The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire: in love with Eastbourne
PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:11 20 February 2013
The Dukes of Devonshire created much of Eastbourne's modern town and its iconic seafront. The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire has fond memories of the family's property in the town, Compton Place, which features in her newly-published memoirs
Sussex is a thread that runs through the memoirs of the youngest Mitford sister, Deborah Devonshire, which are just published.
The Dowager Duchess tells the story of her life including, of course, her marriage to Andrew Cavendish, the 11th Duke of Devonshire.
It is clear from the book that Sussex is a county dear to her and her late husband and her family.
One of the earliest mentions is of a young Andrew, then 19, fleeing from his bookmakers after a day out at Brighton races.
Later, after their wedding at St Bartholemew the Great in Smithfield, the couple spent their six-day wartime honeymoon at the Devonshires property in the county. She recalls in her book:
We went to my parents-in-laws house Compton Place for our six precious days of honeymoon. It was a week of intensive air raids.
All night long the German planes throbbed overhead on their way to London a constant drone of engines bent on their mission to destroy.
Eastbourne was a restricted area because of being on the coast and, with the enemy only a few miles away across the Channel, it may seem a strange place for Andrews family to have gone in wartime, but we all loved it and I often stayed there when Andrew was away.
Compton Place was where the 10th Duke of Devonshire (Eddy) died on 26 November 1950. His early death meant that his son and heir Andrew was faced with a demand for 80 per cent death duties. With interest, the debt was not cleared until 1974.
The Duchess recounts how the 10th Duke was chopping wood at Compton Place, one of his favourite leisure activities when he died.
While engaged in his favourite occupation, Eddy suffered a massive heart attack and just managed to reach the hall of the house before collapsing. He was 55.
The death certificate was signed by the infamous Dr John Bodkin Adams, our GP at Eastbourne, who the following year was accused of murdering one of his patients; it was then discovered that more than 160 others in his care had died in suspicious circumstances.
This suspected serial murderer had seemed very affable to me when he looked after Stoker and Emma (two of the Duchess three children Stoker is now the 12th Duke) while they had whooping cough during the war.
As a result of death duties, the 11th Duke had to dispose of 12,000 acres of agricultural land in Dumfriesshire, 42,000 acres in Derbyshire, town property and woodlands in Sussex, and a house in London.
Most of the glorious furniture and books from Compton Place were sold and the house was let to a language school. The kitchen garden was built on and a brutish 1950s edifice took the place of that beautiful, productive garden.
Wait For Me! Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister
by Deborah Devonshire.
Published John Murray. 20.
The Dowager Duchess was recently the guest of honour at the launch of the new premises of Much Ado books in Alfriston where she signed copies of her book.
She said that she spent much of the war at Compton Place with her young children and her in-laws and remembered the bombers as she described them in her book (see left): The aeroplanes, the German aeroplanes, the bombers, used to come over at night, and thump, thump over the house. I had my two children there who were babies. We knew the bombers werent going to bother with us because they were going on to London. It was a strange experience.
And she remembered how much she loved Compton Place and Sussex in general: I loved that house. It was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I always loved being down here, theres something about the atmosphere.
The Downs are absolutely second to none in their beauty and the feel of them. Its just lovely.