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 -
"Autobiography:- I will try to do better later but for the moment:
I was born on January 12th 1915 and I dont 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 fathers 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 grandmothers 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.
See 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 dont 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 Grandmothers house from Mr Richardsons 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!
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.
The 1901 Census accords Acomb Hall seven servants ...
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:
(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.
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 mothers 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. She married Colonel Robinson, one of Sheffields friends a farmer in Gloucestershire. Uncle Sheffields 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 dont 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."
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. )
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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