Saturday, November 10, 2007

Patrick Lawford 1914 - 2002

Notes for the Address at the Funeral of Patrick Lawford in Meonstoke Church in February 2002

Patrick Lawford was born on 23rd November 1914, the youngest of five children, to Capt Vincent Lawford (CMG, DSO, RN) and Jane Agnes nee Mapplebeck at Chorleywood in Hertfordshire. The Lawford family were mostly bankers and solicitors but his brothers Adrian and Denys followed their father into the Navy, while his other brother Valentine had a distinguished career in the diplomatic service and then became a noted author, art connoisseur and artist in New York. His sister Sylvia Findlater, who is 92, survives them all.

It was doubtless the Navy’s loss but Patrick had one term at Dartmouth before deciding to go farming after he left Repton - where he was an outstanding long-distance runner - and was taken on as a pupil by Percy Bragg at Headbourne Worthy, just outside Winchester in Hampshire. There he spent a marvellous three years before being recommended to Carey Druce, the then owner of the Litchfield Estate, as manager.

While at Litchfield he married his first wife Catherine Stephenson, who tragically died of a brain tumour after less than two years of marriage. A year or so after her death he was out riding when he caught sight of Annette, who was living with her mother Nina and her husband Sir Alfred Herbert (known to us as ‘Step’) at the neighbouring estate of Dunley, following the death of her husband, Wing Commander Arthur Luxmoore who had been shot down over Belgium. She was pushing a pram; and the pram of course contained Fairfax. Patrick and Annette were married at St Peter's, Eaton Square in 1944 and Herry was born at Litchfield Manor in 1945 and christened in the church there.

In 1946 Patrick took another job as manager, this time on the Marquis of Abergavenny’s estate at Eridge in Kent. They lived at Danegate House on the estate for four years and became friends of the Abergavennys. Piers was born in 1947.

By 1950 Patrick had completed his farming apprenticeship and knew enough to set out on his own. Hampshire was a natural choice as he determined to farm again on chalk. He was wisely advised by Carlyle Sayer of Strutt & Parker on the merits of Stocks Farm under Old Winchester Hill in the Meon Valley, when it came up for sale. No doubt his old friend from Headbourne Worthy days - Jim Harris of James Harris & Sons (whose former partner Robin Lalonde is now one of Patrick's trustees) advised him too. In fact it would be true to say that one of Patrick and Annette's characteristics was their ability to chose and make wonderful friends who both helped them in business and shared their company over many decades.

It is interesting to recall that when they bought Stocks, though smaller in acreage than it is today, it had several farm cottages in the village as well as in the valley – particularly those opposite the church above The Buck’s Head. The cottages were slowly sold off as mechanisation reduced the number of jobs available on the farm and all are now very much grander than they were then. The Manor House in Meonstoke was also part of the farm, but was sold off separately. Coincidentally, some years later, Ruth Howard, nee Pugh, Annette’s first cousin, came to live there with her husband John.

By the end of the 1950s Patrick and Annette had begun their long love affair with the South of France, chosen originally as a winter holiday destination to ease the pain of Annette's rhumatism (caused by a car crash in her cousin Tony Powell-Edward's car on the way back from a hunt ball at Glynde when she was 22). They quickly settled on the little Saracen village of Ramatuelle near St Tropez and lived in and near Ramatuelle for close to 40 years, for three or four months of each year - and sometimes more. They were only able to do this, of course, because they had been fortunate in the employment of John Spreadbury, their head man, who only retired from working for them just after Annette died in 1998 and Ernie Stiles - who still works at Stocks as he has done for the last 45 years, as well as John's son Andrew.

Stocks Farm grew over the period, taking in Harvestgate Farm in 1969 when Tom Biles decided to retire - and later Little Stocks Farm, bought from the Hendersons in 1980. Later, this was partly given to John Spreadbury and partly sold for village homes made from the barn and the farmhouse, while Herry built up the house at Harvestgate Farm with his first wife, Prue.

As a farmer, Patrick was a traditionalist but also knew when he had to move with the times. Stocks under his husbandry became known as one of the finest farms in the Meon Valley. It is again illustrative of his capacity to chose the right people to work with that following Annette's death, Stocks has been farmed by Stephen Horn on Patrick's behalf and it is a great credit to him as well as a source of great pleasure to Patrick that the farm today can today be said never to have looked better - and that is as we all know at a time when most farmers are finding their profession difficult and increasingly profitless.

Patrick did not take on many civic duties - apart from the farm, he made sure that he always had enough time for Annette and his friends, but he was a Droxford magistrate for over 30 years and retired as deputy chairman of the bench. He always said he was fortunate never to have any of his children appear before him. He was also president of the local Conservative party for a many years, but even his closest friends would not describe him as overly interested in politics.

He remained very fit all his life. He rode to hounds when at Eridge and rode of course at Litchfield, and around Stocks later on. He had learned tennis on his parents' grass court and was of club standard. Later they had many happy tennis parties on summer evenings when he would play and Annette would watch and talk to their friends. Characteristically, one never knew if he had won or lost his games. That was never important to him – though his children readily admit to the fact that he rarely lost to them! He also played a fair game of cricket and for many years was proud to wear the colours of Colin Balfour’s Eleven at their annual match against Durley village.

He was also an excellent shot. It the early days at Litchfield and Dunley, he shot with some of the finest guns in the country, who regularly brought down 1000 or more birds in a day. Carey Druce gave him a priceless pair of Holland & Holland Royals which he valued greatly. He continued to shoot until his 70s and enjoyed the more modest sport at Stocks and on the surrounding estates with his friends.

It would be difficult - in fact I think impossible - to find anyone who did not love Patrick. He had enormous unaffected charm and was perhaps unusual in that he was admired equally by men and by their wives. He never tried to take centre stage, but people loved to talk to him and he somehow managed effortlessly to put everyone around him into the same good spirits as he always was. He loved people and he turned many acquaintances into friends - and all of them returned his love a many times over.

It would be wrong not to make special mention of Ruth Howard, who as Annette’s first cousin was brought up with her and of course knew Patrick from the beginning of their marriage. Following Annette’s death, she and Patrick were devoted companions, travelling together and being together both at Stocks and at her house in Chelsea, and enriching his life in his final years.

Herry Lawford
13th February 2002
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