TEN years after the death of the last Squire of Mitford, the twists and turns of the remarkable family are taking a new direction as a long-lost relative goes back to his roots. Hugh Mitford Raymond spoke to Chief Reporter ANNA SMITH about what he has discovered.
CHILDHOOD was bliss for Hugh Mitford Raymond.
Born in Durban, South Africa in 1953, he was the only child of Cecil Hayden Raymond, a prominent local businessman with a string of bicycle shops and interests in estate management. The family also had a ranch in Zimbabwe, covering around 100,000 acres and Hugh grew up “in the saddle”, always working with horses.
It was a far cry from the sleepy Northumbrian village of Mitford, with its ancient castle, John Dobson designed 19th Century Hall, church, farms and woodland. But decades later, Hugh would discover that this was exactly where his family roots lie.
For his great grandmother was none other than Mary Margaret Mitford — daughter of the 31st Squire of Mitford Castle and Estate, Edward Ledwich Mitford, making Hugh a part of one of England’s oldest families, with a line dating back to 1066. Not only that, but he believes he is the last of the original direct ‘main line’ of the family.
However, it would take five decades before he would find out the truth about his background.
“I had been christened with the name Mitford and my parents said I belonged to an old family in England and I should remember that I would always have a home in England, but over the years it was never explained,” he said.
“We were living in South Africa and as a youngster I had no thoughts that I would ever move, our future was there and I was going to stay there and live there. I wasn’t going to emigrate to go to England. How do you explain to a youngster that you are a part of such a line?”
With political upheaval in Africa, however, the family were to leave and Hugh now lives in the south of France, having enjoyed various careers that have taken him around the world.
He worked as Assistant Trainer to Dick Hern, who was once the trainer to the Queen’s horses.
“I grew up on the back of horses and I have trained racehorses. I was Assistant Trainer to Dick Hern, who took me in. They didn’t have any children and looked on me as a son. That was one of the most pleasant times of my life,” he said.
Hugh also worked for the Saudi Arabian royal family, training horses, but he enjoyed a varied career, working for the Abe Bailey Trust in South Africa, serving as Head of Communications for IBM in South Africa and working for the United Nations in Geneva.
He ran a radio station in France for eight years, which he sold in 2001, and is currently a freelance consultant.
With such wide-ranging interests, Hugh never really thought of investigating the Mitford story, but in 2002 writer Lesley Blanch, who was an old friend of Nancy Mitford, the society novelist, asked him about his name and encouraged him to look into his roots.
Hugh took her advice and contacted Nancy’s sister Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire, and was invited to Chatsworth to speak to her about the family, where he discovered that he was part of the main line.
He then contacted the Mitford Historical Society to see if the group could shed more light on his ancestral background and in 2004 paid his first visit to the village.
“When I came to Mitford I realised that the chap who painted the dove on the church ceiling was my great great great grandfather and from there it all fell into place,” he said.
“When I talked to the Mitford Historical Society they confirmed that I was a blood heir.
“It took about two months for it to sink in that I am part of this long, long line. It was quite something to take on board.
“I became more and more involved in researching it.”
However, Hugh has little to show for his links.
Believing there was no heir to pass the estate on to the former Squire, Brigadier Edward Cecil Mitford, Hugh’s second cousin once removed, put it up for sale in 1993 and it is now in the hands of the Shepherd family.
“The old Squire brought the dynasty to an end. He died in 2002, just when I was starting my research. I was ten years too late. Had he got hold of me and had we known each other, the situation could have been completely different to what it is now,” said Hugh.
“Of course, I’m grateful to the Shepherd family for the good job they are doing in preserving the castle and the ruins and keeping the place in excellent condition, something that the Mitford family was unable to do because of a lack of funds.”
Hugh is continuing his research into the Mitford family and returned to Northumberland last month for a few weeks to find out more about his heritage.
He has become fascinated by his ancestors, who he has discovered have plenty of tales to tell, and is now working on a book about the family.
It will look at all the branches, rather than focusing on the famous six ‘Mitford sisters’, the daughters of the 2nd Lord Redesdale — Nancy the novelist, Pamela a cook and farmer, Diana, who married Sir Oswald Mosley, Unity, friend of Hitler, Jessica, who became a communist and writer, and Deborah the Duchess of Devonshire — who have, unsurprisingly, been the main focus of attention in the past.
“I have spent two years on the book and I am still trying to get the research in some reasonable order. There is a lot of text that has to be sorted out,” said Hugh.
“The next step is to find a suitable publisher. I don’t want to produce a regular glossy coffee table book that is boring, it has got to be totally readable by all different types of people and be of benefit to the local community.
“It will include everything all about the entire Mitford dynasty, not just the sisters. I want to put the Mitford heritage on the map.
“It is so interesting because there is this incredible family.
“The Mitford family have been at the beginning of English history in a way, and they were there at the beginning of South African history.”
Hugh hopes the book will help to raise funds for the Mitford community, particularly the historical society, and he has also paid for postcards of the village to be printed and sold to help generate more cash for the group.
He added: “When I first came to Mitford in 2004 it was unbelievable, especially finding there was a whole village and not just a house, and learning about the family roots.
“Now it feels nice to come back. South Africa was my home, but my roots are from Mitford so coming back it is very special to be part of it. It is wonderful, you just feel relaxed and happy.
“I will be there as often as possible.”