I popped round to see my mother and her boyfriend last last night and noticed that she had a copy of an obituary for Monica Dickinson (neé Birtwistle). I was surprised to find out that she was my mother’s first cousin. There had been a flood of tributes after her death, published in the likes of The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, among many many others. I was fascinated to read all the epitaphs describing her as the “legendary racing figure” or “matriarch of the legendary horse racing family”, not least because I could only remember vaguely that some relative or another was involved in ‘racing’ somehow. So I asked my mother is she could tell me a little about how they were related and what she could remember about their time together when they were growing up:
Monica Dickinson (neé Birtwistle) remembered by her cousin Angela Kirby (neé Birtwistle):
“Monica Dickinson (neé Birtwistle) was my first cousin. Her father, Uncle Will, was the eldest son of my grandfather, Albert Birtwistle, of Nothcote, Langho, nr. Blackburn Lancashire. (the house is now called Northcote Manor, and is an expensive restaurant). Uncle Will, like the rest of his brothers, served in the trenches in the Great War. Later he became a magitrate.Uncle Will and his wife Alex, (neé Drew) lived with their five children at Withnell, Nr.Blackburn, Lancashire, in a pleasant, late-Georgian stone house, large by today’s standards, but a fairly typical family house for its day, similar to Hoghton House, where we lived. I remember that they had some kind of large pool or pond in their garden in which we could bathe. We loved Aunt Alex but were rather wary of Uncle Will, who would come up behind us and slash our ponies over the rump with a whip, so that they bolted. All the Withnell children were brilliant riders from an early age.
Apart from hunting and show jumping, they would also put on displays of trick riding at local shows, including standing up on the ponies’ backs, or circling round, under the ponies’ bellies, and back up again, at a full gallop. As they grew older they became successful riders in point-to points. We used to stand with Aunt Alex and cheer them on. My sister Iris used to hunt with Monica and the others, with the Holcombe Harriers. Later I joined them and they were all immensely kind to me. We used to go to the local parties and Hunt Balls together, and Monica and I were bridesmaids at my sister Annette’s wedding in 1947. As there was still clothes-rationing at the time, our bridesmaid’s dresses had to be made out of curtain netting. We all loved Monica’s husband, Tony, who was one of the best-looking and nicest men around.“