LADY MARGARET FORTESCUE

This page provides a summary of the content of the tracks on CD 1 of the oral history recording. 
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Back to introduction about Lady Margaret Fortescue.

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BORN EBRINGTON MANOR, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, 1923 / FAMILY BACKGROUND / HOLIDAYS AT CASTLE HILL / SIMONSBATH ESTATE AND CHALLACOMBE / CASTLE HILL

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GRANDFATHER / PUBLIC DUTIES / ROYALTY / INHERITANCE / LIVING AT SIMONSBATH / TENANTS

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EVENINGS AT SIMONSBATH / PARENTS' POLITICS / FRIENDS / PARENTS / DISCIPLINE

1/4 RESPONSIBILITY TO TENANTS / RETURN TO CASTLE HILL / WARTIME / MARRIAGE / INHERITING / SELLING ESTATE / EMPLOYEES
1/5 RUNNING ESTATES / STAFF / SOCIAL LIFE / HUNTING / SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES / CHILDREN / RACING
1/6 GARDENING / CONIFERS AND THE CHAINS / MOVE TO GARDEN HOUSE / DAUGHTER NOW RUNS ESTATE / LIFE TODAY
1/7 STAN CURTIS / BEING A GOOD EMPLOYER / OAP'S / BAILIFFS / TENANTS' MEDICAL CARE / SIMONSBATH CHURCH
1/8 SELLING REST OF EXMOOR ESTATE / HUNTING / EXMOOR FRIENDS / SENSE OF OBLIGATION

 

CD1

(65 mins)
 

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BORN EBRINGTON MANOR, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, 1923 / FAMILY BACKGROUND / HOLIDAYS AT CASTLE HILL / SIMONSBATH ESTATE AND CHALLACOMBE / CASTLE HILL

Tuesday 18th September 2001, Castle Hill.

Lady Margaret Fortescue was born in December 1923 in Gloucestershire, near Chipping Camden, because her family had another house called Ebrington Manor, in the family before Castle Hill came in.

Her parents were called Viscount and Viscountess Ebrington (Ebrington being a courtesy title) as her grandparents, the Earl and Countess Fortescue, were alive at that time.

Castle Hill came into the family, through marriage, in 1459 LMF thinks. There is no current Viscount Ebrington as cousin Charlie, the present Earl Fortescue, only has daughters.

Her grandfather lived at Castle Hill, running the estate with the aid of an agent. Her parents lived at Ebrington until grandfather died when they took over Castle Hill. A great deal of holidays had always been spent at Castle Hill, along with uncle and aunt, her father's younger brother, whose family were roughly the same ages as her brother, sister and herself.

LMF was the middle child.

There were 2 estates, Simonsbath and Challacombe, run as separate entities. Her grandfather had bought this huge chunk of Exmoor from the Knight brothers towards the end of the 19th century, all tenanted at that time. Different farmers had different holdings. Castle Hill, and also West Buckland (part of the estate at that time) were nearly all tenanted, with a small home farm at Castle Hill.

LMF thinks Exmoor was 20,000 acres [x-ref Stan Curtis cd1/1] and West Buckland and Castle Hill were 10, because when her father died in 1958, she inherited nearly 30,000 acres.

Her grandparents chose to live here, as it was the family seat.

LMF remembers little of her grandmother as she died when she was very small. They did ride with grandfather on the estate, but in those days, children were neither seen nor heard too much, so saw little of him.

The main house was very big with the nurseries on the top floor, where the children lived, so they didn't see much of the house. They came down after tea to see their parents. There was a dreadful fire in March 1934 and the centre block of the house was completely gutted. The roof collapsed. Mrs Vincent, the housekeeper, and little Joyce Davy, the housemaid, were killed, never getting down from the top floor servants rooms. 2 friends of Mrs Vincent, living in the house, both escaped.

LMF's parents decided immediately to rebuild the house one size smaller without the top floor (previously added in Victorian times), putting it back to its original Palladian proportions. They moved back in May 1936 to a comfortable house with plenty of bathrooms, decorated in the 1930's style. [Back to top]
 

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GRANDFATHER / PUBLIC DUTIES / ROYALTY / INHERITANCE / LIVING AT SIMONSBATH / TENANTS

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LMF thinks grandfather bought the Exmoor estate for the stag hunting. He was master of the staghounds at one stage, and later, Chairman. She has a picture of him out hunting, painted by Lionel Edwards, which was given by her parents, uncle and aunt for, she thinks, her grandparents' silver wedding. Grandfather and other landowners formed the Badgworthy Land Company to help preserve hunting on Exmoor. He was very active in the county. He was Lord Lieutenant, doing a great deal of public work, followed by Lord Mildmay of Fleet and then her father, ably assisted by her mother.

Royalty stayed and were entertained at Castle Hill if they were on public duties, attending functions, etc., in Devon.

Princess Elizabeth, Princess Alexandra and the Gloucester's stayed, but not the King and Queen, she thinks, though Papa was in attendance when they visited Plymouth after the wartime bombing.

Her father had one younger brother, Uncle Denny, who commanded the North Devon Yeomanry in the war. LMF's brother was killed in the war, so her uncle succeeded her father. After the war, Castle Hill was left to LMF and Ebrington handed to her uncle. Her father also left Wear Gifford [?sp], mostly used as the dower house in the past, to her sister, Elizabeth.

During the rebuilding of Castle Hill, when she was 10, they moved entirely to Simonsbath in what is now [?then] called Diana Lodge, her grandfather's hunting box [now Simonsbath House Hotel]. Here they rode and hunted as often as the ponies could manage it with the Quarme Harriers, the Exmoor Foxhounds and the Devon and Somerset.

Her parents were with them most of the time, but a governess also looked after them and her brother had a tutor in the holidays. Always a huge gang; her uncle rented Emmett's Grange with her cousins and friends stayed as well, a lovely, happy childhood.

Car or horsebox were used for transport between the 2 very different places, sometimes difficult to get up the steep Yarde Wells.

In term time, they did lessons in part of the morning, then went riding and lessons again in the afternoon, plus prep. They didn't go to school until much older.

Simonsbath had panelled rooms downstairs, primitive bedrooms, lino on the floor, 1 bathroom between them all , quite cold always and peat fires which smoked.

Lots of friends in the area, met them out hunting or at the pony club. Her parents would check on the tenants and their needs.

The children knew the villagers' names and the tenants but were too small to be involved.

LMF had her own pony. She wore jodhpurs, a tweed coat and a velvet cap.

Her mother rode side saddle and wore a tweed habit to hunt on Exmoor. [Back to top]
 

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EVENINGS AT SIMONSBATH / PARENTS' POLITICS / FRIENDS / PARENTS / DISCIPLINE

They played card and paper games in the evenings and sat with mother to do the Times crossword; chat, conversation, current affairs, local politics.

Her parents were staunch Conservatives. After the war, her father became Chief Whip, Captain of the Gentlemen at Arms, and spent a lot of time in the House of Lords.

They had a butler, footman, father's valet, mother's maid, housemaids, cook, kitchen maids, scullery maid and odd man.

Some must have lived out at Simonsbath or doubled up to squeeze in.

LMF and her sister had the family governess. Before she died, LMF saw her in Market Harborough where she lived.

Her brother went to a prep school, then Eton and Sandhurst.

LMF was sent to school in 1938 in Switzerland. When the war started, she went to an English school, evacuated from London to Newbury. There was a boys prep school at Castle Hill, evacuated from Seaford, and evacuees from London in the cottages.

LMF's mother was very musical. A music teacher came to stay, giving lessons to the children and playing duets with her mother. In the holidays, they often had a French governess.

Friends at Simonsbath were the Pilchers and Lloyds plus their own family and friends.

They went as a family with a picnic to gymkhanas and shows. The local, agricultural Exford Show was the social highlight of the summer. Also Dunster and Brendon Shows.

Her parents were always smartly dressed. Her mother had enormous charm, everybody loved her; very strict with the children.

In awe of her father too. He would beat them for misbehaviour, her mother had a very sharp tongue. They had a healthy respect for their parents! [Back to top]
 

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RESPONSIBILITY TO TENANTS / RETURN TO CASTLE HILL / WARTIME / MARRIAGE / INHERITING / SELLING ESTATE / EMPLOYEES

After returning to Castle Hill, her parents kept in touch with what was happening at Simonsbath, responsible landlords.

LMF would ride round with the farm bailiff until Exmoor was sold.

Life changed at Castle Hill when the war came, evacuees. Her father went back to the army, her mother was head of all the women's organisations in Devon, the Land Army, Red Cross, WVS. 4 land girls at Castle Hill. LMF and her sister were away at school, her brother was posted to Palestine, then Egypt. He was killed at Alamein. Her sister married and lived away from home. After the war, LMF had various jobs away from Devon. She married in 1948 and lived in Newmarket, but still visited her parents a great deal, important as she was to inherit. Her father died on 14 June 1958, his 70th birthday, her mother 4 days before him on 10 June. Enormous death duties were met by selling a large part of Exmoor, Challacombe and West Buckland, the northern part of Castle Hill estate.

LMF had trustees, executors and an agent to help make these difficult decisions.

She wishes she had borrowed money and not sold all the land and tenanted farms, but it was against the grain.

Most of the tenants then bought their own farms.

The heart of the estate on Exmoor was retained. She gradually took farms in hand as tenants died or gave up. They farmed the land themselves, making money, with good bailiffs, John Hayes for one, and very good employees.

They had 5 flocks and 2 big beef units, one at Corman [?CHECK] and one at the Barton [?CHECK] near Simonsbath. [Back to top]
 

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RUNNING ESTATES / STAFF / SOCIAL LIFE / HUNTING / SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES / CHILDREN / RACING

The 2 estates worked well together.

The sawmill was given up when no longer profitable.

LMF was one of the last people to work with horses at Simonsbath and the Castle Hill forestry department. Her father got rid of them after the war and tractors were used to pull the timber out.

In her early thirties, LMF was rather worried about running the estate but also honoured and proud to have inherited, happy with her lot.

Very hard when still living in Newmarket, always seemed to be on the road, 1958 to 1965. She then left her husband and came back completely to the main house, cutting down on the number of staff.

She and her children had friends to stay, huge gang in the holidays. Her friends brought horses down too, stag and foxhunting on Exmoor.

LMF had the responsibilities of the estates, 4 children (2 girls of her own and 2 stepsons) and some, though not as many as her parents, local responsibilities. Like her mother, she was a governor of West Buckland School (originally founded and endowed by her family), eventually becoming vice chairman and now her daughter has succeeded her. Also governor of Filleigh School.

Her boys went to a prep school at Sunningdale, then Ampleforth and the girls went to Miss Spaldings, in Queensgate, London.

Her married name was Van Cutsen [?sp] at that time.

LMF loves flat racing and likes to go to the big meetings. Unsuccessful shares in horses.

Family outings with picnics to local point to points.
 

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GARDENING / CONIFERS AND THE CHAINS / MOVE TO GARDEN HOUSE / DAUGHTER NOW RUNS ESTATE / LIFE TODAY

[BJ repeats comment from Jim Smale about her clearing drain at sawmills]. LMF was capable of doing things for herself and worked hard in the garden at Castle Hill. Grandmother, mother and daughter all keen gardeners.

In the 40's, her father was approached by the Forestry Commission to plant conifers on the Chains. This seemed to him to be a good use of the land, but there was great local opposition, which resulted in the founding of the Exmoor Society. The scheme was dropped. She feels it would have been a mistake 

LMF moved 12 years ago to live in the Bungalow, 'the Bungy', or officially the Garden House in the walled garden at Castle Hill.

She thinks of it as a Palladian folly, painted the same colour as the house. 

Daughter and grandchildren have the benefit and joy of Castle Hill, her daughter running the estate now and doing a tremendous amount of charitable work.

LMF rides most mornings, endless things to do in the day, friends to stay, bed at 11. She doesn't hunt any more. Takes the dog to pick up in the shooting season in the winter once or twice a week.

She had a bad fall hunting with the Beaver in Leicestershire, multiple injuries and 10 weeks in hospital. [Back to top]
 

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STAN CURTIS / BEING A GOOD EMPLOYER / OAP'S / BAILIFFS / TENANTS' MEDICAL CARE / SIMONSBATH CHURCH

Stan Curtis said she was the next thing to an angel. He was an excellent, very loyal employee. All staff good, never had difficulty getting employees. They were well thought of as employers.

A good employer needs to be appreciative, to say thank you and help when needed.

She knew them and their families very well.

As far as possible, housed them when they retired if that is what they wanted. When her daughter sold Exmoor, the houses were retained for the OAP's. Blackpitt's lived where Williams is now, Stan and Millie Curtis are in the stable flat at Simonsbath, Santi  Lafuente, Phyllis and his family and his mother in law live in the 2 Jubilee cottages.

John Hayes was in a class of his own as bailiff. Ron Smith, the farm manager at Castle Hill, ran the Exmoor estate very well indeed, well respected by the men.

If tenants weren't well, ensured they went to a good doctor, or specialist if necessary, and she would visit in hospital.

The estate would pay medical fees sometimes, each case judged on its own merits.

The dear little church at Simonsbath, not all that well attended, but goes on. LMF supports it financially. Robin Ray is an excellent parson, as was John Atkin before him.

Hunting on the moor from Hawkcombe Head to Brendon Two Gates and further west was in a class of its own. Now more comfortable to ride sidesaddle and dressed scruffily. LMF used to ride astride mostly when hunting on Exmoor, though sidesaddle preferentially and for riding. [Back to top]
 

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SELLING REST OF EXMOOR ESTATE / HUNTING / EXMOOR FRIENDS / SENSE OF OBLIGATION

LMF no longer rides on Exmoor, not hers to ride over, but does visit the OAP's.

No longer the same attraction since her daughter sold what remained to John Ewart and happy to ride about at Castle Hill.

The National Park bought a lot of the moorland from LMF, a very good deal.

Exmoor is a wonderful, happy place and she trembles to think what will happen if hunting is banned. The moor was empty because of foot and mouth, hunting is the life blood of Exmoor and brings the visitors down.

She keeps in touch with her Exmoor friends, but a lot of them, now elderly, don't want to drive out at night.

Her daughter has a strong sense of obligation and LMF hopes this will carry on down through the generations.

[RECORDING ENDS] [Back to top]