Hyde House after Caldecott Community days
Some of us wonder what happened to Hyde House after the Community returned to Kent in 1947. We now know that it was purchased by the 'Elliott' family. We are indebted to a member of this family who made contact via this website, and has kindly donated her memories of Hyde (albiet as a child).
A short addendum is attached at the end - comments from John Hansen following his reading of this 'Elliott' contribution.
Personal Memories of the ELLIOTT family at HYDE HOUSE (1949-1981)
Hyde, an estate so called perhaps because of the original quantity of land it contained, was anciently a manor belonging to the Abbess of Tarrant. During the reign of Henry VIII, “payment was made out of Hyde to Tarrant Abbey for the farm and the reserved rents of the manor, 8s .9 1/2d. “
When Major Charles R .E. Radclyffe decided to sell the Hyde Estate my Grandmother, Mrs. Margaret Elliott, purchased it from him. I believe the family knew of the Major’s intention to sell, prior to the house going on the market, through their business dealings with him. However, Edward Elliott, despite his own well-heeled roots in the countryside near Salisbury, never shared his wife’s passion for the somewhat isolated property, which included some 150 acres of heath, forest and marshland in Dorset.
There was a home farm at Hyde, which was accessible along a stony drive, branching away from the large, gated entrance of the carriage yard at the back of the house. This drive passed between the farm buildings and eventually came out on an equally narrow country road. To the right, it wended its way through the countryside to Chapel Cross and Bere Regis. To the left, the road crossed over the river Piddle, which flowed into the estate. Then it gently rose out of the valley and connected to the high heath road, which in turn joined the road to Wareham.
The main gravel drive from the house, which was almost two miles long, came out onto the primary Wareham/Bere Regis road between two lodge houses. A secondary, gravel drive branching off at a T junction, opposite workers’ cottages and relatively close to the house, cut across the estate, also coming out on the Chapel Cross/Bere Regis road, a quarter of a mile up from the farm exit. Before reaching the single lodge house at the end of this secondary drive there was a small but very established gypsy camp, hidden behind tall Rhododendron bushes.
The stable block in the vicinity of the house was accessed by its own Rhododendron driveway. In the mid eighteen-hundreds, Mr Charles James Radclyffe had purchased part of a redundant pack of hounds, kennelled them at Hyde and subsequently established the South Dorset Hunt which was, almost entirely, a yeoman farmers’ hunt. The farm, the stables and the three lodge houses on the estate, were not purchased in the sale.
Edward and Margaret Elliott initially moved into Hyde House with three of their married sons, their young families and their single, youngest son. Their second son, always independent of his parents, did not join them. There was plenty of space – 47 rooms in total over three floors, plus the accommodation on the mezzanine floor above the small stable, dairy and carriage house in the yard. Along with four of six cousins living there at the time, I attended the Primary School in Bere Regis. We were all much of an age – two boys and a girl slightly older than me and two boys and a girl younger.
In 1837 Charles James Radclyffe, a direct ancestor of the Major, purchased the manor lands from a Mr William Peach and erected a large mansion at Hyde. The previous house had been partially destroyed by fire. The small chapel near the house was untouched and subsequently attached to the structure of the new, far longer building. The existence of two pine trees growing in front of it either side of the entrance door, confirmed its greater age.
These trees, totally dwarfing the chapel, were set in beds of earth over two feet high which were shored up with semi circles of red brick walling. This arrangement created a short walkway to the door. Due also to their age, their height and breadth were majestic and from the road which ran across the top of the valley towards Wareham, they pinpointed the location of the manor house from over two miles away.
The Engine House:-
This modest building was set alongside a tributary flowing down from the farm, along the back of the estate and into the River Piddle. It had originally been used to house a small fire engine, which had arrived in 1946, when the Caldecott Community children lived at Hyde. During the Elliott’s occupation this building contained the generator for the electricity supply, but it was always known as the engine house. Perhaps the engine was still there – who knew. It was a forbidden place for children.
Every night at 10 o’clock my grandfather would put on his coat, light a paraffin lamp, call the dogs, cross the courtyard to the engine house and turn off the electricity supply. Regardless of the state or location of anyone in the house at that moment, the building was suddenly plunged into country blackness. It was then lamplight or night lights in saucers to find our way.
The Deer Park:-
This was a wonderful place and our favourite playground.In the park there were formal groups of trees, including pines with sweeping branches low enough to for us to ride on, and cedars and oaks to climb. Under the pine trees we would scoop the needles between our palms, creating floor plans of houses, roads and forts. We chased butterflies and baby rabbits across the grass with dogs at our heels and on our haunches scrutinised anthills and stroked hairy, brown caterpillars.
Throughout the year we picked snowdrops and primroses; bluebells and wild daffodils; catkins, pussy willow and scarlet rhododendrons. There were chestnuts and beechnuts to eat and conkers to knock off the trees. We collected acorns by the bucket load, giggling at the piglets as they scrabbled and squealed around their sties after them. One day we found the mottled, shed skin of an grass snake, looked to be over five feet long.
The grave of the Major’s horse was at the back of the park contained in a low, wrought iron fence, which the girls would intertwine with leggy, wild flowers. Sometimes we were lucky enough to see deer in the distance, timidly coming in from the wilder acres of the estate to graze. If they saw us or heard us, they would quickly disappear.
In 1846, Victorian landowners had imported Sika Deer from Japan and put them on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour. No-one realised they could swim and some of them escaped to the mainland. Their descendants flourished on the heaths and in the woods of Dorset.
Other pastimes in the summer months included netting minnows or swimming in the river, which bordered the estate and flowed below the sweeping lawns that circled three quarters of the house. The edges of the river were shallow enough to paddle in but it was more exciting to take the wooden bridge across the tributary and head over the bank towards the top of the waterfall. During the time the house was rebuilt, Charles Radclyffe had ingeniously shored up the flow of the river Piddle as it came into the estate, creating a broad waterfall across it. By jumping from the stone ledge which jutted out just below the first fall of water, we could swim in the deeper pool it naturally created in the riverbed below.
As children and as our numbers grew, we had picnics on the lawns, especially on Sundays afternoons, when the adults needed a “bit of peace and quiet”. We played our version of croquet too, with an old set of hoops and mallets which had been discovered in the small conservatory on the side of the house. I would imagine they were the same ones recorded as being used by the Caldecott Community children.
Catching the school bus to Bere Regis on a regular basis was something achieved with varying degrees of success unless, as had happened in the very beginning, we were accompanied by an adult. All of us met in the carriage yard from our points in the house and set off down the drive which led to Home Farm. Reaching the farm’s apple orchard we would, during the summer months, linger at the gate, weighing up the boys’ chances of pocketing some fallers after school. A few minutes later we might stop again, while one of them tried to pluck up the courage to pinch a brown-skinned pear from the flat tree trained high against the side of the farmer’s milking shed. This was always a risky business as the farmhouse overlooked the shed from the opposite side of the drive.
On the final leg beyond the farmhouse, we could pick blackberries, maybe search for a bird’s nest in the bushes or gather foxgloves to take to school. The bus never waited for us. If we reached the end of the drive before it went by, all well and good. If, after a while there was no sign of it coming, we drifted home again. Overall, our attendance rate was probably better during the winter months when we had fewer distractions – that’s if we didn’t practice skating along the ruts which created large, frozen puddles in the drive - or it snowed, of course.
Above the front entrance of the house, carved in stone, was the Radclyffe family’s coat of arms. I can remember gazing up at it as a young girl, fascinated as anyone might be who was enthralled with the idea of gallant knights and damsels in distress. When I was much older, studying the crest again with a more rational eye, I was keen to discover the origins of its motto, which I duly did.
“ Although but recently settled in the county of Dorset , this family is of ancient repute in Lancashire, tracing descent through a long line of honourable ancestors from Richard de Radclyffe of Radclyffe Tower, seneschal and minister of the Forests of Blackburnshire, who accompanied King Edward I, in his wars in Scotland. From the same stock came the Radclyffes Barons Fitzwalter, Radclyffes Earls of Sussex and other branches.
Sir John Radclyffe of Ordshall, county Lancaster, Knt, was highly distinguished in the French wars under King Edward III - hence the family motto “Caen, Cressie, Calais…”
The main rooms, entered by a small vestibule inside the front door of the house, centred around and above a grand hallway which was mostly two floors high and went right through the width of the building. Half-glazed double doors at the far end opened up to reveal Grecian styled columns supporting the wide, inside porch and a tiled floor. New beds of roses and a gravel path led to down to the river.
Against the right wall of the hallway was an impressive, broad staircase, the banister of which rose and went across the width of the hallway further back. It then turned on itself along the left wall, creating a landing for three very large bedrooms and a bathroom,. Downstairs to the left, two full-sized reception rooms of equal length divided only by an interior arch, again jointly ran the whole width of house. Like the bedrooms above them, they had the full benefit of the sound and constant, glittering movement of the waterfall through their windows.
On the right of the hallway, below the rise of the staircase, was a tiled passage. The door to the library was immediately to the right in this passage, the room itself overlooking the front of the house. The opposite door opened into a very large dining room, facing the river. Further down the passage and hidden by a left hand bend was a door which led into the area of the house where all the domestic rooms were situated including a very sizeable flagstone kitchen with two narrow, half glazed doors into the front garden.
Initially, on moving into the house, Margaret Elliott and her sons completely redecorated and refurbished the vast hallway, dining room, the two large reception rooms downstairs and the main bedrooms. They left in-situ the imposing Victorian fireplaces and the ceiling roses, which were in all of these rooms.
How much furniture the house contained when the Major left, I cannot say but I clearly remember attending auctions in Dorchester with my Grandmother, where she could easily obtain Victorian and Edwardian wardrobes, beds, chairs and tables. She also bought huge dinner services; trunks full of linen; Chinese vases; pairs of large pewter statuettes for the fire mantles; ornate gilt mirrors and framed pictures; pendulum clocks and any other grandiose paraphernalia she felt would do justice to the house. These were all, no doubt, the spoils of similar, less fortunate estates which had gradually wound down after the war.
Having been an avid reader from the age of six, one of my favourite places to be, especially during the winter months, was near the fire in the library. The game in this room was to read all the titles out loud on the spines of the books, as far up as the eye could see. They went along the entire length of one wall, from floor to ceiling. Sadly, whether any of them would have held my attention or not, I never discovered. Firstly, children were forbidden to take any books off the bookcase and secondly, one day they all disappeared. The room was redecorated and a black and white television in its own wooden cabinet installed. I remember feeling a sense of disappointment when discovering the books had gone and in later years, thinking about it, I almost decided, because of some vague recollection, they may have been burnt.
If this was the case I feel sure a good library, collected by the Radclyffes, was lost. Through the generations, the family would have had access to volumes of work which may have been treasured today. Research in Dorchester many years ago uncovered studies printed by at least two members of the family, one of which contained ornithological research which had started on the River Piddle (of herons, I think) and is numbered in the British Library.
I recently came across a several old, black and white photographs of Hyde House on the internet. There was one of the back of the house, showing the two fire escapes and, to my surprise, what appeared to be a thatched building at the left end of it, facing into the carriage courtyard. I don’t remember this building being thatched. It was the garage that housed Edward Elliott’s car. I can only suppose the roof was removed rather quickly by his sons, which they would have seen as a fire hazard in the courtyard, due to the inflammable components they sometimes used.
Before it was a garage, this building had contained a cornucopia of items belonging to the Major. I saw the contents of it only once - a jaw-dropping, weird and wonderful collection of artefacts from, amongst other places in the world, Africa, America and Alaska. There is a slim chance the library books were placed in the garage for collection too, which is what I want to believe.
The best comparison I can make to the time the family spent at the house throughout the Fifties and the beginning of the Sixties, especially at Christmas, is to equate it to the genial philosophy of Pa Larkin in the popular series on television, The Darling Buds of May. We were young in that relevant time and although the adults we cared about were strict with us and slightly apart, they still had a knack for resourcefulness and generosity of spirit by which they had survived during the lean years of the war.
Although we had access to the main rooms of the house on high days and holidays, for most of the time each unit of the family lived in their own accommodation in rooms on the first floor. I am sure in the main they were cold and prone to drafts and my mother, in particular, wasn’t very happy living there. I know she missed the easy access to her own family and the shops in her home town on the coast. As she did not drive in those days she must have, as a relatively young woman, felt the isolation very keenly. We, as young children, had no such qualms. There was far too much to do and wonderful places to explore.
The first herald of Christmas was a tree from the estate, a fir so tall the top half was partially decorated lying across the hall. After being heaved upright by two or three men on to the beer barrel into which it had already been cemented, a large star was secured safely on the top from the upstairs landing. Late on Christmas Eve parcels large and small appeared beneath its branches.
We found mistletoe and holly in the lanes and together licked endless paper chains to hang up wherever we could among the newer, shop bought decorations. We made our own Christmas cards, helping each other decorate them as we had been taught at school. It was all we could give each other as children but one of the cousins, who was an only child and didn’t live at the house, amazingly gave us all small, decorated tins of Sharps Toffees one year instead.
Father Christmas came every Christmas Day after lunch without fail, despite the occasional threat that he wouldn’t, if we didn’t behave. He announced his arrival by thumping first from inside the door which led to the rooms in the corridor at the top of the stairs. His slow “Ho, Ho, Ho!” descent down the staircase was greeted with clapping and cheers. Oddly enough, one Christmas I noticed through the rungs of the staircase, he had borrowed my father’s shoes. When I mentioned this to my mother, she hushed me up. I was always far too observant for my own good.
Chickens, a pig and game from the estate were slaughtered at Christmas. After shopping trips to Wareham, wooden boxes of oranges, apples, the new bananas, Dandelion and Burdock and lemonade, mounted up in the cold store near the kitchen. There were vegetables by the sack load; catering-sized meat pies; sides of ham; enormous bottles of pickled onions; paper bags of chestnuts and walnuts; shop-sized, glass jars of sweets and boxes of biscuits and chocolate. For the adults there were cartons of cigarettes, crates of beer and dozens of bottles of alcohol. Some of the Christmas fare was gifted to my grandmother by the shopkeepers and feed merchants she used in the town, in lieu of her custom the following year. Cartons of cigarettes, cigars and bottles of alcohol were mainly given by the family’s business contacts.
My grandmother was an amazing cook and in the flag-stoned kitchen, with the help of five daughters-in-law, she prepared a Christmas dinner of gigantic proportions. After a splendid meat course, came her own Christmas puddings and feather-light mince pies, accompanied by cream whipped up from the milk produced by the small herd on the estate. On the serving cupboard behind her seat at the head of the long, oval dining table, several home-made Christmas cakes and huge, layered trifles were laid, to be eaten later. Elaborately decorated crackers were pulled with gusto. Without fail, these always contained small pieces of costume jewellery, useful gifts and gadgets and very fancy hats. In the immortal words of Pa Larkin, everything was “Perfick!”
Inevitably, life at Hyde House slowly changed throughout the Sixties and Seventies. As their family business expanded the sons, one by one, returned to their home town where their offices were situated, taking their growing families with them.
Grandchildren were taken up by marriage, better job opportunities and a more available world and were less likely to visit. During the time when her immediate family numbered twenty-three, Margaret Elliott was in her late sixties and went on her first holiday abroad.
While she was in Switzerland with her second eldest son, Edward Elliott died in the house alone. As he had made no secret of the fact that he wished to be buried near the sound of traffic, he was taken back to rest in their former home town on the coast. The burial ground was situated at a busy crossroads, ironically called the Cemetery Junction.
Margaret Elliott adamantly refused to leave Hyde, therefore her eldest son who lived in Wareham at the time of his father’s death, stayed with her in the house during the week and other members of the family visited her on the weekends. When he also passed away several years later, her surviving sons, concerned for her safety because she now lived alone in the vast house, urged her to sell. This was no mean feat and I totally understood and shared her very deep attachment to the house. After many months of persuasion, she finally agreed to put the estate on the market.
I went back to Hyde one last time after it was sold, perhaps some ten years later. It had been in private hands for a couple of years after Margaret Elliott left but had long since belonged to a Bank. It was now an Activity Centre for field study units in approximately ten different subjects covering Key Stages 1-4 of the National Curriculum. As well as canoeing, there was a newly built assault course, far back among the rangy, rhododendron forests beyond the lake. Their programme promoted grassland and woodland ecology, ornithology, river studies, freshwater/pond studies, astronomy, nature games and trails.
On making myself known I was kindly taken on a tour of the downstairs of the house and the grounds. There were four lakes on the property now, including a boating lake which was sourced from the river. This lake lay over the marshy meadow which had been beyond the lawn directly in front of the house. It was truly serene and beautiful, adding a whole, new dimension to the grounds.
The centre of the Deer Park no longer had the magnificent trees of my memory, it was a golf course. The wide, iron gate of the park and the menacing eagles on top of the grey stone pillars either side of the main gates had gone, as had one of the elderly firs in front of the chapel.
As I walked back with my guide towards the house I caught sight of an incongruous, 7ft high, bright red Coca Cola dispensing machine, attached to the side wall which overlooked the river. Reaching the front door I glanced up, connecting to the coat of arms above with mute apology.
It was disconcerting to meet strangers there - young, hearty, casually dressed administration staff - working in the domestic rooms off the kitchen corridor. In the Elliott’s time one of the rooms they were using had contained a number of chick incubators. It had always had its own unique, warm smell of pellets and paraffin.
There was no longer any polished, antique furniture or artefacts, Persian rugs and gilded mirrors which had once graced the formal rooms of the main house. Instead, there were bare floorboards, worn sofas and an assortment of utilitarian, wooden furniture scattered around. The expensive papers which had been painstakingly put on the high walls were, in some rooms, covered with emulsion, haphazard information sheets, details of local attractions, timetables and instructions. As was the case in the chapel, which was full of wet, water gear, there was outdoor paraphernalia everywhere. In the low sunlight glinting through high, bare windows in the reception rooms and against the muted sound of the waterfall, rosy faced instructors stood in groups chatting and thankfully drinking tea.
HYDE HOUSE was demolished in 1999. A Golf Clubhouse has taken its place. The stables have been completely renovated inside and out to a modern specification and the driveway to the farm has been blocked off. New, expensive housing is fast encroaching into the estate from the lodges at the end of the long, main drive on to the Wareham road.
While they were living at Hyde, the Elliott family had submitted plans for three homes to be built in this very same area, for their own use. Their application was unsuccessful. It had been strenuously opposed by the Forestry Commission and Friends of the Earth
Addendum: from John Hansen:-