- Queen Mary, 1937, West Sussex Record Office
I asked him how long he had been interested in gardening. He said 3 months and laughed at his own ignorance and impatience.
* Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Highdown became a discreet rendezvous for the British Royal family. Frederick’s mother Lucy Stern had society connections with the Royals. Also, the then Princess Elizabeth’s brother, David Bowes Lyon, was obsessed with horticulture.
During the 1930s there were at least six Royal visits as recorded in the Highdown Visitors’ Book. Royals from Sweden and Romania also visited.
The Sterns took photographs of the Royals always in the chalk garden following a well-defined route. Highlights included the 1933 visit of the chatty Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII who had to abdicate in 1936.
Years later, Frederick, a chain smoker of strong Turkish cigarettes, reminisced to his nephew James about Queen Mary’s visit in 1937, when they went inside Highdown Towers, “I don’t’ mind telling you I was panting for a cigarette after that tea (chuckle)… The Lady in waiting (forget her name now) got out of the sofa there, came over to me, and asked in a whisper (chuckle) if I ‘happened to have such a thing as a cigarette! Her Majesty would so much like to smoke’ – Never been so surprised in me life!” *
Sources: The Royal Archives; Worthing Library; Highdown Visitors Book, West Sussex Record Office; Archives of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; ‘Highdown’ by James Stern, The London Magazine April 1981*.