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How Pursuit of Love author and sisters really were to the manor born

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There are eccentric, larger-than life aristocrats galore; beautiful girls in flapper dresses, doves dyed in pastel shades, and T. Rex, The Who, Strauss and Haydn on the soundtrack.

Although the new BBC One adaptation of The Pursuit Of Love has divided viewers, Nancy Mitford’s much-loved novel satirising her bizarre upbringing is a glorious feast for the eyes and ears.

The fictional Radlett family are caricatures of the famous Mitford clan: Nancy, Pam, Diana, Unity, Jessica (Decca), Deborah (Debo), their brother Tom (who was killed in Burma in World War II), and their parents, ‘Farve and Muv’ (Lord and Lady Redesdale).

The whip-brandishing Uncle Matthew (Dominic West) is the fictional version of the tyrannical, ‘Farve’, who dismissed anyone he disliked, including foreigners and most of Nancy’s friends as ‘sewers’.

Perhaps the real stars of the show are the sumptuous stately homes where the action takes place. Which is as it should be, because the real homes where the Mitfords lived, loved — and all too often scandalised society — over the years were among the grandest in the land, as ANNABEL VENNING reveals. 

Top of their class (from left): Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pam at a hunt at Swinbrook House in 1935

Top of their class (from left): Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pam at a hunt at Swinbrook House in 1935

Pictured: The South Façade and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which was inherited by the Mitfords

Pictured: The South Façade and Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which was inherited by the Mitfords

Pictured: Batsford House in Gloucestershire - a 19th century neo-Tudor mansion

Pictured: Batsford House in Gloucestershire – a 19th century neo-Tudor mansion

Batsford House, Gloucestershire 

What: Mock-Tudor mansion in Batsford Park with five staircases, elaborate gardens and an arboretum.

When: The Mitfords moved there in 1916.

Mitford history: The huge house was perfect for never-ending games of hide-and-seek, but Lord and Lady Redesdale couldn’t afford to run it so they sold it in 1919.

Pictured: Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire - a rambling Jacobean gabled manor house where the Mitford family moved in 1919

Pictured: Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire – a rambling Jacobean gabled manor house where the Mitford family moved in 1919

Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire 

What: Rambling Jacobean gabled manor house amid rolling hills.

When: The Mitford family moved there in 1919. ‘Farve’ had inherited it on his father’s death. The youngest Mitford, Deborah (Debo), who later became the Duchess of Devonshire, was born there.

Mitford history: Asthall is the fictional Alconleigh, the Radlett family home where Uncle Matthew rules the roost in The Pursuit Of Love. It was haunted by ghosts. It also had a library where the children could read undisturbed (Farve disapproved of reading). All the Mitford children adored Asthall.

Pictured: Swinbrook House in Oxfordshire which was also previously owned by the Mitford family who moved here in 1926

Pictured: Swinbrook House in Oxfordshire which was also previously owned by the Mitford family who moved here in 1926

Swinbrook House, Oxfordshire

What: Designed by ‘Farve’ himself, it is a three-storey sprawling, grey, gloomy and very draughty building.

When: They moved there reluctantly in 1926.

Mitford history: They disliked the house, calling it ‘Swinebrook’. As depicted in The Pursuit Of Love, the children escaped the cold by sitting in the airing cupboard, HQ of the Hons Society.

Pictured: 26 Rutland Gate near Harrods in Knightsbridge, London, was the Mitford's London base for the social season

Pictured: 26 Rutland Gate near Harrods in Knightsbridge, London, was the Mitford’s London base for the social season

Rutland Gate, Knightsbridge

What: An elegant stuccoed house near Harrods, the Mitfords’ London base for the social season.

When: They bought it in 1926 but had to rent it out during the 1930s.

Mitford history: In World War II , Nancy opened the house to Jewish refugees. Her anti-Semitic mother, Lady Redesdale, was said to be furious.

Pictured: Chatsworth House's Painted Hall in Derbyshire which Debo the youngest Mitford inherited in 1950

Pictured: Chatsworth House’s Painted Hall in Derbyshire which Debo the youngest Mitford inherited in 1950

Chatsworth house, Derbyshire

What: One of the greatest stately homes in England, with 297 rooms, filled with priceless art.

When: Debo, the youngest Mitford, and her husband Andrew Cavendish inherited it in 1950 when he became the Duke of Devonshire after his older brother was killed in World War II. It has belonged to the Cavendish family since 1549. Debo lived there for more than 50 years.

Mitford history: When Debo first saw it after the war it was ‘sad, dark, cold and dirty’, but she and Andrew set about returning it to its former glory and opening it to the public.

Pictured: Temple de la Gloire located in Paris which Diana and her Second husband, Oswald Mosley, bought in 1950

Pictured: Temple de la Gloire located in Paris which Diana and her Second husband, Oswald Mosley, bought in 1950

Temple de la Gloire, Paris  

What: A Palladian-style folly, ‘the Temple of Glory’ was part of the Château d’Orsay, 15 miles from Paris, built for a 19thcentury military hero.

When: Diana and her second husband, Oswald Mosley, the Fascist leader, bought it in 1950.

Mitford History: An empty shell when they moved in, Diana restored it. The Mosleys became friends with their neighbours, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who had a shared admiration of Hitler.

Pictured: Tullamaine Castle in Tipperary - a 19th century, eight-bedroom propery where Pam lived in the 1940s and 1950s

Pictured: Tullamaine Castle in Tipperary – a 19th century, eight-bedroom propery where Pam lived in the 1940s and 1950s

Tullamaine Castle, Tipperary

What: A 19th-century, eight- bedroom castle.

When: Pam lived there in the 1940s and 1950s with her husband, Derek Jackson.

Mitford history: Pam married Jackson — a physicist and amateur jockey, and heir to millions — in 1936. They moved to Ireland after the war. After the marriage broke down — Derek was a bisexual womaniser who married six times in all — Pamela stayed on as a tenant for eight years.

Pictured: Biddesden House in Wiltshire which was once built for one of the 1st Duke of Marlborough's generals

Pictured: Biddesden House in Wiltshire which was once built for one of the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s generals

Biddesden House, Wiltshire/Hampshire

What: A Queen Anne baroque house built for one of the 1st Duke of Marlborough’s generals — who is said to haunt it.

When: Diana lived there with first husband Bryan Guinness, later the 2nd Baron Moyne and heir to the Guinness brewing fortune, whom she married in 1929.

Mitford history: Diana and Bryan held a ball there in 1932 at which she danced all night with her lover, British Fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley. She left Bryan for him months later. Biddesden still belongs to the Guinness family.

 

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Courts Service contradicts Garda declaration journalists were barred from court

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The Courts Service has openly contradicted An Garda Síochána’s declaration that journalists were barred from a court sitting in Waterford earlier this month on the orders of a district justice.

Former Fianna Fáil election candidate Kieran Hartley appeared before Judge Brian O’Shea at Dungarvan District Court on October 13th on a Section 6 public order charge for allegedly committing an offence against a family member of a local garda.

Journalists Eoghan Dalton and Christy Parker were barred for more than three hours from entering the court chamber by two gardaí, who said they had been told the judge had directed that no press be allowed in.

The decision to bar the press – the second time that this has happened to a court hearing where Judge O’Shea was sitting following an incident at a Dublin hearing in 2017 – has now been raised with Garda management.

During exchanges with the reporters, who questioned the decision, one garda said “no one is allowed in this morning”, and while they “honestly” did not “know any details of it” they had been “directed by the court to not allow anyone into it”.

The Garda Press Office later that day insisted “the presiding judge had directed that the court be cleared of persons not involved in the case” as a “voir dire” was in operation.

A voir dire normally occurs when a judge seeks to determine an issue in the course of a trial rather than in advance of one, and very rarely applies at District Court level. Journalists may witness proceedings but not report the details.

Direction

Questioned later, however, the press office said: “The court garda cleared the court as requested by the judge”, and that “it is understood that members of the media who so arrived after that point were inadvertently prevented from accessing the courtroom”.

The Courts Service on Friday said: “At no stage did Judge O’Shea or Courts Service officials issue a direction that the case should be held otherwise than in public”.

“The court sitting at Dungarvan District Court on Wednesday, October 13th, was a public hearing. It involved the hearing of certain arguments in a case, before the ‘substantive’ matter might be heard at another time,” the spokesman said.

“In the absence of an order the law requires that the proceedings take place in public: we are committed to that principle. The alleged actions of gardaí in not allowing access to some media is a matter for Garda management.

“These issues have been raised with Garda management,” said the Courts Service, which is understood to have checked its own records carefully ahead of making its public statement.

When the case came to court on September 22nd, solicitor Paddy Gordon, acting for defence solicitor Frank Buttimer, questioned the legitimacy of statements presented by An Garda Síochána. Mr Gordon claimed they were “not our statements and we want them examined forensically”.

Deferring the matter to the October 13th sitting of Dungarvan District Court, Judge O’Shea instructed that investigating Garda Tom Daly be present, along with his notebook and all original statements.

The judge also asked that Tramore District Superintendent Paul O’Driscoll attend the hearing, which would commence at 10am prior to the main court business.

Candidate

Mr Hartley unsuccessfully contested the 2014 European elections as Fianna Fáil’s Ireland South candidate. He resigned from the party acrimoniously in 2018 following his criticism of its handling of matters related to convicted paedophile Bill Kenneally, whose cousin Brendan was a former Fianna Fáil junior minister.

Judge O’Shea did not issue a written verdict on the present case against Mr Hartley, but it is understood the Garda testaments will stand as presented when it is heard.

Mr Buttimer said he was “not in a position to comment at present”.

Sinn Féin’s justice spokesman Martin Kenny said it was “highly unusual” and that he would be writing to Garda headquarters seeking an explanation. “Justice has to be seen to be done as well as being done, and I find it quite alarming that we’d be in this situation.”

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Darlington is cheapest for homes, London’s Kensington most expensive

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We all know about the North-South divide. We all know about the Prime Minister’s attempt at ‘levelling up’. We all know about the crumbling Red Wall.

But when it comes to property, the facts of the matter tell their own story. According to Churchill Home Insurance, Darlington in County Durham is the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot.

Which is staggering when you compare it to the most expensive — Kensington in central London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721. 

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham - the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Imposing: The Clock Tower in Darlington, County Durham – the cheapest place to buy a property in the country, at just £58 per square foot

Music giants Robbie Williams and Eric Clapton have homes in this exclusive royal borough home, as do entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.

But here’s the twist: anyone looking to take advantage of Darlington’s prices might have to move fast because there are plans to turn this market town into the hottest property in the north.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is opening up a smart new division of the Treasury there over the next five years, moving about a quarter of the department. 

That’s about 400 people, many of whom will be local recruits. ‘We’re giving talented people in the North-East the opportunity to work in the heart of Government, making decisions on important issues for our country,’ explains Sunak.

So what are the draws of these polar-opposite locations?

Kensington is one of the crown jewels of London neighbourhoods featuring not just top museums but also a host of chic cafes, boutique shops, and even Kensington Palace, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live with their children.

There are three Zone 1 underground stations and several independent schools, and you’re a stroll away from the West End. 

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Upmarket: A terrace in Kensington, London, where the average price per square foot stands at £1,721

Top restaurants include Daphne’s and Launceston Place — both favourites of the late Princess Diana — and the iconic Bibendum with two Michelin stars.

There’s no surprises when it comes to property values in this area; they’re stellar. The cheapest property in Kensington for sale on Rightmove in the middle of October was priced at £40,000 and that was just a space in a car park. 

The most expensive listing, by contrast, was a seven- bedroom semi, with an eye-watering asking price of £30 million.

Of just over 510 property sales in the past year, the average price was a slightly more modest £2,169,235, according to Zoopla, but that’s after prices took a 4 per cent knock as fewer people bought in London during the pandemic.

It’s a different story in Darlington, which has a modest average property price of £172,724, according to Zoopla. 

But things are changing; there have been more than 1,600 property sales in the past 12 months and prices have gently risen 4.5 per cent. The most expensive home on sale is a four-bedroom detached house with grounds, for £700,000.

However that’s still an exception, with many more at the other end of the scale, where there are several two-bedroom terrace houses for sale at £45,000.

If you’re moving in, bone up on railway history — the world’s first steam train service began here almost 200 years ago. 

Otherwise, look out for a twice-weekly street market, the revamped Hippodrome theatre and the odd tribute to comic Vic Reeves and businessman Duncan Bannatyne, both brought up in the town.

Darlington is brimming with well-preserved Victorian buildings while you can stroll in the beautiful South Park. If you’re after the best of local food, the two-Michelin starred Raby Hunt Restaurant is the place to go.

The town has the buzz of a place on the move — there are modernisations under way at both the railway station (2 ½ hours to London, 30 minutes to Newcastle) and the indoor market.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak’s Treasury initiative is already putting Darlington on the map. ‘I know of several people from London who have moved here thanks to working remotely,’ says estate agent Henry Carver of Carver Residential. 

On the market: North-South divide 

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Facebook admits high-profile users are treated differently

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Facebook’s oversight board said the social media company hadn’t been “fully forthcoming” about internal rules that allowed some high-profile users to be exempt from content restrictions and said it will make recommendations on how to change the system.

In the first of its quarterly transparency reports published Thursday, the board said that on some occasions, Facebook “failed to provide relevant information to the board,” and in other instances the information it did provide was incomplete.

For example, when Facebook referred the case involving former US president Donald Trump to the board, it didn’t mention its internal “cross-check system” that allowed for a different set of rules for high-profile users.

Facebook only mentioned cross-check, or XCheck, to the board when asked whether Trump’s page or account had been subject to ordinary content moderation processes.

The cross-check system was disclosed in recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal, based in part on documents from a whistle-blower.

The journal described how the cross-check system, originally intended to be a quality-control measure for a select few high-profile users and designed to avoid public relations backlash over famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down, had ballooned to include millions of accounts.

The oversight board said it will undertake a review of the cross-check system and make suggestions on how to improve it.

As part of the process, Facebook has agreed to share with the board relevant documents about the cross-check system as reported in the Wall Street Journal. – Bloomberg

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