A Visit to Burgh House Exhibit: Evelyn Waugh and Basil Bourchier

Milena Borden has kindly sent this report of her visit to a Waugh-related exhibit in North London which was mentioned in a previous post:

Closing this Sunday, the exhibition A Totally Preposterous Parson: Evelyn Waugh and Basil Bourchier is displayed in the very small and narrow hallway connecting other rooms on the second floor of the charming Burgh House, situated on a pretty, leafy corner of Hampstead just over a mile from Evelyn Waugh’s family home on 145 North End Road. There are two large portraits of the Reverend Basil Graham Bourchier hanging on each of the side walls alongside a smaller one of Dame Henrietta Barnett.  

The Evelyn Waugh display is in a glass cabinet under one of the portraits. It  consists of two books and a document: a copy of the first edition of A Little Learning (1964) showing the front cover and another one opened on pp. 132-33 pointing to paragraphs describing Rev. Bourchier of  the church “St Jude” in Hampstead Garden Suburb as “a totally preposterous parson”. Next to these is a bound volume with “St Jude’s Parish Paper, 7 July 1916” where the confirmation of Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh on St. Peter’s Day, 29 June 1916 is recorded. There is also an A4 page with written information by the curator Reverend Alan Walker describing the relationship between Waugh and the vicar and concluding that, despite the ridicule, it was Bourchier who introduced Waugh to religion: “As a schoolboy [Waugh] was clearly amused by Bourchier’s idiosyncratic presentation of Anglo-Catholicism, but he does not seem to have doubted its essential truth, indeed for all Bourchier’s ‘extravagant displays’, it was at St Jude’s,” explains Walker, that Waugh first “had some glimpse of higher mysteries.” Walker has also written a book about the subject of the exhibit (109 pages) which is for sale at the price of £10 in the shop downstairs.

The history of Waugh’s relationship to the Church of England, his early childhood years in Hampstead and his introduction to the liberal theology preached by Bourchier is displayed very nicely here. Except it is, perhaps unintentionally, misleading. Waugh converted to Roman Catholicism in 1930 and connected his life to what he viewed to be the true religion of his country. Thus he drew a line between his family upbringing in the Church of England and for the rest of his life remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. It was hard not to think that using his name liberally to advertise local history and also to enhance the recently adopted business plan of the Burgh House to attract visitors and wedding planners, would have only reinforced Waugh’s dislike of modernism. 



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