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February 2007 Meeting Report

For the first time the February topic at the Sawston Village History Society was given from a DVD. This was recorded during Robert Huddleston’s presentation on “The Huddlestons of Sawston Hall” at Carolina Meadows, a retirement community in North Carolina, USA some two years ago. This was at an “English Evening and Dinner”. After establishing contact with the Society through its website, Robert kindly sent a DVD of his talk.

At the tender age of 18 Bob Huddleston was accepted for training as a fighter pilot and was posted to the 9th Air Force in Europe carrying out 36 combat sorties. After the War he gained degrees from two universities, and is a graduate of the National Defense University in Washington, an adjunct of the Pentagon. His interest in Sawston Hall arose from the Huddleston connection and fuelled by his and his wife Pepita’s keen interest in historic buildings. He had assumed that Reginald Eyre- Huddleston was still the owner when he made his first visit in June 1995 and was a bit surprised to learn that he was long dead and that the Hall was now a language school. He and his wife were invited to visit the Hall and shown around by Dr Sullivan. During this tour he learnt that the Hall had been occupied by the US military, and from the nature of the graffiti in the loft, assumed it was an Air Force group.

On his return to the US Robert carried out more research and learnt that the Hall was the HQ of the 66th Fighter Wing, and was able to visit their annual reunion. He was told that the posting at Sawston Hall of about 150 USAF personnel was seen as an ideal situation, within easy reach of London but out of “harms way”. He was given a photo of the raising of the US flag in the front lawn of the Hall taken in about 1943 and was requested to give a framed copy of this to the owners on his return visit. As a result of this research and some information from the SVHS he made a return visit in October 1996 and presented the framed photo to Valerie Kay and Dr Sullivan of the Cambridge Centre for Languages.

During this 2nd visit his wife Pepita took numerous pictures which were shown during the presentation. Robert narrated the fascinating history of the Hall, including the events of July 1553 when the Hall was torched by an angry Protestant mob. They were angry that Mary Tudor, a Catholic, was given sanctuary at the Hall by the Catholic John Huddleston. She was being pursued by the Duke of Northumberland (a Protestant) who wanted to install his daughter–in–law, Jane Grey, as Queen following the death of Edward VI. There were also photos of the stained glass windows of the Catholic martyrs Thomas More, Margaret Pole, Nicholas Owen and John Rigby, who all suffered grisly deaths in captivity. Nicholas Owen and John Rigby were canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI so Sawston Hall now has 2 saints strongly associated with it. These fine windows are, of course, in the chapel.

He pointed out that after the Hall was rebuilt, from bricks and stone allegedly taken from the Cambridge Castle, it remained unaltered up to the present time, mainly because the Huddlestons were unable to afford any alterations. Robert also talked about the famous priest’s hole, constructed in 1593 by Nicholas Owen, but did not make it clear whether he actually went into the hole! (He did, in spite of his claustrophobia). While showing a picture of the famous bed where Mary was supposed to have slept he commented about the rumour of the Hall being haunted. A few seconds later, almost subliminally, a mysterious figure was seen to flit across the screen. Could this be an example of a ghost captured on film?

The last male Huddleston was Ferdinand who died in 1890. In 1852 he wanted to marry a beautiful Spanish girl called Eugenie de Montijo, but she cruelly rejected him, marrying instead Emperor Napoleon III of France. She was reputed to have written (in French) “I would rather die than marry that Englishman”. C’est la vie! After Ferdinand’s death, the Hall passed to his nephews who added the name Huddleston to their family name. Following Reginald’s death in 1970 the remains of the estate passed on to his nephew, Anthony Eyre, who later sold this to the CCL. The wife of Reginald, Lady Margaret, was forced to vacate the Hall after his death, but not before having disposed of or loaned many of the valuable items. Robert made the telling observation that while during his first visit he had seen several fine 16-17th tapestries, these were not there during his second visit the following year.

He had later been told that the Hall had been sold by the CCL and was bought by Adrian Critchlow who is planning to convert the Hall into a hotel. He commented that the new owner had been very helpful and was going to send him some further photos of the Hall.

Even for those familiar with the history of the Hall, this American perspective was fascinating and well presented with nice touches of humour. Robert’s presentation was preceded with an introduction by the Master of Ceremonies, Dick Ballard of Carolina Meadows.

A DVD copy of the presentation is available from the Sawston Village History Society for £2. Please contact Bruce Milner on 01223 570596.

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