Sunday 12 June 2016

Monken Hadley: A Stone Monument and a 'Bloody Great Mansion'

With perfect mannerist poise, Sir Roger Wilbraham and his wife await the life to come. Their splendid monument, by the great Nicholas Stone, is in Monken Hadley church, in the Hertfordshire/North London borderlands. I was walking there the other day with my cousin, who studied dance at nearby Trent Park (a house with quite a history).

Also in the church is a rare example of a Jacobean monument, all of painted wood, with a portrait of its subject (or one of them - the memorial is to Henry Carew and his mother, Alice Stanford). The church itself was remodelled in the mid-19th century in a manner 'redolent of early Tractarianism', as the Victoria County History puts it.
 For somewhere so close to London, Monken Hadley has a surprisingly rural, villagey feel, though the smell of big money hangs in the air. There are many fine Georgian houses, in one of which Mrs Fanny Trollope (mother of Anthony) lived for a spell, writing furiously, while her husband was in prison for debt. Another grand house, called Lemmons or Gladsmuir, was home to a remarkable household for eight years from 1968, when Kingsley Amis and his wife Elizabeth Jane Howard bought it and moved in.
 'This is a bloody great mansion,' wrote Kingsley to Philip Larkin, 'in the depths of the country though only 15 miles from the centre, and with lots of room for you to come and spend the night.' Into the 'bloody great mansion' moved Jane's mother and brother, two artist friends, and, at various times, the three young Amises: Philip, Sally and, of course, Martin. A host of distinguished (and less so) house guests came and went, and in the house during the spring of 1972 were Cecil Day-Lewis, then the poet laureate, his wife Jill Balcon, and their children, Tamasin and Daniel. The poet wrote his last poem at Lemmons, and died there soon after.
 Out of Lemmons in those years came ten of Kingsley's books, including The Green Man, Ending Up and The Alteration, Jane's Something in DisguiseOdd Girl Out and Mr Wrong, and Martin's The Rachel Papers and Dead Babies. It was Jane who made a writer of Martin, encouraging him to read something more exalted than comic books and Harold Robbins, and ensuring that he got to Oxford. How she managed to find time for her own writing is a mystery, as dear Kingsley expected her to do most of the cooking and domestic work for that endlessly hospitable household, as well as driving Kingsley around, looking after the finances and doing much of the gardening. She ended up exhausted and on tranquilisers.
 Even though Jane loved the house, it was probably just as well that Kingsley eventually decided he'd sooner be back in London. They moved to Hampstead, and the long-suffering Jane ended the marriage a few years later. 'The big house disappeared,' wrote Martin, 'and so did love.'

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