Last spring, I visited the hamlet of Knill, deep in the Herefordshire countryside. Knill lies on the river Lug, a tributary of the Wye, and in the 1930s Penelope Fitzgerald’s father, Eddie Knox, used to come here and fish with his brothers, taking the lease on a cottage. I had learned this from The Knox Brothers (1977), Fitzgerald’s beguiling biography of four remarkable men; loving it as much as her novels, I was keen to find this cottage, of which she had happy childhood memories.
My companion, a lover of old churches, found much to interest him in St Michael and All Angels, set amongst ancient yews; not least the framed pages of a nineteenth-century census, listing the members of the congregation and their occupations: domestic servants, agricultural labourers, carpenters. In the 1920s Wilfred Knox, Anglican priest and the third of the brothers, used occasionally to preach here to their descendants, and we can only wonder at their response to sermons delivered in clipped tones, beginning, ‘We read in Plotinus . . .’
The Classics, studied at Eton and Rugby, Oxford and Cambridge, featured largely in the education of all four brothers, born in the 1880s to the Evangelical Bishop of Manchester, Edmund Knox. A rubicund, affectionate man who had wooed delicate Ellen French with a rose bought on Oxford station, he knew by the end of his own time at Corpus Christi College that ‘hard work, academic success, faith and endurance’ were the keys to the future – not least because there was never much money. He serenely envisaged the Indian Civil Service for his three eldest sons, Edmund (Eddie), Dilwyn (Dilly) and Wilfred; the Evangelical Ministry for Ronald. All four were to choose quite different paths; each was greatly to distinguish himself.
They grew up with their two sisters in the Old Rectory at Knibworth in Leicestershire.
True, people said the drains were bad at Knibworth, bu
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