'New Forest Child'

 

‘NEW FOREST CHILD’

 

Phyllis Dorothy Compton

 

 

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Cover of typescript  

The background

 

The book

 

Typescript cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There exists in HW's archive a small file consisting of a 204-page quarto-sized typescript (a duplicate carbon copy on thin paper) of ‘New Forest Child’, an unpublished book, together with a few letters from its author. There is also, over a period of around two years between September 1970 and July 1972, a number of diary entries referring to this proposed book and HW's considerable work in editing it. However, to date I can find no evidence that it was ever published, even privately, despite feeling that I did once see a copy of it.

 

This may seem to make this entry a 'non-story', but it is interesting for two main reasons. The first is that it is yet another example of the care and attention that HW gave to authors who needed help ‒ others include Douglas Bell (A Soldier’s Diary of the Great War), Victor Yeates (Winged Victory), James Farrar (The Unreturning Spring), John Heygate (Decent Fellows), Lilias Rider Haggard (Norfolk Life), etcetera. Second, as I researched the background I discovered that the author was in fact related to HW, albeit tenuously via his marriage to Ida Loetitia Hibbert. As far as HW was concerned, the many relations of Loetitia's were all ‘cousins’. In one 1971 diary entry he notes that Phyllis is two months younger than him, so she was born in early 1896: both then aged 75.

 

Further, the story is charmingly told and very readable, being full of details of the lives of those who belonged to the privileged aristocracy during the years before the First World War, a time now long gone.

 

 

 The background:

 

HW’s first mention of the book appears on 30 September 1970, where HW records, rather cryptically, in his appointment diary:

 

Mrs. Critchley-Salmondson, [of an address in Southampton]: authoress of Family Book.

 

This is expanded in his main diary thus:

 

I am reading, and putting the prose into order & economy, A New Forest Child, by Cherry Russell's grandmother, Mrs. Critchley-Salmondson, the former Lady Chichester. It is quite an undertaking & at the rate I'm reading and 'editing' will take 28-30 hours. I have told the author it is good, & will be published, that I want no share in the royalties. But I propose to write an Introduction, & shall ask for £100 from the publisher.

 

So we have an author, Phyllis Dorothy Compton, addressed as Mrs Critchley-Salmondson, but referred to as 'the former Lady Chichester'. In fact 'Compton' was Phyllis's maiden name. She married Sir Edward George Chichester (1883–1940, 10th Baronet from 1906) on 5 January 1915. They had two children, Edward John Chichester (born April 1916, and 11th Baronet in due course) and Mary (born September 1917). Phyllis and Sir Edward were divorced in 1923. Sir Edward married twice more; and, though no details are known, Phyllis obviously subsequently married a man named Critchley-Salmondson. In 1970 she lived alone in Southampton, but visited family in Instow (a few miles west of HW's Georgeham, in the estuary of the River Torridge), where several members of the Chichester and connected Renshaw family all lived. As HW visited these relations frequently one can see how he came to be involved.

 

HW recorded that he worked steadily on the book from 1 to 7 October 1970. On 10 October he travelled to Mineshop in Cornwall to deliver the revised typescript to his typist Liz Cummins. On the way he called to see Patrick and Vesta Chichester at their 'Haynes' home. (Patrick had been a boxing champion in his time; HW was very friendly with the couple and he used to spend Christmas with them during this period of his life.) They were very busy preparing for the wedding of their daughter, 'Cousin Katrina', the following week, which he duly attended (and HW gives an interesting account of the wedding guests – including the information that Stuart Hibberd, the BBC newsman and radio personality, was married to Sir Francis Chichester's sister).

 

HW collected the finished typescript on 5 November. A week later he came to stay with us (near Chichester – the city – the Lords Chichester connected with that town are a totally different branch of the family) and noted on 13 November:

 

Tomorrow to visit Phyllis Critchley-Salmondson at Southampton with the TSS of the 'edited' New Forest Child and photographs copied by Ossie Jones.

 

But the visit was actually postponed until 21 November. I remember doing a little work on the book at that time – probably retyping further revision pages. A letter from Phyllis two days afterwards shows she is very pleased with everything and thanks HW for all the work he has put into it. Her handwriting is wonderfully free, large, and artistic.

 

HW then notes further work on the book and on 1 December states that he will hand it over to his agents the next day. At this time he was working hard on his own book (his last), The Scandaroon – which he also took to his agents at the same time.

 

On 28 February 1971 he noted again:

 

TAKE to London 1) New Forest Child 2) Rev. copy Reflections on F.M. 3) Scandaroon.

 

(Item 2 above refers to his essay ‘Reflections on the Death of a Field Marshal’.)

 

Then on 7 April he noted:

 

Wrote to Phyllis C--- Salmondson re New Forest Child saying I'd propose myself to visit her in June.

 

There is no mention of the actual content of that letter but in due course it appears that his agents have turned down her book as not fashionable, and therefore unpublishable. Now at that time Susan Hodgart, an editor at Macdonald Publishers was staying with HW in Ilfracombe, working with him on The Scandaroon. She would obviously have heard about, and no doubt seen, that typescript. This becomes pertinent later.

 

A letter from Phyllis dated 19 April states:

 

. . .  Don't worry over New Forest Child – if ever you have time to rewrite it – do so but do not worry as it is not worth it.

 

In early October 1971 HW made several visits to 'Old Mills, Parkham' (somewhere near him in North Devon) to visit 'Bimi' Russell, her daughter Cherry – and her mother. 'Bimi' is Phyllis's daughter Mary – and her daughter Cherry was mentioned in that first diary entry of 30 September 1970. And now he makes a clear statement in his diary, on 9 October 1971:

 

I went to call on the Russells at Old Mills Parkham – Phyllis was there – author of New Forest Child. It was turned down by Hester Green, agent AM Heath, as of no interest to public today. I read some of the Film Treatment [for the Tarka film] to Bimi, John, & B's mother Phyllis (Lady Chichester that was).

 

He then visited daily up to 15 October, when he entered in his diary: 'We got the job done on New Forest Child.' They were clearly not just social visits.

 

There was sporadic contact in 1972: HW wrote to Phyllis asking for further information to be added about her grandmother Zöe – who, he feels, is a main character in the book. There is a note about this on the inside cover of the TSS:

 

 

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In due course Phyllis sent three further (seemingly very short) 'Zöe' episodes. This concluded with HW adding a passage about the death of King Edward VII, about which Phyllis wrote:

 

I do not remember much about it as believe at that time I was in Paris. What I wrote & sent you was a possible entry for Zöe. She had to come into my book again.

 

(She does not seem to remember that HW had asked for more of 'Zöe'.)

 

There is obviously no sign of the book being accepted for publication: she understands this, thanking him for all he has done.

 

Then, over a year later, there is HW's diary entry for 18 September 1973 (he was in London, and had read his 'Jefferies & Hudson essay' to a 'Countryside Conference' in Farnham, organised by Rosalind Wade, who had published his essay ‘Reflections on the Death of a Field Marshal’):

 

Yesterday I handed over New Forest Child to Susan Hodgart [an editor at Macdonald as previously noted] . . . She holds copy of New Forest Child & photographs.

 

But there is nothing further in the archive – and no trace that the book was ever published. HW's manuscript draft for his short 'Introduction' is placed loose with the typescript:

 

 

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The book:

 

‘A New Forest Child’ tells of Phyllis's life – her vivid memories – up to the point of her wedding ceremony to Sir Edward Chichester – 'Ted' – which took place in early January 1915 when she would have been 19 years old.

 

They were a privileged family. We learn that her grandmother is 'Zöe, Lady Brougham and Vaux' (a second marriage – previously she had been Lady Musgrave of Edenhall), who lived in Chesham Place, London, and that the colour of her carriage was so like that of the Royal family that they were often given 'right of way' when out in London. Zöe was very gay and lived a complex social life!

 

Phyllis's mother (from the first marriage of Zöe) was Lady Musgrave of Edenhall and her father Henry Compton. The action is set in the family home of Minstead Manor near Lyndhurst, in the middle of the New Forest. There were three nurses for the young children.

 

The tales and anecdotes of their very happy childhood and social life are told with vivacity, yet restrained – making them all the more effective. I note one story about Lord Lonsdale and his penchant for everything having to be 'yellow', his constant cigar and fresh gardenia. And that should remind HW readers of a particular mention of Lord Lonsdale in How Dear is Life (vol.4, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight). Other points ring similar bells. HW did not cull his ideas from here however, for he had written about these people long before any contact with this book.

 

Phyllis 'comes out' into society as a debutante and has to be presented to the Queen – not something she enjoys. She comes over as a lassie with character, although at that time careless of her privileged position (and she understands that at the time she is writing). There are tales of various beaux, some suitable – some not! But soon she meets a young man at yet another dance. A few days afterwards he arrives on the doorstep to make a formal social call. He is Sir Edward Chichester, and from then on 'Ted' calls regularly and is always at any dance or social function she attends. But Phyllis only gives the most superficial details – there is no sentimentality whatsoever. We do learn however that he is the London director of a Newcastle-based engineering company. He had, as a very young man, accompanied his famous father, Rear Admiral Edward Chichester, as his naval attaché on exploits in the Middle and Far East.

 

Then, in 1914, they learn of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand – with its subsequent consequences. The Compton family travel up to Scotland, borrowing a house from Hugo Wemyss. The outbreak of the First World War changes life forever, although to begin with things do not change so very much. Men – friends – join the Army. Some are killed.

 

'Ted' Chichester, then aged 31, fortunately works in the Censor’s department at the Admiralty in London. One afternoon in late 1914 he turns up at her home and asks her to marry him when the war is over. Her father, however, sorting out the 'business' side of the marriage, gives permission for them to marry in January 1915. They then endure the rounds of relations on both sides. Interestingly, she is to be married by 'old' Canon Sheppard, whose son Dick was a friend of the Chichesters (and again we are reminded that HW has a little mention of Dick Sheppard, chiefly in It Was the Nightingale (vol. 10, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight).

 

Phyllis prepares for her wedding, which takes place in pouring rain; they leave in their carriage amidst a cloud of white tulle from her train: and there the tale ends.

 

 

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These three opening pages of chapter 9 give a flavour of the book, including the story of the very first time that she saw a car – driven by that early champion of motoring Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, no less:

 

 

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Typescript cover:

 

The typescript is bound in this rough and ready home-made cover:

 

 

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