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23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024

The Fergusons of 5 Hampstead Way

As we lived in Derbyshire until the 1930s we didn't know our relatives who lived in London until we had to move there ourselves. But one situation arose in about 1928 which I remember clearly concerning our Ferguson first cousins Jock and Helen then about 8 and 5 years old. We never knew their father Uncle Lewis Ferguson. He appears to have been a quiet gentle person, a barrister. His wife was my Aunt Meg, the younger sister of my father, and she obviously was spoilt, unstable and an increasing problem, totally unsuited for domestic responsibility.

Uncle Lewis must have realised he was not long for this world so he begged his good friend Sir John Cameron, Bart. (also a barrister), if anything happened to him would Sir John please look after his two children, which he did [agree to do]. Uncle Lewis was always very loyal to my Aunt Meg and even though she took desperately to drink he always maintained "There's no doubt about it, my Meg's a girl in a million". And soon enough, Uncle Lewis died quite suddenly (I don't know why) leaving Aunt Meg and her two children, she hopelessly addicted to the bottle.

The saving grace of the situation was a dear wee hunchback, Nannie, barely out of her teens, who loved Helen and Helen loved her, and she stayed with them. [I think Nannie's real name was Annie, and she was almost certainly already a live-in nanny for the children, having her own rooms in the uppermost part of the house, which I well remember. I imagine that Sir John must have engaged a housekeeper to look after the other aspects of running the house.]

Of course, far away in Chesterfield my mother (your Grannie) became very concerned about the situation and decided she must go to help; my brothers were away at boarding schools and Rigotts, our family home, had to go into mothballs for the time being; my father opt[ed] to go and live in the Clergy House, a High Anglican Church establishment for celibate clergy where he would be fed and housed, and could commute daily to his job in Sheffield. This still strikes everyone as a huge joke as he was not exactly given to religion.

And for Frances and me she found a woman in Summersell Lane who undertook to care for us. The only catch to this was that this woman cared full-time for a totally imbecilic young woman, bed-ridden I think, but that was the best that my mother could do and she was told that we would never even know the imbecile was there. This all worked reasonably well. Daddy used to come and visit us at weekends and we made friends with two nice little boys next door to play with.

But one day, stupid little child that I was, while playing outside I flattened my nose on the window pane looking into the kitchen, crossed my eyes and made a terrible face at our caregiver. She was utterly furious, I don't know why. She may have thought her special charge, the imbecile girl, had escaped and was peering in at her; we didn't know what she thought, but she threatened me with a terrible thrashing – I, who had never been thrashed in my life!!! – and I was most indignant about that. Also Frances and I were aware that there were weird moaning and sobbing noises coming from the room next to our bedroom and whenever these occurred our caregiver hurried quickly in and shut the door [behind her]. But we were incurious children and it wasn't until we got back home that we found out about "the Girl Next Door". Robin, my older brother, when he got to hear about the thrashing episode thought it was very funny, but I couldn't see anything funny about it!

After a time life at Rigotts was restored to normal, and at 5 Hampstead Way very wisely wee Nannie was permanently installed and was a tower of strength to Jock and Helen.

Sir John Cameron was a very wise guardian particularly over Jock and Helen's education. Helen was sent to Downe House boarding school, which seemed to suit her alright, and Jock went to a school called Stowe, which had only just been founded. Its headmaster strongly disagreed with some of the [existing] ideas of how boys should be brought up. He thought that all the bullying and very bad elements that were accepted as normal in boys' schools had no business to be there, so thank goodness Jock was spared that kind of schooling.

Jock became a journalist, on the Sunday Observer staff. He wrote under the name John Halcro Ferguson (there being too many Jock Fergusons around) and I frequently saw his stuff in our paper here "The Colonist", which later became "The Times Colonist" [in Victoria BC]. He was their (and Syndicated Press's) Special Correspondent for Latin America, and I would rate him as a Success Story, and on the few occasions when I met him I found him very charming and unassuming.

Helen became a doctor and married Ryland Lamberty and had a son John, but as both Jock and Helen died young (of cancer, I think) there was no further contact with their family.