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Tracing family histories is a popular pursuit and everyone loves the idea of discovering where they really come from. But when Bobbie Neate began to investigate her own family's past, she made some shocking discoveries which would cause shockwaves within her own family as well as on a much wider, national scale. The result of Bobbie's quest is an enthralling journey not only into her own past but also into the history of the UK and its leaders. It was after the death of her beloved mother that Bobbie started to question strange events from her childhood. From hazy recollections grew firm lines of enquiry and eventually she was able to match her memories with actual historical data. Her discoveries were mind-blowing. Her stepfatherand indeed the man she had referred to as "father" for most of her lifehad kept a huge secret and had lied about who he really was. In this intriguing biographical detective story, the author reveals that Louis T. Stanley, well known in Formula One racing circles, had hidden his true background from his wife and from the public. He was not the man he pretended to be, but was the illegitimate son of an elderly serving Prime Minister, HH Asquith and the young Venetia Stanley, an aristocrat's daughter. One hundred years after these events took place, the truth behind one of the biggest cover-ups in British political history can be revealed. As well as serving as an important historical document which will challenge commonly-held opinions of modern British history. Conspiracy of Secrets is a revealing personal memoir which uncovers what kind of a man Louis T. Stanley really was. His stifling influence over the author and her family is explored, as are the extraordinary lengths he went to in order to cover up his past and his true identity. This wonderfully researched book is a gripping story of forbidden love, betrayal, and identity.
|Publisher:||John Blake Publishing, Limited|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Bobbie Neate has published extensively in the educational field but writing this book has torn the heart out of her research into effective reading and writing strategies. Working across the world with both adults and youngsters was enriching her studies, but all her pioneering work was put on the back burner while she dealt with the troubles created by her stepfather Louis T Stanley.
Read an Excerpt
Conspiracy of Secrets
By Bobbie Neate
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2012 Bobbie Neate
All rights reserved.
The Mystery of Stepfather's Childhood
I was miserable. My mother had died. Her funeral had been on Friday, and now, on this cloudy Monday in July 2002, was her interment. For a brief moment I allowed childhood memories to come flooding back as I approached Sutton Coldfield's Cemetery Road. I saw myself huddled in the back seat of the Morris Oxford estate car, with its distinctive yellow slats of wood dividing the doors and windows from the pale-green chassis. It was a large vehicle for the 1950s but it soon became too small for four children and a poodle, dachshund and terrier as our growing legs took up more of the available space under the back seat of the car.
Mum would, of course, be driving. Stepfather never drove. In my recollections, my three older siblings had left for boarding school and I, as the only child left at home, was alone on the back seat. Beside me sat the handsome wreath that Mum had organised. On each anniversary of the death of her mother, father and younger brother I accompanied her on her pilgrimage to the family grave. It was my job at the age of seven or eight to stop the wreath falling to the floor if she braked hard. Woe betide me if my stepfather spotted I had failed in my duties and it had slipped from its position!
The previous day she had been on the phone, sitting in her usual position: leaning on her left elbow, the phone pressed to her ear while she allowed the pen in her right hand to doodle on the notepad. She knew all about the florist's home life, just as she knew all the triumphs and disappointments of her favourite shopkeepers. As with everything else to do with her family, she gave the floral arrangement a great deal of care and attention. The end result was always an unusual but fitting tribute.
As we approached the cemetery Stepfather put on his supportive-husband act: deferential, courteous and speaking in quiet tones. Mum would reply with subdued remarks about her dearly departed family. She would recall vivid memories of her graceful mother and her talented dad. He was an engineer who built a thriving company that supplied car parts to the motor industry and died when my mother was only 17. He passed away so young that he achieved hero status within family folklore. Whatever time of year, the churchyard custodian stood waiting to greet us beside the lychgate, brush or fork in hand, ready to sweep leaves or to pull out any brave weed that dared to encroach on one of his paths.
But on this disturbing day, over fifty years later, I was the adult and I was the griever. I knew that the burial service would be harrowing, not just because we were burying my darling mother, but because of how we were to deal with our manipulative stepfather. I had been pulled through an emotional mangle and I longed for some peace. But the biggest shock of all was still to come.
It was on a cold Sunday in December 2000, 18 months before my mother's burial, that my life fell apart. I was in my early fifties and a divorcee myself, in sole charge of three teenage children. Tom, my elder son, had been visiting home for the first time since starting university. We had spent the weekend doing all the old things that we used to do when he lived at home. While we were out, Stepfather had left an unclear message in his low resonant voice.
'Mum has had a mild stroke,' he relayed in his haughty voice. 'It's nothing to worry about.'
What? Mum's suffered a stroke? Mum was nearly ninety but she was invincible. I was in deep shock. I tried to ring him back but the phone was engaged. The dull bleeps reminded me of all those years ago, when the phone at my family home, the Old Mill House, was constantly in use. Thoughts flooded into my brain. Did I have to admit to myself that I hardly knew this man? Was the pretence over? He was the secretive man who had married my mother when I was young, and in those early days he did not go out to work but lingered at home writing in his upstairs study. The same puzzling man later became famed in the world of motor racing when I was entering my teens.
It was Tom hollering from his bedroom that evening that jerked me from my anguished thinking: deep concern for my mother tempered with fear of having to deal with Louis Stanley without her steadying influence. While my elder son crammed his tatty clothes into a holdall I shouted housekeeping instructions to Rupert, who was studying for his A-leevels, and the lively Hannah, who was 14. I called to Tom to jump in the car and we left so quickly I didn't have time to wave goodbye. Little did I know as we set off that this would be the first of many stressful drives to Cambridge.
My mother had been inspired to look for a larger house in Cambridge when I, her youngest, arrived. She immediately fell in love with the old miller's house that stood on the corner of a main road leading into the city. She would sit at the kitchen table, staring at the heavily netted kitchen window, searching for a glimpse of her delightful courtyard, and recall buying the place.
A small part of the house dated back to the sixteenth century, but Victorian additions made the building an attractive if chaotic structure. However, this did not stop my mother's love for the old miller's abode. It was she who arranged for the gate to be painted blue. Later she bought a brass bell with an arched clanger and had it fixed so that, when the blue gate opened and exposed the enclosed courtyard, it merrily jangled.
'Do you know, I paid ten thousand pounds for the house?' she would say.
We did. It was one of those oft-repeated family stories, one of the few she was allowed to retell that predated the arrival of Stepfather.
The kitchen was the hub of the household, welcomingly warm with steamy windows, the air filled with scrumptious smells. The aromas permeated through the thick heavy door and out into the cold passage beyond. Even on the coldest windswept Cambridgeshire days, the coke-burning boiler generated a cosy background heat. It sometimes produced pungent odours, overcoming the bouquets of roast dinner, apple pie and steamed greens, but, even if the acrid vapours hurt my lungs, it made the Mill House home.
In those early days, if I had fallen down the greenhouse grating, been hit on the head with a rounders bat, argued or just could not do my homework, I would expect to find her in the kitchen, with an attractive apron strategically placed over her fashionable clothes. She might have kicked her high heeled shoes to one side and be in stockinged feet, but she would be there. The radio would be tuned to the BBC Light Programme (the network that became Radio 2), Housewives' Choice would be blaring out, and there would be remnants of flour on her hands.
Years of dedicated and loving culinary work had made the surface of the old oak table irregular. It was similar, in many ways, to a butcher's slab with its ups and downs of wear and tear with the pitted wood revealing the many chops and gouges of various cutting implements over the years. But the kitchen table was not just the place to chop meat, peel endless potatoes, and roll out pie after pie. It was the place to do your painting by numbers, to play the latest board game and the floor was always the best surface for any car game.
Car toys were always popular with me. In the winter I set up a permanent Scalextric track in the playroom and I would play for hours putting oil on the back tyres of the model cars to make the steering harder.
Then on warmer days there was the garden to practise my cycling. I pretended I was driving a BRM and I had to get the fastest lap. The washing line had been moved to above the asparagus patch, and if I reached up from the saddle I could fix my stopwatch with a peg so that it dangled from a height. Grabbing it and clipping the button as I skidded in to beat my previous best lap time was all part of the fun. The garden had a maze of paths, so there were lots of corners to be taken at speed and many were lined with low box hedges or hidden flat bricks.
In those early days when I got home from school on summer days my mother would fling open the front door so that the flagstones of the veranda became an extension to the oddly shaped hall. The Victorian ironwork pillars that held the slanting glass roof made a superb backdrop to where Mum had organised a gigantic arrangement of tall blooms in one of her massive vases. The white tray tables would be in use again. We would carry them from the kitchen loaded with bread and cakes. Then, when we got into the right position, perhaps over Stepfather's knees, we would press the handles carefully, so that our fingers would not be trapped in the mechanisms that lowered the legs. A teatime treat might be strawberries from Mrs Hacker's farm, collected on the way home from school. Then we would sit in deck chairs eating and watching the birds peck at the flowerbeds.
As we ate, my mother might allow herself to recount how she loved sorting Baxter Prints with her adored father on Sunday afternoons. Then she might recall the stories of the punt her parents kept on their moat and how she paddled them around among the reeds. On happier days she did not hear Stepfather's heavy huffing and puffing, which indicated that she had reminisced enough, for she might add the story of her teenage brother, Ernest, and how he grabbed the boat from under her nose and set off without her, then lay in the punt listening to his records on his wind-up gramophone, while eating quantities of the richest Sutton Coldfield chocolates. He deigned to give her an occasional wave from behind the horn of the gramophone, as she stood stranded on the lawn. But by now Louis was tapping his teaspoon on his cup and she drew to a halt. He had grudgingly agreed to these stories from her childhood but she appeared to be barred from reminiscing about her earlier adult life when we were very young.
It seemed so strange that Stepfather never recounted any incident from his early years. If I turned and asked about his childhood he never replied, so I soon learned that questions about his previous life were unwelcome. Even a mild 'Where did you go to school?' might provoke a thunderous look, but if I ventured to ask, 'Where did you live?' his mood would darken further. Yet his silences only increased my curiosity. Was childhood too demeaning for such a great man? As I grew older and perhaps a little braver, while my knees still knocked I would ask the two questions that utterly infuriated him: 'What did your father do?' and 'What did you do in the war?' These often made him strike out in rage.
On one occasion after I challenged him hard about his past he finally snapped angrily at me, 'My father was a cotton broker.' Those few words stopped me prying for some months. Then, years later, when we boldly pushed him about his lack of relatives, he lost his temper and swung his arms out in a mock, or perhaps real, attempt to hit us. 'I had an Uncle Oliver. You must have heard of him.'
For all that, Stepfather could not resist occasionally tantalising us with a boast about his past years. If Question Time was on TV he might brag, 'Of course, it's not as good as when I appeared on it. The programme was called The Brains Trust and was on the Light Programme. In those days, just after the war, everybody listened.' When I was older the question of why he had been selected was on the edge of my lips, but I resisted the temptation. I didn't want to hear another torrent of bragging stories, which always appeared too fanciful to be true. However, years later he could not resist showing us a huge antiquated audiotape in a metal circular box with 'BBC' written on it. Stepfather also seemed to know many TV personalities. He rarely liked them. The journalist and author Malcolm Muggeridge had once been his friend, but not any more; and when the politician Roy Jenkins or the historian A. J. P. Taylor appeared he always made some derogatory remark.
Stepfather's name fascinated me. Why was he called Louis? It was such a strange-sounding name. None of my friends' fathers had French names. Why did he? And why did nobody address him as Louis? Even my mother avoided using it. And pronunciation of his name caused all sorts of problems to others.
My stepfather was a romantic and always seemed fond of my mother, and she shyly returned his affections. He bought her endless bunches of flowers, showered her with expensive presents and never let her leave the house without a kiss. He always watched her walk through the painted blue gate from the landing window if she was nipping out with us children.
Of course that does not mean they did not have quarrels. There were lots, especially in the early years. When I was older, the rows were either about our behaviour or about a woman called Auntie Mamie.
When I was little my mother went shopping every day; of course, Stepfather came too. She rarely went out on her own. Our first stop was the baker – Mum would chat to the lady behind the counter as she passed me armfuls of bread to carry home. But there were other, more worrying, conversations that I overheard on the Cambridge pavements.
'Yes, of course, I'm still going to do the baking for the Mission to Seamen. Some of my charity works will stop, but not the one most dear to my heart.'
Even when I was that young, all did not seem right. Why did she have to repeat this to so many people? I wondered if my mother was somehow disgraced. There were other whispered asides that I didn't understand.
It was my mother who had to deal with the running of the house. She paid all the bills. There were times when Louis wanted more control. This always proved disastrous and he ended up exploding with anger with one of the poor individuals who were trying their best to help. My mother would then be called upon to use her charm to encourage the tradesman back to his job. But Louis's behaviour lost us the services of many local businesses for ever. Builders, plumbers, florists, stationery and book stores all experienced his wrath, but the biggest loss of all was the large department store Eaden Lilly. They banned him. It proved a great inconvenience to us all and slowly my mother began to do more and more of her shopping in London. But he even managed to destroy some of her fun there. There had been some sort of argument with the Harrods management about money owing. As a result, Louis refused to shop there any more. Little did I know that he had been refused their credit.
In the afternoons when I was very small Louis used to cycle into Cambridge. He first topped up the air in the tyres of his extra-sturdy bike, fixed with dynamo lights and three thumb-click gears, then he would wrap the bottom section of his russet corduroy trousers into tight tidy folds and clip each ankle with a black sprung clip. If it was colder he would wear his fawn duffle coat and Emmanuel scarf. As he opened the blue gate he would turn and wave at my mother who stood at the landing window. When he came back, I remember, he reported to my mother he had collected his post from his old college, kept in a strange box in the porter's lodge. He would also tell of visiting his mother and strange sister in Newnham, where they lived before they permanently moved in with us.
For, unlike like my friends' fathers, Stepfather did not leave for work in the mornings and return tired in the evenings. Instead, he lurked at home writing about golf. Then, as he became more interested in his wife's passion for motor racing, he developed his already well-honed photographic skills to publish a yearly account of the season's Grand Prix races. Each year he became more adventurous with his pictures and text and the racing circus began to fear each new edition, in case an individual was featured in an unflattering or derogatory manner.
Mum had been a proud housekeeper and Stepfather greatly increased her work. She always had a freshly ironed tablecloth at every mealtime. In those early days she must have washed and ironed a mountain of linen every week. She had needed a survival strategy. It evolved over the years. She subtly looked and waited for the opportune moment when Louis might be in a good mood – it would eventually come and then she would pounce.
One Thursday, after she had come home from her weekly shopping trip to London, she produced a big parcel, which she had bought at one of the smart stores she visited. She allowed us to unwrap the packet and, as we opened it, the unaccustomed waft of an oily product hit our noses. It was a plastic tablecloth. Stepfather looked thunderous. 'I'm not eating with that sleazy object on the table,' he said.
'We're trying it out while I iron the embroidered tablecloth. There isn't a clean one at the moment.'
I can remember mum's sheer joy at only having to wipe away drops of gravy, the odd piece of roast potato after it had shot off our plates, or spills from the water jug. Slowly the plastic cloth replaced the embroidered ones. She had won a small battle. Her victories were subtle, but they began to work for her. I watched her manoeuvre him to her advantage and I believed that, when I needed help, she would always do her best to win a small contest against him, for me. He was manipulative, so she became crafty.
Excerpted from Conspiracy of Secrets by Bobbie Neate. Copyright © 2012 Bobbie Neate. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Mystery of Stepfather's Childhood 1
2 Those Women 17
3 Early Days 35
4 Why Act Like This? 57
5 What Trick Would He Play Next? 67
6 Family Likenesses 87
7 The Supreme Artist 109
8 Family Puzzles 123
9 The Water Lily 139
10 Who Was Who? 151
11 Who, When and Why? 173
12 Vital Connections 199
13 What Else Could I Scour for Information? 223
14 What? Surely Not! 241
15 Mixed Feelings and Mixed Research 247
16 How Far Could a Cotton-Cop Winder Rise up the Social Ladder? 265
17 Edwin, Lily or Who? 287
18 Digging Deeper 307
19 How Had He Achieved the Impossible? 325
20 The 1911 Census 339
People who have helped me 354