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Dorneywood and the 2008 AGM

(8 August 2008)

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For the SCG AGM event on Friday 8th August 2008, members and friends started of with a visit to the impressive early 1900s Queen Anne Style house Dorneywood in Burnham, which Lord Courtauld-Thompson gifted to the National Trust in 1942. There has been a house there for many years, but unfortunately the two previous ones got burnt down.

Everyone Gathers for the Dorneywood Visit

Dick Strange Talks About the History of Dorneywood

We were greeted by Dick Strange, who is employed by the Dorneywood Thomson Endowment Trust Fund.  On Lord Thomsonís death in 1954, his estate was arranged to create the Dorneywood Trust, which pays for the upkeep of the property, at no cost to the National Trust or to the public purse. Dick gave a fascinating talk on the history of the building and explained what a great philanthropist Lord Thomson was.  He was educated at Eton College, where he was not the most gifted pupil and then went on to Magdalene College Oxford, where he studied law. He fought in the First World War, as a British Red Cross Commissioner.  His sister Elspeth married Kenneth Grahame,  author of the Wind in the Willows and the Secretary of the Bank of England. When Lord Courtauld-Thomson gave Dorneywood to the National Trust he instructed that it was to be used as an official residence by the Prime Minister of the day, or a senior cabinet minister.

Anthony Eden was the first minister to stay at Dorneywood although both he and his wife disliked the house. On the other hand Alec Douglas-Home on becoming Prime Minister was reluctant to forsake the more comfortable and modern Dorneywood for the antique splendours of Chequers. Another, James Callaghan as Foreigh Secretary, also had the use of Dorneywood, but then the larger Chevening became the official country home for the holder of that office.

The Prime Minister alone decides which Minister or Secretary of State is to occupy the house. In previous administrations it has been the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequor and, prior to May 31, 2006, was occupied by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who reluctantly was forced to relinquish occupancy of Dorneywood, following a series of scandals over an affair with civil servant Tracey Temple and a snatched paparazzi photograph of him playing croquet on the lawn of the property whilst the Prime Minister Tony Blair was out of the country on a visit to Washington. The Chancellor of the Exchequer now has use of the building, which is Alastair Darling MP, although he has only stayed there four times in nine months.  It is the responsibility of the Minister to pay for the food and drink costs for himself and his guests, so there is no charge to the taxpayer.

Dick Strange then handed over to the head gardener, who is employed by the National Trust and has worked at Dorneywood for over twenty years. We were shown round the 1930s style gardens firstly to the barn which had stained glass windows with the Courtauld-Thomson crest. Opposite the barn was a much older property, which had been a plain cottage, but had been Ďimprovedí by Lord Thomson with dormer windows and timbers.

Passing behind the building there is a cottage garden full of such plants as dahlias, gladioli and hardy geraniums and profuse with colour and a lovely white solanum cascading over the old wall.

The path then led through to the conservatory which had espaliers of both nectarines and peaches, which were ripening nicely. Outside there were two lemon trees in pots which had some very reasonably sized lemons.

The conservatory looked out on a lily pond. This had been added in 2001, as a water source for the conservatory. There were no fish in the pond as it had newts and was popular with dragonfly. It seemed that the number of newts was dwindling. This was blamed on the grass snakes.

On passing through the herbaceous border which was suffering from wind and rain damage we reached the Dell which was a rounded dip in the ground and was surrounded by flower beds.

We then made our way through the orchard, with trees laden with apples, down to the vegetable garden. Although vegetables were no longer grown due to the time required. Vegetables were discontinued when the number of gardeners was reduced from three to two.

Back through the orchard, along winding paths, to the rose garden full of different coloured roses in full bloom. Apparently these are soon to be replaced, as they are no longer at their best.

Walking through the rose garden we found ourselves back at the front of the house with the beautifully mowed lawn and herbaceous border, not to mention a small swimming pool.

It was then time for tea, which took place in the squash court. Some people took their tea and yummy cakes outside while others sat inside and talked about the interesting visit. Everyone was free to spend a few minutes wandering round before making their way to Stafferton Lodge for dinner and the AGM.

Having fought through the rush hour traffic all thirty six people finally found Stafferton Lodge in Maidenhead and having organised dinner drinks everyone sat down for a fish and chip supper followed by profiteroles, chocolate cake or fresh fruit salad and then coffee intermingled with the AGM.

One highlight was Sid Barkerís trial in that he had planted his titty plant seeds given out at the last AGM and showed everyone the results. The plant was bearing fruit and was about three foot high. The only problem was that the leaves had large, lethal thorns on them which made it a rather unfriendly plant but very different. Marian Hoffmeister brought along a pepper she had grown as part of the trials and also a ridge cucumber which looked very appetising.

Everyone then went home content after a very pleasant day.

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