Friday, May 27, 2016

Althorp was not Diana's childhood home

NBC and Cynthia McFadden are promoting her upcoming interview with the Earl and Countess Spencer, who are opening Althorp to overnight paying guests.  The event is for the Countess' charity, but the pre-interview press is giving a lot of wrong impressions.   NBC is promoting the interview, stating that Althorp was Diana's childhood home.  This is incorrect on so many levels.

Althorp was not Diana's childhood home.  She was born the Hon. Diana Spencer on July 1, 1961 at Park House on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Her father, Johnnie, the Viscount Althorp, did not succeed his father as Earl Spencer until June 9, 1975.  Diana was nearly 14 years old when her father became the earl, and her style changed from the Hon. Diana Spencer to the Lady Diana Spencer.

Diana's father and grandfather were not close.   As one of Diana's biographers, Sarah Bradford noted: "Diana rarely went there [Althorp]  as a child."  Her childhood roots were in Norfolk.   She did attend her grandparents' Golden Wedding anniversary celebration in 1969,  but the accompanying photo shows a very uncomfortable group of people.

In the 1930s,  King George V offered a lease to Park House to Maurice Burke Roche, 4th Baron Fermoy, and his wife, Ruth Gill.  Lord Fermoy, a member of Parliament for King's Lynn, had inherited (with his brother) a  $2.9 million (now about $30 million) fortune from their American grandfather.

Diana's mother, the Hon. Frances Burke Roche, was born at Park House on January 20, 1936, the same day King George V died  at Sandringham House.

Lord Fermoy died in 1955, A year earlier, Frances married Lord Althorp, who took over the lease of Park House, which he retained until 1975.

Lord and Lady Althorp's marriage was over by 1966, when Frances fell in love with Peter Shand Kydd.  They separated a year later.  Frances took Diana and her younger brother, Charles, to London.  At weekends, the children would return to Park House to be with their father.   Lord Althorp decided to seek custody of his children (his two older daughters were at boarding school.)   He was supported by Frances' mother, Ruth, Lady Fermoy.

The two younger children moved back to Park House, and Diana was enrolled in a local school in King's Lynn.

At the age of 9, the Hon. Diana Spencer was sent to Riddlesworth Hall, a boarding school, 90 minutes from Sandringham.   She transferred to West Heath, another boarding school.

Diana was nearly 14 when her father succeeded and moved to Althorp.   She said years later that it was a "terrible wrench" to leave Norfolk, "because that's where everybody who I'd grown up with lived."

 By this time,  Lord Spencer was involved with Raine, Countess of Dartmouth, a relationship that did not endear her to Johnnie's children.  They married in July 1976.

Diana was never a full time resident at Althorp.   In the mid-1970s, she spent most of each year at boarding school.  Holidays were divided between her parents' homes, and with friends in Norfolk.  After a brief stay at a finishing school in Switzerland, Diana and two girlfriends, moved into her mother's Cadogan Square flat.   She worked at several low paying jobs as a part time nanny and a part time assistant at the Young England Kindergarten. (Diana's education was limited, and she left her finishing school before completing the program.  She was never expected to have a career, and her parents hoped for a good marriage.)

In July 1979, she moved into a flat at 60 Coleherne Court, which was purchases by her mother for £50,000.  (Frances bought each of her three daughters their first flats.)   Not long after her marriage, Diana sold the flat for £100,000.

Contrary to what is being touted in the upcoming NBC piece, Althorp has been open to the public for several decades.  It was first opened in 1953 by the present Earl's grandfather, Albert, the 7th Earl,  for a tax mitigation.   His heir, Johnnie, continued  and expanded the opening of the estate.  During his tenure,  the 8th Earl sold off more than 20% of the furnishings and eleven Van Dyke paintings.  Another bone of contention between the children and their father  was Raine's redecoration scheme.

Lord and Lady Spencer often welcomed the tourists, and sometimes even manned the cash register at the stately home's gift shop.

However, it is a stretch for a news network to push the "childhood home" story, when, in reality, the facts tell a different story.

Althorp is Diana's final resting place.

According to the Althorp website, tens of thousands visit the stately home each year.

Park House is now a hotel for the disabled run by the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity.  It was offered to the charity in 1983 by the Queen.

NBC: please note the statement about Park House on the Sandringham website.

"Park House was the childhood home of the late Diana, Princess of Wales."

1 comment:

Marion Banks-Wilkinson said...

A very accurate piece and yes,the 8th Earl and Countess Raine were very active at Althorp in their day, I lived in Northampton at the time and corresponded with them, they donated a raffle prize to our playgroup.The Countess always replied by return of post by hand as did the earl who i actually met as I walked through the gift shop! Lovely people, polite and no side at all. They saved Althorp and the decorations were actually restorations to the original designs for the house.