Home of the Brave

PUBLISHED: 05:33 05 January 2015

Author W D'Arcy Henry at Heartsease Hall.

Author W D'Arcy Henry at Heartsease Hall. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

For centuries the manors and estates of Norfolk were owned by just a few inter-related families.

Becoming an English Country SquireBecoming an English Country Squire

For centuries the manors and estates of Norfolk were owned by just a few inter-related families.

Some still are; but many were eventually sold to “new money” (people accruing their fortunes after the year dot), given to the National Trust, or converted into boarding schools and country house hotels. At least one was bought by an American.

W d’Arcy Henry is the name this quiet American chose for himself when he decided to tell the tale of his journey from a career assessing political and economic risk in the Middle East to the heart of the Norfolk gentry.

Becoming an English Country Squire is his story of his family’s first two decades on the Norfolk estate he calls Heartsease Hall. It is the heartsease of the wild pansy flower, rather than the Heartsease housing estate on the edge of Norwich which inspired this second pseudonym.

The main characters are himself and his wife, an imaginary alter-ego, a ghost, and a parade of Norfolk friends and neighbours ranging from the aristocracy to agricultural labourers.

Part of the reason he wrote under a pseudonym was to respect the privacy of other people. Another is that he shies away from the limelight.

He and his wife fell in love with the estate (the country estate, not the housing estate) on their first visit to Norfolk.

They moved into the 18th century mansion with their two sons in 1994.

“I prefer to think of the book as a semi-autobiographical novel,” says Henry. “It’s primarily for an American audience. I don’t believe many English people are going to want to read about some upstart American acquiring such a special bit of British inheritance. Some are very tolerant. Some are a little prickly about these things.”

Meeting him, it is clear that he is doing a sterling, or should that be top dollar, job of fitting in. He turns up with the ruddy cheeks and well-worn sweatshirt of a countryman. Within weeks of taking over at Heartsease Hall he was hobnobbing with the landed gentry, enjoying shoots and dinner parties, and beginning the process of restoring the beautiful hall and caring for its estate of fields, woodland and lakes.

The family moved to Norfolk, from the Cotswolds, for more land. “I love the country, I love a house with history attached to it, and I love this particular house in the beautiful countryside,” says Henry.

He also found himself falling for the people of Norfolk.

“There are the old Norfolk people, many of whom manage to keep a very low profile but they are hugely accomplished. I like them for what they have done and who they are. And I like the old country worker types who know everything about natural phenomena, birds, animals, why this plant grows well here and not there.

“The county is also alive with people who have done extraordinary things in very far-flung parts of the globe. I can’t think of any other place like it.

Henry grew up in the country, in America. Born into a privileged background he has property in the United States and Canada. The high-flying American analyst, turned English country gentleman, is acutely aware of his good fortune.

Asked about the downsides of taking charge of a listed historic hall, crumbling heritage buildings, farmland and parkland and a whole portfolio of worry, he jokes that the sale brochure should have come with a health warning, but adds: “I know the life that I have been able to lead is not the life that 6.9 billion can lead, although if you were interviewing my wife she would mention the central heating system! But in comparison with what most people have to put up with…”

Perhaps he is not quite as much a farmer or Norfolk man as he hopes, with his reluctance to find a cloud to spoil this gilded existence.

Becoming an English Squire is the story of the first 20 years of his foray into the heart of Norfolk society. “The next two books might be An English Country Squire in Harness and An English Country Squire Unseated!” he laughs.

Becoming an English Country Squire, by W.d’Arcy Henry, with illustrations by Annie Tempest, is published in hardback by JJG Publishing of Hindringham.

Star spangled cover

Norfolk based cartoonist Annie Tempest has created the art-work for the cover of W d’Arcy Henry’s Becoming an English Country Squire.

Her witty drawing our American hero, in a top emblazoned with “Home of the Brave” taking a selfie of himself and the aristocratic seller of Heartsease Hall sums up the gentle and gentlemanly culture clash which runs through this semi-autobiographical novel.

Henry was thrilled with the picture, and Annie’s cartoons inside the book.

Annie, of Stibbard, near Fakenham, is famous for her magazine cartoon strip Tottering-by-Gently, documenting the lives of Dicky and Daphne of Tottering Hall in North Pimmshire.

Hall for Horses.

Heartsease Hall is also home to an Arabian stud.

Henry explained that it was almost by accident that he and his wife came to run

the stud.

“We wanted to buy two riding horses but were told that they were part of a group of five which have been together for all their lives and it just wouldn’t be right, as I have got all this land, to take two and leave the other three behind!” he explains.

Soon they had been persuaded to take a stallion too.

Now the business is a key part of the estate, although Henry would like at least one horse to become even more integral, admitting: “I have always had a secret ambition to ride a horse into the hall!”

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