Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nick Duke 1945 - 2013



Nick in his Irish tweed cap and jacket. His tweed cap was placed in the church at his Memorial Service

My dear old friend Nick Duke died on 29th January 2013 after suffering for years from MS and other health problems. A memorial service was held for him at St Peter' Church, Bishops Waltham on 19th February attended by over 200 family and friends. This is his Eulogy.

                                                               Nick Duke


Thomas James Nicholas Duke – ‘Nick’ – was born at home in Fisher’s Pond to Tom and Ann Duke on 26th June 1945, following his sisters Jenny and Georgie. Tom was then working in the family milling business that had been started by his father James Duke in 1895 when he bought the Abbey Mill at Bishop’s Waltham on one of the Nine Great Ponds which once provided fish for the Bishop’s Palace.

Hope House, Church Lane, Bishops Waltham
Nick’s grandparents lived at Hope House, the beautiful Georgian house on the lane leading to this church, but retired to Worthing, while Tom and Ann – and the children - moved to Curdridge Croft in 1946, and lived there throughout Nick’s childhood. The estate next door was bought by the Tufnells soon afterwards and Wynne Tufnell actually lived at Curdridge Croft for two years while his parents were abroad, resulting in Nick sometimes referring to Wynne as his ‘elder brother’.  Wynne himself must indeed have felt like one as in later life, he says that whenever he met Nick on a racecourse, Nick would touch him for a fiver

Nick and Wynne Tufnell
Nick followed Wynne to Lysses, the local pre-prep school in Fareham, and then to Twyford, where he became a useful cricketer and tennis player and took up the trumpet – an instrument that he was prone to whip out at parties until quite recently.  As a teenager he also began – as we all did in those days – an immensely happy round of parties and dances and spending a great deal of time in each other’s houses. Charlie Skipwith says that it was regarded as a poor winter holiday if one wasn’t out at some party or other at least every other night. It was probably around that time that Trevor Trigg, a regular visitor to the Duke house, tells of Georgie getting fed up with her younger brother and locking him in the drinks cupboard before chasing Trevor round the sofa. Trevor says that he was too young to realize that the object of the game was for him to stop running! And when they eventually let Nick out, they found that he had been at his mother’s gin!

Nick went on to Charterhouse, where his closest friend was Andrew Ward, later his best man at his wedding to Jay Jay, and a good friend to Nick for the rest of his life. Nick wasn’t a particularly outstanding student, but these were the days when one’s sporting and social achievements counted for more than academic prizes.  In fact I don’t think that A levels were even graded then. Nick studied modern languages, played the trumpet in the school band and cricket and tennis in school teams and greatly enjoyed his time there. Andrew’s younger brother Toby was his fag, and Andrew made Nick godfather to his own son James, so he can’t have made Toby’s life too awful. Nick always said that if he had one, he would send a son to Charterhouse.

Curdridge Croft

Nick was always in great demand at the parties and dances such as the Hunt Balls – and indeed the Dukes gave marvelous parties themselves, helped by their housekeeper ‘Pad’ (Mrs Padwick), who looked after them for many years. Friends like Giles Rowsell recall dancing at Curdridge Croft until the small hours in a marquee so large that it appeared to be two-storied! Parties often included really quite innocent games of sardines, and I well remember one such party at the Smalley’s when all the lights were out and we were hiding all over the place when a huge figure loomed in the doorway and demanded to know where Nick was. It was his father Tom, coming to collect him; and the party broke up pretty quickly after that!   
And of course girls did in time begin to play an increasing part in Nick’s life. In those days teenagers really didn’t pair off until quite late; we enjoyed – as Annie Ommaney (now Spawton) put it – ‘rushing around in a heap’ too much. But Nick was definitely something of a magnet for girls and I can well remember some who shall remain nameless coming up and asking me to introduce them to him.  Nick and I never had exactly the same taste in girls, in which I count myself fortunate, as I would almost certainly have lost out! Those who Nick went out with included all the most attractive and interesting of the time, including Janet Stokes, Sally Farmiloe, Sarah Keen (known to us all as ‘Weemus’), Kristine Holmquist, the legendary ‘Hovis’(Vivien Holt), Rosie Bryans and Nicky Boyle. And of course he later married, in 1975, Jay Jay Syms, the most attractive of all the girls in his orbit. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Herry and Nick at Sally Farmiloe's Coming Out Party. Girl unrecognised now!
Nick, Charlie Skipwith and I were in the 60’s the self-styled ‘Three Musketeers’, and for one famous party – Sally Farmiloe’s 18th Coming Out party – we dressed appropriately in costumes from Nathan’s.  Fortunately Sally even then had an eye to publicity, and had hired Tom Hustler to take the photos, so some good ones exist with Nick looking every inch a D’Artagnan.


Sally Farmiloe's Coming out party. Herry had changed out of fancy dress and is standing on the left with Penny Hitchcock talking to Charlie Skipwith (back to camera and Sally. Nick is half hidden behind a chap pulling up his trousers! Photo by Tom Hustler.

In our spare time, we met at The White Horse in Droxford, co-incidentally only a few yards from Stedham Lodge which became Nick and Jay Jay’s home some twenty years later, and right next door to Charlie Skipwith’s home, Studwell Lodge. Charlie drank the local brew, Nick preferred Haig and I drank what is now the most dangerous drink of all, coke. It was perhaps indicative of our low level of drinking in those days that the pub also played host to another group of regular drinkers known as ‘The Quarterdeck’, which included Charlie’s father, and at that time no one ever came to grief in the ever - sportier cars that we acquired; our skills perhaps being honed on all-night games of Scalectrix that we played on the race-track set up in Charlie’s squash court. Or more to the point, the car treasure hunts, when the clues were invariably a pub name and the real object of the game was not actually to make it to the finish!


The Dukes had a house in Ireland – The Fort at Roundstone on the coast of Connemara – that they visited regularly, usually with friends. Andrew Ward remembers going across with Nick when they were both only 17 and having a marvelous time fishing and shooting woodcock at Ballynahinch.  Charlie Skipwith also remembers staying there and being at a ‘lock-in’ at Vaughan’s Bar in the small hours where the local policeman was leading the singing when they were ‘raided’ by the local Garda from Galway armed with the only breathalyser in the district. Everyone hid behind the furniture and when the Garda entered they gave a cursory look around, winked at the landlord and wished him a happy Easter before departing. Nick loved the Irish way of life and was in his element there, and he wore Irish tweed jackets and a multicoloured tweed flat cap for the rest of his life.

When Nick left school, his father, intending him of course to join James Duke & Son, sent him to work on one of the largest local farms, that of Tom Parker, whose main farm happened to border ours under Old Winchester Hill. In fact Tom Parker’s farms probably bordered most people’s farms in that part of Hampshire! In any event, John Parker recalls that Nick wasn’t an ordinary pupil, there to work as a prelude to going farming, but a rather to get a close up view of farming as a business so that he could relate to farmers when he joined his father. But he does remember - and so do I – that he was made to cover a huge new cowshed at Little West End with slurry so that it would blend more quickly into the countryside!

He was also sent on a number of courses; one, a business leadership course at Newcastle University, set up by the Kellogg Foundation, he attended part time over a period of three years, driving up for two weeks at a time with Giles Rowsell in his Triumph Stag and attending week-long events in Brussels and London. Giles remembers Nick as being very bright and focused and clearly loving the business environment.  In fact at that time the two of them quickly became leading lights at the Farmers’ Club, starting the Under 30s section when Nick was only 24, and then joining the main committee where they reduced the average age by twenty years at a stroke! Nick often stayed with me on his visits to the Farmers’ Club, and it became our habit to go out early to find the best breakfast in London. I think our favourite was the Carlton Tower! But Nick loved business, and I well remember him being at dinner with my parents and a friend of theirs, Dennis Bulman, who was at the time managing director of Texaco, and the two of them having a long business conversation well into the small hours. Dennis Bulman later told my father that he found Nick most interesting and impressive.   

Nick and Tom Duke
Nick spent a few months working in Leith, which he hated, and he was also sent to run one of their businesses Chipping Norton for a couple of years. It might have been their revolutionary ‘Evenlode’ business, one of the first complete dry dog foods and for a while very successful, and which might have made Duke’s fortune all over again, had not the mighty Mars brought out a competing version, and the firm was slow to put the feed into garden centers and the like. Chipping Norton wasn’t far from Moreton-in-the-Marsh where my cousin Mike Lawford lived training to become a farm manager, and they saw quite a lot of each other there and on runs up to London; in fact Nick gave up his flat in Chipping Norton and lived in the week with Mike’s parents until he returned to Hampshire.  He was later to be best man at Mike and Penny’s wedding when they were living in Hampshire and Mike was working for Neil Fairey.

Nick of course loved cars, as we all did. His father had Aston Martins and his great uncle had raced at Brooklands.  Nick also had the resources of the firm’s garage with a mechanic, Stan, who understood not just lorries, of which the firm had a great many, but also the desire of young men to get the maximum out of whatever they drove. His first car was a very meaty Ford Anglia into which Stan dropped a hot 1500cc engine. Then came an MGB GT, a Triumph Stag, which was always overheating, a Tickford Capri and a Scimitar. In the days of the Capri, he and Ian Hay, who had The Rod Box in Winchester and a Cooper S, used to meet for a bit of a burn-up on the Winchester by-pass, the idea being to reach the ‘Shawford narrows’ before the other. His cars were nominally works cars, insured for anyone to drive - and we did. We were even sometimes lent Tom’s Aston Martin, though I’m not sure if he actually knew. I remember taking the DB5 up to London. Incredible to think of that degree of licence today. Nick did have one or two accidents, one on the dangerous crossroads which also nearly claimed Nicky Boyle’s mother, and another when he went ‘all agricultural’ near Hartley Whitney trying to avoid an on-coming car. He also managed to overturn my commuter car, an ancient Austin A30, trying to do a handbrake turn at the end of the farm lane at Harvestgate, but otherwise we all escaped lightly.

Nick as best man at Herry's wedding to Prue in Sydney in 1971
Nick was never happier than when telling and hearing a good joke and Ian Hay’s rendition of ‘The Dumb Flautist’ would reduce him to tears. Nick was my best man and accompanied me to Sydney for my wedding to Prue in 1971, and he was totally in his element there. Not only were Charlie Skipwith and his wife Lucie working in Melbourne, but his cousin Frances - who had married Arthur Johnson a year or so earlier – was able to put him up in Hunter’s Hill. Every night there seemed to be a party, and at all the parties there were new jokes – like the famous ‘Martin Place’ joke - that reduced the company to tears. And Prue’s brother-in-law Peter Crittle, a barrister who was later president of the Australian Rugby Union, and who is probably the best story-teller in the southern hemisphere, gave a speech at my wedding which reduced the entire company to helpless laughter. Forever afterwards, the jokes themselves didn’t need to be told; to the end of Nick’s days punch lines such as ‘You’s a-going to die…’ and ‘Why don’t you? He’s not a dangerous dog’ would crease him up. And, speaking of dogs, Nick’s love of a good line lives on in the name of his English setter, Cranston, which comes from a 1960’s advertisement for Blue Nun drawn by John Glashan – where the squire is fishing on his lake and his butler is standing beside him with the distinctive bottle and a glass on a silver salver. ‘I’ve just brought you a glass of Blue Nun, sir’. ‘Good thinking, Cranston. Just hold it there while I land this killer pike!’ 

Nick with a salmon
Nick too loved fishing, and in addition to Ireland, he fished in Hampshire, often with Ian Hay. They used to get up early and go down to a beat just north of Eastleigh, and usually returned with three or four good-sized salmon, which we ate at dinner parties. Those were the days! His shooting was less successful. Andrew Ward remembers inviting him to shoot grouse on the glorious 12th on the Big Moor outside Sheffield. They started walking at ten and completed sweep after sweep of the heather without so much as seeing a bird. Six hours later and exhausted, a solitary grouse took flight in front of Nick, which he missed with both barrels!

Nick was also a good athlete and apart from cricket, he excelled at tennis which we played endlessly, particularly at weekends, on the courts of friends like Johnny Cooke, Nicky Boyle, Belin and Will Martin, Sally and David Wilson-Young and our own. He was also a useful squash player, competing on the ladder that Charlie Skipwith maintained in his squash court at Studwell.

Nick's stag party in June 1975. Will Martin, Ian hay, Nick and Charlie Skipwith below, Mike Lawford and Andrew Ward. Photo by Herry
Nick’s marriage to Jay Jay in 1975 was a golden June day on which all their friends gathered and the world seemed immutably good. Before the wedding, Nick and Jay Jay had been on holiday to the house in Ireland – on the condition that Nick’s mother Ann accompanied them as chaperone! There was a particularly memorable stag party at Charlie and Lucie Skipwith’s restaurant in Botley, ‘Cobbetts’ for which photos exist showing the company hanging off the war memorial in the High St the small hours in advanced states of inebriation. They moved into a house in Church Lane, Curdridge and the following year Cordelia was born, for whom I was honoured to be a godfather, followed by Felicity in 1978, the year (and the day) they moved to Stedham House in Droxford, where Iona was born in 1982.  They also acquired the first of their English setters, Coon, followed later in the 1980’s, by Luke. Giles Rowsell’s daughter told her parents that he and Jay Jay ‘were the most glamorous couple she had ever seen’. And to complete the picture, his father gave them the Aston DB5 which they drove for several years.

Felicity, Iona and Cordelia
Nick was now managing James Duke & Son, employing about 250 people, and he and Jay Jay travelled quite a bit on business to Royal Shows and Game Fairs here and to farm conferences in Italy, Portugal and Spain. They also attended the Horticultural Trades Association meetings – one in Italy on which they went on a fabulous garden tour.  But their own family holidays were taken mainly at Jay Jay’s family’s house in Cornwall, or on the Isle of Wight, and Nick would come only at weekends, citing the pressure of work. It is perhaps indicative that many people remembered Nick in those days as always wearing a suit. Nick and Jay Jay parted in the early 90’s but remained on good terms and Nick continued to see a lot of his children, ‘The Dukettes’ (so named by Tim Boycott who often who used to stay with the family at Stedham) of whom he was very proud, and he delighted in the weddings of Cordelia to Mike Burgess in 2004 and Felicity to Abe Gibbs in 2011 as well as in his lovely granddaughters, Mia, Izzy and Mollie, who he visited in New Zealand in 2007 and who teased him by calling him ‘Grandpanic’. 

Nick on Athassel Abbey winning the 1993 Newmarket Town Plate
In around 1992, Nick was diagnosed as suffering from MS, and as a means of combating the disease he took up riding, which he’d learned in his youth but never much enjoyed. He put himself on a punishing regime by, for instance, riding a bicycle without a saddle, and so fit did he become that in 1993 he famously entered and won the Newmarket Town Plate, the oldest and longest flat race in Britain. In fact, aged 48, he won by ten lengths from of a field of 28 horses!


Nick, Cordelia, Kristine, Felicity and Iona at the Newmarket Town Plate
Nick also rekindled his relationship with Kristine Holmquist (now Yankowsky) in 1993 and visited her for some weeks in California and she also came over the England and travelled with him in France. There was even talk of marriage, but it never materialized. Kristine however kept in touch with Nick, and when he was very ill in April 2011, flew over to see him in hospital, and she’s flown over again to be here today.

Nick and Ann at North Dene
Nick lived the last years of his life at North Dene, Swanmore, the house bought for his mother Ann who lived there, helped by his sister Jenny, until her death in 2008. In the last two years he was looked after by full-time carers – notably Phillip Leboa, who assisted him at Felicity’s wedding - Joey, who is also here today, and Derek.  Phillip describes Nick as being like a father to him. His care required a great deal of organization and coordination, mainly by Felicity, but he was of course visited constantly by Felicity and Iona; Cordelia and the grandchildren coming over from New Zealand when they could, which he loved. And of course Cranston was his constant companion.


Nick and Cranston with Cordelia, Mia and Izzy with Mike and Phillip at North Dene
Nick was never happier in his latter years than when recalling old stories and of course jokes, for which he had a wonderful memory. Ireland in particular had a powerful fascination for him and it was sad that we were never able to take him back there. It’s at least possible that one of the reasons he loved it so much was that his father relaxed there and was happy and amusing, instead of maintaining the rather stern demeanor he adopted with Nick at home. But his love of the old days and the influence of his father did combine to give him some fairly reactionary views; I used to tell him that talking to him was sometimes like listening to the Old Testament, and it was generally pointless arguing with him.

Martin's Summer Lunch 1994

Nick was a charismatic figure, and as Trevor Trigg puts it, for most of the time had a ‘happy cheerfulness’ about him. Fun and interesting, he was blessed with good looks, a fine intellect, and sporting and athletic ability as well as a general love of life.  He made many friends – both male and female - and retained them, and although his illness made him necessarily less and less able to socialise, he never complained and stuck doggedly to the conceit that he was ‘fine’ almost to the very end. Even a few weeks ago, he would come out with family and friends, helped by Phillip, to his favourite pub - the Hampshire Bowman - to the Thomas Lord at West Meon and to Stockbridge, and be happy reminiscing about the old days.

I can’t close without, on behalf of Nick’s family, thanking the local community for their great kindness and support. To Cranston’s several walkers of various ages, to the owners and staff in the village shop, who were very supportive, to all those in Swanmore and Bishops Waltham who were thoughtful and helpful in a variety of ways, everything you did was greatly appreciated.  


  

Herry Lawford
19th February 2013

Nick was best man to Andrew Ward, Ian Hay, Herry Lawford and Mike Lawford
He was also godfather to Naomi Skipwith, Radha Lawford, Dominic Lawford, Camilla Edwards

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