A book for the train 

Our library recording project - in partnership with with The Arts Society East Surrey, and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund - is to record, clean and begin to repair our huge book collection.

It's always enjoyable to read a book with a local connection when you're on holiday. Hilary Ely, lead volunteer, explains what completed Lady Crewe's trip to a French spa in the Pyrenees before the war.

A glimpse of Lady Crewe’s life in her books 

In the Mulberry Bedroom we found Secrets et malheurs de la Reine Hortense by Pierre de Lacretelle, inscribed to Lady Crewe by Sir George Grahame, at Cauterets in 1938.  Tucked in the book was a letter from Sir George, and a rather touching story. 

open book La Reine Hortense

Lady Crewe and Sir George were staying at Cauterets, now better known as a mountaineering and skiing resort but then a spa, both taking the cure.  They may well have been acquainted already – Sir George was a distinguished diplomat, ending his career as Ambassador to Spain, and of course Lord Crewe was Ambassador to France in the 1920s. 

old letter unfolded on book

This book is a testament to their holiday friendship. Sir George gave it to Lady Crewe for her train journey home. She finished it on the journey, and immediately sent him a telegram to say how much she had enjoyed it.  From Sir George’s reply, it is obvious that the local scandal of Queen Hortense, step-daughter of Napoleon and mother of Napoleon III, had been a topic of conversation.  There were persistent rumours that Hortense’s son was conceived at Cauterets, but the father was not the King of the Netherlands, her husband – so who was it?  There were candidates in Cauterets, evidently this book examines their claims, and Sir George continues the debate here.  The ending of the letter is poignant:

I hope that Cauterets will have cured your throat affection.   It is sad to enter the Café Anglais & no longer see a fascinating Presence on its red benches.   Yours very sincerely   George Grahame

Lady Crewe went on to enjoy many more years of life, but sadly Sir George did not – he died in 1940.

I should love to be contradicted, but I think that Sir George Dixon Grahame may be a wholly forgotten figure these days. But he had a role in 20th century history, strongly urging the British government to support the legitimacy of the Spanish Republic after the election in 1931 and beyond.  If he is forgotten in Britain, he is remembered in Spain, and is the subject of a biography published last year.