We have been lucky to have a number of famous visitors to Eastnor, often here for filming, TV, the Big Chill or to drive Land Rovers. But the one most remembered is Fred Dibnah, the world-famous steeplejack who came here after we met and became friends at the Welland Steam rally, where I was showing my Fowler B6 Heavy Road Locomotive, “Atlas”. Fred came over to admire the engine as it had been well known in Lancashire where he lived, and I invited him to drive it back to Eastnor with me.
Fred was passionate about engines and, as I then discovered, old buildings, especially those of the 19th century, where elements of Victorian engineering and craftsmanship survived. Eastnor filled the bill nicely. Late, after he had repaired “Atlas” in his Bolton workshop, he returned the engine here as part of one of his TV series, and then came back to film under the roof where we examined a huge cast iron beam, used over the Great Hall in the construction of the house to support the Keep. Fred was a natural broadcaster, enthusiastic, articulate and professional, he kept his cap on throughout.
Fred then generously came back to attend our steam rallies and sign books, videos and photographs for visitors. He certainly drew the crowds and had time for a chat with everyone who was prepared to wait. He sat in the shadow of “Atlas”, drinking beer steadily throughout the day. Being a celebrity did not change him: he was always himself, and he was loved for what he was.
We display photographs of Fred dangling from one of our towers in his bosun’s chair, scraping the remains of the Virginia creeper off the walls and swinging about with a long hoe trying to finish the job. If I ever meet strangers who say they recognise me, it is always because they remember my appearing on Fred’s programmes. He was a great man, and we miss him. JH-B 7th January 2011