In the Text and Photo captions, "Grandpoods" (grandfather) is Michael Paul Grace.
"Grandmoods" (grandmother) is his wife Margarita Mason Grace.
"Dita", or "Mother" is Michael's daughter Margarita Grace Phipps, the mother of "Peggie,"
Dita's daughter, Peggie Phipps Boegner, is the author of "Halcyon Days: An American Family through
Three Generations". © 1986 from which these photos and excerpts have been scanned.
Copyright Photographs and Text
reproduced with acknowledgement
to Peggie Phipps Boegner From
her book "Halcyon Days"
published in ©1986 by Harry
The Great Hall, Battle Abbey c. 1906
"Mother was staying with Aunt Helen in
Scotland when Father proposed. She answered
that she wasn't sure that she wanted to get
married, and he sank to his knees in the soggy
bog where they were standing and said, "I
won't get up until you have accepted me." And,
as always, Mother accepted anything that Father
asked. When Father and Mother finally decided
to announce their engagement, they drove up
to Beaufort Castle. The whole Phipps family was
gathered on the front steps to greet them.
Mother was seized by a sudden panic of
shyness. She begged Father to stop, jumped
out of the car, ran around the house and up the
back stairs. She is referring to this incident in a
charming letter which she later wrote from
Battle Abbey. "All the family -- Aunts, Uncles,
and Cousins -- will be here to meet my
wonderful husband-to-be. Jay Bird, you will
have to be brave -- there are no back stairs at
Grandpoods, as we called Mother's father, was small
and round, with pink cheeks, bright blue eyes, and a
sparkling look. Without the slightest effort on his part
he charmed everyone and made them feel that they
were of the utmost importance. He lavished his
affections on his four daughters and nine
grandchildren. Each one of us secretly felt that he or
she was his favorite.
When we were children, he spent half the year with us
or we with him. He would stay at Westbury for a few
weeks in the autumn, and then we would spend the
winter with him in one of the Breakers' cottages in
Palm Beach. In the spring, he would stop by on his
way to England, and we joined him and the rest of
the Michael Grace family for August and September.
So for me, he was the inmost part of the family along
with Mother, Father, my brothers, and my dog. I
found one of his old calling cards, engraved with his
name and two addresses: "Incas," Palm Beach, and
also, his American family was his second home.
Dita and Nurse Annette inside the Abbey Gateway
Though Grandpoods went to Florida for the winter
and took a shooting moor in Scotland each summer,
mostly for the sake of his sons-in-law, the place he
reallv loved was Battle Abbey in Sussex. There he
lived like a country squire surrounded by his family,
cousins, and friends, and it was from there that he
gave in marriage his two youngest daughters my
mother and Aunt Glad.
I think 40 Belgrave Square in London must have been
home to Grandmoods, and Battle Abbey to
Grandpoods. The attractive village of Battle in Sussex
consists of a broad main street leading up to the
Abbey gates. The gates are flanked by two large
towers with an archway between them and a high
stone wall on either side. One could walk along to the
top of the wall, getting a bird's-eye view of the village
and the churchyard. Some steps led down to the
circular rose garden and to a terraced garden sloping
to the woods and farmland.
Dita about to embark on a road trip 1904
There were a lot of exciting things to do and see. If
we weren't accompanying Nanny pushing Michael's
pram through the lanes, we were allowed to play in
the gardens. They weren't ordinary gardens --
somewhere in the shrubbery there was the opening to
a tunnel that led from the Abbey to Hastings-on-the-
Sea, six miles away. A monk in peril could escape to
the seashore by this tunnel and set sail for France.
Along with terraces, there were places made of a
different stone from the rest of the walls. This was
where the monks or nuns who disobeyed were walled
up and left to die.
There were several phantoms on the place. A white
swan sometimes visited one of the spare rooms, and
on moonlit nights the ghosts of the monks murdered
by Cromwell were seen slowly walking up and down
the yew walk that led to the rose garden.
We were in the habit of carrying salt in our pockets to
ward off any spirit. If one threw salt and made the
sign of the cross, any evil spirit would have to vanish!
(The rose gardens and the ghost walk have been
The Gates of Battle Abbey, Aunt Glad at the
Wheel c. 1906
We also enjoyed more modern amusements. Everv
Wednesday we could trail after the tourists who came
to see the ruins of the original Abbey, which was the
chief attraction for sightseers. The roof was gone, but
the walls outlined the plan of the long refectory, the
cloisters, and the cells. Purple-toad ivy grew between
the stones, and the close-cut grass dotted with tiny
daisies made an emerald carpet. Nearby stood a small
but elaborate stone and blue- enamel monument that
marked the spot where King Harold fell in 1066,
pierced through the heart by a Norman arrow. For
two shillings, tourists were allowed into the great hall
of the Abbey, an enormous two-storied baronial hall
complete with banners, knights' armor, and a priest-
hole hidden in the upper gallery. They also enjoyed
peering in the windows of the drawing room to see
the vaulted blue ceiling painted with silver stars and
to watch Grandmoods and her friends having tea.
M.P.Grace and daughter Dita with the donkeycart
which overturned - 1903
The Websters, who owned Battle Abbey and rented it
to Grandpoods on a seven-year basis for twenty-one
years, were friends and neighbors. One of their girls,
called Pickles, was so pretty that even at that early
age we all were under her spell. For some unknown
reason, an old gypsy woman had cursed the Webster
family by the sword, water, and fire. All of these
curses were carried out, and only one of the children,
After the First World War when the lease for Battle
Abbey had ended, Grandpoods was visiting Aunt Glad
in Frant. He said that he would like to see his old
home again before he died. She collected all her
gasoline rations, and they drove the twenty miles to
Battle Before visiting the Abbey, which had been
converted into a school, Grandpoods went into one of
the small shops on the village street. Someone must
have recognized him because when he came out a
few minutes later, the whole village had gathered
around to shake his hand and wish him well -- no
greater tribute could have been paid to royalty.
Aunt Gladys and Grandpoods setting out from the
Abbey in c. 1906
During the Second World War, the Abbey was turned
into a hospital for the soldiers. The patients were
delighted by signs beneath the bells in the dormitories,
saving "Ring twice for a mistress," In 1976, it was
bought by a group of Americans who handed it over to
the Historic Properties Commission (later to become
English Heritage in the early 80's) and although the
school continues to function, the Abbey grounds are
open to visitors
With friends at Battle Abbey, Grandmoods,
seated left, Grandpoods, standing right, and
Grandpoods is buried in the churchyard in
Battle Abbey just across from the rose garden
wall. On his simple tombstone is engraved
Cordial Old Man
What youth was in thy years
What wisdom in thy levity
What kindness in every utterance
of that pure soul
Few of the spirits of the glorified
I'd spring to earlier at the gates
and beneath a tombstone beside him lies his
Margarita Mason Grace.
Mr.Brian Burns of Fort Lauderdale, Florida USA wrote:
The Grace Family at Battle Abbey 1895 -1915
"Dear Mr. White,
Your web site on Battle Abbey was most enjoyable. Thank you for your efforts.
A great-granduncle of mine, Michael Paul Grace, leased the Abbey from the Webster family for his residence for the
twenty one years spanning roughly 1894-1915.
My aunt, his grand-niece, has engaged me to assemble a family history including Michael Grace's years at Battle
The principal source available is a lavish picture-memoir authored by his grand-daughter, Peggie Phipps Boegner,
which includes a number of photographs of his family in residence at the Abbey.
One anecdote told by Mrs. Boegner leads me to suspect their may be persons of your acquaintance who might have
memories -- or at least passed-down stories -- of Battle and the Abbey at that time, and perhaps even of the Grace
family while they resided there:
"After the First World War when the lease for Battle Abbey had ended, Grandfather was visiting Aunt Glad in Frant.
He said that he would like to see his old home again before he died. She collected all her gasoline rations, and they
drove the twenty miles to Battle. Before visiting the Abbey, which had been converted into a school, Grandfather
went into one of the small shops on the village street. Someone must have recognized him because when he came
out a few minutes later, the whole village had gathered around to shake his hand and wish him well -- no greater
tribute could have been paid to royalty."
If you can point me to any persons I might contact, please send me a note,
I shall be indebted."
A house-party at Battle Abbey, seated far
left, Aunt Gladys, third from
left,Grandmoods,far right, , standing far
left, Grandpoods, fourth from left, Uncle