|Nick in his favourite Irish tweed cap|
My dear old friend Nick Duke died on 29th January 2013 after suffering for years from MS and other health problems. A memorial service was held for him at St Peter' Church, Bishops Waltham on 19th February attended by over 200 family and friends. This is his Eulogy.
Nick Duke 1945 – 2013
Thomas James Nicholas Duke – ‘Nick’ – was born at home in Fisher’s Pond to Tom and Ann Duke on 26th June 1945, following his sisters Jenny and Georgie. Tom was then working in the family milling business that had been started by his father James Duke in 1895 when he bought the Abbey Mill at Bishop’s Waltham on one of the Nine Great Ponds which once provided fish for the Bishop’s Palace.
|Hope House, Bishops Waltham|
|Nick and Wynne Tufnell|
Nick went on to Charterhouse, where his closest friend was Andrew Ward, later his best man at his wedding to Jay Jay, and a good friend to Nick for the rest of his life. Nick wasn’t a particularly outstanding student, but these were the days when one’s sporting and social achievements counted for more than academic prizes. In fact I don’t think that A levels were even graded then. Nick studied modern languages, played the trumpet in the school band and cricket and tennis in school teams and greatly enjoyed his time there. Andrew’s younger brother Toby was his fag, and Andrew made Nick godfather to his own son James, so he can’t have made Toby’s life too awful. Nick always said that if he had one, he would send a son to Charterhouse.
And of course girls did in time begin to play an increasing part in Nick’s life. In those days teenagers really didn’t pair off until quite late; we enjoyed – as Annie Ommaney (now Spawton) put it – ‘rushing around in a heap’ too much. But Nick was definitely something of a magnet for girls and I can well remember some who shall remain nameless coming up and asking me to introduce them to him. Nick and I never had exactly the same taste in girls, in which I count myself fortunate, as I would almost certainly have lost out! Those who Nick went out with included all the most attractive and interesting of the time, including Janet Stokes, Sally Farmiloe, Sarah Keen (known to us all as ‘Weemus’), Kristine Holmquist, the legendary ‘Hovis’ (Vivien Holt), Rosie Bryans and Nicky Boyle. And of course he later married, in 1975, Jay Jay Syms, the most attractive of all the girls in his orbit. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Nick, Charlie Skipwith and I were in the 60’s the self-styled ‘Three Musketeers’, and for one famous party – Sally Farmiloe’s Coming Out party – we dressed appropriately in costumes from Nathan’s. Fortunately Sally even then had an eye to publicity, and had hired Tom Hustler to take the photos, so some good ones exist with Nick looking every inch a D’Artagnan.
|Herry and Nick as Musketeers|
In our spare time, we met at The White Horse in Droxford, co-incidentally only a few yards from Stedham Lodge which became Nick and Jay Jay’s home some twenty years later, and right next door to Charlie Skipwith’s home, Studwell Lodge. Charlie drank the local brew, Nick preferred Haig and I drank Coke. It was perhaps indicative of our low level of drinking in those days that the pub also played host to another group of regular drinkers known as ‘The Quarterdeck’, which included Charlie’s father, and at that time no one ever came to grief in the ever - sportier cars that we acquired; our skills perhaps being honed on all-night games of Scalectrix that we played on the race-track set up in Charlie’s squash court. Or more to the point, the car treasure hunts, when the clues were invariably a pub name and the real object of the game was not actually to make it to the finish!
When Nick left school, his father, intending him of course to join James Duke & Son, sent him to work on one of the largest local farms, that of Tom Parker, whose main farm happened to border ours under Old Winchester Hill. In fact Tom Parker’s farms probably bordered most people’s farms in that part of Hampshire! In any event, John Parker recalls that Nick wasn’t an ordinary pupil, there to work as a prelude to going farming, but a rather to get a close up view of farming as a business so that he could relate to farmers when he joined his father. But he does remember - and so do I – that he was made to cover a huge new cowshed at Little West End with slurry so that it would blend more quickly into the countryside!
He was also sent on a number of courses; one, a business leadership course at Newcastle University, set up by the Kellogg Foundation, he attended part time over a period of three years, driving up for two weeks at a time with Giles Rowsell in his Triumph Stag and attending week-long events in Brussels and London. Giles remembers Nick as being very bright and focused and clearly loving the business environment. In fact at that time the two of them quickly became leading lights at the Farmers’ Club, starting the Under 30s section when Nick was only 24, and then joining the main committee where they reduced the average age by twenty years at a stroke! Nick often stayed with me on his visits to the Farmers’ Club, and it became our habit to go out early to find the best breakfast in London. I think our favourite was the Carlton Tower! But Nick loved business, and I well remember him being at dinner with my parents and a friend of theirs, Dennis Bulman, who was at the time managing director of Texaco, and the two of them having a long business conversation well into the small hours. Dennis Bulman later told my father that he found Nick most interesting and impressive.
Nick spent a few months working in Leith, which he hated, and he was also sent to run one of their businesses Chipping Norton for a couple of years. It might have been their revolutionary ‘Evenlode’ business, one of the first complete dry dog foods and for a while very successful, and which might have made Duke’s fortune all over again, had not the mighty Mars brought out a competing version, and the firm was slow to put the feed into garden centers and the like. Chipping Norton wasn’t far from Moreton-in-the-Marsh where my cousin Mike Lawford lived training to become a farm manager, and they saw quite a lot of each other there and on runs up to London; in fact Nick gave up his flat in Chipping Norton and lived in the week with Mike’s parents until he returned to Hampshire. He was later to be best man at Mike and Penny’s wedding when they were living in Hampshire and Mike was working for Neil Fairey.
Nick of course loved cars, as we all did. His father had Aston Martins and his great uncle had raced at Brooklands. Nick also had the resources of the firm’s garage with a mechanic, Stan, who understood not just lorries, of which the firm had a great many, but also the desire of young men to get the maximum out of whatever they drove. His first car was a very meaty Ford Anglia into which Stan dropped a hot 1500cc engine. Then came an MGB GT, a Triumph Stag, which was always overheating, a Tickford Capri and a Scimitar. In the days of the Capri, he and Ian Hay, who had The Rod Box in Winchester, used to meet for a bit of a burn-up on the Winchester by-pass, the idea being to reach the ‘Shawford narrows’ before the other. His cars were nominally works cars, insured for anyone to drive - and we did. We were even sometimes lent Tom’s Aston Martins, though I’m not sure if he actually knew. I remember taking the DB5 up to London. Incredible to think of that degree of licence today. Nick did have one or two accidents, one on the dangerous crossroads which also nearly claimed Nicky Boyle’s mother, and another when he went ‘all agricultural’ near Hartley Whitney. He also managed to overturn my commuter car, an ancient Austin A30, trying to do a handbrake turn at the end of the farm lane at Harvestgate, but otherwise we all escaped lightly.
|Nick as best man to Herry at his wedding to Prue in Sydney in 1971|
|Nick in Curdridge Croft garden with a salmon|
Nick was also a good athlete and apart from cricket, he excelled at tennis which we played endlessly, particularly at weekends, on the courts of friends like Johnny Cooke, Nicky Boyle, Belin and Will Martin, Sally and David Wilson-Young and our own. He was also a useful squash player, competing on the ladder that Charlie Skipwith maintained in his squash court at Studwell.
|Nick's Stag Party in Botley. Will Martin, Ian Hay, Nick, Charlie Skipwith, Mike Lawford, Andrew Ward. Photo by Herry|
|Nick and Tom Duke|
|Nick on Athassel Abbey winning the Newmarket Town Plate in 1993|
Nick also rekindled his relationship with Kristine Holmquist (now Yankowsky) in 1993 and visited her for some weeks in California and she also came over the England and travelled with him in France. There was even talk of marriage, but it never materialized. Kristine however kept in touch with Nick, and when he was very ill in April 2011, flew over to see him in hospital, and she’s flown over again to be here today.
|Nick and Ann Duke at North Dene|
|Nick and Cranston with Cordelia, Izzy, Phillip Leboa, Mia and Mike Burgess at North Dene|
Nick was never happier in his latter years than when recalling old stories and of course jokes, for which he had a wonderful memory. Ireland in particular had a powerful fascination for him and it was sad that we were never able to take him back there. It’s at least possible that one of the reasons he loved it so much was that his father relaxed there and was happy and amusing, instead of maintaining the rather stern demeanor he adopted at home. But his love of the old days and the influence of his father did combine to give him some fairly reactionary views; I used to tell him that talking to him was sometimes like listening to the Old Testament, and it was generally pointless arguing with him.
Nick was a charismatic figure, and as Trevor Trigg puts it, had a ‘happy cheerfulness’ about him. Always fun and interesting, he was blessed with good looks, a fine intellect, and sporting and athletic ability as well as a general love of life. He made many friends – both male and female - and retained them, and although his illness made him necessarily less and less able to socialise, he never complained and stuck doggedly to the conceit that he was ‘fine’ almost to the very end. Even a few weeks ago, he would come out with family and friends, helped by Phillip, to his favourite pub, the Hampshire Bowman, to the Thomas Lord at West Meon and to Stockbridge, and be happy reminiscing about the old days.
I can’t close without, on behalf of Nick’s family, thanking the local community for their great kindness and support. To Cranston’s several walkers of various ages, to the owners and staff in the village shop, who were very supportive, to all those in Swanmore and Bishops Waltham who were thoughtful and helpful in a variety of ways, everything you did was greatly appreciated.
19th February 2013