History of the Amersham Area

Memories of Shardeloes

Copied from the March 1983 Amersham Society News and written by ‘An Old Resident’

My memories of Amersham go back over 70 years to the days when the Tyrwhitt Drake family owned Shardeloes.  This was the age when the whole estate was fully staffed.  The estate office was at Coldmoreham under the agent, Mr Miln, who resided there.  He was assisted in the office by Mr Harry Wilson.  Bill Day, the foreman overseer, lived in Holmwood Terrace with Mr Meredith, the butler, and Mr Herbie Slade, the blacksmith, as neighbours.

The last house in the row, with its front door facing towards Little Shardeloes, was occupied by an old estate pensioner, namely Johnnie Hearne, who had been given the task of caretaker at what was then known as The Bathing Place.  It was called by the boys who used it (no girls were allowed in) the ‘Upper’.  In those early days there was just a wooden stage roofed at one end with corrugated iron.  There were seats and hooks for clothes.  The structure was enclosed just on the one side and on the other side there was a two-bar wooden fence on to Spratley Meadow.  This was very convenient for running around on the grass to help us get dry after a swim.

Shardeloes House, like the estate, was fully staffed.  The gardens were under Mr Scutchings while the kitchen gardens on the main Aylesbury Road, opposite Pipers Wood, were looked after by Mr England and his other helpers.  These supplied all the needs of the house and staff.  Three keepers cared for the woods and the breeding of game for the annual shooting parties.  The timber that was cut from the woods went to Coldmoreham yard and sawmill.  [See below to hear why not everybody liked the gamekeepers.]

The stables at the house and at Coldmoreham both had their full complement of employees, not only those looking after the carriage horses but also stable-boys and jockeys for the racing stable.  This was maintained for breeding and training horses for steeplechasing, under the Squire’s trainer, F Emmerson.  The Squire had four children, Miss Dorothy, Master Teddy, Master Jack and Miss Heather, and like their parents, all excellent horse riders, the girls riding ‘side-saddle’.  Young Jack was a particularly fearless and able rider and rode his father’s entries in all jumping and steeplechase events.

In the year 1912 Frank Emmerson had a horse in training which he knew was a potential Grand National winner.  The training ground was in Hand Meadow and a training course was made parallel to the footpath in Rough Park, leading to Mop End.  A starting gate was erected at the Mop End extremity of Hand Meadow and there were models of the Aintree Grand National jumps and fences which included Beechers Brook and the Canal Turn.  It was on this course that the potential of Irish Mail, which was the name of this very special horse, was developed.

The training went ahead.  Young Jack rode and won several races in preparation for the big occasion.  Then, just a week before the race, a completely unexpected event occurred.  Young Jack went to his father and said he would not be able to ride Irish Mail in the big race because he would have to honour a promise he had once made in an unguarded moment to Lady Torrington that should she ever have a horse in the Grand National he would ride it for her.  Lord Torrington’s entry had not been withdrawn from the race and so Master Jack felt honour bound to keep his promise.

There was consternation at Shardeloes for there was no alternative but to look for a professional rider.  Jack Anthony was available and took the ride.  He was not able to do more than try the horse out over the training course.  There was no time to ride it in an actual race.  Even so, he was able to ride Irish Mail into second place on the day at Aintree.  Everyone, including the Squire and Frank Emmerson, knew that had Jack Drake ridden the horse they would have had the winner.  The whole town also knew that Amersham had been deprived of a Grand National winner owned and trained in the town.

R1_0001  Listen here to Don Breakspear talking about working (unpaid) as a boy on an Amersham farm and his bad experience with one of the Shardeloes gamekeepers.