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MAUD MONTGOMERY’S HONEYMOON IN IRELAND 1881

As they came up the drive, Maud Montgomery had somewhat mixed feelings about her reception and how she should conduct herself at her husband’s home. She had of course seen much of her parents-in-law in London and she was very fond of Sir Robert who she regarded as a charming old gentleman. But she was terribly in awe of her mother-in-law, Lady Montgomery. The latter is on record as saying that ‘she could do nothing with Henry’s young bride who, in her view, was too proud and stiff’.

The truth however was that young Maud was consumed with shyness in the presence of her mother-in-law. After all she was wholly inexperienced and had scarcely attended any social functions; she was far too young to have been a debutante at the London season which had just ended. It is therefore not surprising that she felt somewhat apprehensive on her first arrival at New Park with her newly wed husband. Both were rather tired as on the steamer they had been called at five o’clock.

The manner of their reception at New Park is best told in her own words, written many years later.

‘Williams the butler received us solemnly at the front door and ushered us into the dining room where tea and bread and butter were ready for us. No one else appeared. We were then shown up into the best spare room and went to bed.

Porridge, not tea, was brought up to every bedroom at 8 a.m. with little jugs of milk which were filled over night so that there was a coating of cream on the top. The most of the house party all went down to the sea to bathe (it was much too cold for me) after porridge. The ladies had baths in their rooms. There was no bathroom at New Park in those days and no hot water supply. All the hot water was heated in a huge copper pail which hung over the fireplace in the room which we now call the Nursery, but was then the Servants’ Hall. From there it was carried by the house maids to each bedroom in use, where every guest had a hot bath in her room every morning.

Breakfast was at nine o’clock and I came down overcome with shyness to meet my dreaded mother-in-law, and a house full of guests. On that first morning I was wearing a very pretty pink dress, part of my trousseau which I had kept for this occasion. However my feelings were much hurt when my mother-in-law said to me: “Did your mother tell you to put on that pink dress the first morning?”

The post always arrived while we were at breakfast. The post-man was seen walking up the drive, but there was no scramble for the letters as there was at Dean’s Yard. They were brought solemnly into the room by the footman and handed round by the butler. I often recall the formality of lunch and dinner at New Park which were great functions in those days; I remember being impressed by the large plum cake which was always handed round after lunch. Personally this suited me because at afternoon tea in the drawing room, always laid on the table in the bow window, you were not supposed to eat much! I don’t think my mother-in-law could have approved of me in those days because I loved to tramp over the hills, with Henry, in short skirts and thick boots and I refused to wear gloves.

Above all I hated to be taken out in the afternoons to pay formal calls. The carriage used to go out every afternoon with Lady Montgomery sitting in it in solemn state—as I expect she did in India. Of course I had to return the calls which were made on me and I shocked her by coming into the drawing room one day and saying: “Isn’t it splendid? We have paid six calls and five of them were out!” The evenings were very formal; I do not remember that we ever had a fire and there was no music, but games were allowed and I was first taught to play whist there. I played very badly and would not give my attention to it, preferring to laugh and talk. I think my mother-in-law must have compared me most unfavourably with Henry’s sister, Lucy, who was then twenty-five and as yet unmarried. I remember Lucy took no part in any games and when the bell rang for evening prayers she always went and sat demurely by her mother on the sofa with drooping head and folded hands. Everyone in the house, including the servants, had to assemble for family prayers in the drawing room twice daily—before breakfast at nine o’clock and again before dinner. Another custom which, as a young girl, I found very strange was the fact that every night I was always solemnly escorted to my bedroom by my mother-in-law and Lucy. The men always came to bed later.’

This account shows clearly some of the difficulties my mother must have encountered on her first visit to the Montgomery family home. She was a bride of only a week, approaching her seventeenth birthday, childish and immature and oppressed by what appeared to her as the grandeur and style of New Park as it then was. But she loved Ireland and the Irish and early on conceived a passion for Lough Foyle and the Donegal hills.

The best part of the day for her, to she said, often began at sunset when she and Henry went out pollock-fishing on the lough with the local boatmen. This had the added advantage that they escaped the solemn late dinner at New Park, and were able to bribe the butler to give them something to eat on their return.

For Maud also these summer months of her honeymoon were the prelude to her own assumption of family responsibilities. Family planning in any form, except abstinence, was quite unknown in those days. Besides, for young couples like Henry and Maud children came from God and contraception would be a violation of their religious principles. My mother had her first baby one month after her eighteenth birthday, and thereafter children arrived at two-year intervals until after her fifth was born. There was then a gap of six years after which she had four more children. In the years that followed her first visit to Moville Maud came to know her mother-in-law very well and they eventually became great friends. She also made many friends locally with people in all walks of life. These varied from the tenants on the Montgomery property to other families, like our own, who had houses along the shores of the Foyle and the Swilly.

A Field Marshall in the Family, Brian Montgomery (2010)