The best of Dorset in words and pictures

A Purbeck squire

‘Jack’ Ryder is recalled with affection by his son, Richard D Ryder

Jack Ryder aged five, in costume for some home theatricals

Major Douglas Claud Dudley Ryder, always known as ‘Jack’, was the great-great-great grandson of John Calcraft MP, one of the richest and cleverest men in England, who bought Rempstone Hall in 1757. Jack Ryder inherited Rempstone, which lies roughly between Corfe Castle and Studland, in 1927 and in the same year married Nancy Baker of Dawlish, by whom he had five children.

Unlike his colourful Calcraft ancestors, Jack was neither a London rake nor a figure in national politics. In his youth, he had excelled at rugby football, playing for Cambridge University and Blackheath and having a trial for England. He always felt that rugby was his outstanding achievement in life. He also played squash, tennis and golf and in his fifties was an active captain of Studland cricket team. Dogged by dyslexia, which in those days was taken as a sign of unintelligence, he felt that he was intellectually a non-starter. In fact he was an excellent judge of people, secretly understanding and sympathising from behind a gruff façade.

Although brought up in a traditional upper-class family, Jack was not entirely old-fashioned in his views. He was admired by and tolerated the company of several obvious gays. He was not anti-Semitic either and, at a time when many Europeans – and not only the Germans – were openly and strongly disapproving of Jewish people, he frequently invited his friend, Dick Strauss, to stay at Rempstone. Jack never shot or fished and would not have dreamed of hunting.

Jack in about 1940 before departing for war service in the Middle East and Burma

In the late 1930s, the Ryder marriage foundered and Jack married Vera, or Vee, Hamilton-Fletcher (née Cook) of Studland Manor, who brought the four children of her first marriage to live at Rempstone. The birth of the author of this article took to ten the total number of children being brought up together there. During the war, Jack was in the Middle East and Burma while Vee moved to Child Okeford after Rempstone had been commandeered by the Army (and used by Montgomery and Churchill) and then by the Navy as HMS Purbeck. Not until 1949 did the family move back.

Jack Ryder was in every respect the typical country squire. He wore clothes that were made to last. And they did, some of them, for forty or fifty years. An old tweed hat with a few jay’s feathers inserted under the band, a woolly shirt with a frayed collar, a brown tie, a gold tie pin holding the collar together underneath the knot, a moleskin waistcoat worn shiny in places, a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows and a silk handkerchief spilling from the top pocket, khaki cavalry twill trousers that were so thick they might stand up on their own, and great hobnailed shoes.

Time magazine, having interviewed Jack over the Wytch Farm oil discoveries, described him as ‘Hobbit-like’. So did the Spectator, which also called him ‘the Sheikh of Dorset’. He was, however, too fierce and too large for a hobbit, being about five foot ten. Yet he lived much of the time in his study which was, indeed, hobbit-like. After the war he had papered the walls with ordinary brown paper which made the room very dark. An old oak desk with a raised top full of drawers and pockets further cut off what light there was coming through the heavily curtained window. On either side of a black Purbeck marble fireplace were two great Georgian wing armchairs covered in dark green leather. There was a mahogany drum table in the centre of the room on which were piled old maps, pieces of broken Crown Derby, a jam jar full of used nails and several balls of twine. Jack himself could be located by the cloud of pipe smoke in the area of the desk, where he sat in his Chippendale chair glaring at his papers through half-moon spectacles. The study was certainly a den – indeed, almost a burrow.

In Jack’s case, appearances were, on the whole, consistent with character. Hard working, self-disciplined and peppery, he favoured the simple things of life. He loved his pipe and the Daily Telegraph and refused to watch television, though later he did. Although he publicly condemned the estate oil as ‘a damned nuisance’, privately he felt it was his patriotic duty to acquiesce to the oil industry’s demands. He also felt a great sense of duty to his estates and tenants. Jack was fiercely unselfish and was a fair and conscientious father who, nevertheless, found it hard to show the affection for his children that he felt. He coped stoically with his severe arthritis.

Vee and Jack at Bushey House

After the war, a large drinks party was held at Rempstone once or twice a year. Vee was very good at parties but Jack tended to resent the expense. Driven by such considerations, he would order in bulk the cheapest possible sherries and whiskies that he could find. A vintner in Poole or Dorchester would supply him, very discreetly, with Moroccan sherry and Algerian whisky – or the other way around. Jack would then immediately decant these shamefully improper liquors into the most beautiful cut-glass Georgian decanters that had been in use at Rempstone since the 18th century.

On one such occasion things went hilariously wrong when Jack, grumpily preparing for the ordeal, muddled the two sets of decanters. Nearly all the men, when presented with the choice of either sherry or whisky, chose the latter, with water. Nearly all the women chose sherry. Too much in awe of Jack, who appeared particularly fierce that night, to complain or suggest that there was a mistake, the men obediently consumed their watered sherries while the women, some apparently convinced that they were drinking a rare vintage amontillado, consumed three or four large glasses of raw Algerian whisky. When it began to snow outside, the guests started to leave. But first one, then another, overdressed matron found it extremely hard to get up from their chairs. Lady So-and-so then fell right off the end of the sofa. Everyone commiserated and her husband explained there was something wrong with her shoes. And so it went on. The party ended with a score of all too sober husbands supporting strangely unstable wives as they zig-zagged their ways to waiting Bentleys on the drive.

Jack inspired awe and affection in his grand-children in roughly equal measure.  Here he reads to my daughter, Emily.

Jack was thrifty but lacked a business flair. Being dyslexic, he found his office and committee work extremely taxing. Nevertheless, he persevered out of a dogged sense of duty and these efforts, combined with the almost constant pain of his old rugger injuries, made him, on occasion, irascible. Fierceness and bad temper were far more acceptable fifty years ago; such traits were expected in males and were often the cause of affectionate amusement. Young men tended to fear him. Young women, innately designed to deal with the male temper, often found him sympathetic and lovable. He could certainly be intimidating to poachers, trespassers or errant tenants. One of the latter, a tall and powerful man, had the fright of his life one day when the squire drove his Daimler straight at him and at increasing speed. Fortunately, the tenant jumped into the hedge in the nick of time. ‘What was all that about?’ enquired an alarmed passenger. ‘Oh, he knows’ was Jack’s grim reply. No more was ever said.

Although he had been a magistrate for a time, Jack would sometimes drive through the red traffic lights at Wareham. He had opposed their installation and was damned if he would put up with them. Jack could be a fine example of a grumpy old man. As he grew older, his driving became erratic and there were, one suspected, only two positions in which his arthritic right leg was comfortable: with his foot either flat on the brake or flat on the accelerator. On one occasion he fell asleep in his car while waiting at the white line for the railway crossing at Wareham to open, causing consternation to the drivers behind, some of whom assumed he had died.

He was a familiar figure to motorists: sitting low in the driving seat, his hat over his eyes, often with a dog on the passenger seat beside him. Some of these canine companions would occasionally give Jack a respectful lick on the cheek. From behind, as viewed by a following motorist, especially if the dog had curls, this could give the impression of a well-coiffed young woman becoming affectionate. On more than one occasion, rumours of this sort were circulated.

Some families grow cantankerous in old age and others tend to mellow. Both Calcrafts and Ryders are in the latter category, and Jack certainly mellowed as the years went by. His loves were Rempstone, his family, rugger and trees. In 1972, Jack and Vee moved to Bushey House, half a mile from Rempstone Hall, leaving the running of the estate to his twin sons, James and Ben. Towards the end he radiated a sad and kindly tranquillity, proud of the family dynasty that now prepares to celebrate its 250 years at Rempstone with the publication of this book. He died in 1986 at the age of eighty-five and, at his request, was buried in an unmarked grave in Rempstone woods where, he said, his remains might do some good for the trees.

Rempstone from the hill, with Poole Harbour behind

Dorset Directory