…. Lot 10: The Georgian mansion known as Staunton Harold Hall together with seventy four acres of land and the cottage at Melbourne Lodge …. any increase on £12,000? … SOLD, to Thomas Oakley (Luton) Ltd, Demolition Contractors.
That was on 12th October 1954, sixty years ago this month, surely the nadir of Staunton’s fortunes. My father was at the auction, the sale price in his catalogue recorded in his bold scrawl. We were all saddened at the prospect but could see no alternative; houses like Staunton were being demolished at the rate of one a week. We were impoverished, and felt diminished as a nation; we had won the war but lost the peace.
One woman who hadn’t given up hope was the Dowager Countess Ferrers, whose home this had been and whose husband had died on the night of the sale. She persuaded Leonard Cheshire, who was busy setting up his homes for the incurably sick, to come and look at Staunton. He records his misgivings on arrival; no one else had come forward in the six month stay of execution ordered by the Council, the place was huge, and water was dripping in everywhere. But the enthusiasm of the Countess and the people he met here persuaded him that it could be done. and he took it on.
This act of faith prompted a great outpouring of help from the local community; dozens of people could be seen here doing all sorts of jobs to make the place habitable. Cheshire records an incident when a young reporter arrived to do an article – he had a brush stuck in his hand by the Countess and was sent to sweep the dining room floor. I too had a ‘walk on’ part; on leave from the army and with access to a pickup truck I was set to work pulling out scrap iron for sale. I demolished a big cooker left by the army and other things, some of which would get me locked up today. We won through and, as so often in a crisis, it was individuals, not committees, which made the difference.