Ross-On-Wye, Herefordshire, England
Period of Residence: 1875-1883
In early September 1875 the Reids moved to Herefordshire, where they rented a furnished cottage called "Chasewood," located about four miles from the town of Ross-On-Wye. Mrs. Reid reported that the little house stood "on the main road facing the Welsh mountains in the distance."
It was here that Reid began to recover from a recurrence of his Mexican War wound that had left him crippled. To acquaint himself with the countryside, wrote Mrs. Reid, he "spent a great deal of time driving about in an open phaeton, frequently making long excursions of twenty and thirty miles."
It was also here that Reid wrote his second novel with an English setting, Gwen Wynn.
In January 1876 Reid involved himself in a local discussion over England's game laws that was carried in the pages of The Hereford Times. Whereas most of his rural neighbors favored their repeal, Reid "defended the laws on this subject, asserting that to abolish them would not only be a backward leap in legislation, but an injustice to the majority of the nation, and to the whole a loss." In support of his position, he pointed to the United States, arguing,"while we are in the act of abolishing game laws, they are in the act of establishing them!"
From Strand Magazine, July 1891. Courtesy Rare Books Collection, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.
In January 1877 the Reids took out a lease on "a country house, with land and farm buildings attached, known as 'Frogmore,'" also located about four miles from Ross. Reid, who was at first delighted with what he called "the prettiest residence in all Herefordshire," wrote to his friend Charles Ollivant, describing his new abode:
I wanted a house with some land, and I could not resist the temptation of a beautiful thing about two miles from here, on the other side of the wood. It is more secluded and retired than even "Chasewood" - in fact, a very picture of a rural nook; but a beautiful house, with some fifteen acres of land, a magnificent kitchen garden, ornamental grounds and shrubberies, with a perennial brook running through them, carriage entrance, and separate entrance to the farmyard and stabling.
On the brook there is a wheel worked by the action of the current itself, which pumps water up to the house and all over the garden. And below in the grounds there is a sluice built across the brook, by which I can, simply by putting a door upon it, dam up the water to form a pretty fishpond, with trees overhanging. It was constructed for this very purpose, but the water is now let off, the sluice-gate gone. It will be restored as soon as I take possession.
Water-hens, or moor hens, as they are called - meaning mere hens - come up on the lawn. The green woodpecker and blue jay are heard all around the shrubberies, while Penyard Wood, a continuance of Chasewood, the two covering a grand hill or ridge full three miles long, is just behind the house, a hundred yards back. There is a little farmyard quite separate and distinct from the stable and coach-yard - coach-house to hold half a dozen carriages, stabling of the best kind for eight horses, flagged courts, kitchens, larder, dairy, servants' rooms, and a big bell hung on top of the house to ring them all up betimes!
All this for £60 per annum. The land is eight acres, but I am to have five or six more next year if I wish it at forty-eight shillings per acre. It is, indeed, a little paradise of a place, and a great bargain at £60. The reason for its being so low rented is that it has lain for two years without a tenant, so they were glad to get me. Tenants that have had it found it too lonely. And so they might if they had no acquaintance of the gentry class in the neighbourhood. But as we know all, or nearly all of that ilk, I don't thingk we shall be less visited there than in "Chasewood," thought it be a mile or two farther from their residences.
My chief object is, that in a house with a little grass land attached and good gardens - such as it has - I may live rent free; whereas, in a paltry affair of the usual Cockney villa kind, your house easts his head off twice a year! This is true. The apples at "Frogmore House" - for that is the hideous name of it, soon, however, to be called "The Ranche" - will go far towards liquidating the rent.
Unfortunately, Reid later complained, the region was notorious for its "disagreeable weather." Even in the summer, oftentimes a cold rain poured down for days on end, aggravating his rheumatism and sciatica. To make matters worse, "the open wound in his leg caused him no little suffering."
When he was able, Reid devoted himself to farming. "Among other crops," wrote his wife, "he produced quantities of potatoes from Mexican seed." He also began breeding a a herd of curiously-colored animals he called "Jacob's Sheep."
"A keen observer," Reid also spent time studying nature and writing a series of articles that were published in the Live Stock Journal.
In 1882 Reid submitted a series called "The Rural Life of England" to the New York Tribune, which published it in twenty-six segments over a period of six months (every Sunday from April through September). A letter from Reid, complaining that a cold wet summer had led to the ruin of about one-third of England's hay crop, also appeared in the Tribune.
During his last winter at "Frogmore," Reid turned his phaeton into a sleigh, which he drove to Ross "to astonish the town folk." Unfortunately, on the return trip, the rig overturned and and Reid had to be rescued. In February 1883 the Reids returned to London.
Frogmore Today (2017); photo by Steven Butler.
Principal source: Reid, Elizabeth. Captain Mayne Reid, His Life and Adventures (London: Greening & Co., Ltd., 1900).
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