Ancestor IndexAncestor IndexDenys Herbert George Tollemache - (1976) - son of Leone Sextus, father of Susan and Peter Tollemache

Click HERE for an article about
MECHANICAL WINDROW COMPOSTING, written by Denys Tollemache in 1966
Denys Herbert George Tollemache 1915-1991

Whilst organising a number of family papers and photographs recently, Susan Tollemache paused to re-read a letter in the collection which had been written by her father in about 1987.

Denys Herbert George Tollemache was born 12th January 1915 at The White House, Acomb, York. His mother, Kathleen, died as a result of the birth. Denys was raised by his grandmother, Charlotte (Bloomfield) Mills and after her death by his paternal aunt, Lyonesse (Tollemache) and her husband, Frank Astley Cooper.

Gratitude is expressed to Susan and to her brother, Peter, for making this material available for this family site. [Information in brackets has been added to the letter text by Susan Tollemache.]

Susan writes - " ... this letter of my father’s contains some interesting facts. It was as if I was reading it for the first time. I remembered about the golly and his description of wallflowers but the references to Napoleon and to the Spanish Land Girl were news to me this time.

The material gives a glimpse into his early years. He gives thumbnail sketches of some of his maternal relatives and their neighbours and describes the house and village where he was born, as he remembered it, some 72 years later."

"Queenie" (Kathleen Mills) Tollemache
Kathleen (Queenie) Tollemache née Mills

Diary of the last days in the life of Leone Sextus Tollemache ...

Leone S. Tollemache

Denys Tollemache describes his birthplace, Acomb, in Yorkshire, as being ...

"two miles to the west of York on the road to Askham Bryan, which is nearly on the road to Tadcaster. [Just north of this]. It is now just a big suburb of York but when I was there it was a country village with a pond and many of the houses in the village had land going from the back of them like a piece of cheese into the country. The trams almost reached Acomb so, one could go by tram into York. I had lots of boys as friends from the village children. I forget their names but I used to play football with them, making the goal posts from branches of trees, tying pieces of string across the top."

The letter appears to have been a reply to an original one which had asked specific family and genealogical questions, since he states at one point that he has "no certificates" by which it may be presumed that his correspondent had asked whether he had birth, marriage or death certificates of any family or forebears. In the same way, he must have been asked to write about his life. Under the heading "Autobiography", Denys Tollemache writes -

The White House, Acomb - images adapted. Original courtesy of Clifford Elmer"Autobiography:- I will try to do better later but for the moment:

I was born on January 12th 1915 and I don’t remember anything until 1916 when my father came to see me before he went back to France. [He died in France. We know from his father’s diary this was actually January 1917] He gave me a golly, which I treasured, whilst I was being bathed, probably by my mother's old nanny."

Of his mother, Denys states that she "... died of Puerperal fever after my birth so I presume that she died within a month of my birth shortly after she saw me!

We lived at (The) White House, Acomb, which was a nice old big cottage, painted or whitewashed white. It was very old and Cromwell, it was said, stayed there. It had an iron fence in front running next to the pavement and the road. On the left, in front of the dining room and to the left of the front door, was a Laburnum tree, which I had a great affection for. There were always a lot of wallflowers, which smelt beautiful in the spring directly in front of the house. At the other end of the house was a small wood with dark dank trees in it such as Laurels. The drive went through this and there were big iron gates. At the back of the White House was a cottage in which George and Mrs George lived. He had been my grandmother’s coachman but was retired; also a yard and a big coach house and a few loose boxes for horses, a coal and log store and a small workshop and harness room.

1mage view - new windowSee also - Front Street, Acomb. Postcard, about 1910. Taken from outside a row of cottages looking back towards The White House the gable end of which can be seen in the trees in the middle of the picture. Original image courtesy of Clifford Elmer.

At the other side of the yard was a special sort of wall. I never discovered why but it was very wide with a flat roof [which was topped with paving stones] and one could walk down the middle on paving stones, which were a good foot or more above the ground, as if at one time it was used for heating the green house. I just don’t know. This went from the middle of the house towards the field, at right angles to the road and the first part of the garden was narrow and long. After about fifty yards the wall went to the left and there was a sort of semicircle formed by the wall and a rockery in which there were big trees and on the right hand side there was another wall also going at right angles to the road separating my Grandmother’s house from Mr Richardson’s farm.At this point the garden widened. On the left were a potting shed and greenhouse and a door through the wall, which was a normal wall, at this point. This lead to the tennis court. Below the greenhouse was a Dutch garden with very low box hedges, then apple trees, earthenware pots for Rhubarb and finally a high, decorated iron fence. I was given a Shetland pony which lived in the field. It was very wide and had a felt saddle which was very uncomfortable. The pony used to gallop then stop so I went over its head and landed on mine!

1mage view - new window See also - Front Street, Acomb. Postcard, about 1910. Taken from the junction of Green Lane & Front Street, looking towards the centre of the village. The White House is located just by the cart on the far left hand side of the road. Original image courtesy of Clifford Elmer.

Denys then discusses his paternal grandparents - Mills. "My grandfather Mills died before I came on the scene. He was a captain in the 5th Dragoon Guards, a very smart regiment but his forebears were Cordwainers; that is, they made boots and he or his family became rich because they sold boots to the army. I don’t know when they started to do this --- whether for the Boer War or for the Napoleonic Wars.

My Grandmother [Charlotte] I loved. She was very loving and couldn't see very well because she had cataracts and very thick pebble glasses but was generous. I also loved the cook and Alice the parlour maid, who brought my granny a whisky and biscuit, which made crumbs, at eleven o'clock every morning. My granny liked whisky. She went to Holy Communion in the church almost every morning by walking across the road and turning left and then right up a steep lane, across another road to the Anglican church.

Acomb Hall - image adapted - Original courtesy of Clifford Elmer.Granny was very fond of Parry and Mrs Parry. Mrs Parry had been my mother's governess and Mr Parry was on the Railways. They lived in a house on the railway embankment [very steep] and their house smelt of sponge cake and Mrs Parry baked very well and wore a big hat. They lived about a mile away. Mr Parry always wore a blue suit and had a gold chain across his waistcoat.

Our cook always made bread, as everyone in Yorkshire did at the time. She had a young girl to help her. There was often trouble with servants because my granny could not understand that prices had gone up and didn't want to pay the servants at the new rate. Also, she rather resented the fact she hadn't enough servants as she had before, when she lived in Acomb Hall [aka Blue Hall - because of the slate roof].

This was a big white house that she left just before I was born and is now [or was a few years ago] the local hospital in a big park. My granny thought that she was rather grand when she lived there and felt that she had come down in the world, which she resented, I think. [now demolished]

Site Note - Local Records
The Hall and its quota of servants - illustrative of the number of servants employed at the Hall - but before the Mills family lived there ...
1881 Census

The 1901 Census accords Acomb Hall seven servants ...

Living in the Hall itself (there were others, non-resident) were ... Alice Ellen Wilson (39) Governess, born London Fanny Eden (24) Lady's Maid born Worcestershire Elizabeth Jenkins (28) Housemaid born Flintshire
Alice Jarvill (22) Housemaid born Lincolnshire Henry Farr (33) Butler born Cardington (County not shown) Minnie Carlisle (26) Cook born Nottinghamshire Laura Annie Jarvis (18) Kitchen Maid born Yorkshire

The family members present at the time of the Census were: Charlotte Dorothea Mills (Head) (46) Wife - living on own means - born Ireland. William John Mills (22) Son - born Yorkshire. Alice Maud Mills (23) Daughter - born Yorkshire. Kathleen Mary Mills (14) Daughter - born Yorkshire. All details extracted by and courtesy of Clifford Elmer together with the transcript of the Obituary of Joseph Mills for 20th January 1900 from the Yorkshire Gazette as follows:

"The death took place at his residence, Acomb Hall, York on Saturday of Captain Joseph Mills. The deceased gentleman who was in his 56th year, had lived in York nearly all his life, and was well known in the city and neighbourhood. He resided in Middlethorp Lodge, Dringhouses, in Petergate, and at Acomb Hall. Formerly he served in the 5th Dragoon Guards, but severed his connection with the regiment some twenty-two years ago. The funeral took place at Acomb Churchyard on Wednesday afternoon. The cortège was met at the lych-gate by the Bishop of Beverly, the Rev. R. P. T. Tennent, vicar of Acomb, the Rev. E. S. Carter, vicar of St Michael-le-Belfrey, and members of the choir. The Vicar of Acomb read the opening sentences as the procession moved into the church. The lesson was read by the Rev. E. S. Carter, and the hymn, “Now the labourer’s task is o’er.” was sung. The Bishop of Beverley offered the committal prayers and gave the Blessing. The body was enclosed in a shell of cedar wood resting in a casket of pollard oak. A number of beautiful wreaths had been placed on the coffin, sent by Mrs Mills, Miss Ally Mills, “W. Mills and Children” F. Mills, Captain and Mrs Bloomfield, Mrs Bloomfield (New Park), Miss Bloomfield, Miss E. Bloomfield, Captain and Mrs Kay, Mr Bardwell, Mr and Mrs Akenhead, Mr and Mrs Mawson (Coachman), the outdoor servants, Mr Ernest Oldfield, Dr Rose and others. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Messrs Brown Brothers and Taylor’s Limited, Coney Street, York."

(Joseph Mills died on 13th January 1900 & his wife Charlotte Dorothea Bloomfield died on 23rd November 1926.)

The following text about Acomb (Blue) Hall is by courtesy of members of Acomb Local History Group :- Shelia Elmer, John Terry & Dorothy Holdsworth. Their contribution includes the Mills family burial plot image shown.

This building was first mentioned in 1780 as being built by Matthew Burton. It stood to the north of the Wetherby Road more or less on the site now occupied by The Gables. Ownership appears to have passed to a William Winn who originated from Long Marston, but the building was apparently occupied by a Robert Thompson, an innkeeper from Kirkstall. What plans he had are not known. Then, in 1797, ownership passed to John Weatherall of Acomb Grange, gent. but the house itself seems to have been occupied by maiden ladies – first the Misses Wright, then Miss Ramsey. Another maiden lady, Miss Harriet Percival, had acquired some 24 acres of land, north of the site, in 1792 from her cousins, the Bean sisters. On this occasion the vendor’s attorney had been Rev. Charles Miller. By the following year, Mr Miller had acquired Miss Percival and presumably, also the land by adding the name Percival to his name. So it’s not surprising to find the Percivals bought the house itself in 1803 and they may have lived there till 1816, during which time five daughters were born. When Charles Percival died, however, in 1816, the house was in the occupation of General Wynard. By 1839 Jane Cornelia Percival had become the wife of Rev. Robert Swann of Brandsby and the Hall was leased for six years to George Richard Austen, clerk. Yet, by 184, it was a Jonathan Shaw, farmer and horse dealer, who was living there, as also in 1851. Later in 1861 Robert Swann, presumably Cornelia’s son, was in residence. In 1882, after two of the sisters had died, Rev. Clement Dawson Strong was admitted as devisee to 2/4 parts. At that time Thomas Stanton Starkey was living in the Hall (1871 and 1881 Censuses). Major Henry Dent Brocklehurst, J. P. was there in 1889 (Kelly’s Directory) and his widow, Marion, in 1891.

Site Note "Marion" was born Marion Lascelles. Of interest is that Sudeley Castle ... " is steeped in history. It has royal connections spanning a thousand years and has played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England's past. Today it is the home of the Dent Brocklehurst family." Sudeley and the Seymours ... Tollemache and Hanbury-Tracy ... all feature prominently in the maternal line of this site.

Joseph Mills was probably the next occupant but it was in the hands of the executors by the time of the 1906 Rating List, with his widow Dorothea living there.By 1917 Mrs Mills had moved to White House and the days of the Hall as a private residence were numbered. For a short period around the end of the First World War it functioned as a headquarters for the Royal Flying Corps and then the Royal Air Force. It was during this period that ‘temporary hutments’ were built in its grounds. Once the war was over, York City Council became interested in Acomb Hall on a three-fold basis –

1.      To use the Hall building itself as a Maternity Hospital.
2.      To use the hutments for housing purposes.
3.      To sell of the remaining part of the estate for private building.
All three objectives were achieved in the period around 1920 to 1922.
Acomb Hall functioned as a Maternity Hospital from 1922 to 1954.
It then functioned as a Geriatric Hospital from 1954 to 1976.
The end came by demolition in the 1980s.

Of the tombs, Susan Tollemache writes: William (Uncle Willie) Mills is on the left, Joseph & Charlotte Mills are in the middle & my Grandmother, Kathleen (Mills) Tollemache is on the right of the picture.

Denys Tollemache continues:

We also saw a lot of my uncle Sheffield and aunt Ally [Alice, his mother’s sister] and uncle George and aunt Clare. Both of the latter were very good looking and nice but not so much good. He was a barrister and she was a parson's daughter. They lived in London. The parson had two other girls, also very good looking. We also had uncle Earnie to stay - he made a lot of money from growing rubber in Malaya and was a very good man. Uncle Willie broke his neck in riding in point to point [horse races over the sticks] and uncle Bertie and his wife came to stay, as did great uncle Fred who did a lot of good works with Boys' Clubs in London and had two children, Jack and Dorothy. Jack was ultimately on the Burmah [Burma] Road and was a Patent Agent.

Uncle Sheffield and aunt Ally lived in Skelton Manor, a lovely Elizebethan house two miles outside York. In front was a beautiful little Norman church. They also had a modern house only a few hundred yards away where aunt Ally sometimes lived because it was drier, and the old manor house gave her Asthma.  Aunt Ally and uncle Sheffield had a Land Girl, called Antonia Oscario. She was beautiful and Spanish and her father/grandfather had been kicked out of Spain just like my paternal grandmother [Dora Cleopatra Maria Lorenza de Orellana wife of Rev. Ralph W. L. T. Tollemache] and for the same reason.Reverend Ralph Tollemache and family ... She married Colonel Robinson, one of Sheffield’s friends – a farmer in Gloucestershire. Uncle Sheffield’s father was the parson there but was dead. Uncle Sheffield farmed, but not profitably. Mostly, he hunted, fished, shot or ran after bar maids and drank but was generally a good and loving man.

His great great uncle was General Williams who looked after Napoleon on St Helena and his uncle lived at Mitford Castle, which he got for the latter reason; that was near Bath. Uncle Sheffield always hoped that he would be left money; I don’t think that he was. Uncle Sheffield was a brave man and had fought in the Zulu rebellion and the Great War in which he had his ear blown off and had pieces of shrapnel embedded in his skull; some of which gradually worked their way out. He covered the wound with a black patch. He taught me a lot of things, how to shoot, fish, drive and drink. I had a “cat and dog” relationship with him."

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Of the many anecdotes associated with his life, Susan describes how her father, " ... while at University in Cambridge, "disappeared" with two friends in his bi-plane. He was heading for China but got only as far as Paris where he crashed into a field of Brussel sprouts in the fog. Thankfully, none of them was injured. The only thing that was hurt was his pride.

One of his friends headed for a garret and lived there as an artist for a few years, marrying a girl of sixteen and having several children. The other, a missionary, never made it to China but qualified as a doctor. My father wandered around Paris, dressed in bowler hat and jodphurs, trying to sell the wreckage for scrap while the family at home was in a panic.

He did get his degree - in history. His thesis was on Napoleon Boneparte. Later, when flying down (again in his own plane) from London to Nice in France with my mother after their secret civil wedding in Chelsea (April 1939) for their church wedding, he followed the railway line and if a cloud obscured the tracks, he would swoop down to get his bearings, checking with the OS map spread out on his knees - or he would get my mother to read the name on a station along the platform as they flew past - before climbing skywards again."

As Susan says, Denys Tollemache was "a man larger than life". Despite the sad family story of his father's last days, neither the life of Denys' father nor of his mother was in vain. Indeed, Denys' own life was a fitting example of Kahlil Gibran's words, "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself." - (Kahlil Gibran from The Prophet. )

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Site Note

Acomb Historical Society member, Clifford Elmer - who kindly located the originals for the images above - writes in July 2004, "[these] recollections, and especially the detailed description of the White House, are fascinating and I have not seen similar details anywhere else.  You may be aware that the house was demolished in the 1960s and was replaced by the Acomb Working Mens' Institute.  The garden area is now the car park for a local Supermarket!"

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