Thursday, 14 January 2010


The tarmac path ends abruptly, as does all sign of the four lane commuter route. Here a narrow wooded walk leads through mainly Oak and Beech interspersed with some fine Holly trees. To your left a low steep bank leads down to the shore-now dominated by reed beds which stretch to the small island in this part of the bay-whilst to the right are fields. Or, from a more feathered viewpoint, seabirds to the left and Buzzards and Kestrels to the right. Growing so close to the sea the Oaks are very gnarled and stunted, their lower branches sweeping the ground. As their trunks are growing out at the top of the bank and with their branches heading down to the shoreline, they create a screen in their leafy season which increases the effect of walking into a green haven. The road noise subsides, at the end of this path lies Upton Country Park.
This is a spread of over 100 acres of public gardens, parkland and woodland surrounding a late Georgian manor house, built in 1816 upon the profits of cod from the New Found Land-though the estate has a history dating back many centuries before this time. It is also home to a scandal which was big news in the Victorian era: The Case of the Tichborne Claimant. These legal battles started in 1871 and lasted for a total of 288 days, with evidence presented to the court so complex that the final summing up by the judge took 18 days. They were instigated by the disappearance of one Sir Roger Tichborne in the early 1850s and his subsequent reappearance in 1866 to claim his, not inconsiderable, inheritance. The court cases centered around a simple case of identity: was he Sir Roger, as he professed himself to be, or was he an Australian butcher's assistant by the name of Arthur Orton as some of the Tichborne family alleged. It was a case that divided the Tichborne family as well as public opinion and each side of the debate still has its protagonists even to this day. It is a tale which has been used as the subject for many books, plus a couple of films, and they all document how Arthur Orton failed in his fraudulent claim. The cad was sent to prison for 14 years hard labour-a verdict which caused a small scale riot on the streets of London-but this did not stop him, upon his death in 1898, from being buried with the name 'Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne' inscribed upon his coffin. What is pertinent to this whole affair, and is not even touched upon in books or films, is why Sir Roger done a bunk in the first place: He had fallen in love with his cousin, Katherine Doughty, but the families of both feared a scandal were they to marry and prevented the liaison. So off he went and so ensued many years later a court case which (in today's figures) cost ten million quid, which is a totally disproportionate expense in preventing two young people from playing 'Hide the Sausage'.

So much for Sir Roger: it was a fair cop but society was very much to blame. Now jump forward a hundred years to hear a local legend-some of the loot from The Great Train Robbery was buried in the grounds of Upton House. More than this, it was never recovered and is still there. Ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, I ask you to consider the facts of the case;
At the time of the robbery Upton House was the residence of the exiled Prince Carol of Romania and Hohenzollern, which all sounds very grand but he had only got the tenancy because Poole Council, who had granted him the lease, were under the delusion that he had a lot of money. In fact he had none to speak of though, fair play to him, he was doing his best to support his family and maintain a fully staffed mansion (including gardeners for the estate) by setting himself up as a carpet salesman. I should point out, before you all throw up your jobs to become carpet salesmen and women, this line of work did not appear to be a total success and Prince Carol was running up a lot of debts.
Quite why the Boys in Blue suddenly took an interest in him in 1965 has never been fully explained, but they certainly felt it necessary to raid two properties that he owned-one in Nice and the other in Surrey-after they were given a tip off that the Prince was aiding Ronnie Biggs, at that time on the run following his escape from Wandsworth nick. They did not find any sign of their quarry, but that did not stop the locals around Upton House from making a few, extremely tenuous , connections between their poverty stricken neighbour and the train robbers.
Perhaps they were a little envious of nearby Bournemouth which had a train robbers legend of its own, namely the belief that, after dividing up the swag, the robbers went on a celebratory binge in that seaside town (though this, if true, would have been a fairly stupid thing to do: at that time Bournemouth was clinging on to its image as a 'Bathchair Resort'. Any strangers arriving in the town who were under the age of 120 would have stood out like a sore thumb). But there must be some thread of truth in that town's connection because one of the gang was arrested there. So, the Great Train Robbers were known to have possibly been in the vicinity, the Bluebottles had been sniffing around the Prince and, finally, the most damning piece of evidence pulled all of these threads together. At least two locals remembered seeing, shortly after the robbery had taken place, a strange car driving down a road not far away from Upton House! Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury what further proof could you possibly need? I put it to you that, when we simple Mudhoppers are enjoying our walks around the grounds of Upton House, we are unknowingly walking over the spot where bags of ten shilling notes still lie concealed. Such is the local legend.

Oblivious to these unimaginable riches we head towards the bird hide, a good place to rest our foots and to look out over the part of the bay which attracts many nesting seabirds. Amongst the more obvious species, such as the Shelduck, there are lots of others which we do not have a clue what they are. Actually, this is not strictly true: there is a big information board in the hide which tells us bad birdwatchers exactly what we are looking at out there, which is more than a clue. A bit of a dead giveaway in fact, certainly enough to cause us to feel jolly clever when we manage to identify one of the little buggers correctly. There are a few places around the shores of Poole Harbour where bird hides are to be found, but this one at Upton House is by far the most easily accessible. Couple this with the part of Holes Bay which it looks out upon being rich in the variety of birds which can be seen at any given time, it is always a relaxing place to rest awhile. Being able to name each and every species is not essential, enjoying what is there is enough.

Above is the view from the bird hide looking out towards Pergins Island, another place of local legend which will be the subject of Holes Bay, Part 3-coming soon.


M S Stanley said...

Very interesting! My friend is related to the barrister Hawkins in the Tichborne Claimant case, so it was nice to see some photos.

PS Just gone online to hear a heron squawk. Rod Stewart indeed.

durogante mudhoppers said...

Hello M S
Thanks for your feedback, and small world! Outside of the central characters in the case, the barristers must have had a field day-not to mention a case the likes of which only come once in a lifetime.

Talena said...
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