|Lavinia Baird with Esmond Brown in Belleisle stableyard, 1972|
JULIAN BROWN'S FINAL INSTALLMENT ABOUT LIFE AT BELLE ISLE, AND FOND MEMORIES OF NICHOLAS PORTER AND LAVINIA BAIRD
It was quite by chance, when browsing on the Internet one evening, that I came across your blog and article about Belle Isle.
It was extraordinary that I should stumble upon it at that time, for the article had only just been posted.
I made contact with your good self and explained I had been brought up in Belle Isle Castle.
I was most surprised by your interest.
I owe you a real debt of gratitude for the encouragement that I should share some of my recollections and you have been very kind in publishing a number of these articles.
I had been meaning for years to put down on paper all that I remembered of what had been an extraordinary upbringing and you have given me the push I needed to do just that.
I am the only one who remains from that period, with the exception of my brother Gerald who came on the scene from 1959 onwards.
I have decided to make this my last article.
I want to stop before someone asks me to shut up!
I thought it would be appropriate that these last recollections should be about Nicholas Porter, Lavinia Baird and Belle Isle itself.
As a young man, he had worked with horses in Argentina.
When World War One broke out, Nicholas returned and fought alongside his elder brother, John Grey Porter.
Nicholas’s brother was second-in-command but was killed in a battle at Cambria.
Nicholas was shot in the same action and lost the use of one of his arms, but survived.
Nicholas also had a younger brother, William Waucoup; and two sisters, Audley Josephine and Coralie, better known as Cosie.
Of Nicholas’s sisters, Audley Josephine married James Baird, a Scottish landowner from Fife; and her daughter, Lavinia, became the next heiress to Belle Isle.
The second sister, Coralie, married twice. Her first husband was Sir Merrick Burrell.
Coralie’s second marriage was to Captain Richard Outram Hermon of Necarne Castle in Irvinestown (formally Castle Irvine), who’s own history became closely associated with Belle Isle in later years.
Nicholas had been married as a young man but his wife, Amy Gunther, died in the 1930s.
He never remarried.
MY PERSONAL MEMORIES OF NICHOLAS PORTER
Nicholas was every inch the country gentleman, a very courteous and charming man.
He was typically dressed in tweeds and always wore a tie and jacket.
Nicholas sported a moustache and beard, had a sunny disposition, a twinkle in his eyes and was liked throughout the county.
As a child I often accompanied Mr Porter to church and sat with him.
Not by choice, I might add, but it was one of the things Mr Porter was particular about.
I think he saw me as a young heathen, in need of Christian instruction, and I was marched off to church on a regular basis!
Nicholas, however, was blissfully unaware of the effect this simple act caused.
He was confident and secure in his position and gave the service his full attention!
He did have one other eccentricity: he would sometimes insist that every young person who happened to be on the Island of Belle Isle salute him if he drove past in his Land Rover or car.
On one occasion, walking home from school and self-absorbed, I neglected to salute and received a severe ticking off - not from him directly but from my mother, to whom he had complained.
I would tramp round the fields with him when he went on his regular inspections around the place at that time.
He often walked round the fields and took a great interest in everything that was going on.
Almost inevitably he would buy me some sweets in Nawn's.
I often went to talk to him in the morning- room at Belle Isle Castle where he had his desk and wireless.
It was his favourite room and the one he used most of all.
LAVINIA ENID MURIEL BAIRD
The estate of Belle Isle had been entailed for three generations.
The third generation and Nicholas’s heiress was his niece, Lavinia Baird.
Her mother was Audley Josephine Porter, Nicholas Porter’s sister, who had been raised at Belle Isle. William and Audley were married in 1918.
William was a member of the Baird shipping family and he inherited the Elie Estate at Fife in Scotland.
Audley Josephine relocated to Rutlandshire.
Lavinia was brought up at Elie and subsequently in Rutlandshire.
She was invested as an officer of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in 1956.
She worked closely with Lady Mountbatten.
I recall my mother telling me Lavinia had been Lady Mountbatten’s aide-de-camp and travelled extensively with her all over the world.
Lavinia also kept a bolt-hole in London at Ashley Gardens.
PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF LAVINIA BAIRD
Lavinia was reputed, at that time, to have said “Oh, it is just one of those things!”
The general opinion was that she must be a cold fish indeed! However, because Miss Baird was the heir to Belle Isle, she could not be ignored.
These were deposited in the empty seventeenth century wing.
They contained items from the properties that Lavinia had sold in Scotland and Rutland and that she intended to relocate to Belle Isle.
It was a delicate task for they contained, among other things, complete dinner services of enormous proportions and porcelain objects d’art.
I remember that in many instances they were lovely.
What I would not have appreciated at that time was that they were probably worth a fortune!
She was installed in the blue bedroom overlooking the Lough and I was kept out of the way when I was little.
I remember hearing her voice which was very posh!
The most clipped and refined tones of the Queens English; a lazy, well-modulated drawl!
She had a ready laugh, a terrific sense of humour and was as sharp as a needle!
She was genuinely interested in everything and everyone.
Lavinia became involved in Belle Isle many years before Nicholas Porter died and spent a lot of money on the fabric of Belle Isle even before she inherited it.
Instead here are some amusing anecdotes extracted from a chapter I have written about Lavinia Baird.
I wished I had taken more notice of the tales my mother told me at the time.
Lavinia could be heard from quite a distance, “what should we do with this Purll?” or “I rather like that, Purll, do you think it might do?”
My mother would invariably agree, “I think that is just right, Madam,” or something along those lines.
It was amusing to watch Lavinia and my mother together, for my mother would be trying to get on, or reach a point where she could nip out for a cigarette; however madam tended to follow her around...
The logic behind this was that it was nearer the Gallery and Miss Baird wanted to make the gallery into her dining-room.
The doors to the rooms in the front hall, and on the upstairs landings, were stripped down to bare wood.
I was honest and said I did not think they suited the place. Madam was sniffy!
My mother said later that I should just have agreed that they were lovely; madam was going to do what she wanted anyway!
My mother had been doing some work in the dining-room and I was with her; Miss Baird had made an appearance and, after some general chit-chat, told us a tale concerning her grandmother Josephine Porter at Belle Isle in the past:-
The upshot of the story was that the maid had been taking the odd ‘nip’ and replacing the spirit with water.
As the need increased so did the watering!
Mrs Porter was mortified that she was serving watered drinks!
Needless to say the maid was dismissed and the spirit cupboard was locked from then on!
THANK YOU for reading my little articles.
I hope they have provided some flavour of a time that has gone forever and trust that I have not disturbed the peace of those who have gone before.
First published in April, 2010.