Life at Hoe Benham

We may assume, then, that two days ago Kittie arrived at The Cottage at the Crossways, Hoe Benham, to stay for an indefinite period with the closest woman friend in her life, Nina Astley (Corbet). She would have travelled to Newbury by train, where she was met either by Nina with her husband Reginald Astley, who drove a car, or by a pony and trap that brought her the five miles to Hoe Benham. Alternatively, she may have changed trains at Newbury and got out at Boxford, which was only a couple of miles from the Crossways.

Nina’s first husband, Sir Walter Orlando Corbet, had died at Ludlow aged fifty-four from a perforated duodinal ulcer on 20 December 1910, leaving as his descendants Sir Roland James Corbet (q.v., b. 1892) and Lesbia Rachel Corbet (q.v., b. 1905). On 27 January 1913 Nina, then aged 45, married Reginald Astley, aged 51, who had been Sir Walter’s estate manager and was the brother of Constance Sutton’s second husband, Hubert Astley.

To begin with, Nina and Reginald Astley lived in London and at the Corbets’ historical home of Acton Reynald, Shropshire. ‘Reggie’ Astley continued to be a trustee of the Corbet estate until the coming of age of Sir Roland James Corbet (Jim) on 19 August 1913. He and Nina then carried on living in London, but were also resident at Benham Valence, Berkshire, the ancestral home of the Suttons. Sir Richard Vincent Sutton (Dick, q.v.) inherited Benham Valence in 1912, by which time his mother and Hubert Astley had moved to Brinsop Court, Herefordshire, but as a professional soldier in the Life Guards he was not often in residence and the house had many rooms.

On 15 April 1915 Nina’s son Jim Corbet was killed at Givenchy. His death caused a dynastic crisis, as the inheritance had always been male. The Corbet family, of course, had to sort this out. Meanwhile Nina, completely devastated by Jim’s death, withdrew to the Cottage at the Crossways, Hoe Benham, on Dick Sutton’s estate. She was not exactly in purdah, but naturally she was still mourning her son. Her husband, who was a special constable, was possibly in London some of the time, ‘Zeppelin watching’.

It seems to me that the ‘Cottage at the Crossways, Hoe Benham’ could be what features on Googlemaps today as ‘Blandys Farm, Crossways, Newbury’. If anyone out there knows more, please let me know! Whether it is Blandys Farm or not, one can be sure that Kittie had arrived in a beautiful, quiet rural setting with a few servants, where she could unwind completely with her best friend. It was quite likely that Constance Sutton (see my post of 12 June) came over from Brinsop Court to stay in her son’s mansion and visit Kittie.

As Lesbia Corbet said to me in 1986, ‘Those three were very close.’

Next entry: 20 June 1915

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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