Combe Florey Sale Coincides with Waugh Anniversary

In an article in today’s Times newspaper, Patrick Kidd writes:

On Easter morning 55 years ago tomorrow [Saturday, 10 April 2021] Evelyn Waugh said his last Deo gratias. After assisting his priest at a Latin mass in the Somerset town of Wiveliscombe, Waugh returned to his home in Combe Florey, seven miles away, for a family lunch in a rare jolly mood. At some point before the lamb was served, he went to his library and was never seen alive again.

The greatest novelist of his generation, as Graham Greene described him in The Times — or “the nastiest-tempered man in England” according to the architectural historian James Lees-Milne — was found dead in the downstairs toilet. Biffed while on the thunder-box, as Brigadier Ben Ritchie-Hook, the one-eyed maverick in his Sword of Honour trilogy, would have put it.

Waugh is buried near by. The location, in a former ha-ha on the edge of the 35-acre estate where he spent his last decade and the adjacent churchyard, chimes with his personality of awkwardly refusing to fit in anywhere.

The article goes on to explain how Waugh relied on his carpentry skills to oversee redecoration of the house and how, after he died, it came to belong to Auberon and his family. This was not down to primogeniture inheritance but to the fact that Auberon and his wife Teresa bought it from Evelyn’s widow Laura after she had been living there alone in relative squalor (as described by Auberon) for about 5 years. When Auberon’s family moved in, Laura then lived in one wing of the house.

The article in the Times then describes how the present owners, who bought the property from Auberon’s widow Teresa Waugh about 10 years ago, have upgraded the house. This includes addition of an orangery, a heated pool and a caretaker’s cottage. Several of these features are described in the article. Other details and more photographs are available in the online listing by the realtors Strutt & Parker on their website.

Some of this may be a bit oversimplified. Here, for example, is Patrick Kidd’s description of the disposition of Evelyn Waugh’s Combe Florey library:

Disappointingly, nothing survives of Waugh’s library, where he wrote his autobiography and Unconditional Surrender, the final volume of Sword of Honour. The room remains a library with glass doors over new shelves, but you would never know that a literary great ever used it. Blame his widow, who sold the contents, shelves and all, to a Texan in 1968. Alexander suggests that in doing so she had “effectively extinguished the spirit of Evelyn’s personality”; his father, the journalist Auberon Waugh, believed she did it to annoy her children.

It was not an individual Texan, but a Texas institution that purchased the library. This was the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas which acquired the library, preserved and expanded it and made it readily accessible to scholars. What particularly annoyed the family perhaps was not so much that their mother sold the books but also all the furnishings, decorations and paintings from the library. They later sought to have those accoutrements returned in exchange for Waugh’s correspondence archive. While the Ransom Center’s staff would have reportedly been happy to oblige, the State of Texas couldn’t come up with the necessary finding that the archive was equal in market value to the furnishings. So they languish in the Ransom Center’s basement storage and the correspondence archive went to the British Library.

Another online property website posts a listing for Waugh’s earlier residence at Piers Court. This appears on TheSpaces.com. This may, however, be a reposting from a 2018 listing that appeared a few years ago as was described in a previous post. The realtor in that transaction posted that that the property was sold.

UPDATE (10 April 2021). The last paragraph was amended to reflect sale of Piers Court pursuant to 2018 listing.

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