Having driven north from London, the first port of call was at the Culloden House Hotel, a stately, compact Georgian country house that was once also owned by the Mackenzies. Lying south just outside Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, the Culloden Hotel is but three miles away from the famous, still preserved battlefield of Culloden (16 April 1746). Here the Poles ‘own’ Bonnie Prince Charlie, a trained military man, ignoring the advice of his best commander Lord George Murray, suffered a Jacobite defeat at the hands of the Hanoverian onslaught on the open marshy ground of Culloden moor.
Feeling betrayed ‘The Young Pretender’ took flight, leaving The Duke of Cumberland to commit his well documented infamous atrocities on the helpless scattering Jacobite Highland soldiers. Bonnie Prince Charlie retreated into a life of legend, immortalised in the popular ditty The Skye Boat Song (1884).
Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-1788), full name Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Silvester Severino Maria Stuart was the son of Maria Klementyna Sobieska, granddaughter of the Polish King John III Sobieski (1674-1683), saviour of Vienna and Christianity at the Battle of Vienna (1683). (A magnificent portrait in a gilded frame of the King John III Sobieski should still be hanging in the
Fr. Jarzembowski Museum at Fawley Court, one of the many fine paintings whose whereabouts is now urgently sought).
Anyhow, on with our Scottish journey.
On the third day of the visit to the Scottish Highlands the FCOB Chairman and his wife Jola were very warmly greeted by the affable Philip and Emma Mackenzie, and their cocker spaniel Twiglet at their Glenkyllachy estate.
Philip Austin Mackenzie is the great, great great grandson of William Mackenzie, the formidable railroad and canal builder of the 1850s, whose greater claim to fame rests on his developing the vast French railway network. At the same time Edward Mackenzie (no children) who bought Fawley Court in 1853, and the brother of railwayman William is Philip’s great, great, great uncle.
Almost to the day, a century after Edward Mackenzie ”a financier, and property speculator” (in the words of Philip Mackenzie), had bought Fawley Court in 1853, the Mackenzie ancestors and executors alike, felt by that it was time to sell, and move on.
The decision to sell Fawley Court in 1952 was met with disbelief and endless disgruntlement by Aunt Margaret Mackenzie.
As we talk with Philip Mackenzie, we help carry out boxes of fascinating archival material from his office to the kitchen conservatory to study the letters, wills, deeds, petitions, photographs and so forth. We resume on the subject of Aunt Margaret Mackenzie.
By all accounts she was a trying sort, rather self-centred, and somewhat spoilt as a child. The daughter of Roderick Mackenzie, she had a brother Alec Mackenzie (and in keeping with her suspect disposition, did not get on with him either). In fairness to Aunt Margaret she had been born at Fawley Court. She had spent her life there. The wrench of having to move out from such a resplendent building and park, was understandably all too much for her.
Added to this was the nostalgia for a grand Fawley Court from the 1920s and 1930s. Special social events included three-day Henley Royal Regatta luncheon receptions given by Mrs Mackenzie, (not to be confused with Lady Mackenzie). The Mackenzie’s numbered an Equerry so one can easily imagine the illustrious personages that graced the rooms and grounds of Fawley Court during the Mackenzie’s tenure. It was hard to let go.
At the time of the decision in 1952, Aunt Margaret had been living for some years all alone at Fawley Court, tending her 87 year old ailing father, Roderick Mackenzie. His death in 1952, amongst other things, prompted the decision to sell.
Dogged by the ravages of World War II (Fawley Court itself had been requisitioned by the military for a large part of the 1940s), the insatiable demands of the age-old monstrous appetite of the Tax Man (death duties), and the demise with time of the fabric of this fine country house, all conspired against its upkeep and ownership.
For her part Aunt Margaret set up home at Sunny Close, up in the village of Fawley, at the foot of the Chilterns overlooking Fawley Court, from whence later with her companion Greta, she wistfully kept a vigilant and disapproving eye on the goings of some of the Marians who were running things in her old home.
The ‘living’ archives which by now have taken over Philip and Emma’s large kitchen table are gently moved to one side, and lunch is served.
This consists of a delicious chicken, vegetable risotto followed by cheeses (Twiglet, the spaniel is in close attendance) all of which, would you believe, is served on elegant pale plates, carrying in the centre a circular Mackenzie Fawley Court emblem. These unique plates from the 1930s had to be recovered (with antique screen) by Colin Mackenzie in later years at an auction. The wicked Aunt Margaret had pinched a number of valuable items for herself without consulting the rest of the family… These re-emerged later, after her death in 1988.
Fawley Court began being sold piecemeal in 1952, on the instructions of William Dalziel Mackenzie, over a period of some four years. At one stage it was thought the Aga Khan might be an interested buyer, but it was not to be. Instead the Poles in exile, ex-RAF pilots, soldiers, combatants, and civilians, all clubbed together financially with Fr Józef Jarzembowski’s humble £50 to help realise the dream of setting up a school (Divine Mercy College/ Kolegium Bożego Miłosierdzia), the equivalent of Warsaw’s pre-war Bielany, (a kind of Eton) by Henley’s river Thames.
One of these brave RAF pilots and combatants, Kazimierz Fedorowicz, remembers vividly being a witness to the Fawley Court transaction in the 1950s, which was sold at a generously discounted price, agreed by the Mackenzies and executors, to the Poles in exile on the implicit understanding that the aforementioned school be founded.
Kazimierz Fedorowicz says that the market value of Fawley Court was circa £80.000,00 but the Polish community secured it for some £10.000,00. Emerging documents will reveal all. A sworn affidavit is on its way.
Curiously, as more and more deeds and other documentation come to light, (from various sources) it would appear that the Mackenzies may not have entirely relinquished a legal interest in Fawley Court, the building and the surrounding lands. For example the rights to the water sourced from Fawley Court’s own natural well/spring may still rest with the family. The red brick water tower, (just beyond the farm and walled vegetable garden), was cleverly installed by William Mackenzie (the prominent engineer and railway builder) to give the main building a strong head of water.
Colin Mackenzie understandably (aged just four at the time) has little recollection of the sale in 1952. This, and all matters legal, as was the custom, were dealt with by the men in the family.
It becomes clear that Lady Mackenzie (Colin’s mother), contrary to myth, was not personally involved in the Fawley Court sale or its terms and conditions. This role importantly was played out, as mentioned before, by William Dalziel Mackenzie and the executors. For his part Colin Mackenzie recollects only once visiting Fawley Court as a child, and its Museum some 11 years ago in 1999.
The first day’s trawling through the archives draws to a close. The Fawley Court saga aside, the Mackenzie archive offers a fascinating insight over some two centuries, into the family’s extensive land, engineering and business dealings, together with their association with the Monarchy, and a distinguished military history. For example Colin’s father Major Colin Mackenzie survived Colditz and was a Queen's Body Guard for Scotland.
There is still a winter light as we wend our way back to the Culloden Hotel by car, on the winding narrow roads, through the hunting rugged beauty that is the Scottish highland. Next morning via the same tracks, our journey monitored by inquisitive sheep, ponies and an eagle (!), we are back at the Mackenzie’s Glenkyllachy home to continue our researches.
Again the Mackenzie archives prove to be a historian’s delight, throwing light onto a world now largely lost to us. There are further discoveries and snippets on Fawley Court, which may prove valuable…
Philip and Emma Mackenzie have business in Aberdeen, and leave Jola and myself to lose ourselves in the documents, with Twiglet the friendly family spaniel as company. After some hours of archival work it is decided to go for a walk. Twiglet is clearly alert, and supportive of this idea. Armed with leash and whistle we venture with Twiglet into the wooded highlands.
After some rumination it is decided to let Twiglet off the leash. Big mistake. Twiglet makes a beeline for rabbit holes, bushes, logs, and the like, catching a variety of scents and exciting tracks. She responds initially to the whistle, and the command of ”heel”. With time her disappearances are somewhat extended, to the point that on our return to the house she simply refuses to come out of the brambles and bushes… at long last she re-emerges; dishevilled, and a little soaked. Twiglet clearly has been having the time of her life. The lead is quickly slipped back over her head. Back home.
At the Mackenzie house we are greeted by Isla, the second (youngest) daughter. She had been concerned at Twiglet’s absence. Worse still, we are advised that Twiglet ”…is a working dog” not a pet, and should really have been kept on the lead for fear of running amok and getting a taste for the wildlife.
We are gently and suitably chided, whilst Twiglet is dried off with a towel, clearly still enjoying her moment of highland anarchy and freedom, wondering when she will next get such a chance with these nitwits from London.
Twiglet is now the official Fawley Court Old Boys mascot.
It is now early dusk. We bid farewell to Philip, Emma and Isla Mackenzie, thanking them for everything, and disappear by car into the faint highland mist.
On our way back south, we stop off at Lady Mackenzie’s (Philip’s mother), who lives east of Edinburgh. Lady Mackenzie, now in her nineties, is in fact Lady Anne Mildred Ismay FitzRoy, (the only daughter of the 10th Duke of Grafton).
Alert, though at times hard of hearing Lady Mackenzie regales us over tea and biscuits, with numerous anecdotes, and stories about the Mackenzies; who made ”the pile”’ (of money), what she new of the Fawley Court sale in the 1950’s, and little insights into the life and antics of Aunt Margaret Mackenzie.
Time catches up with us. London beckons. We have spent some splendid hours talking with Lady Mackenzie, who has provided many engaging, perceptive and witty comments, not only on the Mackenzie family and hierarchy, but life generally. We bid our fond farewells, thanking Lady Mackenzie for her time and company.
Due to heavy rains we are forced to stop over at Berwick upon Tweed. Next day, almost as the crow flies we head for and reach London by early dusk.
There is of course so much more one could write and add to the above journey in Scotland; the adventures by Loch Ness, the Schiehallon music night (with bagpipes, drums, and accordion) at the Columba, Inverness… but that must all remain for another day.
Suffice to say, given the Mackenzie family’s extraordinary generosity to the Poles in 1952, on our part good manners and commercial good grace dictates that at the very least the Mackenzies be consulted on the proper future and direction of Fawley Court.
Chairman, Fawley Court Old Boys