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Cycling in the ballroom: children’s castle memories

May 4, 2012

Easter is usually when our calendar of events starts to fill up here at Castle Beastie. True to form, we have been so busy since coming back from Malta that I’ve been too busy doing to blog about it. At last, though, a quiet moment.

Our first guided tour of the season took place a couple of weeks ago. While we are not generally open to the public, we do undertake tours for private parties by arrangement. This first tour (there have been others since) was unusual in that it was a group of local people, several of whom we knew. The historic church in our nearest town had held a raffle to raise funds, and the prize of a tour of our castle and grounds was won by the organist. Since he is also the choir master, he invited the church choir to join him.

As usual, my husband was master of ceremonies while I ‘did’ behind the scenes. So it was not until the end of the tour that I was able to meet up with the party, when we all sat down for a cup of tea in the dining room. We always feel that we learn something from every group that comes round – there is always somebody who can make an informed suggestion on gardening, architecture, painting or what-have-you – but this party was particularly interesting as several of them were born and brought up in the immediate area. They were able to share memories of my husband’s grandparent’s generation, forbears who died when we were young or before we were even born.

One of the party, Ian, a retired stonemason, reminisced about his childhood in the area when his best friend was the son of one of the estate’s employees. Gesturing out of the dining room window at the peaceful parkland, he told me how he remembered it as it was during the Second World War, when the parkland was covered in Nissen huts to house troops. The castle itself was requisitioned as a billet for officers, while its inhabitants – then only my husband’s bachelor great-uncle and his unmarried sister – retreated to a couple of rooms at one end of the house, doing their best for the war effort but otherwise keeping out of the way.

After the war, the the castle was once again almost deserted. Ian still used to cycle down from the village to play with his friend on the estate, but there was no longer the excitement of watching the comings and goings of the soldiers. So perhaps it was as a small compensation that, on wet days, the friend’s father sometimes let them take their bikes into the empty rooms of the castle and cycle around the ballroom! I’m not sure that anyone in our family was aware of this at the time, mind you, so if it hadn’t been for the organist winning a guided tour, we might never have heard this delightful memory.

The funny thing is that, while the ballroom is out of bounds to bicycles these days (we need to keep it presentable for tours, after all), in-house cycling is still part of family life. Just as their father did before them, on days when it is too wet or snowy to cycle outside, our sons roar up and down the basement corridors on a ramshackle collection of ancient bikes and tricycles. No doubt they’ll remember that just as happily as one small boy remembered cycling round the ballroom, just after the war.

You might enjoy another experience of castle childhood in Here be treasure.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2012 2:29 pm

    How interesting – maybe (when you have the time – ha ha!) you could gather the stories together in a scrapbook, noting who told the stories and a bit about their families and what they did on the estate? Then the stories could be handed on 🙂

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:32 pm

      That’s such a good idea, Jo. I’d love to do it one day: meanwhile, this blog is a step in that direction.

  2. May 4, 2012 4:56 pm

    Very interesting post! My family lived in the same house for over 300 years and we have many memories to pass on to younger generations! I agree with the other comment: write them down! I did not always appreciate what my Grand Father told me as a child and now I am sorry I did not ask more questions!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:35 pm

      It’s pretty unusual for a family to have been rooted in one house for so long. We have been lucky in having several of the older generation around when we first married, so that the stories were drummed into our heads. But yes, ‘ask, listen and write it down’ is a good mantra for any of us in learning about our past.

  3. May 4, 2012 6:36 pm

    I’m trying to ghet my head round living in a house big enough to cycle in,. DB! 🙂 What a delightful post – just the kind of reminiscent story I love and which makes the past come so vividly alive. Aren’t we lucky to be able to capture these memories and share them like this?

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:36 pm

      I know, it’s a bit surreal! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it. Blogging is a wonderful tool for sharing memories, as you do so well.

  4. May 5, 2012 12:30 am

    It’s so nice you live with history and sense of place. What a terrific way for the boys to spend a rainy day.
    Reminds me of one of the “big” houses (not nearly as big as yours!) we rented in while my dad did graduate studies – there was no furniture in the large dining room which has a glossy smooth wooden floor…we would put on thick socks and “skate” under the chandelier. Felt very elegant!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:37 pm

      What a great story! Skating in the dining room, cycling in the ballroom…whatever next! 🙂

  5. Menatra permalink
    May 5, 2012 4:51 am

    What great memories to share with your family. It is unbelievable sometimes where you will find a connection with things. I love that you allow your kids to bike in the house, even if it is the basement! I remember when we were adding on to our house and there was still plywood flooring in the livingroom. I found an old pair of rollerskates and skated my heart out, until there was carpet :O)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:38 pm

      ..well, there you go: rollerskating in the living room. I wonder what other strange modes of locomotion people have used in their houses!

  6. May 5, 2012 11:36 pm

    What an interesting thing to learn about your own home’s history. And curiously it’s made me wonder if I was allowed, as a child, to tricycle along the corridors in my family home. I wasn’t brought up in a castle, but my childhood home was a huge house with a long basement corridor and very big rooms.

    Some decades before I left that house, we met the grandson of the man who’d originally owned the house and I now have a copy of a photo of his grandparents sitting in the garden taking tea, from about the 1880s from what I remember. We heard all sorts of stories about the house including his visits there when he was a child.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:42 pm

      Huge houses with long corridors are a bit a headache for adults, but a wonderful playground for children. (Anyway, as I lug baskets of laundry along corridors and up flights of stairs, I remind myself of what a good workout the house provides me with!)

      How wonderful that you were able to share memories with the previous owners. It brings the past alive, doesn’t it, hearing such memories.

  7. May 6, 2012 10:51 pm

    How lovely to “come upon” stories from the past about your home and previous generations. I love these stories. And how lucky your boys are to be able to have such a magical playground to grow up in too!

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      May 8, 2012 6:44 pm

      I love stories like this too. It always feels like a delicious surprise when someone gives you a shared memory like this. My boys and I are indeed very lucky to be here!

  8. May 29, 2012 9:42 pm

    Great post. Love hearing this story and I’ll be following your posts from now on.


  1. Ten years and an age: the family in the castle | Dancing Beastie
  2. A mid-life cycle | Dancing Beastie
  3. The ephemera of war | Dancing Beastie

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