Buying Telegraph House
Telegraph House, located in the Sussex countryside, is the setting for a tale of two brothers, John Francis and Bertrand Russell.1 The brothers, orphaned so young, loved one another but often couldn’t get past their difficulties to establish a real rapport. The story of Telegraph House, the house they shared, is complicated.2 In the beginning, the house, owned by Frank, provided a place where Bertie could spend time in the country. But during the late 1920s, after Bertie leased the property, the house severely tested his relationship with Frank over several years until Frank’s death in 1931. Bertie left the house and his wife Dora in 1933—he returned to the house but not Dora in 1934 and lived there until the house was sold in 1937.
The house can be viewed as an attempt by Frank Russell to establish a country estate that the Russell earldom did not have. The brothers’ grandfather, Lord John Russell, did not inherit any land or a title as he was a younger son of the Duke of Bedford. His earldom came from Queen Victoria in recognition of his service to the United Kingdom as Prime Minister. She lent him Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park to serve as a country property while he was in office. A country estate was considered essential.3 When the first Earl Russell died in 1878 the title jumped a generation and was inherited by his grandson Frank who was only eleven. Frank and Bertie had been left orphans after the deaths of their parents and sister. Telegraph House was not a self-sustaining, operating estate, but it did provide Frank with a country retreat.
Unlike 57 Gordon Square, his London town home which he shared with Bertie on-and-off during World War I, and which is not mentioned in his autobiography, My Life and Adventures, Frank devoted an entire chapter to Telegraph House. He is not specific as to when he acquired the property, noting that it was “some years before” 1900 (p. 259). His biographer, Ruth Derham, has found the original listing for the property in 1894 in the Evening Standard.4 He purchased the freehold as well as an acre of land from a Miss Guthrie for £450 and “from this moment Telegraph House became my passion” (p. 261). He was given “all the old deeds going back to the first creation of the place” dating back to a lease from Lord Robert Spencer in 1808. He “installed a nominee in possession” (p. 260). His friend, the American philosopher George Santayana, whom he had met at Harvard University, mistakenly thought he first visited there in 1891 (My Host the World, p. 77).
Telegraph House is located in an isolated part of the South Downs.5 Frank noted that there were “only two houses in a radius of one mile” (p. 260). “The views on every side were magnificent; before me was spread nearly the whole of Spithead,6 and half of the Isle of Wight, and behind me on the other side of the South Downs were Blackdown, Hindhead, and the hills encircling Petersfield” (My Life, pp. 259–60).
Map of the South Downs
The name of the house derives from the fact that it had been “one of the Admiralty semaphore stations in the days when this was the method of rapid communication between Portsmouth Dockyard and the Admiralty in London …” (p. 260). According to Bertie, Frank had acquired it “as a discreet retreat where he could enjoy the society of Miss Morris” (Auto 2: 153). There is no mention of Miss Morris in Frank’s autobiography but she is mentioned, although not by name, in Santayana’s book. Santayana found the name, Telegraph House “absurd” probably because the structure was a cottage but “soon, however, in the jolly English way, the absurdity was domesticated, and everybody called the place T.H. … I visited it repeatedly during thirty-two years, under its three mistresses [Miss Morris, Mollie Russell, Elizabeth Russell], all three of whom I found hospitable and friendly, and of all places it is perhaps the place where I have breathed most freely” (My Host, p. 76). Over the years Frank made a number of improvements to the property, acquiring seven more acres, putting in a tennis court, and adding to the existing cottage “two good bedrooms, a bath-room, and a library” with a “servants’ hall at the back of the kitchen” (My Life, p. 261).
Moving to Telegraph House
In 1901 Frank and his second wife, Mollie,7 decided to live at Telegraph House. “Further extensions and additions were now made ... stables, a large greenhouse, a tool-house and potting shed, and a gardener’s cottage” (p. 262). With motor cars becoming more popular, Frank had to build his own road to the property as the existing one was too steep. The road he built was made of “local flints bedded on the chalk rock” (p. 262). Around 1909 he was able to buy 220 acres of land from a neighbour, Captain Hornby. By now Frank was “swollen with ambition; Telegraph House ... had developed into an estate; and the next thing to do was to build a mansion suitable to its new dignity” (p. 263). He decided “to pull down the old one-floor cottage with its attic, and to substitute two floors with decent rooms, decent bedrooms, another bathroom and above all a tower.” The tower was important because “of the extended view” it would provide (p. 263). Years later Bertie would write about the tower: “Here I made my study, and I have never known one with a more beautiful outlook” (Auto 2: 153).
Telegraph House c. 1909
Frank continued: “the stables was converted into a motor house, and a very large tank for water was dug at the foot of the garden. We lived exclusively on rain water and up to that time we had had to depend upon a little tank holding only 3,000 gallons. This tank was now reserved for drinking water only, and my new big tank was proved so adequate that during those years of severe drought when other people hardly had water to drink I have been able to continue watering my garden” (My Life, pp. 263–4). He now had “a beautiful and perfect house, protected from the weather outside by a cement coating like a coastguard station, and protected inside by hollow walls and double glass windows, and warmed throughout by steam radiators, so that even in the most violent gales it was warmer than my London house” (p. 264). The land was very diverse. There were dells, yew and beech trees, heather and juniper, ferns and bluebells. “In fact, the country had everything that the heart of man could desire except of course water. The nearest water was the River Rother near Rogate village about four miles away, or Petersfield Pond” (p. 266).
Frank at the front door, holding a Maltese terrier and a cat, possibly Fluffy (My Life, p. 267)
The first extant letter that Bertie wrote from the house was in 1908 before the construction of the tower. He was there with his first wife, Alys, and wrote to their friend Helen Flexner on 28 December that they were “taking a fortnight’s Xmas holiday, of which we are devoting half to family duties.” He said nothing about the house but did describe the other guests. They were “a Russian theosophist lady (who bores me to extinction), and my cousins, Sir William and Lady Grove … Her energy, eloquence & vanity are almost unsurpassable. We quarrel about vivisection, vaccination, & God: we agree about pronunciation and Suffrage: both agreements & disagreements are vehement on both sides.” Mollie sent him an invitation to visit on 5 June 1913, noting that “we have day light-saving time at T.H. and tea is now at 4 p.m.” A Daylight Saving Bill had been defeated in the House of Commons in 1908; it did not come into effect in the UK until the summer of 1916. Thus, Frank and Mollie were ahead of the curve.
Mollie (Marion), Countess Russell
Frank invited many people to stay—this is part of the life of owning a country estate. On 10 June 1909 Laurence Housman received an invitation to “see our beautiful house on the Downs in August or September.” By then, the extensive renovations including the tower room, were presumably done. On 28 March 1911 Frank extended an invitation to the novelist, H.G. Wells, whom he had met at the Reform Club, to visit “on Easter Monday April 17th for a couple of days.” Wells agreed to come and in a letter of 11 April 1911 Frank noted that: “Elizabeth will very likely be coming down by the same train but without her German Garden.” Elizabeth von Arnim was a very successful novelist—Elizabeth and Her German Garden was a bestseller. Frank and Elizabeth had first met in 1894, introduced by his aunt, Maude Stanley (Usborne, pp. 47, 175). Elizabeth and Wells were lovers; Frank was acting as a go-between. Wells wrote about his affair with Elizabeth which began in 1910 and ended in late 1913 in “The Episode of Little e” (H.G. Wells in Love, p. 93). Elizabeth’s “imagination turned to Earl Russell, who at that time had a house, Telegraph House, above Harting, just close to Up Park, where my mother was once housekeeper. We had visited the Russells in the beginning of our affair, and I had felt my way along the passage to her room in the dark. There was a re-entrant angle that puzzled me extremely in the blackness, and the current Countess [Mollie] had a habit of sleeping with her door across the landing wide open. Little e even then found Russell an attractive misunderstood man who needed only an able wife to be reinstated socially. The current Countess was not a social success” (Wells, p. 91).
In 1914 Frank’s marriage to Mollie was ending. Following a petition filed on 9 March 1914, it was agreed that Frank would pay Mollie £50 a month in alimony.8 Frank was still relatively well-off despite all the money he had poured into Telegraph House. The amount seemed reasonable to him in order to rid himself of Mollie. The “Marion Countess Russell Fund [was] constituted and supplemented by three deeds dated the 14th of September 1914, the 12th September 1921 and the 2nd November 1929.”9
Wells continued: “I do not know how far things went between Russell and Little e before the war, but the catastrophe of August 1914 made it highly desirable that she should recover British nationality. She got back from Switzerland to England with difficulty—a legal German” (Wells, p. 91). Wells implied that she married Frank because of this and that the marriage “saved her belongings in England from confiscation as alien property” (Wells, p. 91). Her daughter and biographer, writing under the pseudonym Leslie de Charms, however, calls their relationship a true love match (p. 152). Elizabeth had separated from her husband, Count von Arnim, in 1908; he died in 1910. Bertie, in a letter to Ottoline Morrell, 9 September 1915, wrote: Elizabeth “says ... that she was unguarded with my brother at first, because she looked upon him as safely married, and therefore suitable as a lover. Suddenly, without consulting her, he wrote and said he was getting divorced.” She has three main objections to him, one of which is that “he loves Telegraph House, which is hideous.” Bertie thought “I don’t think she will marry him” (Auto 2: pp. 54–5). He was wrong—the couple married on 11 February 1916. Bertie was present at the registry wedding (Usborne, p. 189). The Christmas before the wedding found Elizabeth, Frank and Bertie at Telegraph House (de Charms, p. 174). Santayana who visited Frank and Elizabeth at Telegraph House noted: “The place was materially much improved, the grounds developed, the hall panelled, the rooms freshened up and adorned; but Russell was preoccupied and silent, Elizabeth hardly visible save at table, and a mysterious emptiness seemed to pervade the place where, in good Mollie’s day, I had felt so free and happy” (My Host, p. 98).
When Bertie was in Brixton Prison in 1918, Elizabeth and Constance (Colette) Malleson, Bertie’s lover, became acquainted as they were both frequent visitors at the prison as was Frank. In fact this time was a high-water mark in the brothers’ relationship, as Frank did everything possible to ease his brother’s imprisonment.10 Elizabeth invited Colette to spend the week-end at Telegraph House. Bertie wrote to Colette on 8 July: “Fearful place. I shan’t want to go there when I emerge, as I shall not be ill. Please tell Elizabeth and let her prepare my brother’s mind.” Upon her return on 15 July 1918, Colette wrote: “... I now quite understand your horror of Telegraph House: characterless, dreary, an architect’s nightmare. I certainly saw it under worst possible conditions; it poured the whole way as we motored down, it poured almost whole week-end, and it poured whole way as we motored back. Only on Saturday were there short moments when it cleared. I spent most of the a.m. walking the downs & woods. Elizabeth, sensible woman, stayed indoors; but I feel she must suffer from that house, though she doesn’t say so. She really has pluck. Frank, at close quarters, is so utterly unlike you that it’s impossible to think of you as brothers: he’s such a huge blustering pink-cheeked schoolboy inextricably entangled in motor cars & electrical gadgets. But the fact that he’s doing so much for you, makes one feel very grateful to him. I see absolutely nothing of your parents in him: only the Grandmother Stanley.”
When Bertie got out of prison in September 1918, his jealousy caused him to quarrel with Colette. Their relationship fractured and off he went to Telegraph House! Rubbing it in, on 20 September he wrote to Colette: “This place is divinely beautiful—sunset last night was one of the most wonderful I have ever seen. And this morning the sea gleams under the sun, shadows of clouds chase each other across the woods, and the Isle of Wight hills shimmer in the dim West. It goes to my soul—I have not been very happy these last days, but the glory of the world is healing and gives one courage for the future.” Elizabeth and Frank separated in 1919—she left never to return. The couple, however, did not divorce. Elizabeth did not ask for any monetary compensation—escaping from Frank was its own reward. Karen Usborne thinks that Elizabeth left because of Frank’s adultery (p. 195), not because of his tyrannical behaviour (p. 191). Katie Roiphe thinks it was neither adultery nor bad behaviour, finding Elizabeth’s comment of 31 March 1919 that she had “discovered behaviour of a secret nature that made it impossible for a decent woman to stay” (de Charms, p. 201) too cryptic to interpret definitively (pp. 134–5). Bertie was back at Telegraph House after the end of Elizabeth’s reign. “My brother has a rum party. Three more or less gay females, no one else. One of them is married, a South African interested in gold mines, whom apparently he got to know in the way of business; the second is her sister, who is training to be a professional singer, lives over a hat-shop, and is regarded by my brother as attractive; the third is a Miss Anderson who works on Vogue, is proud of having claustrophobia, and talks without ceasing. All are silly and dull” (to Colette, 11 Oct 1919).
Elizabeth does not appear in the index to Frank’s autobiography. However, according to Usborne,11 the woman described on p. 180 but not named is in fact Elizabeth. Frank’s bitterness towards Elizabeth took the form of a lawsuit which was a typical response for him. He sued the removal firm Shoolbred & Shoolbred for taking away items, including “some cushions, electric light fittings, tennis balls, a hammock and a tea table” that in fact belonged to him. The case went to court. Elizabeth’s amusing testimony about the hammock is printed by both de Charms (p. 203) and Usborne (p. 213); “Elizabeth was exonerated completely.” Usborne estimates that over his lifetime Frank spent £30,000 on litigation (p. 212).
Frank felt that Bertie did not support him sufficiently through this crisis, writing on 15 September 1920: “You know that you have never been loyal to me yet in any crisis of my life ... Do not you think it is time you began? You do not really think it worth while alienating your only brother for the vulgar little hedonist, [Elizabeth] without a sense of decency… I hear you have arranged a divorce with Alys, and that there is someone quite new12 whom you have actually taken with you to China. If it is true why not tell me, rather than let me learn it from strangers? These things are not done among friends.”
In 1921 Elizabeth published the novel, a devastating portrait of Frank and Telegraph House. Vera is the first wife of Everard Wemyss.13 Vera has died from a fall from her sitting room at The Willows. He quickly marries again, to Lucy Entwhistle, a much younger woman who does not want to live in the house but is powerless against Wemyss’s desire for his beloved house. The house is panelled in oak with purchased antlers hanging from the walls. There are life-size photographs of Wemyss’s father, who died when he was quite old, and of Vera. In the course of a day, their first day in the house together, Weymss reveals himself to be a cruel man, “a great cross schoolboy” (p. 345), who torments Lucy and is extremely rude to the domestic staff. Of Vera, H.G. Wells wrote: “I do not think she would have written this book if he had not provoked her by writing and circulating a rather clumsy parody of an anonymous sentimental book of hers, In the Mountains. The description of his freaks of temper and tyranny and his house are absurdly true. But she inserted into her account of the hall of Telegraph House enlarged photographs … This was too much for him. He met me in the Reform club one day … ‘Now is it true that there are enlarged photographs of my relations in it?’ ‘It isn’t’, I said. ‘But she makes it highly probable. And after all Vera is a novel ... Is it meant for you, Russell?’ ‘Ugh’, said Russell” (Wells, p. 92). Of all things in the book to fasten upon, the photographs seem minor and do not bear any resemblance to Russell relatives. They were important to Frank, presumably because they were a fabrication. Bertie also wrote about the novel, calling it “intolerably cruel … Vera is already dead; she had been his wife, and he is supposed to be heartbroken at the loss of her … As the novel proceeds, the reader gradually gathers that her death was not an accident, but suicide brought on by my brother’s cruelty” (Auto 2: 153–54). Katie Roiphe found the depiction of Wemyss to be “a tour de force of comic creepiness, perhaps the most appalling domestic villain ever written” (p. 125).
Losing Control of Telegraph House
Frank wrote Bertie two letters in early 1921 about his financial difficulties. In the latter one, 22 March 1921, he said that “The bankrupt has receded a little for the moment but the pauper remains.” It was agreed on 12 December 1921 that the sum Frank had to pay Mollie be reduced from £600 to £400 annually.14 Most of the information in this and the following two paragraphs comes from this affidavit. Telegraph House was conveyed to John J. Withers, in a Trust.15 Frank was to pay Withers £1,000 to secure the said annual sum. The property was mortgaged for £4,200. Withers could let Telegraph House “with all the powers ... of an absolute owner.” In January 1922 Withers purchased for £1,000 the furniture and effects in Telegraph House (Affidavit, p. 4). An inventory was then made with a valuation of £3,684. Telegraph House was described as “very inaccessible and difficult to let” (Affidavit, p. 5). From 2 February 1922 Withers let Telegraph House and its furniture to Frank on a yearly basis for £800, paid quarterly with deductions for expenses of £400. In 1923 Santayana visited Frank for the last time at Telegraph House. “I found him busy over the wires of his new radio—it was then a novelty—and in the evening, without dressing, we went to dine at a retired Admiral’s in a neighbouring village....”16
On 14 July 1924 Frank informed Withers that he could not pay the rent (Affidavit, pp. 5–6). Frank asked for a lease on the gardener’s cottage. He would remain as caretaker of the property. This was agreed to on 31 August. The yearly rent was only £20. From September 1924, the main house remained unlet and unoccupied. Frank “resided in the cottage and acted as caretaker of the house and used the library and his office there from time to time.” In 1926 Frank paid off the mortgages. The house was now making an annual net income of £450 but it is not explained in the Withers affidavit where this money came from or how Frank was able to pay off the mortgages. In December 1926 Bertie and his second wife Dora “conceived the idea of starting a School for small children and of using the Telegraph House property for that purpose ...” (Affidavit, p. 7). In January 1927 the three of them told Withers they “were then upon the most cordial terms” (Affidavit, p. 7). The arrangement that Frank had from 1924 to 1927 seemed ideal for him and Bertie’s offer to let the property upset the apple-cart. However, Frank’s difficulty with the plan did not emerge until sometime later.
Probably the gardener’s cottage; Frank also lived in it. Courtesy of David Harley from Griselda MacLeod
In his Autobiography, Bertie wrote that Frank “had speculated unwisely, and lost every penny that he possessed. I offered him a much higher rent than he could have obtained from anyone else, and he was compelled by poverty to accept my offer” (2: 153). Back in 1922 Frank had wanted Bertie to lend him £2,000.17 It was Withers who asked Bertie on 15 June on Frank’s behalf; the letter was answered but the reply is not extant.
John J. Withers of the legal firm Withers, Bensons, Currie, Williams and Co. had acted for Bertie on legal matters for some time. He handled the sale of Bagley Wood and the purchase of Sydney Street in London. A very prominent solicitor, one of his other clients was Joseph Conrad. Withers was the Member of Parliament for Cambridge. Crompton Llewelyn Davies, Bertie’s close friend, worked for the firm. On 25 January 1927, Frank wrote to Bertie suggesting a term of 10 years for the lease “if you like. By that time, I shall be happily dead or it will be yours anyhow. You realize of course that Withers is the legal owner at present.” The letter also mentioned an “option to purchase at £12,000.” It was signed “yours sincerely” with the “sincerely” crossed out, replaced by “affly” [affectionately]. Below he wrote “Sincerely again!” as a self-reprimand. On 31 January 1927 Withers wrote to Bertie that Telegraph House “is now part of a trust fund which I hold for the purpose of securing Mollie Countess Russell’s annuity of £400 per year, and I think there would be no difficulty in arranging terms of letting to you generally on the lines you mention. I should have to mention the matter, of course, to Frank and Mollie, but it would be a solution of a great many difficulties.” Frank had used A.P. Doulton of Vandercom Stanton & Co. to act for him in his divorce from his first wife, Mabel.
On 3 February 1927 Frank wrote to Bertie: “As you will have T.H. anyhow when I die why not convey the estate to you now subject to a charge of £600 a year to me for my life.” On 9 February 1927 Withers and Bertie met at the House of Lords to discuss the terms of a lease, not a conveyance. The lease was for 10 years, £400 annually, with an option to purchase for £12,000; furniture included, cottage excluded. The rental amount coincided with the amount owing to Mollie. On 11 February Bertie agreed to terms, but wanted to put up bungalows on the grounds. In April 1927 a draft lease was prepared. Bertie and Dora decided to also lease Battine House which was about 2 miles away. The owner would not let it if it was to be used for pupils. Dora asked Frank to give up the cottage on the grounds of Telegraph House and lease Battine House. There were discussions about this from April to June 1927. Frank also said no to the construction of bungalows (Affidavit, p. 8). Withers agreed to their construction (Affidavit, p. 9).
Battine House, 2016 image from the Internet
On 27 May 1927 Withers wrote to Bertie: “I saw Frank yesterday ... he told me again that he could not enter into anything with regard to the matter until the lease was signed, and he would not be able to give up possession till 6 weeks after the lease was signed.” With regard to Bertie’s offer of £600 a year, first proposed by Frank back in February, Withers thinks it will not be “very practicable, as it will mean giving up Telegraph House from the Trust for £600 a year, which will stop on Frank’s death; whereas Lady Russell might live after that and I should have to provide for her annuity.” He promised, however, to consider it. Nothing came of it. This was just a hint of difficulties to come. As Bertie noted in his Autobiography his brother “bore me a grudge for inhabiting his paradise” (2: 153). On 13 June Dora who was in London sent Bertie a telegram at Carn Voel: I “cannot get more than original ten years with written bungalow permission. Withers advises settle now.” On Tuesday 14th of June she wrote: “The lease is to be posted to you for signature tomorrow. You will get it Thursday morning.” On 16 June Bertie wrote to Dora: “Withers has sent the lease & I am signing it ….” The lease was executed on 23 June 1927 with possession on 15 July.18 Frank did agree to go to Battine House for three months beginning 15 July. On 18 July “or shortly thereafter” Dora had some furniture moved from Telegraph House to Battine House (Affidavit, p. 11). On 17 June 1927 Withers wrote to Bertie: “I shall have no objections to the bungalows being used as class rooms and for sleeping if approved by the local authority.” Withers had gone against Frank’s wishes with regard to the construction of bungalows.
On 7 July 1927, Frank wrote to Bertie: “I don’t want to quarrel, but of course you have struck me as very unreasonable. But I think the reason for this is ... that you do not understand anything about land in the country.” The letter concerned Bertie possibly acquiring the cottage from Frank along with 7 acres on the grounds of Telegraph House as well as Frank acquiring 30 acres of land on which to build as part of an exchange. “If you are going to agree to the exchange I can wait till next year to build, having lost a twelvemonth; but if you are not, obviously I shall have to look about and buy a house somewhere else, which I can probably do for less than it would cost me to build.” Unfortunately, Bertie’s reply to Frank, which would help to clarify what happened, is not extant. But it can be concluded that this exchange never took place as in 1928 Frank was living in Dyke House, Methwold, Norfolk. The earliest letter from there that I can find was written in October but he could well have been there earlier than that. Exiled in Norfolk, far from the coast, his presence continued to loom over his passion, Telegraph House, in a never-ending series of complaints. Although he continued to lease the cottage, it is not known how often, if ever, he visited.
On 9 July 1927, Frank wrote to Dora. He included a list of five things she might wish to buy, including a telescope complete with stand and a collection of local stuffed animals—stoat, squirrel, owl, woodcock, fox—as well as three things he wished to store. “Palmer has returned the gates a bright red and I am not altering this as Bertie may think the colour appropriate!” Bertie took legal possession of Telegraph House on 15 July 1927.19 On 1 August Frank wrote to Withers about his possessions with prices, complaining that he could not get a reply from Bertie. He organized them into two groups: “Things to be Bought about Which There is No Doubt” and “Things About Which I Must Know Within a Week.” The latter group contained the telescope and stand for £25. On 3 August 1927 Dora wrote to Withers that she and Bertie could not afford the telescope. The squabbling about the telescope went on for years. There was also a dispute about furniture which is the reason for the Withers affidavit. It seems that Frank had learned nothing from his past mistakes with Elizabeth. Bertie wrote to Ottoline on 16 August: “We have terrible rows with my brother, who behaves like a common swindler.”
Sensing more trouble, Bertie wrote to his old friend from their Trinity undergraduate days, Crompton Llewelyn Davies. Crompton had left Withers’s firm to become the solicitor for the Post Office. Crompton’s wife, Moya, was Irish and Crompton found himself in difficulties with the Post Office over the Irish Troubles.20 After he was dismissed from the Post Office he joined the firm Coward, Chance & Co.21 Bertie’s letter is not extant, but Crompton’s reply of 16 August from Ireland is. He wrote “I shall be back in London on 1 Sept. I quite agree that it will be best for me to see Withers as soon as he can be seen. I suppose we should say to him ‘We don’t understand what has been done hitherto; we haven’t had the furniture we were promised and have been put to trouble and expense thereby; but we will overlook it now and will eliminate the furniture part of the case by buying what there is at a fair valuation, and the rent will then, as the lease says, be £200 for the land and buildings.’” Upon his return Crompton got right to work. He wrote to Bertie on 3 September 1927 that he had met with Mr. Wesley. Withers was on vacation. “I pointed out that ... you had been the victim of wrongdoing throughout and had been greatly inconvenienced....” Crompton remained Bertie’s lawyer until his death in 1935; their lengthy correspondence about Telegraph House illustrates the strength of their friendship as well as the wit and charm of both men.
Beacon Hill School Opens at Telegraph House
Although Bertie had had legal possession of Telegraph House since 15 July, he had spent the summer at Carn Voel in Cornwall. He was to arrive at Telegraph House on 1 September 1927.22 Frank, meanwhile, was still at Battine House. Bertie then left for a lecture tour of the United States in order to raise funds. Beacon Hill School opened at Telegraph House without his presence. It was an experimental, progressive school for young children. Much has been written on the school and it not the purpose of this article to describe the school in any detail.23 Telegraph House went from being a private family home to an institution. Bertie and Dora could escape at times to Battine House; they also spent the summers at Carn Voel until their marriage broke down completely.
Dora and pupils at the front
On 6 March 1928, Crompton wrote to Withers attempting to reach a settlement about the furniture “before the proceedings on Your Originating Summons develop.”24 Crompton failed and Withers filed an affidavit on 16 March, which is quoted extensively above. Withers made reference to Vandercom Stanton & Co. representing Frank and Crompton Llewelyn Davies representing Bertie. The case—in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division—was J.J. Withers vs. Frank, Bertie, and Mollie Russell. On 16 April 1928 Bertie wanted a sentence that Crompton had placed in Bertie’s draft affidavit removed. It said “that I think my brother is mad and lost all sense of honour.” It would “undoubtedly make it more difficult to effect reconciliation with my brother at some future date” if the sentence were not eliminated. Bertie swore his affidavit on 23 April. On 24 October 1928 Bertie told Crompton: “I am absolutely certain that the cottage is not in the Trust. I have had sundry negotiations with my brother when I thought of buying it, and he moreover, has put it up for sale.” Nothing seems to have come from this and the fact that Frank thought he was able to sell the cottage when previously he had to rent it from Withers seems odd. The deed of 2 November 1929 notes that Frank had been leasing the cottage since 24 June 1924; the cottage was definitely in the Trust. On 12 November Crompton told Bertie that “at last an Order has been made, staying proceedings on Withers summons on the agreed terms” concerning the furniture. Frank continued to insist on compensation for a list of smaller items, from light shades to a tennis net. Bertie paid him £61; Crompton received the receipt, dated 14 December, on 18 December 1928. Bertie decided on this course because as he told Crompton on 6 December 1928: “I do not so much mind fighting Withers, but when it comes to fighting my brother, I shrink almost as much from winning as from losing.” On 15 December Bertie added: “What a funny fellow my brother is to have made such a fuss ... I can only think that he desired the sensation of successful bullying and having acquired that, was comparatively indifferent to the cash.” Bertie ended the letter by saying, “I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have the whole complicated tangle disposed of.”
The amount paid in December 1928 did not cover the telescope which was returned on 17 December “in bad condition and without a tripod” which followed the next day. Frank wanted £6 for repairs and other costs for the telescope.25 Bertie refused. “The telescope was carefully stored away during the whole time that it was in my keeping, and if it was in bad condition when it was restored, it must have been in equally bad condition when it was handed to me.”26 Below is an undated photograph that Bertie sent to Constance Malleson which depicts the telescope. She captioned it “Russell’s study, in the tower, at Beacon Hill.”
The telescope in “Russell’s study in the tower”, photograph sent to Colette, late 1920s, and captioned by her
Despite the fact that the matter of the telescope had not yet been resolved, on 5 April 1929 Bertie wrote to Crompton that he had just seen Frank who was “quite amicable. The situation is that Withers has let him the cottage and is apparently under obligation to supply him with water.” There was a water pipe from Telegraph House to the cottage but the tank at the house barely had enough water for the house since Beacon Hill school was being run from the property. Two further letters from Bertie to Crompton on water followed, on 8 and 28 April. Bertie wrote in his last letter: “... I am inclined to agree that my brother’s proposal for a water supply at the cottage will not do ... It is clearly Withers’s duty to construct a tank on the premises of the cottage.” Crompton writing to Bertie on 29 May 1929 noted “that they [Frank and Withers] are far more cunning and ruthless than we are, and though we may start well, we don’t last out to the wining-post … I have a premonition that though I may fight for Queen and Faith as valiantly as Sir Richard Grenville,27 it will end with my collapsing on deck as he did.” Bertie replied on 3 June 1929 that he hated “to think of your suffering the fate of Sir Richard Grenville.” Dora blamed herself for the brothers’ difficulties. She told Crompton on 11 October that Frank had sent a very “friendly letter saying he did not know he [Bertie] was going to America, but if he were, recommending to him some of his friends out in California … I am afraid that I am the object of the persecution, and that is tangled up with Frank’s complexes about his previous wife.”28
On 2 November 1929 a “Deed for securing an annuity of £400 free of Income Tax to Countess Russell” was issued. It was “supplemental to the deeds of 14th September 1914 and the 12th December 1921” and was signed by Frank, Mollie, and Withers. It noted the leasing of Telegraph House on 24 June 1927 with certain furniture to Bertie for ten years at £400 and the lease of the cottage with certain furniture to Frank on 24 June 1924 for one year at £20; after that the lease became year to year. It also set out the War Loan, 1929-1947, and stock investments which were contained in the Trust.29
Dora wrote that “Bertie was always busy writing; he acquired an excellent secretary and began to dictate a good deal.30 We had spent capital from the sale of the house in Chelsea on the school … Bertie planned a lecture tour in America for 1929 ...” (Tamarisk Tree 1: 206).
Back from America, on 29 December Bertie wrote to Ottoline: “We are snowed up—every bit of food has to be carried three miles on foot through deep drifts. Our car is stuck in a snow drift, and all our roads are impassable. We have five children besides our own for the holidays. But we manage to have fun in spite of meteorological misfortunes … Life here is noisy and gay. It is lovely to see nervy and ill-tempered children becoming kind and jolly.”
In January 1930 the dispute over the telescope came to a head. On 11 January 1930, Crompton reminded Bertie that Frank had written on 20 November 1928 to say “‘The telescope was not left in the boxroom as you have twice stated, but in the office’. Are you both perfectly sure that the children did not take the instruments out on to the lawn to play see-saw on them?” The court date was set for 20 January in Midhurst, County Court of Sussex. Bertie was represented by Hubert Parker, a friend of Crompton’s who lived in Sussex. Frank was represented by another local lawyer, J.M. Furneaux. Unfortunately the court judgement has not been preserved. Copies of various documents for the County Court of Sussex Holden at Midhurst were prepared by Coward, Chance & Co. and are in the Russell Archives.
Water and fire now came to the fore. Bertie wrote Compton on 14 October 1930 that water for the cottage is under discussion again. “I do not think there is any possibility of the plan previously proposed by my brother in regard to the cottage water supply proving satisfactory.” On 20 October Bertie noted “that there is risk of fire … from the position and condition of the battery, which is at present in a dark cellar where adequate inspection is impossible.” In a memorandum titled “Electrical Installation at Telegraph House” signed on 1 November 1930, Frank noted that “as for the risk of fire from the battery this is absolute nonsense.” On 4 November Crompton notified Bertie that Frank “is making arrangements for a separate water supply for the cottage. At last a victory!”
In 1955, when Bertie was getting insurance for Plas Penhryn, he wrote that “I had a fire at Telegraph House and I think the year was 1929 but I am not certain of the year. I received insurance on this occasion.”31 The fire that Bertie is referring to is probably a shed that burned down on 11 September 1934; this was after Telegraph House had reverted to being a private home. Guardian Assurance paid £40 in compensation.32 There was also a gorse and heather fire in late June 1930; in a letter to Crompton on 2 July Bertie told him that the Petersfield Fire Brigade charged £15 to put out the fire. Earlier that year, on 11 March 1930, Bertie had written to Dorothy Harvey, the mother of one of the Beacon Hill pupils, Jason. He had found Jason and other children making bonfires without adult supervision. He told Mrs. Harvey that the danger of fire was real and that there could be “thousands of pounds worth of damage in a very short time.” He assured her that he had the five children involved agree to not set any more bonfires unsupervised. “I hope, but not very confidently, that they will keep this promise.”
In the summer of 1930 Bertie wrote to his sister-in-law, Elizabeth: “I do remember your coming to the school, though I confess that at the moment when I wrote, it had escaped my memory. There are considerable changes since you came. We have built a charming bungalow which we have undertaken to demolish when the lease expires. We use the hut in which you did not write novels as a laboratory. The telephone to it is no longer in working order.”
On 14 January 1931 Dora notified Crompton with regard to Battine House that she and Bertie did “not wish to prolong the lease after the five years, and would, in fact, prefer to terminate the lease after four years. We have therefore agreed with Sir William de Salis’s son, the present owner of Battine, to release Battine House on August 12th this year. We shall then be able either to store such furniture of Frank’s as we have there, or return it to Telegraph House, and that bone of contention will be removed.” Under consideration at this time was the closing of the school run from Telegraph House and the sub-letting of the house.
While still married and living with Elizabeth, it has been alleged that Frank began a relationship with Miss Amy Otter, his secretary.33 In fact, Frank’s biographer points out that Miss Otter, Frank and Mollie were friends beginning c.1900—they had met at the Pharos Club. Amy Otter attended their wedding in 1901 (Derham, p. 235).34 Miss Otter was employed at various jobs throughout her career but never as a secretary.35 Frank was with her in Marseille when he died suddenly on 3 March 1931 of influenza. At that time she was employed by the Ministry of Health. Like many couples who divorce, friends are divided up and Miss Otter had stuck with Frank. Bertie went to France. Dora wrote to him on 4 March: “I kept thinking of the blowy cold wet crossing to France today ... You looked so white and troubled, sweetheart. I supposed it must be because the old quarrel with Frank had not been made up and I did not know how to comfort you because I thought you must be blaming me in your heart.” Upon Bertie’s return, he wrote to Ottoline: “I didn’t know he was ill, and he was my only near relation; we shared many early memories that now I share with no one. It was a pity we quarrelled, as we were always fond of each other. We had more or less made it up, but I had always intended to make it up more completely.” He praised his brother’s character calling him stoic and courageous and concluded that his death “was a good end” as “he had died of his exertions in the public service.”36 It was Withers who provided information to Mollie on 11 March: “I understand Frank was on his way back from the Riviera, stayed a night at Marseilles, and died there … I really do not know anything more, but I am told that Miss Otter is the Executor … Mr. Buckland acted for Frank and I am asking him to look out for your pictures … Poor Frank’s death upset me terribly as well, as he was an old friend of nearly 50 years standing.”
On 25 March Amy Otter wrote to Dora: “Frank’s ashes have been received at the F.O. [Foreign Office] and have been placed in the Library where they can remain until Saturday [28 March] … I have instructed the driver from Dyke House to come to London on Friday with the car & he will drive on Saturday … I am hoping that Ld. Russell may be able to accompany us.” Frank’s ashes were scattered on the Sussex Downs on Tuesday 30 March 1931. There was no religious ceremony and no one wore mourning dress. When Frank died he was Under-Secretary for India. Present at the service, besides Bertie, Dora, their children and Miss Otter, were Lord Snell, Lord Marley, representing the prime minister, and other government officials. News clippings pasted into a scrapbook in the Russell Archives describe the occasion. The following day Bertie wrote to Miss Otter: “I was very much touched by your kindness yesterday and by your wish to facilitate our problems … It seemed to me that Lord Snell did very well, and that we owe him a debt of gratitude.”37
Frank had no children. The Earldom passed laterally to Bertie. There was a delay, however, in official recognition because enough time had to pass to verify that Elizabeth would not give birth. If she had been pregnant, that child would have inherited the title. The authorities had to follow protocol; Frank and Elizabeth’s more than a decade-long separation had no bearing on the legal situation.
Frank left everything to Amy Otter in his will, despite his letter of 3 February 1927 in which he had written that Bertie “will have T.H. anyhow when I die.” Only a few months later, on 15 August 1927, he had named her as both the executor and the sole beneficiary of “all my real and personal Estate.” A probate document, dated 28 May 1931 listed the gross value of the estate at £10,130.8.8 and the net value of his personal estate at £818.104.22.168 Amy Otter and Bertie had a cordial relationship. They saw themselves as united against Mollie. In April 1931 the cottage tenants decided to leave before their lease was up because it was “not habitable.”39 Frank must have sub-let it. Bertie decided he would like to rent it since he was giving up Battine House. Writing to Crompton on 25 April 1931, he said that Miss Otter “is willing to agree to anything that Withers will sanction ... It would be necessary to do something about the water supply....” Withers dug in his heels about the water but agreed to let Bertie have the cottage until midsummer at the current rent (1 May 1931). Frank had agreed to remedy the water situation in November 1930—one can only assume he had not done so. On 6 May 1931 Withers informed Crompton that the cottage formed part of the Trust estate, and the tenancy did not end until 24 June 1932. Crompton, in turn, wrote to Bertie, quoting Withers of 13 May: “the tenancy to Earl Russell goes on till June 1932 and I must get Miss Otter’s consent to the whole transaction.” This indicated that Frank had renewed his lease on the cottage annually from 1924 onward. On 18 May 1931 Bertie wrote to Crompton regarding the Dyke House furniture: “If, on the other hand, the Methwold furniture belongs to the Trust, Miss Otter ought to be informed of the fact as soon as possible, and we ought to proceed to put Withers in prison.”
On 5 June 1931 Bertie wrote to Crompton that he and Miss Otter had met and she “is prepared to be very friendly. She proposes ultimately to leave me Telegraph House, but at the moment my brother’s estate has brought her in an adverse balance of £350.” This amount was typed incorrectly; it should have been £3,500. On 3 June 1931 after Bertie and Miss Otter had met, her lawyers, Vandercom Stanton & Co., wrote to Crompton: Bertie “has made an offer to purchase from Miss Otter the reversionary interest of the late Earl in a sum of £4,300 5% War Stock which forms part of the funds comprised in the Settlement made by the late Earl for the benefit of Mollie, Countess Russell ... The offer is to pay £3,500 for the reversion to the £4,300 War Stock, £1,500 to be paid down and the balance of £2,000 when Lord Russell returns from his contemplated tour in America....” This letter also mentioned cottage repairs “which Lord Russell intimated he would be perfectly willing to undertake if he could have the cottage included in his present tenancy.” On 27 June 1931 Bertie wrote again to Crompton: “My brother’s estate was practically bankrupt, and in order to avoid bankruptcy proceedings, Miss Otter has to find £3,500. I am prepared to lend her this sum on any security that is in your opinion adequate, provided that she either pays me interest or an adequately increased lump sum after Mollie’s death … I do not want an arrangement which is philanthropic on my part, but one which is sound....” This agreement marks Bertie’s formal involvement in the Trust. Miss Otter’s lawyer, Vandercom Stanton & Co., noted on 3 June 1931 to Crompton that: “Miss Otter is to include in the purchase price certain family pictures, silver, furniture and books set out in the list which we enclose.” It was also noted that Bertie would like to rent “the small cottage occupied by the late Earl at a rent of £20 per annum. These matters of course, are for the Trustee of the Settlement....”40 It must be remembered that Telegraph House remained in a Trust controlled by Withers.
On 14 August 1931 Amy Otter and Bertie entered into an agreement with John Withers, the Trustee. The archival copy (document 133435H) is a draft one and not signed. Bertie was to pay her £3,500 in installments while she was to assign to Bertie her reversionary41 interest in the £4,300 War Loan. She agreed to “execute a Deed of Settlement … of her reversionary interest in the Telegraph House Property upon herself for life and subject thereto upon Earl Russell in fee simple.” The agreement had 3 schedules: The first listed the agreement made between Frank and Mollie and the two agreements made between them and Withers.42 The second set out the boundaries of the property. The third was the War Loan, 1929–47. In a letter of the same date, her lawyer pointed out that Miss Otter is willing “to meet all duties, not only on the late Lord Russell’s death but on the death of Countess Molly.” She did not, however, want to pay duties on Telegraph House “which she is in effect giving to your client [Bertie] subject to reservation of life interest to herself.” On 8 October, Richard Buckland of Vandercom Stanton & Co. listed the contents of the Trust as: war stock worth £4,365; Telegraph House and estate, furniture, pictures, silver. The income was £200 per year. Buckland thought that Bertie “should pay Miss Otter a total sum of £4,500 for the reversion ... and should undertake to pay all death duties … In this way Lord Russell would obtain property which on the lowest estimate should be worth £500 a year in perpetuity….” On 13 October 1931, Bertie wrote to Crompton that “in any case, the odds are in favour of Mollie dying before the expiration of the lease [in 1937]. Perhaps Miss Otter and I might combine to send her presents of the best liquor from time to time.” Miss Otter was at the time 58, Bertie 59, while Mollie was around 75.
The next day, 14 October 1931, Bertie wrote to Crompton: “The large picture of my mother and Lady Carlisle, which Miss Otter believes to be valuable, is hanging on the staircase here, and is at Miss Otter’s disposal if she wishes to have it. I should suggest Lady Mary Murray as a possible purchaser; she is rich, and the portrait of her mother is excellent.” Bertie’s mother, Katharine, Vicountess Amberley, and Rosalind Howard, Countess of Carlisle were sisters, the daughters of the second Baron Stanley of Alderley. Lady Mary Murray was a daughter of Countess Carlisle; she was married to the classicist Gilbert Murray. On 20 January 1937 Bertie wrote to Murray that “I am glad about the picture.” In 1949 he annotated this letter. “It was at Telegraph House, & had to be moved when that house was sold. It is now at Naworth” Castle, Brampton, Cumbria, the seat of the Earls of Carlisle. In 1935 Mollie acquired a different portrait that Miss Otter allowed her to have. It was sent to Withers by Vandercom Stanton & Co. On 10 October 1935 Withers notified her that “I am having the portrait sent to you.” Later in the same letter he wrote “In the Inventory made on the 23rd May 1925 for the purposes of insurance there is mentioned ‘Gallery Oil Painting of life size portraits of The Countess of Carlyle [sic] and The Viscountess Amberley by Sir William Beechy [sic]43 in gilt frame, 70 inches by 90 inches, valued at £500.’ Is this the Portrait about which you wish to communicate with Miss Otter’s Executor?”
Bertie Moves Out of Telegraph House
Bertie and Dora’s marriage fractured during their years at Telegraph House. On 20 March 1932 he wrote to Dora, telling her he planned on living with Patricia (Peter) Spence once she left Oxford. Peter had been engaged as the children’s nanny in the summer of 1930. A draft legal deed of separation is dated 1 December 1932. The final document was signed on 31 December 1932.44 From 1929 to 1932 Bertie and Dora had maintained a flat at 38 Bernard Street in Bloomsbury that they both used. In the autumn of 1932 Bertie rented a flat at 47 Emperor’s Gate in Kensington. He left Telegraph House in April 1932 for Carn Voel; he moved into his new London flat in November. Dora remained at Telegraph House and for a time Beacon Hill School continued. On 14 June 1932 Bertie wrote to Dora: “T.H. ought to be painted outside this summer. As it is an obligation under the lease, the expense must fall on me if the school goes on, will you see to this.”
On 7 February 1933, Bertie wrote to Crompton that: “I think that even if Dora evacuates Telegraph House, I shall not want to live there myself.” He believed that Dora “will not mind so much giving up Telegraph House” if she knows that he will not be living there after she leaves.” On 15 May 1933 Crompton wrote to F. Graham Maw, Dora’s solicitor: “This morning I have a received a letter” from Bertie of 9 May, whom he quotes: “The uncertainty and expense of temporary arrangements, and the inconvenience of absence from my books and personal possessions, become increasingly irksome. I should therefore like Dora to know that I will not extend her tenancy of Telegraph House beyond July 25th 1934, unless she will now bind herself to remain at least till Midsummer 1937, in which case I will let her have it for £100 a year, on the understanding that I recover my personal furniture and belongings … If she is going to stay at Telegraph House I must take an unfurnished house....” In May 1933, Bertie and Peter went to Yegen, Granada, Spain to visit Gerald Brenan and his wife, Gamel.45 Bertie mentioned the couple in his Autobiography, finding them “interesting and delightful” (2: 150).46 Then in the summer of 1933, Bertie and Peter moved into Deudraeth Castle Hotel at Portmeirion, Wales.47 There he wrote Freedom and Organization. Bertie had now decided to live at Telegraph House after Dora left if the house could not be sold.48 He was hoping to sell the house to an interested buyer, Mrs. Pike. Unfortunately, nothing came of it. She thought the price so “so excessive” that she “abandoned the idea altogether.”49
While Bertie was in Wales, Telegraph House fell victim to vandalism. Dora’s lawyer, F. Graham Maw, wrote to Crompton on 14 July 1933 about “the legends painted on the various parts of Telegraph House during the night of 11th–12th instant: Hurrah lovely Three Down with Zozo / Beautiful Bertie you are too red to be true. / Down with Russia. / Red Bertie’s / We have taken your bloody flag and left you ours. / Hoch! Lovely Three!”50 Maw “is trying to effect a sufficient insurance against malicious damage.” The linking of Bertie with Communism clung to him most of his life. It echoes back to the comment of his own brother, Frank, regarding the red gate made on 9 July 1927, despite the fact that Bertie had written The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism in 1920 which rejected the practice of Communism. It also echoes forward to the “better red than dead” controversy in which he would be entangled in the late 1950s. Ironically, Dora, who was still living at Telegraph House, was a supporter of Soviet Russia.
Crompton soldiered on, trying to clarify the Trust though he compared the situation as being “too mathematical for me—like where & when with two trains, going in opposite directions at diverse speeds, meet?”51 On 1 February 1934, Crompton wrote to Bertie, telling him that he had written to Withers that matters are so complicated that “Bertie is now inclined to let it wait until Mollie dies”—he will then sell Telegraph House. The assumption is that he had Miss Otter’s agreement on this plan. Two years earlier Bertie had been assured that since there would be no running interest on the death duties on Frank’s estate, he could “await Mollie’s demise calmly.”52 On 17 February Bertie questioned Crompton. He wanted to know what exactly he would get from Miss Otter once Mollie died. He was concerned about death duties and Telegraph House standing empty. “Your view seems to be that, when Mollie dies, I get whatever the ‘trust’ fund amounts to, whether more or less than £4,300.” Crompton replied on 20 February 1934: “You say you would like to know what the truth is,—you jesting Pilate, you! Shelley, who spent his life pursuing Truth like a lover, might be indignant when he was not believed about the simple matter of fact of his stolen hat; why should you, who have pursued Truth only to annihilate her, call out for a draught of water from her sacred well?” Crompton’s five-page note, titled “Lord Russell: Mollie Countess Russell’s Trust, Telegraph House” sets out all the complexities involved as succinctly as possible (document .133555). He pointed out that “Withers the Trustee, Mollie the Annuitant, and Bertie the Reversioner are all concerned. Any ultimate loss is likely to fall on Bertie, but the other two have no interest in slaughtering the reversion, if arrangements to preserve it can be agreed upon.” Crompton sent his note to Withers on 27 March 1934. He wrote: “The object in clearing up the position arising from Bertie’s purchase from Miss Otter of her reversion was to make it clear that Miss Otter was not seriously concerned in any dealings with Telegraph House.” Crompton went on to open a discussion about the sale of Telegraph House.
Beginning in late March and continuing during April and May 1934 a series of letters was exchanged between Crompton and Withers, discussing the price that Telegraph House might fetch. The prices ranged from a low of £5,000 to a high of £7,000. Mollie had agreed to the sale. “Articles to be Specially Noted” was made of some of the contents of Telegraph House (document .133823). The list included books now in Russell’s Library, his Columbia University gold medal and two square tables of Doomsday oak. On 12 April Withers wrote to Crompton with regard to a buyer that “Lady Russell suggests that the property may be very useful as an Aerodrome, being on high ground and not very far from the Solent.” On 17 April Withers reminded Crompton that “I am the Trustee of the Settlement and am the only person who can sell, and that with Countess Russell’s consent, and therefore all effective instructions must come from me.” On 20 April Mollie agreed that Constable and Maude, Land Agents would be the agents for the sale.53 Constable and Maude wrote to Withers on 31 May 1934: “the House is magnificently situated commanding extensive views of the surrounding country, but in its present state it is in our opinion practically unmarketable … the disregard of the covenants of the Lease, misuse of the Drains, Fittings and Fixtures, Grounds and Fences, have all combined to deteriorate the property very considerably.” A serious drawback was that the only source of drinking water was rain water which had to be boiled. The agents compiled a list of eight repairs totalling £725 to make the house saleable. Water was not listed. “… we have heard that the services of a Water Engineer and Diviner were utilised in 1933 ... we understand that they actually gave an estimate for carrying out the work amounting to £550.” Dora wrote that “I made some enquiries about boring an artesian well through the chalk, and sent particulars to Bertie, suggesting that we might share an experimental trial boring, which would not be ruinously expensive. He was not interested, so I began to look for other premises [for the school], possibly nearer to London” (Tamarisk Tree 1: 279). On 11 July 1934 Crompton wrote to Bertie about the various repairs needed at Telegraph House. “I think that Withers recognises that the matter is not pressing from his point of view, but he is always in fear of Mollie, and I suppose if you became insolvent and Telegraph House could not be disposed of there might be a question of her annuity running short.”
Bertie Returns to Telegraph House
Dora was to leave Telegraph House on 25 July 1934, the same day Bertie’s domestic staff were to arrive. Bertie was to arrive on 28 July. Crompton confirmed these dates in a letter to Bertie on 16 July. Bertie and Peter lived there for the next three years. They could have left earlier but were unable to sell the house until 1937 when the lease ended. Telegraph House returned to being a private country estate as Frank had always wanted. Frank’s widow, Elizabeth, wrote to Bertie on 31 August from her home in France. “I’m thrilled to see your address, and to hear that there, cleared of Dora’s school, you are going to live. May you at last lay [to rest] the curse that has clung to that house, and bring it peace and happiness. I would quite particularly love to visit it again under the new régime, and rejoice over the complete fading out of the old one.” On 2 August 1934, Peter wrote in pencil a letter addressed to “Bertrand Russell, Tender Hearted Philosopher.” She was in the tower room and noted that she will “never want to go away.” On 15 November 1934, Bertie wrote to his friend Robert (Bob) Trevelyan that he was at the Hotel Alexandra in Lyme Regis, Dorset, while a new kitchen range was being put in. Bertie hopes Bob and his wife Bessie will visit Telegraph House “some time soon.”
Bertie and Peter found the house in a terrible state—among other things there were bed bugs.54 Bertie sent a specimen of a bug to a Dr. Omerod. Rowe & Maw, writing to Coward, Chance & Co. on 17 September 1934 noted that Dora would not take responsibility for the bugs by paying for their extermination. It was irrelevant that a bug or bugs had been found and sent to a doctor—they could not be connected to her. “Dr. Omerod” is probably a misspelling of the surname of Dr. Catherine Jane Ormerod, a doctor at Beacon Hill School. Of course, there was a dispute about various items—a Chinese mandarin robe, Roman relics, books, a plaque and a barograph. Dora did agree to pay for the cleaning of sheets and pillows. All of this was just part of a very messy divorce which had seemed to drag on interminably. The decree nisi was issued on 11 November 1934 with the decree final on 1 July 1935.
On 15 August 1934 Bertie wrote to Gerald Brenan: “We are very sorry that this house is not fit for visitors, however unfastidious, & cannot become so for about another month. All the W.C.’s are dangerously insanitary; almost all the furniture was taken away; the dirt & stink everywhere are horrible. We shall have workmen in the house for some time.” He proposed a visit to the Brenans in Lulworth. A follow-up letter on 20 August noted that Peter “is overwhelmed by bugs, fleas, cats, puppies, & baby birds, not to mention sanitary authorities, builders, electricians, gardeners, babies, & other minor fauna of the countryside, besides whitewash & pots of paint.” On 29 August Bertie wrote to Gerald’s wife Gamel: “We arrived home without any adventures or misadventures, & have found no more bugs; apparently they died of grief during our absence … We both enjoyed our visit.”
Late in the summer an exciting discovery was made on the estate. “On the south slope of North Marden Down, near the drive to Telegraph House and about one mile S.S.W. from Beacon Hill, an extensive Roman-Celtic farm settlement has been found. The Down here is dense with trees and undergrowth, so that the enclosure bank, numerous hut sites with dry flint walling and lynchets of the fields, are very difficult to find. They are in a peculiarly remote part of the Downs.” John Russell, aged 13, and friends “have dug up many fragments of Roman pottery; and there have been found a coin of Postumus, part of a bronze horse trapping, and sherds of Samian ware.”55 John Russell replied, downplaying his role in the discovery.56 Katharine Tait wrote that these Roman remains, exciting as they were, “never produced much”(Bruneau, p. 143).
By December 1934, Constable and Maude were no longer the exclusive agents for Telegraph House. Messrs. Hamptons were now also involved and Withers was demanding that the price “could not be lower than £10,000.”57 On 4 January 1935 Crompton wrote to Bertie that he had met with Mr. Empson of Hamptons. Collins & Collins are also being called in as agents. Withers is away on a cruise for his health. Crompton “cannot help thinking that in standing out for £10,000” Withers “may be bluffing or overlooking what may be the best interest of Mollie.” The price was far higher than any of the agents’ appraisals.
On 23 February 1935, Amy Otter made her will. She appeared to have no family still living; she made small legacies to eight different women. She gave Bertie “453 Venezuelan Oil Concession Shares and all my outstanding reversionary interest under the trusts created by the late John Francis Stanley Earl Russell in favour of Marion [Mollie] Countess Russell for her life free of all duties that might be payable on my death.” She also left him “the Applewood chair now at Dyke house formerly belonging to his brother and also all my silver marked ‘R’ also at Dyke House.” The will also referred to “my sitting room at Dyke House” which may indicate that Miss Otter was living there (document .133882). She had retired from the Civil Service (Buckland to Crompton, 16 March 1934).58 Her executor was Richard Buckland of Vandercom Stanton & Co. On 28 February Amy Otter died. A brief death notice appeared in The Times, 2 March 1935, p. 1. Mollie lived on. On 21 March 1935 Buckland wrote to Crompton, conveying Miss Otter’s wishes: “‘I wish to be cremated and would you ask Bertrand Russell to let my ashes be scattered where his brother’s were? No ceremony’ … I should propose, if consent were given, to bring these few friends [of Miss Otter] down to Telegraph House and scatter the ashes….”
In August 1935, Gerald and Gamel Brenan visited for a fortnight. Gerald described the house as “a modern but not ugly building … All the furniture in the house was ugly. Bertie was aware of this and explained that it had once belonged to Wittgenstein and was on that account sacred to him. But I think that he was really indifferent to his indoor surroundings, though he loved Nature and was proud of his magnificent estate … He was a very good host, considerate, hospitable and by turns serious and amusing. In the mornings he worked, but during the rest of the day we were together, going for walks through the beech woods after lunch and in the evenings talking and reading aloud to one another … in the end we stayed a fortnight (Personal Record, pp. 261–2). Gerald then went on to describe their conversations. Brenan’s biographer, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, noted that “he was flattered by Russell’s friendship, but one has the feeling of Gerald very much forced into continuous top gear. He took voluminous notes in their bedroom (very useful when he wrote Personal Record), and kept his end up by steering the conversation into literature.”59 Gerald and Gamel left Telegraph House for Lulwoth, then “took the boat for Gibraltar and by October 1st, 1935 were installed” in Churriana in Spain (Personal Record, p. 267).
At the end of the summer, Bertie wrote a letter of complaint to the Manager, Railway Air Services Ltd., dated 18 September 1935.60
“I have for some time been suffering serious inconvenience from the passage of aeroplanes on the London–Isle of Wight service immediately over my house, and I write to ask if you would be so kind as to do something to mitigate this nuisance.
My house is isolated, and stands high on the downs; it serves, therefore as a landmark for air traffic. This is unfortunate for me and my household. I feel sure, however, that our sufferings need not be so great as they are at present. In the first place, it does not seem to me necessary that the aeroplanes should pass immediately over the house or gardens; in the second place, they could and should fly higher when they come to higher ground.
You will understand, I am sure, that to be obliged to suspend conversation during the passage of a machine, to be interrupted in difficult mathematical work61 by a deafening roar, to be closely observed from the air if one should venture to take a sunbath in a spot of otherwise impregnable privacy, is extremely annoying. Moreover, I am trying to sell my estate, and find that prospective purchasers are very reasonably deterred by these inconveniences.
It is frequently possible to read the numbers of the machines. I have noted two in proof of this assertion: GADEL and GABVB.”62
A response, if any, is not in the Archives. In 1936, the year after his complaint, Bertie wrote: “Recently, within a quarter of a mile of my house, three men were killed in an aeroplane crash on a dark and foggy night…” (Papers 21: 225).
Bertie was in Paris attending the International Congress for Scientific Philosophy from the 15th to 21st September.63 Naturally there were letters exchanged between himself and Peter. On 16 September Peter wrote about Gerald Brenan’s desire to kiss Rosalinde von Ossietzky (1919-2000), a 15 year old girl, the daughter of Carl von Ossietsky.64 “You may remember that the evening she came she was left alone in the tower awhile with G.B. She told me last night that he was very anxious to kiss her, but she wouldn’t let him. Her account was muddled, but convincing.” This happened the day before Brenan left in August, but Peter only found out about it from Rosalinde in September. She thought Bertie would be shocked but he wasn’t. His reply on 18 September noted that “I can’t say I am much surprised, it has always been obvious he is very sexual.” Bertie offered the excuse that Gerald couldn’t have known how young Rosalinde was.65
In mid-October 1935, Bertie’s Religion and Science was published, following In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays. He was away on tour to Denmark Sweden and Norway from 5 to 28 October. He and Peter corresponded; Peter wrote frequently about Telegraph House.66 On 9th October she wrote: “I took Crompton some of our new honey in the comb … & he was so pleased….” On 12th October: “There are 2,000 crocuses to go in during the next few days. Think how lovely it will be to look down from the tower on such a carpet of crocuses.” On 14th October: “I always sit in your chair both here—library—and in the tower, because I can’t bear either to see it empty….” On 15th of October: “Crompton has just telephoned to say that he has heard of some people from Withers who want to buy the house … they are coming to see the place to-morrow. I hate the thought of losing it, but it would be a great relief … we could be very happy in a little place.” On 20th October: “The people came to see the house again & Sarah67 says they were very excited about it & talked as though they had already bought it. Oh dear, I don’t want to lose it! The children are dismayed, though heroic.” On 22nd October: “The weather is bitterly cold and I am wearing several layers of wool and have a large fire and the central heating as hot as possible, but am not warm enough yet ... Hines and Wild are planting a fringe of crocuses round the lawn, and I shall go out and help them. It will be sad if after all this the house is sold. I am thinking of going in for bee-keeping on a large scale. The bees only need attention on a few days in the year and the honey here is really exceptionally fine, because of the heather and aromatic herbs. With ten hives I think I could make almost £50 a year, and it would be a pleasant hobby. I also intend to make money by selling rabbits. The cottage people say they want to stay there indefinitely ... the bungalow people seem to be settling in for life, and I have no doubt that I can let the Lab very profitably ... If only the wretched Mollie would die! I find that I have come to love the place passionately and shall hate losing it ... The woods are full of spindle berries and everything looks very lovely when the sun is out.”
Peter also kept in touch with her step-children, John and Kate, writing to them on 12 October 1935: “Sherry [their dog] is very bouncing, and the whole house swarms with cats of every shape, colour and size … Hines, Wild and I spent the morning planting snowdrops and aconites and there are still 2000 crocuses and a lot of bluebells and daffodils to go in …We have planted Madonnalilies [sic] all along in front of the front windows and are praying to Madonna to keep the rabbits off them.”
Kate Tait remembered the transformation that her step-mother wrought at Telegraph House, remaking it from a shabby school into a proper “gentleman’s country residence.” A classroom was “returned to its original function as a library and sitting room and, although it was off by itself at the end of a long corridor, it became the heart of the house. My father had a huge desk in the bay window, where he sat and wrote all morning ...” (My Father, p. 115). The afternoons were spent walking “for miles through our own woods, cutting back brambles to keep the footpaths open and watching the dog in his inept chase after rabbits … Dinner, thanks to Peter, was always an elegant occasion. We had a beautiful table and chairs (which had come to my father from the philosopher Wittgenstein), heavy Russell family silver and candlesticks, glassware and china bought by Peter to complement them, and food worthy of the setting” (My Father, p. 116).
Peter with Sherry inside Telegraph House
Bertie inside Telegraph House
On 23 November 1935, Bertie’s lawyer and friend Crompton Llewelyn Davies died suddenly at the age of 67 (The Times, 25 Nov. 1935, p. 14). Bertie remained a client of Coward, Chance & Co., with Louis Tylor representing him.
On 18 January 1936 Bertie and Peter married. They were soon to embark on editing a work about Bertie’s parents which would be published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press in March 1937. On 18 September 1936 Virginia Woolf wrote to Ethel Symth: “Did I tell you Bertie Russell has sent us, to publish, his fathers and mothers old letters—sweepings of old desks—2,000 pages: so fascinating and tragic, I live almost as much with the Amberleys in the 80ties as here and now” (Letters of Virginia Woolf, no. 3173). A few days later an invitation to tea which was later changed to lunch was extended by Bertie to Leonard and Virginia Woolf. In his letter of 22 September Bertie explained that “it takes 1 1/2 hours by car—Newhaven, Brighton, Chichester.” Monks House, the Woolfs’ country home, was in the eastern part of Sussex while Telegraph House was much further to the west but also in Sussex. On 3 October 1936 he told them to drive up “an avenue of copper beeches” to reach the house. The invitation was changed once the cook became available; it appears Peter could not manage lunch for four on her own. The Woolfs were expected on 7 October 1936. Unfortunately Virginia did not write about this in her diary. Her editor noted: “There are no entries in VW’s diary between 23 June and 30 October 1936. Her state of health remained precarious ... the Woolfs [decamped] to Rodmell earlier than usual, on 9 July ... There they remained ... until 11 October.” Virginia did however mention the visit in a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, 9 October 1936: “... Bertie came here [to Monks House, Rodmell] to discuss it [The Amberley Papers], and we went there to his Tower on the downs and made the acquaintance of Peter. I hadn’t seen Bertie for 20 years. What an entrancing mind ...” (Letters of Virginia Woolf , no. 3179). Peter’s role as co-editor was not mentioned. Leonard Woolf gave a different account of the visit which casts doubt on whether lunch had been served; writing to Margaret Llewelyn Davies on 30 December 1936: “In October we went over and fetched her68 from Bedales [School], of which she is head girl, gave her lunch in Petersfield and then took her out to Bertie Russell. We are publishing an immense work, in two vols for him, the letters and diaries of his mother and father, one of the most fascinating books I’ve read for a long time. We had to go and discuss business with him in his extraordinary tower, Telegraph House. He teaches Judith philosophy” (Letters of Leonard Woolf, pp. 242–3). The Woolfs presumably drove over in their 1933 silver and green Lanchester 18 automobile; both of them write about the vehicle but it would have been of little interest to Bertie. (Virginia Woolf, letter no. 3172; Leonard Woolf, Downhill, p. 188). During their visit they may have discussed bees as the Woolfs had hives at Monks House and Peter was also keeping bees. “Leonard became expert at bee-keeping ... Virginia liked to help with bottling the honey” (Virginia Woolf’s Garden, p. 38). Like Frank, Leonard bought more land as it became available.
Earlier that year in May Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte were staying with Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Beatrice recorded in her diary: “The one success of the visit was an expedition to Telegraph House, with its attractive vision of the elderly philosopher’s charming young wife ‘Peter Spence’, who captured the hearts of GBS and Charlotte. Will this coupling of elderly genius (sixty-five) with youthful charm (twenty-five) endure to the end of the road? … Amber Blanco White tells me that Peter worked her way up, from a poverty-stricken home and board-school education, through scholarships, to Oxford…” (p. 370). Bertie also wrote about the visit: “Wifely solicitude towards Shaw was no sinecure. When they and the Webbs were all nearing eighty, they came to see me at my house on the South Downs. The house had a tower from which there was a very fine view, and all of them climbed the stairs. Shaw was first and Mrs. Shaw last. All the time that he was climbing, her voice came up from below, calling out, ‘GBS, don’t talk while you’re going up the stairs!’ But her advice was totally ineffective, and his sentences flowed on quite uninterruptedly” (Portraits from Memory, p. 73).
Peter wrote to her step-children, John and Kate, on Bertie’s birthday, 18 May 1936: “Daddy arrived for lunch and had a nice birthday.” She has been chopping down trees. “Beasts come and look at the house almost daily, but we are losing all hope of anyone buying it, however we reduce the price. I am scheming all the time and hope ultimately to find some way of living here without grave financial loss. It is so delicious here now that the beeches and lilacs are out.”
In the summer of 1936 Bertie decided to negotiate a new lease. Withers told Mollie on 20 July 1936: “After negotiations with Bertie it has been arranged that he shall take a further lease of the Telegraph House property from the 24th June 1937 when his present lease expires. He will pay the same rent of £400 a year. The new term will be for twenty one years but he will have the right to break it at the end of the seventh or fourteenth year if he wishes.” Bertie obviously changed his mind and this lease was never signed.
On 30 August, Peter wrote again to John and Kate, telling them that masses of “Daddy’s relations” had been visiting. Gilbert Russell and his wife, Maud, had to been to lunch on 29 August. Arthur Russell and his wife were expected to tea that day. Margaret and Ted Lloyd had also been to tea.
Telegraph House Is Sold
During 1936 Bertie’s Which Way to Peace? was published. He continued to look for a buyer for Telegraph House. He confided to his old friend, Lion Phillimore on 24 September 1936 that he was willing to sell the house for £6,000. “It is very kind of you to take an interest in the matter and perhaps it would be a good plan for your agent to see the place.” The following month he told her that “the man who thinks of buying this house, & who almost certainly will buy it if handled tactfully, keeps raising new points of detail on the telephone, so that I cannot go away at the moment … It is vital to the welfare of the whole family to get rid of this house, & I don’t want to run any risks” (15 Oct. 1936).
In his Autobiography Bertie wrote: “A few months after his [Conrad’s] birth, I at last succeeded in selling Telegraph House. For years I had had no offers, but suddenly I had two: one from a Polish Prince, the other from an English business man. In twenty-four hours, owing to their competition, I succeeded increasing the price they offered by £1000. At last the business man won … (2: 193).
On 17 February 1937 he wrote to Kate that: “Mr. Brewis’s lawyers are signing the contract about buying this place today.” About the Prince, Bertie annotated a letter he wrote to Kate on 27 January 1937 thanking her for the pictures she had drawn: “The Polish Prince who nearly bought Telegraph House. He said if neighbours left cards he would tear them to pieces. Kate pretended that ‘them’ meant the neighbours, & drew pictures of him doing it.” In a Petition for Decrease of Maintenance [for Dora], 9 Dec. 1937, it was noted that Telegraph House was sold on 29 Sept. 1937 by the Trustee (Withers) for £5,468. The September date must be the closing date and also must be the date that Bertie was thinking of when he wrote that it had sold several months after Conrad’s birth which occurred on 15 April. He also told his publisher, Stanley Unwin, on 23 September 1937 that the house had sold. “I am very much relieved to be rid of this large house & estate, though I do not get the money until the death of my brother’s second wife, who is 80, but still going strong, like Johnnie Walker & (they say) by his help.”
He wrote to Lion on 18 March 1937. By the sale of the house “we gain by being able to live more cheaply in a small house, & it will reduce what I have to pay Molly from £400 a year to about £280, free of income tax. But the price goes into a trust, & I get none of it till she dies. When she dies, I no longer, of course, have to pay her, and I get a capital of £6,500. Until then, I have to pay out £535 a year to Dora (till her death or mine)69 plus £280 & income tax to Molly. This amounts to nearly my whole income, earned and unearned. I am living on capital, but have not much left. With a child coming, at my age, the situation is anxious, & I cannot give up earning money unless money for research is forthcoming from somewhere....” After Conrad was born he had a monthly nurse for the first few weeks of his life—Bertie wrote to Ottoline Morrell on 13 May that the nurse had left and would not be replaced (Letter no. 1762).
Conrad with his nurse; note the beehive in the background
Conrad with his parents, 29 May 1937
Bertie, Peter, and Conrad left Telegraph House on 13 October 1937 for their new home, Amberley House, in Kidlington, near Oxford. Bertie received further clarification of his financial position at the end of the year. On 16 December 1937 Louis Tylor wrote that “since Countess Mollie is able to recover a substantial sum from the Revenue in respect of income tax, the sum which you will have to pay Withers to make up the annuity to £400 a year, free of tax, is just under £100 per annum.” Further information was contained in the attached Petition for Decrease of Maintenance [for Dora], 9 Dec. 1937, p. 6. If Bertie, the petitioner “makes the said annuity payment of £98.13.10 until the death of the said Countess [Mollie] he will become entitled on her death to the property comprised in the Trust Fund less the annuity of £5 and less death duties amounting to about £2,400. If your Petitioner does not make the said annual payment of £98.13.10 he will become entitled on the death of the said Countess to the property comprised in the said Trust Fund less approximately £3,500 and less death duties. The said Countess reached the age of 79 in August 1937 and your Petitioner wishes to make the said annuity payment of £98.13.10 until the said Countess’ death.” Thus Bertie gambled that Mollie would die sooner rather than later and it would be worthwhile to make up the shortfall. Mollie continued living until 14 August 1942 when she died aged 84. Over her five remaining years, that amounted to a £490 outlay. Bertie was incorrect when he wrote in his Autobiography that after Frank’s “death, I had to pay this”; this being the “£400 a year for life” that Mollie had demanded as her price for the divorce. “She died at about the age of ninety” (2: 153). This had always seemed to me a rather bizarre situation. How could a brother, under any legal system, be made responsible for his brother’s alimony payments? Years before, the alimony had changed into an annuity funded by a Trust and it was Bertie’s choice to become part of the Trust.
In a letter of 13 March 1944, Tylor told him that Miss Otter’s estate had still not been wound up. Coward, Chance & Co. issued an invoice to Bertie for “professional charges” with regard to the Trust on 20 November 1945 which noted that “the loss of original documents as the result of enemy action.” A ten-page statement attributed to Withers & Co.70 titled “Trustees of Settlement dated 2 November 1929 in favour of the Right Hon. Marion Countess Russell Decd. in account with the Beneficiary” was prepared in January 1947. The entries begin on 14 August 1942, listing Securities and Cash. On 3 January 1947 it was noted “Transfer of the following Investments and Cash representing the balance of the Trust Fund to Earl Russell.” Securities totalled £7,475 and cash was £1,538. A small payment had previously been made to Bertie on 4 March 1946: “To Earl Russell on account of Income, £250.” A final cheque was issued to him in January 1947: “Cheque to Earl Russell, Balance on Hand, £292.” On 2 July 1951 Tylor wrote to Bertie listing his investments. Two of the stocks are identical to those that had been held in the Trust. Why Bertie had to wait until 1947 for the Trust to be wound up and for him to receive the benefits is not known though one possibility is that the loss of the original documents caused the delay. A copy of the 1929 Trust document is extant in Mollie’s papers. Another possibility is that the War Loan did not mature until 1947 and for some reason it was beneficial to keep it in the Trust until it did.
Telegraph House left the Russell family in 1937. Bertie wrote: “I loved the downs and the woods and my tower room with its views in all four directions. I had known the place for forty years or more ... It represented continuity, of which, apart from work, my life had far less than I could have wished” (Auto 2: 193–94). John would no longer inherit it as Bertie had promised—at least according to Dora that was what he promised (Tamarisk Tree 1: 251). The attempt to create a country estate for the earldom had come to an end.
Telegraph House after the Russells
Renovations on the house began in 1938. William Bruneau, one of the editors of “Behaviourism and Education, 1927–28”, Volume 18 of the Collected Papers (in progress), obtained copies of floor plans titled “Telegraph House. Harting W. Sussex, Proposed Alterations, Jan. 1938.” Kate Tait annotated these plans giving the rooms the functions they had when it was a school. Renovations were extensive including the demolition of part of the structure and the removal of walls in parts of what remained. The attached building visible in the photograph below was probably demolished at this time. In October 1938, additional plans were filed, “Telegraph House. South Harting. Proposed Reconstruction of Garage for New Lounge. October 1938.”
The tower, photograph sent to Colette, late 1920s; note the attached structure on the right side
By 1953 Battine House had become a youth hostel. Dan and Wogilla Wilson, wardens, Youth Hostels Association, wrote to Bertie on 3 December 1953: “You may remember that the De Salis71 family named some of the bedrooms and bathrooms after ships or depôts with which they had been connected.” The Wilsons wanted to name a dormitory room after Bertie. He replied on 4 Dec. 1953: “I am honoured that you should wish to call one of the rooms in Battine House after me and I am glad to give my permission. Battine House when I had it was an annex to my school, of which the main building was at Telegraph House.”
Joe Park visited Telegraph House in July 1962 when he was researching his book—on the same trip he also interviewed Dora and Bertie about Beacon House School. He took a taxi from Petersfield. “Telegraph House is approached by means of a long, winding lane … lined on either side with beautifully proportioned shade trees. At the very end stands Telegraph House and a second house which was used in conjunction with the school ... [the property] has been sold into the hands of a retired army officer who used the land to raise pigs. Russell now refers to the place as a ‘pig factory’” (Park, p. 113). He took two photographs while there, one of the view and the other of the second house. Park went on to discuss fox-hunting on the property and the use of wire-cutters: “Russell retaliated by suing the hunters and collecting damages.”72
The view photographed by Joe Park, 1962
Later, Rev. P.H. Francis was in touch with both Bertie and Kenneth Blackwell. Francis wrote to Bertie on 25 May 1968: “About three years ago, when East Marden people were asking for help in repairing the church, I wrote to you, and you kindly sent me a cheque for the church.” Francis was the rector of Racton and Vicar of Stoughton, neighbouring parishes to East Marden. “I am the son of the later [sic] Rector of East and North Marden.” On 6 February 1970 he wrote to Kenneth Blackwell: “My mother and father ... were friendly with” Frank Russell. “My mother was [also] friendly” with Elizabeth and “they often went to Telegraph House and met people there. Earl Russell [Frank] often called at the Rectory. The Rectory adjoined the Battine House, and the children of the school used our garden.”
In 1975, Dora Russell wrote in The Tamarisk Tree that she had been “told by friends ... that there is now actually a swimming pool at Telegraph House” (1: 279). The water problems must have been solved. Comparing the Ordnance Survey maps of 1912 and 1976 shows that the swimming pool was located behind the house on the right side where the water tanks used to be.
Google Earth view, showing the swimming pool
On 7 August 1988 Jürg Frick, a Swiss, photographed Telegraph House. He was writing his dissertation “Menschenbild und Erziehungsziel: Pädagogische Theorie und Praxis bei Bertrand Russell.” At the same time he met Kate Tait and her sister Harriet Ward in London. The dissertation was published in 1990 in Bern by Paul Haupt. In the photograph the house is pale yellow in colour.
Telegraph House photographed by Jürg Frick, 1988
In 2003 William Bruneau requested that Kate Tait write “Memories of Beacon Hill.”73 She described the grounds, house, and outbuildings. She began: “First, the mile-long flint drive, lined with young copper beech trees (now in 2003 forest giants) … Behind the house was a fine vegetable and flower garden …” (Bruneau, p. 140). Although isolated, it never felt that way as “there was so much to see and do and learn and always other children and the staff” (Bruneau, p. 143). In a letter to Richard Rempel she told him that friends had recently taken her to Telegraph House; she found “both the house and grounds ... vastly changed” (2 Oct. 2003).
John and Kate on the drive
Images courtesy of David Harley from Griselda MacLeod
In early June 2005, a film crew from Redcanoe Productions Ltd. making a documentary, “The Three Passions of Bertrand Russell” filmed at Telegraph House.74 The house was the same shade of yellow it had been in 1988 and its appearance had not changed. Nicholas Griffin, former Director of the Russell Centre, visited the house with the film crew and appeared in the documentary.
Ruth Derham visited Telegraph House in 2017 in connection with her biography of Frank.
Telegraph House photographed by Ruth Derham, 2017
Telegraph House, which began as Frank’s passion and then broadened out of necessity to include his brother, endured martial stress, financial distress and sibling battles. For both brothers it provided an anchor to their daily lives. It still stands today in its remote rural setting.
© Sheila Turcon, 2022
Peter Bartrip, “A Talent to Alienate: The 2nd Earl (Frank) Russell (1865–1931)”, Russell n.s. 32 (Winter 2012–13): 101–126.
Gerald Brenan, 1974. Personal Record , 1920–1972. Cambridge U.P.
William Bruneau, “New Evidence on Life, Learning and Medical Care at Beacon Hill School”, Russell , n.s. 23 (Winter 2003–04): 131–52. Contains Katharine Tait, “Memories of Beacon Hill”, 140–43.
Leslie de Charms (pseud. for Elizabeth’s daughter), 1958. Elizabeth of the German Garden. London: Heineman.
Ruth Derham, 2021. Bertrand’s Brother: The Marriages, Morals and Misdemeanours of Frank, 2nd Earl Russell. Stroud: Amberley.
Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, 1992. The Interior Castle: A Life of Gerald Brenan. London: Sinclair-Stevenson.
David Harley, “Beacon Hill and the Constructive Uses of Freedom”. University of Toronto, 1980.
Kenneth Hopkins. “Bertrand Russell and Gamel Woolsey”, Russell, n.s. 5 (Summer 1985): 50–65; reprinted by Warren House Press, 1985.
Jennifer MacLennon, “Redcanoe: Filming in U.K.” Bertrand Russell Research Centre Newsletter, no. 4, Winter 2005–06.
Joe Park, 1963. Bertrand Russell on Education. London: Allen & Unwin.
Katie Roiphe, 2007. Uncommon Arrangements. New York: Dial.
Bertrand Russell, 1956. Portraits from Memory. London: Allen & Unwin.
Bertrand Russell, 1968. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell 1914–1944, Vol. 2. London: Allen & Unwin.
Dora Russell, 1975. The Tamarisk Tree, Vol 1. New York: G. Putnam’s.
Dora Russell, 1985. The Tamarisk Tree, Vol. 3. London: Virago.
John Francis Stanley Russell, 1923. My Life and Adventures. London: Cassell. In Russell’s library with a Latin inscription translated as “For my beloved little brother in memory of our youth.”
George Santayana, 1946. The Middle Span. London: Constable.
George Santayana, 1953. My Host the World. London: The Cresset Press.
Michael Stevenson, “Bertrand Russell and the 1935 International Congress for Scientific Philosophy”, Bertrand Russell Society Bulletin (Spring 2018): 26–35.
Michael Stevenson, “‘No Poverty, Much Comfort, Little Wealth’: Bertrand Russell’s 1935 Scandinavian Tour” Russell, n.s. 31 (Winter 2011–12): 101–40.
Katharine Tait. See William Bruneau above.
Katharine Tait, 1975. My Father, Bertrand Russell. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
Sheila Turcon, “Like a Shattered Vase: Russell’s 1918 Prison Letters”, Russell n.s. 30 (Winter 2010–11): 101-25.
Karen Usborne, 1986. “Elizabeth”: the Author of Elizabeth and her German Garden. London: Bodley Head.
Elizabeth von Arnim, 1921. Vera. London: Macmillian.
Ian Watson, “Mollie, Countess Russell”, Russell n.s. 23 (Summer 2003): 65–8.
Beatrice Webb, 1985. The Diary of Beatrice Webb, Vol. 4: 1924–43. Cambridge: Belknap Press at Harvard U.P., eds. Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie.
H.G. Wells, 1984. H.G. Wells in Love: Postscript to an Experiment in Autobiography. London: Faber.
Leonard Woolf, 1967. Downhill all the Way, an Autobiography of the Years 1919–1939. London: The Hogarth Press.
Leonard Woolf, 1990. Letters of Leonard Woolf. London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, ed. Frederic Spotts.
Virginia Woolf, 1979–1980. The Letters of Virginia Woolf . London: The Hogarth Press, ed. Nigel Nicolson.
Virginia Woolf, 1984. The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. V: 1936–1941. London: the Hogarth Press, ed. Anne Olivier Bell.
Caroline Zoob, 2013. Virginia Woolf’s Garden: the Story of the Garden at Monk’s House. London: Jacqui Small.
Archival documents and correspondence: Bertrand, Frank, Dora, Elizabeth, and Patricia Russell, Constance Malleson, Crompton Llewelyn Davies, John J. Withers. F. Graham Maw, Rowe & Maw, Constable and Maude, Vandercom Stanton & Co., Ottoline Morrell, Stanley Unwin, Louis Tylor, Dan and Wogilla Wilson, Rev. P.H. Francis, Katharine Tait.
“The Brixton Letters”
“British Listed Buildings”. The location is given as “Elsted and Treyford” which is a parish. Telegraph House is listed for “historical reasons”.
“The Three Passions of Bertrand Russell” on IMDB.com
- 1. First names are used in this article to distinguish the brothers. Bertrand Arthur William is called “Bertie” and John Francis Stanley is called “Frank”.
- 2. Some documents and correspondence which would help to clarify parts of the story are not extant.
- 3. This was formally recognized by the acquisition in 1917 of Chequers, in Buckinghamshire.
- 4. Listed on 16 Nov. 1894, p. 10, the two-acre property was for sale for £600.
- 5. The South Downs, long considered an area of outstanding national beauty, is now a National Park.
- 6. An anchorage near Portsmouth.
- 7. Mollie Russell (c.1857–1942) is sometimes called “Molly”; both are nicknames for “Marion”.
- 8. John J. Withers affidavit, 16 March 1928; the document is attached to a letter of 20 March, document .133058. The sum of £600 annually was reduced to £400 annually on 12 December 1921.
- 9. These dates appear in the 2 November 1929 document.
- 10. See the Brixton letters online.
- 11. Ruth Derham wrote to me on 23 May 2022: “Karen Usborne has been largely discredited by Elizabeth scholars, to the extent that someone who has worked extensively with the Countess Russell Papers warned me against trusting her!”
- 12. Dora Black who would become Bertie’s second wife.
- 13. The name of Wemyss had already been used by Elizabeth as her name in a book of letters she was to write with Bertie.
- 14. Affidavit of John J. Withers, 16 March 1928, p. 3.
- 15. A trust is a legal document, binding on both parties. Unfortunately there is no copy of this version of this Trust in the Russell Archives; a document from 20 November 1945 indicated that documents had been lost “as the result of enemy action.”
- 16. My Host, pp. 143–4. Santayana meant that they did not change into formal clothes for this outing. The admiral was Vice-Admiral Sir William Fane de Salis, the owner of Battine House.
- 17. Letter to John Withers, 22 May.
- 18. Crompton to Withers, 21 Feb. 1928; the lease itself is not the RA.
- 19. Crompton to Withers, 21 Feb. 1928; affidavit, p. 9.
- 20. See Kenneth Blackwell, "Rusell's Irish Revolutionary Connection", Bertrand Russell Society Bulletin (Fall 2014): 12-13.
- 21. Times obituary, 25 Nov. 1935, p. 14.
- 22. Letter to Joan Folwell, 18 August 1927.
- 23. A valuable source is David Harley’s dissertation. Harley also obtained photographs from Griselda MacLeod who taught at Beacon Hill; these photographs help to illustrate this article.
- 24. A day later Bertie told Crompton that since both he and Frank now took a dim view of Withers, perhaps they could find common ground. He “disliked quarrelling with [Frank] very much indeed.”
- 25. Vandercom Stanton & Co. to Coward, Chance & Co., 24 June 1929.
- 26. Letter to Crompton, 29 June 1929.
- 27. Sir Richard Grenville (1542–1591) who died in the assault against the Spanish fleet off the Azores.
- 28. It is not clear which wife Dora is referring to: Mollie or Elizabeth from whom Frank was separated.
- 29. This deed is among Mollie Russell’s papers.
- 30. Both Marriage and Morals and The Conquest of Happiness were dictated.
- 31. Letter to Mr. Abbott, Coward, Chance & Co., 26 August.
- 32. Coward, Chance & Co. to Withers, 27 Sept. 1934.
- 33. See Roiphe, p. 141, Bartrip, p. 125, Usborne, p. 209.
- 34. The Pharos Club opened in 1900, a place where literary, artistic and social workers could meet (Derham, pp. 222–3).
- 35. “Frank never spoke of her as anything other than ‘a good specimen of a Civil Servant’” (Derham, p. 299).
- 36. Letter no. 1691, 9 March 1931.
- 37. Harry Snell, 1865–1944, created 1st Baron Snell that year, a Labour politician.
- 38. Both the will and the probate document are in Rec. Acq. 502.
- 39. Bertie to Crompton, 25 April 1931.
- 40. This letter and the list have been separated archivally; the letter is in Box 8.30 while the list is in Box 11.08.
- 41. Legal definition: A reversion occurs when a property owner makes an effective transfer of property to another but retains some future right to the property.
- 42. 14 September 1914, 12 December 1921, 2 November 1929.
- 43. Sir William Beechey, 1753–1839, renowned portrait painter.
- 44. Crompton to Bertie, 24 May 1933.
- 45. Gerald Brenan, 1894–1987, author; Gamel Woolsey, 1897–1968, poet.
- 46. See also Kenneth Hopkins’s article.
- 47. The name has been changed to Castell Deudraeth.
- 48. 8 Sept. 1933, Bertie to Dora.
- 49. Crompton to Bertie, 7 Sept. 1933.
- 50. “Zozo” is the name of a demon. The Battle of the Boyne, the victory of William of Orange over the Catholics, is commemorated on 12 July. There are no additional archival documents about this incident.
- 51. Letter to Bertie, 30 Jan. 1934.
- 52. Bertie to Crompton, 5 Feb. 1932.
- 53. Letter from Crompton to Bertie, 20 April 1934.
- 54. Crompton to Bertie, 26 Nov. 1934.
- 55. Letter in The Times, 10 Sept. 1934, p. 7, from S.E. Winbolt.
- 56. The Times, 18 Sept. 1934, p. 7. The manuscript for this letter is in Bertie’s hand and thus has been added to his Bibliography as C34.36a.
- 57. Coward, Chance & Co. to Bertie, 28 December.
- 58. On 15 November 1932 Buckland noted to Bertie that “Dyke House is still on our hands.”
- 59. The Interior Castle, p. 295; I asked Gathorne-Hardy if these notes had survived. He wrote to me on 23 August 1994 that he thought not. Gerald “was a great destroyer.”
- 60. Since Bertie was at the International Congress for Scientific Philosophy in Paris from 15 to 21 September, he could not have sent it. He could have discussed the letter with Peter before he left and she could have signed it on his behalf.
- 61. He was writing “On Order in Time”; B&R C36.12.
- 62. Railways Air Services (RAS) was formed in March 1934 by four railway companies and Imperial Airways. It was based at Croydon Airport, London. On 1 May 1934 RAS and Spartan Air Lines, working in ticketing association with Southern Railways, began a Croydon–Isle of Wight service with three planes. G-ADEL was a Spartan Cruiser. G-ABVB is described on the webpage “Aviation Safety Network” as a Westland IV Wessex; it crashed on takeoff on the Isle of Wight on 8 June 1936 and was removed from service.
- 63. See Michael Stevenson, “Bertrand Russell and the 1935 International Congress for Scientific Philosophy”, Russell Society Bulletin (Spring 2018): 26–35.
- 64. Carl von Ossietsky (1889–1938), German journalist and pacifist; Rosalinde’s mother was English.
- 65. This letter is published in Stevenson, pp. 30–3.
- 66. See Michael Stevenson, “‘No Poverty, Much Comfort, Little Wealth’: Bertrand Russell’s 1935 Scandinavian Tour” Russell, n.s. 31 (Winter 2011–12): 101–40.
- 67. Sarah was on the domestic staff; Peter was visiting the children at Dartington Hall.
- 68. Judith Stephen, Virginia’s niece.
- 69. Dora noted the sum of £500 which ended with Bertie’s death in 1970 (Tamarisk Tree 3: 270).
- 70. John Withers had died on 29 December 1939.
- 71. Vice-Admiral Sir William Fane de Salis (1858–1939) retired in 1913 from the Royal Navy. He is buried in East Marden. He had two sons: (Henry) Rodolph (1890–1972) and Antony (1896–1976).
- 72. Park, p. 113. I found no archival documents relating to this legal action.
- 73. A typescript dated 2 October 2003 is in Rec. Acq. 1426.
- 74. The documentary was never completed but there are some rough cuts in the Russell Archives. There is also a clip on YouTube; it does not show Telegraph House.