Thursday, June 26, 2014

Patchwork of the Crosses

 Lucy Boston lived in a remarkable old house known as The Manor, in the village of Hemingsford Grey, Cambridgshire. The ancient Norman Manor house, built in about 1130, has the distinction of being the oldest continually inhabited houses in Britain and much of the original house remains virtually intact in spite of various changes over nine hundred years.

The Manor lies along this river, the Great Ouse.  It was from this river that Lucy first saw the house.  After Lucy’s marriage failed and while her son, Peter, was a student at Cambridge in 1939, Lucy heard that a house was for sale in nearby Hemingsford Grey.  Remembering back to a time in 1915 (Lucy would have been in her early twenties at the time) when she had glimpsed (and never forgot!), from the river, a seemingly derelict farmhouse sitting tranquilly in a field beside the river, Lucy assumed it was the house that must be for sale.  She took a taxi out to Hemingsford Grey, drove along the river road until she found the house, knocked on the door and announced to the owners that she would be interested in buying it.  Just imagine her surprise, not to mention the surprise of the owners who had only that morning decided to sell the house!  Lucy never did find out which house had been advertised that she should have gone to see that day.  

Between 1939 to 1941, with the help of architect Hugh Hughes, the whole house was restored back to being as near as possible to the Norman part.  Lucy’s son, Peter, also an architect was off to war during the time, but became involved with some of the restoration when he returned.

The Manor became the focus and inspiration for Lucy’s creativity for the rest of her life.  Much of her time was spent developing the beautiful gardens which are surrounded by a moat and have topiary, old roses, award-winning irises and herbaceous borders.

Music was also very important to Lucy.  After her divorce while she was in Austria taking art lessons she accumulated a huge collection of 78 rpm classical gramophone records.  After The Manor was restored, the upstairs hall which was full of atmosphere and echoes of nine hundred years of family life was turned into a music hall and Lucy offered gramophone record recitals twice a week during World War II to the RAF.  The 1929 EMG gramophone is still in use in this room.

By the mid 1950’s the house was being described by Lucy and sketched by Peter in a series of children’s books and that is when the public’s fascination with the place began.  An autobiographical book, “Memory In a House”, describes Lucy’s life after moving to Hemingsford Grey, including the renovation and restoration of The Manor.  It was written when Lucy was 81 and has been described as an extended love letter to the house.

Lucy continued writing (and quilting!) and lived in the house until she died in 1990 at age 97.  Following her death, her son Peter lived in The Manor with his wife Diana until his death in November 1999. Currently, daughter-in-law, Diana, has taken over responsibility for the manor’s upkeep – a job she describes as both a burden and a privilege.
Diana Boston, daughter-in-law of Lucy Boston

Times change, but the house remains true to its Norman heritage.  The main thing that has changed is that back when Lucy took her taxi ride out to the house, the only traffic on the road was a man and his horse. Today the house sits on a very busy road.  Both the house and garden are open to the public. Click here  for more information about the house and special events that are scheduled.

Patchwork of the Crosses posts every Thursday.  Click here if you're viewing this for the first time - it will take you back to the first post in April.

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