Somewhere Precious – An Ode to Cadhay

BY FRANK WRIGHT

We like to go on holiday in England, that place outside the cities which seems as alien as a night without sirens to us in London. It allows us to be among people from a somewhere that we recognise, to answer in ourselves the call of home that has grown so faint.

There are people who are from somewhere – Northerners like me who can map a man by his accent. This bat-like (and batty) talent is like echolocation but more for the purpose of insult and pillage than navigation. It helps to put a place to a voice, and therefore to a face. We know where – and who – we are.

If you are from somewhere you either talk like it or you don’t. I do, because I am a serf, whose ancestors are more likely to be found spilling out of a drakkar on to a frosty beach, or snivelling miserably as they offer their only piglet in rent to the local lord. Forelock tuggers, alehouse brawlers, fishermen and chatty wives. Some of their names are on the wall at Thiepval.

On the other hand there are people who are from somewhere but who don’t talk like it. These people are either:

  1. Nowhere People
  2. Posh
  3. Foreign

I know a lawyer who once was a scouser, an idiom which his fancy university has patiently aetherised upon its examination table.

The middle class counterjumper is careful to erase his identity and the handicap it would have been. Careers are all theatre to some degree, the law being obviously performative. To the Nowhere People, the career is the portal to a world away from the one which bore them. Nowhere is always better than somewhere. They are eager to escape what they are, and favour the anonymity of cities, their Utopia. Better a tourist attraction than a landscape, for the land is that from which we spring, and to escape it is the desire of a man who prefers a resort. It is the spirit of the supermarket.

The time is coming when the nowhere people, once careful to efface their origins in aping their tutors, will affect the kind of accents they used to be so careful to expunge.

The Posh, surprisingly, are always with us. They have retired from the public eye, no longer zooming through our imaginations, literature and screens like Mr Toad. I have always considered Toad to be an exemplar in matters of the road, and it is to him I owe my driving motto – “Victory or Nothing”.

Finally there are foreigners. I will pass over them in silence.

Tea garden, Cadhay

It is a relief to meet someone like Rupert Thistlethwayte who is not pretending to be anyone else. His career is to be himself. Whilst I was at his place I tramped out in my wellies to chop up some wood. This was needless but made me feel like the kind of person I ought to be. I found him by the woodstore and began to inflict myself upon him with enthusiasm.

He patiently endured me. When I had worked something up I signed at his big old house and said

But YOU – you’re autochthonous. Sprung from the earth. The modern world is rootless and here you are. Here you and yours always were. What a thing it is to belong so much today.

I enjoyed pointing up at him. It is a sort of revenge for those nostrils of his. Norman nostrils, neat as apple pips, into which the timorous eyes of my stunted ancestors would have been compelled to stare.

Rupert’s family have been at Cadhay since the 16th Century. Built in 1550 by John Haydon, it is arranged around a central Court of the Sovereigns, displaying likenesses of Edward VI, Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.

Robert Haydon, John’s nephew, added the long gallery. His wife, Joan Poulett, is Rupert’s ancestor.

The Long Gallery at Cadhay, replete with pistols

For nearly five hundred years Cadhay has seen near ruin and renewal, its permanence and renascence a retort to the evanescent culture of the portable screen. It embodies the kind of historical memory which competes with the perpetual immediate as an explanation of the world.

Frank Wright is a reality reviewer and lives in London (for now) with his family. He has wasted his life on books and currently writes for TCW. You can read more of his work on SubStack.