Tag Archives: Billiard Room at Tyntesfield

Remembering Captain Eustace Lyle Gibbs at Tyntesfield


Eustace Lyle Gibbs, born March 10, 1885, was the second youngest son of Antony Gibbs. He was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford. Then, as expected of him, he joined the family shipping business.

Eustace was already a member of the North Somerset Yeomanry.  When World War I broke out on July 28, 1914, he was among the first British troops sent to France. Wealth and rank did not exempt men from serving; in fact, those of high rank mostly felt even more obligation to fight than those less fortunate. They generally entered the war as officers.


Eustace had a short home leave in December 1914. While visiting his family at their beautiful Victorian country house, Tyntesfield, he gave an interview to the Western Daily Press. Asked how people at home could help soldiers at the front, he said the troops always needed gloves and socks.  And they really missed chocolate. When he returned to the front, he brought donations of these items with him, and handed them out to the men of his “B” Company, British Expeditionary Force.


During his leave, Eustace no doubt spent time in the Billiard Room at Tyntesfield, a wonderfully masculine space designed for the men in the family. Eustace would never see his home again.

Eustace died on February 11, 1915 of wounds received fighting near Ypres. He was 29 years old. His portrait was painted in 1916 from a photograph of him in his uniform. The artist was Albert Henry Collings.

Ceramic poppies fill the Tower of London moat

1915 was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War. I wrote about the spectacular display of close to a million ceramic poppies in honor of fallen British soldiers at the Tower of London. The The photo above is from The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/01/tower-of-londons-ww1-remembrance-installation-share-your-photos-and-videos. The post is at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/09/26/remembrance-of-wars-past/.


That post also remembers another aristocratic young man who gave his life for his country, Edward Wyndham Tennant.  He died at age 19 in the Battle of the Somme, 1916. On the plaque above his marble relief portrait, a fellow soldier describes the young man’s leadership:  “When things were at their worst he would go up and down in the trenches cheering the men; when danger was greatest his smile was loveliest.” His grieving parents commissioned the touching memorial to him in Salisbury Cathedral.

Fighting in the Great War ended “at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.  Virtually every town and village in Britain (and also in other countries like France) lost young men to the carnage of the First World War. About 20 million people lost their lives. On Armistice Day, in England and in other places, there are ceremonies honoring the fallen.

Americans actively entered the war in its last few months, after supporting the Allied side indirectly. No one knows exact numbers, but about 110,000 Americans lost their lives in the fighting. In the United States, November 11 is Veterans’ Day, when all who have served their country in the military are honored. Today, women serve as often as men do. And as in times past, whole families and communities feel the effects of loved ones marching off to serve. We need to salute them all.

A Vigorous Voice from the Past

I hurried to visit Tyntesfield within a year or two of its opening to the public.  The house was only partially open, and work was going on all over the estate.  During my visit, I stood with a tour group in the Billiard Room, admiring the vaulted ceiling and the light from the high windows.  The billiard table, custom-made for the family, connected to an electronic scoreboard.  Pressing a button on the side of the table recorded the score–quite an innovation, for Victorian times.

William Gibbs was 75 when his dream home was completed, and he had four sons.  Three of them were still teenagers, so presumably the room was built and furnished for them.  It was not, however, a smoking room–Mr. Gibbs allowed only smoking in the very highest room of the house, a tower on the third floor.  (I’m sure the teenagers found ways around the various house rules–they always do).

We had all just looked at a rather ornate urinal in an adjoining room–another modern innovation. The guide was talking about how the room was built for and used by men.  Suddenly an elderly lady in the back of the group thumped her cane on the floor and interrupted the guide.  She was a family member and had spent a good deal of time in the house.  One of the 19 heirs!  (I hoped she had collected a cool million and not blown it all at the casino).  She proceeded to set us all straight.  Did women use the billiard room?  Yes, they did!  Trust me, you would not have argued with her.

The lady went on with a story about the bats that had infested the former men’s servants quarters nearby.  Later, I read that the colony of protected lesser horseshoe bats had to given another suitable home on the estate before restoration could begin in those rooms.

The tour guide wisely let the lady keep talking.  I’d have listened to her all day.  At the time, I didn’t know about the Great Kidnapping Incident, or I’d have asked her about it for sure.  In 1988, the late Lord Wraxall had been kidnapped at his home. The ruffians knocked him to the ground and demanded his house keys and the combination to his safe.  But the burglar alarm went off–I don’t know whether he was inside or outside the house at the time.  So they threw him into the boot (the trunk, to Americans) of his own car, which they drove about 2 miles away and abandoned.  He was left there for 7 hours until someone found him. According to some reports, all he had to say was, “Good grief, there’s more room in there than I ever thought.”

The National Trust is going to great lengths to collect stories about life in the house.  There is an interactive website where people can contribute their own memories.  It is at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/history/stories/. Personal stories are placed in a timeline. Family, servants and friends have contributed their memories.

Recently, the house has been featured on the wildly popular BBC TV series Dr. Who–very appropriately, since Dr. Who is a Time Lord.  Not only can he travel through time, but he is able to regenerate his body in a different form when near death–very handy for showrunners who have to cope with new actors taking over the part.

At Tyntesfield, and at many other National Trust Properties, enchanting doorways continue to lead us into the past, carefully preserved for future generations.

Join me next time for more explorations into the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!