In 1973, after Michael had retired from his job, he and Florence moved to Italy, buying a house with some land, Casanuova di Barontoli, south of Siena. They lived the rest of their lives there. When they first moved to Barontoli, the house was just about habitable but needed an enormous amount of work done on it. They also worked extremely hard to create a garden. They were fortunate enough to find a very efficient couple, Nello and Elvira Fei, to work for them. Nello helped in the garden and cultivated the olives and vines on the land that went with the house, and above all helped them negotiate Italian bureaucracy. Elvira used to come in the mornings to clean the house and help prepare lunch. She was an excellent cook and taught Florence how to cook many delicious local dishes.


Letter 14.1. Grace Lambert at Casanuova di Barontoli, to Margaret Lambert at 39 Thornhill Road London N.1, 4 February 1973


   … Today, Sunday, is brilliant sunshine, after a white frost, which is rapidly diappearing. Outside in the sun it is hot. But inside, alas, the rather paltry central heating system, put in to sell the house, has packed it in and, as bad English habits have already started to spread here, the plumbers, the “hydraulicos”, don’t by any means at all work on Saturday. However, we have some electric fires and huddle round those till Monday.

   Tristram Barran [Florence’s nephew, who had a pig-farm nearby], and his friend, a young Englishman whose professions seems to be living in a Berlin flat (with no hot water) and teaching the piano to the American troops, came over to lunch. They and Mickie went off to the farm up the road and bought 1 cwt. of wine, which they decanted into 16 mammoth bottles (about ½ gallon, I should guess), drinking some during the time and then, after midnight, rattling off home to the pigs in a tiny very battered Fiat.

It cheered things up no end, but left a trail of havoc in the house. The friend, a quiet young man, became aggressive and took on Florence in a heated argument about the Yanks and the British in Berlin, and Florence, unintentionally, I feel sure, found herself arguing on the side of the British. …



Letter 14.2. Florence Lambert at Barontoli, Siena, to Grace Lambert at 2 St Germans Road, Exeter, 7 May 1973


Dearest Grace,

   …..The boiler has packed up completely, despite a new plumber from Siena who came and cleaned it after which it went for a day and then stopped. Nello had been relighting it with paraffin-soaked rags for about a month on the advice of the Forgas people. So no central heating. The Sadia gave out just after Flavia and Colin [MacCabe, by then Flavia’s boyfriend] arrived on the Wednesday – it needed a new element. I found a charming retired electrician in San Rocco who came, pronounced, went away and got the new element, by which time it was Maundy Thursday and I failed to persuade the plumber to come before Easter, so no hot water and the cold was very cold. Then on Saturday the water gave out – a burst main somewhere – and we were reduced to dipping it out of our cistern in the garden with buckets. This had all already happened to us on Palm Sunday evening, but then, as it was only Michael and me, we just heated a can of Campbells soup by candlelight (after huddling together on the sofa trying to keep warm) and went to bed at 9 pm.

   Nevertheless, our guests stood up to all this manfully – no one lost their temper and the girls [Sophia and Flavia] cooked and Colin fetched and carried, and we had Tristram and two friends to lunch on Easter Sunday. It was a bit of a squash round the table, but fun. On the following Tuesday, we all went to Tristram for a roast pork lunch cooked by him and Sebastian [Roberts, another of Florence’s nephews], who had left us for Tristram when Sophia and Frank [Tuohy] arrived. We sat and stood about 15 people. Tristram has now hung a sort of ribbon straw mat sent by Jane from Barbados in the doorway between his new bathroom and the kitchen. As the loo is plumb opposite the doorway, I found this a great improvement on nothing [previously there had been no door at all on the loo], but Frank, with 15 people eating and milling around in the kitchen-dining room, could not fancy it at all and asked the way to the best place of ease among the olives. All the same, we had an excellent meal and of course masses to drink…..

   You would notice great changes in the garden here and I wish you could see it. All five large wisterias are a mass of bloom – great big fat flowers being constantly visited by those enormous blue-black bumble-bees and smelling delicious. Here they flower on the bare stalks and the leaves come later. The one outside the kitchen is particularly fine when observed from the sink, as it is all foreshortened into a solid mass of colour.

   Do you remember the “plum” tree just behind the fig tree among the clothes lines, the one Michael wanted taken up? Well, it has turned into the most lovely quince, now in full bloom. There are two more quinces in the orchards. Lots of tulips and anemones as well as daffodils came up and the land near the house, even in the fields, is a mass of wildflowers and lush green grass and all the cornfields in the landscape are deep green; nearly all the trees in leaf; and the chestnut near the gate (white) is in full flower.

   As to the kitchen garden, it is a bit curate’s eggish. Some of the seeds failed to germinate and had to be resown, but we have onion seedlings looking fine and peas almost in flower and I bought some aubergine seedlings which seem to have taken. We are getting Parrini’s tractor to plough the land between the vines below the house, where Nello will sow lots of haricot beans and three sorts of tomatoes. I don’t suppose we’ll get an awful lot this year. Nello says the vines are not at all bad and should provide enough wine for the house. They certainly look incredibly better since being pruned and properly staked. They also are coming out and one can distinguish three different kinds. You must come for the harvest if not sooner.

   We have a charming biblical arrangement with a local shepherd.  A tall thin old man, he came to the kitchen door about 6 weeks ago with his flock of about 50 sheep drawn upbhind him in strict order – Italian sheep are very disciplined – and said to me “where is your husband?” Rather surprised I said upstairs but what do you want? He said could he graze his flock on our land and I said yes but how long for and he replied oh only until you plough it up. So I said go ahead, thinking our poor burnt grass no great shakes. Since then he has come twice, bringing first a whole delicious pecorino (Michael’s favourite) cheese worth about £2 if purchased by the lb at the grocer; and second a small old-fashioned milk-churn full of a soft curd cheese called ricotta which one can eat with salt and pepper, or plain, or with sugar and which can be used to stuff ravioli with. Anyhow, it is a very satisfactory arrangement. Sometimes we watch him seated under the big pear tree down the field, on the white-painted chair which was rescued when Nello burnt Pippi’s hide [Pippi, the previous owner, had used the house for shooting], giving commands to his dog. He thus controls the flock from about 100 yards away, and making them come along and up until they have done and it is time to go home….

Lots of love,




Letter 14.3. Florence Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 6 July 1973


   … At last things are looking up here. As you know, the [mains] water shortage has, and looks like continuing to be, acute, so we got a water diviner – well recommended – who found a place where he reckoned there was lots of water at 6-7 metres (about 24 foot). The well-diggers duly came – a father and son team – and dug by hand down to 11 metres (35 ft) and then found a derisory amount of water. So, rather in despair, partly because it is going to cost £500, but mainly because of no water, we recalled the diviner. He said go down another three to four metres, which we have, and now there is plenty of water, hip hip hurrah! The diviner said the reason he was wrong about the depth was because at about 6 metres they found some methane (natural gas) and had to be fanned because breathing was difficult, and to a water diviner methane and water are indistinguishable. …

      As I write, the well-diggers are down the rainwater cistern outside the kitchen, cleaning it out and seeing if it leaks. They are making funny hollow noises. The new well is beautiful, all bricked down the sides, a perfect cylinder going down nearly 50 feet and all done by hand. It is better that way than an artesian bore, because the well acts as a storage for the water coming. Michael is out there laughing with the men, who have found a dead owl in the cistern. They are all very happy to have found water. I wish you were here to see it all. The garden doesn’t look too bad and the wisteria is flowering again and the bignonia is rampaging (now they’ve found two fish and a dead weasel in the cistern – I’ve been drinking that water!). I am writing this in bed with the window open and the sun streaming in. It seems the fish are goldfish and they are trying to save them in a bucket!

   This letter must stop alas because we have to go into Siena. Do write again soon; we so love getting your letters.

Lots of love to you and the ladies in suitable proportions.



Letter 14.4. Florence Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 24 August 1973



…. We are still getting everything but fruit (we have masses of pears but only Michael really likes them) out of the kitchen garden. About 10 days ago I picked our first Aubergine and a few days ago our first Melon. Tristram thinks we’ll get about a ton of tomatoes, and I can’t keep up with the courgettes and cucumbers and all. Elvira has already made 12 pint bottles of tomato purée for the winter and will do many more, I hope, on her return from their fortnight’s hols next Tuesday. We buy the empty beer bottles at the Co-op [the local supermarket] for about 2d. each and Nello has an instrument for putting crown tops on the bottles, which are then boiled like we used to do bottling jars. I shall also have some whole plum tomatoes in jars. Already the garlic, onions and grape tomatoes are hanging up in picturesque plaits in the cantina – I really can’t quite believe that it is happening to us sometimes.  The house is beginning to feel more like home, especially our bedroom and the drawing room, both lovely and cool in the hot weather…..Michael loves it here more every day. Even watering the garden with that leaky old hose while Nello is on holiday. Michael has cut down several trees to give us new “Blicke” [views] in different directions. We are still waiting for the iron hoops to stick in the new terrace wall to train the wisteria up…. And Michael has just planted some of his seedling thymes round the big pine. I think he must have some of Margie’s gift for growing things from seed. He grew them in little plastic plates in his study!

   Must go now, as we have to collect another demijohn of wine…



Letter 14.5. Florence Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 14 September 1973


   … We are very pleased about Tristram’s engagement. Miranda [Mitchell Cotts] is very nice indeed, very pretty and intelligent and considered by her own family to be rather unconventional! Michael told her mother [who with her father came to stay at Tristram’s] that we found Miranda rather conventional! They have obviously been in love for months. We have been keeping all dark and telling everyone Tristram had three girls staying (which was true), but we’ve been hoping and praying they’d actually get married. She could not be more suitable. Her mother comes from one of the old Catholic families (like the Throckmortons etc) and the father’s family have been rich city merchants in shipping and insurance for three generations. … Sir Crichton Mitchell Cotts left the city firm and took to farming and is very sweet and has really turned himself into the very picture of a typical English country squire. They were rather off-put by the total lack of a door to Tristram’s loo (he did put up a curtain for them, but this was not enough) and poor Sir C. Mitchell Cotts used to walk up the hill to the bar to go to the loo. Lady Mitchell Cotts is very upset at the thought of Tristram wearing a caftan at his wedding, but they liked him and were I think much reassured after coming to lunch and spending the night with us (three loos with doors). We told them what a sterling person Tristram really is and that most of his eccentricities are very superficial. In fact I think the eccentricities have been a kind of whistling in the dark because he has been a bit lonely, and now he has found someone he cares for, they will probably melt away. Of course we are so used to him we don’t think him at all odd. He is very happy now. I have never seen him so tender and polite to any girl before. …

   Flavia and Colin left a week ago, spending a few days with friends in various bits of France and hoping to reach London on 15 September. Sophia arrives tomorrow, but only for one night on her way to Sicily! However, she says she’ll spend a few days with us in early October, on her way back. It was lovely having Flavia and Colin. He used to write in the mornings and dig out the old oval cistern that had the frogs in it in the afternoon. Nello has now taken over and has struck bottom about five feet down – a lovely terracotta-tiled bottom. We are going to make it into an ornamental pond, leaving the old apple tree hanging over it. Colin took down all the wire and posts. I think it will really look very pretty.

   Michael is busy designing the formal garden below the big terrace. The arches made by the local smith are now in place on our new little low wall and we are busy training the two enormous wisterias below the terrace up over them. It is a terrible muddle, because they have been tied down for years and are all in long bunches and plaits. Michael worked out the height and width of the iron arches so that the view is always visible, whether one is sitting or standing either on the terrace itself or on the little covered one or from the top of the steps. I long to show it to you. It has already been admired and approved of by some of our most severely critical artistic friends. …



In 1973, Flavia became pregnant with Fergus. She and Colin decided to live together but not to get married, to Florence’s consternation. Colin’s parents, though not happy, took matters more in their stride.


Letter 14.6. Ruth MacCabe at 1 Cuthbert House, Golden Lane E.C.1 to Florence Lambert at Barontoli, 30 October 1973


Dear Mrs Lambert,

   Myles and I are very pleased to know that we will become grandparents. While we recognise Flavia and Colin’s right to live together, we regret, in the circumstances, that they have decided not to get married.

   My first reaction to the news was to take it in my stride, especially as the relationship seems a stable one, but many of my friends have said “It is all right for you, you have not a daughter”. We think of Flavia with affection and concern and I feel they may change their minds when they become parents. In the meantime, we hope that you are not too unhappy with the situation.

   Joined by Myles in best wishes to you and your husband,

Yours sincerely,

Ruth MacCabe



Letter 14.7. Florence Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 4 November 1973


Dearest Grace,

   We have just heard from Flavia that she has told you and Margie the glad news and that, far from flying away in scandalised horror, you are both being extremely kind to her. I was always pretty sure that you would come up trumps, you always have so far when the children have needed any help, but Michael thought you might both be outraged, so it is nice to know. We are of course not pleased at her refusal to marry and think that if she persists in this mode of life there are bound to be difficulties ahead and the child, when old enough to understand it, pretty well bound to suffer. England, alas, and indeed all the other countries in the western world, has not yet reached the point where to be illegitimate is respectable. I wrote all this to Flavia, but all I got was a letter complaining about my petit bourgeois prejudices! She said, when she first told us on the telephone, that nothing would induce her to walk up the aisle pregnant., and in a way I admire her courage because, although Colin (despite his objection to the institution of marriage as such) has asked her to marry him, I expect she thinks there will always be people who will say she only got him to marry her because she was pregnant. Anyway, they seem devoted to each other and very pleased to be having a baby, which is after all what matters. …

   We still have no central heating, although work has begun. An enormous pit about 15’ deep has been dug just outside the stable and storehouse of the casa colonica, but the oil tank hasn’t yet arrived to put in it. Meanwhile, the boiler has, and some of the plumbing has been started and the boiler put in place. The bricklayer has made a beautiful flat Sienese arch to the store-room where the new boiler is, with old bricks Michael discovered digging below the terrace – there was an old rainwater cistern there and we got about 100 bricks out of it. …

   Flavia complains bitterly about the rising food prices in England. They have gone up here too, mostly meat, but at least every bit of surplus fat and gristle gets cut off before weighing. In fact, we don’t eat much meat as a joint is too big for two people, but chickens are so much dearer here, though they have a far better flavour, and fish has been very scarce since the cholera, though it was always dear. One does of course save on veg and fruit and the bread is delicious and cheap; so is all the various pasta. By and large I think we spend the same on food as in England and get much nicer food, and wine costing no more than orange squash. …



Letter 14.8. Florence Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert at 39 Thornhill Road, London N.1, 27 November 1973


   … So far we are OK for petrol except that cars are banned from the roads on Sundays and pumps shut. The poor Italians, who nearly all go for a Sunday outing, are taking it very well. In the North, where it is flat, they have begun taking to bicycles, and in the far South they are refurbishing their old carts and carriages. It is rather hilly here for either. So far, touch wood, every sort of wood, we are OK for oil for the central heating thanks to David [Florence’s brother-in-law David Barran, who was head of Shell]. In fact the heating is rather too hot and we don’t quite understand how to turn it down, which is maddening because we would like to save fuel as much as possible.

   We are so much looking forward to having you and are hoping the present lovely autumn weather and tints will last until you come. … Apart from a large chunk of short back bacon (which is far too heavy), there is nothing we really miss apart from kippers and we have found a smoked cheese which tastes exactly like them!

   As I write, the tractor from the agricultural Commune is sowing our land with long-eared wheat and should finish today, making two days for the whole five hectares. It looks so much prettier now it is all cultivated instead of those masses of weeds. We heard yesterday that the electric light people are giving us the extra current we need for the well pump, but officially this is only temporary for “building operations”. However, the man hinted broadly that “temporary” can mean years.

Lots of love,




Letter 14.9. Grace Lambert at 1 St Germans, Exeter, to Michael and Florence Lambert at Barontoli, 29.1.1974


   … At the moment, the great excitement is the now almost inevitable miners’ strike. Apart from it being an emotive subject, everybody is actively involved by the “Turn something off” electricity campaign. People are expected, more or less on their honour, only to heat and light one room – so that the whole place appears in a perpetual gloom after nightfall. During daytime, shops have this lighting ration, and offices too, I imagine, let alone the F.O., so that when I went to the Civil Service Stores one morning, it was practically empty and one had to grope around until the afternoon, when they said their lights would be going on. Here, I thought Mr Macklin’s office was closed [he was her solicitor in Exeter], but in the country it is obviously better, for it is so much lighter than London at the best of times. M and E, who are at the pinnacle of patriotism, one feels were almost enjoying it, in their zeal of turning everything off. (This is not to be repeated.) …

   Yesterday, we went to Spreyton to do some calls. Barbara, Dick and Ethel, and Sidney [all of whom used to work for the Lamberts]. Sidney seems much more cheerful. We were much amused as he is not impressed with our favourite programme “Dad’s Army”, a skit on the Home Guard. A bit too near home, we imagined, on the Spreyton Home Guard’s activity in which Sidney (an old soldier) and Edwin played such important parts.

   The television goes out at 10.30 each evening. Personally, I rather like it, as they leave in the better programmes – but most people are much upset, especially the birth-control advocates, who have done quite a bit of correspondence in the papers. …



Letter 14.10. Florence Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert at 39 Thornhill Road, London N.1, 17 February 1974


   … We are a bit low at the moment and it rains every day – very good for the winter wheat, but Michael and I cannot garden and I am slightly languishing with an indigestion-stomach-ache that won’t go away. I don’t want to send for the doctor, so I’ve decided to go on to a toast and marmite diet for a day or so and try to keep extra warm.

   On the bright side, the water is still whiter than white; touch wood the boiler still works; the mason has finished the fireplace in my study, but is now held up by the carpenter who hasn’t made the windows yet. The winter jasmine is just going over, but has been heavenly; white scented narcissi are out and almond blossom; daffodils beginning, but only crocus not yet flowering. All those primroses I divided and replanted are in bud and some narcissi I dug out after the bulldozer had buried them are actually in flower. There were those ones that you and I picked down by the disused cistern which has now been bulldozed. Michael has been digging below the terrace for about a week and is back on form when it comes to meals, so he is definitely better, although still thin and he still tires more easily than he used to. It is after all the end of the winter.

   Oh! and after a fortnight hard and at times ridiculous struggles with Byzantine Italian bureaucracy, we now have a Siena number-plate. There was one point where, after our fourth visit to the relevant office, the man said “If you come back again, you will become like relations and I will have to invite you home”. At the beginning he had been rather cross, but he thawed completely. We found out from a lorry driver that even changing one’s number-plate from one province to another is so complex that they employ an “expert” to do it for them! It is much worse with a foreign car as a lot of lights have to be altered both as to position and as to colour. No one thought to tell us that little detail until the very end. However, we found an “electric” garage where they did it all, even creating new orange tail lights because no more ones could be found. Then they gave us some old bricks I’d spotted stacked in a corner of their yard and two old horse-shoes (hand-made and charming) for luck! I never cease to wonder at the incredible kindness of everyone, let alone their ingenuity.

Lots of love,




Letter 14.11. Grace Lambert in Exeter, to Michael and Florence Lambert at Barontoli, 30.10.1975


   … I was in London a couple of weeks ago, in fact I was at the Piccadilly bus-stop which was blown up a few hours later. The one in Campden Hill Square must be quite near Aubrey Road – how ironic it would have been if the IRA had blown up Kennedy’s daughter.

   As you know, Antonia has left Fraser for Harold Pinter, and there is an amusing remark made by Pinter’s wife – she said she didn’t know how they’d managed, as they hadn’t any clothes, but of course he would be all right for shoes, because of the size of Antonia’s feet. …


Colin’s mother and father, Ruth and Myles MacCabe, got to know the Lamberts quite well, and Ruth MacCabe came to stay in Barontoli, travelling from London by bus.



Letter 14.12. Ruth MacCabe at 1 Cuthbert House, Golden Lane E.C.1, to Florence Lambert at Barontoli, 16 June 1977


Dear Florence,

   As I slowly recover from the bus [journey], not quite sure how I should phrase it, I am thinking of great delight of my visit to Italy, all made possible because of your and Michael’s great kindness and hospitality.

   I was sorry that returning to England we went through the Alps at midnight, but the journey was quite eventful and amusing, and anyone with a literary bent would have had the inspiration of a few short stories. Most of the people on the bus, including the woman with the varicose veins, having tried the seats, left (I think they were testing for a possible future journey) and were replaced by a number of research students and sabbatical lecturers and also a self-appointed courier (an Irish-Jewish lady). She was travelling round Italy to discover why the Barclaycard sign was not displayed at various resorts.  Her life story, which everyone knew shortly after she boarded the bus, was most amusing. Her hobby was making money, and although she was a grandmother she had three jobs.

   At Genoa there was a great hubbub which lasted 20 minutes. I was blissfully ignorant of the Italian chatter, until eventually the mystery of a missing ticket was discovered. Between Lyon and Calais we were guided off the motorway by the gendarmes. Two vans awaited us and, after a lot of stamping around, much to-ing and fro-ing and a fine of £30 for speeding, we went on our way. When we arrived at Calais, our bus was first on the boat; the driver drove within inches of the edge and manoeuvred back and forward. I remembered Michael’s story of the busses going over the cliffs in South America and when someone started to [illegible] I thought this one is going into the sea.

   At Pentonville, a young schoolgirl, about 17, first time away from home, failed to find her hostess. We telephoned the London Number – no answer. She came home with me. Myles and I tried to reassure her and tell her she could stay the night. She spoke very little English. Eventually, she got a line through to her parents in Genoa and two or three hours later a rather nasty-looking Italian woman from the South (I think) arrived. Michela seemed most unhappy leaving our flat, so we gave her our telephone number and tried to convey to her that she should visit us if and when she liked. Myles always says that I collect lame ducks like bees round a honey-pot, but he quite approved of collecting this beautiful lame duckling! …



Letter 14.14. Michael Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 29 September 1980


Dear Grace,

    …..This year being the 600th anniversary of the death St Catherine of Siena, we had a visit from the Pope. Florence’s sister Nicola happened to be here with her husband. We got them seats in the Nobles’ Club, from which they had a fine view of the proceedings. As devout R.C.s they were delighted and, I suppose, have been dining out on it. The Pope is remarkably tough. He arrived from Rome by helicopter at 9 am and, except for a break for lunch, was on the go until nearly 8 pm. He was due to leave at 6 pm but arrived at the local sports stadium, where his helicopter was waiting, at 7 pm. Seeing what a good number of people had gathered to see him off, he spent 45 minutes going round talking to people, much to the annoyance of the Archbishops of Siena and Florence who had to trail along behind him.

   Actually, the visit was a bit of a frost. It was put about that 200,000 people would be coming to see him. Wiser people, who know the people of Siena, said that his visit would not attract the same crowds as the Palio, the local horse-race. They were right: only some 40,000 to 50,000 came. Now the devout are saying that it was all a plot on the part of the Communists, who wanted to frighten people away by exaggerating the number of people who would be coming. This I doubt. However, the Communists did have a large do at Bologna, which is 100 miles away, at which Berlinguer, their Secretary-General, was speaking. It is said that more buses left Siena for Bologna to hear Berlinguer than came to Siena to hear the Pope…..

   It certainly must be sad going to Spreyton. It is just 10 years since Georgie’s death and so much has happened since. Another 10 years and the Lambert family will be forgotten. When Flavia was staying at Molland last Easter [her cousin Marius and his wife had a house at Molland in Devon], hardly anyone had heard of Pa, far less remembered him. I cannot say that I have any great wish to see Spreyton. If we had managed to keep on at least Falkedon, it would have been different. Sad, but there it is….

Much love,





Letter 14.15. Letter from Ruth Maccabe, 1 Cuthbert House, Golden Lane E.C.1 to Florence Lambert at Barontoli, 10 July 1981


Dear Florence,

   Thank you for your letter. We also are very pleased that Colin has emerged so well from the Cambridge fracas – he was ‘brave’ to take on the Cambridge establishment. We felt he could have got lost in the quarrel and with the contraction in the academic world might have been jobless. I do hope Flavia will have a less hectic life and will not find Scotland too far away from the metropolis. This last year must have been worrying for her. Of course she will miss her beautiful home and garden into which she has put so much work and thought. This new move, I think, will mean her starting her fifth home since ‘the marriage’. I know how she loves Alwyne Road and I hope that Strathclyde will have some compensations.

   I wonder how Fergus and Johanna will like their new school [Flavia and Colin had just gone to live near Glasgow, where Colin had been offered a professorship]. I think the Scots are much keener on the three Rs than the Plowden approach which seems to be practised in Canonbury. I was most impressed thirty or so years ago when I went to hear Lady Plowden talk on primary education, but there is a school of thought very critical of the method. I must say that Fergus and Johanna are both most observant, lively and very gregarious. Fergus told me that he can’t wait to get to Italy, and Johanna recited a long list of all the visitors she hoped were going too. We shall miss them, but I expect they will visit London and perhaps occasionally we might go to Scotland. My memories are of a hospitable people; high teas; jigs and reels; Celtic and Rangers; and of course Loch Lomond. …

   It was kind of you to think of me as an enterprising granny – I think Colin and Flavia might well describe me as neurotic and Fergus and Johanna would say I was ‘scary’. I do get nervous when looking after both of them on ‘this estate’ – Fergus sometimes likes to go to the pond (98% safe) when perhaps Johanna would prefer to climb on railings with a six foot drop! As the pond and railings are not in sight of one another, I tend to say too many noes and I realize that I am far too restricting when they come here. However, Fergus came on his own last Saturday for the night and we did a ‘tourist tour’ of London and he was a great source of knowledge to the visitors seeing London for the first time. Johanna is coming, I think, next Saturday. …


Letter 14.16. Letter from Michael Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 1 September 1983


My dear Grace,

….An amusing but tiresome thing has happened here. An Englishman who was almost completely paralysed in a motor accident some years ago comes here every summer. He takes rooms in a farmhouse and has his own ambulance and a young man to look after him. There is a goat attached to the farmhouse. One day last week, the young man did not close the door of the ambulance properly. The goat climbed into the driving seat and ate the young man’s driving licence and most of his passport. As the young man does not speak Italian, most of the work of sorting things out has fallen to us.

   Replacing the driving licence was easier than expected. So many tourists lose their licences every year that there is a routine procedure. The police give a certificate that they have been informed of the loss; the certificate is then stamped by the British Consulate and is enough to get back home. The passport is proving a tougher nut to crack. The young man, as he has been in Italy more than 30 days, should have registered with the police. The police will not register him unless he produces a passport. The consulate say that they are not allowed to issue another passport, as the number of the old one was eaten by the goat (it left the photograph); in any case the old one was only a temporary visitor’s passport. We shall have to see how we get round this bureaucratic obstacle….

Much love,




Letter 14.17. Michael Lambert at Barontoli to Grace Lambert in Exeter, 14 September 1988


   …We are recovering from the summer visiting season. We had all the grandchildren for over a month. For much of the time they were here without their parents. Florence [by now aged 74] found cooking for so many most exhausting. I think another year we shall have to make different arrangements. They can all cook: Fergus is a particularly good cook. We shall have to put them all in the casa colonica and let them get on with it. The mess they make is indescribable. One just has to wait until they are gone and then start cleaning the place up. As you might imagine, they behaved much better without their parents. Fergus as usual was all over the garden and the farm. He took particular delight in killing hornets! He has an extraordinary knowledge of nature.

   It looks as though we shall not be seeing Fergus here much in the future. Colin has bought a small farmhouse near Yeoford. They have been planning to buy a house in Devon for some time. At first they were thinking of Exmoor. I do not know how they heard of the place they have now bought. It lies on the stream that goes past Spreytonwood Water. It is off the road that Pa used to take to catch the London train at Yeoford. As they will be spending much of their spare time there, I doubt if we shall see them here very often. It is such a tragedy that Georgie is not at Spreyton. He and Flavia became very fond of each other. The last time I saw Georgie, we spent an idyllic afternoon at Spreytonwood Water near Mary Manning’s cottage…

All my love,



Letter 14.18. John Grigor Taylor in London to Florence Lambert at Barontoli, 29 February 2004


    I greatly hope you are in reasonably good form, enough, at any rate, to enjoy a brief account of the event of the bestowal of the CB on Sophia on 20 February at the Palace.

    I went along with Sophia to Buckingham Palace for the occasion. I had not seen one of these events before. It was so conducted as to achieve a blend of high ceremony and of holiday outing; this struck, I believe, the right note. I, at any rate, was both impressed and entertained.

    There were about 50 honorands and perhaps 150 guests. At an early stage we were separated, sheepdog-wise, into those two groups, the “sheepdogs” being mostly elderly affable members of the armed services in uniform. Sophia found herself conducted into a sort of private ante-room where about half-a-dozen of the grander recipients were gathered, under the care of a minder. They included Joan Plowright, Olivier’s widow, and Jane Goodall, the conservationist and an authority on chimps; and there were a couple of knights, both professors and both scientists.

    I, in the meantime, found myself seated comfortably in the grand but comforatable hall in the midst of a large body of supporters, families etc., agog to watch events unfold. This they did punctually and ceremonially, to the strains of Household musicians in the gallery above us, playing a delightful medley of everything from Offenbach to “My Fair Lady”. After a few minutezs of this, the music dropped to a slow formal beat, like that which herals the approach of the Giants in the Ring, and a squad of huge Beefeaters, halberds aslope, came pacing ponderously in and took up station on the dais. Then to a brisk, light infantry step, two Gurkha orderly officers, very smart in their rifle green uniforms, marched in and took post. Finally, with music moving to a crescendo, in came the presiding personage, the Prince of Wales, and train.

    It had previously been explained to us that Prince Charles had now taken over a quarter of these occasions, of which 22 a year are programmed. He seemed to me to make an excellent job of it. As each name was called, the recipient came up a few paces from a place in the wings where they had been marshalled, and bowed or curtsied according to choice. Sophia had cecided to bow since she was dressed, like a majority of women present, in a trouser-suit. The Prince then hing the decoration , which had nbeen handed to him, to the recipient and engaged in half a minute’s chat before shaking hands in farewell. I can witness that Sophia got her full ration of chat!¹

    The whole thing lasted about an hour and a half. Here is the official programme which we were handed on arrival. The recipients ranged widely across society and incuded about half a dozen people of colour and one who was wheel-chair borne. Altogether a fascinating and pleasing event.

¹ Sophia’s “chat” with Prince Charles was about the letters which he used to send to Ministers on how the countryside should be managed and which came to her when she was Director of Wildlife and Countryside.


For the similar event at which Margaret Lambert was awarded the CMG, see letter 10.19.