When Veronica and I came to Hanover House #hanoverhouse in 2007, a number of strange, incidental connections occurred with links between our past, present and future.
First, we had hunted high and low for a suitable house in the Cheltenham area for nearly a year while still living in a medieval farmhouse in Suffolk. We would compile lists of potential houses and then arrange to drive over to view about half a dozen at a time. This went on for months, and by the time we had seen in excess of 50 and none had been quite right or we hadn’t fallen in love with them, we were getting a bit depressed. Then, we saw 65 St George’s Road in an estate agent’s brochure and it looked promising. But first, we got Rachael, our daughter teaching at the Ladies’ College at the time, to take a look at it for us. She has similar tastes to her mother and knows what she likes. She rang back enthusiastically ‘You’ve got to see this one’. With that we headed west without delay, and within seconds of entering the house, we knew that this was the one. We immediately fell in love with its ambience and everything about it – it felt like a happy house. I noticed then the first major coincidences – the house was located immediately opposite the Registry Office where Veronica and I had married in 2003, was also located 50 yards from the Ladies’ College, but principally, it was called Hanover House. I was born in Hanover, Germany while my father was serving in the occupation army after the Second World War. It had actually been named by an earlier owner, Elke Stratford, who had been the daughter of a large brewing family in Celle and Hanover, but the name had stuck. My first posting on commissioning in the army was to Celle in 1971.
The next major coincidence occurred a year later while I was researching the house’s history and all of its occupants since it was built in 1848. Veronica and I are aficionados of classical music and used to argue over the merits of Mozart v Beethoven, but her first and major favourite composer had always been Sir Edward Elgar. Imagine her excitement and disbelief when I told her that my research (which she had always been a bit dismissive of) had revealed that Edward Elgar’s wife-to-be Caroline Alice Roberts, had lived in our house for several years while her father served in the army in India and her brothers attended Cheltenham College! Subsequently we put up a Blue Plaque, sponsored by the Elgar Society to commemorate her stay and connection with Cheltenham.
On a smaller scale, later connections came along. I had been given years before, a model of a Hussar, which had always had pride of place on my mantelpieces although I had no connections with the 10th Hussars (the Cherrypickers – because of their cherry-coloured overalls). One of my favourite sculptures had always been Rodin’s Kiss, which for a significant birthday a few years ago, Veronica had bought a bronze replica of, and I had also had an abiding fascination for the tragic loss of the Titanic in 1912. I had a number of books on it and Veronica, on ordering a replica of a sailing ship for me (I am also a Patrick O’Brien fan) had accidentally been sent a model of the Titanic, which we kept.
Researching family history then subsequently revealed that a resident of Hanover House in the late 1850s had been Captain John Shakespear RHA, present at the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava (and who lived 200 yards from Alfred Lord Tennyson of ‘Charge of the Light Brigade‘ fame and Poet Laureate, in St James’ Square just behind York Terrace) whose father Arthur had been ADC to Major General Hussey Vivian, commanding a light cavalry brigade at Waterloo in 1815. Arthur Shakespear was in the 10th Hussars and, in addition, Hussey Vivian turned out to be a relative of a later occupant of Hanover House, the Rev Henry Holmes Joy, curate of St Mary’s in 1866-69. The Rodin connection has transpired to be that Rodin’s Kiss came to Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery for a few years before eventually moving to the Tate (and is currently back in the new Wilson Art Gallery at the Museum for three months, while on tour). Rodin himself stayed at his sister’s home in Cheltenham in the early days of the First World War while taking refuge from the German invasion of Belgium. The Titanic connection was personal and nothing to do with Hanover House or Cheltenham (as far as I know), when I found while researching my mother’s family on Ancestry.co.uk, that a cousin had been a Third Class Steward on board and had gone down with the ship. The most recent Titanic story concerned the violin that the leader of the ship’s orchestra, Wallace Hartley played while the ship went down, to calm the passengers. It had come up for sale at auction and fetched a record £900,000 in Wiltshire in October 2013.
Being an exclusive bed and breakfast, a number of interesting people come through our doors and on a number of occasions we have re-discovered that it is a very small world finding mutual friends, families and places with our guests. This has ranged from the first dental nurse of a very good dentist friend of ours who had given us a picture of Beverley Minster he had painted himself, which had been fixed to the ceiling above the dental chair for a number of years, presumably to distract its occupants, and subsequently given to us. The ex-nurse had immediately recognised it, as it now proudly dominates the main staircase of the house and is often admired. A Yorkshire neighbour and schoolfriend of Veronica’s children immediately recognised a family photograph on the desk by the front door on arrival, and was able to instantly name all five. Ex-army guests have recognised faces in the army group photographs also on display – and so it goes on. We look forward to the next connection of any sort.