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Joseph’s Countryside Holidays

Joseph’s Countryside Holidays – Louisa Knightley of Fawsley Hall, Daventry (UK), read about Joseph, probably in the ‘Times’ newspaper. She read that he had been confined to city accommodation, and kept from society, because of his appearance.

Suffering from ill-health and low morale, Dr. Treves wanted to take Joseph out to the countryside – to “bring him out of himself”. Unfortunately, the only offers he received came with strings attached – that Merrick couldn’t venture out by day.

Being in a position to offer help, Louisa wrote to Treves, and offered him lodgings on the Fawsley Estate. Fawsley, at this time, included the areas of Badby and Byfield. There were no restrictions, Joseph was free to come and go as he pleased.

There has been some confusion as to how many holidays Joseph had, but it is now common knowledge that he went three times to the countryside (that’s three holidays that he ever had).

Local Historian, Colin Eaton of Northampton wrote:

“Special precautions were mounted in getting him [Joseph] from London to Northampton. A carriage with the blinds drawn was taken to sidings at Euston [a London train station] where he boarded. It was then attached to the rest of the train and proceeded to Weedon. At Weedon he was transported by horse and carriage to Haycock Hill Farm, chosen by Lady Knightley as his holiday home. The farm, situated on the Daventry to Hanbury road between Badby and Charwelton, is sufficiently far from the main road as to afford Merrick the privacy he wanted and needed.

He was looked after during his holiday by the farmer and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bird. In her diary of September 1887, Lady Knightley wrote, “I drove to Haycock’s Hill where Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, about whom there has been so much in the papers, has been boarded out for some weeks with the Birds. Merrick has such nice brown eyes; I looked straight into them — but he is awful to behold.”

Merrick returned to London in October 1887. In August the following year he came for a second holiday, but it appears that the Birds were not resident at Haycock Hill – for the farmer’s wife obviously had not been properly prepared for what to expect, and, on meeting Merrick at the door, threw her apron over her face and ran screaming into the fields.

Hurriedly other plans were made and Merrick was transported to another of the Knightley estates at Byfield.

His destination at Byfield was Red Hill Farm which was again very suitable because it lies about a mile from the village and was concealed from the road by Red Hill Wood. The wood was a game preserve so he was able to wander through it undisturbed. His new guardians were the gamekeeper and his wife Mr. and Mrs Goldbye.

The commonest of wild flowers flowers enchanted him and he wrote to Sir Frederic [Treves] relating his experiences such as befriending a fierce dog, and seeing trout swimming in a stream. From the edge of the wood he was able to see the agricultural work being carried on in the fields. On occasions he was taken out through the fields where he could collect specimens to take back with him to London.
August, 1889, saw him again at Byfield which was to be his last holiday. The Goldbyes once more looked after him, It was during this holiday that Merrick made friends with a young man from Byfield who had just started work. The young man used to take Merrick’s letters to the village post box”.

These were Joseph’s only holidays – ever. He felt totally at peace with his surroundings and was immensely happy. It was such a contrast to what he had been used to. Although he was well cared for at the Whitechapel hospital, he longed to feel the fresh air on his face – for once he didn’t need to hide it. He wrote letters to London, expressing his delight at this chance to experience the overwhelming beauty of nature.
The Fawsley Estate comprises some 2,000 acres.

Gabriella Berry

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