SECOND TERM AT ASTON CLINTON
Was the photo below of Evelyn taken at the same session that produced the portraits that I’ve headed the last two pages with? I think so, on the basis of something Waugh wrote during his second term at Aston Clinton.
On 22 February, 1926, he mentioned that proofs of photographs had been sent to him by a photographer from Tring. He wrote that they were amusing, in particular the one in ‘ordinary clothes’ in which he looks like a ‘popular preacher’. The one with the sermonising expression could, in my opinion, be either of those heading ‘Evelyn at Aston Clinton’ or ‘First Term at Aston Clinton’. But the hair in the first of these pictures looks so like the hair in the picture below - which I feel may be Evelyn dressed in less-ordinary clothes - that I think the photographs do come out of the same session.
Evelyn Waugh in February 1926, taken by an unknown photographer from Tring
An even more interesting photograph of Evelyn is coming up a little further down this page, properly located and dated for the first time.
To begin with, it has to be said that Evelyn had action-packed Christmas holidays. Before Christmas, Richard and LIza got married in London with Evelyn as best man. The drink flowed, shall we say. Then Evelyn travelled to Paris with Bill Silk, visiting restaurants, art galleries and a male brothel. Bill was the overtly gay one, but Evelyn got stuck in too. Evelyn arranged a scenario where his youth was to be entered by a large black man. Clearly, Evelyn was moving in gay circles at least some of the time.
A week in London was then followed by a week in Barford with Alastair. Evelyn reported that he and Alastair were being forced by Mrs Graham to go to a dance - or country ball - and that it would be hateful. The next day Evelyn commented that the ball was worse than he had expected, that it lasted until 4.30am and that as a result of drinking champagne, Alastair had driven the car up a bank on the way home.
And then the new term loomed large. Richard Plunket Greene could see that Evelyn was going to be stranded at Aston Clinton without the use of his car, so he did a very considerate thing: he bought Evelyn a motorbike!
On Wednesday, 20 January 1926, Evelyn reported that Alastair had gone away and that Richard had bought him a Douglas motorbike from a shop in Sussex Place. On Tuesday, Evelyn learned how to drive it at Kingston, taking a friend’s advice that the only way to learn was by his own trial and error. He was launched down a long road in Richmond Park and after an hour he was just about in control of his bike. Then, on the Wednesday he wrote the diary entry, he drove back in to central London. Part of the lamp fell off, the front brake and stand broke off, as did the number plate. Apart from that the journey was hunky dory! At Gow’s on the Strand he tucked into oysters before going for tea to Mrs Plunket Greene who lent him the letters she’d received from her uncle, Von Hugel, which she was to get published a year or two later. Evelyn was tired by the time he’d driven back to his father’s house in Golders Green.
The map below shows most of Evelyn’s significant bike locales that first couple of days in London. He bought the bike north of Hyde park, learned to drive it south of the river, parked it at home in Golders Green (top of map below) and then drove it to a fish restaurant on the Strand. Oh, yes, and he went to the Plunket Greenes’ house at Sumner Place. I haven’t marked that on the map but it’s close to Fulham Road, between the Thames and Hyde Park.
Did Evelyn find the bike a godsend? He doesn’t say in his diary. He was already used to getting around London easily enough by taxi and tube. The crux of the matter would be its performance in getting him to and from Aston Clinton.
On Tuesday 26 January, Evelyn wrote that he’d driven to Aston Clinton the day before but that at Tring he’d had to dismount, walk a long way and purchase a new tyre.
So how did Evelyn find the school? Much changed? He tells us that there were two new masters, one quite nice called Gleed and a deranged one called Chambers.
On Friday, 29 January 1926, Evelyn reported that his trip to Oxford had gone well and that the bike hadn’t let him down. He met Alastair and Claud at the New Reform Club and was driven by Alastair in his car to East Henred, where Alastair had a studio. The place was cold and draughty and Alastair was so poorly that he couldn’t make a meal. He did manage to drive them back to Oxford where Evelyn ate oysters in the George with that naughty pair, Harold Acton and Brian Howard. However, the journey back home on the bike was difficult in the rain and wind. Evelyn was without lights and kept sliding over the road.
Driving home in the rain, with no lights, after a night with Harold Acton and Brian Howard, the two real life inspirations behind Anthony Blanche? “T-t-t-tempting f-f-f-fate, darling.”
Alastair was then working for the Shakespeare Head Press in Stratford, and in order to get away from his mother was renting a house in East Hendred, south of Oxford. Another place that Evelyn should have been able to visit fairly easily with his new wheels, though on this occasion the East Hendred-Oxford legs were travelled in Alastair’s car. Of course, when I say that Alastair rented the house to get away from his mother, he still spent much of his time at Barford House. As did Evelyn.
On Saturday, 30 January, Evelyn wrote that he rode to Barford to meet Alastair and Claud. The journey was a disaster. First, it was raining. Then, at Aylesbury, a nut came off his clutch and had to be replaced at some cost. He got to Banbury at six o’clock and set off up the Warwick Road expecting to be in Barford an hour later. Three miles up the road the bike stopped. A taxi had to take Evelyn to a garage. The garage sent a car out for the bike and the mechanic told Evelyn that it had ‘sheared off a key’. Evelyn couldn’t pay for the job so had to leave his silver hip flask to be reclaimed when he was in funds. Setting off from Banbury again about nine, he knew by this time that Alastair and Claud were long gone and that he would have to stay the night at Barford House without his chums. Five miles from Barford he was misdirected to Kineton where his lights stopped working. He rode in the dark to Wellesborne where he was able to get more carbide for his lamp. At ten he arrived at his destination, wet and hungry. Alastair’s mother served up food, and, importantly, drink. Pyjamas, hankies and socks were obtained from Alastair’s room and so Evelyn was sorted for the night. In the morning, the journey back was a doddle with the bike performing like a well-oiled machine.
That catalogue of misfortune can be followed on the map below. The journey to Barford was from bottom right of the map to top left, so the bike symbol makes it look as if Evelyn was going backwards. Quite appropriate really, as it must have felt that way for much of the night.
If I can just draw attention to the bike symbol three miles north of Banbury (that’s the fourth green bike down in the above map). The scene, between Evelyn and the owner of a garage, goes something like this:
“You won’t get any further on that bike tonight, sir. It’s sheared off a key.”
“Sheer doff a quay?”
“Sheared off a key, sir.”
“Oh well, I expect it can be fixed.”
“Surely, sir. But if you can’t pay, you’ll have to leave that silver hip flask as surety.”
“But I’m drinking from the blessed thing.”
Evelyn swallowed heavily.
“Seeing as it’s empty now, sir. Perhaps we can do business.”
I guess Evelyn would have both amused and horrified his friends with stories of his bike adventures. And maybe that explains the way that the last diary entry ends. Richard and Elizabeth had been staying at Aston Clinton for a few days, By the end of their visit they had persuaded Evelyn to buy a new motorbike, a Francis-Barnett.
On Ash Wednesday, 1926, (17 Feb) Evelyn wrote that he left the old bike at a garage in Camden Town. The new bike was very small but straightforward to ride. He didn’t like it at first but quickly warmed to it. He left the new bike in London and returned to Aston Clinton by train. The entry goes on to say that on Saturday Evelyn went to Tring to dine with the Cockburns after annoying the boys at school by having some of them caned for riding push-bikes.
That seems a bit harsh! The boys may have been trying to emulate their master. Years later, when Waugh wrote about his teaching days, he said that he was unpopular with the boys until he got a motorbike, after which his stock shot up. He claimed that he bribed them to behave well by letting them strip down the engine. Anyway, the entry continues by telling us that the previous day had been a holiday. The Francis Barnett had been delivered to Aylesbury. The bike needed to be run in, so Evelyn drove it slowly to Oxford. He lunched with Claud and enjoyed talking to him. Then he went to a tailor’s before having dinner at the George. After a party at Merton College, Evelyn visited John Sutro and then returned to Aston Clinton by bike. Opposite the Bell, the bike broke down. But the next morning Evelyn realised that it had simply run out of petrol, making a mockery of the advertised petrol consumption. Anyway, the night before it had been 2am by the time Evelyn got home so that on the day of writing his diary entry - on the day of discovering the empty petrol tank - he was tired and ill-tempered with the boys, even the most innocent of them.
As an aside, that diary entry implies that Evelyn preferred, at least when on the bike, to approach the school by the shorter drive. Check it out on the map featured in the first of these Aston Evelyn pages.
At this point I am going to talk about a photograph. The picture is of Evelyn sitting on a motorbike, no argument about that. And by the bulge in his jacket pocket I’d say that he’d got his silver hip flask back!
Evelyn Waugh in February 1926, taken by an unknown photographer outside Aston Clinton House School.
Recently, Stephen Meachen alerted me to the fact that this photograph has been wrongly attributed in the Waugh literature. Christopher Sykes used the photo in his biography of Waugh but didn’t suggest a date or location. Martin Stannard, in his biography, captions the image with: ‘The famous and much-misdated photograph of Evelyn Waugh on Magdalen Bridge, Oxford, not when he was an undergraduate but on one of his flying visits in 1925 while schoolteaching at Aston Clinton, near Tring. He sent the photograph on a postcard to his mother from Aston Clinton on 20th February, 1925.’
Waugh wasn’t at Aston Clinton until September 1925 and didn’t have a motorcycle until January 1926. If the date on the postcard is 20th February 1926 (Waugh’s handwriting can be difficult to decipher), this makes more sense as Waugh is wearing the same jacket, and possibly tie, that he is wearing in the studio portraits that he mentions receiving on 22 February, 1926.
The bike in the photo was definitely the Francis-Barnett, as Stephen Meachen has told me, and as the image below helps confirm.
That deals with the ‘what’ and ‘when’, but where was the photo taken? Stephen is adamant that the photo was not taken on Magdalen Bridge and suggests that it may have been taken on the bank of the Cherwell nearby. I came across the answer as to where the photo really was taken the other day. In an article titled ‘Aston Clinton House 1923-1931’ in Records of Buckinghamshire, Diana Gulland uses the photograph of Evelyn on a bike. Her caption reads: ‘Evelyn Waugh outside Aston Clinton House School 1925. Note that the urns have been removed from the balustrade shown in fig. 2, they were either sold or transferred to The Pleasaunce, Overstrand, in 1923.’
This is correct (and a discovery, I believe) except for the slippage on the year from 1926 to 1925. The figure 2 referred to is the image below. I think the photographer was standing close to the left edge of the house, with Evelyn posing near the left of the balustrade close to the house, his bike pointing to the left edge of the scene. However, there’s probably another way of positioning the photographer and the bike so that this piece of writing and research will be corrected in turn by someone else. And so it goes on!
A better way to look at it is that Sykes, Stannard, Meachan, Gulland and, yes, McLaren, have all helped build up an understanding of what that particular image represents. In the end, it’s an important photograph, the only one I know of that’s taken during Waugh’s sojourn at Aston Clinton School. I mean the only one taken on the unique premises.
The above image appears in the article ‘Aston Clinton House 1923-32’ by Diana Gulland, Records of Buckinghamshire, volume 48. The caption there reads: South east front and entrance front of Aston Clinton House. From 1923 sale Catalogue of mansion and estate. By courtesy of Buckinghamshire Archaeological Society.
Actually, the above photo, juxtaposed with the one of Evelyn on the bike, reminds me that the cover of Paula Byrne’s Mad World, Evelyn Waugh and the secrets of Brideshead uses the motorbike pic, and photoshops Madresfield Court into the background in place of the mass of trees. It’s just a coincidence that a grand house is used though, because when the bike crops up as a straight illustration inside the book, it is said to be Evelyn sitting on a motorbike on Magdalen Bridge, Oxford.
OK, back to the chase. On Friday, 26 February 1926, Evelyn reported that on the Tuesday he’d gone to Oxford to take tea with Claud and revisit his tailor. Then he rode on a wet, unfamiliar road to Shenley where his brother, Alec, was staying in a local pub. He dined with him, stayed the night and got back to Aston Clinton in time for breakfast.
All done on the Francis-Barnett, of course. Shenley is in the opposite direction to Oxford, so Evelyn first went 25 miles west, then 45 miles east, then 20 miles home. 90 miles in all, nothing much in a motorised vehicle. The diary entry continues by stating that on Thursday he drove to London in fabulous weather and came back at night through banks of fog which alternated with moonlit stretches of road. He’d had a sociable day with his mother, the Plunket Greenes and friends.
That’s 60 miles back and forth from Golders Green plus at least ten miles in central London. Again, nothing for a biker getting the hang of his new wheels.
At the beginning of the last diary entry, Evelyn lamented having agreed to go to a dance in Tring with Claud and a girl he’d fallen in love with called Ruth Stevenson. But in the aftermath of the dance, Evelyn wrote that the dance had been all right after all. He’d arrived frozen after schoolwork and bike-riding, to be given a big glass of brandy by Claud. Ruth’s friend succeeded in drawing Evelyn out of his schoolmaster mode to talk of fine food and new music. Evelyn only danced once with Ruth and was intimidated by her sexual vitality. He thought that Claud was too young for such a woman. How old was Claud? 22 in 1926. But the time is not yet ripe to talk in depth about Claud Cockburn.
On Thursday, 4 March 1926, Evelyn rode to London again to see his mother who was not in good spirits. He dined at Earl’s Terrace, taxing John Rothenstein with lying about the Ponsonby affair. More friends turned up. He rode back over frozen roads which began to thaw with the morning sun as he drove north towards the school.
What was the Ponsonby affair? The time Waugh and Matthew Ponsonby got arrested for being drunk in charge of a vehicle when they were in search of late night booze in central London. Waugh had to spend the night in jail but Matthew Ponsonby’s parents got him released. The incident happened before Waugh’s time at Aston Clinton (Easter 1925) and made it into Brideshead Revisited where it is Sebastian Flyte and Boy Mulcaster that are arrested.
On Saturday, 13 March 1926, Evelyn wrote about a cocktail party his brother had thrown. Elizabeth Ponsonby, a fashionable young woman that Evelyn had had his eye on, didn’t turn up. Alec’s new wife-to-be was reportedly ugly and unintelligent. Disenchanted with the evening, Evelyn rode home that night instead of waiting until morning and found the drive bitterly cold.
I’m concentrating too much on motorcycle references here. It was just after getting the Francis-Barnett that two boys at the school, Charles and Edmund, were mentioned in Waugh’s diary for the first time. Evelyn wrote that the two boys took him to see a secret pond they were making in a corner of the park. They’d dug it out themselves and had diverted a stream to flow into it. Evelyn helped them stock it with some fish from an established pond near the stables.
On the first of March, Charles and Edmund were again mentioned. Evelyn having been for a run with them. And a week later he wrote that all one day he’d been tired, with only the prospect of Edmund calling on him the next day reconciling Evelyn to a match against Oxford. After that game (football? rugby?) in which Charles played well, people went to the Bell where there was much drinking. Evelyn was one of the adults who danced with the boys and all was going well until a drunk Matthew Ponsonby turned up. He broke a light, abused his family, then went off without paying for anything. The following day, Evelyn went to the pond and watched Charles and Edmund digging there, Charles covered in mud, Edmund’s leg sunburned in the gap between his Eton trousers and his socks.
A modern perspective would say that teacher Waugh was getting far too close to pupils Charles and Edmund. Dancing with them in the Bell under the influence of alcohol? Boundaries, Evelyn, boundaries. The Bell was supposed to be Evelyn’s escape from the school, not a dubious extension of the school’s premises.
On Saturday, 13 March 1926, Evelyn noted that the children were beginning to misbehave so that he’d had to discipline them. This went against his instincts, but if it created some distance between teacher and pupils then I’m glad to hear it.
Then, nearly two weeks later, Waugh reported that Dick Young , his fellow teacher from North Wales (and the inspiration behind Grimes in Decline and Fall) had come on a visit, riding a Sunbeam motorbike.
Evelyn wrote that he and Dick Young dined at the Bell and then watched the pupils play football. Young was besotted with the looks of one particular boy after which Waugh and Young got drunk together. (Oh great: Evelyn has invited a man he knows to be a paedophile to the school he works at, possibly even introducing him to the boys in licensed premises.)
There is no diary entry until April 1. In that entry, Waugh wrote that Young of Llanddulas visited and was a nuisance - constantly under the influence of drink. He drops in the observation that Young ‘seduced a garage boy in the hedge’.
Oh, even greater: the paedophile has struck. Good job for Evelyn that it’s a garage boy and not a schoolboy that gets assaulted. Disgusting behaviour all round. I suppose one has to remember that society’s norms were very different back then.
The next diary entry that catches my eye was written from Midsomer Norton, which Evelyn had known since childhood. On Monday, 12 April 1926, Evelyn wrote that term had come to a dreary conclusion. He’d gone to Barford for a weekend, then to London where he’d seen off Alastair who was sailing to Constantinople. After that, Waugh had felt the need to escape London and had got on ‘a bike’ (his own, I suspect) and travelled to Midsomer Norton, via an overnight stop at a pub in Hungerford, through beautiful countryside. At his aunts’ house he had been reading old novels and listening to their complaints about modern life.
OK, a chance to do some innocent mapping and to get all that Dick Young business out of my head. A chance for Evelyn to get his mind clear too as he drove from Golders Green (pink pin) to Hungerford (yellow pin) then from Hungerford to his aunts’ place at Midsomer Norton (violet pin).
The day after the last entry, Evelyn wrote that he’d had an enjoyable afternoon at Wells. He had lunched with Roger Hollis at the Swan, mixing champagne and brandy. After being refused more drinks, they made their way to Farrington Gurney, Evelyn remarking that it was surprising that they were not killed en route. They drank in a pub until the publican there too refused to serve them any more, at which point Evelyn claimed to be Hobhouse of Castle Cary, presumably a local landowner. Anyway, Evelyn and Roger got as much as they wanted to drink after all. Next, the pair lay in a field, with Roger smoking. Home, Evelyn came to the conclusion that his aunts thought he’d been drinking.
Let’s just go over that with the aid of the map below. First, an easy drive along country roads to cover the ten miles that separate Midsomer Norton (purple pin) from Wells (pink pin). The ten miles north from Wells to Farrington Gurney (turquoise) were a different matter, as Evelyn was drunk, and, as he says, it was odd that they didn’t die in the process.
Even odder that Evelyn, legless after his drinking under the pseudonym of Hobhouse of Castle Cary, wasn’t killed travelling those last two or three miles to Midsomer Norton. ‘I think the aunts thought I had been trying to kill myself and others,’ is probably to the point.
Is there a Hobhouse of Castle Cary? Well, there is a Castle Cary, I’ve just spotted it on a map, the same distance south of Wells that MIdsomer Norton is north. So there probably was a Hobhouse. I bet his ears were burning that day. Not to mention his cheeks and his bladder. He probably woke up the next day with the most debilitating of hangovers, allowing Evelyn to wake up fresh as a daisy and with an eye for the open road.
Evelyn mentions that he went to Clevedon, the day after his drunkenness. That is on the east coast, about twenty miles from Midsomer Norton in a north west direction. But further than that if the road layout meant that it made sense for Evelyn to go via Bristol, as I suspect it would have. A week then passed without diary entry before Waugh wrote that he’d been to Sherborne and seen the school with a porter who’d known Evelyn’s father and thought his brother, Alec, was mad. Evelyn found the place charming.
Of course, Sherborne was the public school that Alec and Arthur attended as teenagers. Evelyn had heard a lot about the glorious school and would always wish he had gone there instead of to Lancing on the South Downs.
So from MIdsomer Norton (purple) to Sherborne (green). Then from Sherborne to Taunton (yellow).
The plan was then to go all the way to Fowey (red) but instead Waugh stopped over at Bishop’s Hull (blue). It didn’t exactly break the journey so perhaps Evelyn had a social call to make. He doesn’t say in his diary. What he does say is that he arrived at Fowey very wet at 5.30pm. A benign butler gave him a bath and a drink and, once dressed in evening clothes, he was presented to his hosts, both of which Waugh described as ‘hideous’. He enjoyed his visit immensely. The entry ends with Evelyn announcing that he’d returned home from Fowey in a single day, a driving feat which he was proud of.
That’s 280 miles on his bike. At 40mph, the journey would have taken about seven hours to get to Golders Green. Plus a stop to get half-cut at lunchtime, surely. Anyway, I can just picture Evelyn that day:
By the way, that’s not the balustrade around the turning circle at Aston Clinton that you can see on the right of the above photo. Evelyn isn’t even thinking about Charles, Edmund and whatever else the summer term might bring along. Not yet.
But soon he was. Because on Tuesday, 4 May 1926, he received a wire from Dr Crawford saying that the new term would start as arranged. Evelyn went out on his bike to see the ‘stricken areas’ and found the traffic ‘quite fantastic’.
What are ‘stricken areas’ and ‘fantastic traffic’ a reference to? Find out in Summer Term at Aston Clinton. Though I won’t be posting that for a while as I have other projects that need my immediate attention. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m a lot keener to get back to Aston Clinton than Evelyn Waugh ever was.
What am I talking about? Ultimately, Evelyn was loyal to all aspects of his one and only life.