Hon Rhodes recollections on Uplowman House and Royal visits

The Final Curtsey is a memoir offering a remarkably candid insight into the private lives of the Royal Family. Written by the Honourable Margaret Rhodes, a cousin and lifelong friend of the Queen, the book spans eight momentous decades.

This is an extract covering the period at Uplowman

After a honeymoon lasting almost a year, we returned home in June 1951 to start house-hunting, and fell in love with a rather dilapidated former rectory called Uplowman near Tiverton in Devon.  My darling father bought it for us for £8,500.  t had three storeys, six bedrooms and a small flat for the married couple who cooked, cleaned and did the gardening.

We had £3,000 a year, the income from my marriage settlement, and we were incandescently happy.

Uplowman was a wonderfully relaxing environment and nobody seemed to mind if I went shopping with my hair in rollers and a cigarette clenched between my teeth.

NURSE WAS ‘TOO POSH’

I had my first baby, Annabel, in February 1952 in hospital in North London. Once I was in the hands of the midwives, Denys took off to White’s, his club in St James’s Street, in search of strong drink.

This was well before the days of fathers being encouraged to observe the birth, and personally I did not want him there; it was woman’s work, I reckoned.

Anyway a delicious little girl duly arrived, perfect in every detail. Back at home, Annabel was looked after by a nurse who was very efficient but impossibly grand. She name-dropped duchesses she had attended and seemed on intimate terms with many fathers in the membership of White’s.

We soon acquired a local farmer’s daughter as a nursery maid. (Editor- Doreen Cleeve)

Three more children arrived: Victoria, born in London in 1953, Simon, in 1957 at home and Michael, in 1960. For a short time we had a nanny and a nursery maid as well as a live-in couple. In those days the wage for a couple was £7 a week, and for the nursery maid £3.

Denys would shut himself away in the summerhouse to write. One of his novels, The Syndicate, was turned into a rather awful film which seemed to have little relationship to the book.

We entertained our friends and family at Uplowman. When the Queen Mother, the Queen and Princess Margaret came for the weekend their detectives would be put up in the local pub, where on one occasion Margaret’s policeman made very  extensive use of the bar facilities.

When the Queen Mother came to stay there was more than usual collaboration with the local constabulary, and coppers would lurk in the bushes round the house.

A footman came to help with the breakfast trays, and the Queen Mother’s dresser was allocated one of the children’s rooms.

In the evening we played a game in which one person acted out the title of a book, a saying or a song which had to be guessed by the others.

Memorably, one guest, David Stirling, who set up what was to become the SAS, was told to act The Taming Of The Shrew, which involved this immensely tall man pretending to be a mouse running up the Queen Mother’s skirts. We were all crying with laughter but David got quite huffy because we thought his acting was not of Old Vic standards.

I put my foot down at housing Margaret’s dresser: with our growing family there just wasn’t room. Margaret could be a demanding guest, and on one occasion when she brought her husband, Tony Armstrong Jones, the lavatory seat in their  bathroom came apart. They wanted a replacement installed at once, but it was just not possible over a weekend and we firmly told them so. For a couple whose every whim was pandered to, they took it quite well and there were no more complaints.

Once, when my aunt, the Queen Mother, was entertained at Uplowman, it was midsummer and the sheep were making a lot of noise, bleating their heads off. In those days we followed the convention of the ladies leaving the gentlemen to their port after dinner.

The Queen Mother thought the men were lingering far too long and marshalled us women outside the dining room window, conducting us in a baa-baa chorus. The tippling men took the hint and joined us in the drawing room for coffee.

By 1973 we could no longer cope with the 30 acres of land that had come with Uplowman, so we took the dreaded decision to sell the home where we had been so happy. We subsequently moved house twice and were living on the edge of Dartmoor when Denys contracted inoperable lung cancer. I felt as if my world had crashed into a huge, deep, black abyss.

We were four or five hours’ driving time from either of our families and I wanted to move closer to London. Money was limited and finding a suitable property was difficult. When the Queen offered us my present home in the Great Park at Windsor, it was positively the most wonderful thing to happen.

We took possession of The Garden House in April 1981. Denys slowly began to drift away. I sat with him, held his hand and then  suddenly he wasn’t there any more. He died in October, 1981; the end of 31 very  special and loving years.
Words and pictures c.2011 Margaret Rhodes

The Final Curtsey by Margaret Rhodes is published by Calder Walker Associates,
priced £17.99.

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