ALWAYS ON POINT
Taking to the hills to commemorate Arran’s Lady Jean Fforde, Jon Kean explores the life and legacy of the doyenne of working pointers
Remembering Lady Jean Fforde and her working pointers
Aunique and spectacular sporting event has taken place in the Scottish Highlands to celebrate the life of Lady Jean Fforde, the doyenne of working pointers in the UK. A memorial field trial in her memory was held at Dorback Estate near Grantown on Spey, organised by the Pointer Club of Scotland. Lady Jean was President of the club since its formation in 1978 and she was the undoubtedly the club’s greatest ambassador. Lady Jean passed away in October last year, three weeks short of her 97th birthday. The Isle of Arran Pointers were amongst the first kennels to be registered with the Kennel Club and to feature on the Champion Stake roll of honour, the country’s premier event for working pointers and setters. Lady Jean was born in Edinburgh in 1920 to James Graham, the 6th Duke of Montrose. She was the youngest of four children and, when growing up, the family lived for six months at Brodick Castle, and six months at the Buchanan Estate which encompassed Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Her life was truly remarkable. The island of Arran was undoubtedly the place closest to the heart of Lady Jean. Most people will think that it must have been a very cosseted life, however in reality from a very early age the daily routine for Lady Jean was pretty rigorous, certainly by modern standards. From 15 May until 30 September each year when she was on Arran, there was compulsory bathing in the sea below Brodick Castle, followed by a vigorous drying with a rough towel to bring back circulation to frozen limbs. Much of Lady Jean’s childhood was blighted by illness. Returning from the beach one morning aged just three, she complained of a sore foot. On investigation the swelling turned out to be the onset of tuberculous osteitis. This resulted in an operation to remove abscesses from the offending ankle, having the leg put in irons for months and a year of recuperation at a sanitorium for tuberculosis in Switzerland.
Although Lady Jean eventually shook off this terrible illness, during her youth it recurred three times and each time meant hospitalisation and long periods of treatment. Despite periods of illness, Lady Jean relished those Arran summers, often in the company of her European cousins, Princess Antoinette and Prince Rainier of Monaco. In 1941 shortly after her 21st birthday bash a phone call from a friend suggested that Lady Jean might apply for a vitally important job, about which the friend could give no details, it being rather hush-hush. This hush-hush job turned out to be at Bletchley Park and involved breaking the German Enigma code, which played such a vital role in the defeat of Nazi Germany. After a year and a half at Bletchley, Lady Jean successfully applied to become a welfare officer with the Red Cross and in 1944 was posted to India, where in time she was kept very busy helping the POWs freed after hellish incarceration at the hands of the Japanese. Once more, however, ill health forced Lady Jean to return to the UK to undergo surgery, after which by way of recuperation came a road trip with her long-time friend Elspeth Davidson in an old Austin Seven across war-ravaged Europe to Monaco and Switzerland. On her return, Lady Jean enrolled on a weaving course in London and whilst there met her future husband John Fforde, at home on leave from his post as head of CID in the Palestine Police Force. The romance blossomed and they were married in Brodick Church in October 1947 before
“The hush-hush job turned out to be at Bletchley Park breaking the German Enigma code
setting up home in Palestine, then in a state of civil war between Jew and Arab. Being married to the number one target for the Stern Gang and living under armed guard at all times did not make for a peaceful time. On one occasion Lady Jean narrowly avoided a sniper’s bullet, although during leisure time there were some interesting trips around the Holy Land, including dining with King Abdullah of Jordan. Alas her marriage was not to endure and Lady Jean returned home to Arran in 1956 as her son Charles started prep school. There followed what she described as the worst year of her life during which Charles was admitted to the Unit of Tropical Diseases in Edinburgh suffering from a bout of malaria. Her mother died, just three years after the death of her father, and her divorce came through. Also there were all the difficulties of probate and handing over Brodick Castle complete with all its many family treasures to the National Trust or the Exchequer in lieu of death duties. Lady Jean then set about tracing some of the great pointers previously sold from Isle of Arran kennels and was able to rebuild the famous bloodline, producing some truly incredible dogs with which she had tremendous success competing at trials all over the UK, holding her own and indeed often beating many of the great professional dog handlers of the day. In time she became a renowned field
“Lady Jean was able to rebuild the bloodline producing some truly incredible dogs
trials judge and president of the Pointer Club of Scotland. Looking back, there were many famous pointers with the Isle of Arran prefix. The list is endless – Isle of Arran African Queen, Scotney Isle of Arran Regent, Isle of Arran Juno, FT CH Scotney Isle of Arran Jack, Isle of Arran Minoru, FT CH Isle of Arran Dice, Isle of Arran Lily. Lady Jean’s favourite was FT CH Isle of Arran June, a beautiful orange and white bitch. In Lady Jean’s memoir, she wrote: ‘June became the dog of my life – I adored her! Considering she was the first dog of any kind I had trained myself, she was a miracle. I trained her by phoning my friend Patience Nicolson week by week, and asking for instructions.’ And so the great and the good of the pointer and setter world gathered early in August to commemorate her remarkable life. Field trial enthusiasts from throughout the UK and Ireland met on the moor at Dorback estate. Lady Jean would have been proud of this day. The field trial included the best of the best from the current generation of working pointers and setters.
Right: An early picture of the Isle of Arran Pointers being transported by boat for grouse shooting on the island.
Above: Lady Jean Fforde with her beloved Pointers at home on Arran – left to right: Isle of Arran June, Isle of Arran Minoru and Isle of Arran Dice.
Below: Field Trial Secretary Richard MacNicol competing with Field Trial Champion Merlino of Morness.
Right: Pointer handler Marcia Clark piloted Lady Jean’s field trial champion Isle of Arran Larch to win the Champion Stake, the premier event for pointers and setters, in 1981.