Putting The Record Straight - For The Roundheads' Sake (30 August 1974)
I was intrigued to read in a recent issue of the Gazette of a Roundhead Association and particularly of the status in that association of Jon Mengham, of Woburn Sands, as a lieutenant of Sir William Waller’s Regiment of Foot.
This is the most harrowing and bitter period in the country’s history reduced to fun and games for charity, with a bit of education throw in. But perhaps we do need educating on the subject of Cavaliers and Roundheads.
So far, in novels and on the stage and screen, the Royalists have had the best of it. There is something appealing and romantic about gay, dashing Cavaliers in their frills and furbelows that cannot be matched by the sober-sided Roundheads.
Film-makers find them far more photogenic, just as novelists, especially lady novelists, used to find them far more story-genic. So, although they lost the war hands down, we are almost led to believe they won it.
True, some years later, came the Restoration and this is seen as the triumphant close of the whole affair. For does not the story of Charles II hiding in the oak-apple tree vie with that of the flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie for glamour?
But hark ye, my masters. The Civil War scotched for ever any question of the Divine Right of Kings. And when the Restoration occurred it was that of a monarch with decidedly clipped wings. The Roundheads had done their job probably as far as it needed doing for the time.
So what of the Roundheads? And in particular, what of Sir William Waller? And why is there a good reason for Jon Mengham opting for or being posted to his Regiment of Foot?
Like some other Roundhead generals, Sir William had as much right to the title of gentleman as Prince Rupert himself. His family history went back hundreds of years. One ancestor was Master of the Rolls to Edward III. Another took Charles, Duc d’Orleans, captive at Agincourt and thus added the royal shield of France and the fleur de lys to the family’s escutcheon of walnut leaves. Another was Lieutenant of the Cinque Ports.
During the Civil War Sir William was active in these parts. To quote Sir Frank Markham’s History of Milton Keynes and District:
On 2 July, 1644, Sir William Waller, the parliamentary general who had been defeated three days earlier by Charles I at Cropredy Bridge, mustered 400 foot at Fenny Stratford and began regrouping his forces with such success that he won a victory at Newbury in October.
But more than that (and here I am not quoting Sir Frank), Sir William was the general who defended London against the Royalists. Lady Anne was one of those who:
Marched rank and file with drum and ensign
T’entrench the city for defence in.
From ladies down to oyster wenches
Laboured like pioneers in trenches.
Edmund Waller, the poet of the family, was first cousin to John Hampden, Bucks hero of the “Ship Money” episode that heralded the war. His initials are carved on Hampden’s bed, now in the Aylesbury museum.
And now we take a long step forward – to Newton Longville at the back end of July, or the beginning of August 1952, where and when there died a 90-year-old lady who was the last of her branch of the ancient martial family of Wallers.
Miss Hilda Wilmot Waller was born in Montreal, the third daughter of an army officer stationed there. One year later they moved back to England.
The following year the officer-father died, leaving a widow, one son and three daughters. For some years the family lived at Ipswich. Then, in 1884, they came to Newton. For ten years they lived at the Manor House. Then they moved to the Red House, Newton. This was the home of all three daughters – all unmarried – until they died.
The son became a doctor and went to the West Indies, where he died childless.
One daughter, Lucy, was an artist. She was commissioned to paint King Edward the Seventh’s pet dog and was often watched at the task by Queen Alexandra. She died in 1908.
Another daughter, Alice, bred dogs. She died just before the 1939-45 war, aged 80.
So Hilda was left without any close relatives, living at the Red House, surrounded by Lucy’s paintings, and conscious of her ancestry, but giving little indication of that consciousness.
Right from her arrival in the village she played a leading part in the musical life of the neighbourhood, especially in Bletchley and Fenny Stratford.
What art was to Lucy, music was to Hilda. She was as proud of the silver baton presented to her after years of conducting the Fenny Stratford Temperance Choir as her male ancestors had been of their field marshal’s baton.
The only concession she made to those ancestors was to write a tune she called the Waller March.
For about 40 years she was organist at the village church. There she installed an electric blower for the organ as a memorial to the members of her family.
She added brightness to the village Bright Hour and Women’s Institute, organised and conducted a village male voice choir, taught local children to sing and dance and play-act and was held in high regard by all.
She had a pony and trap – in which she made almost daily journeys to Bletchley. They were so regular that people said they knew what time it was by the clip-clop of the pony’s hooves as it passed by their doors.
When failing health finally overtook her, Miss Hilda still delighted callers at the Red House with her piano playing.
The Gazette obtained much of the above information in the week ending August 2, 1952. We were only just in time. The story was set up on an “early” page. On the back page of the same issue we sadly reported the news of her death.