Sunday, 18 September 2011

Nocton Hall - Revelations of an Imp - Chapter 13

The Hodgsons

George Hodgson who took up residence in late 1889 came as a complete stranger to Nocton. When retracing his family tree, we find an ancestor, John Hodgson, took up arms on the side of Parliament in the Civil War in December 1642, and went into action with Sir William Saville in an attack on Bradford. He campaigned with Sir Thomas Fairfax during the capture of Leeds and Wakefield and in the skirmishes on Seacroft and Atherton Moors.

During Cromwell's invasion of Scotland, his regiment, under Colonel Lambert, took part in this military advance of the far north. His personal autobiography, which he wrote on the Battle of Dunbar, has proved invaluable. Battles against faltering Royalist resistance increased his military experience, and included the Earl of Derby's defeat by Colonel Lilburn, and the riot of the Scots retreating from Worcester. In a regiment of horse, under Colonel Lambert's command, he was transferred to Colonel Saunders and ordered to join General Munk. His fine horsemanship was soon recognised by the future Duke of Albermarle, who elected Hodgson to ride with him as his right hand sword.

At the end of the Civil War, he resided at Coley Hall, when the 'House of Hodgson' acquired a reputation as an assembly place of fanatics. From Coley Hall, he moved to Cromwell Bottom,and then to Ripon in 1680.

He was described by Carlyle, before his death in 1683, as 'an honest hearted, pudding headed, Yorkshire puritan'. Under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, he blew the Parish Church in Great Torrington, into the sky. A large body of Royalists had sought refuge in the solid building, and after the explosion, only the vestry survived in the south east corner, and there were few survivors.

John Hodgson's ancestors continued to live and farm at the ancestral home at Northowram near Halifax. George was born early in the 19th century and inherited the family equestrian ability. His father apprenticed him to the trade as a mechanic, which proved a wise selection for a young boy who spent his time building contrivances, to save himself unnecessary work. On completion of his apprenticeship, he found an opening, and started his working life with Wray and Crabtree, loom makers. His inventive ideas convinced the directors that they had a future manager. After long hours at the factory, he spent his spare time improving his education. At the age of 19, he married Ann Ackroyd.

Determined to be his own boss, his first adventure failed, when his two partners ran away with the 'lolly', but although in debt, he later cleared all his liabilities with interest.

After this first set back, he was forced to go cap in hand, to Wray and Crabtree, who reinstated him. The second time around, he stayed with the company 10 years, before joining Mr. Enoch Haley in a joint venture. They formed a new company, known as 'Hodgson and Haley', which opened for business in 1849 when George was 30.

His first objective was to manufacture a loom running at 160 picks per minute against 110, the maximum achieved on a loom at that time. Hodgson strived night and day, to perfect the company's product and the first loom was delivered to Joshua Craven and Son of Thornton, a textile company already one of the leading firms in the West Riding.

Within twelve months, Hodgson and Haley were making 40 looms per week, and it soon became clear in the Bradford trade, that unless you were equipped with Hodgson looms, you would soon go into liquidation. Large orders followed, from W. Fison & Co., Joseph Wade & Sons, Mr. Titus Salt, Mr. Paul Speak, J. & R. Turner, John Wilson and Sons, John Turner and Co., all companies determined to maintain their lead in textiles. With such successes, George Hodgson was able to pay out his partner, Mr. Haley.

In 1855, Titus Salt, in conjunction with Mr. Mowbray, head of his experimental and mechanics department, adopted the Circular Box Loom. A Luke Smith of Manchester had modified and improved this design, but failed to commercialise his development which still had faults. Sir Titus bought out Luke Smith's patents, and George Hodgson, having the sole licence to manufacture the loom, set about extracting the working faults, to make it a trouble free unit.

The prosperity of his firm was now assured. The Hodgson Power Loom became a household word, not only in Bradford and in this country but across the world. One large company ordered 1300 looms, and others acclaim their financial success to the reliability and speed of Hodgson's products.

The highest trade honours were attained by the design of these looms, and their successful trouble free qualities. From all over Europe, trophies were awarded from 1862 onwards for the factories products. George Hodgson's personal honours included the Belgian Diploma of Honour and Order of Leopold, the Spanish Gold Medal 1888, and finally, the legion of honour in 1889, the year he bought Nocton from Lord Ripon.

Outside the sphere of his businesses, he became involved with the Glaisdale Ironworks near Whitby in 1872. With others, he founded the Yorkshire Boiler Insurance and Steam Users Company, acting as Chairman until his death. In 1873, he became a Director and later Chairman of the Yorkshire Banking Company, with whom he made large investments, and when the Bank ran into grave trouble with Thomas Vaughan & Co., Iron Producers of Middlesborough, Hodgson with the help of Charles Dean, his secretary, put the Company back on its feet. Later, the Bank disposed of the Company to the Clay Lane Iron Company, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Wharton of Skelton Castle. George Hodgson and Mr. E. B. Hamilton remained as joint managing Directors, with Hodgson the largest shareholder.

He was chosen as a J.P. for the West Riding of Yorkshire and Kesteven and later allowed his name to be submitted for High Sheriff for the County of Lincolnshire, but unfortunately he died in June 1895 before he was able to take the office of Sheriff, held by many earlier inhabitants of Nocton Hall.

During George Hodgson's time as a Magistrate, the cases were not always without their lighter moments, illustrated in this story which came before the Courts as a mild assault case:-

Chairman of the Justices: 'Prisoner, we have decided to convict you. You had no business to take the law into your own hands, and to give the man (though we must own you had much provocation) two black eyes, to knock him down, kick him, kneel on his stomach, throw his hat into the fire, knock out the ashes of your pipe into his left eye, and finally to use very bad language towards him'.
Prisoner: 'Noh Sur, A knows a didna oughta a down it, leastways not quoit so mooch on it, but ye see, A wasna hardly sober at the toim'.
Head Constable: 'Shallcross - What's this man's position?'
Shallcross: Milks 3 cows Sir'.
Prisoner: 'A dunna, you're a liar'.
Chairman: Really, you mustn't answer'.
Prisoner: 'But A only milks two, T'other a cawf.
Chairman: 'Fined 15/-'.

An illustration into a man's respectability, was gauged by the number of cows or 'Caws' he milked.

On his death, George Hodgson left three daughters and two sons:

  • His eldest daughter married William Harker, Chairman of the Bradford Banking Company and formerly Member of Parliament for Ripon. Their son William, later married Lord Glentanner's daughter and settled at Blofield Hall, near Norwich.
  • The second daughter married Thomas Bottomly of Manorby Hall, Buttershaw.
  • The third married Robert Wright Taylor, Barrister of Baysgarth Park, Barton on Humber.
  • The eldest son, John, came to Nocton on his father's death in 1895 with his wife Ann, the tall and beautiful daughter of Joseph Craven, the first Member of Parliament for Shipley.
  • The younger son, George, continued to run the Loom Company at Canal Road, Bradford and the Textile Manufacturing Complex at Thornton, supported by two Junior Directors, grandsons of George, Howard and Norman.

The last named was to take over the organisation and running of the Hall and estate on his father's death in 1902, when he fell the victim to cancer, and was laid to rest in the north east corner of the Churchyard of All Saint's, Nocton.

John Hodgson's greatest contribution to the park during his stewardship, was the creation of an extensive lake to the north of the Lime Avenue, enhancing the view from the Hall windows to the east. To maintain a fresh water flow, thereby making it possible to stock the water with trout, a supply was pump fed from the Dunston Beck and piped across the fields to the lake.

John had a great weakness for marble figures. From time to time, these would suddenly appear in different positions throughout the park. These white statues, carved in various seductive positions, sent shivers down the spine of estate workers returning late through the avenues towards the village. Ghostie stories circulated, but after the first sighting of one of John Hodgson's maidens amongst the trees, or forming a focal point at the end of a ride, those who were working away from the village made sure of reaching home before dark.

Norman Hodgson disapproved of his father's hobby, which caused timid members of the staff spiritual anxieties and had the figures removed and rehoused in the Hall. When the family were away, the Hodgson Marbles came in for special attention. The staff had a hilarious time dusting and washing the figures. A gardener passing an open window would hear a yelp of laughter, and as he progressed on his way, wondered at the source of such ecstatic merriment.

After Lord Ripon's departure from Nocton, tenants, Hall staff and estate workers felt uncertain that the reason for the sale of the estate had been only a financial problem. When it was understood the new owner was very much a senior citizen, and might not be able to involve himself with estate matters, their uncertainty for the future increased. George Hodgson was over 70, and at this time of life, he was physically past his prime to enjoy the good sporting facilities normally attributed as the way of life for a country squire with 7,300 acres.

Confidence of the tenants was restored when the old gentleman handed over the Hall to his son, John, shortly after buying the property. This was a morale boost, for Nocton would have a resident landlord. He simultaneously gave his second son, George Herbert Hodgson, the control of the Yorkshire business, with the support of his grandsons.

Early in last decade of the century, George returned to his estate near Cannes to live out his life in a warmer climate. The aches and pains of old age were more bearable in the higher temperatures on the mediterranean Coast. He died at Scarborough in 1895.

His son John and daughter-in-law Ann, brought a family of six to the Hall, five sons and one daughter. The seventh child, another daughter, arrived by stork at Nocton Hall in 1890.

Ann's father, Joseph Craven, yet another great Yorkshire 19th century industrialist, was related through his family tree, to a cousin of William Craven, a sheep farmer, near Appletreewick, the first Earl of Craven's grandfather.

George Hodgson and Joseph Craven struck the seven figure gong at their respective banks in the early middle age, and for the rest of their lives, continued to add to their fortunes. Craven became President of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the highest honour possible in the great days of Yorkshire's might. In a conversation with an old county supporter, he confided that he remembered the day, Yorkshire bowled out the Australians for 25 runs. A great tale indeed if it was true.

In politics, Hodgson and Craven were strong Liberal supporters. The latter becoming the Liberal Member of Parliament for Shipley on the creation of this constituency. His political career was to prove more adventurous than he expected. On Lord Cavendish's appointment as Secretary of State for Ireland, (the son and heir of the Duke of Devonshire) Craven became his Private Under Secretary, and was stationed in Dublin at the time of the tragic assassination in Phoenix Park in 1882.

On Craven's return from Ireland, he was asked to lay the foundation stone of the new Bradford Town Hall on 28th April 1888. He anticipated this would be a peaceful ceremony in contrast with the events on the other side of the Irish Sea, but after bumping the stone with a gentle bonk, he was not taking any chances and retained the mace, now in the possession of a great grandson who recalls Craven's lucky escape at the time of Cavendish's assassination.

At the turn of the 20th century, when throughout the world, people looked to the future with renewed hope, John's family at Nocton Hall viewed the time ahead with uncertainty. John Hodgson's health was declining rapidly. His son, Norman, a lieutenant in the 76th Company Norfolk Imperial Yeomanry, was in South Africa with the British Forces engaged with the Boars. A war which far from assured the future of any officer, and could terminate expectations of life by the speed of the enemy in combat. In 1901, having been promoted to Captain in the second Volunteer Battalion Prince of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment, (of which Lord Ripon was Colonel in Chief) he returned home, his arms had received bullet wounds which, mercifully in the months ahead were restored to full use.

John Hodgson's health continued to decline and in 1902 he died at the Hall leaving the running of the estate in the hands of his son Norman, then aged 25. Almost at the same time, the Vicar of Nocton, Canon Footman, so dearly loved by the estate, also died. The Canon and John Hodgson had always been at loggerheads, but towards the end, these two gentlemen, each on his deathbed, exchanged notes of goodwill.

Ann Craven felt the loss deeply of her husband and the vicar. Before Canon Footman's death he completed and published 'Some Notes on the History of Nocton'. This was a work of great skill and dedication. The Nocton family trees are invaluable for historical record and without Footman's work, Nocton history could have been lost forever.

On the death of John Hodgson, his son Norman set to work, to give the estate a high polish. The Hall was redecorated and wherever possible, labour saving devices installed to give the staff greater help and efficiency. The grounds near the Hall were the first to have the flower borders stocked with a full variety of shrubs and herbaceous plants. The rose borders were enlarged and filled with the varieties most suited for a colourful summer display. Species of Rhododendron, first planted by Lord Ripon, were ordered, to add a mass of colour to the side walks through the nearby woods and the 400 acre forest known as 'The Big Wood' received an additional number to enhance its beauty, already famous in Lincolnshire for its rhododendrons and the fantastic display of lilies of the valley and bluebells. Those who are old enough will recall the sheer magnificence of the Hall grounds and park. In the simple words of a nanny of Norman Hodgson's three children 'Oh? It was beautiful'. This gracious lady is now 95, and living in Dunston, but the memories of the park's beauty will remain with her to the end.

When trying to create one of the most beautiful gardens in England, life can have its problems. The head gardener's motive was not to give a blinding display of colour requested by his Master, but for the perfection of the Chrysanthemum. The Squire, on his daily rounds, soon noticed the junior gardeners busy, but there was not a sign of the head gardener. With several acres of walled fruit and vegetable gardens, it was not a quick game of hide and seek, but a laborious hunt, to find the floral expert. When he was run to ground, the Squire thereafter knew where to find the missing horticultural genius - always in a greenhouse striving to produce the finest chrysanthemum in the world.

Before 1914, Nocton won the coveted chrysanthemum prize for three consecutive years, at the Royal Horticultural Hall at Westminster, proving the tolerance of the Squire with the dedication of his head gardener.

The famous chestnut tree planted by Katherine Howard, fascinated visitors of all ages, especially children in early autumn looking for conkers. To preserve the great tree, now 14 feet in diameter, 365 timber props were cut to length and used as supports, for the outgrowing branches which in themselves, were bigger than many established trees and were in danger of breaking.

In 1906, Norman Hodgson married the daughter of retired tea planter, Charles Lightfoot of Sussex House, Scarborough. Ida Sybil Hodgson was 17 when she took her position as the Squire's wife at the head of the dining table - a moment in her life always to be remembered.

The years were ticking away, and as time passed, the estate underwent changes. The Pump on the Fen was replaced by a really efficient unit. The new Vicar coaxed into restricting his sermon to ten minutes at the 11 o'clock service at All Saints. The Squire used a simple time keeping device called 'put and take.' When the Vicar's sermon reached the allotted time, ten half crowns, one for each minute, were placed on the prayer book shelf, and for every further minute beyond ten, ahalf crown would be taken away. The Vicar being a thrifty gentleman, kept his sermon short so the congregation consisting mainly of farmers and their families, were able to return home early for Sunday lunch.

The Hall stables provided a full selection of horses for every requirement, and before the turn of the century, John Hodgson prided himself, that Nocton had the best turned out Hooper coach and four in the county. He had inherited the family skills in handling horses, and was able to ride with the artistry of a great huntsman. The coach house displayed a gleaming range of highly polished conveyances for every purpose, including a horse drawn shooting brake and game cart. The shooting brake is now undergoing a complete restoration, and will become an exhibit in the Lincoln Museum, but unfortunately, the game cart was spotted for its rarity, and lost to Lincolnshire. After a major restoration, it now resides in an Oxford Museum, looking immaculate, as it did so many years ago, when used to house the 'pick-up' after a drive and keep the birds away from flies.

The 20th Century soon set the pace of change. Everybody to their own task, hoped to accomplish more in their daily toil. If manual ways were handicapped, the demand on industry to design a way of overcoming such an obstacle, had to be met.

The greatest impact on rural life, came through the introduction of the internal combustion engine. Nocton Hall saw the arrival of a Rover 12 h.p. two seater open tourer in 1907, when Norman Hodgson drove from Lincoln to his home with the new car. The advent of such a revolutionary method of transport, was an unwelcome sight to the coach house staff. Would this mechanical contraption replace all the horse drawn carriages?

Generations of men, dedicated to horses and experienced in the skills to feed and groom an animal to perfection, wondered what the future had in store for their way of life. Their families had, for generations, worked from the stables and guarded the equipment for the Lords of the Manor. Did this noisy beast, in front of the Hall entrance, herald the end of a way of life, so dear to horse lovers? One groom was heard to say 'Well a 'phart' from a good horse, would do more good to the Squire's estate than all that smoke coming from his contraption'. His remark might be adjudged vulgar, but this comment might now be considered worthy of serious consideration.

In 1907, no one could visualise our Island jammed with metal boxes on four wheels, and fitted with horizontal chimneys to discharge poison across the countryside, but that was to become the way of life in the next 78 years. Fortunately for the rural communities, change came slowly. No one could have known that within another seven years after the arrival of Nocton Hall's first automobile, 'all hell' was to be let loose across Europe.

Whereas John Hodgson had been respected for his accomplishments in riding and hunting, his son Norman, was the reverse. On the day of a Blankney Meet, the groom would see his master safely into the saddle, but thereafter, it was only a matter of time before the Squire of Nocton would be found somewhere in a setting for the perfect presentation of a Leech-Print (the mid Victorian artist, who caricatured unfortunate riders to perfection). Sadly, horse and rider could be seen homeward bound, no longer in a state of preparedness for the 'dressage', but covered with mud, either from a dive into a fen dyke, or a roll down the railway embankment.

Norman may not have inherited the hunting skills of his forebears, but he had acquired the grace and speed of a 'sporting shot'. A quality unmatched, other than by the Marquis of Ripon or his son, Oliver. To claim equal status on the shooting quality of a De Grey of Wrest might be unwise, but Norman Hodgson's record showed his personal bag generally outstripped other guns. Nocton estate shooting was always of the highest standard. The yearly average of birds from the turn of the century until 1919, remained balanced at 10,000 head per year, broken down into varieties for a season showed a total of 4,000 pheasants, 4,000 English partridges with 2,000 ducks. The most profound change that had taken place since 1920 had been the rearing of a much greater number of birds. To maintain high yearly bags of game, hand rearing has compensated for the vast extraction of hedges and nesting places across the estate which now resembles an area cleaned out by an enormous vacuum cleaner. Almost everything except the established woods have disappeared. The Nocton Fen, a bleak landscape as willows, poplars and other trees have been extracted. The farmhouses and buildings destroyed to perfect the efficient farming methods taught by the modern agricultural colleges.

With the outbreak of World War I, the tenants on the Nocton estate set to with a will to increase farming production. As the war progressed, the ever increasing demand of our forces on the western front, for more men, had its impact on those employed in agriculture. Gradually, valuable and experienced men left the Nocton farms, some never to return.

Norman Hodgson, now fully involved as estate manager, fought back to provide replacement hands in the shape of prisoners of war. The large potato houses on the Nocton Fen, with only minor modifications, to provide kitchens and toilet facilities, were turned into barracks to house Germans captured in Europe. Hodgson, already with a fluent knowledge of the German and French languages, had no difficulty with communication and having already served with the British Army, carried the confidence of an Officer, to see his authority was respected and carried out by those men who appeared thankful to work in peace on the estate farms, away from the roar of battle.

When only a very small boy, my Father took me on a public relations visit to meet the German troops in the 'spud houses'. Many of these soldiers were family men with children of their own. Perhaps by my presence, my Father felt he could trigger a common bond in their association and restore their confidence by allowing me to walk about freely. Father made sure the prisoners were comfortable, and went carefully into any problems affecting their personal lives. There was no barbed wire or any other form of restriction. As each day came, batches of Germans went out to different farms to help in the daily toil.

In all my memories of these wartime years, two instances remain clear in my mind. Through a little boy's eyes the search lights combing the night sky had a strong fascination, but then one was oblivious to the serious aspect, as the searchlight teams hunted the heavens for the dreaded Zeppelin. These German night intruders had no knowledge that the cock pheasant would herald their approach across the East Coast and towards Lincoln, mile by mile, the sound of the familiar engine hum coaxed the cock bird to sound its unique guttural call to their ladies, that an outsize sausage falcon was looking for their roosting perches. The observation corps now aliened by the pheasants, doused their powerful lights in readiness to catch the night bomber in a dazzling arc when the enemy came into the range of the artillery. One night the driver of a Great Eastern goods train puffing north from Sleaford to Lincoln, realized a Zeppelin was following the light of his firebox. The stoker, swinging round to replenish the fire with coal from the tender, caught sight of the Zeppelin against the moon. Fully realising the German's target was the Foster's Tank Factory in Lincoln, the brave driver brought his train to a standstill short of Nocton Station. The Bosch, certain that the train had drawn into Lincoln, released the stick of bombs, but failed to hit the train and merely blew craters into the farmland adjacent to the railway line. Later that night, the Zeppelin coned by a ring of searchlights, was shot down to the south east of Lincoln. It was rumoured a Royal Flying Corps Pilot took off from Waddington to make the fateful attack.

If this story was true, it must have been one of the first night attacks in the history of the Royal Air Force, and the pilot's skill in affecting a smooth landing in the dark on his return to Waddington, marked a feat of exceptional judgement.

The problem of food shortage was becoming widespread and provoked men to unusual and enterprising efforts to sustain a varied diet, not least, the Officers of the R.A.F. Messes. In the daily training schedules for Flying Officers from both Cranwell and Waddington, doing their circuits and bumps, it was inevitable that these string kites would fly over the Nocton estate. An aircraft pilot and observer quickly pinpointed the large numbers of pheasants feeding out of the woodlands onto the arable land. A form of aerial poaching was developed by the more daring pilots who side slipped their aircraft on to a small pasture near the feeding ground. The head keeper reported that planes were landing in different fields and the occupants armed with shotguns, were attacking his precious game. Norman Hodgson mounted a counter attack. He pointed out to the head keeper that an aircraft must take off. With a little co-operation from the farmer, it would be a simple matter to restrict the take-off run and make it dangerous for the pilot to risk a steep climb and escape over the trees. Culprits were captured and marched to the Hall where lunch was provided to some very guilty looking young pilots.

Norman Hodgson had a twinkle in his eye as well as a deep affection for the R.A.F. According to the season of the year, the pilot flew back to either Cranwell or Waddington with sufficient birds to provide a good dinner for the Mess.

Early in 1917 after the entry of America into the war, Norman Hodgson decided that the Hall should be prepared as a convalescent home for young American Officers wounded on the front. For the next few months American commissioned soldiers came and went, having regained their full health in the comfort of the Hall and surrounding park. During this time, the Hodgson family moved to Embsay House, known as the Dower House for the estate, where they remained until the Hall and estate were sold to Messrs W H. Dennis towards the end of 1919.

Tribute must be paid to the great tenant farmers, who had loyally supported the Lords of the Manor, in many cases for over 150 years they maintained a quality of farming that was an example to the countryside. Such great characters include Atkin, Blanchard, Booth, Cartwright, Casswell, Chazman, Dorman, Featherstone, Fish, Gresham, Hall, Halkes, Howard, Maltby, Pearson, Poucher, Robinson, Sempers, Smithson, Spencer, Todd, Turner, Varlow, Williams, Woods and Wray. Some 26 tenants farming an average 300 acres.

The commercial highlight near the turn of the century of the tenanted estate came when 200 ewes were sold to the Argentine for £30.000. £150 per ewe would make any modern farmer call for an intervention subsidy to save his farm from liquidation, but at that time farmers had an independent outlook, knowing their incomes were ruled by the open market. Land fertility was dependent on trees for shelter, stock for manure, hedges walls and dykes for field boundaries. Chemical crystals in polythene bags to litter the landscape, sprays to destroy our environment, supported by the tax payer, was unforeseen.

Under the control of W. H. Dennis, the tenant farmers on the estate were given notice and one by one, these families left their land and homes in order that the new owners could farm the estate as a whole. Farm houses on the Heath and Fen were left empty, to be later removed by another owner, and gradually the once beautiful estate was condemned to the brutal efficiency of modern farming which leaves no room for an artist's landscape or for nature's wild flowers and bird life. Hedgerows and timber, lovingly planted long before, were extracted and burnt. 38 miles of light railway covered the estate from Fen to Heath to speed the transport of beet and potatoes to Nocton Station.

Herbert Dennis had little affection for the domestic way of village life, and one of his special dislikes centred on the weekly choir practise. On one occasion, he intercepted boys, late one afternoon as they ambled past the Manor House where he lived, en route by the Village Green to All Saints Church. A 12 bore shotgun rested over his right shoulder. Backed by his firearm, he made the boys promise to remain stationery, and threatened to shoot any boy who broke ranks in an attempt to reach the Church in time for Canon Chard's rehearsal. Mrs. Dennis, in contrast with her husband, was a loving and tender lady. She had observed from a window that her spouse was up to some villainy, and when the coast was clear, invited the boys in for tea and cakes in an attempt to soothe a delicate situation.

In 1936, the estate changed hands again and became the property of Smith's Potato Crisps Estates. Mr. John Ireson became land agent for the company and he and his wife reflected the friendly spirit of a true Noctonian. Under their thoughtful stewardship, the social life of the estate was quickly revived and it soon became evident that Ireson's were in tune with country life in it's fullest sense. All the social activities sprang to life with added enthusiasm, including the cricket and football clubs, but once again change was on the way to alter Nocton's way of life.

Cranwell was the only Royal Air Force Hospital at the outbreak of war, and would be inadequate for the probable needs of a much larger wartime Air Force. RAF Hospitals were being built in various parts of the country, and attention was focused on Nocton Hall, which had not been occupied as a private home since the Americans returned home early in 1919. The Air Ministry acquired the Hall and 200 acres of park in early 1940 from the owners, Smith's Potato Crisps and so for the first time in almost 1900 years, the Hall and park were severed from the outlying estate, but it was found unsuitable for the role of a large R.A.F. Hospital, near Sleaford was taken over and converted into a 1,000 bed R.A.F. Hospital unit, with a full back up of operating theatres, burns and plastic units.

Nocton Hall was not left empty, but was used as an army clearing station until 1943. Under the 'lease-lend' agreement, it was handed over to the Americans, for the second time in the Hall's history. With the customary American resolve, the Army Medical Branch, built the present complex, to be known as the United States Army Seventh General Hospital. The Hall was used as an Officers' Club.

The 'Grey Lady' welcomed wholeheartedly the new guests, with their large cigars and American accents. To have old friends back in the Hall, was a time to reminisce on days gone by, but she reserved her visits for special officers who recognised her Royal presence. When she passed down the corridors and was given a warm 'Good day M'am' her emotions were gratified, she was still young enough to be excited by a good looking American Officer.

At the conclusion of the War in 1945, the Royal Air Force selected Nocton Hall as their permanent hospital for Lincolnshire. The existing accommodation was inadequate for use as a General Hospital and in 1946, a building programme was started. A year later, the first stage of the Hospital development was formally opened second Commanding Officer, Group Captain L. C. Palmer-Jones, with the admission of the admission of the first patient on 1st November 1947. At this time, there were four wards, and building continued with a steady increase in the number of beds. By 1954, the hospital offered a fully staffed medical, surgical, ear, nose, throat ophthalmic and dental facilities, not only for service personnel and their families but also for local people from a wide area of the Lincolnshire countryside. In May 1957, a Maternity Unit opened for the first time and from then onwards, the baby flow continued from Nocton Hall. God Bless the little cherubs, for this story is dedicated to their lives. Perhaps in years to come, each will remember with love that they were born in the Hospital which must be dedicated to Lord Ripon and Florence Nightingale. A memory, we hope, they will hold dear.

In 1966, the Hospital was fitted out with twin operating theatres, a central sterile supply department and a neuro-psychiatric centre. Expansion continued and in July 1969, Princess Alexandra, Commandant of Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service, visited Nocton to open a self contained Maternity Division.

The rapid growth of the Hospital's superb medical care was to perform miracles. The advance of new sciences in medicine, unique to Nocton, showed that R.A.F. Hospital, Nocton Hall, was not only exceptional, and provided an environment conducive to the restoration of health, but also gave tender, loving care, in itself lifted the soul, shown so clearly by the story of Squadron Leader Len H. Trent. In 1938/9, as a pilot at Abingdon, he suffered terrible pains down his left leg, diagnosed as Fibrositis old boy'. During the Battle of France, he was Blenheim pilot, and could only get into his aircraft with assistance, but he survived the severe mauling by the Luftwaafe and won the D.F.C. In 1943, he was shot down piloting a Ventura, and in the prison camp, suffered untold pain with back and neck trouble. In 1946, he was awarded the V.C. for action performed in 1943. In 1949, his problem was diagnosed, and confirmed at Nocton Hall as Ankylosing Spondylitis and a course of treatment was commenced. Everything was against his future in the R.A.F. and he expected to be invalided out of the service. Wandering around the Hall grounds was therapy in itself to lift a depressed mind. The rich rose borders, sweeping lawns and parkland beauty, cheered his morale, and finally, a Board declared him A1.G1 and was able to return to flying. In 1962 he became A.D.C. to Her Majesty, the Queen for three years. He also held the post of Assistant Air Attache in Washington. Had it not been for the Nocton environment, with its medical skills, this courageous airman would not now play to a five handicap at golf. He resides happily in New Zealand, at the age of 68, and we must wish him many years of future happiness.

We are certain this Officer will always remember Nocton - not only the Hospital, but the rose borders, the high timber, the beautiful and gracious Hall, and not least, the Mess Bar, with its famous steps descending to the lawn, down which so many Commanding Officers carried their drinks on to the mown lawn, to relax in the warmth of a Nocton Summer day.

The estate, now no longer part of the Hall and park, was sold in 1974 to Tom's Foods. This organisation retained ownership until 1976, when the British Fields Products Ltd., bought out Tom's Foods. The present owners are a subsidiary of Guardian Royal Exchange Insurance, and the estate is administered from the Nocton Station Close, under the leadership of a land agent.

The lack of warmth and friendship of the old days of tenant farming has disappeared and given way to the demand of modern business practice, when the balance sheet directs every move. The loving care of the countryside takes second place, but times have altered so much that there seems little hope that Nocton will ever again see the past glory of an estate maintained to perfection as it was before 1920.

In 35 years, Nocton Hall with its park, had grown to the undisputed position of No. 1 Royal Air Force Hospital. November 1947 - 31st March 1983, marked its opening and closing. Lincoln Cathedral honoured its final farewell with a Service of Thanksgiving for the dedicated Royal Air Force Staff who, with the help of Almighty God, had helped so many in time of sickness. Life mad whole, comfort given and pain relieved. A fitting tribute to the home of Lord Ripon who,with Florence Nightingale, had created the Hospital Service for our forces. We salute Royal Air Force Hospital, Nocton Hall.

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