Waugh and the Sitwells

The Daily Mail reports in Sebastian Shakespeare’s gossip column that the Sitwell family is selling off one of its principal properties:

The Sitwells were once among the most celebrated of society families, inspiring the quip that they belonged to ‘the history of publicity’. But things are much less rosy for the current generation — MasterChef critic William Sitwell and his brother, baronet and film producer Sir George. They have, I can disclose, decided to sell Weston Hall, the £5 million Northamptonshire pile which has been in the family for 300 years and boasts at least 11 bedrooms.

After explaining somewhat vaguely what brought them to this pass, the article concludes:

‘Weston is a big, draughty house with a bit of history but is expensive to run,’ says a friend. In the family’s heyday in the Twenties and Thirties, Brideshead author Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward and society photographer Cecil Beaton regularly stayed.

Waugh knew all three literary Sitwells of his generation (actually they were all a bit older than Waugh): Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell (“Sachie”). He met them formally through Harold Acton and was relatively close to all three–e.g., he was Edith’s “sponsor” in her conversion to Roman Catholicism. He clearly made several stays at the primary family estate in Derbyshire–Renishaw Hall. In Waugh’s day, that was occupied by Osbert, who also held the title: Sitwell of Renishaw. During Waugh’s acquaintance, Sachie and his wife Georgia (née Doble) lived at Weston Hall and remained there after Osbert died in 1969, a few years after Waugh. Sachie did inherit the title from Osbert and had two sons: Reresby and Francis. When Sachie died he left the title to Reresby who had already received the right to Renishaw from Osbert when he vacated it in 1965. Weston Hall was occupied by Sachie’s younger son Francis, but at some point ownership went into a “family trust”. The Mail’s article assumes one already knows all this.

When Reresby died in 2009 (Francis having predeceased him), he left the title to Francis’s older son George and Renishaw itself to his own daughter Alexandra (whose married name is Hayward). Although not mentioned in the Mail (again, apparently one is assumed to know these things), the title probably could not be inherited by a daughter, and Reresby left no sons.

There matters stood. George lived in Weston Hall for a time, then moved out in favor of London,  and it was thereafter occupied by William. It is the two of them  who have decided to sell Weston Hall. All this is by of saying that there is little evidence that Evelyn Waugh made frequent stays in Weston Hall. Aside from this letter to Diana Cooper in 1932, I find no reference to visits by Waugh to that particular venue:

Then I went to Sachie and Georgia for week-end. It rained all the time and we had mulled claret and very girlish gossip. (MWMS, p. 19)

On the other hand, his visits to Renishaw, beginning in 1930 when he stopped by with Robert Byron for an extended stay and was later joined by Alastair Graham, are fairly well documented in his diaries and letters. His last visit was in 1957, after which Osbert became increasingly debilitated by Parkinson’s disease. Anyone reading this who knows of any other visits made by Waugh to Weston Hall or of any corrections needed in the aforesaid chain of inheritance is invited to comment below.

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