Memoir of Combe Florey

Sophia Waugh, Auberon’s daughter and Evelyn’s grand daughter, has written a bittersweet memoir of Combe Florey House on the occasion of its sale. This appears in a recent issue of the Catholic Herald.  Here are some excerpts:

…My grandfather bought the house, Combe Florey, because his wife Laura Herbert’s family came from the area. Both her sisters and her brother lived within 20 miles and the vast cousinship of the Herberts became part of Waugh life. Laura had seven much-loved cows and a cart horse called Dinah, and later turned the two walled kitchen gardens into a market garden. I remember the great treat of going to stay with her after my grandfather’s death and accompanying her to market with her metal tubs of daffodils. We would wander round the cattle market considering the merits of cows neither of us had any intention of buying.

This, of course, is not the image of the house that has been passed to the outside world. It has been painted as a sort of permanent literary festival, before literary festivals became part of middle-class life. In fact, by the time my grandfather moved there his output was slowing down. While there he wrote his biography (A Little Learning), also Unconditional Surrender and his life of Ronnie Knox, probably none of which have caught the attention of the hyperventilating estate agents.

Sophia grew up in the house after her parents bought it from her grandmother:

Like the Mitfords, we had a secret cupboard in the attic where some of us would gather with friends to write books and gossip. When my mother sold the house in 2008, I took a last walk around and visited the cupboard for the first time in years. Abandoned on the floor was a notebook with a story. It wasn’t very good. […]

It is not so much that my grandfather and father would not recognise the “décor” of the house, as that the essence of the house seems to have been so bastardised that is saddening. Of course, the owners did much good and necessary work to the house – wiring and pipes etc were all pretty ancient – but if the house was anything between 1956 and 2008, it was a family house, and that it seems to be no longer. […]

I wonder if, next time the house is sold, it will still be linked with the Waughs. That link seems ever more tenuous. The brass plate on the bedroom door saying “Miss Waugh” – first my aunt’s and then mine – will one day be unscrewed and thrown away. A house which was once full of good books and good food is now a showpiece, with a “servants’ village” built on the field, a “party barn” and poolhouse where there were once sheep and cows. […] The place is now guarded by staff who call it an “estate”, the windows are never lit. It’s Great Gatsby’s house without the parties, a Waugh house without family.

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” wrote LP Hartley in The Go-Between. I don’t know if it’s the past or the present that is foreign. But Combe Florey House has certainly become so to me.

The full article is available at this link.

 

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