UMILTA WEBSITE || OLIVELEAF WEBSITE || JULIAN OF NORWICH, TEXT AND CONTEXTS,
WEBSITE || BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN, REVELATIONES,
WEBSITE || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO
(HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS ) || BOOK
REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || FLORIN WEBSITE ©1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY
See also Sir James Roberts, Family Album I
ROBERTS OF YORKSHIRE
IN TWO LIVES CONVERGE
AND GLORNEY BOLTON
Sybil Margaret and John
Robert Glorney Bolton, 1937. The frontispiece to their book, Two Lives Converge, which
they dedicated 'To Julia'
In the last year of the last century, James Roberts took his
youngest daughter to Paris. An enormous trunk contained no fewer
than three of the daughter's dresses. Porters and waiters - even
the manager of the Hotel Continental - showed an uncommon
obsequiousness. They may have quailed before the Yorkshireman's
beetling eyebrows and fierce moustache. They were certainly
impressed by the trunk. The daugher herself was impressed. She
was finished expensively in Switzerland. But the lakeside towns
had none of the magnificence of Paris. Here, in the Hotel
Continental, she could use one of the special telephones which
had just been installed at great cost, ring up any theatre she
fancied, and listen to the play. James Roberts encouraged her to
use the telephone. He spent much of his time in Bradford. But he
believed in progress. A pretty daughter playing with the
expensive telephone delighted him.
But, of course, he had brought her to Paris for a serious
Since the daughter was twelve, a foreigner had come each year to
stay with James Roberts in Yorkshire, and each year he had asked
for the hand of the little daughter the blue yes and the golden
hair. Naturally James Roberts refused to countenance such an
arrangement. Engish girls did not become engaged so young, and,
in any case, English girls chose their own husbands.
Now his daughter had 'come out', in white tulle and pink
rosebuds. The foreigner was free to propose to her in Paris, and
Paris James Roberts regarded as neutral ground. For the
foreigner was a Pole. He lived in Russia. He held a commission
in the German army.
But Paris was less neutral than James Roberts had anticipated.
Europe did not approve of the policy of Milner and Chamberlain,
or of the Boer War, and stones were apt to come hurtling round
the ears of Englishmen as they made their way to the Trocadero
by the banks of the Seine.
James Roberts was impervious, but his daughter was indignant.
Cecil Rhodes was a man, and Lord Roberts was a hero. What right
had these foreigners to behave so badly? When the Pole,
who lived in Russia and held a commission in the German army,
tried to touch her foot under the table at luncheon, she
withdrew it indignantly. And not even the oscillations of the
Eiffel Tower could shake her firm determination that she would
never, never marry anything so sloppy as a man who wore a
pale-blue and silver uniform. Beside, he was too old. He was
thirty-two. He had one foot in the grave.
The girl was used to maintaining the prestige of the English
at her school in Switzerland. She had no use for her father's
belief in open markets and an open mind. It was in vain that
James Roberts pointed out that Russia was a country with a great
future. It was in vain that he told himself, privately, that she
ought to marry a man older than herself, and that fairly soon.
Blue eyes looked into blue eyes. The daughter was not quelled by
beetling eyebrows. Bradford might fear her father and quail
before him. But not she. James Robersts was a headstrong man. He
knew how to admire spirit. He had seen her dragged half-way down
the drive by a St. Bernard dog, and she did not let go. He had
seen her driving a pair of horses down the steep, shop-lined,
traffic-congested thoroughfare which is the main street of
Bradford; and that, he believed, was a feat which no other
Yorkshire girl had ever attempted. In his daughter James met his
match. He confirmed what his daughter had already told the Pole:
there could be no possibility of marriage.
James demanded his bill. He scrutinied it carefully. There were
certain charges he refused to pay. The manager presented a
slightly amended bill. James paid. The manager, the porters, the
waiters were more obsequious than ever; for the tips were
princely. The trunk, like an emblem of magnificence, went with
them to the Gare du Nord. They were already seated in the train
when the foppish Pole came flying down the platform. In his arms
were a sheaf of newspaper. A copy of Vie Parisienne lay on top, and in honour of
the Exhibition it contained even more pictures of naked ladies
than usual. The Pole waved the naked ladies in the air. He
thrust them under the nose of the girl with the blue eyes and
the golden hair.
'Look what you have done', he cried. 'You have driven me to
He flourished the naked ladies again and burst into tears.
James Roberts' daughter sat up very straight and looked hard at
her father. James was uncomfortable.He wished that his daughter
had not the feminine gift of putting other people in the wrong.
Why did the Pole cry like that? Why did he wave that nasty paper
about? It made it so difficult for him to deny that, after all,
the girl had been right in refusing her decorative suitor. But
Russia had a future and James would have seen her once a year.
He went to Russia every year to buy wool.
In his childhood James Roberts had been desperately poor. His
widowed mother brought up a large family in a lonely farmhouse
on the moors near Haworth. He went barefoot, for his mother
could not afford to buy him shoes. Winds, cold, biting, moorland
winds, went through his thread-bare clothing and his
ill-nourished little body. Fine persistent rain soaked his
clothing, and there were late winter evenings, as he walked back
from school, when the crags on the moors looked like crouching
witches and giants. Black, red-legged moor-hens infested the
tarns. They gave a grim life to their habitations. They were
like birds of ill-omen. Fear and courage battled in the breast
of the little boy. He lived as close as a dalesman can to
Nature. He responded alike to her gloom and her gaiety. There
were spring days to conquer and subdue the buffeting winds, the
persistent rain, the crags like witches, and the black clouds,
the tarn like the evil eye which had to be skirted, the birds of
ill-omen and their plaintive cry, until the air was scented with
honey, the sun high, and the white clouds curtsying. The little
boy was of the earth earthy. He lived in the country of the
Brontės. Patrick Brontė would have been his pastor, if his
mother had not tramped stubbornly with her offspring to the
Dissenters' chapel. One day, while James was on his way to
school, Charlotte Brontė stopped him and talked to him. It was
his first contact with greatness. He walked back after school as
though he were treading on springy turf. He too would be great.
Poverty took up his daring challenge. His mother, brothers
and sisters clamoured for more bread. The farm could not support
them all, and in the distance were the gaping mills ready to
swallow all the adventurers from the dales and moorlands,
turning sturdy yeoman stock into factory hands. James Roberts
might have gone into one of those mills and lost for ever his
contact with greatness. Not for nothing had he fought the wind
and the rain, the crags and the tarm. Not for nothing had he
trod ten thousand miles of heather. He brought to his work the
dexterity of an athlete. There was a light in the eye, an eager
trick of speech to which other men responded. He was made a
foreman. Later he sat at a high stool in a sort of
counting-house. Here he was happy. He had parted hardly with
And then Bismarckian statecraft enacted another tragedy of war.
It was not a tragedy to the beef-eating Englishmen, the
Englishmen of Toby jugs, the Englishman who beat Napoleon and
sang that 'Britons never, never shall be slaves'. Politically we
were neutral. Commercially we were not. Trade was the whitest
cockade in a soldier's heard-gear. It was Britannia's scarf
which the Englishman tied on his arm when he went into battle.
Bismarckian wars brought orders to Yorkshire. A man entered the
counting house where James Roberts was working and requested an
estimate for many thousands of yards of cloth for uniforms.
Quick as lightning, James Roberts quoted a price. The man noted
it down. Then he said:
'I will let you know about the order in a few days' time'.
A light came into James Roberts' eye. It was the light of
'Wait', he said. 'I know what you are going to do. You're going
round to get more estimates. And when you've got them all,
you'll take the cheapest. There may be one that'll be cheaper
than mine. But by the time you've got it, you'll have wasted so
much time that it won't have been worth it'.
James Roberts got the order. At eighteen he became the manager
of a mill. He was rich, almost beyond his dreams. He was wild,
for there is a wildness in all who inhabit the Brontė country.
They are of British stock. The blood of Angles and Saxons and
Danes scarcely touched them. It is the test of the
Yorkshireman's virility that he should jump the Strid in the
grounds of Bolton Abbey. The Strid is a sucking whirlpool
between two overhanging rocks. Whoever fails to make good his
jump courts a speedy death. James Roberts jumped the Strid. His
friendships were impulsive and his wildness is said to have
continued until he met Elizabeth Foster. Elizabeth Foster was my
She too was of farming stock. Her father was a tenant-farmer on
the Ferrand estate. The farm was at Harden. Its name was the
Brass Castle - a lovely name for those who can say it in the
Yorkshire way. No one wanted to know how it came to be inhabited
by a tenant-farmer. It may have become part of the Ferrand
estate during the Napoleonic wars when agriculture was organized
on a bolder scale to defeat the Corsican's blockade. But once it
was a dalesman's fortress. It is built of heavy stone. The walls
are ten feet thick. By the time that Elizabeth Foster was a
girl, china cats basked on the deep window-sills among pots of
musk. Fighting to her was only talk: talk heard from an uncle
who fought in twenty-six skirmishes and battles during the
Peninsular War. There was more talk about a maternal uncle
called Joseph Henry Nicholson. He wrote of the dales as
Wordsworth wrote of the lakes. He was a man of great personal
beauty and commanding features. The dalesmen admired his poems,
and he set out for fame and recognition in London. Women were
not his weakness. A verse truthfully admits that he loved but
two women and married both of them. He had a more perilous
weakness than women, and it was his undoing. In London he lost
his poems. Back in Yorkshire he slipped one night while
crossing a footbridge and was drowned.
Tales of the soldier and the poet must have made good hearing
round the fireside of the Brass Castle, with walls ten feet
thick to keep out the wind, and everything cosy within among the
china cats and the pots of musk. And so Elizabeth Foster grew up
with a taste for sweet fragrances, such as pots of musk give
out. The firelight drew glowing shadows from shining dark oak
and highly polished copper as talk of the soldier and the poet
went on to the click of her mother's steel needles knitting
endless yards of lace. She was contented enough. But her cheeks
were pink, her eyes were the colour of wild violets, her hair
was dark and curly. She was like the Brass Castle turned inside
out, for it was only the core of her that was solid as granite.
And so James Roberts fell in love with her, and wooed her with
ardour among the china cats and the pots of musk after good
Yorkshire suppers of sizzling smoked ham and spiced bread and
cheese, parkin, and home-made jam.
If Elizabeth Foster had all the innate contentment and worldly
wisdom of a cat, James Roberts had all the sagacity and
experience of a highly intelligent terrier with a gift for
fighting over bones and carrying them off in triumph.
His marriage to Elizabeth Foster might have been a disaster.
They were the antithesis of each other except in one thing. Each
had to an unusual degree that sturdy self-respect which is the
yeoman's birthright. Elizabeth Foster had drawn it from the
warmth and the comfort and the fragrance enclosed by the
ten-foot walls of the Brass Castle; James Roberts from his fight
with cold and hunger and poverty on the wild moors round
Haworth. Instead of being the antithesis they became the
complement and the supplement of each other. In fact, James
Roberts came to speak of his wife as 'My Complement'. It was an
entirely Elizabethan conceit, because when he did not call her
this he often said, 'My Better Half'.
In the first year of their married life, James saved a thousand
pounds, and Elizabeth Roberts, out of her housekeeping
allowance, enough to buy a Crown Derby tea-set. Life began to
take on a richer and more luxurious tone. This necessitated a
rise in the social scale. Elizabeth Roberts was equal to it. The
farmer's daughter gave orders for engraved visiting-cards. The
cards went into a silver card-case, and in white kid gloves and
her own carriage, Elizabeth went calling with a complete mastery
of the complicated rules and conventions which govern that art.
Elizabeth's mother could remember the days when everybody in
England travelled by stage-coach, and 'Family Coach' was a game
often played round the fireside at the Brass Castle. Now a fine
network of black lines was superimposed on the map of England,
and the finer and more intricate the network became, the thicker
and the more crowded the names of towns and villages in the West
Riding of Yortkshire. There was no water in the world, they
said, like the waters of Wharfedale for washing wool in. The
squat watch towers of old keeps like the Brass Castle were
dwarfed by taller, slenderer mill chimneys springing up
everwhere and belching forth smoke.
The history of England, like that of all great empires, is bound
up with minerals and weaving. Once it was the Phoenicians who
came with their fine purple and red cloth and took away our tin:
then came the day of the Cotswolds and rich graziers who
dictated England's foreign policy with regard to Flanders;
finally, with the rise of industrialism, it was English coal and
iron, the damp air of Lancashire and the waters of the
Wharfedale that were making history. Children droned it from
their geography books, and it was from England that the traders
set out, like the Phoenicians of old.
Taking his order book with him, James Roberts went to Russia,
to Australia, to South America to buy wool and to sell cloth -
to North America and to Africa.
He lost his heart to Russia. Somehow, it touched the same chord
in him that Charlotte Brontė had touched when an ill-clad,
ill-nourished little boy had made his first contact with
greatness in the village street of Haworth. James Roberts never
tired of talking about the future that was in store for Russia.
Sometimes his wife accompanied him on his travels. If it had not
been for the bearing and rearing of his children, she would
always have accompanied him, for the granite core of common
sense in Elizabeth Roberts told her that, no matter how strict a
man's principles may be (and James Robert's were very strict),
you cannot trust him out your sight. James Roberts, she was
quite sure, was never safe out of her sight. He was too
impetuous, too excitable, too prone to be carried along on a
wave of enthusiasm. Nobody who wasn't could possibly have
attempted the things that he achieved, for James Roberts lived
in an age when opportunity presented itself in the same guise to
There is a legend in the family that Elizabeth Roberts was
the first Englishwoman to climb the Great Pyramid. It may have
sprung from the brain of some astute dragoman, but it was
something to be proud of in the days when Cleopatra's needle was
a novelty in London and Egyptology was beginning to hold an
esteemed place among the many new sciences.
The children of James and Elizabeth Roberts were painted in
velvet tunics and lace collars - ą la Little Lord Fauntleroy.
The girls had a governess, strict as to lady-like behaviour.
James Roberts was strict with his children over personal
cleanliness and tidiness. He also detested their showing
Slices of sizzling hot ham, spiced bread and cheese, parkin and
scones and jam had given way to dinner in the evening; but
'dinner' was at 6:30 p.m., even as breakfast was at 6:30 a.m.,
because James Roberts must be at the mill by half-past seven,
and when he arrived home in the evening he must have his dinner
immediately because he was hungry.
There were still scones and cakes in profusion, at afternoon
tea, for Elizabeth Roberts and her callers. Scones and cakes and
home-made bread accompanied by other things she loved -
lace-edged tea-cloths (for the steel needles still clicked),
fine china, shining silver. They were all successors to the
well-laden tea-table, the glowing copper, and the china cats of
the Brass Castle, for Elizabeth Roberts did not relinquish her
past - she merely improved on it. Some of it she deliberately
preserved into little idiosyncrasies. Large knives and forks,
for instance, were never laid on her table. She did not like
them. Probably the silver at the Brass Castle had been handed
down from the days when large knives and forks did not exist.
As for the pots of musk, they grew and burgeoned and
blossomed in the new life in a conservatory full of trailing
green smilax, a drawing-room fireplace banked with pots of
purple cineraria, a dining-room table with a centre-piece of one
large silver vase and four small ones holding aloft a cloud of
sweet-peas and gypsophila, a highly polished dinner waggon
reflecting gold rosy-cheeked nectarines and the purple bloom of
Elizabeth Roberts with her well-appointed carriage and her
velvet-clad children, her silver-laden tea-table and her
conservatory, was now a person of sufficient social consequence
to be asked to take charge of a stall at charity bazaars.
Sometimes her daughters were even a little envious of the
numerous dolls which she dressed for this purpose. Her younger
daughter, in particular, felt that charity ought to stay at
home. It was not that she wanted the dolls! From the time when
she had been old enough to come into the drawing-room and talk
to her mother's visitors, she had been loud in her assertion
that she wanted her dolls to be live dolls. Perhaps this was
because she herself had not had enough of being a live doll, for
when she was a year old Elizabeth had set off on a tour round
the world with her husband, and when they returned a year later,
their little daughter did not remember them.
Born in a Tent
If my mother had not left her Polish suitor weeping on the
platform of the Gare du Nord, her live dolls would have had a
sorry time during the Great War, and I have often wondered
whether I, or that part of me which would have existed, would
have been slaughtered by the Bolsheviks, have starved to death
in Berlin, or have become the mistress of Marshal Pilsudksi.
There was, however, a real reason for my mother's refusal to
marry the Pole, quite apart from the pale-blue and silver
uniform and extreme old age. The reason was a perfectly sensible
one - a tall, dark, handsome young medical student without a
penny to his name. Unfortunately the very mention of the
penniless name was enough to make my grandfather pick up his
apple pie, Crown Derby plate and all, and throw it right across
the garden and into the park beyond, for although James Roberts
was a temperate man, he could not be crossed, and so the apple
pie, or something, always had to go.
His daughter could not be crossed either. She went. The marriage
took place in Scotland. the young couple had no moneyt, but my
mother had some shares. There were always shares in those good
Victorian days. There were always servants too, and so my mother
was able to keep a little maid. On the other hand, there were
plenty of things to make a rich man's daughter feel that she had
given up everything for love in a cottage and the man of her
choice. There was the day when she sallied forth and demanded of
an Edinburgh grocer that he sell her 'some porridge'. There were
the long hours spent over the drawn-thread work which she had
learned at her finishing school in Switzerland, and which her
linen-loving mother religiously bought from her at prices no
higher than those which she paid for other people's fancy-work
at the numerous bazaars which she still attended. The
drawn-thread work was wonderfully useful. It 'kept the wolf from
And as my mother stitched away on her embroidery frame at
those innumerable spiders' webs of linen thread, her mind was
free to work on webs of fancy which were no less delightful.
Life was before her. Paying calls, drives in the carriage, dull
and interminable dinners were behind her. As soon as the medical
degree had been obtained, the bride and groom would sail for
South Africa, where big little Roberts had distinguished himself
and where men of ability like Cecil Rhodes became even greater
than her father.
James Roberts's daughter prided herself on her
unconventionality, her bohemian ways. 'The colonies', she felt,
would suit her to the ground. There people did not pay calls, or
go for afternoon drives in the carriage, or open bazaars, or sit
through interminable dinners.
She did not stop to think of the hard work and grim
determination that had gone towards the making of that
sheltered, comfortable life which consisted of charity bazaars
and paying calls and dull dinners. Or if she did, it did not
weaken her resolve. She was young.
And so, out of the shares that had been sold, the runaway bride
and her husband booked passages to South Africa for themselves
and their maid, and James Roberts wrote to his agent in South
Africa and told him to see that no harm come to them.
Their first home in South Africa was a tent, pitched in the
Karoo, with kopjes showing blue in the distance. And my mother,
with characteristic energy, transformed the tent into a home.
She even cooked a fifteen-course dinner herself to show the
colonials how things ought to be done. The dinner was a great
success, for she had had plenty of opportunity to find out what
fifteen-course dinners should consist of.
Eventually to complete the appearance of a home, I was born. The
wife of the colonel in command of the encampment was shocked
that there should be nothing except canvas between me and the
blue South African sky. The Army sister who nursed me was
shocked by the strange shape of the clothes which my mother had
made for me. They had taught her to do drawn-thread work at her
school in Switzerland, but they had not taught her how to cut
out a sleeve. The colonel's wife insisted that they build a
house for me. The Army sister assured me that my brothers and
sisters would fare better.
I was not destined, however, to inhabit the house for long. The
fates were apparently determined to instil into an unwitting
baby the spirit of restlessness. An uncle was drowned while
fishing of Portrush. He was a charming young uncle, then only
eleven years old, to whom Africa must have seemed very dark
indeed, for when he heard of my arrival, he was most anxious to
know whether I was black. My grandfather was patriarchal in his
grief. He sent for my mother. She sailed from Port Elizabeth,
taking me with her. It was the return maiden voyage of the Kenilworth Castle, and I
was three and a half months old.
My name, of course, appeared on the passenger list, and on the
first night out the captain, mistaking my mother for me, told
her how sorry he was they her mother had not felt well enough to
come down to dinner. No doubt he felt that it would have been
better if so young a girl had not appeared unchaperoned on the
first night of the voyage. In due course, however, I made my
appearance, and male passengers were very obliging about looking
after me while my mother won slipper races in bronze slippers,
At Southampton we were met by my grandfather. The lively young
uncle who had been drowned was the second of the little boys who
had been painted in velvet tunics and lace collars to be taken
from him. Now there remained to him only two sons and two
daughters but to compensate in some measure there were already
three grandchildren. I was the second one, and six weeks after
my own birth there had come third - a boy. A new phase of their
life together had begun for James and Elizabeth Roberts. It was,
in many ways, the best phase.
My grandfather had become the owner of Saltaire and of Milner
Field. Both had been built by Sir Titus Salt, a typical
Victorian industrialist [Actually Milner Field had been built by
Sir Titus's son, of the same name.] Both were the very
apotheosis of Victorian industrialism. Titus Salt was a sturdy
Nonconformist Radical, the Robert Owen of the mid-Victorian age.
When he built Saltaire to house the people who worked at his
mighty mill, he built what was looked upon by the Victorians as
a very wonderful model town indeed. For those who worked on the
thousand looms in the great two-acre room in the mill there were
not only cottages, but also a self-supporting dining-hall, an
infirmary, a mechanics' institute, and an enormous Independent
[Titus Salt's son ] built Milner Field for himself. There was
nothing radical about Milner Field. It had sumptious bathrooms
and lavatories like Gothic chapels. [He] had no need to feel
ashamed when he entertained royalty, ladies and gentlemen with
high-sounding titles, and exalted foreigners. This he had to do
very frequently. Royalty came because it was its duty to make
royal progresses and Milner Field was the obvious place for it
to stay the night. Ladies and gentlemen with high-sounding
titles came because they were keen on the political party game
as they were keen on cricket. There were many votes to be caught
among the hands who worked on the thousand looms in the great
two-acre room. Exalted foreigners came to see for themselves the
wealth and the prosperity that was England.
[The Titus Salts] duly lionized them all over Saltaire. [They]
were proud of the model town, and it delighted [them] that
interest should be shown in it. Bolton Abbey and Milner Field
became almost next door, for the Duke of Devonshire was more a
Liberal than a churchman, and he appreciated the evidence of
this adjoining Liberal stronghold. To his daughter-in-law, Lady
Frederick Cavendish, however, of whom it has been said, 'Church
is Lucy's public house, and unfortunately there's no keeping her
out of it', it was a regrettable thing that Sir Titus Salt
insisted on going to chapel with his work people. 'A big heathen
temple' is the description she gave in her diary of the Saltaire
chapel. Perhaps, as a niece of that redoubtable churchman,
William Ewart Gladstone, she could say no less!
Lady Frederick Cavendish gave up her political life altogether
and never returned to Bolton Abbey after the Phoenix Park
murders in 1882. From the point of view of my grandfather this
was probably a pity. As President of the Armenian Society she
might have listened with sympathetic interest to his views on
Russia. But although the University of Leeds conferred an
honorary LL.D. on her in the year of my birth, her public
appearances in Yorkshire had long since come to an end. The link
between Bolton Abbey and Milner Field was broken when Lord
Frederick Cavendish, representative of a West Riding division,
fell at the hand of an Irish assassin.
It was a time of famine in Ireland and depression everwhere
else. Saltaire suffered. Many of the looms in the great two-acre
room were idle. Sir Titus Salt, who went to chapel with his
work-people, suffered too. Saltaire was the pride and joy of his
life, and he could not bear to see it going through hard times.
To James Roberts, then in the prime of his life, hard times
meant opportunity. Struggling across the moor to school in
Haworth had taught him how to brave storms. Others might go to
the wall in the struggle against the depression, but that would
only help to lessen the competition and put him still further in
the forefront. His first contact with greatness in the bleak
street of Haworth had taught him that success is austere. Money
was cheap when business was bad. It could be had for a song,
provided one had the confidence that convinced others. When
Titus Salt died and [then his son] the great mill fell on evil
times. It was Sir James Roberts who took it on. He took it on,
first of all, as one of a syndicate. Later, as Napoleon shed his
consuls, so he shed the rest of his syndicate. The mantle of Sir
Titus Salt fell upon him. He wore it well. The mill prospered.
The days when Elizabeth Roberts, along with the other ladies of
the West Riding, could be reduced to a twitter of excitement by
the arrival of the beautiful Lady Warwick to open a bazaar were
past. Lady Warwick belonged to the Conservative camp, and the
mantle of Sir Titus Salt had fallen on James Roberts politically
as well as in other ways.
Lady Frederick Cavendish might be dead to Yorkshire and and the
link between Bolton Abbey and Milner Field might be broken, but
there were plenty of other Liberals who were only too anxious to
cultivate the owner of Saltaire and Milner Field. To those of
them who looked upon Nonconformity as an important plank of
Liberalism, it was pleasing knowledge that James and Elizabeth
Foster had been born Baptists. To those of them who, like
William Ewart Gladstone and the Duke of Devonshire, were
churchmen, it was equally pleasing that the new lord of Saltaire
did not attend the 'heathen temple' in which his work people
worshipped. To the men from Göttingen too, imbued with
philosophic scepticism and scientific nebulism, it was
satisfactory that the religious activities of James and
Elizabeth Roberts did not extend beyond attendance at
christenings, weddings and funerals.
What I, fresh from my tent and the untamed South African veldt,
thought of Milner Field I cannot imagine. Not one twig broke the
neatly rounded contour of the hawthorn hedge on either side of
the mile-long drive. Not one weed marred the vast expanse of
gravel in the great courtyard in front of the house. And the
pots of musk of Brass Castle days had now reached the height of
their efflorescence in an enormous winter garden where life-size
statuary of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, set on marble
pedestals, nestled shyly or flaunted their physical perfection
flamboyantly beneath spreading palms and other tropical verdure.
There was a Louis Quinze drawing-room which was like nothing so
much as the interior of the Albert Memorial would have been like
if the Albert Memorial had had a furnished interior. The library
itself was all velvet with bobbly tassels, and in the cupboards
beneath the bookshelves my grandmother kept boxes of sweets and
biscuits, and, of course, her knitting, for the steel needles
Mullioned, casemented windows looked out on smooth expanses of
velvety lawns, grey balustrading, and cypress-dark topiary.
There was indeed nothing radical about Milner Field. The cows
and the hens on the home farm had pedigrees. The dogs were all
gun dogs. The lake was stocked with trout.
It was Victorian Gothic, however, and progress had its place.
Beside the Queen's bathroom, where royalty had washed its hands
after planting a tree in the garden, there was a pianola in the
library. There was not only a huge organ in the hall, there was
a telephone too. And the coachman who had taught my mother to
drive a pair of spirited horses down the main street of Bradford
had given way to a younger man who had discarded his tall
coachman's hat, while retaining his breeches and leggings, in
order to drive something which was called 'the motor'.
Of all this splendour I had only a brief glimpse, for we soon
returned to South Africa. A practice at Zaastren, on the borders
of Basutoland, was bought from Haden Guest and we went to live
there. There were many black babies to be vaccinated. There were
inquests, for South Africa was still primitive and death often
violent. My father and mother would travel miles and miles by
capecart, or else on horseback. Often I went with them. Once I
fell out of the capecart going over a big bump. I can remember
it quite well. I was so afraid I was going to be left behind
that I did not stop to find out if I was hurt. I picked myself
up and ran and ran.
Native labour and the rubble of South African veldt provided my
parents with an excellent court, and they would play lawn tennis
by the hour together. There was plenty of amusement for me in
the sight of white balls whizzing to and fro.
We kept a couple of race-horses, and pigs. We grew peaches and
crops of mealies. One day a pig died and I was confronted with
the solemn question: 'What is death?' My two playmates were the
daughters of a Boer judge. My mother was horrified, one day, to
find them eating the grapes off the vine that grew up our stoep.
'It's stealing', was a protest of mine which they had not
understood at all. My mother was confirmed in her belief that
she did not like South Africa. A sister [Kathleen] had been
born. A brother was on the way. riding and lawn tennis would
soon be out of the question again.
I stood on a station platform, one dark night, and stared up at
a huge black engine. Why was I up so late? I did not know.
The plan was that my father was to continue his medical studies.
No doubt Milner Field had something to do with the idea that
science was the great thing. It is impossible to live in a
liberal atmosphere without realizing that science is almost as
important as great wealth.
So it was in the grey university town of Edinburgh that my first
brother [Leo] was born. From there we went to London, where the
taxicabs were red; and from there to Germany, where the butcher
gave me little bits of sausage, and the draper gave me brightly
illustrated little books of German fairy tales, all advertising
the draper's shop; and from there to Edinburgh again, where the
pram was wont to roll down steep hills if a careless nursemaid
left it outside a shop.
There were Christmases at Milner Field, not only for us but for
all the other grandchildren. We were always undressed in the
train, and dressed again in clean clothes, a few minutes before
we arrived. Standing on the cushioned seat of the railway
carriage in my knickers - particularly if there was a strange
man in the carriage - I used to feel terribly embarrassed-
There was always babel in the nursery, whither the Victorian
furniture had been banished, and the portraits of the uncles in
their velvet tunics and lace collars, to make way for Louis
Quinze and Heppelwhite. The other grandchildren were much richer
than we were, and we felt it a bit. They had stiff and starchy
nannies and under-nurses, and were altogether much more
'conventional'. But it was a great moment when our mother swept
into the nursery. The nannies had to give up squabbling to get
everything for their charges then. My mother bathing the baby,
must have the fireside. She was, after all, the only lady in the
room. She was James Roberts's daughter, playing with her live
dolls! Who could claim a better right to the nursery?
The Christmas tree at Miloner Field was in the Winter Garden.
When you got bored with the bright lights on the tree, you could
wander round among the palm trees and stare up at the sightless
eyes of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, and lay a hot
little hand on the cold perfection of their marble feet, and so
catch, for a moment, the chilly remoteness of Olympus. It was so
different from the Gemütlichkeit
of the Christmas tree, which was just like the little bits of
sausage in Germany and the vulgarly illustrated fairy tales.
In due course my grandfatehr would come in dressed up as Father
Christmas, and if you were sufficiently daring to cry out, 'But
you're not Father Christmas - you're Grandpa!' you would get a
look which somehow reminded you of the chilly remoteness of
Olympus, and you would be more sure than ever that it was
Grandpa and not Father Christmas.
At the gates of Milner Field was Saltaire, and Saltaire
continued into Shipley and Shipley ran on, by means of trams,
into Bradford; and north of Milner Field was Baildon where the
moor began, stretching to Ilkley. After Christmas was over, the
sirens would go again and out of the little slate-roofed houses
with their lean-top back sculleries and their doors opening
straight on to the narrow pavement, the women would pour into
the cobbled streets, shawls on their heads, clogs on their feet,
clatter, clatter down the street to the mill. It was always
called 'The Mill'. When the siren went, it was as though it had
roared, like a hungry beast waiting to be fed with human life.
The life poured into it. It purred all day, and scrunched its
teeth and belched out smoke.
Fee, fi, fo, fum
grind his bones
As soon as it was dark, the windows of the mill would light up.
There were hundreds of them. I thought it looked like Aladdin's
palace. I expected it, at any moment, to take to the air and
float off, over Ilkley Moor. But it was the jungle beast turning
on its headlights after dark. Soon the mill girls would come
out. There would be couples on Baildon Moor, kissing in the
dark, and raucous squeals. It is not for nothing that mill girls
have the sense of humour that makes their fortune on the variety
stage. It is the same sense of humour that created 'Old Bill',
and the song that goes, 'Oh, oh, it's a lovely war!' The same
sense of humour that created soldiers for Napoleon like Flambeau
in L'Aiglon. Perhaps
some day what is going on in Russia will create the same sort of
thing, and then my grandfather will have been proved to be
right. Perhaps he has always been right and that is why the
Russians are as they are.
War-Time and Boarding School
There were, of course, many things on which one could not spend
money. Our own motor slept under a dust sheet. Our chauffeur had
gone to the wars. News reached us later that he had become Lord
Allenby's chauffeur, and we wondered whether Lord Allenby had
made him shave off his beautiful little waxed moustache which a
chauffeur had really no right to wear. The lack of a car had
necessitated the shutting up of our house in the country and the
taking of a flat in London. Strathallan was a hospital for the
wounded. Harden Grange was full of Belgian refugees. With the
profits from the mill, James Roberts was buying War Loan.
James Roberts not only bought War Loan - he gave one hundred
thousand pounds for the establishment of a Chair of Russian at
Leeds University. Such a gift could not fail to encourage
commercial relations between Russia and England that would be
useful in time time of peace as in time of war.
I was astonished at the sight of my grandmother getting on to
buses in the sable cape and the velvet hat trimmed with ostrich
feathers which I was used to seeing inside the 'motor'. She had
come to London with my grandfather because my uncle had joined
the great army of wounded lying in London hospitals.
Once again I listened to my grandfather talk about Russia. The
alpaca [angora] from which Saltaire made cloth, still roamed the
steppes, and my grandfather was sanguine. Animals, vegetables
and minerals would survive the slaughter, and the future of
Russia lay in her mineral wealth, her wheat and the alpaca. I am
afraid I did not take in much of what he said, although he said
it at length. I was too entranced by the fervent enthusiasm with
which he spoke.
. . .
The Czar had been put to death. The rebel Irish were shooting
from the houses in Fitzwilliam Place. The Kenilworth Castle, in which
I had sailed from South Africa to England, had been sunk. The
old German professor who had told me that he did not think there
would be a war had probably lost all his sons, for they were of
military age. Aladdin's Palace, too, had taken to the air at
last and floated off. My grandfather was ill. Saltaire had been
sold, and Milner Field too.
More than Oxford
New friendships involved a greater variety of holidays, and one
Easter, breaking a journey, I found myself in Shipley, which
adjoins the great city of Bradford. It was really
the first time I had seen an industrial town, for I was almost a
complete stranger to Birmingham, whose suburbs come within a
dozen miles of Warwick. The ceaseless procession of noisy trams,
the clatter of clogs, the uniform simplicity of shawls which the
women wore over their heads fascinated me. Here was none of the
studied distinction between townsmen and gownsmen. Here was none
of that complicated social mosaic which makes Warwick a feudal
tribe engaged upon its own traibal feuds. One man was as good as
another woman. But I had reckoned without the spirit of Milner
Within a mile of the house of my hostess was the model town of
Saltaire. A cobbled street ran down the hill. There were at
least two imposing Nonconformist chapels. There was a gigantic
mill. There was an array of lions; replicas, I decided, of
Landseer's lions in Trafalgar Square. And at the bottom of
the cobbled street were gates which led to Milner Field, a vast
Victorian mansion. Here lived Sir James Roberts, the son of a
farmer whose staunch Nonconformity must have been of the minor
trials in the life of Patrick Brontė, Rector of Haworth.
I learned that evening four different versions of how Sir James
Roberts made his money. The people were proud of him. Did I not
actually see a large photograph of the workpeople of Saltaire
presenting a gold casket to Sir James and Lady Roberts? On the
platform sat the elderly couple and members of their family.
Below them were rows upon rows of women with shawls upon their
heads, gazing at the golden offering. I do not doubt that they
gave willingly for James Roberts had himself worn clogs, and the
dignity of Milner Field had to be maintained. I saw in my mind's
eye a hard-headed but not inhumane magnate regarding from his
library windows his own mills and his own model town, master of
all he surveyed. But I had reckoned without the follies of
ambition, for Milner Field was no longer his only home. Even
before the war Scottish homes were changing hands, the Drummonds
were compelled to part with Strathallan Castle, which went to
James Roberts, so the people of Shipley told, for the sum of one
hundred and fifty thousand pounds.
The workman and magnate of Saltaire quitted his own community.
In Milner Field he was king; king by right of conquest. Beyond
the border he was a newcomer, buying with Saltaire money the
things which good and honest Saltaire money could not buy. Sir
James Roberts, first baronet, of Milner Field, of Strathallan
Castle, and I know not how many thousands of untilled Scottish
acres, did not impress me. But the master of Saltaire impressed
The Terrible Twenties
Saltaire had not done well since my grandfather sold it, and the
oak panelling at Milner Field had all been painted white, which
was a pity.
. . .
It was the time of the 1923 election when Baldwin was asking the
country to vote for Protection on a conservative ticket. The
country-house atmosphere had had its effect and I was a
Protectionist. I aired my views in my uncle's drawing-room. My
grandmother happened to be there at the time, for my grandfather
had bought a house in London to replace Milner Field, but
although they had forsaken Saltaire it was more than my
grandmother could bear to hear me singing the praises of
Protection. Instead of the usual comfortable 'Well, I don't
know,' with which she dismissed most controversial subjects, I
suddenly found myself routed entirely by the most able discourse
on the iniquity of Protection.
Once I sought the Rectory in Coxwold, where Laurence Strerne
wrote a large portion of Tristram
Shandy. A sturdy farmer astride a cart-horse expressed
mild surprise that I should concern myself with the doings of a
parson who lived in Coxwold more than a hundred years before his
time. Again I provoked bewilderment when I went to Bardsey in
search of legends about William Congreve. Sterne and Congreve
mean little to Yorkshiremen, yet there is scarcely a reading man
in Leeds or Bradford who does not know most of the biographical
details about the Brontės. Every character in Wuthering Heights and in Jane Eyre, even in Villette, can come
familiarly into conversation at the tavern and into talks at the
Rotary Club. there was jubilation when Sir James Roberts, in
gratitude to Charlotte Brontė whom he knew when he was an
impoverished lad in Haworth, purchased Haworth Parsonage and
presented it to the nation. Neither Coxwold nor Bardsey will
ever become a place of pilgrimage.
But the townsmen who dwell within reach of the moors recognize a
kindred spirit in Emily Brontė; a spirit passionate, turbulent,
elemental; a spirit of fire and grey clouds, rapids and blinding
storm; energy consuming and unrefined. The College of Heralds
has a happy knack of tracing the descent of ostentatious
manufacturers in the West Riding from Welsh chieftains. The
invading Angles, Saxons and Danes seem to have left the moorland
habitations alone. The blood of the moorland people is
comparatively unmixed. They love the moors and make no attempt
to bring their cities into harmony with them.
James and Elizabeth Roberts were immutable. They had not cared
for London - James and Elizabeth Roberts never hated things,
they merely 'did not care' for them - and so they had bought a
place in Sussex, and Fairlight Hall, like Milner Field, was
When I went to stay with them on my return from Paris, I found
that James Roberts, who still believed in progress, had had vita
glass put in the window frames of the library, where they always
sat, and that there was a successor to the pianola of Milner
Field days in the shape of a wireless.
It was now many years since they had left Yorkshire, but, like
Lady Frederick Cavendish, James Roberts had returned there to
receive an honorary LL.D. from Leeds University, a token of
gratitude for the endowment of a Chair of Russian. The LL.D. had
been conferred at the same time as one upon a Yorkshireman of a
different, and yet similar type, Philip Snowden, and I listened
while I was at Fairlight, to James Roberts's views on Snowden,
then Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were sympathetic views.
I listened, too, to his views on the letters he constantly
received from American ladies who were, like himself, proclaimed
admirers of the Brontes, for James Roberts had not only paid his
debt to Russia: had also paid it to Charlotte Brontē, with whom
he had made his very first contact with greatness in the bleak
street of Haworth. He had bought Haworth Parsonage and presented
it to the nation as a Brontē Museum.
Shortly after he had bought the parsonage, I sent him a
clipping of a review I had written of Ernest Dimnet's book on
the Brontēs. James Roberts, sturdy Nonconformist in spite of
buying a Church of England parsonage, had not altogether
approved of my review. How, he inquired, could a Roman Catholic
like the Abbé Dimnet write the truth about the Brontēs?
There were other things I said of which James Roberts did not
approve. One morning, while I was staying there, I said at
breakfast that I loved radishes. It provided a reprimand from
the man who never said he did not like things - merely that he
did not 'care' for them.
And yet, as my grandmother had walked slowly round the garden
with me, she had told me that it was she who had insisted that
the mill must be sold, and I knew that if she had insisted it
was because she feared that an excitable and impetuous
temperament might not last long if it continued to endure great
responsibility, and she wanted at all costs to enjoy long years
of the companionship of the man who had wooed her with ardour so
many years ago.
So I sat on my Heppelwhite chair, upholstered in scarlet
leather, and ate my radishes in silence, and it was only when
the chauffeur in polished leggings drove me to the station that
I permitted myself at last, after days of abstinence, to smoke a
Worlds Old and New
In Montreal I called on an English family for tea. There I
met a most delightful old lady with whom I talked a great deal.
On the sofa lounged a young girl, who must have been annoyed by
the attentions which I could not help giving to the old lady.
The young girl was, I gathered in the course of conversation, a
grand-daughter of James Roberts, whose wealth and local fame
amazed me when I first travelled to Yorkshire. Her Yorkshire
would not be mine, and I changed the subject to India. The young
girl took no further part in the talk. It was a pity; but
obviously she was too attractive to be intelligent. I had the
delightful old lady to support.
Return to the Past
I had left England for Canada in 1925. It did not take me long
to discover that no place had been kept for me in the England of
'Soon' wailed Elizabeth Roberts, as she tended the spirit lamp
under the silver coffee pot so that not one drop of coffee
should spill on the lace-edged tray cloth, or a Crown Derby
saucer - 'soon we shall be living in a tent.' Perhaps to
Elizabeth Roberts, who had been brought up in a house with walls
ten-feet thick, and who had lived in Sir Titus Salt's unradical
home, and then in the home of the Earls of Perth, and finally at
Fairlight Hall, a tent was reality - but I had been born in a
tent and I had always thought that that was the most romantic
thing that had happened to me.
The cottage, when I found it, proved to be only a few mile from
Fairlight Hall in actual fact, but to all intents and purposes
it might have been on another planet, for Fairlight Hall took no
notice of me, and I, in my fury at the existing order of things,
was equally determined to have no traffic with Victorian Gothic
and all it stood for. About my cottage there was to be nothing
which did not precede the curved leg of Queen Anne's day. It was
the curved leg of Queen Anne, I felt, which had led eventually,
through the eighteenth-century dislike of scenery and attendant
modifications of nature, to the draped piano leg of Queen
Victoria and to all the other camouflages which had culminated
with Elizabeth Roberts, in such amazing redundancies as pillow
shams, which are used for protecting pillow cases from the
possible speck of dust in an immaculately clean house which
pillow-cases were originally intended to protect pillows from,
although they have long since ceased to do this because there is
always an under pillow-case as well.
The brick-paved floor of the sitting room was so worn that it
would not take furniture that was not made like sidehill
gougers, so I bought a thousand bricks from the Ashburrnham
brickyard and a load of sand, and I laid a new floor myself with
the help of an imprisoned bubble which sat up and leered at me
whenever I exceeded the just level. The village was as shocked
at the sight of me, carrying an armful of bricks into the
cottage, as Elizabeth Roberts would doubtless have been if the
chauffeur in the polished leggings had chanced to drive her by,
and sometimes I ground my teeth and said to myself, 'From clogs
to clogs, three generations,' for I knew I was retrogressing and
that it was the tradition of Haworth and the Brass Castle that
was driving me on and the farm in Dumfriesshire from which my
paternal great-grandfather had set out to throw a carpet bag on
the stagecoach and then walk himself to Edinburgh in order to
become a medical man. But was it not better to retrogress and
see if from that starting-point something better could not be
found than pillow shams and Victorian Gothic?
Strathallan, it was true, held a Veronese that was a Renaissance
Cardinal's, and almost my idea of heaven, but Strathallan now
belonged to a cousin whom I never saw, for James Roberts had
arranged for it to pass to his heir during his lifetime, and the
man who would to-day be his owner, if people were not always
retrogressing, was in Geneva struggling with the hopeless task
of trying to stave off the Dark Ages.
I Settle Down
Elizabeth Roberts died while I was in Vienna. I felt as though
someone had come along and cut off a piece of my life in order
to put it into a coffin and bury it away out of my sight, for
Elizabeth as long as she lived, had worked at the creation of
something which had only been achieved by doing over and over
again, day after day, the thousand and one little services and
ministrations and cogitations and comings and goings, and
bestowing of gifts and reproofs and advice which are the sum
total of what a woman of family has to do if that family is to
be a living entity.
Now the comings and goings were at an end. Linen could go
unmended, flowers would droop, furniture and silver lose their
lustre. Elizabeth's home, like Aladdin's Palace, had floated off
and vanished into thin air, leaving only a lonely and broken old
man spilling the coffee and trying to move the ornaments about,
as she would have done.
Once I had thought it better to lie on a sofa and read books
than to cook a good meal. Now I know that that was only a
reaction against Victorian England which, in the full tide of
its prosperity, had forsaken its churches and its chapels, its
poets and its philosophers for pianolas and motors and
wirelesses, and at last for vita glass which may or may not
prolong a life among silver tea things, Crown Derby china and
The vita glass notwithstanding, James Roberts died a few months
after his wife. As though the thought of fending for himself in
another year were too much to contemplate, he died on the eve of
the New Year.
A few weeks later I married Glorney. The millionaire's
grand-daughter had disappeared for ever. In fact, it appeared
that the millions, like Aladdin's Palace and Elizabeth's home,
had vanished into thin air.
Among my treasured possessions, however, are a few sheets and
pillow-cases and traycloths which were given to me because they
are too fragile to be of much use. They are trimmed with the
lace made by my grandmother and my great-grandmother, and some
of the traycloths have my mother's drawn-thread work on them.
They are, in fact, a little family history in themselves.
At the end of my parents' book, I am born. They dedicated the
book to me, 'To Julia'. I came back to England in my fifties and
saw Fairlight, later Saltaire, visited Fairlight again when we
buried my Canadian aunt's ashes there by Sir James Roberts'
tomb, as she had desired, and finally this year, journeyed to
Strathallan Castle. Where sixty descendants came together and
where we spread out photographs of the beautiful Brass Castle,
of Sir James and Lady Roberts, of Sir James Denby Roberts, even
a wooden box filled with glass plates of Russian scenes. Also
there was the casket, no longer seeming of gold, and the College
of Heralds's handwritten parchment scroll awarding Sir James, as
first Baronet of Milner Field, his coat of arms.
A further visit was with the two families, the descendants of
both Sir Titus Salt and Sir James Roberts to Saltaire.
For family photographs see http://www.umilta.net/SirJamesRoberts.html
WEBSITE || OLIVELEAF WEBSITE
|| JULIAN OF NORWICH, TEXT AND
CONTEXTS, WEBSITE || BIRGITTA
OF SWEDEN, REVELATIONES, WEBSITE || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS, BOOKS
) || BOOK REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY || FLORIN WEBSITE ©1997-2017 JULIA BOLTON