Waugh was not always a fan of his county seat
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EVELYN Waugh is widely regarded as one of the most significant writers in English of the 20th century.
Perhaps his best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited, was turned into a major TV drama some years ago and like almost all of his books has never been out of print.
Evelyn Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited, along with other best-selling works such as his Sword of Honour trilogy, while a resident of Gloucestershire where he lived in a house called Piers Court at Stinchcombe, near Dursley.
He bought the country mansion and surrounding estate in 1937 for £3,600, a purchase that was funded by his parents-in-law to be, as the home he would establish with their daughter Laura Herbert.
She was his second wife, his first marriage having been annulled.
When conflict with Germany broke out the Waughs let Piers Court to a Roman Catholic convent school run by nuns.
Waugh served with the British Army in the Balkans, while Laura returned to her family’s home in Somerset and it was this week in 1945 that the Waughs returned to Piers Court.
Rarely given to outbursts of unsullied joy, Evelyn Waugh’s diary entry for September 10, 1945, described his homecoming to Gloucestershire by train from London Paddington to Berkeley Road halt.
“It began to rain as I walked up to Piers Court on a grey, fly-infested evening with a hangover. At first sight the garden was rank, the paths lost, the trees stunted or overgrown irregularly. Inside everything was damp.”
His mood lifted, however, when he waved goodbye to the last of the nuns and found four dozen bottles of port, plus six dozen of claret in the cellar.
Stories from friends of the Waughs, along with entries from his diaries, present contradictory reports of how the great novelist viewed Piers Court and its environs.
He always referred to Stinchcome as Stink ‘em. He constantly bemoaned the fact that good wine and cigars were unavailable for miles around.
And number one on his list of irks was the lack of hot water, or indeed any water at all.
October 7, 1945: “We are now without hot water as the result of the boiler springing a leak. On Wednesday last Lady Bowlby assembled a meeting to protest about the water supply. All the village was there. A Scottish dentist kept saying ‘a file has been opened at the Ministry of Health’ as though this were access to boundless prosperity.”
By March 18, 1946, with no improvement on the water front, Waugh wrote: “I have started legal action against Dursley Rural District Council for failure to supply water. Called a conference to arrange publicity campaign about Stinchcombe water supply.”
This activity appears to have improved the situation, but only on a temporary basis, as the diary entry for October 2, 1947 tells us: “I returned home to find the house clean and silent and waterless.”
Waugh travelled a great deal by train, which he caught variously from Stroud, Berkeley, Kemble or Gloucester, noting with pleasure that on February 21, 1946 “there was a restaurant car on the train, the first I have seen since the war.”
Evelyn’s son Bron, the late journalist Auberon Waugh, got into a spot of bother at Gloucester station.
July 25, 1955: “Laura and I took the children to the cinema in Dursley. We were greeted by the manager saying the Stroud police wished to speak to us. They said that a youth had been arrested and from their description is it was plain that the prisoner was Bron.
“We drove to Stroud and found him white and dirty eating a bun. He had a third of a bottle of gin, of the brand I drink, in his possession. He said he had missed his bus to Gloucester, spent all his money at the White Hart buying a bottle of gin and drank most of it at Gloucester station.”
In the mid 1950s the Waughs put Piers Court up for sale.
When instructing an estate agent to put his home on the market Evelyn wrote “If you happen to meet a lunatic who wants to live in this ghastly area, please tell him.”
Piers Court was sold in 1956 for £9,500 and the Waughs moved to Somerset where Evelyn died in 1966 at the age of 62.
The Waughs at Piers Court
Evelyn Waugh at Piers Court
Laura and Evelyn Waugh