There were triple festivities at Upton Cressett over the weekend with the christening of our four month old daughter Cosima and the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents with a special dinner on Saturday night with our old neighbours the Swire family – who have done so much to protect the local landscape from being scarred by wind farms and solar parks – and local friends including former government Environment secretary Owen Paterson – MP for North Shropshire – and his wife Rose, chairman of Aintree race-course.
During his after dinner speech my father, Sir Bill Cash, refrained from talking about his ‘Thirty Years War’ to save British democracy from EU domination and instead told the story of his courtship of my mother Biddy at Oxford. After meeting in a cinema trip with friends, Bill made sure he was seated next to the dazzling looking sixteen year old who was studying at Beechlawn. They were married on 16th October
1965 at the chapel of Wardour Castle. They went back for a special private blessing. Apparently the wedding – 50 years ago – was a nerve-wracking affair as Biddy – who was just 20 – was late by an hour after being stuck in her car behind a travelling circus in the depths of Somerset.
The christening weekend was a delightful and gloriously happy family affair as well as being something of a ‘Family Masterchef’ contest with Laura cooking the christening lunch (cold fillet of Morville beef and wild mushroom tart) and my mother Biddy cooking for the Saturday dinner party (pork medallions in brandy sauce). Guests were jokingly asked to leave voting cards as to the on the table. They were also asked to not to write a thank you letter but vote for Trip Advisor where I am glad to see that Upton Cressett is rising up the local rankings with 11 Excellent reviews.
Other guests over the weekend included all the Godparents of Cosima whose other names are Elizabeth Rose. Elizabeth because Upton Cressett was built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (there is a date-stone saying 1550 on the front of the house under the twisting 16th chimneys) and also because it is the name of my dear old friend Elizabeth Hurley whom I have known from days living in LA in the 1990s. Other godparents included Bugatti driving Charles Dean – whom I have known since our days studying in Oxford in the 1980s – Shropshire sheep farmer Grania Reed – whom I have known from Cambridge in the 1980s – Tom Faure-Romanelli – whom I have known the longest, since boarding school in the early 1980s – who flew in with his lovely wife Ilaria from Miami. Having another Ilaria around was a bit confusing as my first wife was an Italian called Ilaria but at least this time I managed to get my wife’s name right in my lunch speech!
Laura invited her close childhood friend Emma de Rosney, who has a daughter just a few months older than Cosima, along with her former London flat-mate Paddy Magan to be godparents. There is a lovely photograph of us all outside the church of St. Michael following the ceremony. The only person missing from the photo is our black labrador Cressetta who somehow managed to join the colourful medieval procession from the Hall to the church and ended up sitting in the front pew with myself, Laura and Cosima as an honorary godmother. The service also included several sets of historic costume dancing (including some flamboyant medieval head-gear worn in the church) by the Shropshire based Courtesie group and beautiful choral works by John Rutter and Ralph Vaughan Williams sung during the service by the Severn Singers, led by Chris and David Carr. The moving service was granted permission to take place in St Michael’s (now maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust) the Rev Simon Cawdell, head of the Bridgnorth parishes. The Catholic priest who married Laura’s parents ad baptised Laura in 1984 celebrated the service along with father Alban from Telford and Rev Cawdell sharing duties.
The weekend was also well attended by the Cathcart clan. The third reason to celebrate was that Laura’s father Charles Cathcart planted a sapling from one of the surviving seven sweet chestnut trees of Hougoumont farm-house that survive from the 1815 battlefield of Waterloo where two Cathcart brothers fought at the battle including defending the old Hougoumont farmhouse from the French. General Cathcart had three horses shot beneath him in the course of the battle, the other was ADC to Wellington.
The chestnut sapling from Hougoumont was given to us as a wedding present from my parents. The new tree is a replacement for an avenue of Spanish chestnuts at Upton Cressett (flanking the main entrance) that were originally planted in 1815 to mark victory at Waterloo. Unfortunately, they have started to die – due to age or disease we are not sure -and two have had to be felled before they toppled over and crushed guests in the new honeymoon Prince Rupert suite on the top floor of The Gatehouse. That would certainly make for an interesting Trip Advisor review.
Although the dinner was to celebrate Cosima’s christening and the Cash family Golden wedding anniversary, Sir Bill and my mother Biddy were by no means the weekend winners of the prize for the longest anniversary of years together. Driving all the way up from Norfolk were also Laura’s grandparents Des and Sue Skinner, who celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this year.
Des, still active as a racing trainer aged 90, saw action in World War 2 serving in North Italy. When the cheese came around at dinner, he recalled how, after being stationed in Italy during the war, he had bought an enormous gorgonzola wheel of cheese to take home to his parents in Norfolk on his return where nobody had eaten cheese for years because of war rations. Alas, after a week travelling in the heat, the suitcase with his Italian spoils of war had to be abandoned before reaching Norfolk as it ‘smelt worse than any stink bomb’.