Buy a home, get Anthony Eden’s hat and coat free
Although Sir Anthony Eden may not have been one of the country’s most successful prime ministers – his mishandling of the Suez Crisis saw to that – he was certainly the most snappily dressed.
Pictures of him in the late 1930s show him sporting a stylish lounge suit with peaked lapels, which was the epitome of chic at the time, over a doublebreasted waistcoat. With a neatly trimmed moustache and slick, Brylcreemed hair, he cut a bit of a dash, especially when compared with other, more crumpled politicos of the era. His look was topped off with a beautifully cut overcoat and a Homburg hat, so widely associated with him that it was often referred to as an “Anthony Eden”.
Now, his trademark overcoat and hat could be yours – if you buy the former home of his mother, Sybil, in Rushyford, County Durham. “They are in quite a battered state but it’s fun to take them out to show visitors,” says Valda Goodfellow, 59, who, with her husband Paul, 60, has owned the house for the past 10 years.
“I imagine Eden used to keep them here so as not to spoil his best clothes when he was walking the countryside on visits to his mother.”
Family relations among the Edens were strained, so we can guess that his visits home were not exactly joyful occasions. Born in nearby Windlestone Hall into an aristocratic family of landowners, his father, Sir William, was an eccentric, foul-tempered man. When he died in 1915, Lady Sybil – who was once described by Sir Anthony as “a very unscrupulous and untruthful woman” – frittered away the family fortune. By 1936, Sir Anthony’s elder brother, Tim, was forced to sell the estate and install her in Park House, which is now on the market.
During the years of these visits, between 1936 and 1945, Sir Anthony was foreign secretary, before resigning in protest at Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy. He would have had much to mull over when out walking, including Mussollini’s insult that he was “the best-dressed fool in Europe”. Like today’s political leaders, he also came under attack from his own side: Rab Butler, a fellow Tory MP, described him as “half mad baronet, half beautiful woman”.
“I think he was better as a lieutenant to Churchill than as a leader himself,” says Goodfellow, who has researched Eden’s life in some detail. “He was a complex man, remembered fondly by some of the locals who have given me pictures, books and other documents to add to my collection of memorabilia, including the hat and coat.”
Internally, Park House itself has changed beyond recognition since Lady Sybil lived there. Built around a rectangular courtyard, one corner has been extended, with big windows opening up views over the grounds and woodland. The main living room has high ceilings and is openplan and ideal for entertaining, comprising a dining area, leading through to a sitting room, then a patio. A mezzanine, used as a home office, overlooks it all. The overall effect, thanks to the wood floors and heavy carpets, is homely. “It’s a house to be lived in,” says Goodfellow. “It’s not a set piece to be admired.”
The kitchen, handmade by a local firm, was installed for the Goodfellows. There are also two more formal reception rooms downstairs, the library and the drawing room, and upstairs there are four bedrooms, each with an en suite. On the opposite side of the courtyard there is a twobedroom guest cottage. It all stands in 28 acres of gardens, paddocks and woodland.
This sale is tangled in tales of both families’ histories. During the Second World War the Eden family pile, Windlestone Hall, had been used as a prisoner-of-war camp and Goodfellow’s father, a Latvian, had been held there.
When the war ended, he had been allowed to stay in the country, a gesture of compassion that made him a staunch English patriot. Goodfellow initially bought Park House because it was in sight of Windlestone, which meant so much to her father. She and her husband are selling up now because, having tried to retire, they have been tempted back into business, as suppliers to the hospitality trade, and they need to live in a more central location.
Then there is the question of Eden’s hat and coat. There is no covenant attached to it, but the previous owner explained how a tradition had grown. “He had lived here for 28 years and he loved it, so it was clear [when we bought the house] that he was interviewing us to be sure we were going to look after it,” says Goodfellow. “In fact he had already turned down an offer from a footballer who didn’t impress him. We agreed a price but he said we would have to promise to leave the hat and coat so that it stayed with the house when we left. It was a matter of trust.” Park House is on the market with Finest Properties for £1.75million
Park House, main and below, is for sale with Finest Properties for £1.75m; Sir Anthony Eden, below right