1962, Part 65
Michael L Roach
Lord Mildmay of Flete and Great Western Housing
When the Second World War started in 1939 Lord Mildmay offered part of his country house as a maternity home so that it could be moved out of Plymouth due to the risk of bombing and releasing capacity for injuries due to the war and bombing. It was there at Flete House that I was born along with many of my school friends and just one of 9,000 babies born there. Lord Mildmay was a Director of the Great Western Railway from 1915 to 1945. I doubt whether Lord Mildmay used Yealmpton Station much at all. On his frequent trips to London to attend the House of Commons and later the House of Lords he would have found it much quicker and more convenient to use Ivybridge Station on the main line four miles north of Flete House. Being a director of the Company would have enabled him to have a London express stop especially for him. The River Erme also passed though Ivybridge and beneath Ivybridge railway viaduct and the ancient Ivy Bridge, which became well-known after it was painted by the famous artist JMW Turner in 1814-15, and which gave the town its name.
The GWR not only built and maintained engines, coaches, wagons, road vehicles, ships and aeroplanes; but also many different types of buildings including houses for key staff in many places. A few examples of where the GWR built staff houses: Penzance, Truro, Plymouth, Severn Tunnel Junction, Barry, Caerphilly and Swansea. In 1933-34 the GWR built an estate of 30 house at Exwick, Exeter. The report in the GWR Magazine extolled the three bedrooms and how the houses were “fitted throughout with electricity.” The weekly rent was ten shillings (50p) plus three shillings for rates. The formal opening ceremony took place on 8 May 1934 and was performed by Lord Mildmay of Flete. His Lordship spoke highly of the GWR's “excellent example in helping their staff to meet the difficulties caused by shortage of housing accomodation which had been experienced throughout the country since the war” i.e the First World War. Ninety years later those words still ring remarkably true. The cul-de-sac of 30 houses is located off Exwick Road and at the opening ceremony the road was named “Mildmay Close.” There is another Mildmay Close in Swindon and my grandparents lived two streets away from Mildmay Street in Plymouth which I passed many times as a young boy. There are also public houses named after the Mildmay family.
My friend Gareth Jones lived at Barry until a few months ago and was kind enough to visit GWR housing in various towns in South Wales for a possible future article. Gareth now lives in Exeter and recently visited Mildmay Close to take the photos of the GWR houses there which are shown in the attached images. Gareth recorded that all the houses were in good condition; had been externally renovated, and may be still in one ownership. My thanks go to Gareth for his help with this article.
When the First Lord Mildmay died in 1947 the title passed to his only son Anthony Bingham Mildmay who was then aged 37 years and a bachelor – in fact he never married. Anthony Mildmay was a keen amateur jockey and even rode in the Grand National. Two miles south of Flete House the River Erme empties into Bigbury Bay and alongside is a beach known as Mothecombe Beach. I used to visit the beach occasionally with my cousin and her parents because my family did not have a motor car, around the late 1940s. Before leaving home my mother would lay down the law that I was not to venture far into the water because of the known currents at that location. When the Second Lord Mildmay was in residence at Flete House he was in the habit of taking an early morning dip at Motheconbe Beach alone. One day in May 1950 Anthony Mildmay went for his dip as usual but failed to return home afterwards. His body was washed up in the same area a few days later. A sad ending for a jockey with a promising career; however his name lives on in horse races named after him at Aintree, Cheltenham, Newton Abbot and Sandown Park. Since the Second Lord Mildmay had no heirs the title became extinct. The Flete Estate still exists and has its own website.
What did I learn from researching this article ? The first Lord Mildmay and his family, and his father before him, spent so much time in London that they obviously needed a base in the capital. The Mildmay home was in Berkeley Square and in 1911 the house had 17 servants who were all single and all between the ages of 18 and 39. Meanwhile the Mildmay home in South Devon had an even greater number of servants and again all single and all between the ages of 18 and 39 – it looks as though there was a glass ceiling at the age of 40 years. At Flete there would also been additional estate workers living in lodges, cottages and tied houses on the estate. I have had a subscription to ancestry.com for more than ten years but this was the first time that I had looked at members of the aristocracy and it was certainly an eye-opener to see how the aristocracy lived in those days.
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