A Recent History of the Grant family, in the words of the Reverend Antony Grant, son of Robin Grant, the previous owner of Pitchford Hall.
The three people most closely associated with Pitchford in the last century were General Sir Charles Grant and his wife Lady Sybil – and their only son, my Father, Robin.
My grandfather Charlie was always the perfect gentleman, Harrow and the Guards, elegant, absolutely charming to women. He inherited Pitchford from his mother, the wife of another General, and Pitchford was very much his beloved home, were he was brought up with his twin brother, who was killed in South Africa. Charlie in civil life had a little two-seater, and drove around with the back filled with guns and fishing rods.
As a young officer he married Lady Sybil, daughter of the Earl of Rosebery and his wife Hannah Rothschild. Neither of her parents knew much about parenting, and so Lady Sybil made sure that Robin their only son didn’t get much of it either. She hated babies in general, specially her son, said babies made her fat. Robin was largely brought up by his widowed grandfather Lord Rosebery, but he took after his engineer grandfather, and his ½ Jewish mother. Sybil and Charlie, his parents, couldn’t see him as public school boy or guardee, and put him into the Royal Navy where he started at Osborne at 16, a very tough life indeed. Robin was turned into a hard swearer, hard-drinker, women-chaser, who liked to put on a fake Jewish accent – no doubt to annoy his mother who was into denial about her own Jewishness. She was fascinated by all things Scottish, and arranged for her husband Charlie to be buried in the Highlands.
My father was able to retire from the Royal Navy when he married my mother and made a great success of a small pressure gauge factory in Barnet, North of London. So much so that during world war 2 he was released from the Fleet Air Arm, because Barnet Instruments was essential to the War Effort.
Eventually Barnet Instruments was so successful that Father was able to support two country houses on the proceeds. His mother did her best to make sure he inherited nothing from his father or her. The other country house is Codicote Bury, not too far from his factory at Barnet
Lady Sybil was fascinated too by Gypsies, who she encountered at her other, favourite house, Durdans, Epsom, where the racecourse is, left her for her lifetime by her father Lord Rosebery. The only time I saw her, was her ample backside, veiled in shawls, bending over a fortune tellers stall at Bertram Mills circus. My mother was terrified of Sybil, and we kept well away. Sybil mostly herself lived in a caravan, and, when at Pitchford, in the Orangery. Husband and wife communicated by loudspeaker, and written messages.
While Sybil was alive I saw nothing of her side of the family (she forbade them to see my father and his family), but when I was at Oxford as an undergraduate she died (1955) and my father suggested I drive over. Immediately I saw, and sensed, the magic of the place, which you may well share. All the more special, because I am connected by blood with all the families who have lived there for 4 or 5 hundred years. After my Father died in the house in 1972, after losing a long battle with cancer, people have often smelled his cigar smoke – but not me. The house is magical enough without that.
During his last week Father took delivery of two magnificent sports cars. The second one he was too ill to drive, but not the first. His butler had to force Father’s feet into his shoes. “Am I hurting you, Sir?” Mr Rennison asked. No, Father’s feet were already losing sensation.
My stepmother Barbara telephoned to tell me, the end is near, so I drove through the night to the Shrewsbury nursing home. Father had of course lost a lot of weight, and his face reminded me of photos of his father, the elegant Guardee general.
Father left Pitchford to his wife Barbara’s 2nd daughter Caroline, who with her husband Oliver Colthurst, he rightly judged had the right business sense to run the estate. How pleased he must be that their 2nd daughter and her husband James have even more business sense, essential to set up the house and estate on a proper business basis today.