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Llewelyn Midgley – Conservator

 

JILL ROLFE

 

In the 1891 Census Llewelyn Midgley is aged 34 and is shown as a retired farmer living at Birch Grove Lodge, which was in the West Hoathly Parish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He is married to Edith aged 29 with one daughter Kathleen aged 3, together with his brother-in-law who is a medical student and a visitor who is a barrister.  The visitor with his wife and a child are accompanied by a visitor’s servant and Mr Midgley also has his own four servants.  Plus, at the Coachman’s Lodge there are another seven people.

 

The photo above has the caption “Birch Grove Lodge, Mr Midgley’s house” which puts it into the correct time scale.  Birch Grove Lodge at a later date [around 1926] was purchased by Harold Macmillan’s parents and became the family home under the name of Birch Grove House.  Birch Grove Lodge is at the top left of the photo. 

 

In 1892 the Conservators considered an application for Forest rights by Mr Midgley, and it was resolved that Mr Midgley be entered on the list of Commoners in respect of thirteen acres, part of Birch Grove estate.  Under his predecessor, Mr Chatterton, 40 acres are noted, and presumably this is an additional thirteen acres which is added. Later that year Mr Midgley is elected a Conservator in the place of Sir Spencer M. Maryon -Wilson who had resigned.

 

Mr Midgley was very active on behalf of the Board and subsequently, with the approval of his neighbours, applied for permission to dig a trench on the Forest about fifteen yards in length and about 18” deep on the road from Danehill to Wych Cross in order to prevent gypsies driving their vans on the Forest.  This photo clearly shows a ditch and in the background is a steam driven road workers’ van.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s certainly true that gypsies did encamp here on the Forest and I personally recall seeing a lone gypsy in his traditional wagon pulled by a sturdy pony with his lurcher following behind.  He camped for a few days on the Forest opposite the Red Lion.   One particular gypsy, when she knew she was due to have a baby, always came back to the area and Nurse Fisher delivered her child.  Nurse Fisher thought some of the mothers in the village ought to look at the interior of the caravan and see how spotless everything was. This was somewhat later though than the 1890’s. 

 

From the School logbook in 1896 there were reports of gypsies being removed from Chelwood Gate and one of them, Rebecca Roberts had died.  The following year the school stated that three tramps were admitted. What a strange word to use; I wonder if they meant gypsies?  The time scale would approximate to when the Conservators were trying to stop gypsies encamping on the Forest.

 

I was told by a very reliable source that a Gypsy Queen was buried around here but I haven’t found anyone else who knows anything about this. Perhaps this was just one of those rumours which abound?

 

In 1893 Mr Midgley is appointed by the Board to be superintendent of the cricket green at Chelwood Gate. This is not surprising as a previous owner of Birch Grove Lodge was Mr Chatterton and in 1884 the Twyford School Cricket Club played the West Hoathly Cricket Club on the Ashdown Forest Cricket Ground, which was owned by Mr Chatterton. It is said that the Club started in 1864 when Mr Chatterton applied for permission to make a pitch for his garden boys. These garden boys would come to the country looking for work, some of whom were orphans.  Permission was granted and the boys began playing cricket.  The employer’s friends were invited and from these beginnings the Ashdown Forest Cricket Club grew.

 

Fast forwarding to 1895, a  young Kenneth Loader who was

holidaying at Divalls Farm notes in his diary that Mr Midgely’s footman would take letters from you to catch the 5.30 pm post at Birch Grove Post Office, and he whistles as he passes Mr Smith’s house.  (Mr Smith was the saddler/harness maker at West Watch -all close to each other.)

 

Kenneth mentions that Mrs Midgley has a library where he changes his books.  Prominent landowners of that time often supported their local school, in this case Twyford School which had very little funding, and from the school log-books it says that in 1899 Twyford School began using library books which had been given to them by Mr Midgley. 

 

The Midgleys clearly supported Twyford school in many ways as in February 1904 Mrs Midgley called into the school and gave each child an orange ( there were approximately 60 children).   There were many other instances of Mr and Mrs Midgley calling in to the school and giving help when asked, in one instance when the stove was giving trouble. To raise funds, in 1903 a concert was given in the school room where examples of needlework were sold and Mrs Midgley played the violin.

 

Mr Midgley ultimately put Birch Grove Lodge up for sale.  He had bred shire horses, and kept a Shire stallion at stud, together with sheep, pigs and chickens , and had what were described as model farm buildings.  The sales particulars make a special point of saying there is excellent stabling for ten horses.  Various carriages were also put up for sale, alongside plant and machinery.

 

He then moved up the road towards Nutley and by 1911 he is at Chelwood Corner (this property also had Forest rights] and this photo shows the completed building and I wonder if that might be Mrs Midgley in the foreground to the right? 

 

By this time the family has another daughter, although possibly the reason  this daughter does not show up in local  census records is because she is at boarding school.  He has four live- in servants. 

 

For over 27 years Mr Midgley was an active Conservator and was also involved in sorting out a lot of encroachments on the Forest amongst other work.  He resigned from the Board in July 1919 saying he had sold the property and that Mrs Midgley had died.  The Board reported that they were highly appreciative of the valuable services he had rendered during his years as a Conservator. 

 

I have often found variations in the spelling of the name, sometimes Midgeley, at other times Midgley, but there is no doubt they are one and the same: someone has simply misinterpreted the writing. At Nutley itself, just a stone’s throw from Chelwood Corner, Nurse Midgley was the District Nurse. I cannot find out if she was related but, who knows, perhaps one day I will find out.

 

The author would like to thank the late Peter Kirby and Hylda Rawlings, and the Nutley Historical Society.

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