The move to Lingdale
Soon after that, and with considerable regret at leaving the happy home at Nassau House, we went to live at 'Lingdale', a great stone square of a house (now demolished) which stood in a considerable garden with a high wall around it, on the slope of Tollemache Hill, above Shrewsbury Road in Claughton. It was undoubtedly a handsome mansion rather than a mere house.
It had been built on the model of an Italian Palazzo. The feature of the house was its unusually large pillared hall, with an elaborate Tessellated floor. The coloured tiles and design were I believe those of some old Roman atrium. There were carved marble mantlepieces, at least two of them with the chiselled face of a beautiful girl supposed to have been copied from life, that is from the wife of the orginal owner of the house, an iron master and evidently of great wealth. The iron or bronze chandelier hung from a skylight and descended through a well, the bannisters of which were also of wrought iron of heavy and ornate design. On the first floor, round this well, was the landing or gallery out of which opened the principal bedrooms. There was a large double drawing room which was partitioned by a heavy velvet curtain. It formed an admirable chamber for private theatricals.
The rooms were cheerful enough, and those in the front of the house had a fine elevated view over the woods of St Aidan's College and all the neighbouring garden. From the upper rooms one could see over to Wallasey and Liverpool. The cellars were enormous, and included a large laundry, a carpenter's shop, and wine and other cellars. The top floor had originally only a large room used as a nursery and later as a play room; but our immediate predecessors, the Mellors, had built on wings so that the house was a square of three storeys, and increased the accommodation by four good-sized bedrooms a bathroom and two smaller rooms. Altogether, there were 12 bedrooms in use, so it was no doubt a fine house for a large family.
The room we all liked best for homely occasions was the billiard room, which Father had improved by building on a fine ingle nook in which was fixed a large fireplace. The house stood on a broad terrace with grass parterres and flower bed and borders, in the centre of which was a bronze fountain. Along the whole length of the terrace ran a heavy wrought iron balustrade of a beautiful design. At one end a massive stone staircase led down to the lower garden and the lawn, a shady pleasaunce with firs and cedars and a long bank of rhododendrons. I cannot omit the Conservatory, ultimately joined by a passage to the billiard room and so to the house.
The Conservatory was in three parts, and built against the walls of the stables and coach house. One part was the grotto, in which there was a rockery with a pool & fountain. In here were all sort of tropical ferns, ficus and maidenhair seemed to grow wild, and in the pool lived two huge eels. Then came the largest and central portion, which was a showplace for hot house plants, begonias, primulas, chrysanthemum, sensitive plants, heliotrope and camellias and arum lilies - and doubtless many more. Here too there was an aviary, and for some time we enjoyed the cooing of doves and the bright colours of love-birds and cardinals and probably canaries. Finally, in the third house was a long oblong tank, with a broad stone ledge around it which stood knee high, and on which were more tropical plants and fern. I think it was called the Orchid House : there were certainly plenty of these opulent blooms so favoured and honoured by Joseph Chamberlain. On a big tripod over the tank was about the largest flower pot I have ever seen: it held the rare fern called gonophyllibian, whose leafy fronds hung over in a great circular spray the ends often dipping in the water. Here too were plenty of pots of maidenhair, and the spiky euphorbia with the little red flower, which was reputed to be the plant from which the Crown of Thorns was made. In the tank itself were numerous goldfish.
For a time this orchid house was inhabited by strange inmates indeed, for Uncle Charles Page, after a visit to Florida, brought to us a brood of young alligators, who were fed and who thrived there for quite a period. But this was not all. There were at least six other greenhouses, if you count their divisions. Two at the back of the house were devoted to grapes, lovely muscatels especially, while three in the lower garden were for peaches (the most luscious ones I have ever met), nectarines, and more grapes. A smaller greenhouse below the conservatory was used for cucumbers and tomatoes. We missed the Nassau House orchards: there was only one apple tree, and it had a mistletoe bough growing on it in great profusion. Figs grew and palms flourished in the conservatory. You may imagine what a pleasure it was to show these treasures to our friends, and it is small wonder that some of us became a little houseproud, not being old enough, perhaps to regard such things as privileges, or to assess the true worth of mere earthy possessions as compared with character.
Mother was a great housekeeper and a wonderful hostess. Many were the great dinner parties & garden parties. I think Mother started an entirely new vogue with her putting parties, to which practically all the neighbourhood (with a few stiff exceptions) used to come year after year to compete in the annual tournament on the lawn, below the shade of the cedars and pines. There were dances too in the winter times, and after Father gave up his horses he had the great coachhouse converted into a ball-room. It was at any rate of considerable size and fitted with a perfect floor on which one could literally bounce about to one's heart's content.
About this time, at the end of the eighties or the beginning of the nineties, May went to Dresden, to what used to be called a finishing school kept by the Misses Glendinning. There, no doubt she progressed in her musical studies, and there she met Ethel Osborne. This was the beginning of a friendship that lasted for perhaps thirty years; and if it was not sustained to the end, there is no doubt that it was a very happy association while it lasted. There were other friends too, but, as they did not visit at Lingdale, I know little or nothing about them. Ethel Osborne was an Australian: she was a very beautiful girl when she used to visit at Lingdale. She loved horses, and Father, May and she would go long rides together. Sometimes Mother would ride too, for then we had four saddle horses - Bob & Bruce and two newcomers Wanda and Chatterbox, a light brown horse with a vicious eye. Wanda, a dark roan, on the other hand was most gentle and amiable.
May was very fond of riding Chatterbox - the ladies,Of courses, always rode side-saddle with their long streaming black riding habits and hard felt bowler hats. She would try to break him in to better manners, and in this she was absolutely fearless, for Chatterbox would often bolt with her, and, I think, threw her more than once. The young coachman used to say to her:-
"One of these days, Miss, he'll bring you home dead!!"
May used to visit the Osbornes at Cheltenham, and there she met Ethel's brother, who unfortunately died while still a very young man - or May's life might have been very different, for I believe there was a strong-mutual attachment. Many very promising young men were frequent, and even assiduous visitors at Lingdale; but none of them proved to be "Mr Right". May had already lost her heart: but not her head or her steady sterling character.
We were a very happy family at Lingdale: the boys were growing up and going to School. I went to Rugby in 1890, Bertie followed me there in 1892 or 3 and Arthur, who was a splendid athlete went in 1896. He got his XV colours and was good at all games. When he left school he took up golf, and used to play at Hoylake with a handicap of scratch against those three famous players, John Ball, Harold Hilton and Jack Graham. He was great friends with the last-named: they were fellow Officers in The Liverpool Scottish. Arthur was an unusually handsome boy and man. Indeed, if good looks are a blessing, they were plentifully showered on the growing family at Lingdale.
Father, who held himself so upright and erect like a guardsman, was strikingly handsome with his dark curly hair, straight nose, strong mouth and chin, and his steady, rather grave, grey blue eyes. He wore a neat black moustache. He, too, was good at games if not in the front rank. He played a first-rate game of billiards, was an expert Chess player, and by no means a bad performer at tennis and golf. In the more active sports he was much handicapped, having lost part of the middle finger of his right hand in an accident at the refinery many years before. He was also very athletic, and could jump a five-barred gate when he was well over forty. And what a fine companion he was to us all, joining in our games and riding and walking, always kind and forbearing and always wise.
It was his invariable custom on Sundays to take as many of the family as would join him for an afternoon walk, generally round Bidston Hill. On these occasions it was his delight to go and look over and inspect any new house that was building. He seemed to take an architect's interest in them: and indeed he caused to be built according to his own ideas eight semi-detached villas on the East side of Shrewsbury Road, between Claughton Village and Tollemache Road. We generally had a dog with us on these walks. A great favourite was 'St John' (pronounced Sinjen), a huge black Newfoundland. Another was a sleek silky black Field Spaniel with long floppy ears named 'Shah'. This was my property; but it was May who loved these animals and tended them so carefully when they were ill, as dogs often are, with distemper, canker and other complaints. Once we had a big foxhound 'Granby'; but he did not take kindly to kennels and refused to be domesticated. He ran away and was seen on the railway line. It was supposed that he was trying to get to his old home in the South, for he had been brought by train from somewhere London way.
The little girls too were growing up. They were so pretty. and were such a joy to Father & Mother. The straight-backed fearless, fair-haired Mary with the perfect features, her eyes, perhaps, dark blue - for a lady came and made pastel sketches of them both when they were about six and four years old and she gave Mary blue eyes - were set the right distance apart under a broad brow. She was so candid, so forthright and so honest and upright too, that we all loved her and were downright proud of her.
In the Nineties, the social life of Birkenhead was very full and gay. There were so many large families, many of them living in great roomy houses. Dances and public balls were numerous and, during the winter holidays there was scarcely a night when we did not go out to dances or, perhaps, whist or progressive games parties. It was like one huge family, for practically everybody knew everybody else. A remarkable feature of Birkenhead was the beauty of the girls. We could say with truth that there were none so beautiful in all the land: for I and my brothers would often be asked to go to balls and dances in other parts of the country, and, while of course we saw plenty of beauty, it was nothing like so prevalent as in Birkenhead!