This Is Overstrand

Reminiscences Chapter XVI

A Chapter from the Reminiscences of Lady Battersea

A garden is a lovesome thing - God wot!

Rose plot,
Fringed pool,
Fern grot
The veriest school
Of peace.

THE return of a Liberal Government in 1892, after a strenuous campaign, brought with it prizes and emoluments for those who had worked well and successfully in favour of their party. None had worked harder than Cyril, none had shown more devotion to his wonderful old leader, none had received more congratulations than the member for S. Beds. I had hoped for a Government appointment of interest and weight, but it was not to be. A peerage was tendered and accepted. I was abroad at the time, but the news leaked through in various letters from England, and was finally confirmed by Cyril, who asked me to keep the offer secret for a time. I did not receive the news gratefully or with rejoicing; my heart had been set on other things, and I was not in the least eager for such advancement.

The peerage meant an end to the old Parliamentary life, so full of adventure, surprises, and incidents, and I felt inwardly that Cyril would never take the same position in the Lords that he had had in the House of Commons. Besides which, being a very consistent Radical, I hardly looked upon a peerage as promotion. However, when I returned to London, and was met at seven o'clock in the morning by Cyril, I knew in a moment C that I had to congratulate him and to regard the bright side of the event, if I did not wish him to be depressed and disappointed. So for the time being we amused ourselves by discussing various names for the title, some of them suggested by relatives and friends, finally choosing that of Battersea, Overstrand being tacked on by the wish of our Overstrand friends and neighbours, many of whom had given their loyal affection to my husband from the first.

I watched Cyril taking his seat in the House of Lords with much interest, and thought he looked extremely well in his robes. I also heard him second the Address in 1894 during Lord Rosebery's Premiership-on which performance both he and I received many congratulatory epistles, none kinder or pleasanter to read than the one from Sir Algernon West.

In February 1893 the Governorship of New South Wales fell vacant, owing to the resignation of Lord Jersey, and this splendid and much coveted post was offered to Cyril by Lord Ripon. The offer was not quite unexpected, but I had always dismissed the possibility of our accepting such an appointment from my mind. On Cyril's return from his interview with Lord Ripon I knew the worst. The idea of leaving my mother for so long a term of years and going to the other end of the world appeared to me like committing a sin. Knowing Cyril's devotion to her and his oft-expressed determination of never leaving her for long, I thought, foolishly indeed, that he would agree with me in the advisability of refusing the offer. Even now I cannot bear to retrace the events of that week and of those that followed upon it. The answer had to be sent almost immediately to Lord Ripon. I had hardly time to consider the position as it ought to have been considered. Perhaps it is best not to rake up the past ; suffice it to say that I spent the most miserable weeks of my life, in the face of opposing duties, and that Cyril performed one of the greatest acts of renunciation, greater than my dear mother could ever have been aware of, for her sake and mine. Were I to live my life over again I think I should act differently, for, to say the least, it is ill-judged, perhaps unpardonable, to stand in the way of a man's acceptance of an honourable and useful career.

It was greatly owing to this disappointment that Cyril henceforth made The Pleasaunce at Overstrand his chief country home and interest. One or two bad falls in the hunting field, some changes in the hunting appointments of Mid-Bucks, probably also the toll of increasing years, all conduced to his showing less eagerness for his former well-loved sport. Besides which, when he had ceased to be a member of the House of Commons, it was no longer imperative upon him to live within easy travelling distance of London. He had for years been attracted by the glorious sea air of the East Coast, especially welcome after the relaxing south-westerly breezes and moist atmosphere of Wales, and had longed to become the owner of a seaside habitation in Norfolk. We had spent a few weeks every summer at one of the hotels on that coast, and Cyril had made acquaintance with many a village that might possibly provide us with a holiday home. In the early 'eighties it was the village of Sheringham that held great attractions for us. Unspoilt and old-fashioned, its quaint and tortuous streets were backed by some beautiful woodland scenery, whilst the modern villa was still conspicuous by its absence. A small house situated in an un-get-at-able, inconvenient corner of the little town, overlooking the sea, but cramped, almost sea-locked, was offered us. Cyril thought it would bear transformation and might be turned into a marine paradise, so he instantly set his clever brains to devise the necessary improvements. A friendly architect was called in for consultation, and Cyril assured me that I should revel in such an acquisition. I felt doubtful, but kept a discreet silence. One day we heard sinister rumours that illness had broken out at Sheringham, pronounced by medical authorities to be typhoid. The following week these rumours were confirmed, and then came the sad news of more cases, some of them ending fatally. At last an epidemic was declared. The drainage had been at fault, and the very house so coveted by my husband stood actually on one of the worst spots in the town. This decided our movements as far as Sheringham was concerned ; but we still clung to Norfolk, and other sites and other houses were brought to our notice.

One never-to-be-forgotten day in 1888 Lord Suffield suggested to Cyril that he should consider the purchase of two villas adjoining one another and belonging to him. They were standing on about three acres of ground in the small seaside village of Overstrand, which then numbered about thirty houses, and within two miles of Cromer. On one of my visits to Norfolk my first view of Overstrand from the cliffs had not impressed me very favourably. I had no idea then that I was looking at my future home. But after having decidedly refused to become the owner of Desdemona's Palace in Venice, and after having heard, much to my relief, that Sheringham was out of the question, I felt that Cyril, in all fairness, ought to have a free hand in the choice of his future domicile, so I acquiesced at once in his prospective purchase.

In 1888 we took possession of our new home. Anything more unlike what it is now can hardly be imagined. Very commonplace, rather uncomfortable, extremely draughty, and with little pretence at beauty, " The Cottage," as it was then called, was neither romantic nor picturesque. The two houses built in red brick had been thrown into one and stood a little way off the main road leading down to the cliff. A field lay in front of us, whilst in a narrow lane, called " The Londs," stood some of the old cobble cottages inhabited by fishermen.

I failed to see any real beauty in the place ; indeed, I had not yet acquired the taste for Norfolk scenery that grows upon one so rapidly and so strongly, but I loved the fresh sea-breezes, and the possibility of seabathing appealed to me greatly.

There was, however, one object of romance and beauty that lent a charm to the place, and this was the ruined church, standing somewhat away from the village on rising ground, striking in appearance, rich in architectural remains, and pathetic in its decadence. The tower was still intact, a landmark to many tourists who visited the little village, whilst the roofless nave had been utilised as a burial-ground for members of the Buxton family. The church, like many others in Norfolk, was of Perpendicular design, built at the very end of the fourteenth century. It still bore some very distinctive features, such as-most curious of all and most rare in English churches-the oven in the tower, once used in baking the Communion bread. About 1859 it became apparent that the old building would have to be restored, as age was telling upon the fabric, but, with the apathy and short-sightedness so characteristic of that period in regard to beautiful churches and ancient monuments, this measure was not resorted to, and instead a small new church was built beside the old one. Thus the venerable church of St. Martin was allowed to fall into ruin, upon which the ivy growing at will soon became a warm and picturesque mantle.

In 1911 the bold project of restoring the old church was brought forward by some of the leading inhabitants of the neighbourhood, and agreed to. With this scheme I am anxious to connect the respected name of John Lester, who was for twenty years head of our household. He was a remarkable man, well read, taking the keenest interest in all branches of art ; as he was of a deeply religious nature, his devotion to his own Church was the mainspring of his life. This was evident in the enthusiasm with which, as one of the committee, he entered into the plan of restoration. I should like to record my gratitude to Lester's memory, not alone for his faithful service, but also for the good influence he exercised in the house and the village.

It was not long before we agreed that °' The Cottage " at Overstrand would require much alteration in order to make it a suitable country home. As it then stood there were not sufficient rooms to house the guests whom Cyril loved to see about him, and the temporary additions that he had made proved, to say the least, most unsatisfactory. He was therefore very soon in his element, planning, altering, and rebuilding, and, as he was an adept in the art of picturesque construction, he found plenty of scope for his powers. Mr. Lutyens, now Sir Edwin Lutyens (the gifted young architect just then coming into public notice), entered fully into my husband's views ; between them they evolved out of the old cottage a truly original, but certainly a very comfortable, home-y abode, which we renamed " The Pleasaunce " at Lord Morley's suggestion. This more important building demanded a more important garden, and fresh schemes for outdoor improvements and enlargements had to be considered.

My husband proved to be an ardent gardener, a scientific as well as a practical one, and his ambition was stirred at the possibilities the ground offered. Thus, after much thought and many essays, a beautiful garden enhanced the pleasure we took in our Overstrand home. Also, keenly alive to the tastes of the many young people in whose company he delighted, Cyril included a tenniscourt and a cricket-ground in our domain, and these have given unqualified amusement to more than one generation. He not only joined in some of the games, but watched them with keen interest, and, having given up his old pursuits, exchanged once for all the hunter's crop for the tennis-racket and the golfer's iron.

The inhabitants of Overstrand were also considered football as well as cricket was started, a reading-room opened for use on winter evenings, and a good lending library provided, which has indeed proved a signal blessing.

More and more did my husband love our Norfolk home ; he was never tired of adding to its beauty, its comfort, and its helpfulness, acting upon the principle of

Not what we give, but what we share,
or the gift without the giver is bare?

Twenty years after we became owners of The Pleasaunce our garden was described, as it now stands, by the picturesque pen of the Hon. Mrs. Felkin (Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler); this description was cleverly woven into one of her works of fiction-Ten Degrees Backward-and she has kindly given me permission to incorporate it in these Reminiscences.


I have always loved Bythesea, and I call it the place of the Two Gardens, for with two gardens it is always associated in my mind.

The first garden is the Garden of Sleep. On the very edge of the cliff stands-or rather, there stood when last I was there, and for aught I know to the contrary there is still standing to-day-the tower of a ruined church. The rest of the church fell into the sea years ago, but the tower still remains, its walls on one side running down sheer with the cliff. Such of the churchyard as the encroaching sea has not yet swallowed lies to the backward of the tower ; and all around it are fields, which in their season are clothed with scarlet and other delights, for it is the land of the poppies.

The other garden at Bythesea I called, in opposition to the Garden of Sleep, the Garden of Dreams. And a wonderful garden it was. It was as young as the other garden was old, and as carefully tended as the other was neglected. It was also situated on the edge of the cliff, and was more like a garden out of the Arabian Nights, which had been called into being in one night by some beneficent Djin, than a garden in matter-of-fact England. It was a garden of infinite variety and of constant surprises, where nothing grew but the unexpected ; but where the unexpected flourished in great profusion and luxuriance. It was a most inconsequent garden ; and to wander through its changing scenes was like wandering through the exquisite inconsistencies of a delightful dream. The dream began on a velvety lawn, where the velvet was edged with gay flowers and still gayer flowering shrubs, and the blue sea made an effective background. Then it turned into a formal garden, with paved paths between the square grass-plots, and a large fountain in the middle lined with sky-blue tiles, as if a bit of sky had fallen down to earth and had found earth so fascinating that it could not tear itself away again. Then the dream took a more serious turn, and led along sombre cloisters veiled with creepers. But it could not keep serious for long; it soon floated back into the sunlight, and dipped into a sunk garden paved with coral and amethyst, as only pink and purple flowers were allowed to grow therein. Then it changed into a rosery where it was always the time of roses, and where roses red and roses white, roses pink and roses yellow, ran riot in well-ordered confusion. Then the dream took quite another turn, and passed into a Japanese garden of streams and pagodas and strange bright flowers, till the dreamer felt as if he were living on a willowpattern plate. But he soon came back to England again, and found himself in an ideal fruit garden, where the pear trees and the apple trees were woven into walls and arches and architraves of green and gold. Then a wrought-iron gateway led him still nearer to the heart of England, for there lay a cricket-field surrounded by large trees ; and beyond that again stretched the grassy alleys and shady paths of dreamland till they culminated in the very centre of the dream-a huge herbaceous border so glorious in its riot of colour that the dreamer's heart leaped up, like Wordsworth's,to behold a rainbow ; but this time not a rainbow in the sky, but on the ground.

The house belonging to this wonderful garden was more or less to match. It had begun life quite as a small house, but the magic of the garden had lured it on to venture farther and farther into the enchanted ground, until finally it grew into a very large house indeed. And one could not really blame it for stretching out longing arms and pointing willing feet towards all the beauty which surrounded it : one felt that one would have done exactly the same in its place.

I had many excursions into this modern fairyland, as the chatelaine thereof was an old friend of ours who loved to share with others the joy of her Garden of Dreams ; so we went there often. It was glorious weather, and there were many interesting people there-as indeed there usually were ; choice spirits flourished in the Garden of Dreams as well as choice flowers.

My husband was never tired of pursuing his botanical studies, and, in his anxiety to make the best possible use of his knowledge, he would sacrifice a whole year's work for some novel idea. Thus friends visiting the garden from time to time would look for an accustomed feature, and would wonder where it could have strayedor had their memories played them false?

The water garden took the place of the original tenniscourt and was doubled in size after two years' existence, when a very promising rosery was sacrificed in its favour. The first pergola proved so great an attraction, covered as it was with vines, hops, and climbing roses, that others were speedily planned and took shape in different parts of the grounds.

Upon my yearly arrivals at Overstrand from London or Aston Clinton I would expect to be greeted by some novelty, of which I was not always prepared to be an enthusiastic admirer ; thus the first impression of the clock tower and of the cloisters was an unfavourable one. Yet now I have become quite attached to the tower, and the value of the cloisters for bazaars and fetes is incontestable. On one occasion I was startled by the 4 sight of some masons constructing a high brick wall to the balcony of the window in my sitting-room, which would effectually have shut out the view from my seat in my favourite corner. I indignantly began to remonstrate, and, in spite of Sir Edwin Lutyens' orders, threw the bricks down on to the terrace, to the ill-concealed amusement of the workmen. My husband not only amused himself by adding to the house and garden, but he also arranged a flat over some disused stables and carpenters' sheds as a Guest House, where numbers of friends and relatives have spent happy weeks during the summer months.

In order to give the necessary shelter that the garden requires to protect it from the blasts of the north-east wind, we planted a great quantity of trees and shrubs, importing nearly all the evergreens (yews and box) from Aston Clinton. They flourished amazingly, and it is now difficult to believe that out of the number only two deciduous trees-an ash and a sycamore-remain original denizens of the place. They stood in old days in hedgerows ; these have since then disappeared, and the trees themselves seem to have fallen in so well with the later arrivals that, as one of my witty neighbours once remarked, they look as if they would not object to leaving cards upon the newcomers!

Two fountains, set in deep basins of blue glass of a singularly beautiful colour, in mosaic pattern, add very much to the charm and originality of the garden, particularly when the fountains are in full play, and when the Eringium (sea-holly) and Echinops (globethistle) are in flower, their brilliant tints added to those of the fuchsia being reflected in the water. The place responded well to the loving care bestowed upon it ; the flowers blossomed luxuriantly, the shrubs grew apace, the lawns became soft and velvety, as if all were grateful for the affection they awakened.

The Sea ! the white-foamed Northern Sea!
With crumbling cliffs and shelving lea;
With autumn fog and summer mist,
With surf, by early sunbeam kiss'd.
The Sea that laps this strip of land
Is like a great protecting band.

The Sea ! our stronghold from the foe, On which our guardians come and go; The Sea, o'er which I fondly gaze In morning light or evening haze. My garden looks across that Sea- Invigorating sight to me!
The very flowers they seem to know That here they must more fully blow Deeper their colour, sweeter their scent, With added charm by ocean lent; And though they northward set their face, They gleam like jewels in their case.

In the early 'nineties there came to the parish of Overstrand as rector the Rev. Lawrence C. Carr, whose wife is closely connected with the Buxton family. I speedily made friends with the Rectory party, and I am glad to say that this friendship, now of long standing, has not grown less with the expiration of years. Mr. Carr, who belongs to the old Evangelical school, is a most devoted pastor, but so modest and humble-minded that very few people recognise the amount of self-sacrificing work that he accomplishes. He is not troubled by any doubts in regard to the authenticity of the Scriptures, and is not disturbed by modernism or higher criticism. Owing to his orderly habits and methodical mind he is always pleasant to work with, but although very practical in matters of business, it is the spiritual side of divine worship that appeals to him so strongly ; he requires no aids, such as art and music can give, to kindle or to strengthen his faith, which is unswerving. On the other hand, his wife (great-granddaughter of Sir Fowell and Lady Buxton), in spite of her Quaker ancestry, has a very true feeling for what is correct and beautiful in art, which is evident in her clever use of the brush in her water-colour drawings, chiefly of sky and sea. Mrs. Carr has become a warm friend of mine, and I owe many happy days to the fact that she is my close neighbour.

A grievous event cast a dark shadow upon the Rectory party in 1916, when the eldest daughter, Vera, lost her life in a cruel accident. Young and full of promise, deeply loved by her parents, and closely associated with them in every event of their daily existence, her death came, especially to her mother, as a crushing, heartbreaking blow, from the effects of which she can never fully recover. The only son, Anthony, served well and faithfully during the Great War. One other daughter, Violet, completes the family circle.

An account of the little gathering of friends at Overstrand should certainly contain a mention of Mrs. Wilson, widow of the late Canon Wilson of Mitcham and mother of Mrs. Carr, who inhabits one of the most attractive houses in the place, " The Grange," once tenanted by Sir John Hare, the celebrated actor, and his family ; and it is here that from time to time during the year Mrs. Wilson welcomes her daughter, Sister Rachel, who is well known and much beloved in the Wantage Sisterhood.

When I first made the acquaintance of Cromer, the whole place seemed to be dominated by the Buxton, Gurney, and Hoare families. I happened to be spending a fortnight with my dear mother at the Hotel de Paris in the year 1877, and it was then that we received a kindly welcome from many of them, especially Lady Buxton, widow of Sir Edward Buxton, at Colne House.

My mother had known some of the "Friends" intimately in her young days. The Samuel Gurneys had lived at one time in the near neighbourhood of Stamford Hill, London, and there had frequently been communications of a very pleasant nature between the families of Gurney, Montefiore, and Rothschild.

A favourite anecdote, repeated from generation to generation, told how Hannah Mayer Rothschild (later the Hon. Mrs. FitzRoy) had on one memorable evening been dressed up by her youthful friends and playmates (daughters of Samuel Gurney), and introduced in the parlour to their parents as a new addition to the Society of Friends. The shy and blushing young girl looked so beautiful in her becoming, if sober, garments that there was great lament at her return to a more worldly style of dress. My mother also gave me a description of my introduction to Samuel Gurney at the early age of three. The meeting took place at Brighton. Mr. Gurney, then a stout, red-faced, elderly gentleman, with a great shock of white hair, proceeded then and there to take me up and toss me in his arms, which I resented as a great familiarity, calling out lustily, "Put me down, you old white bear!" to the consternation but silent amusement of my parents.

My father and uncles had often had business relations with the Gurneys ; their politics were of the same colour, and, owing to religious principles on both sides, they suffered from the same political disabilities. My mother had always been attracted, as I have said before, by the earnest lives and simple tastes of the " Friends," and she was very glad to renew, or rather to make, acquaintance with those who gave her so cordial a welcome in Norfolk.

"It is especially as the leading Quaker family of England," wrote Augustus Hare, " that the Gurneys of Earlham have become celebrated," and as such he devotes two volumes of very pleasant reading to their history. " In their home at Earlham," he tells us, " the Gurneys became surrounded, as all Gurneys have been since, by troops of near relations, with whom they lived on terms of the utmost fellowship and intimacy, and who dropped in daily at the family dinner-hour of three, four, and eventually five o'clock." 1

But both Quaker dress and Quaker language have gone through many changes since the earlier date ; for instance, gone are the Quaker woman's closely fitting cap and bonnet, her full skirt, her softly clinging shawl; gone are the broad-brimmed hat, the high stock of her menfolk, and gone are the pleasant " thees " and " thous " in Quaker converse -indeed, there is now but little distinction to the outward observer between members of the Society of Friends and those of the Evangelical School of the Church of England.

In 1803 Richenda Gurney gives a description of how the day was spent at Cromer by all these happy young people. "Before breakfast running about in all directions on the sands, after breakfast receiving callers and fixing the plans for the day ; then an hour's quiet for reading and writing. At eleven, bathing and enjoying the sands, then riding on horseback, or making some pleasant excursion. With all these and other delightful amusements, it would be very odd if we did not enjoy ourselves." 2

I feel that Cromer has always been, and will doubtless always be, a delicious playground for the many generations of children and young people who come year after year to the beautiful sands and cliffs of the Norfolk coast.

Generations come and go; there may be changes in dress and in speech, in modes of thought and in aspects of life, but the essentials remain. Sand-built castles will always be dear to the hearts of children, the mystery of the waves will always appeal to the stroller by the shore, and sky and earth will always hold treasures for those who know how to seek them ; whilst the sense of pure enjoyment in man and woman will now, as in old days, be quickened by the rush of fresh bracing air that seems to gather all into its embrace as soon as the coast-line is approached.

It was at Colne House that we found Lady Buxton,when I first made her acquaintance, surrounded by children and grandchildren, nephews and nieces, and by her three unmarried daughters, leading a useful and contented life. I remember her calling upon my mother at the Hotel de Paris : a short, somewhat square figure in a black silk dress, with widow's cap and close bonnet, a kind of compromise between a Quaker costume and one of a more worldly style ; she had white hair, a fresh complexion, a shrewd expression of countenance, and a very bright merry twinkle in her eyes. She chatted away for about twenty minutes and then begged of us to call upon her, which we did shortly after that first visit, finding her in her pleasant drawing-room, which seemed to vanish into a grove of flowers-the conservatory. The walls of the room were hung with beautiful Richmond water-colour drawings, portraits of many members of the family. Lady Buxton was surrounded by a crowd of visitors, to whom her daughters were dispensing an excellent tea ; she was most hospitably inclined, and never happier than when her rooms were filled with guests to her liking. Every Tuesday a Bible Reading was held in the Colne House drawing-room, under the auspices of one of the many Evangelical Churchmen spending a summer holiday at Cromer.

Lady Buxton, like all her family-indeed like all those brought up in the Society of Friends-was a diligent reader of the Bible, knowing long passages, even chapters, by heart. She told me how once, when her sight was rapidly failing, she had asked the housemaid, who was lighting her bedroom fire, to listen whilst she repeated the Psalms for the day, and to correct her should she put in a wrong word or make any omission. But Lady Buxton's memory did not fail her - happily for the housemaid!

Lady Buxton was much interested in my appointment as Prison Visitor to the female convicts at Aylesbury, and asked me many questions concerning them. One afternoon, when I was drinking tea at Colne House, the table standing just under the portrait of Elizabeth Fry, Lady Buxton, after listening to some of my prison experiences, ejaculated, " Oh, my dear, I do hope that Aunt Fry knows what you are doing ! " which touched me very much-Elizabeth Fry having been the first woman who ever found her way as a visitor and reformer into the prison cells, to whom those who humbly follow in her steps must be eternally grateful. It was the fashion to celebrate the anniversary of Lady Buxton's birth, January 11, by a tea-party given at Colne House to all the members of her family staying at Cromer or in the neighbourhood. A birthday cake, ornamented with lighted candles, one for every year of her life, was placed in the middle of the table, round which all gathered, old and young. I, who was not of the family, but a privileged guest, was present on one or two of these occasions, and generally brought flowers with me as a gift, sent specially by my mother. After Lady Buxton's 90th birthday I received a letter from her, in a handwriting which is almost illegible, in which she said:

Will you tell your mother that these expressions of her affectionate interest are very pleasant to me. Will you tell her so with my love. I cannot see what I write.

Lady Buxton died in August 1911, in her 98th year, leaving 128 direct descendants. She had been absolutely blind and deaf for some time, and the birthday parties, at her own request, had long been discontinued. Lady Victoria Noel, for many years a complete invalid, wife of her eldest son, Sir Fowell Buxton, was distinguished for her great moral and intellectual qualities, and gifted with remarkable courage and powers of endurance. Of her Lady Buxton once wrote:

I do bless God for His gift to us in our dear Victoria. Miss Marsh calls her "that Pearl of Pearls."

1 From The Gurneys of Earlham, published by George Allen & Unwin, Ltd.
2 From The Gurneys of Earlham.