Bentworth Hall in the village of Bentworth, Hampshire, was built by Roger Staples Horman-Fisher when he bought this estate in 1832. A relative of his, Margaret Jane Horman-Fisher, married William Fry in Oystermouth, Swansea in 1877, and the couple went on to have children including a daughter, Elsie. Both William and Margaret suffered from ill health; he had tuberculosis, whilst she later developed multiple sclerosis (according to my mother, Mrs Fry was the first person to be diagnosed as having “disseminated sclerosis”, but I have no idea whether or not this is true). The family had an estate on Tenerife where they lived for the benefit of Mr Fry’s health (which may explain the sketches featured in a previous post). He died there and the family moved back to England, where a house was built for the now disabled Mrs Fry in the village of Churt near Farnham in Surrey. As she could not manage stairs, the house was intended to be a bungalow, but a small second storey was added almost as an afterhought. This house was named Derwen, possibly in honour of Llyn Derw in Wales where the Horman-Fisher family had lived. Elsie Fry inherited Derwen on her mother’s death, but struggled with the cost of running it. Her close friend and cousin Mabel Zoe Watson (“Auntie” to my family) came to the rescue, buying half a share of the house and moving in with Elsie. They lived there together until Elsie’s death in the 1950s, when Derwen and its contents became Mabel’s property outright.
Amongst those contents were many items which had been passed down through generations of the Horman-Fisher family, some of which had come from Bentworth Hall (which was sold by the family in 1848). When Mabel died in 1972, my mother inherited all of her effects. Our family home was full of antiques as a result: furniture, paintings, books, and documents. Some of these are now in my possession. Some were sold by my parents to help make ends meet when they both became pensioners. Two paintings from Derwen, which were originally from Bentworth Hall, stand out in my memory. One wall of the lounge was completely filled with a huge oil painting, about 6 feet by four foot six, of a group of aristocratic children doing archery, dogs at their feet. This was The Children of R.S. Horman-Fisher, painted at Bentworth Hall by F.J. Meyer. When Mum inherited this picture there was no wall in our house big enough to accommodate it, so it was hung on our stairs. The other memorable picture was an oil painting of Mr Horman-Fisher himself, a stern-looking gentleman in a wig holding a rolled-up copy of the Times, whose eyes followed you about the room. These paintings were sold, probably for a song, by my parents in the 1980s. However, I still have many other interesting bits and pieces from Bentworth Hall in the archives, including this small watercolour (above), and these charming paintings of members of the Eaton family.
Both sisters in the picture on the left married Horman-Fishers; the formidable-looking lady on the right is their grandmother, Margaret Eaton of Worcester.
A few years ago I Googled Bentworth Hall to see what I could find out, and what I found was that the Star Inn pub in the village of Bentworth hosts a blues festival every summer, Bentworth Blues. Being a lifelong fan of blues music, and recognising most of the names on the bill from the London pub circuit, I called up some old friends and we decided to go. We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in a converted barn nearby, but my first enquiry about accommodation had been to the Lodge at Bentworth Hall, which was advertised as a B & B. I thought this would be a nice connection with my family’s past. It turned out that the owners no longer ran a bed and breakfast, but when I mentioned my historical connection with the Hall they kindly offered to arrange a visit for me to see the Hall and meet the current owners. I took along some of these pictures and had a wonderful experience seeing Bentworth Hall, which I had heard so much about, for the first time. The owners were charming company, serving us tea in the beautiful sitting room and showing us around the hall and grounds, which look quite different today after many alterations and additions over the years. They seemed delighted to see these pictures, and to hear my family stories of the Horman-Fishers who had built their home.
More items from the Horman-Fishers of Bentworth Hall to follow in future posts!