Aston Clinton Profiled on Country House Website

The estate of Aston Clinton, associated with Evelyn Waugh in the 1920s, is profiled on the website of House and Heritage.org, maintained by David Poole. The estate became well-known thanks to its ownership by a member of the Rothschild family between 1851 and 1923. The original family member and his daughter and only heir were responsible for the development of the extensive gardens and decorating the house with artwork. After being requisitioned during WWI, it was sold in 1923 to Dr A E B Crawford for use as a boys school. This is where Waugh comes into the story:

Evelyn Waugh was a schoolmaster for a short time from 1925, and in his diaries he referred to it as “an unconceivably ugly house but a lovely park” and “a house of echoing and ill-lit passages.”

This was Waugh’s second teaching post after working at Arnold House in North Wales earlier in the year. He started at Aston Clinton in September 1925 and continued until February 1927 when he was sacked for inappropropriate attentions to the matron while drunk. After Waugh left, the school soon sold up, and the estate went through several iterations as a country club and various hotels. It was finally acquired by the County Council. The house was demolished in 1956 and later replaced with a training center. The gardens are apparently still maintained.

The same website has posted just below the Aston Clinton profile an article about the proposed sale of Piers Court, with a focus on its ownership by the Waughs. This includes several features not reported in the earlier press accounts and a family photo of the Waughs and a servant arranged along a wall. The date isn’t given but it must have been shortly before they moved.

The House and Heritage Piers Court article avoids the mistaken claim made in the press that Brideshead Revisited was among the books written at Piers Court. It also contains several quotations from the memoir of Frances Donaldson, the Waughs’ neighbor in Stinchcombe, including this description of the library:

“In his library the carved shelves were built out in bays as they are in a public library and painted dark green, but it was a big room and the effect was rather beautiful while this arrangement provided room for his collection of books.”

A photo of Waugh sitting at his desk in the library is also reproduced and the article concludes with this:

Back in 2004, the then-custodian revealed that [Waugh’s] beloved library was long gone. “Under a previous owner, the library where Waugh wrote was shipped, piece by piece, to Texas, where it was supposed to be reconstructed as a museum but is still in packing cases.”

It was Waugh who had the library and its fittings removed from Piers Court to have them reinstalled in his new house at Combe Florey in West Somerset. The University of Texas bought the library fittings from there, along with his books and papers, after his death. The books and papers are archived in its collections at the Harry Ransom Center but the fittings remain in storage. One hopes that they are still in the packing crates. His desk, however, occasionally surfaces and was displayed at the Society’s 2008 conference at the HRC.

An attempt was made by the Waugh Family to reacquire those library fittings and other artifacts separate from the books and papers. They offered in exchange Waugh’s correspondence files which had not formed part of UT’s original acquisition. Although the HRC staff was reported to have wholeheartedly supported the exchange, a provision of the State of Texas procurement laws relating to property exchange valuations proved to be a complication too far. The library fittings remain in Texas and the correspondence files went to the British Library.

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