Mary Bates recalls helping Malcolm Sargent – soon to become Sir Malcolm – in the aftermath of the Second World War, when he was bombed out of his home in London. Eddy, Lord Sackville, had offered him a flat in the gatehouse tower at Knole. Mary recalls that music room of one of Britain’s foremost composers and conductors, as well as riding with him in Knole Park and a certain journalist’s take on Knole.
Mary assisted Sir Malcolm Sargent when he lived in the Gatehouse Tower at Knole post-1945
Interviewed by Debbie Innes
Mary worked at Knole with Malcolm Sargent. So perhaps you could start by telling me exactly when you were there?
M.B.: It would have been between 1940 and 1944, 45, 46. Part of the time he was living next door to us in Admiral Godfrey’s house. He was lent places very often. He was bombed out… he had a house in Wetherby Place in London and it was bombed. And when he came next door, his music was in disorder… so I started helping him when he was next door to us. And then he moved to Knole because Eddy offered the flat…
Then you went to the very end to the tower end. And went on this winding staircase. First floor you came to was the music room.
So presumably there was a piano there.
M.B.: He had a lovely piano, Eddy, beautiful piano, he had a lot of recording equipment, radiograms, record players. I know the way the room was furnished, where the piano was and where the record player was. It was a pity, he didn’t have a log fire possibly because there wasn’t a chimney there. So he had a very big electric fire with a sort of a painting behind it.
So what else was in there, you had the piano and … bookshelves and desks and things?
M.B.: No desk, all round the walls were shelves for record sleeves you know those things…records in packets, all round the walls. He had a huge huge…that’s why he had it all done, there wasn’t room for other …there were some books in there, a lot of books were in the bedrooms.
So that room was very much dedicated to music, yes.
Riding in Knole Park
M.B.: I think I knew that Lord Sackville was very nice because I had polo ponies and I used to ride in Knole a lot, but I used to have to buy a key and then when Malcolm was there, we were riding together and the old Lord Sackville said I could ride any old time I liked, in the park.
How fantastic to have the whole run of the Knole Park!
M.B.: Yes, I loved as a child riding in Knole and loved the place. It was lovely riding for children because you weren’t on a road, because the roads, even then, certainly during the war they were difficult because of the convoys and army people, of course they all shouted and you know what they’re like.
Yes, yes, absolutely.
M.B.: So it was lovely to be really safe in Knole with no roads.
Well how fantastic! So Malcolm Sargent was a horseman as well then was he?
M.B.: Well he loved riding, he loved animals, he loved horses and he used to see me with the polo ponies riding and he had been riding up in Rotten Row in London and so I said to his wife, ‘You know I’m very loath to take Malcolm riding- if he fell off, he would hurt his… they always break their shoulders when they fall off and then he couldn’t conduct,’ but she said that anyway he was riding in London so you might as well, so I risked it and I had a very, very quiet pony and so I did ride him… take him riding quite a bit.
So he didn’t get thrown off!
M.B.: He loved riding, he loved horses, he loved the country, he loved the quiet life.
Well the history of his musical career may have changed a bit had he fallen off and dislocated his shoulder at that point so I’m glad you kept and eye on him Mary!
Journalist René Cutforth visits Knole
There’s a funny story actually, because, you remember Sheila Cutforth? Have you heard of an old journalist called René Cutforth?
No, I haven’t.
Well we knew his wife, they were friends of Eddy’s actually, and they came, they had lunch with him once at Knole and because René was a kind of journalist so Eddy Sackville-West was, you know he was a record reviewer? Amongst other things.
And hugely knowledgeable; wrote a wonderful record guide with Desmond Shawe-Taylor in the 1950s, again a wonderful book, but Sheila told me that she and René, when they came to lunch with Eddy, they walked up from the station, walked through Knole, and when they kind of came over the top of the hill and René saw Knole he said, ‘ Funny sort of place for a record critic to live in!’