Toad Hall

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Starved, I have been, of places to go and things to see for the past six weeks. I managed to slope into Reading Museum, in Berkshire’s County Town, at some point, I recall; but my camera has lain glum in its case, and I have become shorter and more morose with every day that passed.

One must take one’s pleasures where one can.

Today, I had a task which could have been most onerous: driving to the other side of our county town down twisty-turny lanes to collect my daughter from a residential stay. She has been camping next the Thames for some three days in wigwams, and today it was time to come home.

I set out to drive the 40 uncharted minutes into deepest Oxfordshire, and arrived without too much fuss.

My daughter, a literary spirit, had spent three frustrating days trying to bring the gravity of her location home to her teenage compatriots. They didn’t get it, so that by the time I arrived to collect her she was almost exploding with her news.

For she was camped right next to Toad Hall.

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This is Hardwick House, parked on the Hardwick Estate, near Whitchurch-On Thames, past which the sweet Thames flows softly. It is mentioned in Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat: “A little above Mapledurham Lock you pass Hardwick House, where Charles I played bowls.”

Which he did, though he was under escort at the time, a prisoner from Oxford.

But by far the most colourful resident of this rather wonderful red-brick dwelling is important because he inspired a writer to create one of the most charming fantasies in British literature: a make-believe world which takes us down n scale to the lives of Mole, and Rat, and Badger.

And Toad.

Mr Toad, he of the obsession with motor cars, the soft ‘Poop poop!”,  is said to be modelled on the man who lived here, and his house styled very like this one. What you see before you is Kenneth Graham’s Toad Hall.

The villagers of Whitchurch knew Toad as the Baronet of Hardwick House, Charles Day Rose.

Playboy incarnate,  father-of-five, his father was the Canadian Solicitor-General. Young Charles went into the Montreal Garrison Artillery and foiled the Fenian Revolt at the Battle of Eccles.

Later, his entry into banking drew him to be part of the syndicate which backed the Canadian Pacific Railway. He bred racehorses with some considerable success; became enamoured of yachting, and was a member of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club; and was created a Baronet in 1909, moving to Hardwick House shortly afterwards. He delved into Liberal politics with just as much vigour, and became Newmarket MP at a by-election in 1903.

His final obsession was to so much poop-poop as vroom vroom: aeroplanes and aviation. He was President of the Royal Aero Club. And it was returning from Hendon Aerodrome, in a motor car, that Toad died of a heart attack, and never did his restless feet return home to Hardwick again.

Charles Day Rose certainly lived life in the fast lane: yet this spot is the calm at the centre of what must have been a maelstrom of a character. A solid, immoveable, unchanging little homely fortress next the Thames: what a backdrop, for that Technicolor life.

 

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35 thoughts on “Toad Hall

  1. Dear Kate, I have always had a special place in my heart for “Wind in the Willows,” Toad, and his companions. I think “poop, poop” and “vroom, vroom” have always been part of my personality. But I never delved into the background of the book. And so I’m surprised to discover that Toad was based upon someone whom Graham knew. Was the house called “Toad House” when Charles Day Rose lived in it??? Or was it named that after Graham’s book was published and became a classic???? Peace.

    1. The house is still not called Toad Hall, Dee: it remains Hardwick House, as it was when Rose lived there. Yet it remains the inspiration for Kenneth Graham and the illustrator of The Wind In The Willows, EH Shephard.

  2. Your post makes me want to read Wind in the Willows again. I love those sketches of Toad and his cronies. I’d be interested to hear about Wigwams on the Thames. Sounds like a western adventure, doesn’t it? Like Drums Along the Mohawk or the Last of the Mohicans.

    1. It’s actually an Outdoors Education Centre, i think ostensibly for young people, Gale. But I’m sure they’d consider a writer’s retreat. If we could have Wi-Fi.

  3. I cannot imagine a child not knowing of Toad Hall and all of the wonderful characters from The Wind in the Willows. This was one of my earliest “favorite” books! Like Gale, I may need to read it again now that I know the back story! 🙂

  4. I’m afraid I’m just repeating, but yes! Magical! I am smiling at Maddie’s about-to-burst connection with Toad Hall, and the feeling of frustration she must have felt when the significance did not resonate with her friends. I’m afraid I relate to this all to well. LOL! But I’m so glad she could share this story with us through you, Kate, and to know how fortunate we think she was to have had this marvelous experience. I loved this story! I can feel the excitement all the way from “here.” ox

  5. That Maddie. She is a delightful soul. I hope she gets to meet Cayleigh when you’re here, because I swear sometimes from your descriptions they’re the same person. This is one of those instances.

  6. I love Wind in the Willows – imagine being the model for Toad – hahahaha. I feel for your daughter – nothing worse than not having ones mates understand your passion for something literary!

  7. What a treat for Maddie to have been able to revisit some of the magic of Wind in the Wilows!! Shall borrow my copy back from the children! 🙂

  8. I was so excited at reading this the other day, poop pooping off to pull my aged copy of Wind in the Willows, knowing exactly where it rests, and having a read of a few chapters, that I never made it back. Maddie is a kindred soul if there ever was one and I would have been “pert near to” exploding if I were her, as well. Wow! Wowee wow wow!

    I still have the copy of Wind in the Willows that my bestest of best friends gave me for my birthday one year in our college days. It was then a used copy, and that was, oh, about 45 years ago, and was actually my introduction to the book. Janet, the country mouse who often comments on my blog, knew I would love it and have treasured it ever since.

    Hope all is well at Shrewsday Manor. The snows of winter have turned into the rains of summer hereabouts. Ah well . . .

  9. Oh! I’d had no idea Toad was inspired by a real-life character. How neat. Now I feel like reading the book again…

  10. Fascinating stuff, Kate, great to put a name the original inspiration.

    By the way, there really is a Toad Hall — in Cheshire, with a bona fide literary connection. Alan Garner lives.here

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