It was probably for financial reasons that Frederick and Constance moved from the Old Manor House, which they sold, to Eastbridge House, which they rented furnished. As well as the house, they sold, in 1899, antique furniture, oil paintings, Indian miniatures set in gold, ‘a magnificent grand pianoforte’, Aubusson carpets and Turkish rugs, Sevres and Dresden china. The new house was, however, more convenient as it was on the flat, rather than half-way up a steepish hill, and Constance was now using a Bath chair
Eastbridge House, Hythe
Many of Frederick’s diary entries refer to the activities of his children. May, the eldest, was her parents’ mainstay. It was she who supervised the move to Eastbridge House while Frederick and Constance decamped to Tunbridge Wells for a couple of weeks. The eldest son, Artie, visited frequently when he had leave. He served first with the South Lancashire Regiment, before studying for the Staff College exam. He passed and was selected for special service in South Africa, serving in the South African Light Horse regiment under Col. Julian Byng. He would have met Winston Churchill, who was in the same regiment at the same time.
Artie in later life
The second Boer War was now underway, but Fritz, Frederick’s second son, was not, it seemed to be part of it. Just after the move to Hythe, Fritz had written to his father to day that he had decided to leave the Royal Fusiliers, with whom he was serving in India, and to enter the Bengal Staff Corps. Frederick wrote (at, for him, considerable length):
Notwithstanding the regret that his career must now be quite an Indian one, I think his determination is a wise one, for it is evident from the extra help which has had to be given him that he cannot live in the RF. I’m afraid my poor boy has not backbone enough to do as a few do who have but little means
He was referring to the fact that the family (thanks to his own father) had little money. There had not been enough to purchase his own army commission, which was obtained for him through the good offices of Lord Fitzroy Somerset, later Lord Raglan. He himself had survived and avoided the temptations of the Mess, but saw that his son could not. Two years later, when Fritz was at home on leave, Frederick had a shock:
Was dreadfully annoyed and grieved to see announced in the Gazette that Freddie had resigned his commission and this without a word to us. It is too bad.
The situation worsened dramatically. A week later:
Out for the day. On return found that Freddie had gone off to Folkestone to dine and sleep, contrary to his mother’s expressed wishes.
He was found to be staying in Sandgate.
May went to the Kent Hotel Sandgate and induced her brother to come home again. It has come as a sudden and grievous blow to me to know that he drinks, in addition to all his shortcomings and makes it more hopeless to do anything for him.
May took her brother to evening service at St Leonard’s, but spiritual consolation did not work and five days later Fritz was unceremoniously removed from Hythe and indeed the UK on board the P&O ship Himalaya for Sydney. Probably he was as glad to see the back of his family as they were relieved to see him go. In January 1896 he wrote to them that he had arrived at ‘Mr Wyllie’s fruit farming establishment at Renmark, S. Australia’.
Dick, meanwhile, had left Eton in 1895 and had studied for the army entrance exams under a Folkestone tutor, a Mr Noke. He passed, but not well enough, and then applied for a Queen’s Cadetship, a sort of scholarship, but was told that only one per family was allowed – and Fritz had previously received the honour. This must have been especially galling in view of Fritz’s catastrophic army career. After much trial and error, Dick was gazetted to the Rifle Brigade as 2nd Lieutenant in March 1899 and by December was on his way to South Africa.
Dick as a mature officer
Then early in 1900, Fritz wrote to say that he, too, was on his way to fight the Boers, as a sergeant in the Australian army. Unsurprisingly, Frederick spent a lot of time reading about, and recording the fighting. He must have been relieved when Dick was invalided home through persistent fever.
That summer, Frederick had his first trip in a motor car. He did not like it. ‘It is a noisy vibrating thing & the pace is too fast for roads on which there is much traffic. He [the driver] manages and steers it very well, but there is bound to be an accident someday’. He was also asked if he would accept the Colonelcy of the Prince of Wales Volunteers the South Lancashire Regt., having commanded one of the Battalions for 5 years. He wrote, ‘I shall be proud to be connected with the regiment and have so said’. It was a honorary position and as far as is known, he never visited the regiment, but was clearly pleased with the mark of respect.
In November, he received a letter from Ireland which ‘tells me of the death of my niece Florence Solly-Flood who has been living at Slaney Lodge as caretaker – we have not been on good terms, but I cannot help feeling sorrow.’ The fact that they were not on good terms was his own fault. His long-suffering brother Edward and sister-in-law Marianne had both died in the mid-1890s and Florence, their daughter, was left alone in Slaney Lodge. Frederick wanted to evict her and take possession, but needed the agreement of all three of his sisters. One of them would not give it, so the plan fell through.
Then, just before Christmas, a letter from Artie:
He has had to send Fritz back to Australia as he was a failure in the South African Light Horse as he could not keep steady when he came to any town – though when marching through the Veldt he was a good soldier. It is very lamentable. Artie has behaved like a dear good brother to him and given him a chance which he has failed in. A. has wisely sent his money by draft to Wyllie in Australia only giving him enough for the voyage which he has arranged & got friends of his own to look after him at Cape Town and Durban.
In the New Year, Dick was passed fit to return to South Africa. He had spent his convalescence riding, cycling, shooting, hunting, hare coursing and attending balls and the theatre in London, which clearly benefitted his health. Now, on the eve of his departure, he came off his bike after riding too fast down the London Road into Hythe. His injuries prevented his embarkation. Better news was that Artie was mentioned in despatches at relief of Ladysmith and later awarded the DSO.
The year passed quietly, the high points being a visit to Folkestone to hear Winston Churchill, then a young MP, speak about the South African campaign of Sir Ian Hamilton, formerly Commandant of the School of Musketry. Then the subject of the talk himself visited Hythe to have its Freedom conferred on him. How strange Frederick would find it strange that today it is Churchill who is remembered and Hamilton all but forgotten.
1902 broght more news of Fritz,
On Monday last we heard from Freddie that he had left Australia & was on his way back to South Africa. He is a Trooper in the 2nd South Australian Commonwealth Contingent. May God preserve him and put into his heart to lead a new and better life.
2nd South Australian (Mounted Rifles) Contingent, non-commissioned officers. Corporal Frederick Frere Solly-Flood is at far left, standing
In June peace was declared and to celebrate, Frederick flew a Union Jack from the house. There were more celebrations in August for the delayed coronation of Edward VII and Frederick ‘decorated the house with flags and at night illuminated the windows in the upper storey and also had a nice crown in lamps’. Artie came home, but Dick was sent straight from South Africa to India.
Artie accompanied May on a trip to Wales in September. Their uncle, William Edward Frere, a barrister and Commissioner for Lunacy, had died unmarried at the end of 1900. He had frequently been unwell in his later years and usually called upon May to nurse him – during his last illness she had to travel to Scotland. He had rewarded her by leaving her property in Crickhowell, near Abergavenny and it was this house that May and Artie were visiting.
The house, ‘Porthmawr’, was occupied by a tenant, but she died the following year. May’s visits now became frequent – as Artie was now back in India, she was chaperoned by her maid. In March 1904 the family started preparations to move there. This involved not just furniture removal, but the transportation of Laura, the parlourmaid; Kate, the lady’s maid; the cook; two dogs; two parrots; and a tortoise. As ever, it was May who made the arrangements for the move, three days before Frederick’s 75th birthday
Frederick and Constance found the new house ‘charming’, but Frederick had only five years left to enjoy his new home. Artie also called the place home, but Dick had not made the move and had acquired a house in Sellindge. Fritz seems not to have returned to Australia, but was living in Dover.
Frederick’s sister Tita died in 1905. She left most of her estate to Artie, but Dick and Fritz received £5,000 each. Frederick tried, unsuccessfully, to get the bequest to Fritz overturned in the courts, Perhaps he thought he was acting in his son’s best interests, but it was not a move which would have endeared him to his prodigal son. In the event, Fritz died himself, ‘suddenly’ the next year, possessed only of the £5, 000 inheritance.
Artie and Dick both married and both, like their father, achieved the rank of General in the army. Both called Crickhowell home in their later years. May lived on as a single woman at Porthmawr until her death in 1934.
The above is taken from the diaries of Frederick Solly-Flood, kindly lent to me by Robert Melrose of Eastbridge House, and supplemented by local research