MEMORIES OF OUR UNCLE CHRISTOPHER ADLINGTON
By Abigail Compton-Burnett, Christopher's eldest niece
Christopher was born the youngest of three boys on 25 September 1937. The family lived in a beautiful old house, overlooking the sea, in Great Yarmouth, which is a port on the east coast of England.
Christopher was two years old when war broke out in England. Whilst Christopher’s brothers were away to boarding school, Christopher often went to the local hospital to help his mother tend to people who had been injured in bombing raids. His mother, whom he affectionately called “Ma,” observed that Christopher was “a great favourite, with fair, wavy hair, and usually dressed in a lemon coloured coat.” She added that he was sunny, but very composed, had a lively imagination, and was never untidy!
When he was three, the Adlington home took a direct bomb hit. Mercifully, Christopher sustained only minor injuries and was primarily concerned with being soaking wet, due to a deluge from a burst water pipe on the stairs.
The following year, Ma sustained far greater injuries during a bombing raid. Her leg was very badly damaged, and she was in a hospital for several weeks. Christopher missed Ma terribly and used great ingenuity to find presents that he could take to her in the hospital. One afternoon during tea with the local vicar, Christopher decided that the silver napkin ring that he was using would be a wonderful gift, so popped it into his pocket!
When the war finally ended in 1945, the blackout that had extinguished street lights and covered every window with black paper was finally lifted. As a child who had grown up in the war, Christopher had never seen lights at night and spent hours gazing out of his window on the magical, twinkling scene.
Christopher followed his brother, Peter, to Epsom College, near London. Whilst he was there, his eldest brother, Tony, tragically drowned off the coast of the Isle of Man. Christopher had been very fond of Tony, and his death affected him profoundly. For the rest of Christopher’s life, the Isle of Man, where Tony is buried, held a special place in his heart.
When Christopher left Epsom College, he decided that he did not want to be a doctor like his father and brother, so became articled to a Chartered Accountant in London for six years.
When he qualified, he decided to take a six week trip to America. He booked a $40 Greyhound bus ticket with which he toured America, beginning and ending in New York.
Christopher wrote to his parents to say that he would like to stay and work in America, if he could get a job. He found a temporary position with the Columbia Broadcasting System in San Francisco. After six weeks, he secured a job with Arthur H. Lee Inc., which made and marketed English furnishing fabrics. He was soon firmly established in their Headquarters in New York. He loved his job and enjoyed visiting Lee’s showrooms and agents in the US, England and, particularly, in the Isle of Man, where one of their favourite mill owners lived.
He loved his home in New York, but retained his fondness for England and his family who lived there. The timings of his visits were governed mainly by the blossoming of English flora and fauna, since one of his greatest passions was visiting the gardens of England. Christopher was delighted that Pix, his brother Peter’s wife, shared his passion for garden visits, even though Peter did not! Christopher and Pix would deposit Peter in the nearest tea room or pub and spend hours exploring flowers, shrubs, trees and perfectly manicured lawns together and drawing inspiration for their gardens.
Christopher was very generous with his time and energy, and he spent hours toiling in Peter and Pix’s garden. No weed, moss or mildew was safe during his visits, and every hedge was clipped to within an inch of its life! He seemed indefatigable. Peter once remarked that Christopher was like a clockwork mouse: you would wind him up and he would go on forever!
Christopher was the family oracle when it came to all issues of taste and style. He advised on the paint and furnishings for every room, bringing armloads of samples and fabrics with him on every visit. No decorating challenge was too great and he would often spend hours researching options until he had found the perfect solution. He was a wonderful confidante. Each family member valued his wisdom, warm-heartedness, and tact. He also had the wonderful gift of bringing light to every situation.
Even after many years in New York, Christopher still had his suits and coats made in London, and was very much an English gentleman. One of his greatest joys and achievements was his beautiful “English garden in Brooklyn.” Christopher would have been delighted to know how many people had been touched by his beautiful garden, which he created and tended over many years. He worked hard to recreate in Brooklyn the English gardens that he had seen, using sharp clippers to rein in the hedges, strict watering regimes and never-quite-violent words for the squirrels that chewed up his lawn.
In so many ways, Christopher, just like his garden, gently and warmly touched the hearts of all those around him, friends and strangers alike. We will carry the light and joy that he brought to us with our fond memories of a very dear English gentleman, our Uncle Christopher Adlington.