Waugh Sites

Several newspapers have recently recommended visits to sites in England that have been associated with Evelyn Waugh. The Daily Telegraph in its Property column has a fairly detailed description of Renishaw Hall. Although still owned and occupied by the Sitwell family, it is open to visitors:

It was the setting of parties and intellectual salons, where Evelyn Waugh, D H Lawrence and others would hold fort. The house is said to be the inspiration for Wragby Hall in Lady Chatterley’s Lover – described by Edith as a “dirty and completely worthless book”. Seated in Derbyshire, south east of Sheffield and near the West Yorkshire border, the house is in a densely packed, industrial area. Though it counts Chatsworth, Bolsover Castle and Haddon Hall among its neighbours, Renishaw is unlike those because it remains a real home…There are also more than 70 works by the artist John Piper, who was introduced to the house by one of the literary trio, Osbert, plus a Whistler painting of Edith Sitwell and a family portrait by John Singer Sargent.

Waugh mentions once meeting John Piper at Renishaw when their visits to the house coincided in 1942. Letters, p. 163.

In a later story, the Telegraph lists Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, not too far from the Derbyshire site of Renishaw, as one of the 10 buildings you should visit before you die:

Castle Howard. Built: 1699-1811. Architects: John Vanbrugh, Nicholas Hawksmoor

Forever Brideshead in the eyes of those seduced by ITV’s 1981 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s baroque novel, Brideshead Revisited, Castle Howard marks the spectacular architectural debut of Sir John Vanbrugh, soldier, East Indian merchantman, spy, playwright and witty stalwart of the fashionable Kit-Kat Club. Nothing less than palatial, the great domed house rises from a stirring North Yorkshire setting, its sheep-studded acres adorned by such peerless ‘eyecatchers’ as Vanbrugh’s Temple of the Four Winds and Nicholas Hawksmoor’s colonnaded circular mausoleum for the Howard family, who live here still. Devastated by fire in 1940, today the 145-roomed house is hugely popular.

Another building on the list, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, also has a Waugh association. He made a visit there in 1929 which he describes (along with other works of the same architect) in chapter VII of his early travel book Labels.

The Irish Examiner carries a review of the book by James Peill entitled The English Country House now out in a large format paperback edition. Among the entries covered is one about Madresfield Court, home of the Lygon family. According to the Examiner, this house in the early 1930s :

…became a party house and amongst its regular habitues was Evelyn Waugh, a fellow-student of Hugh Lygon’s at Oxford, who it is also said, was his lover. The seventh Earl, Boom, inspired Lord Marchmain, and Hugh Lygon was the model for Sebastian Flyte. Like Flyte, he was an alcoholic and died in Bavaria in 1936, having never reconciled himself. apparently, to being a chip off the old block. Elements of Madresfield appear in Black Mischief and in A Handful of Dust, too, and an earlier ancestor’s 17-year legal battle for an inheritance is said to have been picked up by Dickens and used in Bleak House.

Parts of Black Mischief were written by Waugh when he was a visitor at Madresfield, but it is not obvious what “elements” of the house might appear the story. Some Waugh scholars believe that Madresfield contributed to Waugh’s description of Hetton Abbey in A Handful of Dust. 

Finally, SomersetLive.com  has made a list of notable gravesites to be visited in that county:

Evelyn Waugh…was a renowned author and penned Brideshead Revisited among his respected body of work. It was often thought that he possessed one of the best turn of prose in the 20th century … He died in 1966 and was buried at the Church of St Peter & St Paul in Combe Florey, near Taunton.

The story also mentions the Somerset grave of actor Leo McKern in Bath. McKern played Capt Grimes, an outstanding performance in the otherwise un-noteworthy 1960’s film adaptation of Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall. 

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