Person of the Month: George Fathers

Historic photo of George Fathers, chauffeur at Calke Abbey, and family

Every month, we’re stepping back in time to meet characters from Calke’s past. Join us on this journey as we discover the people who lived and worked on the estate, and then meet their modern-day equivalents who help to keep Calke alive today.

We’d like you to meet…

George Fathers, chauffeur

George Morley Fathers was born in 1899 in Leamington Spa to George Fathers, a gardener, and his wife Fanny Dumbleton. George grew up with a brother, William, and two sisters, Daisy and May.

In 1924, he married May Smith at Denby Parish Church, and the couple lived in Willington. Also living in Willington was Sir Vauncey’s daughter, Hilda Mosley, and her husband Godfrey. It is assumed that George worked for the Mosleys at Willington Grange.

In 1925, following the death of Sir Vauncey, George Fathers had moved to Calke and was living in Melbourne Lodge – which can still be found near the reservoir, although it has been greatly altered over the years. The Lodge was built for him by Colonel and Mrs Mosley.

In the same year George and May had a son, Eric, and later had a second son, Ian, born in 1934.

George’s working life

George Fathers served in World War One in France, and was discharged from the Army in 1919 after sustaining a leg injury, which gave him a lasting limp.

The family believes that George was a batman and driver for Colonel Mosley, which could have led to his appointment as chauffeur at Calke. His duties at Calke included driving Colonel Mosley’s Daimler, which they used to visit their Staffordshire home, Warslow Hall, and later driving the horse and trap for Mrs Mosley after her husband’s death.

George’s duties extended beyond chauffeuring, and George was known to help out with the sheep shearing on occasion!

A respected employee

While at Calke, George was well respected. Denis, a contemporary from Melbourne, writes: 
‘George Fathers was an important man on the estate – and a first class fisherman. We youngsters used to sit under an oak tree with him on summer evenings and watch him fish. There were about eight local children, including George’s son, myself and some farmer’s children. The Colonel allowed us to swim in the lakes in summer and skate on them in the long winters.’

Offering another insight into George’s life at Calke is Bob Bentley, in his account as a Calke Home Guard member:

" During WW2 Colonel Mosley set up the Home Guard at Calke, originally using a hut under a tree near St Giles Church on the estate. Later, due to the cold, they moved to the stable yards. George Fathers was the sergeant, and there were 13 in total, mostly estate workers, who had one rifle between 4 men. They trained with the regular soldiers stationed at Calke, and 3 men were on duty every night from 10pm-5am, patrolling around the Abbey."
- Bob Bentley, Calke Home Guard member

Later life

In 1939, George was living at Calke Lodge, but sometime after the deaths of Colonel and Mrs Mosley, he moved to Blanch Croft in Melbourne, the next village to Ticknall.

His wife May died in 1956, then in 1958 he married Ada Elliot, the widowed sister of Ben Hyde, who had also worked at Calke Abbey for many years as a handyman.

After his time at Calke, George worked as a bus driver for the Trent Bus Company and lived in Melbourne until his death in 1976.

A modern-day chauffeur

Calke’s buggy-driver team

Today, two electric buggies are on hand to take visitors to the house and gardens from the ticket office, including one which has been specially adapted for wheelchair users. As one team member, Chris, explains, this is a really valuable service. It gives people the opportunity to access areas they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get to, ‘which helps make their visit to Calke special and for them to take away an enjoyable and memorable experience of the day.’

The buggy drivers are always happy to say hello!
The buggy driver team at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire
The buggy drivers are always happy to say hello!

A team of six members of staff are on hand every day of the week (February – October) to ensure the buggies are available; however, this wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of seventeen volunteers. In addition to the buggy team, staff and volunteers from across the property help to make this service a success, particularly being on hand with a radio to call a buggy to waiting visitors. There’s even a story about a sheep that once climbed on board a stationary buggy and stole the keys – apparently the flock haven’t forgotten the days when George would help out with the sheep shearing!