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The Hartley family and Fletton Tower

There are few houses in Fletton which ignite as much curiosity as Fletton Tower. For this blog I want to concentrate on perhaps the most notable family who lived there, the Hartley family.

Harry Bark Hartley was a solicitor and brickyard investor. The youngest of 5 children Harry was born in Wentworth, Rotherham, West Riding in 1860. His father John was a surveyor to the Rotherham and Kimberworth Board of Health. Tragically when Harry was just 10 years old his father died.

Harry was initially educated at the village school and then went on to attend the Wesleyan College in Taunton, Somerset. By 1881 Harry, and his brother Edwin, were both law students living with their uncle John Poles at Castle Hardy, Alwalton. Peterborough was a familiar place for the family. Harry’s maternal great uncle, John Bark, lived at Lynch farm and was bailiff for the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam at Milton Hall. John farmed 300 acres and employed 4 men and 3 boys. Edwin continued the family tradition when the farm was passed to him, and he farmed Lynch Lodge farm.

Harry chose a different path and was articled to Henry Cecil Gaches. Harry was admitted as Solicitor to the Supreme Court in 1883. He began a long and successful legal career buying the practice of Whittlesey solicitor James W. Reeve and opening an office in Peterborough.

On the 1891 census Harry is visiting a client, farmer William Thompson in Crowland. Only a few months later, on 8th June, he married one of Thompson’s daughters Mary Elizabeth in the Crowland Wesleyan Chapel. The newly married couple moved to Whittlesey where Harry had his practice. Their daughter Enid Mary and son Leslie Poles were born there on 25th December 1892 and 30th December 1895 respectively. Harry was closely involved in both the Whittlesey and Fletton brick industry. It was from brickmakers Arthur James and George Keeble that the family were offered the house Fletton Towers, New Fletton in 1900.

Harry was a local solicitor and businessman. Much of the housing around Fletton Tower was financed by him and he also invested in the local brickyards. In 1898, together with Mr J. W. Andrews and Mr. H. G. Wadlow, the Whittlesey Central Brick Company was formed. As a consequence, Mary’s life at Fletton Towers was often difficult. She had the pressure of running a large and important household and dealing with the associated social events. Daughter Annie Norah was born in 1904 at Fletton Tower. Mary was constantly concerned about her own health and the health of her children. Around 1911 she was admitted to the Victoria Nursing Home in Harrogate, potentially with nerves, depression, or female problems.

Harry had many interests befitting a man of his influence. He was a local magistrate for the Liberty of Peterborough, Director of the Peterborough Gas Company, President of the Peterborough and Northants Liberal Association, and a great campaigner in the cause of peace. After the Great War he became Chairman of the local committee of the League of Nations Union, and he was also elected President of the Peterborough branch of the United Nations Association. Harry also delivered lectures on literary topics at the Free Library and was in great demand as an after dinner speaker.

Harry also had many sporting interests including billiards, golf, lawn tennis and cricket. In 1933 a sports pavilion was built for the employees of the Whittlesey Central Brick Company. The pavilion boasted a bowls green and a cricket pitch, and discussions were taking place regarding tennis courts. Above the fireplace in the club house an inscription read:

‘This clubhouse was erected by the Whittlesey Central Brick Company Ltd., in the year 1933, as a social meeting place and to keep in remembrance the names of John William Andrews, Henry George Wadlow, William John Jeeves and Harry Bark Hartley’

Harry and Mary celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in 1941.

Mary died on 27th September 1948 and bequeathed £10,438 to her children. Her funeral service was held at the Wentworth Street Chapel on Friday 1st October and there were instructions for ‘no flowers, no mourning’.

After an incredible 59 years in practice Harry retired in 1942. The practice continued in the capable hands of Mr. W. B. Buckle, Mr. George Buckle and Mr. F. H. P. Staton. Harry died on 30th November 1954, aged 94, and bequeathed £73,491 to his children as well as Fletton Tower. Harry’s funeral service was held at Wentworth Street Chapel. In the funeral address Reverend V. Donald Siddons commented on his lifelong dedication to the Methodist Church. After the service Harry was taken to Kettering for cremation.

Both Harry and Mary were interred in Alwalton.

Enid Mary Hartley was born on Christmas Day 1892. She was the eldest but perhaps the least known of the three Hartley siblings. Initially Enid was educated at home, by a teacher who visited the house after a days teaching. She was then sent to the newly established St. Felix School in Southwold, Suffolk. It is perhaps a reflection of Enid’s father’s attitude that she was sent to St. Felix, a school only established in 1897 by Margaret Isabella Gardiner with the ardent support of suffragist Millicent Fawcett. Miss Gardiner’s first school, with only 4 pupils, was run from a house in Aldeburgh; the birthplace and family home of Millicent.

At 19, Enid must have felt the full burden of her mother’s admittance into the Victoria Nursing Home. Being an important family in the Fletton area Enid would have had to support her father in his social life whilst providing a maternal influence for her siblings. Although Leslie was away at school, younger sister Norah was only 7 years old. This close sibling bond would have a great impact on Leslie’s writing.

St. Felix school advocated social responsibility, and this could have influenced the activities that Enid chose to support. In 1923, when the Wentworth Wesleyan Chapel, in her father’s home village, raised money for their restoration fund, Enid was invited to open the bazaar. In 1946 Enid was also Chairman of the Peterborough Association for the Blind and in 1949 she became a Justice of the Peace and member of the Peterborough Youth Employment Committee.

Enid died in 1968

Enid’s younger sister, Annie Norah, was born on 17th September 1904 at Fletton Tower. Like Enid, Annie Norah, usually called Norah, received an excellent education; first attending Cheltenham Ladies College and then St. Hilda’s College, Oxford where she studied English Literature. Dorothea Beale, the principal of Cheltenham Ladies College from 1858, established St, Hildas in 1893, for those ladies who wished to study further.

As an adult Norah became fascinated by dogs. Many Fletton locals will remember that she bred Scottish Deerhounds, setting up the Rotherwood Kennels, and in 1982 won Crufts with Betsinda. Norah was the author of the renowned book ‘The Deerhound’. She was also the first female Kennel Club committee member and in 1956 judged the Deerhound section for the first time at Crufts. Not surprisingly she was an ardent supporter of the R. S. P. C. A.

Norah’s interests also extended into the literary world. The Peterborough Literary Society had its origins in a branch of the English Association which was formed on 13th February 1923. Her father was its President, and she was the secretary and treasurer. Following his death Norah became President in October 1956.

Norah died in 1994.

Enid and Norah’s brother was Leslie Poles Hartley. Leslie was born on 30th December 1895 in Whittlesey. After being taught at home, alongside Enid, he then went to Northdown Prep School followed by a brief spell at Cliftonville College before finally settling at Harrow. Leslie was as a Leaf scholar, and he also became head boy. In 1915 Leslie went up to Oxford, to Balliol College to read modern history.

As with so may other young men the Great War interrupted academic life. With the arrival of conscription Leslie joined the army in 1916 and in 1917 he was commissioned as an officer with the Norfolk Regiment. Leslie never saw active service as he had a weak heart. In 1919 Leslie returned to Balliol with the intention of becoming writer.

Although in 1920 and 1922 Oxford Poetry published Leslie’s work it was as editor for Oxford Outlook and as a book reviewer that he was mainly known. His main achievement during these early years of his career was to extend his social circle into the British aristocracy through lucrative introductions.

Leslie’s first volume of short stories Night Fears was published in 1924. Although earning Leslie little reward in monetary terms the reviews were favourable referring to him as ‘one of the most hopeful talents’. Modern critics call it his most dangerous novel as he explored infatuation and sexuality in a way that was not considered respectable at the time. Leslie began to publish regularly although his first full length novel The Shrimp and the Anenome, based on himself and his sister Enid and the idea of childhood nostalgia and the reality of adulthood, was not published until he was 49 years old. Perhaps Leslie’s most well-known book was The Go-Between, published in 1953 it took just 5 months to write.

Leslie is perhaps not remembered in Fletton as he should be. He was a successful author; he was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial prize in 1947 for Eustace and Hilda and The Go-Between and was the joint winner of the Heinemann Award. In 1956 he was also appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He published 17 novels, 6 volumes of short stories and a book of criticism.

But as a moralist, perhaps due to his Methodist upbringing, Leslie was often in conflict with other writers such as Virginia Woolf and Cynthia Asquith. He was often troubled. In 1922 he had a nervous breakdown, and he was known to be a hypochondriac afraid of tetanus and a painful death. Many believed these fears stemmed from his mother.

In his later life Leslie was very reclusive abandoning his former social circles and becoming more open regarding his sexuality.

Leslie died on 13th December 1972.

If anyone has any additional information about the Hartley family, or any photographs please get in touch.

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