‘A riot of the senses’
Life at Sutton Courtenay 1895-1920
Lady Diana Cooper, the beautiful daughter of Violet, Marchioness of Granby, (later Duchess of Rutland), wrote: ‘The place of all others for romance and gathering rosebuds and making hay and jumping over the moon was Sutton Courtenay. This lovely sixteenth-century (sic) manor house belonged to my Uncle Harry Lindsay and Aunt Norah. There once a year I was allowed to go before I came out. The garden was famous for its imagination and fertility. Flowers literally overflowed everything and drifted off into a wilderness. The house was furnished impeccably “of the date” and lit by acetylene gas that simulated candles to perfection. We ate under a loggia from great bowls of chicken in rice and kedgeree and mushrooms and raspberries and Devonshire cream and gooseberry fool and figs – all in abundance. I would arrive carrying a letter from my mother entrusting me to Aunt Norah’s great care – not too late to bed and above all not to be alone with young men. The chief object of the visit, as I knew and as Aunt Norah knew, was to drift in a boat all day long with one of the Oxford heroes through the reeds and inlets of the Thames which flowed by the garden – a dinghy full of poetry books and sweets and parasols and bathing dresses – and better still (or worse!) in the moonlight with the best loved. So the letter was ignored by my aunt, who was younger much than my mother and did not mind anyway if I came to no good. I loved her very dearly and miss her today. She dressed mostly in tinsel and leopard skins and baroque pearls and emeralds, and her exquisite hands could play the piano with skill and feeling.’
‘These extraordinary events’
The King and Mrs. Simpson
August was the month each year that Philip Sassoon wanted Port Lympne to be at its finest. Norah set out in early August to check on the gardens to be sure they were ready for the impending onslaught of houseguests. This year she packed into a car with Chips Channon and his wife Honor and started the long drive on the road crammed with traffic to Lympne. ‘Of course, they gossiped madly all the way. The usual topics the King and his speech, the King and his yacht trip…The King…The King…The King!’
‘We found Philip, Teeny and the Aberconways walking up the long drive as we arrived. The Duffys [Duff and Diana Cooper], Helen Fitzgerald, the Simpsons, and the Brownlows were there. Diana and Duffy start Tuesday for their holiday motoring, planning to stay with Daisy Fellowes at Cap Martin and then on to join the royal yacht wherever and whenever they are told. Diana is marvellously calm as she hasn’t yet had any orders or plans told her, but she says H.M. has a party at The Fort this weekend, so she’ll probably hear any moment. She is quite delighted at the change from the stale Riviera to the thrill of the Dalmatian coast. But says Duffy can’t stay away long because of his duties and work. I sat by Duffy last night who was exceptionally gay and entertaining. He can be more delightful than anyone and I’m told he is not so violently anti-German as the gossips insist. After dinner I played bridge with him.’
As expected the gossip quietly turned to the King, and the whispered comments [because after all, the Simpson’s were there] talked of nothing but the imminent yacht trip along the Dalmation coast.
When Norah’s sister Madeline received a letter from Norah recounting the weekend chatter she wrote across the back of the letter then filed away her thoughts on the matter: ‘Duff ought to have refused to go with H.M. as Mrs. Simpson was included in the party – and because he was in the government he should have refused to go on this trip. H. M. was so badly served by his friends who never told him the truth. So that he really did believe he could marry her and make her Queen and was shocked when he found he couldn’t – If his friends had really told him the truth and showed him that they did not like her – or think his behaviour wise – then he might have realized what he was doing – but they never attempted to make him understand how utterly unacceptable she was to be his wife –with two divorces already!’ Norah had no idea that her letter would cause such anger in her sister as she concluded her letter with a focus on the other outrage of the moment – the condition of the gardens.
The next morning she continued the letter. ‘We had a lashing gale all day …Then came a fine interval and we all rushed out to see the marsh lying so calm in the pale sunset as if no storms had passed that way. And after dinner there was a feast of beauty. A huge high moon rode in the sky with rags of clouds racing still across her face and she was poised just between a group of inky cypress and again reflected in a silver radiance in the pool below. It was as beautiful as any Italian garden. Then as a last straw the big centre fountain was turned on and the frothy silver creamy water gushed up in a vast plume, it’s edges where the light didn’t reach – tipped in ink. Far away the sea lay like a plate of silver and lights twinkled here and there on the long stretch of pansy velvet dark marsh.’