Selina Hastings

House of memories

Selina Hastings recalls her visit in 1989 to Lady Beauchamp, mistress of Madresfield

Selina Hastings recalls her visit in 1989 to Lady Beauchamp, mistress of Madresfield

Madresfield: the name is now almost as lustrous with literary association as Little Gidding or Adlestrop. To the admirers of Evelyn Waugh, Madresfield is hallowed ground: ‘It’s where Waugh stayed, you know, when he was writing Brideshead Revisited. In fact Madresfield is Brideshead, and the Lygon family is the absolute model for the Flytes, for Sebastian and Bridie and Julia and so on. I mean, look at Lord Marchmain living in exile abroad with his mistress: exactly the same as Lord Beauchamp — only it wasn’t a mistress in his case, of course.’

Well, yes and no. Mad World by Paula Byrne, reviewed last week, has further disentangled truth from fiction. It is true that Lord Beauchamp, married to the sister of that bad bully, Bendor, Duke of Westminster, was run out of the country by his powerful brother-in-law for homosexuality. It is also true that, like Lord Marchmain, Lord Beauchamp spent most of the rest of his life abroad, returning to Madresfield, like Marchmain to Brideshead, for only the last two years of his life. But unlike Lord Marchmain, he made no deathbed reconciliation with the Catholic Church; for although the chapel at Madresfield does feature famously in Brideshead, the Lygons were never Catholic, and nor did Waugh stay at Madresfield while writing the book.

In the novel, Bridie appals his family by marrying Beryl Muspratt, a stout widow with three children from Falmouth. Lord Elmley, before he succeeded to the earldom, also married a widow with a child. But no Mrs Muspratt she.

When I visited Countess Beauchamp in 1989, who had been mistress of Madresfield for 50 years, she was still, at 94, slender, beautifully dressed, expertly made-up and strikingly pretty.

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