Me­mo­rial Ser­vice James Hughes-onslow

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - James Hughes-onslow

USH­ERS IN Nor­wich Cathe­dral for the Earl of Le­ices­ter’s thanks­giv­ing ser­vice wore tweed plus-four suits with waist­coats, long woolly socks, bowler hats and heavy walk­ing boots. This was the uni­form of the game­keep­ers at Holkham Hall, Lord Le­ices­ter’s stately home in Nor­folk, who had all turned out to say farewell to their old boss.

De­spite this, the Bishop of Nor­wich, Gra­ham James, told us in his ad­dress that Eddy Coke was born in South­ern Rhode­sia where he ran around bare­foot and was brought up in South Africa where tweedy en­sem­bles were not in vogue.

‘Eddy Le­ices­ter wasn’t sure he was im­por­tant enough to merit a me­mo­rial ser­vice in this cathe­dral church,’ Bishop James be­gan. ‘So the size and char­ac­ter of to­day’s con­gre­ga­tion would as­tound him. It was no false mod­esty which caused him to doubt to­day’s ser­vice was needed. He was gen­uinely a mod­est man, a re­served man, a man of great achieve­ments who took proper plea­sure in them but did not boast of them.

‘Dur­ing the last few days of his life in the the hospi­tal in King’s Lynn I was among those who had the priv­i­lege of vis­it­ing and pray­ing with Eddy. It was char­ac­ter­is­tic of him that he en­quired “And what brings you to King’s Lynn?” “You, of course.” He was gen­uinely sur- prised. Such self-ef­fac­ing mod­esty was why we loved him so much.’

The Bishop told how the Earl’s last busi­ness meet­ing was held be­side his bed on the day he died. De­spite his oxy­gen mask and short­age of breath he gave his wife, Sarah, de­tailed in­struc­tions about gun li­cences and in­sur­ance poli­cies. He sug­gested that a boy from South Africa run­ning a huge un­prof­itable es­tate could be a work of fic­tion.

‘The truth is that Eddy’s story is pre­served in fic­tion,’ the Bishop re­vealed. ‘Ju­lian Fel­lowes was one of Eddy’s many ad­mir­ers. He was very struck by Eddy de­scrib­ing how, when he came over the hill and first saw the house laid out be­fore him, the scale of both the priv­i­lege and the re­spon­si­bil­ity struck him force­fully. Eddy was de­ter­mined never to lose con­scious­ness of either the re­spon­si­bil­ity or the priv­i­lege. Ju­lian Fel­lowes based Matthew Craw­ley in Down­ton Abbey on Eddy and his story. So next time you watch Down­ton think of Eddy and Holkham.’

Eddy’s son Tom, the new Earl, read from 1 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans and his daugh­ter Lady Laura Paul from Robert Louis Steven­son: ‘He has achieved suc­cess who has lived well, laughed of­ten, and loved much.’

Sabina Struthers read David Harkins’s ‘Re­mem­ber Me’: ‘You can shed tears that he is gone/or you can smile that he has lived.’ Step­son Hugo de Chaire com­posed some mu­sic for the ser­vice, ‘Ubon­gen­lou’ – ‘The Boy Who Walks on his Own’ – per­formed by the cathe­dral’s master of mu­sic, Ashley Grote.

The choir sang the an­them ‘And I Saw a New Heaven’, and Psalm 23; Nor­folk landowner An­thony Duck­worth-chad read from John 14. The hymns were all cho­sen by the late Earl. So­prano El­iz­a­beth Watts sang Mozart’s ‘Lau­date Dominum’.

The Bishop told how the Earl had given shoot­ing rights to his es­tate work­ers and was made pres­i­dent of the Holkham and Wells Wild­fowl­ing Club. ‘I doubt Eddy ever re­ceived any prefer­ment that was more plea­sur­able. He treated ev­ery­one with the same level of re­spect, friend­ship and in­ter­est. It didn’t sur­prise me that a sym­pa­thy card was sent to Sarah by the cou­ple who run the café at King’s Lynn sta­tion. Eddy was their friend and with­out Eddy there may not have re­mained a line to King’s Lynn at all. As leader of the coun­cil he cam­paigned against pos­si­ble clo­sure. That was a great suc­cess.’

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