Many years ago I was working at Digswell House Welwyn, in my rambles around Welwyn at night, I ran against a man by the name of Bill Promite, Bill was Squire Derings butler and his wife was cook housekeeper. It was not long before Bill was telling me what a queer place Lockleys was and it was not long before Bill asks me to tea to have a look round.
I arrived at Lockleys one Sunday afternoon it was early spring, as I walked up the drive I see the coach house with the ivy all grown over the clock, the doors had rotted away and it appeared to be an old stage coach with a quantity of harness thrown over the ……………. We had tea in the servants hall, picture it if you can, A long narrow room with a long narrpw table down the centre about 2 feet 6 inches wide form to sit on, a big old open brick fire place quite a barrow load of ashes on it with two or three oak logs smouldering in the ashes, and oil lamp hung from the ceiling and the wall were washed down with what is known in the trade as lavatory blue.
A more ghostly and weird place one would have a job to find, but Mrs Primitt put on a smashing tea so that made up for the dreary conditions.
After tea with the aid of two candles Bill took me round part of the ground floor there were two drawing room at Lockleys, a large one and a small one, both were packed tight with furniture so much that we had to walk sideways if we got out of the centre track, there was enough furniture in those two rooms to furnish six drawing rooms the same size. I didn’t know till afterwards that the contents of these two rooms were packed with furniture that came from two or three Dearing houses that accounted for pictures standing against the wall etc and so much china. I’m not going to try and describe what it all looked like because the newspaper cutting in the Hertfordshire countryside (thats how I found it exactly, the Dresdon China was covered with tissue paper caps, Bill would lift one off to show me some special piece. The marble statuary stood in the large drawing room taking up a space about 8ft square, one piece I thought very fine really lovely (The Reading Girl) another piece was a shell about 8 inches across, the shell had …… opened and cupid was just stepping out, theses two were lovely to look at.
As I walked down the large drawing room I noticed a life size painting on the right hand wall the rain had come through the roof through the bedroom and down the right hand side of the picture that was covered with blue mould.
I went once more to tea at Lockleys in the servants hall this time Bill took me into the butlers pantry to show me the plate and silver, this also was a long narrow room with cupboard and dressersthe full length of the room, the cupboard stood on the dressers and were lined with green beige, it was just the same pattern they were packed full of silver and plate pushed in one on the top of the other. Bill would take one or two out rub it and show me it was the real stuff it was all tarnished, then he opened the dresser and I see some of the most lovely china in England just the same pushed one on the top of the other covered in dust.
After tea and a look round back to the servants hall we went, Bill fetched out the beer as there was just the same amount of beer coming into the house as there was 10 servants in the house. Over the beer Bill told me a few things about the Squire. He use to cut his hair but he would not have it cut now, it was 4 years since he last cut it and at that time it hung on his shoulders full of grease and matted together. He use to spend his time reading and writing, it was weeks before he would change his ………… and he use to read by the light of two naphtha lamps it was Bills job to bring them down each day, clean and fill them. Bill told me he would come down and walk round the grounds in the middle of the night in the summer. Bill had never seen him but he often found the door unlocked. The only person he saw was his agent or Bailiff a man by the name of Ashby……… I didn’t quite finish my job at Digswell House so I had to return in a matter of 5 or 6 weeks, during that time George Dering had passed on to the better land. So once more I made my way to Lockleys to tea. This time Bill had a visitor in the home Ex Superintendent Duke late of the Herts Police we had tea and still done the same walk round but the policeman never left us and he would not partake of any beer. George Dering was hardly cold – Mr Longmore the solicitors puts him in full charge. I had finished my job and so on that Sunday evening I said goodbye to Bill Primitt, I never saw him again.
It was this that upset the mind of George Dering. One morning he was going hunting his mother didn’t want him to go. He rode round to the front door to say goodbye and she still ask him not to go bust he said he wouldn’t be long, but the hounds took him further than he thought and when he arrived home his mother was dead. When the coffin was taken from the room he locked the door behind them and later on had the door built in and plastered over and papered over to match the exterior wall. My sister who is now nearly 92 went round Lockleys when the furniture was being prepared for the sale, someone had cut a hole through the wall of Mrs Derings bedroom about 2 foot square and my sister looked into the bedroom they couldn’t find the door from the outside. Some weeks later after my visit to lockleys I was talking to a friend of mine in the village pub telling him about Lockleys an old man stood quite close and heard me mention Lockleys he came over and joined us and said Lockleys what do you know about Lockleys, I said well i’ve been working at Digswell House. Tommy (I knew him quite well and his sons and daughters) – Thats how I come to get round Lockleys – “Do you know Lockleys Tommy” he said “I ought to I was George Derings coachman, his name was Tommy Wain or Wane that was 1911 Tommy finished up his beer and went, He was a very old man then and very frail. I was looking forward to meeting Tommy again but my work took me away again,and when I returned home Tommy had gone to join his old governor to the better land.
The years rolled on it must have been nearly 40 I was working at a very big mansion, walking sthrough the winter garden there sat “the Reading Girl”. I turned round and said to the old butler I’ve seen that before many years ago at Lockleys at Welwyn, he said yes I understand that is where Her Ladyship bought it.
Now my dear lady you must realise i’m an old man i’ve told you the truth and nothing but the truth, you will find lots and lots of mistakes and bad writing and i’m sure you will excuse me, my mind don’t act as it did 50,60 and 70 years ago.