Christmas 1963

Martyn Hillier

5054 Earl of Ducie

I thought I’d include this picture, not just because it’s a lovely locomotive, which it is, but because seeing it on Facebook, it reminded me of the Christmas of 1963. Incidentally, as one whose father was once a fireman on the LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) at Bristol (Barrow Road) I have to admit that even he admired Great Western Railway locomotives.

But no, it’s the name and my recollection of the 6th Earl of Ducie, that came to mind.

Hillier PT 520
(Gloucestershire Police Archives URN 7655)

From 1960 until 1964 my father was the local bobby at Falfield, on the A38 between Bristol & Gloucester, pre-M5 of course and  his patch included the Tortworth estate, with Tortworth Court, the family home of the Earls of Ducie and  in the grounds of which was, and indeed still is, HMP Leyhill.








On Christmas Eve 1963 my mother had spent the whole day cleaning and getting the house ready for the arrival of guests the following day for Christmas lunch, a total of twelve of us.

She had pretty much finished and was looking forward to being able to sit down with a cuppa, when there came a knock at the police office door. As dad was out and  about on his mighty Ariel Leader, mum answered the door, to find Lord Ducie, a regular visitor. He asked if dad was in and  on being told he was on patrol, Lord Ducie said “I’ve got something for you” and he beckoned me to follow him to his car.

Now if I can just set the scene; mention of him being “Lord Ducie” may bring to your minds a vision of the sort of character the late, great, Roger Moore would play. Suave, sophisticated and  dressed by a Savile Row tailor, perhaps?

No, that would be totally wrong. He was quite a short gent, rotund, dressed in a scruffy old coat, with baler twine for a belt and  a flat cap. Instead of Roger Moore, think of Arthur Lowe playing a tramp.

I should also mention that until he inherited the titles he had spent his entire life in Australia, including a spell fighting the Japanese in New Guinea during WW2 (so respect for that) and  he was as Aussie as they came.

My brother Tim and  I loved his visits, a kindly and fascinating man and a great raconteur, but we were always disappointed that he didn’t wear an Akubra bush hat, complete with dangling corks……….

Anyway, back to 1963. The baronial car wasn’t a Rolls Royce, or even a Rover, but was in fact a maroon Morris Oxford. Maroon except for one door that is, which was grey, presumably as a consequence of the original door having either succumbed to corrosion, or been damaged in mortal combat with another vehicle, or a gatepost.

Anyway I followed his Lordship to the car and was given two dusty bottles, presumably from the cellar of the big house and he told me to walk carefully back to the house and give them to my mother, whilst he followed, carrying a chicken.

I handed the bottles to mum, and His Lordship said to her “I’ve brought you this. I thought you could probably use it”, thrusting the chicken at her.

I should perhaps mention at this point that the chicken was very much alive and looking around rather indignantly, although not for much longer. When mum mumbled “Oh, thank you. Um, I’m not quite sure what to do”, his Lordship deftly despatched it with a twist of his wrist.

Mum was if anything even more bemused, and said “OK, thanks, but I still don’t know how”……., at which point the penny dropped with his Lordship. He said “No worries Mrs Hillier”, sat on a chair, put the dead chook between his knees and started to pull the feathers away.

You know the bit where I mentioned that my mother had vacuum cleaned the whole house to within an inch of it’s life? I could see she was not happy. She took the half-plucked avian from his Lordship and swept into the kitchen, saying “I’ll just put the kettle on”……..

Whilst we were sitting there, waiting for the tea, the Earl entertained Tim and I with one of his many tales of life on a Queensland cattle station, which was about the size of Gloucestershire and all the things in Australia that could kill you. Snakes, crocodiles, both fresh water and  “salties”, more snakes, Funnel Web spiders, more snakes, Redback spiders, Great White sharks, Box Stinger jellyfish and of course, yet more snakes, these being sea snakes which are apparently placid and  gentle creatures, but which possess a particularly toxic venom.

Anyway, he was just telling us about the Death Adder, which apparently can kill a man from twenty yards just by looking at him sideways, let alone biting him, when tea arrived.

So there we sat, in a spotless living room, bar a few feathers from the recently deceased, drinking our tea until his Lordship announced that he had a few other people to visit. He got to his feet, and even I, at ten years of age could tell that drink had been taken. In a phrase that I was to learn ten years later at Chantmarle, “His eyes were glazed, his speech was slurred, and his breath smelt of intoxicants”.

We all saw him off into the night and I have often wondered if the Morris Oxford contained other chickens, not long for this world, to be delivered to the estate workforce ? That and what state he would be in by the time he got back to Tortworth Court……

This page was added on 11/12/2023.

Comments about this page

  • Martyn , your father must have been before Clarence Stubbs arrived.

    Regarding the Train picture , when my father Phil Bridgman joined the Police in 1946 he was based at Holland House and used to tell the story of when clearing snow one of the policeman used to be a fireman on the Cheltenham Spa Express and was putting the snow in the same place .

    Wish I could remember his name .
    Thank you for an interesting read.

    By Geoff Bridgman (16/01/2024)

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