Sybil Peel was a very special lady; a sharp mind even in her nineties, she would recall in great detail her childhood days in the Peel family house at Sunnyside overlooking Underhill Park in Mumbles. A direct descendant of Sir Robert Peel, she was the last of a truly great line. We became great friends, spending many happy hours over real Edwardian teatimes in her dining room, the walls covered with portraits of the Peel family. There were tales of corncrakes at haymaking time, father going to work on horseback in the town, and skating in winter on the flooded meadow below the house, which is now the local cricket pitch.
An old friend Paul has a late 19th century watercolour of the meadow, with Sunnyside in the background. It’s marvelous. The haymaking scene shows an old horse-driven cart laden with hay, with farm workers gathering and loading the hay just as Sybil described to me decades ago. She remembered everything, and each year showed me the exact hole in the wall by the old lawn tennis court where the spotted flycatcher nested. There were many natural history artifacts in the house; books, paintings and stuffed birds, but best of all were her sister Violet’s nature diaries, written before the Second World War. Of no real value to Sybil, many of these were offered to me, but out of politeness I refused. She did however manage to persuade me to take the case of stuffed Pallas’s sand grouse, shot by her father during the famous eruption of 1888. What a mistake not to have accepted Violet’s natural history diaries, a treasure trove of what the countryside would have been like on Gower in the early years of the last century.
On Sybil’s death Sunnyside was emptied, bought and sanitized by the manger of a local supermarket. The diaries and everything else disappeared. What irony.