Everyone at Highclere has been touched and heartbroken by the terrible tragedies that unfolded in Paris. The destruction and grief that has been continuing around the world in the wake of these endless attacks is awful as people live afraid, “strangers … in a world they never made” to quote A E Houseman. It is the merciless and random nature of the violence. At the same time, there have been some amazing moments of unity and kindnesses which it would be wonderful to “bottle”. Let us hope they continue.
In between everyday life here at Highclere, I still find moments to disappear into the archives and recently have been reading letters from the 1880’s. It is so easy to get completely immersed in these past lives and go off at a tangent. One such brief excursion has been Alan Herbert, brother of the 4th Earl of Carnarvon and therefore a few great’s uncle of my husband, Geordie. Renowned for his charm, he settled in Paris as a doctor, living there through turbulent times whilst his family at Highclere worried about him. In the event he lived a long life (he died in 1907) and was awarded the honours of both a Knight of the Legion of Honour and an Officer of the Legion of Honour for his courage in the face of crisis and his compassion for patients of whichever nationality.
One of the next entries I found concerned the ordering and delivery of a billiard table by the then Earl and Countess. Subsequent diaries note how often and how much they clearly enjoyed using it which led to one of those bizarre little coincidences that mark life.
The other, more mundane, thing occupying my time this week was the issue of how to put in some central heating at one end of the upper floor of the Estate Office, which is at the back of the courtyard behind the Castle. We needed to find a place to site a boiler. Looking round the adjoining rabbit warren of rooms, the plumbers Mark and Geoff asked what was in a nailed up cupboard behind a bench as it looked like a possibility. Whilst I watched, they pulled out the bench, undid all the screws and nails boarding up the door and revealed a lovely large space that would be just right. We shone the torches in and there, neatly stacked in pieces, was clearly what had once been a billiard table.