The Mill House in the Hills 1938
The Story of Eric Cipriani Dunstan
In 1935 Eric Cipriani Dunstan had asked Barry Dierks to restore an old mill house in the hills almost 13 kilometers above Cannes. Although the house itself was tumbling down it was set in a virtual Garden of Eden. Twenty hectares of water meadows were flanked by hills of cistus, cork oaks, mimosa and vines. On red soil and limestone, wild flowers such as marsh orchids, Canterbury bells and anemones flourished. The property was flanked by a fast flowing six meter wide river, clean and sparkling in the sunshine and replenished by its own small cascade. Its sluices would ensure that Dunstan was able to create wide expanses of lawn, evoking an English garden. One wonders whether his earnings as commentator and journalist would have permitted him to commission the restoration of the old mill to the high specifications of the elegant and comfortable house it became, once Barry and Eric Sawyer had finished their work. But by then he had met Flora.
Dunstan owed his exotic middle name to the composer Philip Cipriani Potter who had been a friend of Dunstan's mother Edith Rose Turner. In 1891 Edith married Malcolm Rowley Dunstan, who would have a distinguished career as a director, first of the Midland Dairy Institute and then of Wye Agricultural College in Kent. Their son Eric was born in 1894 at Hamilton Drive in the shadow of Nottingham Castle. An undersized baby he would grow to a slim one meter 90. Eric would have no children but his two sisters, Joan and Hester, ensured the continuation of the Dunstan line.
Sent to Radley College in Oxfordshire which, at that time, his prep school considered the 'Home for Lost Dogs', Dunstan in his engaging and typewritten autobiography writes that his years there were uneventful, 'at games I was a wreck'. His final report on leaving said he had, 'a positive genius - for doing the minimum of work and escaping detection'. But he had a good voice, good enough to gain a singing scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford where, in 1912, he became an Academical Clerk singing Bass with a grant of £95 a year, having beaten fourteen other candidates to the post. An Academical Clerk was a member of the College choir but was also expected to attend lectures, tutorials and graduate like other students.
Click here to listen to a short clip of the ‘golden voice’ of Eric Dunstan