The Mitfords were good ol' High Wycombe gals

4:16pm Thursday 8th March 2001


ARISTOCRACY, scandal and frivolity are all words which have been used to describe the Mitford girls, and their time in High Wycombe is still vividly remembered.

After the BBC showed a dramatisation of Nancy Mitford's novel Love In a Cold Climate and a documentary on her life, people started to remember the Mitfords impact on the town.

Old Mill Cottage in Bassetsbury Lane, High Wycombe, was the country home of the Mitfords' when the six famous sisters, Nancy, Diana, Pamela, Deborah, Jessica and Unity, were growing up.

Former parlour maid to the Mitfords, Rosa-Minnie Arthurs says: "I could tell you some tales,"

The 92-year-old, of Rose Avenue, Hazlemere, says she will never forget the famous family.

"Lady Redesdale was lovely but he wasn't [Lord Redesdale]. He wasn't what I call a gentlemen and in those days we were very much looked down on. All the family were there when I worked there, that was when I was about 22-years-old."

The fact that the Mitford family lived in the town is not very well documented but while they were here they caused somewhat of a stir.

Edna Walker, of High Wycombe, knew Unity Mitford, who attended Oakdene private school in Beaconsfield, and says she was a bit of a rebel.

"She was a friend of Hitler's and there was no secret about that," explains Edna. "She used to go to Trinity Congregation Church when she lived in Bassetsbury Lane. She always sat up in the gallery by herself. One day she came home from her travels with a shot gun wound and was part disabled, some people thought it could have been Hitler."

Unity's shot wound caused a lot of gossip and another explanation was that she was so distressed that her country were going to fight her beloved Germany that she shot herself in the head.

Further scandalous gossip hit the streets of High Wycombe when it was rumoured that some of the Mitford girls were up at the Black Shirts camp, a Nazi camp, at Winchbottom Farm, between Flackwell Heath and Little Marlow, and were trying to recruit member to fight for the cause.

Despite a family life like a soap opera, many local people were employed by the Mitfords and enjoyed their extravagant and eccentric ways.

Daphne Haywood, of Stokenchurch, said her parents used to work for the family and she used to play with Jessica and Deborah Mitford.

"We used to play on Marsh Green when I used to live down there. They were lovely, really good play pals. My mum was cook and my dad used to garden and feed their dogs for the Mitfords.

"One thing that sticks out in my mind was they had a huge oven and we used to pack ourselves into it and play sardines. It could fit about 12 of us in there."

The younger Mitford girls seemed to have made a lot of friends in the area despite their nanny having to be close by.

Kathleen Stewart, 83, of Naphill, remembers the Mitfords as Girl Guides.

She says: "I was in the 1st High Wycombe St Andrews Girl Guides and in about 1930, Jessica Mitford was brought with her nanny and she joined the Girl Guides Association.

"They used to come to St Andrews Church on Sunday mornings, which was then in Gordon Road, High Wycombe.

"She was in my Kingfisher patrol. She couldn't catch a ball for toffee and everything was fun even if we lost game she would just laugh. All the Mitford girls used to give their nanny strife."

According to records, the family spent their summers in the cottage when they let their London house to socialites who were doing the 'season', which was living the high social live in the city.

John Halson, of Edgewood Cottage, Gypsy Lane, owns the deeds of sale of Old Mill Cottage which are signed by Lord Redesdale.

He says: "I moved into the cottage about 15 years ago and the builders who build it had the deeds as my cottage was built on part of the original land brought by the Mitfords. Nobody else wanted it so now it is framed in my house."

The notorious family made a lasting impression on High Wycombe's gossips.

There was always something to talk but the gossip wasn't as far- fetched as they thought as the family will always be known as the eccentric Mitfords.

Nancy Mitford NightThe Mitford World is on BBC Knowledge on Friday 9th Marcht at 8pm.

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