Russell’s last home in England before he left for America was located in Kidlington, near Oxford. His previous home, Telegraph House in Sussex, had been sold in February 1937 but there was a long close. This gave him ample time to find a new home. He first considered living in Wales where he and his wife Peter had spent part of 1933 and 1934. On 17 February 1937 he wrote to his daughter Kate that “We are getting lists of houses in Anglesey & other places, which is quite exciting.” On 9 March he wrote to both John and Kate: “We are getting lists of houses in Cornwall & Wales, & I think the best plan will be for me to come to Dartington [their school] with the car at the end of term, & you & I will go together to look at them. There is a nice one near the Lizard, & what sounds like a very nice one between Barmouth & Dolgelly. Poor Peter is sad because she can’t come to see them too.” On 18 March 1937 he told his friend Lion Phillimore that “we are looking for a small cottage, preferably in North Wales.”
On 5 May 1937 he wrote the philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin: “In view of what you say, I cannot refuse the Chicago offer, & it probably makes it impossible for me to lecture in Oxford next term; but as the date when the job begins was not stated, I cannot be sure.” On 14 May he again wrote to Berlin: “The American invitation is definitely for 2 years, & I cannot jeopardize it for a prospect which remains uncertain. But I think it probable that I can come to some arrangement with them which will suit you.” On 22 June he notified Berlin that the Chicago offer was definitely off. In the same letter he indicated that he had from Oxford “the official invitation, & accepted it.” He preferred “to lecture in the Hilary Term; it will certainly give time for me to make a better course. But I can lecture in the autumn if there is any important reason for so doing. One point: the official letter suggests that I should lecture on ‘Thought & Language.’ I had proposed to lecture on ‘Language & Fact’ as ‘thought’ does not interest me.” Then on 10 September he told Berlin that he had accepted the Oxford invitation to lecture after Christmas. He would also “enjoy reading a paper to the Philosophical Society if it could be on a topic connected with my lectures.” He invited Berlin to lunch or tea at Telegraph House. “I can’t ask anyone to stay, as we are packing up and dismantling. I don’t know how soon I shall be at Kidlington, but probably about Oct. 10.” Caroline Moorehead noted that Berlin “never greatly cared for Russell personally” (p. 454).
The purchase of his new home was financed in part by the sale of Telegraph House. John J. Withers, the trustee, lent him £1,000 from the Trust which had owned Telegraph House towards the purchase price of £1,800.1 Russell had a reversionary interest in the Trust. On 19 September he wrote to his publisher, Stanley Unwin, “to ask whether you could let me have my half-yearly cheque before Sep. 28, if quite convenient, as on that day I have to pay for a house I have bought at Kidlington, near Oxford. I have sold this house, but the money goes into a trust, and is not available for the new house.” A few days later, on 23 September, he thanked Unwin “very much for so quickly sending me the half-year cheque plus £100, which, at the moment, is a great convenience to me.”
On 2 September Russell wrote to his old friend and former lover, Ottoline Morrell: “I have bought a house at Kidlington, near Oxford: an old house with a nice walled garden, which [i.e. the wall] hides the ugly villas and bungalows. We hope to move into it at the end of this month.” On 18 September Russell’s much younger wife, Peter, who had studied at Oxford in the early 1930s as an undergraduate, wrote to Ottoline: “Bertie says you seem puzzled that we should choose to live at Kidlington. I am almost equally puzzled myself—it has just happened—chiefly because Bertie has to be in Oxford this winter and we are anxious to settle permanently. And he wants society but dislikes London and Cambridge. He has many friends and acquaintances in or near Oxford. Apart from them I have only one friend there now. And if the place swarmed with my friends I should not have time to enjoy them. Being Bertie’s secretary and [their son] Conrad’s nurse, moving a house, and trying to keep up with Bertie’s work doesn’t leave much for social life. So you mustn’t think I am dragging him at my chariot-wheels to Kidlington. When we thought of living in Wales everyone reproached me for proposing to hide him away from the world.” Kidlington is about five miles north of Oxford while Bagley Wood, where he lived from 1905 to 1911, is about four miles south of Oxford.
A few days later on 25 September Russell again wrote to Ottoline: “My chief reason for wanting to go there is that I have gone back to philosophy, and I want people to talk to about it. I am lecturing there after Xmas and shall get to know all the people in my line, of whom, among the younger dons, there are now quite a number. In Cambridge I am an ossified orthodoxy; in Oxford, still a revolutionary novelty.” He told her the name of the house was Greystones but that they were thinking of changing the name. He also, luckily, told her the street address, 16 Lyne Road. He informed his American publisher, W.W. Norton, on 29 September that “my address henceforth is Amberley House. We move in in a fortnight.” On the same day he wrote to John and Kate from Telegraph House that “we now own Kidlington (since yesterday); we leave this house on Oct. 13, as Kidlington couldn’t be got ready sooner.” Amberley House got its name from the courtesy title associated with the Russell earldom. The heir to the earldom uses the title “Viscount Amberley” until he inherits. Russell’s father never inherited the earldom and thus the Russells’ book about his parents is titled The Amberley Papers—it had been published in March. Russell’s older brother Frank named the house he lived in before he moved to Telegraph House, “Amberley Cottage.” It was located at Maidenhead near the River Thames.
“The earliest known detailed map of Kidlington dated 1766–67, shows Lyne Farm House, 18 Lyne Road and Greystones” (Aubertin-Potter, p. 7). In her book, Norma Aubertin-Potter described Greystones, giving it the address of 6 Greystones Court. The address, 16 Lyne Road, which Russell used does not appear in her book. A 1910 Land Valuation “lists the main rooms of the house as comprising five bedrooms, two sitting rooms, dressing room, box room, kitchen, garden, a housemaid’s pantry and back kitchen. Adjoining the main property were two three-roomed cottages with stables, greenhouse, garden and orchard with some 40 old fruit trees and a pasture field” (Aubertin-Potter, p. 19). By 1936 “the house [was] in the possession of a Mrs. Mary Shuffrey” who sold it to Russell (Aubertin-Potter, p. 20). After passing through the hands of Rev. Alan Dalby, the house was purchased in September 1950 by “Major Philip Cotes Hailey [who] had just been appointed Bursar of the newly founded St. Antony’s College, Oxford … At this time Greystones would have overlooked Wilsdon’s field, home of Kidlington Cricket Club until the early Sixties … In the 1970s the orchard behind the house was sold and today a modern housing development stands on the site” (Aubertin-Potter, p. 21). I looked in vain for any mention of the “ugly villas and bungalows” described by Russell. Most of the structures are described as cottages. The author noted that “within living memory Lyne Road was a country lane.” The undated photograph below from Aubertin-Potters’s book contains what may be villas.
On 23 October Russell wrote to his American publisher, W.W. Norton: “My lectures on Power have begun, & go well.2 Of the book, I have about 50,000 words done, so I ought to be finishing it in time for next autumn. On 30 October Russell wrote to Kate: “The house is in order, but they are still busy with the cottages. I have just been looking at them, upstairs & down, & I think they will very nice—There is lots of light now that the creepers are cut.” The next month on 14 November he told her that “the Cottages are finished, & look very nice. They are sunny & not at all dark. I feel sure you will like them.” On 12 December he wrote to his old friend, Lucy Donnelly: “It was very disappointing not seeing you last Sunday; I hope your cold got better … I wish we could ask you here for a visit, but have no spare room … I hope you will be coming to Oxford again, & will come out here for any meal that suits you. I should like my wife to know you, & I should like you to know my youngest son, Conrad Sebastian Robert. (Sebastian after Bach, Robert after his ancestor Robert Bruce.)”
In an undated letter Peter told Ottoline that the house “is very nice, though surrounded by bungalows—hidden from sight by a high stone wall—and it has a walled rose garden which we all like—and John and Kate have a cottage each and don’t live with us! I think that is one of the chief reasons why we are going there!” (Letter no. 1769A). Russell’s older children, John and Katharine, were by then teenagers, craving some independence. They spent most of their time at their boarding school, Dartington Hall, while splitting vacation time between their father and their mother, Dora. On 8 November 1937 Russell wrote to Elizabeth Trevelyan: “This house is very comfortable & Peter has been very clever about it. She got very tired, and was ordered to rest in bed, which she is doing—with good results.”
On Christmas eve he wrote to both John and Kate that their presents were being kept until their arrival on 30 December. On that day he wrote to Kate: “Here is £5 for Xmas & birthday present, which you can spend as you like on furniture for your cottage. Peter has worked very hard at the cottages, & I think you will both like them; but some things had to wait for you to come, so that you could have just what you would like.” This letter indicates that neither John nor Kate had yet been to Amberley House.
Katharine Tait wrote about Amberley House in her book about her father: “He bought an old house, in the village of Kidlington, which Peter’s gifts soon turned into another beautiful home. It was a lovely house, with exquisite walled gardens, but to me it will always be a place of great unhappiness. The year we spent at Oxford was a time of bitter division for us all: faultfinding between our parents and cautious silence between John and me” (My Father, p. 128). “The house in Kidlington had a pair of two-roomed cottages attached to it, which were fixed up for John and me, since the house itself was not big enough for all of us. I had the cottage nearest the house and John the end one” (My Father, p. 129). She and John had lost their ability to communicate. “In that house too my father explained to me one day that he found it best to have a set routine for things like shaving, dressing, emptying and filling his pockets, so that he never had to think about them” (My Father, p. 130). John’s cottage was named Fountain Cottage. On 13 November 1937, John wrote to Russell and Peter, telling them he liked the name. “I am very glad there is a fountain outside. I hope you will be able to make it work.” On 27 November John was “glad the cottages are finished….”
Earlier that month, on 6 November, Russell attended a meeting of the Oxford University Philosophical Society where G.E. Moore read a paper on “What Do We Know with Certainty?” Russell and A.J. Ayer took part in the discussion (1937 Minutes).
On 27 January 1938 Russell told Unwin: “I intend to finish ‘The Science of Power’ as soon as possible after I have given the lectures on ‘Language & Fact’ which I am now giving at Oxford. I shall need a short holiday in March,3 & in May I have promised a fortnight to the Peace Pledge Union … I feel fairly confident of being able to finish the book in June.” On 17 May he wrote to John from Bradford: “I am on a tour, speaking on pacifism every night for a fortnight. Tomorrow Aberdeen, next day Norwich, & so on. I get to know the British railway system.”
On 8 February 1938 Russell wrote to Ottoline: “It is shocking that I have not written for such a long time—I am lecturing for the University on Language and Fact, and it uses up my store of language.” The lectures were later published as An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940). Russell had told Unwin about these lectures on 10 July 1937: “My Oxford lectures will be a first sketch of a serious philosophical work on ‘Language & Fact’, intended to be important … it will take time, & I should aim at finishing it in time for autumn publication in 1940.” On 13 February 1938 he lectured to the Oxford University Philosophical Society on “Propositional Attitudes.” The meeting lasted from 8.30 to 10.45 pm. There were approximately 25 people in attendance including Professor Gilbert Ryle and Russell responded to questions (1938 Minutes).
On 15 March 1938 Richard McKeon of the University of Chicago offered him a position as Visiting Professor for the academic year 1938–39 at a salary of $5,000 which he accepted on 28 March with the caveat that he could cancel within two weeks by telegram. On 10 April he told Ottoline: “I have to finish a book4 before June 30; after that, I shall not be very busy. But I may have to go to Chicago for the winter; it is still uncertain.” Ottoline died later that month on 21 April, aged 64, of heart failure. The press release announcing Russell’s appointment at the University of Chicago for the autumn and winter quarters of 1938–39 was issued on 25 April 1938 (Rec. Acq. 968b).
In May and June of 1938 his old friend, Lucy Donnelly and her friend, Edith Finch (later Russell’s fourth wife), were still visiting from America. He invited them to tea; he wanted Lucy to meet his young son Conrad which presumes Lucy and Edith would have gone to Amberley House. On 2 June he wrote to Lucy: “I am sorry you will not have seen her [Peter] and the child [Conrad].” He did, however, visit Lucy and Edith in London. Writing to their mutual friend Helen Flexner on 21 June 1938, Lucy noted that: “Bertie came to tea on Thursday and seemed in great form. I noticed the change in his eyes, dimmed, almost glazed, and the sharpened lines of his face, but he seemed well & happy & intensely alive, talked with great satisfaction of his children; a good deal about Peace and War; & about his family, telling many good stories after Edith came in, & his new book Power, staying until past seven. Edith said I drove him away by mentioning Aristotle! Alys! [Russell’s first wife] tells me he came up for ‘the Apostles’ dinner.” On 31 January 1939, writing from Chicago to Lucy, Russell clarified: “Please tell Miss Finch that what drove me away was the realization that I had stayed an unconscionable time; her remarks on Aristotle were more calculated to make me stay.”
Constance Malleson, a former lover of Russell’s, visited in July before leaving for Sweden. She arrived by train, Russell met her on the platform. She described the visit to her mother, Lady Annesley, in a letter she wrote from Sweden in July. “Outside the station, Peter was sitting at the wheel of the car, and drove us to their house which is set in a well-made garden with wide lawn. The day was brilliantly hot. We went into the sitting room before luncheon ... The room, not much lived in, was pleasant and cool though quite colourless. His Chinese scrolls were on the walls. Peter has an excellent cook, and we had exactly the right sort of luncheon: a good mayonnaise salad (lobster or salmon I forget), followed by strawberries and cream. ” John barely spoke during lunch; both he and Kate drank wine. After lunch they “vanished the moment they could. They’ve rooms of their own in a cottage in the garden: John’s room pleasantly bare, with fencing paraphernalia on the walls; Kate’s, with tiny ornaments spattered everywhere. We then sat on the lawn, with the new infant plopped down on the grass to sunbathe.” Later on “we went into the study for a quick tea, Lapsang as usual. The study is properly lived in: lots of books and good big comfortable armchairs.” She felt a “stab as I saw Voltaire’s familiar bust behind which I used to put rowan branches in 1918.” She also wrote about the day in her book, In the North: “In the wall-enclosed garden of Amberley House, we sat on that brilliant July day; his two children, John and Kate, lay full length on the green English lawn; his smallest son, Conrad, straddled the grass without a stitch of clothing, the living image of glorious health ... And B.R.’s wife, also, had not changed at all in the eight years since I’d seen her ... The day ebbed imperceptibly; but—for me—punctuated by frail commas, sharp colons, graven forever by the long ago past. There was the same faintly aromatic blend of China tea which B.R. had drunk most of his life; and which Harrods Stores persisted in addressing to Miss Bertrand Russell. On his mantelpiece there was the same bust of Voltaire ... And there was the same exquisite Persian bowl B.R. had wanted to give me … So the day ebbed” (p. 76). John and Kate had arrived in Kidlington on 23 July (Kate Tait chronology).
On 30 July he told Unwin that he was reading the proofs of Power; on 6 August he returned the proofs. On 9 September he wrote to Bob Trevelyan: “I return the typescript of your translations of Leopardi, which both Peter and I liked immensely … I thought I oughtn’t to take them to America.”
Oxford did not work out as planned. In his Autobiography, Russell wrote: “We bought a house at Kidlington, near Oxford, and lived there for about a year, but only one Oxford lady called. We were not respectable” (2: 194). They did meet up with their friends Gerald and Gamel Brennan. In a letter published in the Autobiography, Gamel wrote: “Yes, we must somehow meet more often. We must have picnics in Savernake Forest—and find some charming place to come together half way between Kidlington and Aldbourne [in Marlborough where they were living]. Gerald and I are going to take bicycles this summer, so we can meet anywhere” (2: 210). Professionally things went well for Russell: he lectured at the London School of Economics, lectured at Oxford, and wrote his book Power. But he could not secure the financial stability he needed to support his family. Chicago provided that in the short term.
The house was sold with the date of conveyance of the title to Rev. Alan Dalby recorded as 26 August 1938. Russell wrote in his Autobiography: “In August 1938, we sold our house at Kidlington. The purchasers would only buy it if we evacuated it at once, which left us a fortnight in August to fill in somehow. We hired a caravan, and spent the time on the coast of Pembrokeshire. There were Peter and me, John and Kate and Conrad, and our big dog Sherry. It poured with rain practically the whole time and we were all squashed up together. It was about as uncomfortable a time as I can remember. Peter had to prepare the meals, which she hated doing. Finally, John and Kate went back to school at Dartington, and Peter and Conrad and I sailed for America” (2: 217). The caravan was located in Pencarnan near St. David’s. In fact, Russell left at the beginning of September, with John and Kate. He wrote to Peter on 1 September from the Royal Hotel, Cardiff: “We got here without adventure & went to a movie.” He added: “I am sorry John & I were so irritating.” Kate wrote Peter a letter on 6 September from Carn Voel: “I hope you are having an easier time now there aren’t so many of us in the caravan.”
On 2 September Russell wrote to Peter from Swindon, Wilts. “I am on my way to Oxford, having parted from the children at Newport.” In Oxford he stayed at the Kings Arms Hotel working on his lectures. On the 3rd of September he advised Peter against joining him. The hotel “is dirty & the food is bad.” You can’t bring Conrad here. Peter remained stuck alone in the caravan with a toddler. Possibly Sherry was still there as well; the dog did not travel with them to America. He stayed for several days, writing on 6 September: “I am quite happy here … quite comfortable at this hotel now …” Tact was definitely not his middle name. He met Peter and Conrad at Paddington Station on Saturday 10 September; they went to the London home of his cousins, Ted and Margaret Lloyd—Margaret was the daughter of his uncle, Rollo Russell. He wrote to Elizabeth Trevelyan on 11 September 1938: “We are at the Royal Court Hotel [in Sloane Square], as there was difficulty about Conrad’s needs at the Lloyds.” The trio left Southampton on 17 September on the MV Britannic.5 They were not to return to England until 1944.
No photographs are known to have survived from Russell’s days at Amberley House where he stayed for less than a year. Google Street View of 16 Lyne Road offers only a glimpse of the house. The photograph below was taken at an unknown but somewhat recent date. It shows the attached cottage(s) now separated from the main house by a wooden fence. Another photograph, in Additional Images, shows the house situated at the corner of Lyne Road and Greystones Court. The photographs were provided to me along with some neighbourhood gossip: “The house was originally built by the Bishop of Oxford for his mistress and the adjoining cottage was for his coachman to stay in when the good Bishop was over-nighting in the ‘big house.’” Which Bishop of Oxford this might be is unknown. Russell was acquainted with one of the Bishops of Oxford, Charles Gore (1853–1932), who served as the Bishop of Oxford from 1911 to 1919. They met occasionally at Garsington, the county home of Ottoline Morrell. Amberley house obviously pre-dates Gore’s term as bishop. Russell would have enjoyed why this house had been built if he had known. The house was described as “delightful” by Mrs. H.W. Dalby, presumably Alan Dalby’s wife, in an undated letter (document .048827). Its name reverted back to Greystones after the Russells left.
© Sheila Turcon, 2022
Norma Aubertin-Potter, 2008. A History of Lyne Road and the Rookery Kidlington. Kidlington & District Historical Society.
Constance Malleson, 1946. In the North: Autobiographical Fragments in Norway, Sweden, Finland: 1936–1946. London: Gollancz.
Caroline Moorehead, 1992. Bertrand Russell: A Life. London: Sinclair-Stevenson.
Bertrand Russell, 1968. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1914–1944, Vol. 2. London: Allen & Unwin.
Katharine Tait, 1975. My Father Bertrand Russell. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Archival correspondence: Bertrand Russell, Patricia (Peter) Russell, Kate Tait, John Russell, Stanley Unwin, Lion Phillimore, Isiah Berlin, Ottoline Morrell, Lucy Donnelly, Constance (Colette) Malleson, Mrs. H.W. Dalby.
Other: Partial digital image of a legal document pertaining to the sale of Amberley House and other transactions, beginning in 1938 and ending in 1971.
Email from Meredith Goodwin to Tony Simpson and Sheila Turcon, 1 December 2016.
Minutes of the Oxford Philosophical Society, distributed to the Russell list by Kenneth Blackwell, 30 April 2022.
Chronology compiled by Katharine Tait on index cards.
- 1. Mollie Russell, Frank’s ex-wife, was told by her solicitor, J. Baily Gibson, that Russell repaid the loan on 9 September 1938.
- 2. Russell delivered nine lectures on Power at the London School of Economics, finishing in early December.
- 3. He, Peter and Conrad stayed at the Holne Chase hotel in Ashburton, Devon, from 18 March to 1 April.
- 4. Power: A New Social Analysis
- 5. Letter to Stanley Unwin, 10 Sept. 1938. The Britannic launched in 1929.