Now where were we...
Mo's dad had died and the family had to leave their home (many years later now our home) but the previous decade had been one of complete turmoil here in Milton Abbot too, because in October 1953 the twelfth Duke of Bedford, landowner, main local employer, benefactor, provider of housing and supplier of a great deal of charity support, had gone missing on the estate at Endsleigh just two miles away from us here. Mo would have been almost two years old, (I would have been about two weeks) and blissfully unaware, but I feel sure the ripples would have been felt far and wide.
The Duke had gone missing on the Friday morning and there was controlled panic as the days passed with still no sign. Just the night before he had been in consultation with Horace Adams his water bailiff and fishing ghillie about the contents of a cormorant's stomach.
As you do...
The cormorants were the scourge of the Tamar, nabbing the young salmon, and one of Horace's many tasks was to shoot them and then take the booty to the Duke's study for perusal.
As concerns mounted that the Duke, who had gone off alone for an early morning walk, may have fallen in the river and drowned, a contingent of Royal Marines and a plane joined the search. The body, with fatal shotgun wounds, was eventually discovered on Sunday October 11th 1953, lying in bushes at the foot of the steps to Swiss Cottage, Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford's 1815 homage to all things Alpine, and now a Landmark Trust property.
This tragedy occurred just weeks before the Duke was due to distribute various properties within the family to avoid the eventual payment of death duties. Of course it had all gone horribly wrong and there was much speculation, but eventually a verdict of accidental death was reached with the conclusion that the Duke had tripped over his gun and accidentally shot himself through the head, but imagine the whispered talk in the village shop and the pubs, and the rumour and the gossip.
It's exciting enough now when 'royalty' stay locally. Jim the Postie is our main source of information...
The death duties, in excess of £4 million, were indeed crippling and, bar one property overlooking the Tamar and still in their ownership today, that was the end of the Bedford family tenure and their benevolence in the locality. Lands bestowed in the 16th century on John Russell, the first Duke and a close advisor of Henry VIII, were to be dispersed.
Horace Adams in his wonderful memoir Memories of a River Keeper, an account of his years of service at Endsleigh, reveals intense allegiance and loyalty to the twelfth Duke, recounting the fear that rippled through his own mind and which must have been repeated in just about very home in the vicinity, ..
'That was the end of my Duke. I was down in the dumps I don't mind telling you. A lot of people were distressed, but I was distressed terrible.... His Grace was very good to me, very human...he was our bread and butter. He'd talked about installing electricity at Fishery Cottage, but never mind about electricity, electricity's no good to you if you haven't got a job.'
Incidentally Horace's old home, Fishery Cottage, now renovated and currently up for sale...you can actually take a virtual tour here.
The thirteenth Duke, somewhat estranged and living in South Africa was summoned back, and in his autobiography, A Silver Plated Spoon, describes Endsleigh as 'a hideous Victorian house standing in the middle of our Tavistock estates,' so he was hardly going to fall in love with the house enough to fight for it (even if it is more Georgian 'cottage orne' than Victorian) or the surrounding valley. Attention, and any remaining fortune, was focused on the family seat at Woburn Abbey and everything here, including our house, and even the Duke's beloved budgerigar collection (yes, he was a budgie man) was eventually split up and sold piecemeal. much to the horror of poor Horace.
Looking at the archived 1956 sale catalogue of the properties and surrounding land reads like a list of just about every place we know here, homes of friends, workplaces of others and stretching almost as far as the eye can see from the field behind us ...
Bedford Estate, Tavistock, sale catalogue...
Includes Endsleigh House and gardens
The following farms - Hardstone, Woodtown, Dunterton Barton, Sherrill, Eastacott, Edgcumbe, Leigh, Southcombe, Buddlemead, Beara, Ford Beckadon and Youngcott, Ford Mill, Hardicott, Timbrelham, Carthamartha, Rezare West, Rezare, Rezare East, Barons, Burrows, Trecombe, Tutwell and Underhill, Bridge, Lower Hampt, Newhouse and Latchley Fields, Lowertown, Solomons, Clitters smallholding, Lamerhooe, Capeltor, Scrubtor, Grenoven, Hele, Woodovis, Rubytown, Little Tor, Gulworthy West, Blanchdown, Gulworthy, Morwell Barton, Morwellham, Lower Sheepridge, Buctor
Land and houses in Milton Abbot, fields at Bealsmill in Stoke Climsland, Milton Abbot County Primary School, Scrubtor and Grenoven and Lower Hampt and Greenscombe Woods, Blanchdown and Hanging Cliff Woods and the Sawmill, Gulworthy Cottages, Latchley Weir Cottage, Wheal Josiah Cottages, Wheal Anna Maria Houses, Hatch and Morwell Woods, Luscombedown and Morwelldown Plantations, Morwellham Cottages, Woodovis House, Hawkmoor House, Tamar View, Newbridge House and buildings, Hunsham Cottage and fields, Newbridge Cottage, Hatchwood House, Lower Bealswood House, gardens at Gunnislake, Broadwell fields
Also the Tavistock to Morwellham Canal
Those in bold surround us here and a spare £300,000 back in the late 1950s would have bought you fourteen thousand acres of woodland and agricultural land (including the village) plus Endsleigh House and fourteen miles of prime Tamar fishing.
I like that last bit, let's throw in the canal for good measure.