Asthall Manor
It was January, dim and tempestuous, and the Windrush was in flood approaching Asthall along the river from Swinbrook. Our excitement at the prospect of a possible new job was further electrified by the strangeness of thunder and lightning in the middle of winter. On top of this, the house we were to visit had been the home of the celebrated Mitford sisters, who included writers Nancy and Jessica, Diana, wife of the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Oswald Mosley, and Debo, Duchess of Devonshire. Asthall was the house where the ‘Hons’ – pre-war characters from the novels of Nancy and real sisters in the memoirs of Jessica, had had their ‘cupboard’. Jessica wrote of the second ‘Hons’ Cupboard’ at Swinbrook that it was ‘where Debo and I spent much of our time, and still has the same distinctive, stuffy smell and enchanting promise of complete privacy from the Grown-ups.’ The first ‘Hons’ Cupboard’, familiar to readers of Nancy Mitford, had been at Asthall – where the family spent only a few years, but miraculously time had almost stood still since they had left. Mr Hardcastle, from whose estate Rosie Pearson bought the house, changed almost nothing and lived in increasingly antediluvian isolation like a character in a novel.


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