Barbara Massey at the Old Rectory

Rectory Memories from the 1920s and 1930s

Barbara Massey was born in Vancouver in 1912. Barbara’s father was killed in 1915 at Gallipoli, and her mother died when she was ten. Barbara went to live with her Aunt Martha ‘Patty’ and Uncle Evelyn Boscawen ‘Bos’ Gordon, DSO, CMG. Bos was agent in chief to Herbrand Arthur Russell, the eleventh duke, for many years. Bos’s main preoccupation was with the Duke’s London estate, but there was also Woburn, Scotland, Devon, Somerset and Norfolk which all had local agents under him. Barbara lived in the Old Rectory, Eversholt, from about 1922 until 1937. Barbara’s reminiscences were put online recently by her daughter, Prue King, following Barbara’s death in 2008. Prue collaborated with Emrys Williams to pull together Barbara’s Eversholt memories of the rectory and of Boy Scouts in Eversholt. Many thanks to Prue, and, belatedly, to Barbara for these stories.

Moving in with Patty and Bos

They had a house in South Kensington and another in a village very near Woburn Abbey, in fact surrounded on three sides by Woburn Park. The Old Rectory, a lovely house, which had been lived in by the Duke’s Master of the Horse and had six stables, tack rooms and two garages and a spacious garden which included a tennis court.  What more could one want? Perfection, of course a horse or two would be nice. There were soon two horses looking out of the stalls doors!

The Old Rectory was surrounded on 3 sides by high wire fences with a curve at the top and barbed wire to keep the animals out. Our large gate, of which the Uncle had the key, had a small square wire cover over the key hole. I, being very small, could climb through the hole. My brothers were too big – so I was sent to retrieve any balls that went over the fence. There was also a large cedar tree with a branch hanging over the high fence – which was convenient for us.

The Old Rectory was a charming house with about 2 acres of garden and a stable yard. This was built when the Duke’s Master of Horse lived there. It had six roomy stables. Two garages, a tack room with loft above and Uncle Bos’s WORKSHOP and a mounting stone in the middle.

My brothers and I were allowed in Woburn Park and though I cannot remember my brothers taking advantage of this I certainly did.

I watched the various animals: several herds of deer, Rheas and cranes from safety in the garden. There was the only herd of Pere David deer in the country at that time, which I frequently watched. Their bones creaked as they walked. I witnessed the wonderful courting dance of the cranes.

About half a mile from the Old Rectory lived the Zebras, looked after by an old man called Mr Cook. I was a frequent visitor. He carried a big knobbly stick and always got between me and the zebras. He was terrified they would bite or kick me.  I think it was Lord Rothschild who drove a Coach and Four Zebras along the Mall in London.

Aged about 12 I took an airgun into the garden to pot at anything moving. My brothers did, so why shouldn’t I? A pheasant flew up out of the cabbages and I fired. I hit the thing and it came down the other side of the high fencing. So I climbed the cedar tree and over the fence. The pheasant was fluttering. I tried, at point blank range, to put another pellet into it and carried it back, in triumph, to my Uncle. His only comment was “but out of season”.

At the Old Rectory we had the velvet from a stags antlers , on toast, as a savoury. We also had, for lunch, bison roast. The ‘maids’ were not told what it was or they would not have eaten it. Later they agreed it was excellent. Redder and stronger than beef.

Back in our school holidays the two boys and I spent most of our time playing music. I played the piano and had a set of drums. Hugh played the violin and Peter the ukulele and swanee whistle. We went round the villages playing for dancing. There was, of course, no radio and television, so the unsophisticated villages were quite glad of our rather indifferent band. Later, when the boys left home I joined up with a girl friend in Bedford who played the piano brilliantly. I played the drums. We had great fun and were quite in demand!

Eight sailors came to our wedding at Eversholt [in 1937]. They were to pull the car from the church back to the Old Rectory. What they had not realised was that it was half a mile! Some of them were not as fit as they might have been and were very tired and hot!

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