Before the war
Thomas Lomas: Footman at Thoresby Hall
I became a footman at Thoresby Hall in 1938 aged 18 years. I do not think there was a butler at that time. The Dowager Countess Manvers (Helen) was old and did not entertain much so I had a life of luxury! The Hall more or less ran itself. The Dowager spent a lot of time in her room and everything went through her lady’s maid. Occasionally she had afternoon tea in the morning room. I remember pushing her wicker carriage through the library door and along the terrace. My duties included answering the door to all visitors and taking any guests to the Countess, cleaning the silver and making sure the cutlery was in order, filling the baskets with logs for the fires and checking the rooms were tidy. The maids laid the fires. I got instructions from the house keeper and the lady’s maid. Other staff included 2 laundry maids, the Cook and other kitchen staff.
Francis Cooper: Growing up on Thoresby Estate
Before the War when old Lady Manvers was there she ruled Perlethorpe with a rod of iron. She used to drive round in a pony and trap with a little lad on the back step who used to get out to open the gates. She never used to stop for him and he had to run to catch her up! She used to complain if there were a few twigs on the road. We used to have to bow to her when she went by and girls had to curtsey.
Old Lady Manvers was the daughter of Duke of Westminster. Died at start of the War. Never came to Thoresby once the war had started. Everything was just so, then the Army moved in and took over the place. She wouldn’t have liked it.
During the war
Francis Cooper: Growing up on Thoresby Estate – Perlethorpe Village
Village Life – We had identity cards issued before the War. Ration Books were introduced within a week or two of war starting. The YMCA was set up on the corner, parallel was the NAAFI (canteen). Everyone could go to buy cheap cigarettes, the wives worked at NAAFI and YMCA. Father had to buy a lorry to cart the swill from the Camp and cart the horses straw and hay – No shortage – 2oz butter a week ration but Father used to get big blocks of butter which had gone off which were fed to the pigs.
Evacuees – A bus-load came, probably about 30 or 40. All had a string round their neck saying who they were. Depending upon how much room you had in the house you were really forced to have them. A lot of them weren’t fit to have them really. The very worst thing was that all food was rationed then. The parents used to come from Sheffield to see them at weekends and wanted a free feed! Within a year only about 3 were left! Most of them went back to Sheffield as they couldn’t just stand it in the countryside.
Mrs Bradley came as an extra teacher at the same time. Perlethorpe kids went to school in the morning and the evacuees in the afternoon as the school wasn’t big enough to accommodate them all at once.
Changes in the Park – The Canadians were there when they dredged the lake to make an electric turbine. There was no electricity at the Hall, they had gas which was made at the woodyard. The Church and school had gas also. They drained the lake, took away the barrier, let the water out and all the fish were washed down the river. The French Canadians were all fishermen. They used to catch the roach Also a lot of pike. Huge pike came out but they couldn’t get through the bars at the sheepwash below Century House – Could dam the river there. Wooden board across to stop bits of twigs getting to the Mill. We made spears and used to spear them. Used to take them up to Mothers hens in the Yard. The lake in those days was wide and good. Used to have boats on it. A boat house on both sides of the lake. Don’t think the turbine never worked very well.
The Camp at Perlethorpe gradually got bigger and bigger. I don’t know how many soldiers were there – Probably 500 for a start. After Dunkirk, they brought train loads from London to Retford station and brought them into Thoresby Park back of White Lodge. We went to watch them -Two were carrying one – still had blood on them. Only temporary whilst they sorted them out.
Then became Munitions Dump. I can remember the railway lines going in. A lot of people not fit for the Army worked on that job. Had guards on all the time with Alsatian dogs and sentry places. An Alsatian dog killed a sentry. Things were kept quiet in those days – Used to have to walk to Ollerton. A few deaths by being run over in the dark.
D Day – Before D Day the Guards Regiments were all round Nottinghamshire then and the Scots Guards were at Perlethorpe, Grenadier Guards at Welbeck and the Coldstream Guards at Rufford but just before D Day they brought all the tanks and armoured vehicles onto Thoresby Park. They reckoned there was 1,000 and the King and Mr Churchill came to view them. The tanks really ploughed Thoresby Park up from North Farm right from Shepherds Lodge right across that top. They absolutely cleared it. Knocked down all the thorn bushes. My Father was in the Royal Agricultural Committee and had to go round making people plough grass up who didn’t want to plough it up and seeing people did things properly. After D Day they were still very short of food in England then and my Father said he wouldn’t make anyone else plough their land up until they ploughed Thoresby Park because Uncle Eric had started up at Ceres Lodge. He found out how to do it – When they first started they used to plough it was a big plough, a crawler. That was the worst thing they ever did as there was bracken and roots and they never really got top side of it. Discs were just coming in then and he disked it a lot before ploughing which made it easier. He had the best oats in the first year there. Royal Agriculture were hired to do the ploughing -10 tons of lime to the acre were used.
Munitions were only kept in the woods. There used to be a Railway Station nearer to Clumber Park. The platform and steel lined brick tanks are still up there.
Childhood memories of a local person:
The Warwickshire Yeomanry – I remember the Warwickshire Yeomanry coming into the village – it was quite exciting, the men were all in bell tents and they were all from the vicarage (Century House) right along that drive down to the hall, all the horses were there beside the bell tents. It was very exciting for the girls and my brothers. My eldest brother had a new pair of long trousers – his very first pair – and he went off on a Sunday I think as Mother wouldn’t have let him have them on any other day and got them torn on the pegs on the bell tents. She promptly said ‘that’s it’ and cut the other leg off and made a pair of shorts!
Exercising horses – One Sunday morning they were coming down the road towards the village and something spooked the horses and there was a stampede and they tore down the hill, over the cattle grid, some of the horses got in the cattle grid and the others trampled over them and they went right through the village and out into the Park. There was blood all the way up the road and for days afterwards they were finding loose horses in the Park. There were about 70 horses I understood – (I may be wrong I was only a child), they stampeded and I know Uncle Frank shot one that he found at the back of the church with a broken leg. They were still finding injured horses for some time. Was there any thought of sabotage? No, these horses are frisky things and I don’t know how well trained some of these riders were. It was a terrible thing to see.
Deeper reflections – The horses were soon shipped out to France. They went to Ollerton and entrained. Later on I was at Ollerton when a convoy was going out I was visiting a friend at one of the cottages and some soldiers in a wagon went by and they gave me a bunch of letters to post and I often wondered since that time how many of those soldiers came back.. I think they probably were telling their family that they were going abroad. I had quite a little wad of about 20 envelopes…
Recreation – I remember the tanks came…. The French Canadian officers came as well. They played cricket against the ladies of the village. They were supposed to play left handed but I think some of them were left handed anyway. I don’t remember who won but it was a bit of fun.
Work – My Mother and Aunt went to work up at the Camp at the YMCA or NAAFI a couple of nights a week. Both the YMCA and NAAFI used to serve cigarettes and stuff, serve tea and was somewhere for them to go and sit and chat and socialise. A lot of the soldiers used to go into Mansfield. Two of my brothers received bicycles as a result of that. My eldest brother said it was the London Yeomanry or something. They used to get to Mansfield and pinch bicycles to come home on, which were left behind when the soldiers were shipped out.
Bombs – I remember them bombing the lake at Thoresby. The moon was shining and whether they thought it was an airstrip? but we children all went down looking for shrapnel, the boys mainly. I do remember them bombing Sheffield as well. They came over and my father and brother stood outside and we got the aeroplanes overhead dog fighting with the Germans. We could see the lights of Sheffield from Perlethorpe – the sky was absolutely lit up. At that time my uncle Rod was a policeman in Sheffield and we were particularly concerned.
Soldiers – The cornfield right next to Proteus Camp was just about flattened, all the girls used to come from Nottingham and all over. The black soldiers were segregated from the white and we couldn’t understand that.
There was a soldier riding from the farm and his horse bolted up school lane and we were playing in the playground at the time and I saw this horse coming. At that time we used to open gates for pennies – I jumped over the school fence and ran and opened the gate. The horse crashed into the big pillar at the side, threw the rider off and dragged him along with his foot along to just in front of the church. Within a while someone came from the camp and he was taken away. Sometime later I had a little note and a postal order from 2/6d from a Geoff Taylor who said I had virtually saved his life. I thought I saved him from going abroad to a death abroad that always stuck in my mind. I did that instinctively I suppose.
Edith Hind: Growing up on Thoresby Estate
Village life – During the War we used to go carol singing from school for the soldiers and occasionally we got invited to concerts there, eg. Arthur English. Girls used to come from Ollerton and dances were held in the Riding Stables.
The men in the village were allowed to go to the Sergeants Mess (for a drink), which was in outbuildings at the Hall.
Changes from a child’s view….much busier, more people about, we used to watch the soldiers parading to church every Sunday. Most people worked on the Estate. Staff were kept separate from the soldiers. Where the billiard table is now was a sitting room for the officers. I remember the Scots Guards being there when we went carol singing.
Sometimes we saw the soldiers moving out and another lot moving in. Lady’s Drive (The Avenue) had the horses there when I first arrived. There was a lot of activity.
There was a lot of munitions all over the Park and training. Saw tanks and cavalry. One Officer rode a beautiful black horse.
We had to go acorn picking to feed the pheasants we got a penny for a bag full.
The enlisted men lived in Nissen huts round the back of the Round house and towards the Garden House.
We were not allowed near the Shooting Range up through the Pleasure Gardens.
We took it for granted that the Army were there. We used to go to the tennis courts and sometimes the soldiers would wander down. None of them stayed long.
I remember railway lines through the pleasure ground used to move munitions. The Pleasure gardens used to have lovely gravel paths, little summer houses – very pretty.
A Bomb came down in Budby and an odd one or two in the Park. I can remember them bombing Sheffield. We could see it from Thoresby. I never thought we would be hit. When the Army started to go and the huts started to disappear late ’40s. One soldier from Rufford married my friend’s Aunty. Most moved away.
A Canadian plane from Gamston Aerodrome crashed in the Park. The pilot was only about19 or 20 years old.
Innovation – Lord Manvers altered our cottages and installed a wind powered turbine. He used to show it to visitors. We only got electricity when it was windy.
Philip Mendham: Growing up on Thoresby Estate – Budby Village
Sadness of war – I was 10 when war started. I wasn’t old enough to realise what was happening. My brother Albert joined up when war started and was killed in Egypt in 1942 aged 20. My other brother joined up when he was old enough. Cousin George went down with HMS Hood.
The war in the countryside – It was excitement to us lads when troops came to Thoresby – It livened things up a bit. I remember the cavalry coming. There was 5 acres field at Budby full of horses. Then the tanks came. That livened things up a bit.
I think we had one or two soldiers over for tea. The local people used to invite the soldiers over for the evening because they were away from home.
French-Canadians were here at one time. I met two one morning. I went up the back to feed my rabbits and there were two feet poking out the pig sty. First I thought they were Germans and I went running down to Father! The two soldiers had lost their way the night before having been out for a drink! It was just over a field and up the side of the Lake to reach Thoresby.
The ARP Man – We were outside when the bomb dropped. Father was an ARP man. The All clear had gone, then we heard a drone plane coming and next thing there was a bomb whistling down at Budby – Blinding flash! – Me and Mum were pulled down by Dad and we sheltered behind the back of a building – No one was hurt. ‘Think the crater can still be seen at the top of the hill, north side of Budby on the Carburton Road before Duncan Woods Lodge, right hand side of the road. I think they were after the Air Ministry on Cuckney Road. There must have been some spies about because they come and dropped these bombs and they are not far away from the Air Ministry, they are only about quarter of a mile away from the Air Ministry. That’s where everything was stored for the RAF
Next morning we always used to listen to Lord Haw broadcasting from Germany. He used to start off ‘Germany Calling, Germany Calling,’ He said ‘The Luftwaffe very successfully bombed Budby aerodrome last night’ that’s what we heard. He knew there was something to do with the RAF on Cuckney Road. We knew better!
I remember 4 or 6 Bren gun carriers – (small tanks without a top on) – came to the village one day. Lord Lascelles was in charge. They went into the river and got out of their depth – water in exhaust pipe. They were stuck in the middle of the river. Eventually all four got stuck. We were the only people with a phone. Lord Lascelles ended up spending the night in our kitchen. The soldiers had to sleep in the bren gun carriers Next morning they came with more, one managed to get another out. It was quite exciting! Mother said he was related to the King.
After the war
Alan Dawson: Driver in the Royal Army Service Corps
Clearing the Park after the Regiments – I was the driver for Captain Stones of the Royal Army Service Corps. He was responsible for checking all the buildings at Thoresby which had been commandeered by the Regiments during the War. The building were repaired and made decent again for the people to come back to live in.
Thoresby was not badly damaged. It was lovely round here. We used to have meals in the cellar kitchen. There used to be a big hall with a big fireplace and big settees in it where we used to sit down at night.
It was a grand set of lads I was with. We used to play football with Proteus camp. Most of the regiments had left. There was about 15 of us here.
Derek Foy – Farm Manager 1947 – 54
Land reclamation – The Park was chaotic – the roads were in dreadful condition – the vegetation was torn-up by the tanks creating a dust bowl in dry conditions, and was criss-crossed by ruts and gullies (in places up to 6 feet. The soil when it was first ploughed was very hungry for magnesium lime – huge quantities were applied too deep and often full of water) cut by the tank tracks.
Immediately after the War the harvesting of the corn was done by binders (no combines) – the sheaves from the binder had to be stacked into stooks manually – this required a large labour force so all employees were co-opted in – even the Woodmen and Maintenance men from the Woodyard.
The potato picking ladies were miners’ wives from Manton Colliery.