Thursday, 15 September 2011

Nocton Hall - Revelations of an Imp - Chapter 10

The younger Hobarts

In 1773, St. Peter's Church and vicarage which stood only a few yards from the Hall, was completely demolished and rebuilt on the present site of All Saints. Sir William's monument and the font were preserved and installed in the new St. Peter's which was little bigger than the original church inside the park. The graves and stones adjacent to the Hall were heaped together and buried in a mound south west of the new Hall and left of the present drive as it turns eastwards to the hospital. The old vicarage known as Widow Storey's homestead, shared the same fate and was rebuilt to the west of the present vicarage. The reconstruction work both of the new St. Peter's and the new enlarged Georgian vicarage, was completed on the 20th July, 1775.

In 1793, the Lord of the Manor, now the Earl of Buckinghamshire, agreed that John, son of Sir Edward Brakenbury of Raithby, Lines, should build a school in the village. John had fallen out with his father over his second marriage to Alice Tether, daughter of the tenant of Manor Farm and after leaving Raithby, lodged at the Plough Inn at the Wasps Nest, near the foot of Abbey Hill, the site of the old priory and Charles Brandon's manor house. John had a good education and after the birth of Justina, Alice's first child, they lived with Dr. Willis at the vicarage. Later the Brackenburys moved into a house converted from two cottages at the East end of Town Street from where he continued to run Nocton's first separate school, erected with the support of the village craftsmen.

The expected financial crunch of the Hobart's came in late January 1786. Albinia had gambled away so much money that the Branston estate was sold, but this still did not clear the vast debts amassed by her extravagances. Nocton had to be mortgaged before payment could be made in full to cover her debts of honour.George had, by both patience and skill prevented the total loss of their estates, but Albinia, a woman of great qualities, beauty and vitality had effectively destroyed the family fortune. George died and was buried at Nocton on 21st November, 1804 and Albinia who survived for 12 more years was buried by his side on 27th March 1816. Two of George and Albinia's sons, Robert and Henry lived to further enrich the history of Nocton. The younger son, Henry Lewis, studied theology and was instituted as vicar of Nocton in his brother's gift on 8th April, 1815. A year later he was appointed to the office of Dean of Windsor, a plum ecclesiastical post in the Church of England.

In the custom of the time, the children saw little of their parents other than when they descended from the nursery for a close physical inspection by father and mother and accompanied by the nanny, in this case Mrs. Field, the stewards wife. If you had a good report you received a little pat on the head, but if Nanny Field gave an account of bad behaviour, you would accompany father to the library for a severe lecture or corporal punishment. During your youthful upbringing with such stern discipline, it was generally a moment of pleasure when your parents disappeared down the drive for the journey to the Earl's London residence in St. James's Square. The old saying 'When the cats away, the mice will play' was the order of the day with Albinia's youthful flock. The Hall could turn a lighthearted game of hide and seek into a major rescue operation. The older children, with no thought for Nanny Field's natural anxieties, found hiding places even the staff were not aware of. There were moments in Mrs. Field's life when she seriously considered suicide if a child had been missing for an hour. Nanny was forced to speed to the servants hall for reinforcements. On rare occasions after an intensive search when the future Earl might still be missing, the great bell, hung on an outer tower, was sounded to let the world know a major crisis had developed in the nursery and Nanny Field was no longer in control of her charges. The staff, only too familiar with these situations, dropped everything. The additional backup of gardeners, coachmen and grooms widened the hunt. The children had a code of honour which was strictly observed. Hide and seek was either inside or outside the Hall, depending on weather conditions, but never inside and outside. At the end of one such exhaustive hunt, young Robert was found under a gooseberry bush in the walled in fruit garden. His brothers and sisters felt he had behaved like a traitor. It was an inside hunt and he had broken the code of honour. An unforgivable sin for young Lord Hobart. Nanny Field deserved a medal of honour for her patience beyond the call of duty.

Henry Lewis Hobart, in due time, erected a touching monument to this gentle lady which may still be seen to the west wall of the present vestry. The Dean, with his brothers and sisters had a deep love for their nanny, but boys will be boys and girls when egged on by boys are horrible. Their beloved nanny held their affection long after they had all grown into young men and women. Another dear lady who was able to help the strain thrust on Nanny Field when looking after young Hobart's was their governess nicknamed 'Snuffy Old Lady'. Albinia decided Mrs. Field should concentrate her efforts on the smaller members of the family. A room was set aside for the private tuition of the older children including Robert and Henry. Snuffy, their new governess, lived in a cottage close to the fish pond which in those days was near the present main gate to the Hall. The pond was fed by the Wellhead stream where the fish thrived on a plentiful supply of fresh water coming off the heath to the west.

Henry showed an intellectual standard above his brothers which pleased Snuffy. The friendship developed and as time passed, she began to tell him of tales of Nocton 'long ago'. One such story was about the old tavern which stood, in centuries past, on the site of the present Manor Farm and opposite the fish pond. The 16th century Inn known as the 'Silent Woman' by the villagers as the name had been changed from the 'Headless Maiden' at the time when Charles II bought the estate. Snuffy told the future Dean that many thought the headless lady was Lady Jane Grey. A spectre had been seen on many occasions by staff, both in the Hall and in the park, and always those who witnessed such a meeting, referred to the ghost as a 'grey lady'. Her story may have been based on the time when Lady Jane, with her sisters, lived at the Manor House, built by Charles Brandon on the site of the Priory which was later demolished by Sir William Ellys. The Queen's love for Nocton ran deep in her heart. Had she returned in spirit after her execution?

Many people have seen, in more recent times, an apparition of a 'grey lady', either in the grounds or in the Hall, but it would be a bold person to identify the spirit with the young Queen who was so brutally executed so long ago. The very mention of a ghost can send shivers down the spine, and as Snuffy expanded the story of the 'unnatural' to the willing ear of young Henry, he was subconsciously letting his imagination run riot in ways to scare his brothers and sisters. The old Hall was the perfect setting for enactment of ghostly nonsense, but whether Henry ever succeeded to chill the atmosphere to the degree necessary for spooky activity is not recorded. The future Dean, when he said his prayers before going to bed, may have thought the Almighty might disapprove of a prank to frighten his young companions.

When the Assistant Matron of R.A.F. Hospital, Nocton Hall tucked herself up in bed in the late evening of 2nd October 1981 she expected to awake the following morning refreshed after a good night's sleep. At 4 a.m. on the Saturday morning, she was awakened and close to her bed was the 'grey lady'. Matrons are accustomed to the unexpected but this was a situation which tested her usually calm nerves but in the fraction of a second, her surprise vanished. The lady was clearly a ghost, but friendly and these two, one a very real R.A.F. Officer, the other a person of a spiritual world, talked about our forthcoming visit to the Hall only 7 hours before our expected time of arrival. The 'grey lady' forecast an enjoyable time awaited everybody on my return home. Before she melted away into transparency, she promised to return the following morning at the same time. The Squadron Leader disclosed this 'happening' during lunch. It was clear the Commanding Officer felt a degree of discomfort listening to a tale of the supernatural from his No. 2 Officer. Such conversation may create false impressions and he was fearful we might think this lady's mind could be unbalanced. Our deep interest in the story soon dispelled such fears, but we never heard the outcome of a second 4 a.m. visit. We did hear that towards the time when the R.A.F. Hospital closed in 1983, the friendly lady ghost became more and more restless, but in spite of numerous visitations and appearances, her identification remains secret. Those who are sceptical of the unknown must heed the Nocton ghost. A Royal lady who reigned for 9 days in the mid winter of 1553/54 and died when only 16, is the most unlikely 'ghostie'. A ghost free of Royal connections brings her to a more humble level of society, but who will be the Prince to release her from her spiritual bondage so that she may join her friends from earlier Nocton days, in lasting peace.

We must return to reality and forget the ghost.

Henry Lewis Hobart married Charlotte Selina Moor, a descendant of the poet Milton's sister Anne, in Hampton Church on 5ht October 1824 and 22 years later, he died at the Georgian Vicarage built by his father at Nocton, on 8th May 1846. Amongst Henry's achievements, we must remember him as the only Dean of Windsor to have buried three Monarchs. George III, George IV and finally William IV. On one of these occasions, when the news reached Nocton of the King's death, all the estate workers were busy making hay. The Dean left the Vicarage and made for the fields to encourage the villagers to hurry as he wanted the horses for his coach to make the dash south to Windsor for the Royal funeral.

Robert and Henry's Father, the Third Earl died and was buried at Nocton on 21st November 1804 and was succeeded by the elder brother Robert, the fourth Earl, at the age of 44. When 32 he married on 4th January 1792, Margaretta, daughter and coheiress of Edmund Bourke of Urray, and widow of Thomas Adderley of Innishannon, County Cork. Margaretta died in 1796 after only four years of married life. The one child of this marriage, Lady Sarah Albinia Louise Hobart was a most important baby as we shall later find out.

The Earl's second marriage was to Eleanor Agnes Eden, daughter of William Eden, first Lord Auckland, but she died childless in 1851.

Eleanor had previously been engaged to William Pitt, the Tory Prime Minister 1783-1801, but Pitt 18 years her senior, instead of making up his mind and naming the wedding day, dithered about, in character with so many politicians, until the frustrated girl, driven to desperation, leapt into Robert Hobart's arms. Pitt lamented his indecision when he realised the girl was to become a countess. He remained a lifelong bachelor and applied himself totally to politics in the Lower House until his creation as Earl of Chatham.

In order to avoid a lengthy dialogue on Robert, his career has been condensed.

George and Albinia sent him to Westminster School and in the tradition of the time, he joined the army when 16 with the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers. His regiment served in the American War of Independence and during this campaign, obtained the rank of Captain. In August 1783, the army transferred him with the rank of Major to the 18th Regiment of Light Dragoons. He became aide-de-camp to the Duke of Rutland, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1784 and remained in this post to Rutland's successor, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, Marquis of Buckingham.

In 1788 Robert was elected for Lincoln in the English Parliament and retained the local seat for six years.

His first wife, Margaretta, an Irish heiress, strongly influenced his political career for he served more in the Irish Parliament than in England, whilst continuing his services as secretary to three Lord Lieutenants, the last being John Fane, tenth Earl of Westmoreland. Staunch anti-Catholic views were to make him unpopular, but on his uncle's death, he returned to England where his political career continued in the House of Lords.

Appointments listed amongst Robert's political successes came when he was made firstly, an Irish Privy Councillor and later elevated to the same office in England.

In 1793 when 33, he became Governor of Madras with a provisional promise that he might succeed to the Governor Generalship of India. Hobart arrived in Madras in the summer of 1794. He was still very much at heart a soldier. The memory remained with him of the disastrous American War of Independence when he had last seen active service. Determined to correct his personal record, he prepared an expedition to attack the Dutch settlement in Malacca. Although the Dutch occupation was eliminated and the attack was a total success, the political reaction was less favourable. The Governor General, Lord Teignmouth, felt Hobart's action was inexcusable and the act of an aggressive individual. Further radical attempts by Robert to adjust and improve the way of life for the lesser man in his state again brought him into conflict with Teignmouth.

It was clear the political objectives of the two Englishmen were the same, yet Hobart's 'high speed' methods of reform against corruption, alarmed his senior.

Reports sent to London had weakened political opinion at home and destroyed any hope that young Hobart would become Governor General. On his recall in 1798, after four years service, he received an annual pension of £1,500 but this compensation did little to Robert's morale. The post of Governor General had been his ambition, a post beyond his grasp. 82 years later, Nocton sent out the Viceroy, the position so longed for by Hobart. In 1804, Hobart Town in Tasmania was founded and named after him and in the same year he became the fourth Earl on his father's death.

In 1812, having previously held post in the Colonial and War Departments, the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster and Postmaster General, he was then appointed by the Tory Prime Minister, President of the Board of Control on Indian affairs in the administration of Lord Liverpool.

In 1816 the Earl was riding in St. James Park when his horse suddenly stumbled, then reared sharply throwing his rider. The fall proved fatal and Robert died on the 4th February aged 56. George Hobart, his nephew, became the fifth Earl but took his seat at Great Hampden. Nocton and the estate came to Robert's daughter Sarah, who married the second son of the Earl of Grantham.

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