May 22, 2013. I’ve just paid a surprise visit to Barford House in Warwickshire, where Evelyn Waugh spent much of 1923. I mean, I surprised myself by going there as I didn’t think I could fit in any such trip, having got projects stacked up like Easyjets on a runway.
OK, so I didn’t expect to go to the former home of Alastair Graham, Evelyn’s one-time lover, but I did. What happened? On the one hand, nobody was in. On the other, I’m still coming to terms with what I found at the back of the house. But let me tell the story in an order that I feel will work for the reader.
Barford House. I first paid a visit in 2007 (when the above photo was taken) and was able to speak to the owner then, something I’ll be coming back to. But it’s Barford from 1923 to 1928 that I’ll principally be concerned with in this chapter. In the grounds of Barford House there is a temple, which you can glimpse in the photo below. Here, then, are the roots of The Temple at Thatch, the book that Evelyn Waugh began in the same summer as the shooting of The Scarlet Woman, with which the first section of this website is so concerned. The manuscript of The Temple at Thatch ended up being burnt in the boiler of the school at Llanddulas, where Evelyn was a teacher in 1925. More importantly, here in Barford are the roots of Brideshead Revisited, words and images from which have burnt themselves into the minds of generations of readers.
Evelyn went up to Oxford in January, 1922. He’d resisted having affairs at public school, but now at an all-male college - virtually an all-male university - he took the plunge. The first relationship, with Richard Pares, ended at Christmas, 1922, and in early 1923 Evelyn took up with Alastair Graham, who was in his first year at Brasenose College, having gone up to the university in autumn, as is the convention.
I write about this in the pages of Evelyn!, though there I come at the Evelyn-Alastair relationship via the spires of Oxford rather than Barford’s undergrowth. But I do say something about Barford House in my book, and so I’ll paraphrase that here, studding it with the odd photograph from my latest visit.
Evelyn met Alastair towards the end of 1922 or at the beginning of 1923. In any case, the relationship was in full bloom shortly thereafter. This feeds back into Brideshead where the early scenes between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte take place in spring (first meeting) and summer (first trip to Sebastian’s spectacular home). The prologue makes it clear that the book is narrated in 1944, by Charles Ryder, an army officer, a man who has reached an age of disillusion. But things were once different for him. And for chapter one, Charles takes the reader back to Oxford of the early Twenties. It’s Eights Week at the university. Sebastian enters Charles’s room and asks what on earth is happening at his college. It’s as if a circus has arrived, he declares. And, what’s more, Oxford as a whole is pullulating with women.
The exquisite Sebastian, dressed in dove-grey flannel suit, goes on to say that he’s come to take Charles out of danger. He’s got a motor-car and a basket of strawberries and a bottle of Chateau Peyraguey that’s ‘heaven with strawberries’. To help explain that reference, there’s a letter from Alastair Graham to Evelyn saying that he’s found the ideal way to drink burgundy. You peel a peach, place it in a finger bowl, then pour the burgundy over the exposed flesh of the fruit. The peach brings out what he calls the ‘happy Seraglio contentedness’ that the old wine evokes. In the same letter Alastair says that when he comes to Oxford later that week, he and Evelyn might carry some bottles into a wood, or other bucolic place, and drink like Horace.
What sort of person was Alastair Graham? Indolent, cultured, sweet-natured, profoundly sensual. In A Little Learning, Waugh says of his young self that he could not have fallen under an influence better designed to encourage his natural frivolity, dilettantism and dissipation. That is, young Evelyn could not have fallen under an influence better able to expose as vulgar any promptings he may have felt to worldly ambition. Alastair was sent down - or ran away - from Westminster, his public school. And he didn’t last long at Oxford, where he did no work whatsoever.
Small and good-looking with pale face and glossy brown hair, there is a picture of him at eighteen in the Selina Hastings biography of Waugh. Anyway, that day in June, Sebastian drove Charles out of Oxford along the Botley Road. At Swindon they turned off the main road, turned into a cart track and stopped. On a sheep-cropped knoll, under a clump of elms, they did for the strawberries and the wine, finishing off by lying on their backs smoking Turkish cigarettes. They were on their way to Brideshead Castle for what would be Charles’s first glimpse of Sebastian’s stunning childhood home. But the specific references to the Botley Road and Swindon are deliberate red herrings, I’ve decided. This is where they were coming.
Alastair lived with his mother in Barford House about 40 miles to the north (not west) of Oxford. Alastair got to drive about in his mother’s car, and, without question, Evelyn and Alastair visited Barford from Oxford. Obviously, there would have been a first visit, in which I strongly suspect Evelyn would have been struck by the splendid house, faced in white stucco, with its pilasters on either side of the front door and the glass cupola on the roof. The house also featured stables, a fish-pond, box hedges and a stone gazebo (glimpsed above and seen below): a big step up from the suburban setting and style of Underhill, the London house Waugh was raised in.
Brideshead, the house, and Brideshead the novel, take on certain attributes from Evelyn’s later friendship with the Lygon family, who lived in a house called Madresfield which he didn’t visit until 1931. And by the time Waugh came to write the book in 1944 he had stayed in many splendid country houses, perhaps even Castle Howard where the Granada TV production was set. But while Waugh was writing the early stages of the book, the set up at Barford House in Warwickshire would have fed into the portrait of Sebastian and the description of the time they spent together at Brideshead and Oxford.
Evelyn destroyed the diary he kept while at Oxford, so there isn’t much on record about 1923, the main year of his love affair with Alastair. The diary still exists from the middle of 1924. I’ve extracted a few quotes from his diary that shed light on their relationship, and summarised them on the page on this site called ‘Alastair and Evelyn’. But here are some paraphrased diary entries that have specific Barford connotations:
Monday 21 July 1924. Evelyn writes that Alastair was at Barford and that Evelyn had had to answer a letter from his mother pleading for Evelyn to persuade Alastair to stay in England for the winter. He also notes that he has begun The Temple at Thatch and was pleased with the 12 pages that he’d completed.
Monday 6 October 1924. Evelyn notes that he had read again the marvellous Cypress Grove by Drummond of Hawthornden. He’d been writing more of The Temple at Thatch which he might re-title ‘The Fabulous Paladins’, a phrase that crops up in Cypress Grove.
The passage from William Drummond reads: ‘Death is the sad estranger of acquaintance, the eternal divorcer of marriage, the ravisher of children from their parents, the stealer of parents from their children, the interrer of fame, the sole cause of forgetfulness, by which the living talk of those gone away as of so many shadows, or fabulous Paladins.’
Barford, Sunday 9 November 1924. Evelyn notes that with Alastair abroad the house seemed haunted by ghosts. Alastair’s mother was feeling the loss of her son badly, being both confused and angry about the situation. One day she drove Evelyn to Leamington Spa where he found it sad to see all the pubs that he and Alastair had spent time together in.
Monday 15 December 1924. Evelyn writes that he was waiting to here from headmasters that he’d approached about teaching jobs. Meanwhile he was trying to get on with The Temple at Thatch.
Christmas Day, 1924. Evelyn observes that all his three romances had climaxed in the week of Christmas. These were with Luned (a girl he’d known during his teens), Richard Pares and Alastair Graham (both Oxford). But it was the absence of Alastair - still in Africa - that pulled at his heart.
Barford, Tueday 13 January 1925. Evelyn writes that he and Alastair had to go to a party but that it was rather a dreary evening.
(Still, at least Alastair was back from darkest Africa!)
Friday 16 January 1925
In the evening, Evelyn and Alastair went to a dance where a parrot was in attendance to watch the pair drink all the whisky.
Saturday 17 January 1925
Evelyn and Alastair went to Oxford for a jaunt. Mrs Graham didn’t let them take the car so they had to fork out for the train. They drank all afternoon, tried on a few clothes at the tailor’s, then returned to Barford. After dinner Evelyn beat Alastair at chess.
Barford House, Monday 27 April 1925
Evelyn and Alastair enjoyed a boozy evening in the room that Alastair had fitted up for himself above the stables. In the morning they weere allowed to take Mrs Graham’s expensive new car to Oxford. Later they had a quiet evening back in Barford, with Alastair ‘soaking port’ over the fire in the library. Waugh notes that he preferred the house when it was being run by Alastair’s mother because the domestic arrangements were better organised and there were more fires about the place. In the morning of Evelyn writing this diary entry, Alastair had gone off to his printing job with the Shakespeare Head Press and Evelyn was waiting to get responses to wires he had sent to Oxford in the hope of bringing in funds.
Wednesday 26 August 1925
Evelyn complains about the red ink he was having to write with, Alastair’s black ink having gone hard. He reports that Mrs Graham had hit the roof when she discovered that Alastair was guaranteeing Evelyn’s overdraft. Still, he’d finished his story, ‘The Balance’, which he thought was strange but good, and was getting it typed. On Monday at 12 he took a bus to Stratford, where Alastair was working, in order to lunch with him. First, Evelyn went to Alastair’s wine merchant where he bought bottles of claret because it was called ‘Mouton de Baron de Rothschild’. They drank a cocktail at the Shakespeare Hotel and lunched at the Arden restaurant. Alastair then returned to the Shakespeare Head Press while Evelyn went to see an afternoon performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona. Such a daft play, writes Evelyn, with the audience much too respectful of the jokes. Tea with Alastair then back to Barford together, where the two dined in polo-necked jumpers and did things they would not have been able to do if Alastair’s mother had been in residence.
Barford, Monday 11 January 1926
Evelyn writes that he arrived at the house on Friday, pleased at having escaped London, and that he had been taking it easy since then. Alastair and he had been to Oxford together where they bought a waistcoat and some books, including one by TS Eliot whose poems seemed splendid if incomprehensible.
Do the above summaries of diary entries give a picture of young Evelyn’s relationship with Alastair? Some kind of idea of their romantic and precarious existence at Barford? I hope so.
At this point I want to take us back to 2007, when I paid my first visit to Barford. The owner, Alan Roberts, allowed John Wilson, a friend of mine from my own university days, and me, to walk into the back garden and to take photographs of the temple, including one from the temple back towards the house. Following this visit, I wrote him an email which I’m going to paste below. I’ll embellish it with photos I took on that occasion:
Here are a few references about Barford House that I hope might be of interest to you.
Selina Hastings in her book ‘Evelyn Waugh’ talks about the Grahams buying the house in 1917 and Mrs Graham getting a ballroom added to it for Alastair’s ‘coming of age’, a social event that was never going to happen. That’s on page 106-107. Then on page 109, Hastings describes the house. However, I’m particularly fascinated by the stone gazebo which you kindly allowed me to take a picture of with my friend standing alongside. John does look sheepish in said photo. Perhaps he’s embarrassed to be standing in for Evelyn and/or Alastair.
Evelyn’s first attempt at a book, which he destroyed in 1925, was called ‘The Temple at Thatch’. In his early published short story ‘The Balance’ (1926), Thatch is referred to as a house fairly handy for travelling from Oxford. On page 233 of his autobiography, ‘A Little Learning’, Waugh recalls that: ‘The Temple at Thatch’ concerned an undergraduate who inherited a property of which nothing was left except an Eighteenth century classical folly where he set up home and practised black magic. I imagine he was thinking of the folly at Barford House. I imagine he was thinking of his own and Alastair’s post-Oxford prospects.
As I mentioned, Evelyn Waugh wrote some of ‘Rossetti’ while at Barford House. On page 159 of the Hastings’ book, she writes: ‘...the house was comfortable and there was an attic, furnished, with a table, chair and a dressmaker’s dummy, where Evelyn could work undisturbed.’ You said that you thought the room at the top of the house with the dormer window might be the one in question. Does that still seem like the most likely room? Do any of the 4 rooms you mentioned under the cupola have sufficient natural light that they might have been used as writing rooms?
On page 290 of ‘The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh’ there is an entry for September 1927 where Waugh mentions doing a diagram for his Rossetti book. He also mentions a lodge being torn down, the pond in the garden being dug and paving being laid. On October 4 an enormous lead statue of Mercury is set up in the middle of the pond. The next day Mrs Graham takes Waugh to Kelmscott House (still open to the public today) where Rossetti stayed with William Morris and his wife for a couple of years and which Waugh then wrote about in ‘Rossetti’.
As I said when we met, the forerunner of Brideshead was Barford House. There is a scene (there are many) in ‘Brideshead’ which I suspect owes much to the goings-on at Barford. Sebastian and Charles have left the golden candle-light of the dining room for the starlight outside and sit on the edge of the fountain, cooling their hands in the water and listening to it splash and gurgle over the rocks. The next morning their exchange goes something like:
“Ought we to be drunk every night, Charles?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I think so too.”
I wish you luck in your efforts to preserve the folly or gazebo or temple. Could the structure’s literary associations not help to get some kind of grant towards its repair?
I have mentioned to John H Wilson who edits the Evelyn Waugh Newsletter that you would be interested in any old photographs of Barford House and have given him your email address. I think he plans to insert a small note to that effect in the next issue. I hope that’s OK.
I would be interested to know what Alastair Graham says in his letters to you shortly after you bought the house from him in 1980, especially anything that alludes to those aspects of the house that may have involved Evelyn or his relationship with Evelyn. If the letters are to hand and you were willing to share this information I’d be most grateful.
Thanks again for taking me round the garden. It has helped me to get a clearer picture of the raw material that Waugh had at his disposal when he came to write certain of his books.
The visit that I paid in 2007 was part of a blitz of site visits that I made while researching Evelyn! Rhapsody for an Obsessive Love. By the end of 2008 the book was written, and although it discusses the relationship between Alastair Graham and Evelyn, the focus is on the relationship that superseded it, whose beginning was signalled in Waugh’s diary in April 1927 when he wrote that he’d met a lovely girl called Evelyn Gardner.
Both Alexander Waugh, Evelyn’s grandson, and John H Wilson (no relation to my pal from university) liked my manuscript and generously expressed their admiration for it. In early 2011, when I told Alexander that I’d found a publisher, Beautiful Books, and was wondering if he might have any images that might be reproduced in its published pages, he told me he did indeed have something. He sent me three photos, which I have come to think of as the Barford Triptych. That is, three previously unpublished photographs that he and I think were taken by Alastair Graham during a visit of the Evelyns to Barford House in the spring-summer of 1928, five years after the one Alastair and Evelyn had spent in each others pockets. The photographs resonate right at the heart of Evelyn Waugh’s life, and I thank God for them. Well, I thank Alexander Waugh who has written a book called God. Without further introduction here is the first one, which Alexander inherited from his father, Auberon, and which is a loose photo, torn from the Evelyns’ photo album by an unknown hand.
Photograph of Evelyn Waugh and Evelyn Gardner by Alastair Graham, 1928. Courtesy of Alexander Waugh.
It shows the Evelyns sitting side-by-side, as does the well-known picture taken by Olivia Wyndham for the Sketch a few days after the wedding of 27 June, 1928. Wyndham’s photo, one of only two previously published pics of the Evelyns together (the other shows the Evelyns glumly going to a party together in the summer of 1929), may well be the image that is ultimately used on the front cover of my book, because the technical quality of the image is not going to be equalled by the new pictures. The Barford picture is a mirror image, also like Olivia Wyndham’s, though here the reflection is provided by the still surface of the garden pond in the grounds of Barford House. As we’ve seen, the pond still exists today, though the statue has long gone.
Although I call the couple he- and she-Evelyn in my book, Alexander has mentioned that at the time they were called Hevelyn and Shevelyn, so those are the names I’ll use here. I think it’s appropriate that Shevelyn is looking away from Hevelyn, just like in the Wyndham picture. Shevelyn is looking towards an empty chair, in which Alastair may have been sitting before getting up to take the photograph. While Hevelyn is looking at a statue of Mercury, which he helped to erect in October, 1927. The fact that there is a long line of lupins blooming in the background means that spring-summer of 1928 is the earliest time that this photo could have been taken. That is, one of the happiest years of his life: the year of engagement and marriage, the year of the writing and publication of Decline and Fall.
The only other time the photo could have been taken is in the summer of 1929. Alexander investigated this possibility. The Evelyns got back from their near-disastrous cruise on Friday May 31st. They spent Sunday and Monday, June2/3, in London, according to the unpublished diary of Catherine Waugh, Evelyn’s mother. On Tuesday, June 4, the Evelyns lunched with John Heygate in Hampstead. On Wednesday, June 5, the Evelyns met Alastair in London. On Thursday, June 6, ‘Evelyns left after lunch for Canonbury.’ But he-Evelyn only stayed overnight at the marriage home, because the next day, Friday, his mother notes that: ‘Evelyn went to Beckley to write’.
Now there are four or five weekends between then and July 9 when Hevelyn received the letter from Shevelyn declaring her love for John Heygate. In his divorce petition, Waugh states that ‘we spent each weekend together either at Canonbury Square or where I was staying’ (at the Abingdon Arms in Beckley). I suppose it’s possible that on a Beckley weekend the Evelyns went on to see Alastair at Barford. Alexander has told me that on June 16, Shevelyn came to Beckley with John Heygate in tow. Of course, as Heygate was a keen driver, it’s possible that the threesome went on to Barford together and that it was Heygate who took the photograph of the Evelyns by the pond. In which case, the empty chair that Shevelyn is looking at is redolent of her newfound lover. While the figure of Mercury in the middle of the pond that Hevelyn is looking towards symbolises Hevelyn’s handsome and athletic rival.
1928 seems more likely though. Not only is Hevelyn wearing the same suit as he is in the Olivia Wyndham picture taken just after the wedding, not only do they have the same general look about them, but Catherine Waugh’s diary tells us that on Saturday, May 26, 1928: ‘Evelyns went to stay at Barford for weekend.’ It also tells us that on Thursday, August 2nd ‘Evelyns returned from Barford in time for lunch’. I think the beginning of August is a bit late for such a fine display of lupins in Warwickshire. So my money is on May 26, 1928.
Hevelyn did not keep a diary (or destroyed it) for much of the time that he was engaged and married to Shevelyn. But there are a couple of entries made to cover the wedding itself. When the honeymoon at Beckley ended on July 6, the Evelyns went to Barford for lunch. Lord and Lady Verulam and two small boys were there. Well, there are three dogs in the Barford Triptych, but no lord and lady, nor children. Evelyn writes: ‘Mrs G supposes Alastair to be dying of consumption.’ In other words, Alastair was not there that day, and nor had he been at the wedding. He’d been unable to get away from his job in Athens at such very short notice as the Evelyns gave. However, Alastair had been in England a month before, at least that’s what the photographs say to me.
May 26, 1928. What better way to celebrate that day than by serving up stage two of the Barford Triptych. But before I leave photo one, I just want to return again to the pond, as it appeared to me on May 21, 2013. The little table in the photo below is not far behind where the Evelyns posed for Alastair, who was standing with camera on the far side of the pond. Where Mercury once proudly stood on the base in the middle of the pond, a pair of mallards sat the other day. I think of them as the Evelyns during their cruise of the Mediterranean in 1929.
The second vintage picture, reproduced below, was taken the same afternoon as the first, but, like the third, it stayed in the possession of Alastair Graham, until in 1975 he gave it to Michael Davie, the editor of The Letters of Evelyn Waugh. Michael Davie died in 2005 and subsequently Alexander Waugh acquired the Davie Archive from his widow. The Barford Triptych has been kept separate for a long time. I’m so glad (with Alexander’s permission) to be able to bring it together again, one image at a time. In this picture, the couple have retreated from the pond and are now standing close to the gnarled old tree that can be seen in the left background of the first photograph from May, 1928. The wall in the background is still in evidence along the north side of the garden at Barford House today, with open fields beyond.
Photograph of Evelyn Waugh and Evelyn Gardner by Alastair Graham, 1928. Courtesy of Alexander Waugh.
For much of Evelyn! I talk about a love triangle involving the Evelyns and John Heygate, but this picture brings to mind another love triangle. That is, the Evelyns and Alastair. Did Evelyn ever really let go of his relationship with Alastair? Consider the following. First, the Evelyns’ honeymoon took place at the Abingdon Arms, in whose car park Evelyn and Alastair had lived together in the summer of 1924 in a caravan. Second, Evelyn saw Alastair for two spells during the honeymoon cruise of the Mediterranean. Third, On returning to England from the Med, Hevelyn immediately hightailed it to Beckley, within visiting distance of Barford. Perhaps that’s why she-Evelyn looks so glum in these pictures, taken just a month before the wedding. They’ve just had a great time together in Dorset but now they’re back in Barford and she’s having to put up with Alastair’s banter:
Alastair: ‘So did you to have a lovely time at the Barley Mow, darlings?’
Hevelyn: ‘Oh, Alastair, dear, you know we did. My Rossetti came out last month to enthusiastic reviews. And Decline and Fall, which is about one-hundred times saucier, is with my father’s firm right now.’
Alastair: ‘What about you, Shevelyn? Did you have a jolly time at the Barley Mow while Hevelyn went about becoming a great author?’
Shevelyn: ‘Pansy and Henry were there and we had such a scream together. At least we did when we could tear Hevelyn from his bookie-wook.’
Alastair: ‘And what is that you’ve got in your pocket, Hevelyn? Can it be a ring? Can it be the very ring that was once used to entrap the heir to the throne of England in a papal plot to convert our royal family to Catholicism?’
Hevelyn (smiling at the recollection of post-Oxford high-jinks): ‘My lips are sealed.’
Alastair: ‘Your lips are cherries.’
Alastair (turning to Shevelyn): ‘I bet you can’t wait to marry this marvellous man.’
Shevelyn: ‘You’re right. I cannot wait to have him all to myself. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives resting on his laurels rather than your lupins.’
Alastair: ‘Oh, you are such a pair of eider ducks.’
OK, that’s enough barbed banter (“underneath the spreading Barford tree, I sold you and you sold me”). So, let me recap. Newly up from the Barley Mow in May of 1928, the Evelyns were captured for posterity by Alastair’s camera. Then I imagine Alastair making his way from the garden to his house, climbing the stairs and turning to look back towards the Temple. What does he see through the viewfinder? Lost summer days? Lost Hevelynly paradise? Alastair was about to be permanently distanced from his inseparable companion of 1923, the love of his young life. Take the photo then, Alastair. Bring down the shutter on first love… the languor of youth… that feeling of entitlement...
Barford Revisited by Alastair Graham. Courtesy of Alexander Waugh.
That is the money shot all right - Barford Revisited, as I’m calling it. Looking closely at the image with the aid of the zoom function in iPhoto, I have been able make out – way, way in the distance, beyond the temple and to the left of it – two figures sitting in the shade of a tree. I’m pretty sure that it’s the Evelyns. Alastair may have been aware of the presence of the pair when he took the photo, but I doubt if anyone will have been aware of it in the eighty-five years since the picture was developed. If I’m correct, Hevelyn is sitting on the grass to the left of the tree’s trunk and Shevelyn is sitting to the right, on the chair that is no longer alongside the bench at the pond. Yes, everything points to the Evelyns enjoying a private moment together in the aftermath of the writing of Decline and Fall, a month before their wedding.
As I’ve implied with my title for the photograph, the scene invokes Brideshead Revisited as well. The day of the first visit to Brideshead, when Charles and Sebastian stop en route to Sebastian’s splendid home. They find shade under elms on a sheep-cropped knoll and drink the bottle of Chateau Peyraguey, eat the strawberries that go so well with the dessert wine, and smoke the Turkish cigarettes. The sweet scent of the tobacco merges with the scents of summer. ‘Just the place to bury a crock of gold.’ says Sebastian. ‘I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I was old and ugly and miserable, I would come back and dig it up and remember.’
In 1944 Evelyn wrote about the pair of young men sharing the picnic twenty-one years before, a scene remembered in tears by Charles Ryder, a middle-aged captain of infantry. In other words, remembered by an Evelyn grown prematurely old and ugly and miserable.Let’s take this slowly. When Alastair took the photo in 1928, he was digging up a crock of gold. When Evelyn wrote his magnum opus in 1944, he was digging up the same crock of gold. When Alastair handed the photograph to Michael Davie in 1975, he was handing over the spade. A spade that’s passed through Alexander’s hands and into mine. The spade has been hanging around unused for a couple of years but I’m putting my foot to it now. I like to think I’m digging on your behalf as well as on mine, dear reader.
Actually, the crock of gold I’m digging up is not quite the same as Evelyn’s. He was trying to reconnect with a relationship with another human being. I am trying to reconnect with a relationship with a book, the Penguin copy of Brideshead Revisited that I read while lying on the carpet of my parents’ suburban house in Hemel Hempstead. Here is its flower-festooned cover, featuring a chap who looks just like my chum John:
My diary shows that it was a week at the beginning of March 1976 when I read this book. Evelyn was 19 for most of the year when he lived the opening sequences of Brideshead Revisited. I was 18 and a half when I read about them:
March 2, 1976
Reading Brideshead Revisited by E. Waugh. It is very entertaining. The humour is subtle and awfully well put while the story is about characters I relate with to a large degree.
March 5, 1976
Finished Brideshead Revisited. An excellent book showing a realistic progression from adolescence to manhood. Sebastian and Charles are very attractive characters and it is sad to read about their lives which progress in a disastrous fashion. I can relate to the characters to such an extent that I would be easier in my mind if they had had happier fates.
Not sure if Charles Ryder’s life was a disaster. So maybe I was dwelling more on Sebastian’s fate when I wrote that. Anyway, I’m digging for the Penguin copy of Brideshead I read in 1976. I should have buried it in the lawn at the back of my parents’ suburban house in Hemel Hempstead, ready to be dug up again and remembered when I was middle-aged, as I am now. But I didn’t do that. Perhaps that’s why, when I found myself staying with John in Kenilworth again, I suddenly suggested we should drive to Barford and check that the temple was still standing. What’s that if it’s not digging?
My friend of thirty-seven years was OK with that idea, as he had a morning off work. He is the businessman, who makes deals which earn money. I am the writer whose ideas come to nothing (save the odd crock of gold). On our arrival in Barford, second time around, I was struck by the length of the wall along the front of Barford House. All made with red bricks which no doubt came from the nearby brickworks in Leamington. The photo below was taken from the north end of Wellesbourne Road looking south along the wall. The black BMW which we came in is parked just north of the main entrance to the house and the wall goes on the same distance again to the south. Some frontage!
When Alastair and Evelyn came back from the village pubs, in particular the Red Lion, did they walk all that way to the front drive? Or did they slip into the property via the arched door that you can see at the corner in the photograph below?
Below is the door in detail. I love the bottom bit. It brings to mind an early episode in Alice in Wonderland, a book that Evelyn was probably introduced to by Richard Pares in his first year at Oxford, and about which he wrote: ‘It is an excellent book I think’ in a 1922 letter to his school friend, Tom Driberg. Of course, Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, was an Oxford man too, being a don at Christ’s Church College, the college where Sebastian was given rooms overlooking the meadows that led to the river up which Dodgson rowed with little Alice Liddell one fabulous summer’s day in 1862.
Evelyn: “Good job I drank the bottle with the ‘DRINK ME’ label. Otherwise, I would be too tall to get through there.”
Alastair: “Good job I drank it too.”
Evelyn: “Remember that time at Oxford?”
Alastair: “We couldn’t get in to my college. Or was it yours?”
Evelyn: “We couldn’t get in to whoever’s college it was because we had been drinking the wrong drinks. We were too short on that occasion.”
One at a time, they wriggle through the gap and into the grounds of Mrs Graham’s house. Oh, those Barford boys!
Alas, John and I hadn’t been swigging from Alice’s ‘DRINK ME’ bottle, so we needed to head off towards the proper entrance. But as we were walking alongside the wall, there came a point where I realised that if I put my arm above my head I could take a photograph of what was on the other side. Having done so, I scrutinised the photo I’d just taken. No sign of Evelyn and Alastair (or Charles and Sebastian) making their way across the open space, but then that’s because they would have been snaking through the grass, head to tail.
Funny that there should be such an empty space so close to Barford village centre. So close to Kenilworth, Warwick, Stratford, Coventry, Birmingham. Actually, where was I?
I’ve marked on the Google map below the front wall of Barford House (blue line). I’ve also marked (in red) the main entrance, or at least our walk from the gateway to the front door. The bell does not work so I knocked. No-one answered, despite the presence of two cars in the drive. The front door is glass and through it I could see, along a long red carpet laid over white and black tiles, the back door, which is also glass. Indeed I could see right through the house, down the garden and all the way to the pillars of the temple. Still standing! Even from that distance, I could see the temple was propped up by supports on the right, as it had been in 2007. But it was still in existence, that’s what cheered me.
I’ve also marked with yellow tacks where the Evelyns were photographed by Alastair in the summer of 1928. As for me in 2013, it was all I could do to resist taking a photograph of the temple through the house itself. But that would not have felt right in terms of privacy. Instead, we went around the northern side of the house, to see if there was anyone about in the garden. John hollered, but there was no-one there. I didn’t feel we had the right to approach the temple directly, but nor did I give up on the idea that I might get close to it.
Walking to the south end of the frontage, past what was probably a lodge at one time, I noticed the unobtrusive entrance that is between the two brick pillars in the photo below. A public or a private space? There was no way of telling. So John and I took the plunge. Almost as soon as we entered the green path it swung left behind the lodge and towards Barford House. In other words we were walking north-north-east from the bottom edge of the above map.
The gate in the image below clearly led into the private garden of Barford House, so we didn’t use it. I was happy to think that Alastair and Evelyn would have used it often enough in the past when returning from any business that took them south of the house. In particular, when returning half cut from the Granville Arms.
John pointed out to me how the garden’s boundary wall (see below) was leaning out at this point. Before I could reply he used the word “Alastair.” He didn’t mean Alastair Graham, but a colleague at work. Obviously John was taking incoming calls, texts and emails. Just because he had the morning off didn’t mean he was as free as a bird. He was with me, up to a point, which is all you can ever ask of a friend.
Bingo! We’d unobtrusively reached the bottom of the garden and without intruding on anybody’s privacy. Trees behind the temple have been cleared since 2007, perhaps so that the additional scaffolding that is now there could be put into place.
It seems to me that the structure is in particular danger of collapsing at the back. Before investigating up close, I tried to get my bearings. Parallel to the low wall, a few yards behind it, runs a hedge. And behind that is the field in which the Evelyns were photographed from the house by Alastair.
The old map that I’ve bought from Cassinni Maps (so you, gentle reader, don’t have to) shows the set-up back in 1877. The Evelyns were pictured in the field roughly where ’110’ is written (or do I mean ‘111’?). As you can see if you look closely, the temple was in place by this time, which means its been standing for at least 140 years.
Will it be standing for much longer? Well, let’s have a look. Although there are ten pillars holding up the lead cupola, they seem a bit slim for the job. Indeed, they’re not holding it up, scaffolding and metal struts are doing that. I say this with certainty because, of the four pillars at the back, one is broken and two are crumbling towards the top. Things may be a bit healthier round the front of the temple, where two of the pillars are circular and may be made of stone. They’re not made of marble, however, because, as with the square pillars there is a rendering over the top, and you wouldn’t cover up fine stone with cement.
“Whoever owns this property does not seem to have much cash to spare,” observes John, noting that the downstairs window that is boarded up was in a similar state in 2007.
I’m supposing that Alan Roberts still owns it. “And yet some money has been spent on the temple,” I say.
“Not really. The scaffolding is holding it up, that’s all. To make the structure good again would cost £100,000.”
“You’ve just plucked that figure out of the air.”
John shrugged and said, “Just trying to give you the bigger picture.”
The bigger picture. This part of Barford is a Conservation Area. Barford House and the temple are both Grade II Listed buildings, as the map below shows. Warwick District Council has published a document which sets out the extent of the Area. The open fields that are part of the grounds of Barford House cannot be developed for housing, that’s for sure. Or they would have been so developed long ago.
The Conservation Area was designated in 1969, while Alastair Graham was still the owner. Would he have been compensated for the restrictions imposed on his estate? I don’t know. But these restrictions would have been reflected in the price that Alan Roberts paid for the property. The document states that certain repair works to Listed buildings may be eligible for grant aid. In which case I don’t understand why the temple has been left in such a perilous state. I guess the owner has been told not to let it fall down. Obviously the structure should be repaired. Obviously it should be made accessible to the public, which might be an easy thing to do given the path John and I followed to get to the rear of the temple.
The present state of the Temple is at once fascinating and horrifying. Looking closely I think I see that the ceiling is covered in plaster that’s cracking.
I step back and try to get things in proportion.
So much inspiration and imagination has been put into preserving the young love of Alastair and Evelyn! First (I suspect), when Evelyn wrote The Temple at Thatch. Then when Alastair, looking out from the tall window in the middle of the first floor of Barford House on May 26, 1928, took the photo that I’ve called Barford Revisited. Then the famous book that took Evelyn several months to write in 1944. Then the TV series that Granada made of the book using Castle Howard in place of Barford House and Madresfield. Even the essay that you’re reading adds to the effort. What a lot of craftsmanship and vision has been focussed here!
Perhaps we should just take away the scaffolding and let the temple collapse under its own weight. Perhaps we should let time flow again instead of trying to keep alive the something-or-nothing that happened long ago in the minds of certain individuals long dead. After all, we’ve got Brideshead Revisited, which exists in some beautiful editions, with an authoritative version in the OUP pipeline. You can even buy a reader-friendly copy of the manuscript from the Harry Ransom Centre, University of Texas, and see for yourself where Evelyn has written ‘Alastair’ where he meant to write ‘Sebastian’.
What is my own view? My own view needs to be stated obliquely using a poem by Lewis Carroll, one of Evelyn’s favourite authors when he was young. It’s a poem I’ve already made use of, in the page headed ‘BOOKS:1939’ in the ‘Our Evelyn’s Library’ part of this site. However, on this occasion I’m turning things on their head. What I mean is, in his library at Piers Court in 1939, Evelyn Waugh is interrogating George III. On this occasion I’ll be asking the questions of Evelyn. What on earth am I talking about? Only this:
I'll tell thee everything I can;
There's little to relate.
I saw a lucky, lucky man,
"Who are you lucky man?" I said,
"And how is it you live?"
And his answer trickled through my head
Like water through a sieve.
Hev said "I look for butterflies
That sleep among the wheat:
I make them into books of sighs,
And sell them in the street.
I sell them unto men," he said,
"Who sail on stormy seas;
And that's the way I get my bread--
A trifle, if you please."
But I was thinking of a plan
To dye my jacket green.
And always use so large a fan
That I could not be seen.
So, having no reply to give
To what he-Evelyn said,
I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!"
And kissed him on the head.
Hev’s accents mild took up the tale:
He said "I go my ways,
And when I find a potent male,
I write him in a blaze;
And thence they make a book they call
Yet twopence-halfpenny is all
They give me for my toil."
But I was thinking of a way
To feed oneself on batter,
And so go on from day to day
Getting a little fatter.
I shook Hev well from side to side,
Until his face was blue:
"Come, tell me how you live," I cried,
"And what it is you do!"
Hev said "I hunt for cheating beasts
Among the heather bright,
And work them into humorous novels
In the silent night.
And these Dad does not sell for gold
Or coin of silvery shine
But for a copper halfpenny,
And that will purchase nine.
"I sometimes dig for Oxford brogues,
Or set limed twigs for crabs;
I sometimes search with Alastair
For wheels of Barford cabs.
And that's the way,” (he gave a wink)
"By which I get my wealth--
And very gladly will I drink
Your Honour's noble health."
I heard him then, for I had just
Completed my design
To keep this Temple free from rust
By boiling it in wine.
I thanked Hev much for telling me
The way he got his wealth,
But chiefly for his wish that he
Might drink my noble health.
And now, if e'er by chance I slip
An essay into you
Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot
Into a left-hand shoe,
Or if I drop upon my toe
A very heavy weight,
I weep, for it reminds me so,
Of that man Waugh I used to know—
Whose look was stern, whose prose did flow,
Whose shirt was whiter than the snow,
Whose face was very like a crow,
With eyes, like drunkards, all aglow,
Who spoke TOO WELL of the Barley Mow,
Who rocked his body to and fro,
And muttered mumblingly “Margot”,
As if his mouth were full of dough,
Who snorted like a buffalo--
That summer evening, long ago,
That’s all very well (it is, isn’t it?), but there’s only one way that this chapter can end. Yes, I’ve got to give Alastair the last word. And the last word in cool, in style, in nostalgia, in fact, in past as continuous present, in summer shadow, in picnic basket, in “Aloysius would seem to be pissed again”, in Mercury rising, in The Temple at Thatch, in World Heritage Site... is this:
Barford Revisited by Alastair Graham. Courtesy of Alexander Waugh
Rather than carefully reading this over, I’m putting it online tonight. Why? Because its Sunday, May 26, 2013, exactly eighty-five years since Alastair said goodbye to Evelyn in such a sweet way.
I may have to take it off again if I can’t get certain permissions, but right now I’m happy with the way things stand.
Granted the significance of May 26, 1928. But let’s not forget the whole of July, 1923. Why do I say that? Because of these words that Dennis Barlow, an assistant librarian at The Harry Ransom Centre, University of Austin, Texas, tells me have been written (and/or underlined) in Waugh’s hand in conjunction with printed verses on page 250 and 253 of The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, a book published by the Nonesuch Press that entered Waugh’s library in 1939:
Long has paled that sunny sky
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still he haunts me, phantom-wise
Alastair moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes
In a Wonderland he lies
Dreaming as the days go by
Dreaming as the summers die.
Is all our Life, then, but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time’s dark resistless stream?
Bowed to the earth with bitter woe,
Or laughing at some raree-show,
We flutter idly to and fro.
Man’s little Day in haste we spend,
And, from its merry noontide, send
No glance to meet the silent end.
Stephen Meachen has pointed out that the photograph I refer to as Barford Revisited (the money shot, the third of the three photos that my analysis suggests were taken on May 26, 1928), was in fact taken in October of 1927 or 1928. At first I didn’t give this much credence, but I now think he is right. First, there are no daisies on the lawn whereas there are in the other two photographs. Second, the shadows are from the south, which is confirmed if one looks at the maps that are contained in this piece. Now in the northern hemisphere, when the sun is at its zenith in the middle of the day, its due south of us. And yet the shadows are very long ones suggesting that the sun is quite low in the sky. Not summer then! The leaves on the trees show that it’s not yet so very late in the year. And so the month is probably October.
Long has paled that sunny sky
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
I could go back and change my narrative but I don’t want to do that. Already I feel nostalgic about the ‘Barford Triptych’. For me that third photograph (who is it in the distance? Is there anybody sitting under that tree?) will always invoke Sebastian/Charles, Evelyn/Alastair and Hevelyn/Shevelyn. Those three pairs of names make up the true Barford Triptych.
1) In an essay full of genuine research, I should say that the first postscript is not to be taken literally (the annotations are only to be found in the copy of the book in Our Evelyn’s Library).
2) Thanks to John Wilson and John H Wilson for advice and support.
3) Thanks to Stephen Meachen for his interest and his analysis.
4) Where to next? Essentially Evelyn went from Barford to Llanddulas and his adventures there as a schoolmaster can be read about here.