Hancox by Charlotte Moore

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Hancox by Charlotte Moore

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A history of Hancox, a large house in rural Sussex and the author's family home, and of the previous generations of her family who lived there.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 536 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670915866

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Hancox is the large imposing house in rural Sussex where Charlotte Moore was brought up, and where she still lives. Although its origins are not fully documented, according to local records it certainly existed by the mid-15th century, its name probably derived from that of John Handcocks, one of the early owners. In what is basically part family history and part biography of the house itself, the author traces its story back to lawyer John Dounton, the first owner about whom nothing substantial is known, who made extensive alterations to it in 1569. It then passed through the hands of several families until her ancestors acquired it in 1888. In 1900 one of them let it to the Church of England Temperance Society as a drying-out house for 'inebriates', but the arrangement was terminated in 1907 and the family moved back in.

The Moores were a fascinating family of soldiers, doctors, politicians, educational pioneers and eccentrics. Since they first moved into the house in 1888, we learn, they wrote everything down and never threw any of it away. This was by no means unusual for the time; Victorians, always inveterate correspondents and often diarists, were renowned for what we would regard today as excessive hoarding (what would they have made of the 'paperless society', let alone the age of the shredder for confidential documents which we are always at pains to destroy?), and as a result theirs was the best-documented age in history. In the pre-telephone, pre-fax and pre-email era, a letter sent by penny post from London early in the morning would reach Sussex by lunchtime. Not only their letters and diaries, but also sketchbooks, shopping lists and chequebook stubs, have been carefully preserved for posterity.

Milicent Ludlow, later Lady Moore, the first member of the family to live there towards the end of the 19th century, was evidently a woman of considerable energy. When she acquired the large dilapidated dwelling and attached farm, she set about enlarging and radically restructuring it, restoring several of the farm cottages, and taking on chief managership of the farm itself. She was one of the most remarkable of the Moores, and her life is just as interesting as the background it is set against, that of life in a country house immediately before the outbreak of the First World War.

We meet many more remarkable members. There is Norman, a brilliantly gifted Irishman who had begun his working life at the age of fifteen, sweeping the floors of a Manchester cotton warehouse, but by sheer hard work rose to the top of the medical profession. There is also Gillachrist, known as Gilla, a sickly baby who was not expected to live, but grew up to be a talented young man with considerable potential – only to share the fate of many others of his generation when he joined the army and was shot dead on the western front in November 1914.

Norman's friends included Rudyard Kipling, Hilaire Belloc and Henry James, while Florence Nightingale was a distant cousin of the family. We meet all these characters and many more, against the background of a rapidly changing age, the era of the death of Queen Victoria, the arrival of the motor car, and the outbreak of world war. The story ends more or less with Milicent's death in 1947, but unlike so many other chronicles of this kind, it ends on a happy note; Hancox survives as a family home to this day.

The illustrations are well chosen, with three sections of plates mostly consisting of family photographs, but also a few watercolours (reproduced in colour) including family portraits, and views of the house and garden.

Our thanks to Viking for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

If you enjoy this, you might also like Daisy: The Lives and Loves of the Countess of Warwick by Sushila Anand.

Buy Hancox by Charlotte Moore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hancox by Charlotte Moore at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Hancox by Charlotte Moore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hancox by Charlotte Moore at Amazon.com.


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