Interview by Margaret Cooper in 2000 for the “Oxton Now & Then” publication.
Mrs. Juliet Mortensen, Church Farmhouse, Oxton, widow and owner of Oxton Estate.
Commander Axel and Juliet Mortensen, Church Farmhouse 1978
“[Among my first memories, I recall] about 1937/38, just before the War, when I would have been about eight or nine. I can remember baker Martin, who used to drive round with a little black pony and trap selling bread. I remember that he had one of those khaki coats that olden day farmers used to wear and he had a round red face. Mr & Mrs Severn [were] the butchers. He had a little abattoir out the back and a little paddock and he used to kill his own beasts. My younger sister used to be taken when needing to be weighed, and put on the big brass scoopy scales in the butchers shop, but she simply hated it and shrieked and jumped about so we’d never get the right weight, because she wouldn’t sit still. I can’t think why my grandmother didn’t have scales, but she appeared not to have. I can’t remember what happened about milk, we had house cows. Mrs Berridge ran the village shop in those days, just on the corner of Blind Lane “.
“We had a car, it was a large square box-like object in dark red with a black leather top. My grandfather used to go into Nottingham in it occasionally, and he used to come back in a taxi, whereupon the chauffeur, Pay, says ‘now Captain, what have you done with the car?’ ‘Bloody fool it’s in the garage’, he says. ‘No, no Sir it isn’t, you took it into Nottingham this morning’. Lo and behold five minutes later the Police brought it back. Every time they found it in Nottingham, they brought it home again”.
“We had lots of horses and hunters in the stables and I had a pony at one stage. My grandfather bought me a pony, which turned out to be an ex- circus pony and if you said a particular word, which we didn’t know what that was, it proceeded to lie down and nothing could induce it to get up again, so it had to go. Shrieks of laughter from my father and my grandfather on their huge hunters, I could have killed them. [My grandfather] was a great huntsman, and one day over by Ploughman’s Cross he jumped over a hedge into a road and the horse came down and he broke his back, that was the end of him. He lived for a year before he died in bed, he never got up again, which was very sad. I can remember my father riding in the point-to-point [one] year, a beautiful black stallion called Archangel. [The Prince of Wales] used to come bringing all his lady friends [but] that was in my grandparent’s time, not my father’s”.
All [of the Estate was tenanted] in those days, because my grandfather was away in the Navy and then he retired, but he didn’t know anything about farming. Then my father came along [but] he didn’t start farming until after the war, in about 1953 I suppose”.
“There were twenty six [tenant farmers] when I first came here, now there are two. Grange Farm was farmed by Arthur Singleton whose daughter still lives in Farnsfield. It was all sort of scrub, heathery scrub in those days apparently, and Singleton devised the method of putting sheep on it and getting the scrub down and he was the first one in England to do it, apparently. [There] was a great deal of the scrub about the country in those days and he was thought to be a very special fellow for working that one out”.
“I was born in London [and my childhood was spent] whizzing round the world after my father and a lot of the time with my maternal grandmother in Sussex, because my mother, in the way of mothers, thought her mother was better to look after her children if they’d gone abroad. They went to Alexandria and that wasn’t thought to be a suitable place for young children and Nanny would have had a heart attack with the heat and the dust, so we were left with the grannies. In the war I went to Australia with my sister and Nanny from ’39 to ’45 I think it was.
“[After the War] my father was commanding an Air Station at Arbroath. We came into Liverpool and went straight up there. We had to be given hundreds and hundreds of extra clothing coupons because we only had Australian type thin clothes and there was the winter. We hadn’t got a coat, we hadn’t got a thick jersey, so they were quite good the powers that be”.
“My father had a good trick, nobody flew anywhere in those days, so when he had to come down to the Admiralty to see somebody or other, it used to be by train. He’d had half his face blown off in the war and he had a glass eye. Lots of little local children used that train to get to school. So there were always children in the carriage. Father, half way across the [Forth] Bridge, used to stand up and open the window and take out his eye and throw it out. The children thought it was electrifying.”
“We lived in Paris [when we were first married] then we lived in Malta, then we lived somewhere else, [My husband] Axel was in the Admiralty and we lived in Hertfordshire. So we didn’t come back here until Emily was born and Emily must be, she was six months old when we came here, Oh then Axel did six months in Dorset on a farm trying to learn to be a farmer, translating himself from a naval officer to a farmer, which was a change of scene for the poor old thing. My father started farming about four hundred acres when he came out of the Navy, then after a year or two he was [summoned by the Bank], who said, ‘Admiral, we’re terribly sorry but we’re afraid you’re going to have to stop farming, you’re a disaster as a farmer’. That was the moment when Axel was persuaded that it would be a good idea if he became a farmer, which he duly did. As time passed various other farms came in as old boys gave up, and this [included] Church Farm [farmed by] a man called Meads who lived in Calverton. It was quite a good farm [but] in the end he got too old and retired, so we just took it all in as it came. We had a lot of cottages in those days because of the large number of men who worked on the various farms. [There was a] huge workforce and the rent [per cottage] was approximately twenty five pounds a year, as far as I remember. They still expected you to come and fix their roofs and broken windows and that. So in the end we sold them off more or less as they came in because it simply wasn’t worth it, which is probably a pity because now the house prices have gone zooming so it would have been better if we’d kept them, but there you are. It was what they called mixed farming in those days, but very different now. We gave up cattle about twenty five years ago I suppose when our stock foreman died and nobody else was interested in looking after animals then, so they had to go. Anyway there wasn’t any money in it, even then”.
“[It] was absolutely guaranteed that any girl and most of the boys who came out of the school, were automatically employed [in the Hall], if they wanted to be, [as] a still room maid or a dairymaid or a housemaid or whatever. And that seemed to work that funny old system. “My grandfather [was a very keen cricketer] and he’d been known to advertise for a footman and say ‘spin bowler preferred'”.
“[Garden Cottage] was the Head Gardeners house for the Hall. We had seven, eight gardeners in those days. All that area behind the garden house was proper garden, the walled garden was operating full speed and lots of greenhouses, which have now fallen down.[We had] a cook and a butler and a couple of footmen and some housemaids and parlour maids. You just did it in those days. There was a whole wing, which was the servants’ wing which was out beyond the kitchen”.
“[The Hall was demolished in] the fifties. Unfortunately my grandfather, had appointed my great uncle, Richard Franklin, who lived at the Manor in those days, to be the agent and he hadn’t the faintest idea of what he was doing. The Hall was let all these years and it was discovered when my father came back that the roof was about to fall in. As the price of land was about a shilling an acre in those days, we would have had to have sold practically all the estate just to put the roof back on and then have had nothing to upkeep the house with. I was very cross at the time [but] you didn’t say phoo to your father in those days. So down it came. There’s a stream [where the lake is] anyway because there are springs up the valley, I imagine they just widened it out and dug it out. Most largish houses had a lake in front of them, they thought it looked pretty”.
“[I have a picture] by Boultbee, who isn’t as good as Stubb’s, but not far off. It was done from the top of Oxton Hill, you can see the church in it. The horse on the right was called Napoleon and he was my great great grandfather’s dun charger at the Battle of Waterloo. In those days you were allowed to bring your horse back. [The Hundred Acre Field is planted with trees] in groups to represent the English units at the Battle of W aterloo”.
“After I came to live here [we had] skating always in the winter. We had decent winters in those days. I’ve still got all the ice hockey gear. It’s got to freeze day and night for at least four days, it’s got to be about a foot deep before it’s safe, and it used to happen when my children were small. We probably didn’t skate for more than three or four days, but we did [for] six weeks before the War. Sometime during the winter, I can remember seeing a couple of large dray horses led out from the farm [and] going down to the lake. They had those huge cross-cut saws in those days, and they used to chop out a big block of ice, put a chain round it, attach it to the two horses who dragged it up to the ice house where it was plonked into the pit, covered over with straw, and we had ice till June every year, no trouble. My grandmother used to swim in the lake, I can remember seeing her bathing suit draped over a sort of bird house in front of the Hall front door. Nobody in their right mind would do that now. All far too sissy, and I hated swimming”.
“[Elmcroft] was a compulsory purchase. [My father] didn’t like that one bit. Anyway, there we are. [The houses] have mellowed reasonably well”.
“My mother put [the memorial tablet to my father] up [in the Church] We had terrible trouble with the Church Authorities to get a faculty for that because she wanted to put that saying at the bottom, which was from Pushkin. The Church, they were furious, they didn’t want to know about it because it wasn’t out of the Bible. However, my mother was a very determined lady, she wasn’t having any of that nonsense, so in the end she wore them down and she did it. She lived in Holly Lodge till she moved to London when she got really old”.
“[Being High Sheriff] was great fun, I enjoyed that very much; I wouldn’t have liked to be Lord Lieutenant for anything, because I mean, you go on until you’re seventy five and it’s a killer, but this is only a year and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You just drop everything else for one year. [There are a] huge number of engagements and you sit with the Judges on the Bench which is quite fun, and a lot of church services and a lot of civic events. One had to go and visit all the Lord Mayors and all the Mayors all round the County. The Duke of Gloucester and Princess Alexandra came. The Queen didn’t come, sadly. If you’re High Sheriff, you can do practically anything you like, you just tell the Under Sheriff and he organises it. I went down a coal mine and I went round quite a lot of factories. Oh, I went up in a glider”.
“[The Sherbrookes were here in] 1510, we can prove [that] on paper and we know it’s another hundred back from that, but we are not quite sure we can prove it”.
“David Wilkins didn’t come here till [the early 1960s], because he was farming the farm round the farmhouse that we rented in Hertfordshire when my husband was working in the Admiralty for two years. [Fallows dairy] farm came in and we needed a tenant. I persuaded my father to let David come up because he was looking for a farm of his own, bigger than he had down there and he’s been here ever since”.
Prize giving: Juliet Mortensen with Ann Roe and Rosie Saunders as Painter and Decorator at The Memorial hall 1966