1970 rea of fairfield House

Fairfield House (rear view) in 1970

In August 1937 Capt. Sears sold the house he had named Ruskin House which was in Castle Street Thornbury to John Peter Fane de Salis, who again changed the name.  This time the house became known as “Fairfield House.”

John Peter Fane de Salis was born on 15th April 1897.  He was the son of Cecil Fane de Salis and his wife Rachel.  Sir Cecil was a Justice of the Peace, High Sheriff of Middlesex and a Deputy Lieutenant.  He was also Chairman of the Middlesex County Council between 1919 to 1924.  He was made a KCB in 1936.

The 1901 Census shows that although he was aged only 43 Cecil was already a “retired barrister” and that he and his wife were living in Dawley Court in Uxbridge in Middlesex.  In the 1901 Census John was one of six children between nine years and one year old.  We have been told that eventually there were fourteen in the family.

We are indebted to John’s daughter, Elizabeth Cochrane for a great deal of the following information.  Mrs Cochrane has been extremely helpful and has made available to us notes from her childhood experiences and from her autobiography “When Life was Simpler.

John Peter Fane De Salis

John Fane de Salis served with the Royal Engineers in 1916 and he was decorated with the award of Military Cross.  In 1919 the Edinburgh Gazette says Lt John Peter Fane de Salis was in E Corps of the Signals Company of the Royal Engineers.

After the First World War he was assistant manager of United Dominions Trust (1919 to 1934).  The photograph below right shows John Fane de Salis.

On 21st April 1926 he married Susan Stephanie Cecil Letitia Aldworth (born 1904) in Brackley.  Susan was the daughter of Major John Charles Oliver Aldworth.  The photograph below left shows Mrs de Salis.

The birth of their daughter Georgiana Elizabeth (known as Elizabeth) was registered in the June quarter of 1927 in the St Pancras area of London.  The couple were living in Staines when their son Rodolph Patrick (known as Patrick) was born in 1930.

We have been told by their daughter that in 1934 John Fane de Salis and his family moved to Bristol where he founded a business called Butraco Ltd that traded in the centre of Bristol at 5 Pipe Lane, St Augustine’s near the Hippodrome.  The company apparently sold all sorts of new inventions, mostly household items.  The family lived in a modern house in Bristol for three years but Mr and Mrs de Salis wanted to have a house in the country and looked around the area for something suitable.  The house he found was in Castle Street Thornbury.

Susan de Salis

Mr Fane de Salis’s own notes say that he bought Fairfield House (then Ruskin House) in Castle Street, Thornbury, in 1937 and the names of John and his wife, Susan, appear in the 1938 Electoral Register where they are said to be living in the house.  John and Susan gave the house its present name “Fairfield House.”  We have been told that this name has two meanings.  Firstly it came from the name of the house in Exeter where the Hamiltons (his aunt and uncle) lived. Mr Fane de Salis’s uncle, Robert Hamilton, had died in 1937 and he had no children of his own.  A legacy from this uncle enabled the de Salis family to buy Fairfield House and so the name was tribute to him.  Secondly we are told that the paddock in the garden which had a second entrance in Park Road was the field in which an annual fair was held and which was sold to St Mary’s School for a playing field.

The Fane de Salis children were first educated at home by governesses – Elizabeth until the age of 12 when she went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College and the boys until they went to Beaudesert preparatory school aged 8.  One of these governesses was Miss Rosamond Bruce who was the aunt of Sir Peter Scott and the sister of Wilfrid Bruce who had been on polar expeditions with Randolf Falcon Scott.

When World War Two broke out, John Fane de Salis was for a time an Inspector in the Special Constabulary.  In 1942 he joined up again and served in Africa in the Royal Army Pay Corps.

The house (as can be seen from the photograph above) is very large and including the attic rooms had eleven bedrooms.  During the war years Fairfield House was used by evacuees rather than by the military.  The family had a series of evacuees and paying guests.  Elizabeth Cochrane was able to remember many of these.

We had many visitors and paying guests in the war. My mother was working for the British Overseas Airways Corporation, first in Bristol and then in White Waltham, where she became Staff Administration Officer. It obviously was more sensible to have well-behaved P.Gs (paying guests) rather than the unknown qualities of evacuees with possibly unruly children! We had army officers who came for weekends, employees from B.A.C., especially after the raid when one of our friends in the village, Adrian Squires, was killed, and friends who lived in Bristol and wanted to escape from the raids. We also had people from the BBC which had evacuated from London, including Sir Adrian and Lady Boult, and their bad-tempered black pony Sam who used to get driven in our small cart for messages, picnics etc. by my great-uncle Willy. Then we had Heralds from the London College of Heralds, who stored their archives in the Castle. Most notable was Anthony Wagner, who later became Sir Anthony, Garter King of Arms, after Sir Algar retired. Some came for a few days, some stayed for years and became close friends.
One of our residents who was with us for years was Cyril Gordon Taylor, known as C.G., brother of C.P. who lived at The Hatch. He was Editor of a magazine which was passed round to its members who each contributed something before passing it on to the next person. I never actually saw inside it, though I should have liked to! He wrote for Punch, which we used to take, and I still have several of his poems, some humorous, some more serious. He acted as head of the family while my father was in Africa, and sat in his place at the head of the table. Also he would write to me each week at school, which I much appreciated.

The register that was compiled in 1939 in the advent of war shows that there were a few such guests at that time.  One was Ian Duncan born 6th August 1915,  He was a Section Leader in the Drawing office in an Aeronautical Company.  Dudley Buckham another of these lodgers may have worked in the same factory as he was an assistant  technician in Bristol Aeroplane co. We know little about Dora Prittie-Petty (born 17th November 1905) or William Aldworth apart from the fact that he was born on 23rd March 1874 and that he lived on private means.

After the war John did not want to return to an office job and started a market garden.  The outlet for the garden was Fairfield Garden Shop on The Plain, which we have been told was run by Mr and Mrs Fowler.

The Fane de Salis family had domestic help as was more usual in those days.  The stairs to the cellar still has the names of three of them written on the wall.  These were Betty Hughes who was taken on as kitchen maid straight from school, Beatrice Smith the cook who stayed with the family until 1954 when she bought a house in Castle Street, and Ada Riddle the housemaid/parlour maid.  Of these only Beatrice actually lived in the house.  The family also employed a gardener.

Servants’ Bells Fairfield House

The photograph shows the row of servants’ bells which are still in the house, although they were not used in the Fane de Salis’s time.  These are placed near the kitchen quarters and the servants would know which bell represented which room.  The house also has a housekeeper’s room which was near the back door so she could deal with tradesmen etc.  The family also introduced an electric bell under the carpet in the dining room to summon the next course.

By 1950 Georgiana Elizabeth Fane de Salis was also on the Electoral Roll for Fairfield House with her parents John and Susan De Salis.

The 1950 Electoral Roll shows that Patricia Audsley also lived at Fairfield House with John and Susan Fane de Salis and their daughter Georgiana.  A newspaper report of 8th October 1949 shows the wedding of Miss Patricia (Paddy) Audsley to John Derek Dutson of Stokefield House.  Patricia Audsley was the daughter of Mr M T Audsley CMG. Mr. M. T. Audsley, was the Labour Attaché on the staff of His Majesty’s Ambassador in Cairo and was also Labour Adviser to the British Middle East Office.  The article describes the bride as “of Fairfield House.”  It also gave their future address as The Firs in Rockhampton.

Some time around 1952 Rachel de Salis, John’s elderly and infirm mother, came to live in the house.  John had built a rather ingenious lift which went from what is now a dining room up into the room above which was large enough to be made into a self contained suite.  Stephanie Aldworth, Susan’s mother, also came to live in the house as did her brother, William Aldworth.

Mr and Mrs Fane de Salis continued to live at Fairfield House until 1971 when they sold it to Drs John and Diana Whallett.  They then went to live in The Priory in Castle Street.  John died on 21 October 1973 and his wife died 1991.

Of their children

  • Georgiana Elizabeth Fane de Salis (known as Elizabeth) was born on 20th April 1927 in London.  She was educated at home and at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Queen’s Secretarial College.  She worked at a number of engineering firms, including BAC at Filton.  Elizabeth married John Noble Cochrane on 5th April 1952.  The couple lived at Hillesley but the first of their three children was born in Fairfield House, delivered, or so we have been told, by the local midwife, Nurse Cotton.
  • Rodoloph Patrick Fane de Salis (known as Patrick) was born on 18th March 1930.  Patrick was educated at Rugby and St John’s College Oxford.  He became Commercial Manager to Rolls Royce at Patchway and was a Church of England lay reader.  On 20th September 1958 he married Jenefer Wiltshire and they have four children.
  • Henry John Aldworth Fane de Salis (known as Shaun) was born in Bristol on 8th November 1935.  He was educated at Rugby and Magdalene College Cambridge.  He worked for the BAC Engine Division and was killed in a flying accident 25th August 1962.
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