Memorial Service 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.’