A Tale of Two Venues: Chagford and Beckley

Two of Waugh’s favorite writing venues have recently been in the news. An article on the Easton Court Hotel in Chagford, South Devon, was recently posted on the website jot101.com. This begins with a description of  the facilities in wartime from a 1942 publication called Let’s Halt Awhile by Ashley Courtenay:

‘ It is a tranquil spot…personal, intimate, and so comfortable, that I would rather call it the Inn of Tranquility, for Mr Norman B. Webb and Mrs Postlethwaite Cobb have compressed into this small Tudor house all those niceties which go to make eating, sleeping, and country living pleasurable pursuits. Authors find inspiration here. Books have been written at Easton Court. Read in particular Alec Waugh’s Thirteen Such Years, which describes the hotel and the surrounding country.

In a house so genuinely old, and so remote, it might be expected that one lead a Spartan existence. Not a bit of it. There is hot and cold running water, central heating, bedside reading lamps, and luxury mattresses in every room. At Easton Court, too, they understand the art of cooking, and make full use of their vegetable and fruit garden…and dairy produce around the corner….

Waugh wrote parts of several books there starting in the early 1930s, but it is most notable for housing him during the first half of 1944 when he composed virtually all of Brideshead Revisited on the premises while on leave from the Army. The unsigned post goes on to provide these details of the 1944 visit:

‘There are plenty of eggs ‘ he reported back to Laura Waugh, ‘ (and) I have found an old man who will go to Stinkers to get me claret’. By February 1sthe had written 2,387 words of Brideshead in only 1 ½ days and hoped to complete 2,000 words a day. A week later he had written a total of 10,000 words and pronounced the quality of his work ‘very good’. By the end of the month Waugh had been summoned back to London to resume his military duties, but had returned to Easton Court by April 3rd. Progress on the novel had dipped slightly by this time, but on June 16thBrideshead Revisitedwas finished. Waugh left Devon and by early July found himself stationed in Algiers.

I don’t think he was exactly “stationed” in Algiers but stopped there on the way to his post in Yugoslavia to visit Diana and Duff Cooper, where Duff was located as Ambassador to the Free French. There were reports a few years ago that the Easton Court Hotel was to be broken up into private houses (see previous posts), but according to this website, it seems still to be operating as a country bed and breakfast.

Before moving to Chagford as his writing venue, Waugh worked in a village pub called the Abingdon Arms in Beckley near Oxford. It was there that he wrote much of his earliest work, notably Rossetti and Vile Bodies. That venue was recently threatened with conversion when the brewery owners put it up for sale. But it was bought by a consortium of villagers and their friends who are keeping it in existence as a village pub. According to a recent story in the Oxford Mail, it has become a thriving business and

…has been named the best community pub in the country. The Abingdon Arms in Beckley appears in the 2018 Sawdays pub guide and has been chosen from the almost 800 pubs featured for the special award – one of only six handed out.

As reported in an earlier post, the new owners plan to erect a plaque commemorating Waugh’s association with the premises.

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