By comparing two historic photographs, an insight is obtained into Evelyn Waugh's writing strategy as well as upper class life between the wars. Oh yes, and one learns how to survive at that time as an incredibly rich, gay man.

The first historic photo was taken at Madresfield Court in Worcestershire, on the other side of the moat, close to the house.

Screen shot 2019-02-27 at 20.38.42

Below is the photo in question, probably from 1932. Evelyn Waugh is on the left. You might wonder where the horses are in this picture, given that everyone is in riding gear. Don't worry, you'll find out where one splendid horse is later in this essay.

madresfield - Version 2

In 1944 it was the death of Hubert Duggan (on the right of the above photo), that, within weeks, propelled Waugh into the writing of
Brideshead Revisited. Duggan's religious belief had lapsed, but Waugh was on hand to get a priest to attend to his dying friend, with results that Waugh utilised for scenes involving the dying of Lord Marchmain towards the end of Brideshead.

The woman in the above photo is Lady Dorothy Lygon, known as Coote or Poll. As I say, the photo was probably taken in 1932. In 1931, her father, Lord Beauchamp, had been forced to leave Madresfield Court. Lord Beauchamp was actively gay, having sex with Madresfield footmen and living openly with a man when he holidayed abroad. His brother-in-law, the Duke of Westminster, was disgusted by this lifestyle and - with homosexuality being illegal in the UK at the time - presented the highest authorities in the land with evidence of what was going on. Lord Beauchamp was forced into exile. He intended to kill himself but never quite got round to that. Possibly because of the support he received from his children.

This left Madresfield in the possession of the next generation, as Lord Beauchamp's prim and shocked wife (the children all took their father's side in the family split) had gone to stay with her brother. Lady Mary, Lady Sibell and the pictured Lady Dorothy ensured there was always a party atmosphere at Madresfield under their regime. But obviously the turn of events was deeply depressing for Lord Beauchamp. Madresfield was much more than a home for him. He had designed or decorated many of the rooms in the house, including the extraordinary chapel which Waugh wrote about in
Brideshead. Also, the Arts and Crafts influenced library and the magnificent Staircase Hall. Indeed, Lord Beauchamp spent much of his time embroidering covers for chairs. That's the sort of man he was. The applied arts mattered to him. Born before his time, I'd say.

Evelyn Waugh took on the story of Lord Beauchamp when he wrote about Tony Last in
A Handful of Dust. But Tony was not gay. He had to leave Hetton Abbey because his wife demanded a share of his estate on their divorce. Hence Hetton Abbey would have to be sold. Evelyn Waugh took on board Lord Beauchamp's enormous sense of loss, but not the reason behind it.

OK let's prepare the ground for another historic photo. It was taken outside the front entrance of Faringdon House, in Oxfordshire, shown below.

Screen shot 2015-08-12 at 19.12.59

Next up is the second historic photo, taken in the early thirties, again featuring a foursome in riding gear. Again it features Lady Dorothy Lygon. She is on the left. This time the house's owner is in the picture: Lord Berners is on the right of the group. His boyfriend, Robert Heber-Percy is standing beside Lady Dorothy, and Penelope Betjeman is the fourth person. Actually, the Betjemans only moved to Oxfordshire in 1934, so the photo is would not have been before then. Does Lady Dorothy seem to be two or three years older than in the previous photo? Let's say so.

This photograph is found in 'The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me' by Sofka Zinovieff.

Lord Berners and Lord Beauchamp made different decisions in life. Both inherited massive properties. Lord Beauchamp chose to marry, have a large family, and take male lovers on the side. Lord Berners did not marry, but instead moved his male partner into the house and openly lived with him. Quite a brave decision, as Robert Heber-Percy moved into Faringdon House in 1932, the year after Lord Beauchamp was forced out of Madresfield Court. One would have thought that the latter strategy was riskier than Lord Beauchamp's had been, especially given the timing, so perhaps Lord Beauchamp was just unlucky that his brother-in-law was vindictive.

William Lygon and Gerald Berners (to give these great lords their down to earth names) knew each other well, and when William was in Rome he stayed in a property owned by Gerald. That was 3 Foro Romano, overlooking the ruins of the ancient Forum. Nice.

Moreover, Lord Beauchamp was staying there with his male companion when Evelyn Waugh visited him in the company of another of the Lygon daughters, Lady Mary, in the summer of 1932.

Evelyn Waugh was a frequent visitor to Madresfield from 1931, and Lord Berners was a fellow guest there at Christmas then. One subject of conversation was surely the enforced absence of Lord Beauchamp from his own home at that special time of year.

Evelyn stayed at Faringdon House for a week or more in the summer of 1935. Unquestionably, he would again have discussed with Lord Berners the life of Lord Beauchamp then, not least because
A Handful of Dust came out in the autumn of 1934, and his circle would have read it and grappled with its themes of inheritance, loss and exile.

It must have been 1935 that Lord Berners made several paintings of Penelope Betjeman's white horse, Moti. I used these photos in
the essay I wrote on Lord Berners and Evelyn Waugh three years ago. So I'll use them in a different way here, where I'm making a different point. As you can see, Evelyn features in a couple of them.


The title of a painting exhibited at his London gallery in 1936, White Horse 9, suggests there were a lot of paintings of Moti.

Maybe as a series they allude to the possession of a house (or horse). The incongruity of its occupation and/or ownership. The impossibility of belonging.

Lord Beauchamp had plenty of heirs, but he was ousted from Madresfield. Ousted from the embroidery and the Chapel, the Staircase Hall and the minstrels' gallery.

Tony Last had an heir. The little boy was killed in a riding accident and Hetton Abbey was lost to Tony. Perhaps in one of the above pictures, Lord Berners is painting a dead child on the hard floor of his house. Perhaps the moving of the fine rugs is to do with covering up bloodstains.

Lord Berners would have no children. Who would inherit his mansion? Well, Robert Heber-Percy would inherit it. And when he was in his seventies he got married to Lady Dorothy Lygon, also in her seventies. Why? Who knows. Perhaps they were all obsessed with the enigma of ownership and the impossibility of possession in this mortal existence.

'The Enigma of Ownership', a series of oil paintings by Lord Berners, a series that is indebted to the life of Lord Beauchamp and the work of Evelyn Waugh. I can give you a list of the titles.

White Horse 1

White Horse 2

White Horse 3

White Horse 4

White Horse 5

White Horse 6

White Horse 7

White Horse 8

White Horse 9

Alas, none of the paintings seem to have survived. Though I may be wrong about that. If one or more of the series is brought to my attention, I'll see if I can provide an image.


Two splendid books on Lord Berners and Faringdon House are by Peter Dickinson (
Lord Berners: composer, writer, painter) and Sofka Zinovieff (The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me).