Throughout May, members who attended our creative writing workshops have been exploring themes of nostalgia and local history, to celebrate Local History Month. We are pleased to be sharing some of the creative work they produced.
I am fascinated by local history, so when we took that as our theme for creative writing classes during May (which is itself Local History Month), I was delighted. My story explores what I feel could have been the motives of Sir William Hustler, who was responsible for the building of Middlesbrough’s only Grade 1 listed building. Below is a photograph I took of Acklam Hall.
Sir William Hustler’s usually ruddy countenance had taken on purple tones as he towered large before the roaring fire.
What had he done to deserve this level of disrespect? The whole thing was turning into a fiasco. In his hand was yet another curt note declining an invitation to celebrate the 18th birthday of his daughter Everald in the banqueting hall of his newly built Acklam Hall. It was to be an opportunity to find her a suitable match, one which would benefit the Hustler family.
The trouble was that William Hustler was ‘new money’ and although there was quite a lot of it, he was still regarded as being of lesser status in the class ridden society of late 17th century Yorkshire. At last, he could contain himself no longer.
“How dare they”, he roared, “I could buy and sell every one of them! Well, this is what I think of them.”
Sir William crumpled the offending note and aimed it at the glowing logs.
He could understand why his grandfather, and then his father, had failed to break into the top echelons. They still dressed, spoke, behaved, even smelled of the lowly position from which they had risen. But he had done so much to overcome the barriers. The old hall, where servant and master mingled cheek by jowl in a way which was now considered vulgar, had been demolished. In the new manor house he had commissioned, family and staff lived very separate lives as befitted their stations in life. The hall itself was a grand affair, in which attention to aesthetics rather than functionality bore witness to safer times.
“No longer any need to defend ourselves against those damned parliamentarians!”
Sir William was glad that he had foreseen the victor. Supporting the King in the Restoration of the monarchy had led to a knighthood, gratefully bestowed.
Inside and out, the new manor house displayed Sir William’s wealth. Built in the fashionable Dutch style favoured by King Charles II, it was an imposing two storey building, graceful for the period with many ornate features and a handsome carved oak staircase. Above the pillars at the entrance hung the Hustler coat of arms. There was even a gazebo on the roof where guests could survey the extent of the land he owned. If it was whispered that this was lacking in taste, no-one dared speak it.
“None of that is ever going to be enough. I will always be ‘trade’.”
It was clear that William was still viewed as a draper, a very rich one, but a draper nonetheless.
Sir William was not a man to give up easily. The next day, he rose early. Taking the gleaming chestnut mare from the stables, he set off for Northallerton to meet Hubert and Dunserfeld, who were lodging in the town. They were on their way home from Edinburgh where they had been charged with restoring the stucco plasterwork of Holyrood Palace.
“I have a commission for you,” Sir William set out his ideas.
“I want you to create a ceiling fit for the best in my banqueting hall, and the centrepiece will be the royal coat of arms”
A look of concern crossed Hubert’s face.
“I wasn’t aware that Acklam Hall had been graced with the presence of king Charles!”
Looking down his bulbous nose, Sir William responded loftily.
“I’m not at liberty to divulge that information,” then almost inaudibly, “but I trust your discretion.”
The deal was agreed.
Back in Acklam, he called Tom, a local youth, to the Estate Office.
“You will labour for the plasterers, lad. It’s a very important job and you will be paid well,” Sir William mentioned a price far in excess of Tom’s present wage.
“But I don’t expect my business to be bandied about the estate.”
“No, sir, yes sir, of course sir,” spluttered the astonished Tom. He couldn’t believe his luck.
Sir William was well aware that young Tom had a loose mouth. Within a week, it was common knowledge locally that the Hustler family had entertained Charles II. With each retelling of the story, the extent of the king’s patronage grew.
He knew too that it would be alluded to in every county seat in which the artisans worked as they wended their way home to London, picking up commissions as they went. The stature of the Hustler family rose in the process.
The episode was a big step in the Hustler family’s rise to high rank but it was to be a long path. In time, Sir William became a Member of Parliament for Northallerton, a local magistrate and the biggest landowner in the area. He was a notable philanthropist, using his wealth and position to found charity schools. And yes, he found very acceptable partners for his four surviving children. Yet, despite his success, Sir William never lost that need to impress.
Did you enjoy Sandra’s short story? You can share your thoughts with her in the comments below!