During the years that Winifred operated her 'Cintra'
dress making business in London she became friends with one of her
customers whose name was Miss Christina Knowles. In 1920 Christina had
bought Spilsill Court, a beautiful house near Staplehurst in Kent, which
was originally built in 1286 for the de Speldselle family. The house had
been much altered over the years and she continued the improvements.
Christina was responsible for, amongst other things, re-organising the
gardens in contemporary Elizabethan style. Pleached alleys of hornbeam,
shrubberies, a rock garden and a knot garden in the shape of the fleur
de lys were laid out. She also built a shrine in remembrance of her
mother, which still stands, in the garden. In order to give employment
to the men of Staplehurst during the depression Christina converted
the flax mill/tythe barn into a theatre which is still in use today and
wonderfully preserved. This is much how Winifred Fortescue would have
found Spilsill during her visits to stay with Christina Knowles.
In 1932 her husband
John Fortescue's health been a major problem having
suffered what was almost certainly a stroke. Although he recovered he was
very fragile. After six months recovery he succumbed to a chill and
pneumonia. Once again he recovered and his health improved. Escaping the
intense heat in the south of France in the summer of 1933, a visit to
friends and relatives in England provided a welcome boost. For the
duration of the visit they stayed with Christina Knowles at Spilsill.
The picture below was taken during this stay and they are pictured
standing in the porch. The exact date it was taken is unknown but it is
September 1933. It is possibly the last picture taken of Sir John.
Perhaps they had stepped outside for Winifred to enjoy the cigarette
which is in her right hand?
The couple left Spilsill to return to Provence
towards the end of September and enjoyed five days in the warm sunshine
of the south of France as the grapes ripened. On the sixth day John was
taken ill and after a series of misdiagnoses by several doctors
taken to Sunny Bank Hospital in Cannes with severe abdominal pains. His
usual doctor was away at the time. He died from peritonitis at the
hospital on September 22nd 1933 after an operation for appendicitis
performed too late.