one else. We boys were my brother John, cousin David Bell, when on holiday, Peter Embley sometimes and I. Later years there was also Mason Wear whom I met on the Penrith secondary school bus from Patterdale, we became friends. Mason was the son of Joe Wear, Huntsman of the Ullswater Foxhounds in the 1930-1940s. We were all welcome.
Sometimes with Lady Lowther, we would go round the farm with the old Fell Pony each of us taking rides in turn, whilst she taught us how to ride correctly. She in her warm suede jacket and wellingtons (gumboots). Going round the farm, her dog loved the outing as she checked the fences, hedges and stock.
Sometimes if it was raining, we would skip the walk and she would sit down and teach us to play backgammon, I enjoyed this game. (presently we have the game in the house here. It belongs to Ian. Each time he comes home from over seas, it always seems he has too much other stuff to take back with him). Sometime back, Pat and I talked about taking the backgammon game out and I teaching her to to play. That is if I can still remember after 60 plus years.
Other times when raining, if Lady Lowther was busy she would point us to one of the 2 big sheds at back of the yard, they housed the overflow of stuff she brought with her when she first arrived at Thwaitehill farm. In one shed there were many boxes of children’s stuff. Near the back was a trunk of all kinds including postage stamps, both British and foreign. She said that I could have them if they were of any use to me. Some where but may were not. What I did find was a block of six unused
later British penny reds, they became the pride of place of my collection. The only thing was they had some “rust” on the back. There was also quite a few old Turkish stamps which I acquired, not because I needed them but for the reason that they they were unusual in that they were 8 sided. I kept them for many years in my odds and end box.
Most of my life I have been interested in stamps, I started collecting when I was 7-8. I was given a stamp album for Christmas. Like most children, I initially used glue to place the stamps into the album until I discovered stamp hinges.
Lady Lowther, through questions found out I collected stamps. One day she took me upstairs and out of a cupboard took out a large Gibbons stamp album. Page by page she turned over the leaves. I was enthralled. At the last page, she closed the album and put it back into the cupboard. Periodically, I would ask her if I could "see the stamps" and we would go upstairs and she would drag out the albums to show me, always a fresh one. After a while when I asked to look at stamps again,she said “you have seen them all, now”. I remember, I felt disappointed, my face must have fallen; then she smiled and said “would you like to see them again”? I nodded, vigorously.
All were from the British Commonwealth and Colonies, all were in full mint sets, including all the expensive values. I often used to wish they were mine. I could not afford to buy them on my meagre pocket money and earnings. I was limited to “short sets”, that is without the high values A short set is up to about a shilling value only.
Sometimes when we went up to Lady Lowther's she said she was going out shortly. It was not an excuse to get rid of us. Next breath would be, do you want to come for a ride? We would call at the Lodge to tell our mother. Often these rides would be to distant farms in the Ullswater area. Lady Lowther was writing a history of the area, at least I understood it was. Usually the door lintel had the date on it and before writing the date down, she would ask to do so first. Then she would ask the occupants various questions after telling them the reason for her interest. She often asked about finding anything strange in the vicinity or such-like. As the conversation warm up all kind of information was teased from the people. At the end of the conversation she politely thanked them for their time before we drove away.
Many years later in my business I used this technique to prise information from customers and others using short questions even sometimes if I already knew the answer. I always politely thanked them for their time. I learnt it all from Lady Muriel Lowther.
Lady Lowther had 2 cars both the same, Red and Black. Ford Anglia's, I think. She was a heavy smoker and in the car it used to get so fugged up. After a while she would shout over the engine noise “can one o f you boys open the window”, then she would say “ah, that's better”! Sometimes she would shout “pass me my cigarettes, they're in the glove box” She would wrestle with the packet with one hand until one would pop out and she would stick it in her mouth. Then she would shout again to who ever was in the passenger seat “hold the wheel while I light the damn thing”. Cars didn't travel very fast in those days and not many were on the back-roads. Sometimes the car would head for the grass verge and hedge, she would then grab the wheel.
During Christmas time Lady Lowther usually had a present waiting for us when we visited. One year I remember, there a flat parcel for me, as I felt it she said open it. I did and there was 3 thinnish books, Bird books. Opening one I saw a vertical line of birds eggs, beautifully painted and the bird, too. Also a short written piece describing where to find them. The 3 books covered Common Birds, Uncommon Birds, and Rarer Birds. Each with their egg pained. The paintings were so real.
Some time ago Lady Lowther had been quizzing me about my interests and I hadLady Lowther told her about egg collecting and she said her boys, when young also followed this interest. I was so pleased with the books.
Ullswater: The Story of Secarno.
Secarno was Polish and had been a member of the Free Polish Army during WW2. He became the man servant of Lady Lowther who lived at Thwaitehill Farm on the shores of Ullswater. Secarno would be in his mid 30s when I knew him. He was pleasant man, medium height, round faced, broad forehead and lanky hair. We used to spend considerable time at Lady Lowther's home, my brother John and I. John more than me. I remember Secarno as being a lonely man and though he smiled often, a sad man. His English speech was broken and spoken with a thick accent. He had contact with Poland by mail and used to get letters regularly from which he would always give me the postage stamps from the envelope. I may still have them today, I must look. To combat his loneliness he used to visit the Howtown Hotel 1.5 miles away seeking company, his transport an old bike.
The route there was easy riding, down the hill and then flat almost the way to Howtown. Coming home was a different matter sometimes. On the last lap home was the hill. As we all did up a hill, we rode our bikes from side to side to lessen the incline. Secarno did also and sometimes, he forgot to turn, he and the bike would land in the ditch. Occasionally, worse for ware he stayed there until morning. In my 2000 trip to England I visited Martindale church I stumbled on Secarno's grave. He was born in 1910 and died in 1960 aged 50.
Thinking about his life, the memories came flooding back of those times. Much later after we left Sharrow Bay in 1948, I learnt he had committed suicide. Was it loneliness or something else? On my visit to Martindale church I had found wilted daffodils on his grave and as I exchanged the wilted flowers with Bluebells the only flowers to hand, I wondered who had put the daffodils there. As I stood sadly by the grave my eyes were moist; as a boy I had liked Secarno.