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Childhood In Benham Valence

A Memory of Benham Park

It was in April 1950 that I was born in the Victorian wing of Benham Valence - actually in the flat above the garages - a very primitive dwelling with no bathroom or indoor toilet. Unfortunately the whole wing was found to be in such bad repair that it was demolished completely in the 1980s.  The great house of Benham Valence itself lay empty and neglected save for the scant attentions of the then caretakers - either the Mildenhalls or the Husbands.  My memory fails me on this.
My father Dick Clark was a forester for Suttons Estates.  Whilst my family lived there they made friends with the Pococks - Martha and Ray - who lived in the Mill House in front of the lake. Their house has also been demolished as it began to subside into the mill race which ran beneath the house. The large house presently on this site is the converted mill itself.
In my childhood I always referred to the Pococks as Nan and Uncle as they had no children themselves but were very good to me and treated me as their grandchild. Uncle operated the great steam machines in the mill that pumped water up to Stockcross before it had a mains supply. Even after my parents moved to 77 Stockcross I used to walk down to see them at least twice and week and often stayed with them.  Benham Park was my "playgound" as I was the only child officially "allowed" by Toby Sutton. Although he no longer lived in Benham House, he still regarded most visitors to the Park as trespassers and his Keepers, Mr Noon and Mr Long, made sure they got short shrift!
I have wonderful memories of long walks in the beautiful grounds, roaming wherever I liked, picnics by the lake, learning to swim in the river by East Lodge and rowing to the island in the middle of the lake in an old rowing boat kept in the delapidated old boat-house. We had wonderful traditional Christmases spent in Mill House with a blazing fire when Uncle told funny stories, doing imitations of other villagers and played tunes on his mouth organ while we all sang. It was a four mile round trip from Stockcross, sometimes in deep snow, but we always visited as much in winter as we did in the summer as Benham Park had beauty in every season. In the woods we picked snowdrops in the winter, primroses then bluebells in the spring when it was birdnesting time, cowslips later in West Meadows, then of course there were wild strawberries and blackberrying time followed by nutting and mushrooming. There was always something to forage for!
South Lodge by the railway line were the Noons lived was also affected by subsidence, presumably due to the constant vibration from the trains, and was also demolished, the Noons having been previously relocated to a house in Marsh Benham. Uncle became the caretaker of Benham House after the Husbands, who lived in the basenment flat, left. He often took me into the great house with him. In those days furniture lay beneath dust sheets and huge old oil paintings remained in the main halls.  Beneath the ground were the servants quarters - a labarynth of tiled passages and small airless rooms.  The gardens, including the lovely Italian- style terraces and fountains to the rear, were maintained to a certain degree. Some goldfish survived in the stone tanks and I remember a few birds were still looked after in the aviary. Uncle showed me down into the old Ice House to the side of the main house and this was fascinating.
Sadly the old place if almost unrecognisable inside now apparently. My husband did drive me round the lake one day as I was feeling rather nostalgic, but we didn't get very far before we were politely asked to leave as we were trespassing on private property.   

A memory shared by Nicolette Craggs , on Jan 28th, 2010.

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