Knolton Hall

We did not stay long at Pen-y-Lan. The house was too damp and I had bronchitis most of the time. We then moved to a large old mill house, about a mile up a lane from Knolton Hall, and three or four miles out of Overton. I was three years old. The house we lived in was called “The Mill House” and had at one time been part of a monastery, with large cellars underneath. The river Dee ran alongside the two massive kitchen gardens complete with large Yew tree. The Knolton side of the Dee was in Wales and the other side in England. On the front of the house, we had the old mill wheel and mill race. My Father did not get home very often and it was a very isolated place, being a long way down a rutted lane from the main road.

My Mother had acquired the job of Head Laundress of eight laundry maids at Knolton Hall, the home of viscount Southwell our house going with the job.

The Southwell’s were Catholics and would have nobody working on the estate, who was not a Catholic.  Lord and Lady Southwell had five children, Robert the eldest, then Jack, Francis, Elizabeth and Joan the youngest.  Joan Southwell was about the same age as me and we used to play together a lot.  Their Uncle was the bishop of Minerva and as a boy Francis had aspirations to become the bishop one day.  The Southwells were very nice people and always looked after their staff. They had lots of staff. Joan was the nanny. They had a governess, a nursery maid, a butler, five footmen, a kitchen maid, cooks and of course several laundry maids of which my mother was head. They had a huge laundry off the yard of Knolton Hall. There was an enormous amount of laundry in a household of this size. All the linen was washed every day and the nightdresses, bonnets, aprons and such like, all had to be carefully pressed and goffered with goffering irons. This of course included all the servants’ laundry as well. The housemaids would have worn starched white frilled aprons and headdresses all fresh every day. Mother’s work kept her out till all hours and I well remember her pushing me home in the pushchair at midnight down that spooky old lane and the glow worms, glowing in the dark, along the banks. We kept pigs, cows, chickens and a dog. She used to let the pigs go down in the woods eating acorns. They were all called Sukie and she used to call to them, Sukie, Sukie, Sukie and they would all come running.  My mother had to get help with the milking, as she could not milk herself. She used to make her own butter. My father’s brother Harvey and his wife Hetty (Henrietta) and their sons Stanley and Bernard, Marion was not born then, lived in the lodge to Knolton Hall, at the other end of our lane, near the main road. Harvey used to milk for us sometimes. He also worked for Viscount Southwell, his Lordship, as we had to call him. The old mill was no longer in use for grinding corn, but used instead for making electricity for the hall, and Harvey’s job was to run the mill. It goes without saying of course, that we were not allowed the luxury of electricity in our house.  We had to use oil lamps and candles. I used to have great fun sliding down the shutes in the old mill, from the top floor to the bottom. It was very smooth and polished and I used to get covered in flour, the remains of which still hung about.

Knolton Hall had it’s own chapel  attached to the house, with it’s own priest, as did many country mansions in those days. This was so that the family could worship without having to go into the village and mix with all the common folk. All the servants were expected to go to church on a Sunday including me and one of my earliest memories was of the church that was always filled with beautifully scented arum lillies. The atmosphere, as you went into the church, was thick with their beautiful heady scent. They treated their servants well and always had a party for them at Christmas. Lady Southwell always gave me a beautiful doll for Christmas and they once gave me a smashing toy pedal car painted in green and gold, which their son had outgrown. The Southwell’s butler lived in a very poor wooden house on the estate and had lots of children.  They also had a beautiful Italian garden. They had sent their head gardener to San Remo in Italy to learn how to make one.

Mother used to have to walk about a mile to work each day pushing me in a pushchair. She was out long hours each day, so she had a maid to clean her own house.  Sometimes the old Farmer would be coming home late at night from the pub drunk and call out to her or throw stones up to the window, to get her to help him across the rickety narrow mill race bridge.

“Missus” he would shout “Come and help me over the bridge.”

She would perhaps have to get out of bed to help him across. She daren’t leave him to cross on his own in that state, in case he fell in.  It was a very lonely and isolated spot and in the dark it must have been a bit scary for her. Their was no water to the Mill, so Mother had to get all her water from a spring. My Grandfather, my father’s father, rigged up a makeshift viaduct to bring the water nearer to the house for her. He came to live with us for a time, while we were at Knolton mill, but my mother could not put up with him for long. He was never in for meals at the right time and was often drunk. She then passed him on to Harvey, his younger son, at the lodge at the end of the lane. He stayed with them until Harvey eventually got a job driving a road roller for Wrexham council and moved to Johnston near Wrexham. He was then passed on to his daughter Marion at Yellow Oak Farm, where he remained until he died some years later. He was a big man; about six foot three with a long white flowing beard. Unfortunately, he had a bad stroke and was bedridden for several years. As a young girl of about fourteen or fifteen, I cycled over from Welsh Frankton, where we were by then living, to Yellow Oak Farm to see him several times during the summer. It was much more difficult for mother to get there. Firstly she could not ride a bike and my sister Nellie was little. She went by train sometimes, a tedious journey. It was a two and a half mile walk to Frankton station, then she had to catch a train to Ellesmere, change trains to Wrexham and have someone meet her there with a pony and  trap.

When we visited Knolton in later years, the mill was in ruins but Knolton Hall itself was still occupied. The remains of an old Monastery mural, which I remembered from my childhood, could still be seen on a pointed outside gable end of the  Mill. It must have been an inside wall once, that part of the building having been previously demolished. When her husband died Vicountess Southall went to live in Newbury, Berkshire and used to call in and see my Mother when she was back in the area.

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