Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 18. Clouds Hill Cottage

Clouds Hill
photos: top: Clive Nicholson
rest: Brian Robert Marshall (2nd)
(click to enlarge)
In dream symbology, a house is said to represent the self. What could be more fitting to Shaw's temperament than Clouds Hill Cottage in Dorset? With only window on the ground floor, and that at the back of the house it would seem to be ideal for an introvert who was constantly hounded by the press. The late Georgian cottage had been a gamekeeper's cottage on an estate and the lack of windows (originally five) is easy to explain: at the time of its construction there was a "window tax" and the lowest tier of that tax was fixed at six windows. He did add some extra windows: the skylight and the small porthole

He found the cottage for rent at half a crown a week in September of 1923, and shortly afterwards wrote to R. V. Buxton with regard to a marketing plan for Seven Pillars of Wisdom to which he added the following note:
"If the idea comes off I want to wangle enough to fill up my overdraft. It worries me rather, and yet is magnificent: for it has enabled me to take a ruined cottage in a wood near camp, and this I'm fitting up with the hope of having a warm solitary place to hide in sometimes on winter evenings. This district is unusually desolate (of good company) and I covet the idea of being sometimes by myself near a fire."
In 1927, he described the cottage to D. G. Hogarth:
"You never saw Clouds Hill, I think? A tiny brick cottage, with old tiled roof, very high pitched. It stands in a thicket of laurel and rhododendron, with oak trees and a huge ilex stretching arms over its roof. Damp? Yes; for the cottage dates from pre-damp-course days, and the trees drip great rain-drops on the roof for hours after each storm. They patter across the tiles like the first notes of the Vth Symphony. Only two rooms, the upstairs, of the cottage, are habitable. They have three-foot walls, and nine-foot roofs, all open. A great deal of oak and chestnut on show: but my repairs to the roof had to be in deal, which we creosoted to bring it to an ancient colour. My gold Meccan dagger paid the repair-bill, and left something over for furniture."
It was expressive of his character, and not just because of his shortage of money that his furnishing and supplying of the cottage was spartan. He allowed himself only four tea cups (which he made himself) and did not decorate the place with more than a single picture (see below). The National Trust now takes care of the property, and for commercial reasons has cluttered it up with many pictures and possibly other knick-knacks so that no one will get any idea of its original ambiance when Shaw called it home.

Writing to his mother on the 25th September, 1933, he includes:

"I was there yesterday, for the evening, and lit its first fire in the book-room. No smoke, and little smell of smoke upstairs: while the draught seemed plenty. In fact it burned very brightly, and I enjoyed it for the night was wet, like my clothes.
"Not much progress in the public works. The ram is not yet satisfactory, but is being improved. The heating apparatus is at last definitely ordered. Upstairs is due for its second anti-wood-worm poisoning, and all stripped bare for the operation. The bath-room is not yet cemented-round, and the bath waits in the garage for the boiler to be first installed.
"The book-room is all finished except for its fender, which I have not yet designed. My books fill one of the two shelved walls: the one on which the dishes used to sit. The opposite wall waits with empty shelves. Only a remnant of my books have survived their ten year exile: but all the Kelmscotts are present in good order.
"That Odyssey from China, by the way, never arrived! The book-room window has two fixed side-panes, cemented into the stone frame, and a pivoting centre-pane, in a stainless steel frame. That gives enough light and air to suit me. The other furniture is the window-seat, an affair six feet each way, built up of Bob's former bed and a big box-spring mattress: very comfortable and useful. I propose to move Mrs. Hardy's little stool down there, as a table; and the fender will complete it. What used to be the bed-room, upstairs, I am turning into a work-room, to hold a table and papers and ink and food and probably the gramophone and my clothes. That will make the upstairs sitting room big enough to walk about in."
Guests at his cottage had to share his spartan living. He did not host lavish dinner parties. In A Touch of Genius, Brown/Cave quotes E. M. Forster from a radio broadcast of 1938: '...There were not fixed hours for meals,  no tablecloth and no-one sat down. If you felt hungry you opened a tin and drifted about with it.'

There was one very dramatic and highly significant event that did take place at Clouds Hill, and that will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

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  1. What a quaint cottage!
    His desire for peace and quiet reminded me of the Simon and Garfundel song ' I Am a Rock'. Shaw thought of his cottage as somewhere "I've my books and my poetry to protect me". Also, as a safe place where people would not bother him: " I built walls , a fortess steep and mighty, that none may penetrate".
    Looking forward to other blogs.

    1. Interesting comparison Tannis!



    2. Tannis, I think that's a brilliant comparison. "I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock. I am an island." Mentally AND physically. Yet he was an exquisitely sensitive man so couldn't pull it off. He was touched by Hardy, by Elgar, by Manning, by the plight of Arabia, by every fellow serviceman who ran out of funds before payday. And he cared about his friend Charlotte's every hurt. I've been enjoying re-visiting the song with Shaw in mind, thanks!

  2. Thank you Tobi for your kind comments regarding my blog response. Society decided to make Shaw a hero. This certainly is not what he wanted. All he desired was to live a quiet life away from all the fuss and bother. The lyrics of this particular song express Shaw’s feelings about how he wanted to live his life without interruptions. He just wanted to be left alone.