Sunday, 15 January 2017

BH Memoirs: I

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, NEAR BELFAST

HE SERVED IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD WARS; WAS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954


I was born on 31st August, 1898, at Orangefield, Belfast.

Orangefield was then the home my grandfather, John Blakiston-Houston.

He was the father of twelve children.

His wife (my grandmother) was then dead, and about half of his children were married and away.

My aunt Nina, the eldest unmarried daughter, acted as housekeeper and hostess.

Entertaining was done on a large scale and it was not uncommon for twenty people to sit down to dinner.

My father and mother lived then at Charlesfort, Kells, County Meath, in the winter for the hunting, and at Roddens, Ballywalter, County Down, twenty miles from Orangefield by the sea in the summer months.

I remember Charlesfort well as we lived there every winter till 1907 when John Watson, the famous master of the Meath Hounds, died.

There must have been stabling for twenty horses in the yard and several friends of my father used to come and stay most winters with their horses, for three weeks or a month at a time.

A regular visitor was my father’s cousin, Charlie O’Hara, from County Sligo.

He brought with him a team of small horses, all of which he’d bred himself.

John Hand was the Stud Groom, one of the real old-fashioned sort.

He had a sure cure for every horse ailment.

There were some other attractive characters about Charlesfort: Johnny Fox, the gardener, was a great friend of ours as children.

He used to unlock the door of the little ivy-covered apple house and produce an apple apiece.

The box hedges were a feature of the Charlesfort garden, and one of them nicely trimmed, must have been fifteen feet high.

Another favourite was his wife, Mrs Fox, who looked after the hens and turkeys and who always wore a shawl and a red skirt, as did most of the country women in County Meath in those days.

Wages were not high then: Johnny Fox, the head gardener, got 10/- a week; and one, Willy Gahan, with a wife and seven children, got 7/-.

He lived in a labourer’s cottage for which I expect he had to pay 1/6 a week in rent.

These labourers' cottages usually had half an acre of land.

On this he grew vegetables and probably kept fowl and a coupe of goats which spent most of their time grazing on the sides of the roads.

In many cases these cottages carried “turbury” rights with them.

This gave the occupier permission to cut a bank of turf.

However he must have had a hard struggle.

The biannual move of the family from Roddens to Charlesfort and vice versa was a memorable undertaking.

The horses and polo ponies often travelled the 100 miles by road, stopping at friends' houses for two or three nights en route.

I remember my mother once driving the pony “Puck” up in the Tub or Governess Cart.

We children usually travelled by train to Belfast where we were met by the Orangefield brake [van] and taken to stay the night there.

For the remaining twenty miles to Roddens one of the farm floats from Orangefield was usually borrowed for the luggage, while a Public Long Car, drawn by two horses, was hired to covey the servants, Nanny and us children, accompanied by “Joker” the goat, and “Cooky” the rough-haired fox terrier.

Bradshaw's Brae was a severe tax on the horses and most of the party were expected to dismount to lighten the load.

From Roddens my father used to drive up to play polo at Orangefield twice a week.

He usually went the whole twenty miles by road in a dog-cart and drove back at night.

The polo ponies were kept at Orangefield and the polo ground was on my grandfather’s property.

My father was very fond of driving and was a very good “whip” with a four-in-hand.

Two coaches were kept at Orangefield and nearly every spring a coaching tour was arranged.

The party consisted of the members of the family, my aunts, and uncles, and their friends.

One year they visited the Highlands of Scotland and another they toured County Kerry and County Limerick.

Between times the coach was only taken out to go to point-to-point races and I remember how proud I was once, when I was older, being allowed to “handle the ribbons” on the way to Comber Races.

At Roddens, we children used to play on the farm and on the shore, and occasionally go fishing on the sea or on the Strangford Lough.

We also spent a good deal of time riding with my father.

Extracts by kind permission of RP Blakiston-Houston OBE JP DL

2 comments :

Anonymous said...

Delightful story - really brings that time to life! VC

Unknown said...

a really valuable and informative as well as fascinating into how "them upstairs" lived in another era....WW1 saw an end to all that!