Gordon Thompsonís Stories
Map of the Meadow at Redburn
drawn by Gordon Thompson
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Tommy Thompson (1886-1968) was the gamekeeper of Redburn House from before the start of the First World War, and he continued to look after Redburn House and the grounds long after the last of the Dunville family to live in the house, Mrs. John Dunville, had died in 1940. Tommy Thompson had two sons, the older of which, Gordon, was born at Redburn in 1919. He worked at Redburn as a gardener until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he joined the Royal Air Force. He remembers Redburn House and the people who lived and worked there.
The Thompsons' house was in the grounds of Redburn, some way up the hill from Redburn House. Over the door there was a stained glass window, which was a picture of two rabbits and crossed guns, to show that it was the home of the gamekeeper. Inside, the walls of the house were lined with antlers on wooden shields. Mr. Bobby Dunville (Robert Lambart Dunville, 1893-1931) was fond of hunting and had so many trophies that he gave quite a few of them to Tommy Thompson. Some of the trophies were of stags that Bobby had hunted in the Scottish Highlands.
On one moonlit night Tommy Thompson was returning home after visiting his friend Andy Moore the gardener. As he passed the croquet ground, he saw a ghost fox seated in the centre of a ring of hares, as if it was lecturing them. Other people had seen the ghost fox on other occasions too.
John Dunville Dunville (1866-1929) was known as the Colonel. He always wore a monocle or, as it was known, 'a bally eye glass'. Gordon Thompson met the Colonel a few times. Once, when he was about ten, he was running up the back road up the hill. Colonel and Mrs. John Dunville were out walking. Mrs. Dunville said, 'If you call my husband "Colonel John Dunville", I'll give you half a crown.'
Gordon Thompson politely said, 'How do you do, Colonel Dunville?' and Mrs. Dunville gave him half a crown (12Ĺp). It was a lot of money in those days.
The Dunville family lived at Redburn House in the summer and at their house in Portland Place, London in the winter. When the family were away in the winter, the staff was left to run the estate. William Thorpe, the butler, looked after the house and Tommy Thompson looked after the grounds. Every week a hamper of vegetables, fruit and game was packed up and sent to the family in London. Tommy Thompson would shoot a snipe, or a woodcock, or rabbits or suchlike to add to the hamper.
Once when the family returned from London, they brought with them a high-class servant whom they had met, called Gordon Price. He was a terrific gentleman, well dressed and well spoken. Everybody liked him, from the lowest estate worker to the highest. After he had worked at Redburn for some time, the family decided to sell one of their cars, an Isotta-Fraschini. Gordon Price was to take it to London and sell it. He took it to London and was never heard of again. It transpired that he was a gentleman crook. He sold the car and disappeared with the proceeds. But everybody had liked him; he was such a gentleman.
There was an old governess called Mrs. Gunnell who lived at Redburn. She had looked after Bobby and the other children, and when they had grown up, she was kept on more or less as one of the family. She was a very gracious old lady, just like Queen Mary. She wore a long velvet coat down to her ankles, typical of that worn by an elderly Edwardian lady, and she carried a cane with a silver knob on it. The family were very good to her. She stayed at Redburn until she died.
From time to time there were balloon chases. A balloon made with strong paper and filled with hot air would be launched from near Redburn House. Everybody would set off by car and chase the balloon across the country, trying to be the first to meet the balloon when it landed.
Many of the famous drivers would take part in the Ulster Tourist Trophy Road Race: Sir Henry Birkin in his Bentley, the German Rudolf Caracciola in his Mercedes, the three Italians Tazio Nuvalori, Giuseppe Campari and Baconin Borzacchini in their Alfa Romeos, Kaye Don in his Lea-Francis, and Earl Howe.
The Dunville family and the staff would go to the race, the family in one car and the staff in the Ford van driven by Paddy Kelly, one of the chauffeurs. After one of the races, Bobby said that they would race back to Redburn. He said that he would give the van a head start. Before long the staff saw the silver bonnet of the Delage following them, coming closer and closer. By the front gates of Redburn House, Bobby was right on their tail. Up the drive he started sounded his horn. Paddy Kelly pulled over to let Bobby pass. Bobby just beat the staff to the house.
About six of the top staff would go with the family to watch the greyhound racing at Celtic Park. On one occasion Bobby was driving the van home after he and the staff had been to Celtic Park. Bobby had very big feet and took size eleven shoes. As the van came in through the stable yard gates, his foot jammed. They went racing round and round the yard at speed. In the end the only way they could stop was to drive into a door. Nobody was hurt.
The Dunville family had stables at Merton and the groom Sam Farrer lived there. One of the Dunvilles' best horses was called Irish Deer.
The family also had a boat called by the same name as their gas balloons, 'The Banshee'. It was kept at the dock. When the family were planning to go out in the boat, word would go round to the staff, the groom, the gardener, the farmer and the others, to assemble at a certain time. They would dress in sailing jerseys, white canvas shoes, and caps with white covers. On the boat, Paddy Kelly looked after the engine and Tommy Thompson steered. They all went fishing, catching plaice and other sorts of fish. The family and the staff lived on fresh fish for a few days afterwards.
There was a badger sett in a wood called the Smoothing Iron, up on the hill. On some evenings, after dark, Bobby would knock on Tommy Thompson's door and invite him to join him on a badger hunt. Dogs would be collected from the kennels and they would be sent down the holes. (Badgers are now a protected species in the U.K. and badger hunting is now illegal.)
William Gustavus Dunville (1900-1956) was something of a wild card and liked a drink. The family sent him to Canada. He received an allowance, but otherwise the family had no contact with him. The only contact he had was with Tommy Thompson. He wrote every Christmas, just for news.
One remaining descendant of the Dunville family visited William Dunville in Canada. William was not at home but after some time a taxi drove up. William climbed out, having apparently had one drink too many, and asked his visitor to pay for the taxi.
Mrs. John Dunville (1861-1940) was a very kind person. She wore strong perfume and you could smell her coming. When you were in the garden you knew if she was about; you could smell her expensive perfume. If she shook hands with you, you would have the smell of her perfume on your hands. She had a beauty spot, one of those black spots that were fashionable in earlier times, and she smoked Vizier cigarettes. They were flat instead of the usual circular shape, terribly expensive and had a strong Turkish aroma.
Some time in the late twenties, Gordon Thompson's mother became very ill with pneumonia. Mrs. John visited her many times, climbing the steep hill to their house. She sent nourishing titbits from the Redburn kitchen, and a large easy chair in which to convalesce. She always called her 'Mrs. Tommy'.
At Christmas the estate children were invited to a party in the servants' hall. They were given a slap-up meal and each went home with a present.
When Bobby had died, and Mrs. John Dunville was the only member of the family remaining at Redburn, she liked to walk round the garden in the evenings. Although she was elderly, she did not want to be seen with a crutch, and so she asked her chauffeur to make a broom for her. It had a red, white and blue handle, and Mrs. John Dunville would hobble through the garden with this red, white and blue broom.
She would go for afternoon drives. Stanley Baldwin, the chauffeur, would drive her in an old-fashioned Rolls-Royce, with a yellow body and a black hood. On their way back, Stanley Baldwin would hoot the horn so that the staff would be prepared to receive her.
When the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers were stationed at the Palace Barracks in Holywood, their fine pipe band came to Redburn on Mrs. John's birthday (14th of August). They marched over the croquet ground while they played for her.
Staff of Redburn House
William Thorpe, Butler