Wednesday, September 30, 2009

From 1909 onward.

Cliveden House
Viewed from the South.

With the engagement of Captain Pepper as an estate manager to look after the day-to-day running of the estate, stud farm and White Place Farm, the Astors were free to be either in London for parliamentary sessions and social events, or to be in their constituency of Plymouth Sutton with their home on Plymouth Hoe.

With the event of the First World War, and so much of Cliveden House being empty, a part of it was given over to the Canadian Red Cross as a military hospital an association of which Nancy Astor maintained a very close contact throughout her lifetime. A small part of the house was kept for when they were just visiting. As you can imagine, they were leading a very busy lifestyle.

As you may gather, a certain number of the solder patients died while they were in hospital as a result of their wounds at the front in France. So a small oval glade of ground, just north of the family chapel, became the final resting place for some of the soldiers. In a couple of instances, the final resting place for two that I can recall were nursing sisters who, from the date of their death, appears to be the result of the Spanish flu epidemic. It is very hard these days to read the inscriptions on the gravestones due to do the fact that they are laid flat and the weather has eroded them. It is a great shame that the soldiers buried here are all but forgotten, where their brothers in arms buried in mainland Europe are still well remembered.

The photo above is an aerial view of the Canadian War Graves Cemetery at Cliveden. The headstones can be detected as little yellow dots on a green background.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Astor's from 1906.

A birds eye view of Cliveden.
I have now given the followers of this blog, a thumbnail sketch of the background of both, Waldorf William Astor and Nancy Witcher Langhorne, and now take up the story from their marriage in 1906, and their life at Cliveden, Plymouth, and their development of both the Cliveden Stud and White Place Farm.
The young married couple on taking over Cliveden, really threw themselves into running and organising the place with things that they wanted to do. To help Waldorf with the estate and the newly acquired White Place Farm they engaged as their agent and manager a Captain Pepper, not much is known of this gentleman, except he oversaw the building of the Stud farm, and several new barns and cow sheds at White Place Farm. During the remodelling of the farm, two North American silos made of Western Red Cedar were erected. With this shipment came in tremendous amount of cedar railing and fenceposts, to fence off the fields and paddocks for use by future racehorses. I will go into this in greater depth further on in the saga.
On top of all this Waldorf got interested in politics, and it seemed that Nancy was always there at his side to help.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Astor Saga, the Lady Nancy Astor

Nancy Vicountess Astor.

The photo of the painting above, by the artist John Singer Sargent was painted in or around 1909. She was born in Danville, Virginia, USA on the 19th May 1879. She was one of eight surviving children, sharing a home with four sisters and three brothers. A great deal has already been written about the Langhorn sisters, so I don't intend to go into the subject in great depth.

The photo above is the Langhorne house in Danville where Nancy was born. Her father, Chiswell Dabney Langhorn was a Confederate Officer during the American civil war of 1861 to 1865. The result being, it left him in a very poor financial position, he found work as a Tobacco Auctioneer, at which he became very proficient, also developing his own auctioneers patter, which caught on and was used by other auctioneers. He later went on, with Yankee partners into the railroad business, in which he made a fortune.

Mirador, the house in the photo above was bought from the wealth that "Chillie" as he was known made from his venture in the the railroad business. Nancy wanted to go on to college and her father refused to send her. To me, he was that sort of person in his manner, that girls were to learn how to run a house, get married and raise large families. Nancy never forgave her father this, and I truly believe this was to influence her later in life.

Her first marriage was to a wealthy Bostonian Robert Gould Shaw in October 1897, they had one child a boy, in 1902 they separated and were divorced the following year.

Shortly after her divorce she sailed to England, and it was on that voyage she met Waldorf William Astor, and in 1906 they were married.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Astor Saga, the 2nd Viscount.

Waldorf William 2nd Viscount
and Lady Nancy Astor.
Born in New York City on 19th May 1879. He was educated at Eton College near Windsor in Berkshire, and furthered his education at New College, Oxford, graduating with a Master of Arts degree. Around, 1910 he became acting chairman of the Observer newspaper in London. In that same year he became Conservative member of Parliament for Plymouth in Devon, he held the seat from 1910 to 1980.

Stepping back to 1906, when he met and married Nancy Witcher Langhorn. More about this famous lady in a later section of this saga.

In 1914, he gained the rank of temporary Major, and was Inspector of the Quartermaster General Services in the Home District, a position that he held until 1917 for which he was mentioned in dispatches. Between 1917 and 1918, he held the office of Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. From 1918 to 1919 he held the office of Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Food. From 1919 to 1921 he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health.

On his father's death in 1919 he automatically had to relinquish his Parliamentary seat to take his seat in the House of Lords. His Parliamentary seat becoming vacant, his wife Nancy decided she would run and won the seat in a by-election in 1919.

He held the office of Lord Mayor of Plymouth from 1939 until 1944, when he quietly retired from public life to enjoy his Racehorses and the Cliveden Stud farm, which had long been a great passion of his. He died at his Cliveden home on 30th September 1952 at the age of 73.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Astor Saga

William Waldorf Astor.

William Waldorf Astor was born in New York City and the only child of John Jacob Astor in 1822. He was educated in Germany and Italy and finally studied law at Columbia Law School. He worked for a short time in a law firm before becoming his fathers business manager. In 1878 he was married to Mary Dahlgren Paul and went into politics and served as a New York State Assemblyman and a Senator. He was twice defeated in a bid for the United States Congress and President Chester A. Arthur appointed him minister to Italy, a post he held for three years.

Upon the death of his father in 1890 he inherited a personal fortune that made him the richest man in America. On the 7th of November plans were filed with the New York City Building Department for a new hotel to be built on the site of the old family home, after a family feud with an Aunt. He moved his family to England. In 1897 his cousin John Jacob Astor IV built the Astoria Hotel next door and eventually the two were joined together to become The Waldorf Astoria that we know today.

After leaving America for England with his family, he only returned to America once and gave up his American citizenship to apply for and obtain a British one. The Astor's first home was rented Landsdown House in London until 1893 when he purchased the Cliveden Estate from the 1st Duke of Westminister. In 1899 Astor became a British Citizen and in 1903 bought Hever Castle in Kent. The huge estate was built in 1270 and it is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, who lived there as a child.

In 1906 he gave Cliveden to his son Waldorf William Astor as a wedding present when he married Nancy Langhorne. In 1916 King George V created him Baron Astor of Hever and a year later he was elevated to that of a Viscount. This was for his philanthropic works for the nation during the first world war.

He died in Brighton, Sussex in 1919 and his ashes are buried beneath the marble floor of the family chapel floor at Cliveden.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Traffic Surveys of the 1930's & 40's

Rural Traffic Survey Hut.

Today's traffic surveys are in the main made with the use of electromechanical devices. In the 1930's and early 40's none of this equipment was available, so the job was conducted by manual labour. The picture of the shed above is typical of the type of building that would house the enumerator's, I say enumerator's, as the task required two people to conduct a survey.

One person would survey and record on a ledger sheet, specially laid out on all traffic travelling from left to right. The second person would record all traffic travelling from right to left. This would include identifying the type of vehicle or person that passed, from heavy goods vehicles and buses to light vans and passenger cars, people on bicycles, and even people walking. On the odd occasion, they would have to record a herd of cattle or sheep being driven past them, which was the normal thing on rural roads in those days.

The shed or building was transported from site to site on a council lorry in an unassembled form, and could be erected or taken down in a matter of a few minutes. The traffic surveyors were usually retired parishioners, who at some time or other had worked for the council. The survey would be conducted usually, Monday to Friday from 8 AM in the morning until 4 PM in the afternoon.

The survey was conducted approximately once every two years, one of the sites being the small layby at Widbrook Common just by the gate leading to my home. As a rule this survey was carried out alternate years to the resurfacing being performed, and quite often during the summer school holiday period.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Bi-annual Road Maintenance

The Wallis & Stevens Steam Roller.
The Wallis & Stevens Steam Roller was a very familiar sight around the English roads in the early part of the 20th century. Some were fitted with two saddle tanks, which were filled with tar and fed to a spray boom at the rear. Also hitched to steamroller was a gravel spreader, whose wheels were outside the area being sprayed. A complete pass would cover about 100 yards at a time. At the end of the pass, the spreader would be unhitched from the steamroller, and it would return to roll in the gravel that had just been laid.

The tar boiler in the picture above was located in a small layby, where the steamroller could come by and fill up his saddle tanks for the next section of road, to be paved. This layby, as I remember was where the steamroller would be parked overnight, and together with the crew caravan in which the steam roller driver and the tar boilerman would live during the working week.

The caravan above is typical of all crew caravans that were used by the road maintenance steamroller driver and his tar boiler mate. As they were up very early in the morning to stoke the fires in both the steamroller and tar boiler.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Early Road building.

A typical road building gang.
The picture above is typical of many such roadbuilding gangs that moved around the countryside from job to job with the contractor. Most of these men came from Ireland, for them in those days it was a good paying job.

You must remember that in the early days there was little or no heavy equipment to help build the roads, it was all manual labour, the pickaxe being the most handy piece of equipment. For larger excavations of course there was the steam driven shovel or excavator, nothing like a tractor backhoe that you see today.

The men in the photograph above you can quite easily spot their ranking on the job. The workmen all wore cloth caps, while all the foreman or foremen wore the badge of a bowler hat. The gentleman in a homburg was most likely a manager from either the local council or from the contractor.

Of course, today, that form of recognition has long since gone, the workmen either ware, yellow or blue hard hats, and the foreman and supervisors wear white safety hats.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gates & Fence Posts.

Gates and Fence Posts.

We now come to the original gates and fence posts, used in the fencing of Widbrook Common. Except for the number eight gauge steel wire, and the small Pawl and Ratchet wire tightener's used in the building of the fences, everything was produced locally in Harding's builders yard. You will notice that smooth steel wire was used and not barbed wire. Barbed wire was not introduced until it was decided to use railway ties as fence posts.

The four five barred gates we're chained and padlocked and keys were held by George Allen the Hayward, except for two duplicate keys. One key, was held by my father, so that we could have vehicle access to Widbrook Cottage. The second key was in the possession of Sheephouse Farm, so they could move cattle on and off the common for milking.

The two kissing gates of which there is a photo example was to allow free pedestrian access to the footpath and to Widbrook Cottage. Quite a few summer visitors often thought that the kissing gate to the cottage was the footpath access to the river, which it was not, as there were no footpath right of way across White Place Farm. Quite often, we had to redirect walkers to the Islet Road in Maidenhead Court, as the closest route to the Thames.