See also Sir James Roberts, Family Album I




Sybil Margaret and John Robert Glorney Bolton, 1937. The frontispiece to their book, Two Lives Converge, which they dedicated 'To Julia'

Sybil Bolton
Chapter 1

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 purpose.

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 this'.

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 learning.

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 battle.

'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 grandmother.

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 many.

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 greediness.

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 grapes.

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.

Chapter II

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 the door'.

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, size three.

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 chapel.

[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 still clicked.

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
I smell the blood
Of an Englishman
I'll grind his bones
To make my bread.

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.
Chapter IV

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. 

Glorney Bolton
Chapter V
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 Field.

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 me deeply.

Chapter VI

Sybil Bolton

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.

Chapter VI

Glorney Bolton

Yorkshire Tyke

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.

Chapter VIII

Sybil Bolton


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 Victorian Gothic.

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 cigarette.

Chapter IX

Glorney Bolton

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.

Chapter X

Sybil Bolton

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 1932.

'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.

Sybil Bolton

Chapter XI

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 polished furniture.

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 and