Siegfried Sassoon

Norman Loder

Norman Wilfrid Loder was the younger son of a landowning baronet and the family lived in Handcross, Sussex. Loder and Siegfried Sassoon went to the same school, Henley House, in the village of Frant near Tunbridge Wells. In 1905 both men went on to university at Cambridge.

From 1906 to 1911 Loder had been Hunt Master at the Galway Blazers in Ireland and by 1907, through Loder’s encouragement, Sassoon had become interested in Fox-hunting and golf and the two men regularly hunted together. In 1911 Loder moved to Ringmer near Lewes, to become Master of the Southdown Hunt in Sussex and Sassoon spent many happy days hunting with him there also.

In 1913 Loder moved again, this time to Witherley in Warwickshire where he became Master of the Atherstone Hunt for a year until 1914 when he joined the Cavalry and went to France at the beginning of the First World War. Also at this time he left the Atherstone to become Joint Master of the Fitzwilliam Hunt at Milton near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. However during the years 1914 to 1918 while he was away, his new wife, Phyllis, who herself was a great horsewoman, carried out the duties of Master at the Fitzwilliam.

Norman Loder

Norman Wilfrid Loder centre at a meet of the Atherstone Hunt in 1913

Loder put him on rather a wild horse...

Sassoon visited Milton and hunted with the Fitzwilliam on a number of occasions but he does not cover these visits in any great detail in his autobiographies. He stayed at Norman Loder's house at Longthorpe, Peterborough, from the 20th to the 28th of September 1916, when they spent their time cub-hunting. He also stayed at Longthorpe, in 1919 but Loder put him on a rather wild horse and he was promptly thrown from it. This aggravated his sciatica and Sassoon spent the rest of the visit in bed. Sassoon wrote to another famous war poet, Edmund Blunden on 19th August, 1919, from Longthotrpe stating, “staying til Aug 25th.” Then, in 1920, Loder left the Fitzwilliam Hunt, and moved back to become Master of the Atherstone Hunt. What Sassoon does cover in great detail in his books are two visits he made to Loder while he was Master at the Southdown Hunt in Sussex in 1913 and later while Master at the Atherstone Hunt in Warwickshire the same year.

Sassoon initially wrote three books, the first being 'Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man' in 1929 which was a slightly fictionalised autobiography in which all the real names were changed. He called himself George Sherston and in 'Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man' he describes his meetings with Norman Loder who is called 'Denis Milden' in the book. Chapter VII of this book, “Denis Milden as Master”, covers their first meeting and subsequent hunting with the Southdown (known as the ‘Ringwell Hunt’ in the book). Chapter VIII “Migration to the Midlands”,  covers a long visit to the Atherstone Hunt, which in the book is called the 'Packlestone Hunt.’ The stories of his experiences with Loder (Milden) remain true and are very entertaining.

Sasson later wrote three more books as his 'true' autobiography using all the real names, the second of these was called 'The Weald of Youth'. Chapter 10 contains more detail regarding the Atherstone visit (September 1913 to March 1914).

Siegfried Sassoon and Cockbird

Sassoon with his horse, ‘Cockbird’ after winning the ‘Colonel’s Cup’. Also covered in ‘The Weald of Youth’.

Norman Loder was to influence Sassoon greatly, he gave him his love for fox-hunting and riding and Sassoon wrote a poem called “The Old Huntsman” and dedicated it to Norman Loder. Sadly, as the years went by, Sassoon’s interests took a different direction. He became more interested in literature, writing and poetry which did not feature in Norman Loder’s world. Also, the Great War had changed Sassoon, he hated the establishment that sent young men to be killed in their thousands and to him, Loder represented the people he despised, the privileged classes that didn’t seem to care for the working man and who could not understand his opinions and ideas.

It wasn’t Loder’s fault, he was a product of his upbringing, but the circles in which he moved and the people that he associated with were not those that Sassoon wanted to know. Sassoon and Loder drifted apart over the years and in 1940, Loder tragically died quite young.

Despite his estrangement from his friend, Sassoon never forgot him. Loder became ‘Milden’ in ‘Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man’ and Sassoon clearly shows in his writing how much he adored him. Later in life, when he was an old man, Sassoon never forgot the wonderful times he had hunting with his great friend, Norman Loder.

Norman Wilfrid Loder - Master of Fox Hounds

Norman Wilfrid Loder 1911

Left: November 1911, Southdown Hunt.
I have tried for a long time to find out more about Norman Loder and came across these pictures in Baily’s Magazine.
 
Norman W. Loder was born on 2nd October, 1885, and died on 2nd August, 1940, aged 54. He married Phyllis Sydney Fisher on 24th October, 1914, and they had one son, John Wilfrid, born 31st December, 1915, and died 16th April, 1927.
Right: April 1913, Atherstone Hunt.

Norman Wilfrid Loder 1913

The Peterborough Connection

It is probably natural that as I live in Peterborough, I find Siegfried Sassoon’s association with the Fitzwilliam Hunt through his friendship with Norman Loder very interesting. Taking a closer look at the area it is easy to see just how intertwined the Hunt was, and still is, with the city itself. Back in the 1960s a lot of the Fitzwilliam Estate at Milton was taken over by the Peterborough Development Corporation which built a number of new housing estates on the land. With a little investigation of the local street map and some small knowledge of fox hunting it becomes obvious that the hunting connection with the land has not been forgotten.

One of the street names in this area is called Loder Avenue (below), and it takes very little imagination to see that the association with the hunt and one of its most famous huntsmen is being maintained. However, I had not realised just how many other street names had a similar connection. The following list shows the number of roads built on and around the original area of the Milton estate that retain links through their names with fox hunting.

Hunts

  • Atherstone (Avenue)
  • Portman (Close)
  • Ledbury (Road)
  • Berkeley (Road)
  • Meynell (Walk)
  • Cottesmore (Close)
  • Morpeth (Road)
  • Grafton (Avenue)
  • Tiverton (Road)
  • Brocklesby (Gardens)
  • Wilton (Close) and (Drive)
  • Kildare (Drive)

Longthorpe House

Loder Avenue Sign

Left: This is Longthorpe House, Longthorpe House Mews, Loder Avenue, Longthorpe, Peterborough. This is enough evidence for me to believe it was once the residence of Norman Loder and where siegfried Sassoon visited on a number of occasions.

Personalities

  • Loder (Avenue) (Norman) Joint Huntsman Fitzwilliam Hunt 1914 to 1921.
  • Sebright (Way) (Tom) Huntsman at the Fitzwilliam Hunt 1821
  • Barnard (Way) (Will) Huntsman at the Fitzwilliam Hunt 1895
  • Selby (Gardens) (Lowndes) family had  Mastership of the Whaddon Chase Hunt since 1750
  • Middleton (Lord) ran kennels at Birdsall, Yorkshire
  • Manton, Lord Manton, Fitzwilliam Hunt
  • Artis (Court) Edmund Tyrell Artis, Fitzwilliam Steward 1816-1827
  • Edgar (Way) Fitzwilliam Agent 1960s and 1970s
  • Teanby (Court) Fitzwilliam Huntsman 1977-1983

Hounds

  • Ringwood, bred at Milton for Fitzwilliam Hunt
  • Hardwick (Court) bred at Milton for Fitzwilliam Hunt
  • Nathan (Close)

Others

  • Huntsman’s Way
Milton Hall

Milton Hall, Peterborough

Kennels at Milton 1900s

Kennels at Milton 2010

THEN AND NOW: Left, A scene from a postcard showing The Kennels at Milton Hall in the early part of the 1900s. Right, A photograph showing The Kennels in the present day. Very little has changed other than the ivy has been removed.

Additional short biography of Norman Loder

Norman Wilfrid Loder came to Ettington, with his wife and young son, when in 1924 he took the lease of Fosse Hill House (now the Chase Hotel and Conference Centre). They were joined by Mrs. Loder's sister, whose husband was a senior navy officer, Commander Edward Richard Busk Kemble.

Major Loder had served on the Western Front in the First World War, in the Suffolk Regiment, East Kent Regiment ('The Buffs') and the Army Service Corps, attaining the rank of Lieutenant.

He was born at Slaugham, Sussex in 1885 and attended Henley House School near Tunbridge Wells where he met Siegfried Sassoon. The two became great friends and both went on to Cambridge University in 1905. 

Norman Loder's great passion was hunting and in 1907 he became Master of the Pack of the Cambridge University Staghounds. He was also a polo enthusiast and well-known in the polo world.

After university he went to Ireland and became Master of the Galway Blazers. In 1913 he became Master of the Atherstone Hunt in Warwickshire and the following year was appointed Master of the Fitzwilliam Hunt at Milton, near Peterborough. After the war he returned to Atherstone.

He remained good friends with Siegfried Sassoon and introduced him to hunting. Sassoon visited Loder's home on many occasions before, during and after the war, and in 1918 dedicated his poem 'The Old Huntsman' to him. However there is no record of him ever visiting Loder at Fosse Hill House.

When he moved to Ettington, Norman Loder took up the post of Land Agent to Viscount Bearsted of Upton House, the HQ of the Warwickshire Hunt and continued in  that role for the rest of his life.

Very sadly in 1927 his young son John W. Loder died at the age of 11 years.

At some point he became Major Loder. During his time in Ettington he became the inaugural President of the British Legion on formation of the branch in 1936, he was President of the Men's Hut Committee, Section Leader of the Special Constabulary, School Manager, member of the Parochial Church Council and Treasurer of the Ettington branch of the Rugby Conservative Association.

His death occurred suddenly on Thursday 1st August 1940 at Fosse Hill House. He was dressed and about to go downstairs for breakfast when he collapsed and passed away owing to heart trouble, from which he had suffered for some time. He was 53 years old.

Robert Allso
Dene Valley U3A
Great War in the Villages Project
http://www.denevalleyu3a.btik.com/TheGreatWarintheVillages

Fosse Hill House (now the Chase Hotel and Conference Centre)

End of a Beautiful Friendship

When Siegfried Sassoon first met the slightly older, more experienced, Norman Loder as a young boy at his first fox hunt he looked upon him with awe. His respect was total and he wanted nothing more than to be just like him. Norman Loder was a catalyst, he, more than anyone else, created ‘The Fox Hunting Man.’ The two became the greatest of friends, and for the period up to the beginning of the First World War, their relationship was solid. But then something happened to one of them which would change their relationship forever.

Before the war, Sassoon’s outlook on life was, as he would admit, somewhat shallow. All he wanted to do was hunt, write pastoral poetry and collect books. He was no ‘Man of the World,’ and indeed, home and Norman Loder defined his world. While at the front Sassoon was shot and badly wounded on two separate occasions but he recovered from those wounds. However, the war affected him just as profoundly in a different way, and although he would not realise it at the time, it would also affect his relationship with Norman Loder radically and permanently.

As with a lot of people, Sassoon had been touched by the horrors of the war. But it was different for Sassoon in that it made him want to write about it, he wanted to let everyone know what war was really like. He felt it his duty to help the fighting men not only by leading them, but, perhaps naively, by trying to change attitudes at home. He did this by writing, bitter, ‘protest’ war poetry, which was published in the press, and also by making his personal protest in refusing to fight, in order to bring the country, and maybe the world, to its senses. Suddenly, hunting, pastoral poems and his previous life before the war didn’t seem quite so important any more. Sassoon began to publish books of poetry, to mix in literary circles and keep the company of ‘men in high places.’ Men who thought on a different level to poor old, provincial, Norman Loder.

We all know that sometimes relationships break down, even marriages, when partners want different things and they drift apart. Norman Loder hadn’t changed, he was no poet or politician. Norman remained the same person he had always been, even after he became married to his wife Phyllis, and still felt the same affection for Sassoon. Sassoon however, almost began to despise Loder. He looked down on him and his circle. He knew he was doing it and he knew he was being unkind, but he also knew he had changed, and nothing would be the same again. There was never a particular moment when Siegfried’s and Norman’s friendship broke up, rather a slow realisation (on Sassoon’s part anyway), and a gradual drifting apart.

The most telling evidence of this one sided shift in their relationship is to be found in two Journal entries made by Sassoon on 23 and 24 February, 1922, (held in the Cambridge University Digital Library), when he went to stay with the Loders at their house in Cirencester. What also shines out like a beacon from the words of my hero Sassoon, is what an incredible snob he could be...

Feb 23rd

I bring my note book to this hospitable house with a sense of surreptitious disloyalty. It contains enough material, in itself, to damn me forever with my unintellectual Loders; but apart from the confessions of anathematized passion inscribed on preceding pages – I feel reluctant in writing comments on this page. This book of course epitomises my (to the L’s) secret life. As a rule I try to leave that life in London, when I travel the 100 odd miles every Thursday and ring the front door bell…”Hullo! Here’s old Sig!” exclaims N.W.L. (Norman Wilfrid Loder), chucking away the racing calendar, and getting on to his equestrian legs to welcome me. P.L. (Norman’s wife Phyllis), is executing a Chopin or Scriabine prelude with drawing room virtuosity; or playing some dicing race game with her six year old, John. I come into this friendly atmosphere of firelight and terriers and curtained windows and silk cushions and sporting society, with an air of playing the old friend of the young married couple in a Pinero play.

I am not exactly bored, but I know exactly what to expect, what topics are suitable for discussion. Almost all the topics can be found in today’s papers, or last week’s ‘Tatler’. There is the “Society Turf Scandal”; and Horatio Bottomley’s affairs; and the Irish Question; and the Prince of Wales in India; the provincial reverberations of popular plays and novels; and of course, hunting and racing etc. (I always solemnly discuss the current billiard matches with N.)

This evening they returned from Newbury Races an hour after my arrival. N. had lost 20; but they’d had an enjoyable day! My relationship to their existence could be displayed in a report of our conversation after dinner. I made one mistake… when asked, (by P’s sister who is staying here), whether I’d read “If Winter Comes”, I blurted out “No! But I’m told it’s absolute muck!” I might just as well have gone on to say “Yes, and there’s a gulf between your mental existence and mine which can never be bridged!” The strange thing is that the gulf is not obvious to them, as it is to me. It would be; but their attitude toward me is based on my conventional behaviour before the war, when they first knew me. Whatever I do now, they try to evade it by pretending that I am really the same as I was 8 years ago! And of course, I’ve made a success out of my eccentricity; which practically justifies it in their eyes.

After “If Winter Comes” had been dropped, P. read out a stupid letter in “The Daily Mirror”, about “Who are our best living poets”? and I had to explain laboriously, that de la Mare is quite well-known. The trouble with these people is that they don’t use their brains, except for trivial and automatically conventional purposes. P.L. for instance, has quite as good a brain as many minor poetesses and moderately successful women-novelists. They are like most people, (including many so-called intellectuals) securely unaware of their own limitations.

But by 10.30 I am weary of listening to N.L. urging me to go and see “this year’s Grand National”, - explaining in detail how I could get there by a special salon-train, and expatiating on the extraordinary size and solidity of the fences…

With a sense of escape I sit by my bedroom fire, remembering that I had lunch today with dear Rivers, who is neither sporting, nor bohemian, nor eccentric, nor ‘Socialistic’, but merely human and clear-headed and wise. The Loders are conventional, grown-up, children. There is nothing repulsive about their stupidity. On the contrary, there is a lot of good to be learned from it. But not more than once a week, please!

P’s remark “Perhaps we aren’t meant to know” is probably a ‘defensive reaction.’ It summarises her philosophy about everything which she doesn’t understand.

Although they wouldn’t be any happier if they tried to be intellectual. They are the product of a stupid environment. But one can hardly call their mental views superficial because they are so solid! What is wrong is that their minds are not flexible, or capable of readjustment to new ideas. They refuse to face the problems of human existence and say “Perhaps we aren’t meant to know.”

Such people when they behave reasonably and don’t cause ‘Turf Scandals’ are known as ‘The backbone of the country’. In such a society as ours I suppose they are. The creative and original people are ahead of society, so they are really outside the body of which upper middle-class stupidity is the ‘back-bone.’

Feb 24th

How hard I try to analyse my experiences (and acquaintances)!.. No doubt I see things in a distorted and over-elaborate way. In comparing the Loders with my other friends I find them to be with all their crass limitations and prejudices, quite unusually generous and affectionate, and human, in their simple way... People like Turner and self are abnormal. We are too intelligent to be serene, and not old enough to be tolerant. I think serenity and tolerance are incompatible with people of creative ability, until they are fully developed.

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