Happy the person who can combine work with a holiday in a lovely place. Definitely in need of such a break, we spent four days in the Petersfield area of Hampshire at the beginning of the month. We had not been down there since September 2011, when I was trying to establish where Kittie had lived during those ‘lost’ years 1923-33 and I visited some of the places associated with her time in Hampshire.
Of course, the chapters dealing with her life after George’s disappearance at Gallipoli were written over a year ago; but it is still not too late to tweak them. I had come to my own conclusions about why she left London for the village of Sheet in late 1922, why her residence there was so broken, and why she basically abandoned it in 1933, but I thought that with all my knowledge and mulling since, I might be able to clinch the answers by revisiting the place and meeting more of today’s inhabitants.
To see how stressed Kittie was about leaving London to live on the edge of Sheet, and how stressed by living in Hampshire generally, you only have to look at her ‘Fragment’ that I posted on 7 June.
We made straight for the National Trust property of Harting Down, which Kittie mentions in her diary as being a place of particular solace to her:
It was a beautiful hot day, bees and burnet moths were whirring through the chalkland flora around us, a buzzard sailed through the valley below… But what you can’t see is the thirty or so other people sitting around us also having their lunch! Presumably, in Kittie’s day it was wilder and less visited, not to mention the time when the Calderons’ friend Thomas Sturge Moore had written ‘On Harting Down’, the only poem of his to make it into The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. If I tell you that this remarkable poem begins ‘Once, when their hearts were wild with joy,/They bedded on the downs’, I probably need say no more.
We tried to work out how Kittie would have got to Harting Down, which is about seven miles distant from Sheet as the crow flies. There were footpaths, of course, but the evidence is that she could not walk more than a mile or two. We looked at the old railway tracks on maps. She could have got nearer by rail, but there would still have been a long plodding climb. Most likely she hired a car to take her there, or her godson Alan Lubbock took her in his. On one occasion, she seems to have been driven to Harting Down by her god-daughter Lesbia Corbet, aged twenty-one. She could actually see the Downs from her back bedroom and take short walks on their lower slopes.
At Sheet itself, little seemed to have changed (the village itself is firmly enclosed within three ancient streets), but the London Road (A272) separating the Old Mill area where Kittie lived from the village proper, is busier than ever, and the Lane on which Kittie’s house ‘Kay’s Crib’ was situated has morphed into the B2199. When I took the photograph of Kay’s Crib below in 2011, I could stand in the Lane and I don’t recall there being any traffic at all. In 2017 that was impossible: an unbroken stream of cars roared along it.
The hedge in the photograph above is probably the remains of the one you can see in the photograph below, which is the only picture we have of Kittie at Sheet. She is holding her Cairn terrier Bunty and may be wearing a Russian embroidered linen shirt brought back by George. The person on the left is Sophie Malcolm (‘Ess’), the wife of a retired surgeon, who had bought the biggest house in Sheet in 1929. When Jack Malcolm died in 1937, Kittie, who was then living near Ashford in Kent, ‘went suddenly to be with Ess’ (diary).
Behind Kay’s Crib it was as quiet and idyllic as ever:
Kelly’s Directory tells us that in the 1920s the Old Mill House was lived in by the Misses Malet. Kittie seems to have been on good terms with them; judging from the war memorial in Sheet’s church one of them may have lost a husband in the First World War, like Kittie.
Although it meant having an early B&B breakfast and driving sixteen miles, I was determined to attend the ten o’clock service at St Mary’s for a variety of reasons. First, we had not been inside it on our 2011 visit, although we had been hugely impressed by its spickness and garden outside. Second, Kittie had been an active member of St Mary’s and it would be interesting to see whether it is as important a part of village life as it was in her time. Third, I hoped that if we were invited to coffee afterwards I might be able to pick up informed gossip that would help me clinch my answers to the vital questions: 1) why did Kittie come here? 2) why did she not really enjoy it? 3) why did she leave?
The church was full, the service a really appealing blend of ‘happy clapping’ and traditional elements, and there was a fantastic sense of community in the congregation. Most people, I think, went off to the adjoining hall for coffee. Here we were introduced to everyone.
A lady apologised to me for the length of the sermon. I said that I hadn’t noticed as it was so spontaneous and sincere, unlike the half-hour tracts of my youth, and I added that everything about the church, including its website, seemed so well-run. ‘It should be,’ she replied, ‘there are seven naval officers on the church council.’ This was interesting. She herself was the widow of a naval commander.
Although ‘a building of stone in the Early English style’ (Kelly’s, 1927), the church was erected only in 1868. Like George Calderon, then, its 150th is going to be celebrated next year. A number of events are planned in this connection and I met the energetic archivist who is heading a team to research the funding, construction and early activity of the church. I explained who Kittie was, that she had been a parishioner, on the Fabric Fund, and collected for the Clothing Club, but I forgot to mention that she also taught in the Sunday School and her lesson notes have survived. The archivist asked me if I would give a talk about Kittie during the 150th celebrations. Would I!
A place that we had not visited in 2011 was Adhurst St Mary, a seven-bedroom Victorian pile about half a mile outside Sheet. I had not at the time realised that it was lived in by Kittie’s godson Alan Lubbock, who had married the owner, Helen Bonham-Carter, in 1918. However, when I caught up with this fact in 2013 I Googled on the place and found that it was up for sale. It looked pretty derelict. Talking to people over coffee at Sheet, I heard that it was now being renovated, but in formidably acrimonious circumstances. On 5 June we took the wrong turning down its private road, reversed immediately we realised our mistake, and just had time to take this photograph:
The rest of Sunday 4 June we spent at Steep, a village about a mile and a half from Kittie’s cottage. It seemed appropriate to start an afternoon’s walking with lunch at ‘The Harrow’, as this popular pub prides itself on its unreconstructed 1920s style.
Thomas Sturge Moore and his family left 40 Well Walk, the house next door to the Calderons, in 1919 and settled at Steep. His main motivation, it seems, was to enable his children (great favourites of George’s) to attend Bedales School; when they had completed their education there in 1927, the Sturge Moores moved back to London. We walked up Church Street past Bedales to ‘Hillcroft’, number 29, which has a plaque on its front commemorating Sturge Moore’s stay.
It seems that Edward Thomas and his wife Helen also moved to Steep to enable their children to attend Bedales, where Helen taught in the kindergarten. They lived there on and off between 1909 and 1916. Thomas’s poetry and his reasons for joining up in July 1915 have been one of the backgrounds to ‘Calderonia’. Some of his finest poems and prose were written at Steep. We therefore devoted ourselves now to the four-mile Edward Thomas literary walk.
Following it as numbered on the map, rather than being tempted at point 2 by the sight of the waterfall to head straight for the Poet’s Stone commemorating Thomas, has a significant advantage: you ascend relatively gently through woodland and along metalled roads to a magnificent view of the valley from the top of Shoulder of Mutton Hill, and then descend to the Poet’s Stone halfway down the hillside. The spectacle of those toiling up to it from the waterfall brought home to me vividly why the place is called Steep.
When we were walking along Church Road in Steep, we were struck by the number of houses in the Arts and Crafts style. Indeed, it turns out that Bedales itself was designed by Ernest Gimson, one of the leaders of the Cotswold School of A&C. A bonus of the Edward Thomas trail, however, was that as we walked along Cockshott Lane we came upon the workshop of Edward Barnsley, another key A&C man, who specialised in furniture:
For more information on how Edward Barnsley came to end up here, go to the Edward Barnsley Workshop website. The point is, I knew Kittie had viewed his furniture in London, but I did not know that by the time she moved to Sheet Barnsley was already at Steep. I have now found his address there in one of her address books. Almost certainly, I would think, she visited the workshop. Like the painter Arnold Pienne, Barnsley was in his early twenties, and she liked to encourage such young talent.
Next day, Monday 5 June, we set out in the morning for somewhere totally different: Hayling Island, which is about twenty-five miles south of Petersfield.
Various people we know had cast aspersions on the place, and I daresay at the height of the summer holiday season it isn’t seen to its best. But the drive down the eastern side is very pleasantly rural: a bit like Romney Marsh. The ‘Inn on the Beach’ and bathing huts on West Beach were in excellent nick, I thought, and Sinah Common, stretching westwards to the closest point to Portsmouth, is not only a popular golf course but a very rich nature reserve. The Common was actually our main destination.
During the First World War the island was taken over by the School of Musketry. Every home with a spare bedroom had a soldier billeted on it, including one George Calderon, and the military took over the Royal Hotel (built in 1825):
Already in the autumn of 1914, two impressive ranges were being set up on Sinah Common: one with targets on the southern shore, the other on the north side firing, it seems, towards Langstone Harbour. The musketry course sought to convert soldiers from the ‘Bisley style’ of deliberate shooting to the rapid fire of the First British Army that helped check the German advance in the first months of the war. The other course for which Hayling was famous was its Machine Gun Course, which George took in the spring of 1915. It seems to have lasted at least a fortnight.
As far as I and three extremely helpful advisors at the Tourist Information Office could work out, very little remains of the School of Musketry’s presence 1914-18 compared with the Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and Mulberry Harbours that played such an important role in World War II. However, this is a view at Gunners Point on the south shore of Sinah Common, where the Machine Gun Course probably operated:
On our last morning in Petersfield, 6 June, we had a meeting with Vaughan Clarke, whom I had never met before but who had helped me enormously after our 2011 visit in establishing the history of Kay’s Crib. Vaughan is now Chairman of Petersfield Museum. He and his team are managing a fantastic project to expand and diversify the Museum after taking over the old Police Station. They are able to add all this new space to the premises that they previously occupied at the back, preserving the original Police cells, exercise yard etc as historical attractions in their own right, increasing storage space for collections by 85%, creating a fifty-seat lecture hall in the old Courthouse, and setting up a new Edward Thomas Study Centre to house the Museum’s archive collection and library relating to the poet’s time at Steep. The work involves an army of volunteers and has been made possible by a major local benefaction and support by the Heritage Lottery Fund. As the brochure puts it: ‘A fully re-imagined Petersfield Museum will open its doors in 2021.’
Meanwhile, Vaughan gave us a personal tour of the Museum. We lingered particularly long over the display of wedding dresses and suits from the Bedales Historic Dress Collection housed at the Museum, the Flora Twort Gallery, and the extraordinary recent finds made at Petersfield’s Bronze Age barrow cemetery. This is already a local Museum not to be missed, with an amazing range of temporary exhibitions, family events, talks, town walks, and forms of educational and community engagement.
As one would expect, Vaughan Clarke has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Petersfield past and present. He is also a great raconteur and told us some hilarious true stories. For my part, of course, I had one or two specific questions to ask Vaughan, which he was more than able to answer. He filled out for me my vague impression of Petersfield as a cultural centre long before the Petersfield Arts and Crafts Society was founded in 1934. In particular, I had not been aware of the musical dimension. The Petersfield Musical Festival was revived after WW1 and Adrian Boult became its conductor and lifelong supporter! Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst also conducted for the Festival and there were some very eminent local musicians. The artist Flora Twort, whose family lived not far from George and Kittie in the Vale of Health, had also opened a bookshop and craft workshop on the market square as early as 1918.
I cannot thank Vaughan Clarke warmly enough for his tour and Q/A session, as well as the curators of the costume and Edward Thomas collections, and volunteer attendants, who gave so freely of their hard-pressed time. It was one of the most varied, vivid and satisfying of the many research trips my wife and I have made in the course of the whole Calderon project. I thoroughly recommend the area for a healthy and enjoyable break!
* * *
I drew the following conclusions:
(1) By 1922 the Arts and Crafts movement was more active at Petersfield and Steep than I had thought. Kittie not only knew the Lubbocks at Adhurst St Mary and the Sturge Moores at Steep when she decided to move near them, she probably knew of Flora Twort’s activities at Petersfield even if she did not know her personally (which she might well have). Moreover she already knew Edward Barnsley, which I had not appreciated before, and would have been attracted by the musical element in Petersfield’s cultural life, of which I had been ignorant. The answer to the question ‘why did she move to Sheet?’, then, is confirmed as being a mixture of her extended family and of culture, with more emphasis on the latter than I had previously understood. There was probably an element of fashion about it, too, and she felt she would be mixing with people like herself.
(2) But in the latter she was not entirely correct. Until I spoke to people in the Petersfield area today, I had not realised that the naval officers who populated the area were not all retired officers (the next two owners of Kay’s Crib, in fact, had high naval ranks). They lived there, and still do, because they work at Portsmouth. I knew that Kittie had had an early run-in with an army officer, but I now think it more likely that she had difficulty socialising and working with the great preponderance of naval officers, who ran such things as church committees and village fêtes, and ran them Bristol fashion and with an emphasis on pecking-order. She was a Hamilton, after all, the widow of a man who had insisted on joining up and giving his life for his country, and she retained a Bohemian-liberal streak from living twenty years in Hampstead amongst writers and artists…
(3) As well as serving navy and army officers, there was a contingent of retired professional people at Sheet in the 1920s who might also not have been as flexible as Kittie was used to, and I can’t believe there were that many native villagers. Sheet society, then, was socially top-heavy. Even today, one senses that in this part of Hampshire there is perhaps above-average potential for conflict — which is doubtless amicably resolved long before it gets out of hand. For Kittie in the 1920s, though, the phenomenon turned into what she called ‘the idiot kink in village socialities’. She could not reconcile herself to it, spent long periods away from Sheet, and eventually put her house on the market.
On my return to Cambridge, I tweaked my final chapter a bit in those directions.