Obituary Diana Dowager Lady Ingilby

The Dowager Lady Ingilby when she retired after 25 years as a governor of Ripley School. (S)
The Dowager Lady Ingilby when she retired after 25 years as a governor of Ripley School. (S)

Diana, Dowager Lady Ingilby, the widow of Sir Joslan Ingilby of Ripley Castle, died peacefully at the Warwick Nursing Home, Harrogate, on January 19: she was two hours short of celebrating her 93rd birthday.

Diana Colvin and her older brother Clem received the kind of upbringing that would certainly raise eyebrows today. In 1921, when Diana was just one and Clem not much older, their parents went to live in India, where their father, Brigadier-General George Lethbridge Colvin had taken up an appointment as general manager of the East India Railway. Diana and Clem were looked after by a succession of nannies, and Diana was sent to West Heath, a boarding school for girls, at the age of four. She made a lot of good friends at West Heath but saw her parents infrequently: two years would sometimes elapse between visits. Diana was 13 when her parents finally returned to England in 1933, and her father, who also served as an ADC to George V for five years, was knighted in the same year. She left West Heath at the age of 16 and spent the summer of 1937 in France, staying with a French family in order to improve her French.

Her father was now running a very successful finance company in London. Long, Till and Colvin raised finance for large scale civil construction projects like the Mersey docks, and the young Diana joined the family business as a secretary in 1938, working in central London throughout the blitz. Many of her friends departed for the front and several never returned. Her boyfriend of the time was captured and languished in a POW camp in Germany. Wartime London was a busy, exciting city, Hell bent on enjoying today in case there was no tomorrow. Many a night out was brought to a swift conclusion when the air raid sirens sounded: it was a time marked by laughter and tears.

Her brother Clem had been serving in Egypt but developed a serious illness and had to be evacuated to South Africa. During the long voyage he befriended a young fellow officer in the Scots Guards who was suffering from a severe attack of jaundice: his name was Joslan Ingilby. Clem had just received a portrait photograph of his sister and immediately showed it to his friend. Joslan was so enamoured by the portrait of the beautiful girl with the striking strawberry blonde hair that he persuaded Clem to let him keep the photograph.

After a period of recuperation Joslan returned to his battalion in Egypt, but the war had taken a serious turn for the worse in his absence. Following a lightning advance by the Germans, he and two other guardsmen found themselves trapped dozens of miles behind enemy lines. With only a small packet of glucose sweets to sustain them, they spent three days dodging the German patrols, covering as much distance as they could at night, when they could move faster under the cover of darkness. At one point they came under intense enemy fire and a bullet grazed the photograph of Diana that Joslan was carrying in his breast pocket, leaving him unharmed. An unknown German sniper had just unwittingly strengthened the bond between the young army officer and the girl that he had yet to meet. The three men were about to be written off as ‘Missing in Action’ when they stumbled out of the desert on the British side of the battle line.

The end of the war brought two dividends: promotion to Major and a meeting with the girl in the bullet-torn photograph. Diana was invited to Ripley to meet her future in-laws during the summer of 1947. She wanted to create a good first impression by arriving with a generous gift, but rationing was in force and luxury goods were hard to obtain. By saving up her food vouchers for several weeks she was able to procure a large portion of much sought-after Stilton cheese, and triumphantly carried it onto the train at Kings Cross. Unfortunately it was a hot day, the train had no air conditioning, and the Stilton, maturing rapidly in the heat, soon made its presence known to those unfortunate enough to be sharing her carriage. It also made a lasting impression on her hosts at Ripley – just not the lasting impression that she had hoped for. The couple got engaged on October 31st, 1947, and were married the following January. Joslan left the army and took over the management of the Ripley Castle Estate.

While her husband immersed himself in the estate and his duties as a Deputy Lieutenant for the West Riding, Diana looked after her family – two daughters and a son born between 1949 and 1955, and started her long association with several community organisations.

She was elected onto the Nidderdale Rural District Council and served her electorate on that body until it was merged, in 1973, to form the new Harrogate Borough Council. She remained a diligent and active councillor in Harrogate for a further 13 years, serving on formal committees and sub committees dealing with general purposes, planning, environmental health, recreation and amenities and property and leisure services. Harrogate had changed dramatically during her term of office, from a tired and fading spa town to one that was now at the forefront of niche tourism with the development and opening of the Harrogate International Conference and Exhibition Centre. The town’s European links were strengthened by a twinning arrangement with the French town of Luchon: Lady Ingilby’s schoolgirl French was tested to the full and welcoming remarks were practiced in front of the mirror for several weeks prior to the arrival of the Mayor and Mayoress of Luchon, for whom no visit would apparently be complete without a personally conducted tour of Ripley Castle. Her retirement after more than 25 years of sterling service led to her being nominated as an Honorary Alderman of the Borough of Harrogate.

She was chairman of the board of governors of Ripley C of E Primary School for over a quarter of a century, was a long-serving governor of Harrogate Ladies College, and a very active church warden at All Saints Church, Ripley, working alongside the legendary Rev Kenneth McAlister, and, on his retirement, Rev Stephen Brown. She chaired the Ripley Parish Meeting and, for seven years, the Harrogate branch of the National Art Collection Fund and the Harrogate Decorative and Fine Arts Group. Her schoolgirl French was again dusted off when she became a steward working in the Overseas Visitors Pavilion at the Great Yorkshire Show, and she gave valuable service to, amongst other organisations, the Yorkshire Rural Community Council, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Red Cross, the Parkinsons Society, the Osteoporosis Society and the Scots Guards Association.

As President of the Ripley WI she led from the front. One year the WI decided to stage a fund-raising show in Ripley’s Hotel de Ville. It was envisaged that in one of the acts the ladies would pretend that they were a pop group, miming to the audience. The one drawback was that nobody was entirely sure what a pop group did on stage. Seeking inspiration and enlightenment, they bought tickets for the next concert at the Royal Hall. Consequently the ladies of Ripley WI, led by their president, found themselves sitting amidst a horde of screaming teenagers as a relatively unknown band called the Beatles performed ‘Love me Do’

When her husband died in 1974 she found herself confronting a truly daunting challenge: his death at the age of 67 was sudden and unexpected and the estate faced a massive tax bill for Death Duty. Farms and cottages had to be sold and the castle, hitherto only open on Sunday afternoons, had to be open far more regularly, and for more months of the year. She set up a café in the former outside servant’s dining room and made dozens of sandwiches and home baked scones and cakes, recruiting a team of young but enthusiastic local students to help serve the visitors. The cakes didn’t always reach their intended destination. On one occasion the family’s very athletic Labrador managed to jump in through the open window of the kitchen and consume five of the sponge cakes that were cooling on racks on a table inside. The large paw print in the middle of the sixth cake identified the miscreant beyond any reasonable doubt, and that afternoon’s visitors were hugely impressed that the cakes that they were served were so freshly baked that they were still warm. Groups of visiting Americans received a tour of the castle, followed by lunch (usually coronation chicken) in the splendour of the dining room. At other times she could be seen, accompanied by her faithful but notoriously fractious corgi, striding through the gardens and park. She kept her mind active by doing the Times cryptic crossword – which she frequently completed.

When the Falklands War commenced she recalled the hardships of her youth and decided to prepare by amassing a stockpile of life’s necessities in the castle cellar. The cases of gin and cartons of crisps and Smash instant potato that she purchased kept her in supplies for several years after the Argentine army had laid down its arms. Having been born in Edinburgh and spent much of her life in Yorkshire, she was nothing if not thrifty, and the crisps continued to be served, albeit well past their sell by date, as less than crispy snack to visiting friends and family.

The gin was decanted into plastic water bottles and stowed in her hand luggage whenever she went abroad, so that she could avoid paying what she saw as excessive prices demanded by airlines and hotels. This practice came to an abrupt halt when, on her return from one trip, she accidentally gave two of her grandsons ‘some water’ from one of the special plastic bottles to dilute their mugs of Ribena: the mistake was soon discovered when the children spat it out, declaring it to be disgusting. The group of elderly but still redoubtable ladies with whom she travelled caused havoc wherever they went, berating airport staff, taxi drivers and hapless foreign hotel employees with their vocal and insistent demands for service, and if that failed, their walking sticks. Although frail and latterly bedridden, ‘The Dowager’ remained feisty to the end, taking issue with her carers if any of them, in her view, stepped out of line.

Diana, Lady Ingilby will be remembered as someone who devoted years of her life to the betterment of the Harrogate District, and the community at large in Ripley. She embraced change, even though, in the course of her nine decades, changes were numerous, dramatic and occasionally controversial. If a proposal sounded positive and sensible, she gave it every encouragement.

She is survived by her children, Caroline, Bindy and Thomas, her grandchildren Sally, Jamie, Jos, Ellie, Jack and Richard, and a great grandchild, Archie.

Her funeral service will be held at All Saint’s Church, Ripley, at 2.00pm on Friday 8th February.