George Mallows Freeman (1852 - 1934)

by Malcolm Pratt

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Mr and Mrs Freeman's granddaughter, Diana Holman Hunt, recorded that, when she was being brought up there, the establishment at The Friars consisted of Mr Johnstone, the butler, Miss Fowler who was Mrs Freeman's personal maid, Arthur whose duties included operating the house lift, Mrs Hopkins the cook, Dan the vegetable gardener, Whaler the chauffeur, Hannah and Tilly whose jobs she did not record, Polly who ran away when she discovered she was pregnant and Polly's mother who worked in the dairy. When Polly was eventually found she was reinstated in the household and the butler's inclination to consume a bottle from the cellar was indulgently covered up by his employers.

The Freemans' tendency to take an indulgent view of the attitudes and behaviour of their servants was also noted by a young Winchelsea boy who had been sent to deliver groceries to The Friars. He arrived at about two o'clock in the afternoon, crept past the servants' hall for fear of disturbing the cook and, rather to his surprise, found Mrs Freeman in the kitchen. She challenged him as to what he was doing in her kitchen whereupon the cook, at that time a Mrs Ferguson, disturbed from her siesta and overhearing what had been said, arrived on the scene demanding, 'Your kitchen? It's my kitchen!'

Mrs Freeman was a good deal taller than her husband, wore lorgnettes and was notable for her heavily mascaraed eyes. With her husband frequently away working as a barrister, at which times he would reside at their London home, 12 Bryanston Square, it was she who exerted a great deal of influence in Winchelsea. Lord and Lady Ritchie of Dundee moved to live in the town in 1912. Their son, Malcolm, recalled being told of a very formal visit they received from Mrs Freeman soon after their arrival. In those days it seems such calls on newcomers were 'the done thing'. Mrs Freeman's practice was to arrive at half past three in the afternoon because she thought that to come any later might suggest that you required tea and, any earlier, lunch. That particular time also avoided any after lunch siesta which her hosts might have. When calling Mrs Freeman would sit, demure and upright, with, in her lap, a list of topics in case she forgot what to say next. When conversation flagged she would glance down into her handbag for a prompt. They must have been trying occasions for the visited!

Mrs Freeman's influence could, however, be kindly and helpful as when she went to the school at the end of the summer term to find out which pupils who were leaving had no jobs to go to. Frequently she could make arrangements for them on The Friars estate or elsewhere. When dealing with adults she tended, however, to throw her weight about. Alex Finch, who presided over the post office and general store, recalled that when she came into the shop the chair he normally kept by the counter was deemed to be not good enough for her; she demanded that a better one be brought from the living room at the back. Mrs Freeman's custom was so important to his business, and her potential influence should he displease her was such that, while deeply resentful of such behaviour, he dare not refuse.

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