Thursday, July 12, 2018

Today I went to Bonkers Hall - or to Nevill Holt at least

Celebrating 20 years of Lord Bonkers' Diary I wrote:
Growing up in Market Harborough, it was hard to ignore Lord Bonkers. If you climbed any of the hills that ringed the town then the slender spire of St Asquith’s, the gaunt pinnacles of the Home for Well-Behaved Orphans and, most impressive of all, the towers, domes and follies of Bonkers Hall and its grounds, would dominate the view to the North. 
Lord Bonkers himself was rarely seen in town, though his longevity – he had ceased to be Liberal MP for Rutland South-West as long ago as 1910, people said wonderingly – and his generosity to local charities were often spoken of. 
That said, his incursion into the Market Harborough North Ward by-election of 1982 – and the subsequent court case – kept us in gossip for months. 
As a teenager, armed with a water bottle and Ordnance Survey map, I cycled out to find Bonkers Hall many times, only to return defeated on every occasion. Those towers and domes seemed clear enough from a distance, but when you neared them strange things began to happen. 
Rounding the final bend that would surely bring you face to face with the Hall, you found that it was not there after all but somewhere over your shoulder instead. Turn your bike round to complete the pursuit and the same thing would happen. The harder you pedalled towards the place, the more quickly it seemed to retreat.
Today I went to Bonkers Hall again - or at least to Nevill Holt, which many scholars believe to be the model for it.

Nevill Holt stands on a hill a mile or more from the village of Medbourne. Before making the ascent I had a fortifying pint at the village's pub, the Nevill Arms, which those same scholars suggest is the model for the Bonkers' Arms.

As you can see from these photographs, Nevill Holt is more than a house - it is practically a village in its own right. And it commands wonderful views over the surrounding countryside, including what Lord Bonkers always calls "the broad valley of the Welland".

It was for many years the home of the Cunard family until they vacated it in 1912. It was standing empty in 1914 when suffragettes tried to burn it down.

In 1919 a prep school for boys was opened here. It closed suddenly (as prep schools for boys will) after a police raid in 1998.

A lighthearted post on this blog has steadily acquired comments about life at the school ever since it went up in 2010. Some of them have been picked up by the Nevill Holt Preparatory School site, which says it is investigating abuse at the school.

Nevill Holt has since become a private home again. It is owned by David Ross, who made his fortune from the Carphone Warehouse.

He has recently opened an opera house in the stable block, making Nevill Holt the Glyndebourne of the East Midlands.

There are also sculptures scattered about the grounds and even a copy of the Ed Stone.

Most amazing of all today, I was passed by what looked very like a service bus as I began the descent to Medbourne.

It must surely be some kind of dial-a-ride service, but one day I mean to catch the bus to Bonkers Hall.

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