From the flyleaf of Eileen K. Wade, 27 Years with Baden-Powell, 1957:
Eileen Wade served Baden-Powell as Confidential Secretary and assistant until his death in 1941. The following excerpt provides a first-hand description of the Baden-Powell’s home at Pax Hill and the life of the family at home.
Eileen K. Wade, 27 Years with Baden-Powell, Chapter 5. Pax Hill.
EXTRACT from a letter from Lady Baden-Powell to Major Wade from a letter from Lady Baden-Powell to Wade, in Salonika, dated March 26th, 1919, from Pax Hill, Bentley, Hampshire.
The stretch of country which lies alongside the River Wey, between the market towns of Alton in Hampshire and Farnham in Surrey, was described by Arthur Young, a seventeenth-century traveller and writer, as ‘the finest ten miles in England’
So, when the B.-P.’s were looking for the perfect place to live, it is not surprising that they hit upon this area.
With its rolling downs and grassy uplands, its fields of hay and corn, its orchards and hop-gardens, its winding lanes with flowerstrewn banks and ancient thatched barns and houses, Bentley is still a place of beauty and peace.
Its little river straggles quietly through lush water-meadows, and beyond it to the south lies the green forest of Alice Holt, in which even today one may see wild deer.
To this haven, towards the end of 1918, came the Chief and Lady B.-P., more or less by chance. They had been bicycling round the neighbourhood (petrol was rationed) looking at various houses from particulars supplied by house-agents, and had found nothing suitable. Then suddenly, as they were giving up hope, they came upon the house of their dreams, in the countryside of their dreams —and they looked no further.
Pax Hill, or Blackacre as it was then called, is at the top of a halfmile drive, well away from the main road (A31) which runs from London to Winchester and Southampton.
It is a red-brick house fronting south over the wide Surrey-Hampshire hills, with higher land behind. On your left, as you faced the house, was the sheltered rose-garden where right on into the winter the roses bloomed and pigeons fluttered to and from their little white cote mounted on a lofty tree-trunk.
If you climbed the hill at the back of the house on a clear day you got a wonderful view: an infinite stretch of upland and woodland, with hazy blue depths and a purple bloom on the ridge of the hills.
But visitors to Pax Hill always climbed with a purpose. The view must be earned by work, whether black-berrying, mushrooming or the collection of rabbit food, or digging up plants for transportation to the garden.
One night I remember, when a bleak wind was blowing and no ‘sensible’ person would have left the warm house, the Chiefs climbed to its highest point in order to receive a Morse message which the local Scouts wanted to flash across the valley: a message of good wishes for their journey to America.
Near the rose-garden were the two summer-houses, where the three babies spent joyful hours with horses and with sand. Heather and Betty never had the slightest use for dolls; it was horses they loved from the time they could say the word. I have a drawing done by Peter, at the age of about six, of ‘Sharker’, the first favourite.
In the shrubbery was a special tree where Peter would invite you to ‘come along and see a climbing stunt’. First he and then Heather would go warily but sure-footedly upwards, until the top branches swayed under the weight of one sturdy climber, while the other one shouted instructions from safety below.
Those were indeed ‘halcyon days’, and treasured all the more because of the many partings that had to be. Sunday tea in the nursery was something to be looked forward to and kept in mind during a busy week of Scout and Guide engagements. Rallies were almost always held on Saturdays, and if it were in any way possible to get home for Sunday tea the B.-P.s would do it, even if it meant night journeys.
When at home and free, the Chiefs, and anyone staying with them, usually walked across the hop-fields to Bentley church on Sunday mornings, and spent the afternoon in the garden. After nursery tea, which we sometimes shared, the Chief would get clown to work. He liked to get a lot of things cleared up on Sunday evening, ready for the fresh avalanche of letters the next morning.
I often typed from 8.30 on Sunday evening until 2 in the morning, as I, too, liked to start the week with a clear note-book.
The Chief slept out of doors winter and summer, on the balcony opening out of Lady Baden-Powell’s bedroom. I hope this balcony will always remain an integral part of the house, commanding, as it does, the view which he loved so much. I got to know it almost as well as he did when, as he grew older, the doctor or Lady B.-P. would order a day in bed for him and we worked there instead of in the study.
But in those first years he was invariably up by five o’clock and out by seven, thus gaining, as he said, years more of life than the people who slept till eight o’clock.
Though far too busy to see very much of his ‘four-o’clock-tea’ neighbours, the Chief saw a very great deal of those local inhabitants whose work took them out early, and many of them became his firm friends. The blacksmith, the postman, the river-watcher, the hop-driers and other farm workers were out and about then; and so were the wild animals and birds, for at this time of day the country belonged to them too.
Pax Hill was a real home, and it was for those twenty years their only home, because the Chief could never see the point of having several houses, for the picture that you specially wanted to show a friend, or your favourite dog, was likely to be in the other house.
It was a home-made home, too, in which everything, as it came along, had happy associations for the family—and for the Scout family, too.
As the children grew, so did the Scout and Guide movement, and so also did the house—by the addition of two wings. The children had their share in all this, and spent happy days watching the builders and playing on the scaffolding. The west wing, with its large music-room, was designed by the Chief and filled by him with his scouting mementos from all parts of the world. Here were his swords and presentation caskets; and here were the many treasures made or given by Scouts the world over.
The new bathroom was decorated with a frieze depicting fish in the River Wey, modelled by his own hand. The ‘plot’, taken in from an adjoining field, was dug and planted by themselves. This piece of the garden was their very own, untouched by the gardeners, and here they were often to be found when I arrived on the scene on summer Sunday evenings, to lure the Chief back to his desk.
In designing the visitors’ wing, the Chief had ensured that his guests should have the same exquisite view to the south that he had from his own balcony. This view must be remembered by people in most parts of the world, for Pax Hill was, during those twenty years, the Mecca to which came Scouters and Guiders from the great cities of the United States, from the lonely Canadian prairies, the African veldt, the Australian bush, from mission stations in India, China and Japan, as well as from every part of the European homeland. The name ‘Pax’ became a popular name for Scout and Guide houses in distant lands, and those who carried the word far afield took also something of the spirit of the place away with them.
Said a writer in a South African newspaper:
The Chief loved a wide view. Too much of his life had been spent on open veldt end wide plain for trim to appreciate the cosy, hedged in surroundings of so many of his neighbours. ‘Look wide’ was his motto, and this applied also to every part of life, physical, mental and spiritual.
As he loved a big view, so also he loved a big drawing-block or writing-pad, for, as he said, ‘I can think big thoughts more easily if I have large paper to write on.’ I used to have many of his writing blocks specially made, some of them measuring nearly two feet in each direction. He disliked anything ‘niggling’ in any department of life.
Visitors to Pax Hill, as I have said, were many, and scarcely a night passed without an occupant, often several, in the wing. Each visitor was made to feel that he or she was the one person that their hosts had wanted to see. Busy though they always were, no guest was ever allowed to feel hustled or in the way. Meals were leisurely, saunters with the dogs and horses frequent, tennis and riding were there for those who liked them, and mixed hockey in the winter for family, visitors, staff and villagers. Country dancing in the big music-room will be remembered by many from far afield as well as by the older inhabitants of the village.
And there was always gardening to be done. The Chief used to tell the Scouts that no gardener deserved to go to heaven, because he had such a heavenly time here. Weeding, pruning, hedge-cutting and log-sawing were some of the happiest occupations of his spare hours, and all visitors were welcome to take a hand in the job of the moment.
On either side of the wide drive Scouts and members of the Camping Club were free to pitch their tents. My first Guide camp was in the paddock there when I was still living in London and helping with Guides at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
Water was laid on for campers, and a tour of the house—a veritable museum of Scouting—was thrown in for all who wanted it.
More than one member of a foreign royal house has called at the back door for the mug of cocoa offered to all campers; for uniform covers distinctions in rank, and all were equally welcome, provided they were Scouts.
Indoors there was a continuous atmosphere of pleasant activity. The drawing-room was no mere room for ‘with-drawing’ after the business of eating. It was the Chief Guide’s workroom, where, at desk and typewriter, she spent many hours each day, looking longingly at garden and tennis-court which could be her reward only when her desk was clear. And by that time she would probably be due for a Guide Rally or to receive visitors.
In the winter evenings the drawing-room was turned into a children’s playroom, where the climbing enthusiasts made it their aim to get right round the room without once touching the floor. Small wonder that Peter was heard to add the petition ‘God bless the furniture’ to his nightly prayers.
Meal-times at Pax varied from those in other houses, in that, while lunch and dinner were small meals and did not occupy much time, breakfast and afternoon tea were lingered over and enjoyed. The Chief was at his best at breakfast time, after his morning walk, and thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of coffee and correspondence, often sitting over it for more than an hour. Tea-time brought more letters, and he often read the morning paper at that time, or stayed to play with the children.
If the Chief was a home-lover, Lady B.-P. was certainly a homemaker. Nobody could induce her to enter a dress shop or hat shop unless absolutely necessary; but china shops and ironmongers were as the breath of life to her, and in the arranging of pictures and bookcases she was always happy.
Yet neither of them regarded home-making as an end in itself. Home, to both of them, was a place to come back to after activity abroad, a place where you could be sure of a warm welcome from children, staff or dogs, a place where your own comfortable bed awaited you after the day’s work was done.
This was the Chief’s teaching, too, about a Scout camp. Camp should not be the be-all or end-all, but rather the base from which you set forth on your quests and adventures, a home to which you would return for the evening meal and the night’s rest. It should be comfortable, with plenty of well-made gadgets for ensuring neatness and good camping, but it should not be the lolling-ground by day of healthy Scouts and Guides.