Monday, 13 July 2009

It'll All End in Tears - Floods of Them

And the days dwindled down, October, November ... and these precious days were spent in peaceful learning of the history of Mellerstain and its occupants over the years.

We all learn something new every day. Often inconsequential things, or even silly things; but we go on learning. I'd say that this is what most humans try to do: keep on learning.

It's a bit like blogging. You read one and it interests you. From that one you link to another. The web expands. It seems endlessly interesting. That started me off writing this potted biography.

I delved into the archives of Mellerstain. Spoke with the Haddington family to get some personal history. Many people I spoke to seemed only too pleased to impart nuggets of interest concerning the house, its history, former occupants and the Scottish Borders generally.

The Borders certainly has a history! Quite bloody for a lot of the time, especially concerning "The Reivers". I learnt quite a lot in a couple of months.

Each year, in December, the Earl and Countess throw a Christmas party for all the staff: the gardeners, the tenant farmers and workers, the cleaners and house-keepers,the gamekeeper, the house guides and some retired people. This December was our first Christmas party at Mellerstain and it was just great.

We got to know all the people who help to keep this wonderful estate in pristine condition. Everybody is invited, including wives and children. Towards the end of the festivities one of the Haddington children would delight in handing out the carefully wrapped Christmas gifts. A genuinely warm and pleasurable time.

And this December we had an abundance of snow! Scotland and snow go well together as you probably know. The whole area was blanketed in virgin snow. For days and days, sheer white. And it was cold. Never mind, we had the boilers going full blast and cosy log fires blazing away in the sitting room. Almost a fairytale situation.

December 31st, 1995 and we were still snowbound. We retired at about 1 o'clock, having spent a while seeing the New Year in. Three months had flown by.

Next morning I got up and looked out of the south-facing window of the bedroom. And the first thing that struck me was patches of green showing through the long sweep of lawn down to the frozen lake. A thaw had set in. Much as we liked the snowy scenes all around us it was good to see some colour at last.

But what was that odd sound I could hear in the background. Sounded a bit like a splashing fountain, a waterfall even. Got dressed quickly. Went downstairs to the Stone Hall. The sound of rushing water increased. Unlocked the door from the Stone Hall into the east passageway into the main house and I stood aghast!

Water was pouring through the ceiling, from the electric lights. Gushing down; the carpeting was sopping wet. I rushed down to the basement. It was swimming in water! A good inch or so was swilling away on the stone floor. It was a nightmare on New Years Day!

I phoned across to the Earl. He came running through the basement area from the west wing. We placed buckets under the water but they filled up so quickly it was hopeless.

The Earl had no idea where the stopcocks were; neither did I. Oh! this was calamitous. And the water kept flooding down. I phoned the now retired security/caretaker, Brian Ellis. He told me to find a door in the basement, next to the wine cellar and shine a torch inside. There I would find two iron wheels, like steering wheels. These were the stopcocks!

Shutting these down was fairly easy, but the water still cascaded down. The whole supply comes from an elevated supply about a third of a mile from the north front of the house. It rises to large storage tanks in the central tower. This central tower then feeds two other large storage tanks: one in the west tower and one in the east tower. It would take a while for the east tower tank to empty when the water to the central tower was cut off. But stop it did, eventually.

All this on New Year's Day! In Scotland this day is a regular holiday. Hogmanay the night before so today would be a getting-over-it-day for most Scots. The Earl and family were the only other occupants of the house today and we all spent hours mopping up as best we could. Fortunately it was only the east tower tank that caused the problem. The supply pipe had frozen during the cold spell and expanded the joint leading into the tank. This pipe was where the water was gushing from.

The next thing was to see the full extent of the damage, get the insurance people involved, and the plumbers, electricians and other necessary people.

There were many other flooding problems reported that day. A bank in Kelso was badly damaged and other homes and businesses suffered likewise. We were not alone, but that was cold comfort, so to speak.


Anonymous said...

You certainly took on a varied job when you joined Mellerstain and very different from your C&E job!

Not bad for a Croydon Boy! ;)

Pauline said...

From fairytale to mystery to disaster - you're certainly running the gamut! Are you still employed at Mellerstein?

Argent said...

Wow! What a start to a new year. Bet you went on to find out where every other necessary thing for turning off utility supplies was after that!

PhilipH said...

Pauline: Thanks, and no, I just live in one of Lord H's cottages with my wife Pat. Going to see Susie H, the eldest daughter of Lord H, today. She's 21 tomorrow and I first met her when she was 6! Lovely young beauty she is too.

Argent: Hello silver one. Yes indeed, a bit of a washout really! You betcha life I found out so much more in the coming months about the ins and outs of this beautiful old pileold pile.

the walking man said...

what I find fascinating is the "just down home folks" attitude of the Mellerstain clan. The Earl rushing down with buckets and all pitching in with mops and concern.

Philip fortune has smiled on you in ways that most men dream of but never see. The biography of a Croyden boy is a fascinating work in progress.

PhilipH said...

Mark, Yes, I guess I've been lucky in many ways. I've tripped and stumbled my way through life thus far and have much to be thankful for.

The Haddington family are the best neighbours one could wish for. I love 'em all. I live in one of their cottages now but enjoyed my few years in the east wing of the house. Lady Jane is a diamond and very hardworking. Her hubby, John,is so easy-going and you feel totally at home with him. There is no "side", as we say, with any member of the family; they are all genuine friends.

PhilipH said...

Hi Dave,
You've not done bad either, even for a Dagenham exile. Cheers, Phil

Barry said...


Suddenly the life of an Earl looks very different.

But obviously even leaks in the basement are a more exciting experience when you're an Earl.

Great story.

PhilipH said...

Cheers Barry. Hope you are feeling better after your recent treatment.
Best wishes, Phil

infogoddess said...

Hello - I'm enjoying your blog which I ran across accidentally while researching my family who worked at Mellerstain in the mid 18th century. By any chance are there archives from that period that would have any information about them? many thanks for an enjoyable read

PhilipH said...

infogoddess, thanks for calling. I have left a comment on the Rev J Turnbull post on your blog in response to your question re archives etc.

Regards, Phil