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Review: ‘Searching for Grace’
by Stephanie Brunger

Working in the Sales and Marketing side of Englemere in Ascot, in the Royal County of Berkshire, I have always been very interested in the history of this large country house, built in the nineteenth century, and fairly knowledgeable of its previous occupants such as Lord Roberts, a distinguished statesman who did much to renovate the house and grounds in the early 1900s.

We are also very proud and boast that it is a former royal residence as two of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters resided here, and often use this term of reference in order to market its potential as a Conference and Wedding Venue. I had from time to time been called upon to assist with enquiries about the history of the house and the people who had lived here prior to the Chartered Institute of Building moving their headquarters to Englemere in 1963.

So when I was approached by Carol Henderson who was writing the story of her grandmother Grace Weigall, who lived here during the Second World War, I was fascinated by the story of her mother’s search for her mother. I knew a little of Lady Weigall’s role at Englemere from 1933 until her death in 1950 but nothing prepared me for the revelations that unfolded in Searching for Grace.

It has clearly been a lifetime’s work for Carol and her mother Heather Tovey and they deserve to be very proud of the book they have written and the story they have sensitively told and even for those readers who have no direct connection to the authors or Grace Weigall it is a story which keeps you hooked until the end.

Reading this story today in the 21st century amongst today’s very different morals and standards it still makes unbelievable reading but as is so often mentioned in the book Grace was born and brought up in a different generation and is one which has been brought alive so vividly by Carol and Heather. However much the reader wants to condemn Grace for the suffering she clearly put Heather through all her life in her search for the truth about her parentage it is clear from all those who knew and spoke about Grace is that she was such a likeable character who left a huge impression on all those whose lives she touched.

In fact Heather herself described her mother on an early visit to see her at Petwood “as one of the most fascinating people I have ever met” and was clearly in awe of this very grand lady who took such a close interest in her life, always said extravagant things and boosted her confidence but without revealing the real reason why.

Priscilla and Heather were most accurate in describing their mother as an excessive character — flamboyant, manipulative, outrageous, spoilt, beautiful, fascinating, infuriating and the reader is left wondering how everyone’s lives would have been if they had all been born one hundred years later. The secrecy and shame of someone in Grace’s standing in society having not one child out of wedlock but two would have resulted in a very different way of life for everyone. But Grace was clearly never going to give up her status in society and very clearly managed to manipulate and cover her misdemeanours in order to continue her very privileged life although to be fair she clearly gave back to others less fortunate than herself in so many ways and was a very generous person.

Carol and Heather’s book is a pleasure to read and enjoy. It is beautifully put together in style and content — all the pictures and documents spread throughout the book are a delight to see and builds up the story through the decades.

It has clearly been a labour of love for the authors and they deserve to be very proud of the book which sets out for their families a very detailed story of their ancestors and of the life they chose to live. There are very few families who can know their ancestors so intimately. My grandmother’s life seems quite dull in comparison!

I recommend this book, especially to all mothers and daughters and to those interested in English social history in the 20th century.

January 2011