This is a pencil sketch of Oscar, created by our daughter Laura. Oscar is five years old. He replaced our elderly cat called Blackie, who was 19 years old when she died. Like all cats Oscar will chase anything that moves and we have had several amusing sequences involving watch straps and beams of sunlight in the living room. He falls for it every time.
This is the view from our back garden, over the valley to Norton Fitzwarren in Somerset, then on to the Quantocks. The garden is mainly grassed, with some flowerbeds and a patch for vegetables and herbs. Val propagates where she can, but we havent got a greenhouse and it isnt always successful.
John's dad, William Rattray Stuart, was born on 13th August 1906, and his four children were delighted to put on a 100th birthday party for him. John's sister Roslyn wrote the excellent piece on Dad which is reproduced below, and the photographs were some of many taken at the party.
OUR DAD'S 100!
Almost 50 years of growth have changed the garden of the farm house at Wheeler End since William Stuart and his wife Helen moved in, and the pick of their family and friends were there to celebrate his 100th birthday amongst mature trees and shrubs, many of which he planted himself. Sunday is an appropriate day, as he did sometimes rest on Sundays!
In 1906 his parents, George and Hellen Stuart lived a crofting life in Aberdeenshire, Edward VII was King, the Prime Minister was Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and their white headed baby was named William Rattray Stuart after Willie Rattray, an admired family friend, which is sometimes still the tradition in Scotland. Known variously as Willie, Bill and William, he has lived a healthy outdoor life throughout the twentieth century, and now beyond, as career gardener and then farmer. In February 1992 The Bucks Free Press published a picture taken on the occasion of his Diamond Wedding and told the story of the Upstairs-Downstairs era he and his wife Helen (Ella) had lived through. Helen died in 1996, the year of his 90 th birthday. His family today consists of four children, twelve grandchildren and nine great grandchildren, with three more expected this year.
During his early working life as an apprentice and undergardener, living in a bothy (outdoor servants living quarters), being paid twice a year in May and November, he had to make his own entertainment and became a regular fiddle (violin) player. Besides first working in a Scottish Castle he has fond memories of his time as a journeyman, working his way up to being Head Gardener in the great glass houses of the Crighton Royal Hospital in Dumfries (now a large Conference Centre). He married Helen Wilson in 1932 and their first two children, Margaret (known as Rita) and Brian, were born in Scotland (but to their chagrin, the next two, Roslyn and John, were born in England).
He became Head Gardener at Stagenhoe Park in Hertfordshire in 1938, having been "head-hunted" by the owner of the Estate whom he met playing golf on the Hospital Golf Course. By this time Bill had a handicap of 4 despite no formal instruction and never having to join a Golf Club! “When I was working at Ferntower in Crieff (Perthshire) the 18 th hole was just behind my lodgings, so my landlady’s sons and I used to hop over the garden fence with one or two old golf clubs,” he recounts with relish. Still living in that “Upstairs Downstairs” world, he remembers his employer, at the outbreak of war, “ordered six suits, two Packard cars and 20 shirts, to avoid future shortages”. Mr Dewar was a generous employer and before long had given away the suits and shirts, and the government had commandeered all the car tyres! Bill was given 6 white shirts and a gross of razor blades!
In 1939 he joined the Special Police Force, the Hitchin School of Music Orchestra and the local Horticultural Society. At this time he enjoyed rubbing shoulders with a man who assisted in the design of the Sherman Tank (his employer, Michael Dewar), the pianist Myra Hess, the musician Imogen Holst (daughter of the great Gustav) who were guest performers in the orchestra he played in and David Bowes Lyon, the brother of the late Queen Mother, who owned an adjoining estate, St Paul’s Waldenbury. (He was the Chairman of the local Horticultural Society when Bill was the Treasurer). During the Second World War he moved into farming for his employer, since manpower was short, and his second two children were born at this time.
After the War he worked as Farm Manager in Wallingford and Hambleden before buying his own smallholding at Wheeler End in 1957. He regularly attended the Lane End Church of All Saints over many years, and kept up his Special Police attendance until he “retired”. Old gardeners never really retire so no one was surprised that he was active in his own and other people’s gardens until he was well over 90. Since 2005 he has been well looked after in a residential home in Marlow but on his 100 th Birthday was delighted to see that his two older children have kept his garden as immaculate as he had made it over the almost 50 years he has been resident in Wheeler End.
This photo shows Roslyn with Grandad and Uncle Douglas.
This photo shows some of our family who attended, from the left Claire, Robert, Edward, Laura, Graeme, Bridget and Lauren.
This photo shows Grandad surrounded by some of his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Sadly, John's Dad passed away in March 2008.
The big event in 2005 was our holiday in Russia. Our children paid for it, to mark our 60th birthdays and John's retirement, John had never visited Russia in spite of studying Russian at university 40 years before. Wow, what an experience. We had three days in Moscow, then went by overnight train to St.Petersburg where we spent the next four days.
We had our own car and driver, plus a personal courier to show us round. We quickly adjusted to our new, privileged status.
On the right is St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
On the left is John and Anna walking towards the Spassky Tower at the Kremlin in Moscow. Anna was our guide in Moscow, and we had a great time together, in addition, she was interested in poetry which was a bonus for John.
We spent a morning travelling on the Moscow Metro, with our guide Anna. The Metro is extremely busy at all times of the day. We eventually surfaced and were given lunch and tickets for the Metro to get back to our hotel. On the right is a typical, ornately decorated, corridor.
We also visited to Moscow State Circus, but we dont have a decent picture to show, particularly fascinating was the act involving performing cats, which we would like our cat Oscar to see.
Then it was on to the train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, which was an unforgettable experience, mainly for the discomfort. On the right is the best of a very poor bunch of photographs taken on the train. It remained light throughout the night.
In St Petersburg our guide was Lena and our driver was Sergei, who spoke excellent English. We started, at 6am with a whistle stop tour of St Petersburg which included all the main sites. We fell asleep in the car on the way to our hotel in St. Petersburg and had to be woken by Sergei (with whom we are still in contact by email).
On the left is the famous statue of Peter the First which John was very anxious to see because it is the subject of a famous poem by Pushkin called The Bronze Horseman.
On the right is the splendidly named Church of the Spilt Blood in St Petersburg, which is not only impressive in its own right, but has a tourist market right next to it which Val was determined to visit.
We also rode on the Metro at St. Petersburg.
We visited a lot of churches in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, but the highlight of St. Petersburg has to be the Summer Palace of Peter I, although we visited the Winter Palace as well.
We spent the morning inside the Summer Palace, also known as Peterhof, which has many fine rooms and paintings. The grounds of the Summer Palace are fantastically ornate with fountains, a lake, and a canal. On the left is a photo of us there, taken by Lena. Sergei picked us up after our tour, we were getting used to this treatment, shame it had to finish.
On the right is another view of the Summer Palace, and below is a cool glade which we found just off the main promenade.