HHA Literary Trail (more)

Another local paper (The Gazette) has published a story about Evelyn Waugh’s association with a country house on the Historic House Association’s new literary trail. This is Woodchester Mansion located between Dursley (where the Waughs lived from 1937-1955) and Stroud. Here’s the paper’s report of Waugh’s connecction to that house:

Waugh, who lived at Piers Court in Stinchcombe at the time, published his famous satire on the press “Scoop” only a month before he gave a talk in Woodchester Mansion courtyard in 1938. He spoke on “The History and Associations of Woodchester Park” and pointed out that since the 16th century the Woodchester estate had never been owned by more than three successive generations of the same family. At the time Waugh’s reputation was increasing thanks to “Scoop” and press archives recorded that a large crowd of people heard his lecture before he “good-humouredly” signed autographs…Grade One listed Woodchester Mansion was mysteriously abandoned mid-construction in 1873 and so offers a unique view of the stonemason’s craft. It re-opens to the public on Saturday, April 1. 

The Waughs had a more stable relationship to the estate than is suggested by this 1938 speech-giving. The house had had a connection to the Roman Catholic church since it was acquired by a convert family by the name of Leigh in the mid 19th century. They had built a church and monastery on the estate and these were still being used when the Waughs moved to the area. Waugh refers to the church as “Nympsfield” which is the nearest village and that is where the Waughs attended services until a Roman Catholic church closer to them opened in Dursley in 1939. Some of this additional information is available from the HHA website:

In the 1930s the Woodchester Estate was owned by the devoutly Catholic Miss Blanche Leigh and her sister Beatrice. On occasions they opened the beautiful Woodchester Park to the public for charity. On Whit Monday 1938 a fete was held for a new Catholic Church in Dursley. Evelyn Waugh, who was then settling into the role of a country squire, was invited to speak at the Mansion after tea. The Dursley Gazette recorded that the talk was given in the courtyard. … Waugh also commented on the generosity of William Leigh to the Catholic Church. Like Leigh, Waugh was a Catholic convert, and he later benefitted from the fundraising day, as he became a regular attendee at the new church…

The Waughs no doubt also continued to attend church at Nympsfield when the monastery celebrated a service not available in the small Dursley parish church. At some point, the monastery may have been converted into a convent since Waugh describes attending services in Nympsfield among the nuns. See earlier post. The last members of the Leigh family left in the late 1940s and it is not known what happened to the church and monastery or convent after that. The Roman Catholic parishes of Dursley and Nympsfield seem to have been combined under a single priest and a “Marist Convent” is mentioned in the vicinity but how those may relate to Woodchester Mansion or the Leigh family is not explained. The Woodchester Mansion now belongs to a charitable trust and the adjacent landscaped park is administered by the National Trust. 


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