I was born in Danville Virginia and had three brothers and four sisters , all of whom I adored
Lizzie was the eldest , she had pretty eyes and lovely black hair , when Mother was ill, Lizzie took charge and she loved that . She was much stricter than Mother ever was .
Irene came next , she was not only beautiful but had great charm too. She later married the artist Charles Dana Gibson and the Gibson Girl was modelled on Irene . I was the next girl, followed by Phyllis whom I adored, we were only eighteen months apart, she had brown hair, blue eyes and a gentle sweetness . She was the best horsewoman I have ever seen .
Nora was the youngest and we considered her dreadfully spoilt by Mother .
I had three brothers, Keene, Harry and Buck. Keene was the most like my father, with a tremendous sense of humour . Harry was a year older than me and we were in the nursery together , he was the probably the most intelligent of the family as well as very modest . Phyllis and I would kick up our heel in front of him just to annoy him. Buck was my youngest brother and everyone loved Buck and Buck, I think loved everybody ! He became a legislator .
The first house I remember was in Grace Street Richmond, I remember my mother played the piano beautifully while Father sang, he had a fine voice, I was never musical myself but I could always appreciate it .My sister Irene had a beautiful voice . There was always lots of jokes being told and laughter in our house.
We moved to Mirador in Greenwood fifteen miles from Charlottesville when I was twelve .
We went every summer up into the mountains to escape the heat at Mirador. It was always such an exciting time, before our departure Mother found all the boxes of our clothes and of course we had all grown since the previous summer, so dresses had to be lengthened and pressed . Most of our clothes were made at home, I was not at all interested in clothes , as long as I was comfortable, thats all I cared about . I do remember that my favourite get-up was a sailor’s suit, with a pleated skirt and a middy blouse and a collar smartly trimmed with three rows of white tape .
We stayed in a lovely old fashioned hotel in White Sulphur Springs, which had a swimming pool and we could go riding and fishing ,i t was here that we learnt to ride before we got ponies of our own. Father each week would give us a little sum of money and we were allowed to spend it on whatever we liked, as I loved swimming, riding and fishing , I could never make up my mind which to do most ! Here also was the first place I fell in love, I was eleven at the time, a boy came to the hotel with his father, his mother had just died, I felt very sad for him, but the main thing I remember about him was his shoes, they were always spotlessly clean . I think this was my first love affair and it is sad that I remember nothing whatsoever about him , only his shoes !
Back at Mirador we never got pocket money, we did not need any . There was nothing to spend it on. I did not really learn the value of money till I was grown up. We spent much of our time playing outside at Mirador riding or playing tennis. By modern standards our methods were rather rough and ready , father did not approve as there had been no tennis in his day so he did not consider it necessary , however he was kind enough to build us a tennis court although it did have a cherry tree on the back line ! Father’s response to us over that was “ You tell me tennis is a game of skill. Very well . Avoid the cherry tree “ It still was not the thing for girls to show their legs or ankle so we had to run around playing tennis in long and cumbersome dresses .
We did not have many toys . What I really liked to do was to cut out paper figures out of the illustrated papers, magazines and catalogues . We used to make whole families and all the men dolls were called after Irene’s beaux.
We were not allowed to play cards as Father did not approve of them !
Animals played a large part in my childhood. Before we had ponies, each one of us was allowed one pet of our own. Phyllis had a dog, which was a handsome dog as long as you only looked at the front of it, it had a horrible looking tail. One day Mother heard me praying aloud in Church on my knees beside her, “ O Please , God , straighten the dog’s tail for us . It is so terribly ugly . O Please, If you can, God do straighten that dog’s tail “. In reality the shape of the dog’s tail did not mean we loved it any less. We adored all animals !
Buck had a pet goat when he was very small, one Christmas the goat swallowed a tin and I remember seeing the goat looking astonished and Buck in tears ! I settled for a parrot , I thought that my parrot and I would have long interesting conversations and would learn as much from thee parrot as he or she gave me,(at that point I was under the influence of Robinson Crusoe . Sadly it was a disappointment to me and was not the companion I had hoped for . All my parrot did was sit on its perch saying over and over again “ Good Morning , everybody, Take it away oh ! “
When I think back to the days it seems to me that the sun was always shinning and I have never been as happy as I was at Mirador. We ran free with wide lands to adventure in and wonderful woods to play in. Our pleasures were fewer and simpler but I think we enjoyed them more. It was a different world then .
At Mirador there was none on the slip-shod easy ways of today. No matter how hot it was or how late we had been the night before, we all had to get up for breakfast and appear properly dressed . No dressing gowns would have been tolerated and I can remember Father’s critical eye looking over us one by one before we sat down.
I went to a small school , the school house owned by Miss Julia Lee , a relational the famous General Lee. It was a lovely old house and I remember Miss Julia as kind and gentle, here we learnt to read and write . The real educational influence came later in my life when I was sent to a day school in Richmond run by Miss Jenny Elliott . She was a wonderful teacher and gave me a thirst for learning and a passion for reading which has lasted the rest of my life .
Nancy Langhorne with her mother
Emily Astor is a photographer, author and Nancy Astor’s granddaughter. She worked with John Grigg on his highly visual, informal biography of Astor and with a photographer’s eye has produced a personal collection of photographs for her current book ‘Nancy Astor: A Life in Photographs’ which can be purchased from the Museum of English Rural Life. Emily was also the family consultant for the Nancy Astor statue, lending a personal eye to the sculpture and has generously supported the Astor100 programme in the UK and in Virginia.