A little Texas flair
Still reeling from a trip to Scotland for the Berwickshire Hunt Ball
After two years of attending Houston galas of various stripes: Arts balls, child advocacy balls, disease balls etc., a personal invitation to one of Scotland’s premiere social events — the Berwickshire Hunt Ball — from a Houston socialite-cum-Lady was intriguing to say the least. Combine it with a long weekend at one of the finest Edwardian estates on Earth, and it was downright irresistible. Throw in kilts, Scottish reeling (dancing), and wonderful array of British accents, and it was like being in a PBS series. This is not your father’s white tie affair. It’s your great grandfather’s, and it’s the way these things should be.
Among the 260 attendees at the 2010 Berwickshire Hunt Ball were 4½ Texans: Lady Loraine Palmer formerly of Dallas and Houston; Sese and Jim McElwain of Dallas: James Douglas “Jay” McMurrey, III of Houston: and yours truly (I’m the half Texan if you’re keeping score, as I’m a native New Englander). On hand to prepare meals was House of Lords Executive Chef Mark Thatcher. Our gracious hosts were Lady Palmer and her husband, Lord Adrian Palmer, who generously opened the opulent halls of Manderston – his breathtaking Scottish country estate.
The Berwickshire fox hunt dates back to 1740, making it the oldest ongoing hunt in Scotland. “[The Berwickshire Hunt Ball] is the grandest hunt ball in the country without a shadow of a doubt,” Lord Palmer says. “It’s become extremely rare to hold a hunt ball at a private home. That’s what makes it so special to host it at Manderston. [Ball Chairwoman] Elaine Auld asked Lady Palmer if we might consider hosting and she said ‘yes’ without really knowing what was involved.”
It was Manderston’s third consecutive year hosting the event, although next year a change of venue may be in order – if only for the sake of variety.
“There’s no real point in accepting an invitation to the Berwickshire ball unless you know how to reel,” Lady Palmer insists; a sentiment echoed by her husband. Although the long, open bar and stunning party guests offer plenty of supplemental entertainment, reeling is without a doubt the main attraction. Guests are given dance cards, and each reel is announced by a sign wrapped hilariously in Christmas lights carried through the main hall. It’s up to guests to know the steps. Music was provided by the Infamous Grouse Band.
The Texas contingent was [mercifully] treated to a few reeling lessons earlier in the week conducted by Lord Palmer’s son, George, and “dainty” (his words) daughter, Edwina. We managed to grasp everything save the speed and relative violence of the dancing. The most impressive reelers among our group were The Rt. Honorable James Arbuthnot – a Member of Parliament and direct descendant of King James V of Scotland – and his lovely wife Emma Arbuthnot, a District Judge. Mrs. Arbuthnot, in particular, put on quite a clinic.
Most unfortunately, the day of the ball I was stricken by the touch of the stomach flu – by which I mean that for five hours it flipped me upside down, hung me from the rafters by my ankles and swatted me around with a large stick like a piñata. Alas, I was not in any condition to put my newfound dance moves on full display. While I did manage to suit up in my rented white tie and lumber downstairs, being tossed around in circles was not on my short list of things to do. Luckily for me, there was plenty of fun to be had, and all of the fresh orange juice I could drink.
Lord Adrian Bailie Nottage Palmer, 4th Baron Palmer & 4th Baronet, succeeded his uncle as a member of the House of Lords, and is one of 90 hereditary peers that remained following the passage of the House of Lords Act in 1999 – legislation devised by Tony Blair’s Labour Party designed to end automatic hereditary peerage. Lord Palmer – at the insistence of his children – stood for election to his seat in 1999, becoming one of only 28 crossbenchers (independents) elected.
The Lady of the House
Lady Lorraine Palmer (née McMurrey) has lived the sort of life that demands a thorough memoir chronicling everything from her debutant upbringing in Dallas, to her early adulthood in Houston as an inner city schoolteacher, to her courtship by Ted Turner, and now her fairytale marriage to a member of Britain’s House of Lords. There’s a great deal more in between, but it deserves far more space than that with which I have to work.
She’s the type of woman whose every word you hang off of as though your life depended on it, and with the wisdom and certitude with which she dispenses advice and anecdotes, it very well may. Her life story – though far from finished – would be a guaranteed page-turner (hint hint, Loraine). Regal and stunningly beautiful, Lady Palmer brings joyful Texas bravado to the Manderston estate.
The Manor House
“It has been described architecturally as one of the finest Edwardian homes in England,” Lord Palmer says with an almost impossible combination of humility and pride – characteristic of a man who fully grasps both the privilege and immense responsibility of his Lordship and position as master and caretaker of the Manderston estate where his family has lived almost continuously since 1855, and where he has lived since 1978. “Manderston was built for entertaining, making it the perfect place for the Berwickshire Ball.”
Among its roles as both a personal residence and popular tourist attraction, Manderston was also featured in the 2002 British reality series The Edwardian Country House (retitled The Manor House for its 2003 rebroadcast in the United States on PBS). For those looking to experience its grandeur first hand, visitors may arrange to stay in one of Manderston’s many well appointed guest rooms, partaking in its many activities including tennis, hiking, cricket, riding, and hunting. “The gardens are like nothing else, and there are 20 stately homes in visiting distance.” Lord Palmer notes. “We host many pheasant shooting parties.”
Over the past few years, the Palmers have been visited at Manderston by noteworthy Houstonians including Mrs. Louise and Dr. Denton Cooley and Joanne King Herring.