Octavia Pollock selects some of the most remarkable stories and photographs from 120 years of the Country
Where it all began
THE first issue set the eclectic tone. There was an assessment of Knight of Rhodes, a six-year-old champion hurdler, hunting with the Devon & Somerset Staghounds and the Prince of Wales’s Borzoi, plus football, golf and Cecil Rhodes’s zoo at Cape Town. The first country house was Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire (January 8, 1897).
Playing it down
AN editorial on the ‘hysterical jubilation’ that greeted the Highlanders’ gallant action in the Battle at Dargai in the Boer War read: ‘At one time, there was a disposition to take unduly little notice of the many brave deeds done by the sailors and soldiers of the British Navy and Army… But of late there has arisen a decided tendency to overdo expressions of appreciation, to proceed to the opposite extreme to cold neglect and give way to gush. There is nothing in its line more repulsive, especially to those who are gushed over’ (November 6, 1897).
Long live the King
QUEEN VICTORIA ‘was not a brilliant woman in accomplishments or on the ornamental side of life, but she had those two greatest gifts of a ruler, sagacity and sense of duty… [Those qualities] His Majesty King Edward VII undoubtedly possesses in almost equal measure.
‘We are heartily glad that our King shares our national taste… [he is] an all-round sportsman of the first order… We hope he will not relinquish our innocent amusements. He will be no worse King, but rather the better, if as such he lays the pheasants low and wins the Derby and hears the gun fired from the RYS Castle when his white-winged yacht glides in a triumphant winnerõ (February 2, 1901).
Beavers at work
THE busy creatures were making their presence felt 120 years ago, at Leonardslee Park, Sussex: ‘The size of the work is as remarkable and more apparent than the knowledge of engineering principles that underlies its structure… The “section” of the dam is exactly that which human engineers have adopted for dams by mathematical calculation and the top is kept level by daily inspection by the beavers themselves’ (September 18, 1897).
How to throw a boomerang
SIR RALPH PAYNE-GALLWEY reports: ‘The best of Australian boomerangs will now and then settle with such a slow butterfly-like flutter at the end of their flight that, when spinning but 4yrds or 5yrds above you, there is time before they reach the ground to look at your watch, count five seconds and put it back again in your pocket!’ (October 27, 1906).
Let there be light
ON the higher cost of living during Lloyd George’s Liberal governance: ‘The most ordinary general servant now requires a salary that would have been deemed sufficient by those who were highly trained not so very
long ago. And the inventions that have been brought to bear on the comfort of the house may add to its convenience, but they certainly do not make for cheapness. Electric light, for example… There was a time in our own memory when moderately good shooting and fishing could be had for a trifling sum, but today it involves very considerable expenditure’ (August 7, 1909).
A hole in one
A GOLFING Architecture competition was won by Yorkshire GP Alister Mackenzie with a ‘most ingenious’ course. He went on to design the US Masters course at Augusta, Georgia (August 1, 1914).
MPS unite in war
A S soon as it was clear that a time had come for united and strong action, petty differences sank into the background. The House of Commons never presented a more united or a more determined appearance than it did when Sir Edward Grey made his famous speech… The Colonies, each of which is now a self-governing body, master of its own affairs, have shown that in the words of one of their great men “when Great Britain is at war, we are at war”’ (August 8, 1914).
To Russia with love
A RUSSIAN number includes a letter ‘To Our Russian Readers’ printed in Cyrillic. The translation explained: ‘To the staff of COUNTRY LIFE it has been a labour of love to prepare an edition of this journal devoted to Russia. The labour was dignified by a great object. This is to promote and improve the good relations now established between Britain and her great Ally...
‘Russia, above all else, is a land of dreams and ideas’ (October 14, 1916).
White horse needs groom
A CORRESPONDENT compares the appearance of the Uffington White Horse with that of 1864: ‘He is but a shadow of his former self. In the drawing I enclose, the white is the present horse and the black those areas that have become overgrown… Poor old horse! He is scheduled as an ancient monument by Act of Parliament, but the Act does not appear to provide for the grooming of him’ (September 12, 1908).
Beatrix Potter complains
HYDROPLANES in the Lake District spurred the author to write in: ‘Our peaceful lake [Windermere] is disturbed by the presence of a hydroplane. [It] flies up and down in the trough of the hills. Horses upon land may possibly become accustomed to it, but if they back while on the water, there will be an accident.
‘We are sometimes told that England is being left behind by other nations in the race for the conquest of the air. But, surely, the proper place for testing hydroplanes is over the sea, rather than over an inland lake? A more inappropriate place could scarcely be chosen. The noise is confined by the hills, “echoes/redoubled and redoubled; concourse wild”’ (January 13, 1912).
T HIS announcement appeared regularly: ‘We appeal to our readers to send their copies of recent issues of COUNTRY LIFE to the troops at the front. This can be done by simply handing them over the counter of any Post Office. No label, wrapper or address is needed and no postage need be paid. The War Office notifies that all papers posted to any neutral European country will be stopped, except those sent by publishers and newsagents who have obtained special permissions from the War Office. Such permission has been granted to COUNTRY LIFE.’
Armistice at last
O PINION, as far as can be gathered, does not differ in regard to the appropriateness of the armistice terms exacted from Germany. In considering them we must keep in mind first, that the armistice terms are not peace terms and, secondly, that the object of the armistice was to prevent Germany from renewing the war’ (November 16, 1918).
Our 25th birthday
W E live by admiration, according to a famous saying of Wordsworth, and the spirit of COUNTRY LIFE might probably be defined as teaching what to admire.’
COUNTRY LIFE ‘started with a title that falls like music on the ear, ours being an island race whereof even the town dweller is a countryman at heart. Let him be ever so deep in affairs, he will find time to steal away and seek refreshment on the river, in the countryside or on the seashore’ (January 7, 1922).
T HE magazine greeted the arrival of a new political party with misgivings, calling it ‘The Socialist Menace’: ‘It is of very great importance that the public should clearly understand what would be meant by the advent of the Labour Party to office. They will not learn this piece of intelligence from the leader. Mr Ramsay Macdonald is a prominent Socialist whose ideal is “an industrial commonwealth founded upon the Socialisation of land and capital”’ (January 19, 1924).
Inside a mollusc’s mind
F ROM a series entitled ‘The Mind of Animals’ by Prof J. Arthur Thomson: ‘Can an oyster have a mind? Can a slug learn? Can even an octopus put two and two together? It is difficult to start an enquiry into the psychology of molluscs without the lurking suspicion that there is not any. But this is all scientific prejudice. Of bivalves, indeed, we must not expect much, for the whole head region is degenerate in cockle and mussel, oyster and clam. They have relapsed into a more or less sedentary and sluggish mode of life. They are “stick-in-the-muds” and the old technical term “acephalous” (headless) is no libel’ (May 13, 1922).
Building Centre Court
A T Wimbledon: ‘We picked our way gingerly through the mud to the vast Roman theatre—of ferro-concrete—which is the grandstand. Already, one begins to feel sorry for the champions who have to fight out their battles, frowned down upon by that great circle of seats that rises heavenward tier upon tier. What insignificant midgets they will feel!’ (March 4, 1922).
Curse of the car
T HE freedom of movement afforded by motor vehicles leads to the countryside becoming cluttered and ugly: ‘The motorcycle and the car bring their own terrors: first, the glaring roadside advertisements [billboards] and, worst of all, the brightly coloured, flimsily built weekend bungalows. The advertisements are the least serious because they are the most easily mended. A few spirited inhabitants, like certain Cambridge undergraduates, could lay them low in a night’ (July 31, 1926).
The German Menace
A DREADFUL foreboding: ‘[We had] found ourselves on comparatively friendly terms with what we thought to be a new Germany, chastened by the terrible penalties of defeat, and ready to take her part in the peaceful rebuilding of Europe. But in a night, as it were, that “European” Germany has vanished.
‘We find ourselves facing instead a nation which, by a mixture of tom-tom beating and coercion, is being continually incited to show its “proud scorn” of the rest of the world, to root out the “alien weeds” that disfigure the fair German garden, to develop once more that fine “passionate hatred” of all things non-german. This deliberate xenophobia can only lead to war’ (May 20, 1933).
C ELEBRATING 25 years of George V’s reign: ‘The King today is essentially the people’s King; not so much sovereign or symbol as the Head of the Family. It is a wonderful, a unique, conception this mystic yet so human uniting of many millions in one individual… It is his great achievement that in sacrificing his individuality he has in a true sense become a part of every individual in the most far-flung confederacy that the world has seen: at once the “plain man” and the embodiment of nation and empire’ (May 4, 1935).
A low point
O N the Abdication: ‘Everyone with a spark of imagination must have realised something at least of the agony which the king suffered. He was torn between his heart’s desire and the path of duty. Many who have led drab and undistinguished lives have suffered the same torture of doubt and have chosen the stonier way. Some never recovered, and something went out of their lives forever, but they marched on with heads erect. And so, though we may genuinely understand, we cannot help being frustrated. We had hoped for so much from one gifted with so many fine and winning qualities’ (December 19, 1936).
Stanley, I presume
A PHOTO is sent in by R. Dykes of Chief Ebaki of Apoto in the Upper Congo, ‘wearing his insignia of chieftainship, the necklace of leopards’ teeth. He is 76 years old. As a young man, he went out to intercept Stanley when he was sighted coming down the River Congo from Stanleyville in 1879. He remembers speaking to Stanley and receiving presents from him. The old chief’s youngest daughter is only seven
years old. Though he is a Christian in every way, he still holds to polygamy and the missions will not baptize him’ (March 10, 1928).
The property game
S OME things never change—a reader sent in this poem about the game of choosing a dream property: ‘That this week’s paper? Good! Then draw your chair Up close to mine beside the fire. Switch on the light and pull the blind. We’ll have a game With COUNTRY Life—just you and I. You choose a cottage to your mind, I’ll do the same. While we must live in town we can pretend A perfect setting for life’s end… ‘My turn again! Just one thing seems all wrong. Sussex and Gloucestershire are far apart. How could you see my hills or I Your oaken beams, your views of sea and sky? We’ll choose again, mountains or downs or sea, An orchard, a paved walk, a rosery. All these I’d love if you would share them, too. They’d be but husks of joy for lack of you’ (April 28, 1928)
For the love of horses
D OROTHY BROOKE, whose charity The Brooke is still going, appeals from Egypt for readers to help horses abandoned after military service: ‘This is a bad time for beggars, which we fully realise, but these old horses of ours have waited so long. They beg for rest from their creaseless labours, for a kind word, a decent feed, and peace at last. There are many old hunters among those that come to our buying yard. May their silent prayer for help be borne over the seas to England and the green fields they used to know and love and which they will never see again. Will anyone who ever loved a horse and who can spare something, however small, help us to save them from their cruel servitude?’ (March 5, 1932)
The locusts descend
T HE Gardner family of Uruguay write in about their battle to protect their trees against ravenous young locusts: ‘We have tried every other English paper that we receive, but COUNTRY LIFE is the only one that is a perfect protection. The cause I cannot tell you, we can only imagine that it has some peculiar glaze. Locusts that attempt to cross the paper slip back. If you keep your paper well tacked to the tree, none ever gets over. Two years ago, our trees were completely stripped, but last year and this, thanks entirely to COUNTRY LIFE, we have not have a tree damaged’ (March 2, 1935).
Hitler’s rural side
I N this noteworthy, if now shaming article, one Ignatius Phayre praises ‘Hitler as a Countryman’: ‘Let me say at once that Herr Hitler has keenly artistic tastes. He paints in watercolour [and his] colossal bestseller Mein Kampf sold 3,000,000 copies. It was from the royalties on this work that this shy, retiring man was enabled to extend and develop his ideal Bavarian home.
‘Here he is often abroad, clad in plus fours, and with dogs at his heels. One of these will be carrying on his back a little hamper containing tomato sandwiches and fruit… He is never so content as when proudly conducting his guests through the quiet village streets—perhaps to enter a cottage and pet the children or instruct their mother in the food-values of vegetarian dishes!õ (March 28, 1936).
The wise old Indian
G REY OWL, trapper, guide, firefighter, blood brother of the Ojibways, son of an Apache squaw and friend of beavers, featured frequently from 1929. His book
The Men of the Last Frontier was published by COUNTRY LIFE at 10s 6d—it turned out that he had actually been born Archibald Belaney in Hastings, East Sussex.
Keep calm and carry on
E VEN seen through a gasmask England is still England and none of us need, happily, wear his gasmask all the time… In the last war COUNTRY LIFE carried on and, it intends, so long as it may be physically possible, to carry on now. It is our purpose to continue to produce a paper that shall still reflect the spirit and the substance of the England that exists in moor and downland, in mansion and hamlet, in the ploughed field and the swiftrunning beck… for in so doing we believe it will provide a welcome solace for “the tongueless vigil and all the pain”’ (September 16, 1939).
They gave their todays
A FTER the Battle of Britain: ‘The Royal Air Force has filled our hearts with pride and confidence in their young heroes. Their morale is superb. They fly straight at their opponent, knowing that he will turn. We do not underrate the power or the spirit of the Luftwaffe, nor the discipline and intense seriousness of the RAF. But the different spirit of the two corps is the difference between fanaticism and sport; between dying for a Führer and living for victory’ (August 24, 1940).
How will Santa cope?
A RELATIVELY cheerful problem for the time: ‘Most of us may be wondering not what we are going to do about Christmas, but what is Santa Claus going to do? Even in his experience there has surely never been a Christmas such as this promises to be. For the first time, he will sally forth in a black-out. The first question we must ask ourselves is whether he will wear a gas-mask. If “yes”, will he wear his beard inside it?’ (November 25, 1939).
The best medicine
E NID BLYTON writes to further her campaign to encourage schoolchildren to pick wild plants for medicine: ‘Many years ago, from every country village and hamlet, the women and children went out to seek for many rare and common weeds. Elecampane and feverfew, for marshmallow and meadowsweet, for the deadly nightshade and its poisonous neighbours… But we no longer gather these herbs ourselves, for not one in 10,000 of us knows which herbs to gather, nor to what use they may be put. All this wise country-lore has been lost to our generation’ (September 14, 1940).
R EACTION to Lord Woolton’s advice not to tear rolls or pile butter on the side of a plate: ‘This is clearly a good “austerity” plan… Some may suffer severely, and in particular he who has been defined as a gentleman because he always uses the butterknife even when alone. A painful alternative is now before him; he must either spread his butter with the butter-knife or cut the butter with his ordinary one’ (June 19, 1942).
Doing the right thing
T HE magazine shows a willingness to practise what it preaches, in the first of a series of articles on the COUNTRY LIFE estate, 1,000 acres in Berkshire. It later became a Catholic nunnery and is now luxury houses. ‘Last October, we stated our intention of acquiring a small estate as a contribution towards the maintenance of a progressive agriculture after the war. Our aim would be to conduct such an estate in accordance with the best modern practice... Goodings lies in a fold of the Berkshire Downs; it is high, windy, bracing country, with big coloured fields laid as neatly as carpets on the opposite hillside’ (July 9, 1943).
A GUIDE to piscatorial manners: ‘Do not arrive at the water with your wife, children, dog or camp followers without asking if they can come. Some are well trained and suitably clothed, others are not… Do not cut in. You will be as unpopular as on a golf course… If there is a lady fishing, give her precedence, though she will be certain to object… Do not recount your experiences at length to others unless they ask. Otherwise you will become a bore; and it is well to remember that the haunt of such creatures is not only the best armchair at the club’ (September 27, 1946).
A generous donation
T HE 50th-anniversary edition revealed that an appeal for charitable funds had prompted an ‘Englishman in South America’ to send with ‘a generous subscription some memorable words: “I am not a wealthy man and I work very hard for every £1,000 I earn, but I want to help decent things to be done in England.” Country Life likes to think that it has helped some decent things to be done in England’ (January 3, 1947).
War stops hunting
S PORTING artist Lionel Edwards describes an interrupted morning’s cubhunting: ‘Reluctantly, I got up, for we had all been late to bed, a Jerry having crashed in flames in the middle of our dairy herd the previous evening. Strange to relate, in spite of exploding cartridges and roaring flames, they didn’t seem much alarmed.’ Later on, ‘as hounds work, speaking rather half-heartedly, a siren sounds an air-raid warning and shortly after a Jerry bomber comes Zoom zoo zooma zoom zoom overhead. “Oh buzz off Jerry! ‘Ow can I ’unt ’ounds with you booming around?” exclaims the exasperated huntsman, more in sorrow than in anger’ (October 26, 1940).
Our man in the Abbey
T HE magazine’s Geoffrey Grigson wrote of the Coronation: ‘Cold toes, cold fingers. The stands are packed. A tea man shouts “Luvverly Coronation tea, all hot, all boiling”. This wet, cold morning we are a city, we are a people, we are even a world. Spanish is spoken behind me, French in front, German to the left, Chinese to the right. Immense ostrich plumes wave over a coffee face.’
From the relative comfort of Westminster Abbey, Christopher Hussey, wrote: ‘She is looking radiantly young and beautiful. She is moving ever so slowly yet with perfect, supple poise. I can feel the tremour as thousands catch their breath’ (June 6, 1953).
His master’s dog
E . M. BARRAUD tells the tale of Nipper, the HMV terrier [below]: ‘Nipper was not a thoroughbred. If you look at the picture, you can see the streak of bull-terrier in the broad chest, and if Nipper got hold of an adversary, it was very difficult to make him let go…
‘The truth of [the advertisement] is that Nipper really did sit and listen to Francis’s [my great-uncle] old phonograph, and it often struck Francis that the dog had hopes that it might indeed be his lost master’s voice’ (June 20, 1950).
An unwelcome tax
V EHICLE tax upsets motoring columnist John Eason Gibson: ‘From the earliest days the motor-car has been regarded by successive governments as a luxurious alternative to the horse, and car owners, as a class, have been brutally taxed… There may have been grounds for regarding motoring as a rich man’s hobby in the early days, but there can be no doubt that the present excessive taxation precludes any chance of the people’s car becoming a practical possibility’ (January 3, 1947).
What to wear shooting
T HE eminent Victorian sportsman who devised a shooting hat made out of a dead hedgehog made, I suppose, the most memorable attempt to resolve a problem which has baffled countrymen since the invention of gunpowder… My own impression of a shooting party includes:
‘The Crack Shot—gum boots and plus fours worn underneath oilskin over trouser. A sort of battledress coat and a fisherman’s hat.
‘The Dandy—skin-tight tweed knickers, white spats and porpoise-hide boots. Norfolk jacket with flaps on all pockets. Green snap-brimmed slouch hat.
‘The Fellow Who Borrows One of Your Guns—corduroy slacks, open-necked shirt, twill coat and town shoes.
‘If you want to raise a laugh about clothes at a shooting lunch, the only safe bet is to describe the ridiculous appearance of Continental sportsmen, who are said to have tassels on their cartridge bags, or Americans, who wear red peaked caps and dress up for shooting like baseball players. But they haven’t our climate to contend with’ (November 3, 1950).
Meeting of minds
J OHN BETJEMAN reviews Christopher Hussey’s four volumes on Lutyens: ‘There are thought and distinction in everything he designed. The wonderful enclosing of space, the ingenious lighting and ventilation of it, the relation of one shape to another, of curves and parts of curves to uprights and angles, the ingenious housing of people in families or assembling of them in multitudes. One has the impression that he kept people at bay with badinage and puns so as to give himself space and leisure to go on with the constant mathematical problems in his mind’ (February 2, 1951).
P. LLOYD GREAME writes from Kenya about solving an altercation over a bone with her pet lioness Mshumba: ‘My eyes fell on the soda-water siphon, a wonderful weapon and a harmless one. I squirted the soda water into her face: never have I seen such surprise on a lion’s countenance. Mshumba was defeated and it was good for her. I was dripping blood, though lion wounds, being deep, seldom bleed profusely. Hardly was I in the bathroom when she appeared, with no resentment and a sweet face full of innocence. She rubbed against my legs and we made it up there and then. Unlike many human beings, lions are not given to sulking’ (August 9, 1956).
The ‘historic remains of Stonehenge’ came up for sale as part of Amesbury Abbey, Wiltshire (September 18, 1915)
Events at the Bicycle Gymkhana, Peover Hall, Cheshire, included a Gretna Green race, Siamese-twin race, tortoise race and musical ride. We leave it to your imagination to decide which of these this photograph depicts (October 9, 1897)
An unusual Frontispiece: this penguin portrait was taken by Herbert Ponting, official photographer on Ernest Shackleton's expeditions to the Antarctic
St Donat’s Castle was advertised on March 21, 1925. On seeing it, American billionaire William Randolph Hearst cabled he would buy it—and did so, unseen
When Chief Ebaki of Apoto was a young man, he went out to intercept Stanley in 1879
A surprising letter from E. W. R.: ‘Have you ever seen a picture of an alligator carriage before? Here is the little daughter of a Californian farmer driving her alligator. He is as tame and quiet as any pony, and has, as you see, a most agreeable expression of countenance’ (March 7, 1931)
Grey Owl turned out to have been born Archibald Belaney in Hastings
Princess Margaret triumphed in the crossword competition on May 27, 1954
Not just girls in pearls: during the Second World War, COUNTRY LIFE showed that everyone was doing their bit
Why should we worry about a crashed German aircraft when even the cows don’t move?: sporting artist Lionel Edwards captured a local scene in October 1940
Nipper, the HMV terrier, really did sit and listen to the phonograph