^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page

 

Architecture

Census

Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

Directory Listings

Education

Genealogy

History

Industry

Parish Records

People

Places

Transportation

War Memorials

By 1930 when the following story appeared in the Western Journal, every person on Exmoor had come to know the original story of Alfred Price's encounter with the Kaiser, and Alfred had been dead for 7 years.  Fired up by the spy stories that  began to appear in the 1920s, it is not surprising that the next version of his story should take on the twists and turns  of  a spy thriller. What is surprising is that it spread without any assistance from Alfred. 

The German Secret Service included some of the most efficient and daring men that have ever burrowed under the soil of foreign diplomacy.  Some of them were of high, even princely rank, and, if we trust the stories which came out in the war, the Kaiser's son was among them. Exmoor was honoured with one of these secret service noblemen, whose efforts, however, never ripened into very much advantage for his nation, that we know of.

On Croydon Hill, overlooking the Bristol Channel, rising 1500 feet from the lowland around , a certain Mr Tubbs, an American, had purchased and added to a building so as to produce a mansion after his own heart which he named Croydon Hall. However, in 1907 Mr Tubbs sold his estate to a German nobleman of high rank, who used the name "Count von Hochberg".

But we've heard this name before - maybe that's because of the rumour that the Kaiser was not left alone on Rapparree beach that day so long ago but had a companion whose name was von Hochberg. The plot, as they used to say, thickened. "Count von Hochberg" was a real title at the time so may not have been assumed to cover up spying activities.

 

Croydon Hall today
This is the only part of Croydon Hall remaining today and it functions as a hotel.

 

This mysterious Count is said to have been a distant relation of the Kaiser himself and he undoubtedly held a reserved commission in the German Army.  He settled down at Croydon Hall and greatly improved the place. He was of an exceedingly affable and genial nature, as the neighbours thought, and spent his money like water. He became a district councillor, churchwarden of the parish church and was readily commandeered by the parson to read the lessons in church.

During all this time he was receiving German guests in his well--constructed mansion. He caused one very large room in the house to be shut off from the other rooms except by a passage. The walls of it were padded and the steel windows were heavily shuttered and the crevices all packed. Cupboards all round the room were locked and it was afterwards revealed that they contained rifles and ammunition. Among those who visited the mansion, the people of the neighbourhood constantly thought they recognised the Kaiser Wilhelm, but as this visitor came and went under an assumed name, and very little was seen of him, except by the servants who were all Germans, not much was thought of the surmises and rumours which were indulged in by the neighbours.

During the visits of this particular guest, von Hochberg kept exceedingly close to his visitor. They breakfasted alone and occupied adjacent bedrooms. After breakfast they generally set off for a long walk along the coast, walks lasting all day, each man carrying a sporting rifle and walking along paying particular attention to the guns which the country folk were led to believe were meant for a German game which the owner intended introducing to his English friends. This particular guest always arrived at Minehead by boat from Bristol, where he was met by a motor car from the hall, and Count von Hochberg always came to meet him.

One day in the summer of 1911, Alfred Price was coming down the Channel in the paddle steamer Lorna Doone when, by the help of a rumour at Ilfracombe that the Kaiser was on Exmoor (though the rest of the world believed him to be in Sweden, whence he hastened home to meet his ministers in respect of the the famous "Agadir Incident"*) he thought he recognised among the crowd his old-time opponent after a lapse of 30 years. Alfred's curiosity was aroused, and he asked the steward who the German was. By dint of enquiries, he found that he had been speaking to "Count von Valingen", the name the Kaiser had used on his first visit. He walked up to the "Count" and commenced telling him about the incident at Ilfracombe, in order, as he said, that he might divert the Emperor, when he next saw him by recalling the story to him. Almost before he had done, the boat arrived at Minehead, and with a perfectly good accent, the Count said  "Good-day" and curtly turned away and left the boat.

Alfred continued his way back to Ilfracombe, with a fresh and most invigorating story that he had seen the Kaiser again.

And to this day, it is believed that when the Kaiser hurried back to Berlin "from Sweden" it was from Exmoor that he went, where he was making preparations in event of strife with Britain.

 

Kaiser Wilhelm II - known in the UK as Kaiser Bill

Kaiser Wilhelm II (Kaiser Bill)

In 1918,  Wilhelm was forced to abdicate and went into exile in the Netherlands. Attempts by the victorious allies to extradite and try him for war crimes came to nothing. With Adolf Hitler's rise to power after 1933, Wilhelm had hopes of being restored but they came to nothing and he died on 4 June 1941.

When the Great War broke out in the August of 1914, Count von Hochberg was at Croydon Hall and with him were, as usual,  a few German associates. It is pretty certain that he was kept closely posted with diplomatic news for on August 1 he began to prepare to leave. He put everything he could in order and was thus far ahead of the rest of the German gentry then living in England.

On August 3 he was to be found at Folkestone trying to obtain a passage across the Channel but was stopped by officials, and arrested. He was conveyed to London, where he sought and at once obtained, an interview with the Ambassador, who placed him as the head of the party for which he had obtained a passport, for the Ambassador contended he was not of military qualification. But to maintain the German Ambassador's decision Count von Hochberg did not again re-enter the army or fight in the war, but took on high office in the Red Cross Society.

All the property and goods at Croydon Hall were confiscated and when the excitement, regarding the ignorance of the British Authorities as to the pre-war German residents in England, had settled down, it was decided to let all the stories about this daring spy evaporate into thin air.

But it had all become too much for the Devon public - Alfred had gone, Kaiser Bill had been defeated and there had been a war to end all wars - it all seemed to have became irrevalent and so the story faded into the past - until this week - and we are still left wondering if there is any truth at the heart of these strange legends.

 

*The Agadir Crisis ooccured in 1911 when the German gunboat Panther visited this Moroccan port, ostensibly to defend the intgerests of German citizens and to stop the French from annexing Morocco. The visit was interpreted by the French and British as an attempt to side track their interests. The crisis ended with Germany's acceptance of territory in the Congo in return for recognition of France's claim to Morocco.

 

 
 
^ Home
< Back
? Search
Print this page