West Horsley Place – the manor house of the village – has exceptional historic and architectural significance.  It has belonged to nine different families over the centuries. The last family  took possession in 1931,  when house and  estate were purchased by the Marquess of Crewe. It was eventually inherited by his daughter, Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe.  She died in 2014, leaving the house and 380-acre estate to her nephew, Bamber Gascoigne.  Bamber and his wife Christina decided to set up a charitable trust, with a mission to restore the house and estate and place them at the heart of the local community as a centre for arts, heritage and nature.  In the long story of West Horsley Place the inspiration for this vision can be found in literary, artistic, musical and performance spheres.

The house’s literary connections are especially well represented and Bamber Gascoigne inherited a library of thousands of  books covering an eclectic and fascinating array of subjects.  In 1907, Henry Elliot Malden, author of the Victoria Country Histories wrote: ‘West Horsley has more literary associations in the past than any place in Surrey outside the old theatrical suburbs of Bankside and Paris Gardens.’ (1.)

 

THE  DE BERNERS LITERARY LEGACY

 Dame Juliana de Berners 

From 1271-1425 West Horsley Place was owned by the de Berners family.  Around 1388 Dame Juliana de Berners, an English Prioress and writer, was born.  The family owned land in Essex and Hertfordshire, as well as Surrey.  She is a mysterious figure and the subject of much historical debate, but sources close to the period describe her as the daughter of Sir James de Berners, favourite of Richard II, and  lord of the manor of West Horsley.  Sir James, along with other favourites of the young king, were ‘removed’ by the Lords Appellant, who resented their influence.  There is a stained glass memorial to Sir James in St. Mary’s Parish Church, West Horsley.  Dame Juliana wrote the first English work on angling, entitled A Treatyse of Fysshinge with an Angle: it comprises part of her Boke of St. Albans, which was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1484.  Juliana’s writings also covered ‘Hawkynge and Huntynge,’ and her writing about hunting includes an intriguing lists of collective nouns, such as ‘a gaggle of geese', 'a subtlety of sergeants,’ ‘a blast of hunters,’ and ‘a superfluity of  nuns’!  Juliana’s social status would have included participation in such country sports, which wealthy women of the medieval period enjoyed, and her role as Prioress of Sopwell Abbey – which gave her almost manorial influence – would not have precluded the diversions of the field.  The Prioress features in the writings of John Ball (1495-1563), Raphael Holinshed (c.1567) and Gervase Markham (1568-1637).  She is described as a beautiful lady of great spirit, skilled in hawking, hunting and fishing.  This is Juliana’s meticulous description of making  an angling rod:

 

And how you should make your rod skilfully, here I shall teach you.  You must cut between Michaelmas and Candlemas, a fair staff of a fathom and a half long (9ft.) and as thick as your arm, of hazel, willow or ash, and soak it in a hot oven and set it straight. Then let it cool and dry for a month.  Take it and tie it tight with a cockshoot cord, and bind it to a form, or a perfectly square, long piece of timber.  Then take a plumb wire  that is smooth and straight and sharp at one end.  And after this burn it in the lower end with a spit for roasting birds, and with other spits, each bigger than the last, and always the longest last so that you make your hole taper. Then let it lie still and cool for two days. Untie it and let it rest in the house-roof in the smoke until it is thoroughly dry.  (2.)

Sir John Bourchier, 2nd Baron Berners

The literary talents of the de Berners family did not end with Dame Juliana.  A kinsman, Sir John Bourchier, Baron Berners, lord of the manor during the reign of Henry VIII, penned the first translation into English of Froissart’s Chronicle, a colourful, dramatic record of the Hundred Years War between France and England.  Lord Berners' translation is regarded as the most significant historical work in English of the period, and one which greatly influenced succeeding writers.  Lord Berners had a passion for French literature, and although he is best known for his translation of Froissart, translated other Chivalric literature. His earliest work, c.1520, was Arthur of Lytell Brytayne, which is a rendering of Artus de la Petite Bretagne, a romance first printed in Lyon in 1493.  His translation of another French work Huon de Bordeux is almost as influential as the Froissart translation; it is entitled Boke of the Duke Huon of Burdeux, and it introduces Oberon, King of the Fairies into English literature. The rendering of the original latinate verse into English is a formidable achievement.  Lord Berners creates a flowing, literary language which brings the text to life, communicating vividly with the reader. A scholar of English prose writing, Sir Henry Craick comments: 'It is perhaps not too much to say there there is no one who, without producing a work of original genius or research, has laid English literature under such a debt of obligation as Lord Berners did by his translation of Froissart'. (3.)

 


‘THE FAIR GERALDINE’: A LITERARY INSPIRATION

Another West Horsley Place lady of literature is remembered not as a writer, but an inspiration.  Lady Elizabeth FitzGerald Browne is the famous ‘Fair Geraldine’ of the sonnet by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, the poet who introduced the sonnet to English literature.  Elizabeth FitzGerald was brought up at Court with the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and it was in this milieu that her youthful beauty was immortalised by Henry  Howard in the prevailing fashion of the age:

                  From Tuscan came my lady’s worthy race;

                  Fair Florence was some time their ancient seat;

                  The western isle, whose pleasant shore doth face

                  Wild Camber’s cliffs did give her lively heat:

                  Fostered was she with milk of Irish breast;

                  Her sire an earl; her dame of princes’ blood:

                  From tender years in Britain she doth rest

                  With king’s child, where she tasteth costly food:

                  Hunsdon did first present her to my een:

                  Bright is her hue, and Geraldine she hight:

                  Hampton me taught to wish her first for mine:

                  And Windsor, alas, doth chase me from her sight.

                  Her beauty of kind, her virtues from above;

                  Happy is he that can obtain her love.

 

 It was the prominent courtier and favourite of King Henry VIII, Sir Anthony Browne  who ‘obtained her love’; she was married to him in 1543.  The king gave Sir Anthony Hatchlands and the Manor of East Clandon in 1544 and West Horsley House – as it was then – in 1547. Lady Elizabeth became a widow the following year, but her stepson, Anthony Browne – later Lord Montague -  allowed  her the ownership of West Horsley House for her lifetime.  When she remarried in 1552, she and her husband, Edward Fiennes Clinton, The Lord High Admiral and 1st Earl of Lincoln, spent quality time at the house, where they were visited by the young Queen Elizabeth; an occasion celebrated by pageantry and performance.  Lincoln died in 1585, and Fair Geraldine chose to live for long periods  in West Horsley.  She corresponded regularly with Sir William More of Loseley.  She was very indignant about land enclosure, which she felt harmed the poor tenants as well as infringing her manorial rights. She sought Sir William’s protection when the Spanish Armada threatened.  Fair Geraldine died in Lincoln in March, 1590. She was a survivor in an age of intrigue and danger, and her memory lives on in the Earl of Surrey’s poem.

 

 

THE MONCKTON-MILNES FAMILY

This literary association has continued until the present day,  through the Monckton-Milnes family.  The house was bought, in 1931, by Robert Offley Ashburton Crewe-Milnes. He was the son of Richard Crewe-Milnes (later 1st Lord Houghton), Fellow of the Royal Society and poet, who wrote the first biography of John Keats.  He was the centre of a literary circle in the middle years of the 19th century,  hosting Thursday breakfasts in his house in Brooke Street.  His son Robert, who inherited his uncle’s earldom and later became Marquess of Crewe, though a very different character, followed his father’s literary interests. Lord Crewe was a Liberal politician, serving in Asquith’s cabinet. Among the many positions he held were Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1892-1895, Secretary of State for India (1910-1915) and Ambassador to France (1922-1926).  He published his first book of poetry Stray Verses in 1891 and it was praised by Lord Tennyson. Among his other literary works is a book entitled War and English Poetry (1917) and a biography of his father-in-law, the Earl of Rosebery, in 1931.  One of his poems appeared in Great War poetry collections:

 

                       A Harrow Grave in Flanders

 

              Here in the marshland, past the battered bridge

                    One of a hundred grains untimely sown,

                  Here, with his comrades of the hard-won ridge

                                          He rests unknown.

 

                  His horoscope had seemed so plainly drawn,

                     School triumphs, earned apace in work and play;

                  Friendships at will; then love’s delightful dawn

                                          And  mellowing day.

 

                                   Home fostering hope; some service to the State;

                     Benignant age; then the long tryst to keep

                  Where in the yew-tree shadow congregate

                                          His  fathers  sleep.

 

                  Was here the one thing needful to distil

                    From life’s alembic, through this holier fate,

                  The  man’s essential soul, the hero-will?

                                          We ask, and wait.

 

Lord Crewe was greatly admired, and although occasionally  described as stiff and formal, his poetry reveals another side of his character. His life was not without tragedy; he lost his beloved mother when he was still a schoolboy at Harrow, and his first wife and son before he was thirty, leaving him with three young daughters.  The deaths affected him deeply, and his unhappiness made him ill.  In his biography of the Marquess, James Pope Hennessy writes: 'It was neither the first nor the last of Houghton’s bouts of illness, for together with her distinctive charm and amiable manners, he had inherited his mother’s physical weakness. He was particularly prone to trouble with his lungs.' (4.)  He was a widower for more than a decade, before marrying Lady Peggy Primrose, daughter of the Earl of Rosebery in 1899.  They also lost a young son aged eleven. Their daughter Mary, became Duchess of Roxburghe.  Lord Crewe and Lady Peggy moved into West Horsley Place in 1931. He died in June 1945, in a room overlooking the garden and lined with books.  

 

The family contributed one more literary link to the house, as Bamber Gascoigne is also an author.  He wrote and presented a thirteen hour documentary on the History of Christianity, with an accompanying book illustrated with photographs by his wife Christina.  Other works include novels, documentaries and books on Victorian History, the Mughal Empire and the Dynasties of China, as well as musicals and T.V. Scripts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

 

The rich literary legacy of West Horsley Place, which will inspire the work of the Trust in the years ahead, lives on in the writings of those connected with the house, and in the thousands of books which still grace its rooms. What better way to end this tribute than with a verse by Alfred Lord Tennyson, but dear reader, you must exercise your poetic imagination:

 

An English home - grey twilight poured

                  On dewy pastures, dewy trees,

                  Softer than sleep - all things in order stored:

                  A haunt of perfect peace.

 

References:

1.          H. E. Malden, The Surrey Archaeological Society, Vol.21 London: Bowarth & Co. Ltd. 1907, P.101

2.          Juliana Berners, The Boke of St. Albans, Reproduction of the original in the Bodleian Library

             EEBO Editions. Pro Quest

3.          Sir Henry Craick, English Prose, 14th to 16th Century, Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berner

             London: Macmillan,  1916

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Berners, Dane Juliana, A Treatyse on Fysshinge wyth an Angle, Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2007

Ditto Boke of St. Albans, Huntyng, 1881 edition, reprinted in Great Britain by Amazon

Blades, William, Introduction to the Boke of St. Albans in Facsimile, London,  Elliott Stock, 1881

Cameron, M.J. Florilegium 16 (1999) Such Joy at the Heart: Lord Berners’ Huon de Bordeux,

https://journals.lib.flor/article.view/19200

Childs, Jessie, Henry VIII’s Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2007

Craick, Sir Henry, English Prose, 14th to 16th century, Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners, London: Macmillan, 1916

Crewe-Milnes, Robert Offley Ashburton, Stray Verses, 1889-1890, London: John Murray, 1891

Ditto,  War and English Poetry, Leopold Classic Library, publish in Great Britain by Amazon

Gascoigne, Bamber, A New Start, www.westhorsleyplace.org

Houghton, Richard Monckton Milnes, Vol. 1. Poems, London: Moxon, 1838

Lee, Sir Sydney, The Boke of Duke Huon of Burdeux (Lord Berners), London: Trubner & Co, 1883

Manning, Rev. Owen & William Bray, The History & Antiquities of the County of Surrey, Vol, 1. London:      Nichols & Son. 1804-1814

Pope-Hennessy, James, Lord Crewe: The Likeness of a Liberal, London: Constable &  Co. 1955

Starkey, David, Elizabeth, London: Random House, 2008