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Social Life at the Manor in the 1920s and 30s

The political world was represented by Neville Chamberlain, who early in his political life was a competent and respected Member of Parliament. He had a keen interest in fishing and botany and became Postmaster General in 1922, shortly after his visit to the Manor. John Buchan himself was an ardent fisherman and Susan Buchan spent many a long hour sitting alongside her husband waiting for fish to bite.

Sir Stafford Cripps, is something of a surprise visitor but demonstrates that Buchan, in spite of being a Conservative, made friends across the political spectrum. In his younger days, Stafford Cripps was to the far left of the political spectrum, though not a Communist. A visit by Stanley Baldwin, being a Conservative, is more easily understood. He was a rising star of the party in the early 1920s, made a member of the Privy Council in 1920 and becoming President of the Board of Trade in 1921 and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1922.

A final visitor of note who came to the Manor in 1935, just before the Buchans, now Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir, departed for Canada, was Virginia Woolf who paid a fleeting visit. Susan Buchan had first been introduced to Virginia Woolf when they were both girls. Taken along by her parents to the home of Leslie Stephens, Virginia’s father, Susan Grosvenor as she then was, was intimidated by the silence of Virginia and her sister Vanessa and confessed that later she found Virginia’s books difficult to read. She did however very much enjoy reading The Common Reader, which she admits to re-reading innumerable times. She seems to have been overawed by Virginia’s air of aloof intellectualism, and only by a determined effort did she bring herself to approach Virginia much later following an address John Buchan gave at the Hawthornden prize-giving when Vita Sackville West had won the prize for her poem The Land. Both Susan Buchan and Virginia Woolf looked at one another from a distance but did not speak "We were too shy to speak. She looked beautiful but aloof and rather frightening" Susan Buchan wrote. Having arrived home, Susan Buchan’s good sense prevailed and she wrote to Virginia and was invited to visit for tea, where a pet monkey seemed to resent her presence and Virginia toasted scones on the gas fire in the rather dusty room. Susan Buchan was wary at first of Virginia Woolf’s intellectual achievements but their mutual shyness soon evaporated as they reminisced about the past. "Talking to Virginia was a pure, if alarming, delight" wrote Mrs Buchan.

All this involvement with the world of politics and literature must have taken up a huge amount of the Buchans’ time and energy, and William Buchan records that they felt they knew the servants better than their parents. The Buchan boys were summoned from the woods for their meals by a police whistle blown from the nursery window and were initiated into the secrets of woodcraft by the gamekeeper, Jack Allam.

When the house was full, with all the bedrooms bursting with important visitors, Alastair and William would move out and lodge with Miss Parsons across the road at Home Farm, the old-fashioned, draughty house she rented from Christ Church. The chauffeurs of the important visitors were accommodated above the stables in the Manor Yard. John Buchan never learned to drive but bought an Overland car to begin with for his chauffeur Amos Webb to drive, then went from that to a Dodge, finishing up with a succession of Wolseleys. William was often car-sick. This was not helped by the Turkish cigarettes his father smoked and by the smell of petrol. Petrol stations were few and far between so Amos Webb, who lived in what is now Rose Cottage, carried two cans of petrol which often leaked and the smell was made even stronger by the fact that he also cleaned spots off the upholstery with petrol.


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