Biography and Notes
Memories of Henry Kitchener.
Henry was a member of four employed by ICI, renting a furnished house in Sandiway, a residential area of Northwich, Cheshire. Graduates would join the firm and need accommodation. Four decided they did not like lodgings, clubbed together, and rented Pen Dinas, a comfortable detached house. A full time maid looked after things and she and her mother cooked for dinner parties. Inevitably some one would get married and leave, and the vacancy would be taken up by another bachelor, Henry being the surviving bachelor of many change-overs. The local matrons called it the Stag's Retreat.
In 1952 I was in lodgings, an acquaintance of mine, a member of Pen Dinas, was getting married and suggested I might take the vacancy. The selection procedure was an 'invitation'. This consisted of being invited to one of the weekly dinner parties for inspection. Apart from being able to hold a knife and fork properly, the candidate had to be able to hold his liquor as well. I qualified!
I joined Pen Dinas in 1952 one evening. The others were out and Henry was on his own. Settling down after supper we chatted in the sitting room. He was most vexed that the door fouled the carpet. Having brought my tools in the car, we took the door off its hinges and planed it free. Henry was most impressed and we gelled as likeminded. He had a practical bent and reveled in doing small jobs. The garage shelves had jam pot covers screwed under them with screws and bolts arranged neatly in their sizes in the pots. In latter years he acquired an angle grinder that he used to sharpen friends' garden shears.
Life at Pen Dinas was very social as there was a dinner party most weeks. Henry was prone to having occasional parties for the children of friends. For one party he made the mistake of buying bubble gum which was a disaster - it took us days to scrape it off the sitting room carpet.
Being President of the Henry Doubleday Society and the Soil Association, he was very interested in the benefits of healthy eating and had started a health food shop in Baker Street with Yehudi Menuin and others. He was very keen to have stone ground whole wheat bread but nothing suitable was baked locally. He arranged for loaves baked in Oxford to be posted to us. When it arrived it was so rugged we said there was no need to pack it, just stick a stamp and write the address on the crust.
I enjoyed it except that we always had to eat up the oldest first. As Henry said 'the mould knows a good bread when it sees it'. Eventually we persuaded a local baker to make it and supplied him with the flour. The shop was on a council estate and sold mainly Mother's Pride etc, so to buy Henry's bread you had to ask for a 'Kitchener'. He also distributed some weekly to like-minded friends in the office.
Among his other duties, he was a Major in the Cheshire Yeomanry. One of the entertainments at dinner parties was the demonstration of a wire recorder used by the Yeomanry - a predecessor of tape recorders. Visitors were usually surprised at hearing what their own voices sounded like. A memorable incident occurred when stocktaking of the Yeomanry showed the loss of a Bailey Bridge. These were designed to be erected quickly to replace a bridge in wartime. Henry was responsible for the loss and suffered a lot of ribbing for it. It was eventually found in Cheshire as a replacement of Stamford Bridge on the Chester Road, washed away in the devastating floods of 1947. No one had thought of recording that at the time.
The owner of Pen Dinas, a Mrs Taylor had been left the house by her husband but only for the duration of her widowhood. As a result she took no interest in it and the furnishings were getting rather frayed at the edges after a succession of bachelors and parties. One memorable occassion happened when Henry's mother, the Vicountess Broome, stayed locally for a weekend. Her visit was very reminscent of an Admiral's inspections! She was horrified at the state of the sitting room and instructed Henry to order loose covers from Pontins. She would get them to send samples. The rest of us had no intention of sharing the cost so stonewalled until the instruction disappeared into the sands eventually. On the Monday morning, I had to drive to an ICI works in Stafford and offered to take her to Crewe station on the way. The loose covers suggestion did not come up again on the trip fortunately.
Surprisingly, our landlady married a baker in Macclesfield in 1954 so the house had to be sold and we were given notice. I was engaged to be married at the time, which was my solution. The other three were given temporary accommodation in Winnington Hall Club. Henry then bought Pen Dinas and they moved back in again. When we were married, our first wedding present was a Kenwood mixer from Henry - beyond the dreams of avarice for us in those days. It had to be used for making whole wheat bread of course and our family was brought up on this.
At one stage, Henry had a lady friend who I think was an opera singer and we invited them both to dinner. We found she was a delightful girl, attractive and very suitable we thought. Sadly nothing came of it.
In 1978 I was seconded to the ICI works, Khewra, Pakistan and we lost touch with Henry. At the end of the secondment I retired and we bought a house in Cornwall. Shortly after moving from Cheshire I saw a letter in The Times from Henry criticizing the Lord Chancellor's expenses. It gave his email address so we got in touch again. Over the years, he came to stay with us in Cornwall and we grew very fond of him. We admired him as gentle, completely honest and straightforward and meticulous in all he did with a brain like a razor. He had a strong sense of nobless oblige and was active in many organisations. I felt in latter years he could have reasonably reduced the duties that I think were beginning to tell on him.
His first visits were made in a very battered Ford car loaded with a variety of 'useful things', but latterly he came by train. Railways were one of his interests, which probably helped pass the time during long waits between three changes from Sussex. We used to arrange trips for him on the steam railways in the West Country. One of the two downsides of Henry's annual visits was the requirement to supply the breakfast cereals he liked. I remember flax seed as being particularly nauseating. The other was that we could never persuade him to stay long enough.
He had a laptop provided for members of the House of Lords and on eviction, typically, asked to pay for it. There was no reply and he always felt uneasy about having it. He brought it with him at the time Sudoko was becoming popular and was trying to develop a programme to solve it. I never heard the result but it seemed like cheating - something completely alien to Henry.
We downsized to a small bungalow two years ago and two of the doors would not close properly. During his first visit he insisted on using a file to rectify it in situ, refusing to let me take the striker plate off to do it more easily. It was meticulous work and both doors worked perfectly. I find this door scenario particularly poignant as a rerun of our very first meeting. We always treated him as one of the family and made no pretentions, which I think he appreciated as a change from the formal side of his life.
His sudden illness in London took its toll. His niece, Emma, looked after him during his recovery at Stafford House. When recovered, he insisted on coming to stay with us as previously arranged so Emma and her mother brought him down by car, I suspect to assess the situation for him. We were given strict instructions how to look after him, including walking down stairs in front of him in case he fell.
Kathleen and I have many happy memories of a much-loved friend.