Back at the Beech Hill after 50 years

Nicola Mobbs pictured with her husband Dr Charles Mobbs at their recent stay at Beech Hill Country House
Nicola Mobbs pictured with her husband Dr Charles Mobbs at their recent stay at Beech Hill Country House

As the daughter of a Royal Navy Captain Nicola Mobbs, née Lachlan, had to move around from place-to-place during her early years. In the early 1950s she spent two years living in the Beech Hill Country House, Ardmore, while her father was stationed in the city. This week, along with her husband Dr Charles Mobbs, she paid a visit to the Beech Hill for the first time in over 50 years.

Nicola’s father, Peter Lachlan, an English man, was first stationed in Derry in 1939 as an acting Sub-Lieutenant in the north Atlantic convoys on a ship called The Scimitar. He was 19-years-old at the time and it was in Derry where he first met a young woman from Revallagh, Co. Antrim, named Prue Stewart-Moore who served with Women’s Royal Naval Service.

They fell in love immediately and got married three years later in London, while Peter was serving on a ship named Woodbridge Haven.

Nicola was born shortly after the war, and her mother became a housewife thereafter while her father remained in active service. Such was the life for the family of a serviceman that Nicola had to move around the world throughout her early life, never spending more than two years in the same place.

Sometime in the early 1950s – Nicola estimates the year to be 1952-53 – her father was assigned to Derry once again, this time as captain of a ship called The Crispin. It was at this time that Nicola, along with her mother and younger brother Simon, moved into Beech Hill Country House.

Nicola has been spending a few days this week at the Beech Hill with her husband Charles before visiting relatives in Revallagh.

Commenting on her step back in time, she said: “It’s been extraordinary, some things are exactly as I remember them. The grounds are lovely, but they weren’t quite as tidy back then and there were no waterwheels. I think I preferred the old walled garden.

“It’s been spooky, really. I keep seeing things I didn’t realise I had remembered. Little things like walking towards the river and seeing some pipes running across the river.

“The house was divided into separate living quarters - I remember there were four families living here, all naval. It’s very different now. What’s now a function room used to be where our front door was and that little room with the photographs of American statesmen was our play room.”

Nicola also went on a nostalgic tour of the city centre.

“When I was here I attended Miss Jordan’s school, I can’t be sure where that was but today, on our way towards the Walled City, we passed a school building and I think that might have been it.

“There are some things I can remember clearly: The Diamond; Shipquay Street and the cannon Roaring Meg.

“I can also recall performing in the Feis. I sang a song called ‘The Waterfall’ (which I won’t sing for you now) but before I could finish I ran off the stage with embarrassment.”

Nicola now lives on the Isle of Wight, where her husband has worked as a GP for 40 years before retiring and ten years ago he was appointed High Sheriff. Her parents are both still alive and live close to them on the Isle of Wight. Nicola has worked at an organiser and fundraiser for the Tate Britain and also served as a magistrate.

Her own son, Alexander, is a classically trained musician who now works as a record label executive and has worked with Blue frontman Damon Albarn. He is expecting his first child next month, meaning Nicola will be a granny for the first time.

“I hope to bring my son and grandchild to visit this place sometime. The staff here at the Beech Hill have been very kind, we’ve been treated wonderfully and everyone is just lovely,” she added.