Lady Sonja: The Village Remembers
When Gordon Hope Morley became the third Lord Hollenden after the death of his uncle, he said that he and Sonja, his wife did not wish to ‘organize’ the village in the way that his uncle had done for so many years. He and Lady Sonja wanted to live in Hall Place as a home where they could have family and friends to stay or just to have a meal and where both of them could develop the wonderful garden it became with Head Gardener, Tim Bance, and his assistant, Sam Card.
The difficulties that they had in making the main floors of the house habitable have been related by Geoffrey Culverwell but there was the running of the house, too, and for 38 years Dian Croft and others looked after both the house and when Lady Sonja would allow it, Lady Sonja herself. When it had been snowing, Lady Sonja and Dian would take out all the rugs and beat them – because this was what was done in Norway to make them fresh. And on one occasion, Lady Sonja asked for the very tall – and rather old – step ladder to be brought into the drawing room. She placed it under the chandelier and proceeded to wash and dry all the pieces of glass, refusing any help.
After Gordon’s death in 1999 and with increasing illness and deafness, Robin Hope Morley played a large role in looking after his mother and people in the village will remember Lady Sonja coming to many events with Robin, even into her nineties, smiling at everyone and, when possible, having a friendly word. She was a gracious lady.
Although by nature perhaps a quiet person, happy in her home with family and friends, her painting and her garden, she was in fact also decisive and determined. When a large amount of family material arrived at Hall Place, following the death of the widow of the previous Lord Hollenden, Lady Sonja was absolutely clear what could be given to The Historical Society – for which they were very grateful – and what should be retained.
Many stories that have been told about her by people in the village who knew her, including Michael Robinson. One that illustrated her kindness came from Sue Beagley, when, as a young girl living in one of the Hall Place buildings, she had to go into hospital in London. Lady Sonja picked Sue’s favourite flowers and chose a bottle of scent which she thought suitable for a young girl. And Peter Croft emphasized Lady Sonja’s kindness: she had always treated Dian as a daughter.
Lady Sonja was a quiet part of our village but it was a village she absolutely loved – all her family have emphasized this – and the village feels a great sense of loss at her passing. It is definitely the end of an era.
Parish Magazine Article: August 2014: by Chris Rowley
Memorial Service At Leigh
Extracts from the Tribute to Sonja, Lady Hollenden 1919-2014 by Geoffrey Culverwell, read at the Memorial Service
Sonja was born on June 3rd 1919 in Bergen, Norway and died on 7 July this year. I had known her for 60 years. The Sundt family owned what at the time must have been Bergen’s only department store but when the Great Depression finally reached Norway, her father was forced into bankruptcy, an experience that Sonja never forgot, which is probably why, although she loved beautiful things, she was always careful with money, except, possibly, when it came to heating Hall Place.
After attending school in Bergen, Sonja travelled to Germany, where she studied textile design and fine arts at the Dresden School of Art. Art would always pay an important part in Sonja’s life, whether visiting exhibitions and galleries or creating her own paintings, quite often in the grounds of Hall Place. She was also for many years a keen member of the local art society.
Unfortunately, her stay in Germany was brought to an abrupt halt when, in April 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and she was obliged to return home. Unsurprisingly, the war years were not a happy time for Sonja and her family, particularly as they were cooped up in a flat which was directly opposite Gestapo headquarters.
However, in a strange way, good sometimes comes out of evil. Gordon, who had been aboard the first Allied warship to tie up on Norwegian soil, met Sonja at one of the parties to celebrate the liberation. After what must have been a whirlwind courtship, they were married in Bergen on 27th October 1945. After a brief honeymoon in Sweden, they arrived in England and set up home in London. It must have been a considerable culture shock for Sonja, especially since her new mother-in-law, Lady Dorothy Hope-Morley was, by all accounts, a formidable character. But Sonja, like a lot of small people, was no pushover. She was a very determined character and full of common sense, too.
Those characteristics stood both of them in good stead when it came to making Hall Place habitable in the 1970s. Stripped of virtually everything that wasn’t nailed down, it was a daunting project, but one which they both tackled with great determination, particularly when battling against the combined forces of the local planning authority and the Victorian Society.
Like Gordon, Sonja loved the gardens at Hall Place- I think that one of her proudest achievements was the magnificent wisteria that now covers the wall of the ‘House Garden’, which she herself grew from a seed.
Sonja always loved entertaining, something in which she was ably assisted by Susie McGregor, who regularly cooked for Sunday parties. So it was such a cruel blow to be struck down by Ménière’s Disease – the early signs of which had already begun to appear in the 1990s. It was not just the debilitating bouts of dizziness which could strike without warning, but the fact that it affected her hearing so badly that much of the time she was unable to join in conversations with more than one person at a time and, even then, with difficulty. It also prevented her from travelling to Norway to see her family. But she bore it with extraordinary fortitude.
I feel very proud I have known her and, like many, many others whose lives she touched, I shall always remember her with great affection. So I end this address with a nod towards multi-culturalism “Farvel, Kjaëre Sonja. Hvil i Fred” Farewell, dear Sonja. Rest in Peace.