Herman Alexander Tiarks

Herman aged 15Herman was the third son of Henry and Agnes Tiarks, born in Streatham, Surrey,  on December 15 1875 shortly before the family moved to Foxbury. 

He was a tall boy and a tall man, “standing 6ft 6ins in my socks”, and seems to have spent most of his life on a horse.

His first experience of riding, at Foxbury, when he was only six years old, was almost his last.  His mother notes in her diary that “Herman fell off Beauty and broke left arm”. The arm took a long time to mend, and had to be reset at least once. Herman describes it in his memoirs: “At the age of 6 I had my first riding “lesson” which consisted of my pony being led to the end of a small field and then allowed to gallop back with me. Falling off I broke my left arm rather badly and had not mother insisted on it being left on and stiff, I should have been minus one. I have never moved it at the elbow since. The pain I had at that time contracted my feet and so throughout my life I have been crippled in one arm and both feet”.

This didn’t stop Herman spending a great deal of his childhood hunting, either with the West Kent Foxhounds or the Weston Harriers (in Somerset). He seemed to spend as much time with his Uncle John, Rector of Loxton, Somerset as he did at home with his parents, and as soon as he had finished his studies, first at Marlborough College and then at Christ Church Oxford he moved to Webbington near Loxton to farm and hunt. 

He clearly railed against authority, and was locked up overnight in jail with other students while at Oxford for the prank of unseating mounted police sent there to protect the visiting Prince of Wales. He was nearly sent down from Oxford for riding his horse around the College quad, and defied other College rules by keeping his dog in his rooms.

He married Jessie Follett, daughter of the Rector of Winscombe, Somerset in September 1901, who loved hunting as much as he did.  He admired her courage: she “took up riding at the age of 21 and took a fall without in any way losing her nerve...She did me a lot of good in our hunting days together, as the farmers all adored her..”. Sadly she died of tuberculosis in 1923; they had no children. Herman commissioned a stained glass window at the church of St Andrew at Loxton in her memory.

Herman on horsebackHerman and Jessie initially lived at Webbington Farm, a property owned by his father. Herman later had a grand house built nearby called Webbington House, situated at the foot of the prominent hill Crook Peak. It was almost certainly designed by EJ May, the Chislehurst architect who did so much work for the Tiarks.  The archway entrance to the courtyard carries the year 1907. It is now a hotel, and much of the original external design is obscured. 

He took hunting extremely seriously, and from Webbington he led his hunting life, keeping hounds and horses at his own kennels, reviving the Mendip foxhounds, and becoming Master (jointly with his brother Frank) from 1924 to 1928.  At one stage he had 40 horses, 40 couples of foxhounds and 35 couples of harriers at Webbington Kennels.   

A popular figure well known to all as "Squire", there are many tales both of his kindness and his eccentricities. In his rather disjointed book Hunting Reminiscences, Herman freely admits to a short temper and propensity for bad language aimed towards anyone hindering the progress of the hunt. With his great stature and short fuse Herman must have been an intimidating character to the uninitiated.

Much of his expenditure was financed by his brother Frank, who Herman regarded, for most of his life as “the best brother a fellow could ever have”. Herman taught Frank’s children to ride (and many of his other 23 nephews and nieces), and in his original will Herman left  most of his estate to Henry, Frank’s son.Frank's second son Edward (Teddy) was also a regular visitor.  Teddy was a keen flyer, and tragically died in a flying accident in 1929. His nephew's enthusiasm rubbed off on Herman who had taken up the sport himself.

The Mr TiarksBut as he got older, Herman became rather more outspoken and difficult. This was not least because in May 1936, after a particularly bad hunting accident (he had had so many during his life), he had to give up riding and later he was confined to a wheelchair. In his last few years Herman had to have constant care, and his housekeeper Gwen Southwood became his constant help and companion.  In his final will he left her much of his property, and, noting that her husband Horace had “walked out of my house and my life” in May 1953, he specifically excluded Horace from deriving any benefit from his will.

Herman wrote five codicils to his will, each of them indicating yet another break in relationship with a former friend, or a concern that others were plotting against him and Gwen: “I request my secretary Harold Dring to stand up for my housekeeper...”, “ I revoke the devise of the real estate...to my nephew Henry Tiarks..”. Finally, one month before his death, Herman severed his relationship with his secretary, Harold Dring, and his codicil notes that Harold “is shortly leaving my employment...and my said will shall take effect as if [his name] had never been originally inserted...”.

It was a sad and lonely end to a life full of fun, companionship and action, but perhaps reflected his thought in 1936: “All my life I believe I have preferred dogs, horses and Hounds to humans. They are more faithful, and they do not lie to you.

Herman is buried with Jessie in a corner of the churchyard of  St James the Great, Winscombe, close to the grave of her parents.

Herman on horse

In 1935 Lionel Edwards, the well-known sporting artist was commissioned to paint Herman's picture on his favourite horse with Crooks Peak in the background.

See photographs taken by Henry Tiarks of Lionel Edwards at work...