Love and the lit­er­ary re­treat

Bliss for a Blooms­bury three­some was a Wilt­shire farm­house, says Anna Tyzack

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - MEGA-RICHMANSIO­NS -

It was a cu­ri­ous set-up at Ham Spray House in the 1920s. The Blooms­bury Group was given to love in tri­an­gles, so artist Dora Car­ring­ton was in love with Giles Lyt­ton Stra­chey, the bi­og­ra­pher, who loved Ralph Par­tridge, an ex-army of­fi­cer; Par­tridge loved Stra­chey, but mar­ried Car­ring­ton to sta­bilise their tri­an­gu­lar re­la­tion­ship.

In 1924, they set up home to­gether at the 19th-cen­tury farm­house out­side the vil­lage of Ham, in Wilt­shire, along with Ralph’s lover (and later wife) Frances.

Ham Spray, which cost Par­tridge and Stra­chey £2,000, suited their com­mu­nal liv­ing and work­ing ar­range­ments. Sur­rounded by fields, and with a lo­cal shop sell­ing Welling­ton boots, it was “a per­fect English coun­try house”.

“We be­lieved there was no view more beau­ti­ful, more in­ex­haustible in Eng­land, and no house more lov­able than Ham Spray,” wrote Frances in her di­ary. It is now on the mar­ket for £2.75mil­lion, com­plete with dec­o­ra­tive works by Car­ring­ton.

Ham Spray’s set­ting is not dis­sim­i­lar to that of Charleston, in Sus­sex, the farm­house at the foot of the South Downs that Vir­ginia Woolf found for Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell and Dun­can Grant (an­other mé­nage à trois). How­ever, the rooms are of Ge­or­gian pro­por­tions, with high ceil­ings and cor­nices and pretty fire­places – per­fect for Car­ring­ton’s tiles and painted fur­ni­ture. Her paint­ings hung on ev­ery wall, along­side works by Grant, Vanessa Bell and Au­gus­tus John.

While Lyt­ton Stra­chey wrote in his up­stairs study, looking out across Ham Hill and Inkpen Bea­con, Car­ring­ton painted in a stu­dio above the for­mer gra­nary. In the evenings, they gath­ered in the mu­sic room, where there was a pi­ano, gramo­phone and ping-pong ta­ble.

Leonard Woolf, nephew of Vir­ginia, re­calls a friend de­scrib­ing Ham Spray as “a cen­tre of loving hos­pi­tal­ity and en­light­en­ment and the great­est civ­i­lized taste in all things”.

But seven years af­ter mov­ing in Stra­chey died of can­cer, driv­ing an in­con­solable Car­ring­ton to shoot her­self. Ac­cord­ing to Frances, who was then able to marry Ralph, “this fact did not fill the house with gloom”.

The Par­tridges had a son, Burgo, and con­tin­ued to live at the house for al­most 30 years, en­ter­tain­ing a roll-call of artists and writ­ers, among them EMForster and Pa­trick Leigh Fer­mor. Frances sold the house a year af­ter Ralph’s death in 1961, in­sist­ing that it did not be­come a shrine to the Blooms­bury Group.

She need not have wor­ried. For the past 24 years, it has been a fam­ily home – in the con­ven­tional sense – for Mary and Richard Gray and their three chil­dren. “We wanted to bring up our chil­dren in the coun­try,” says Mary. “We looked at a dozen houses in the area, but we couldn’t find any­thing that was not sur­rounded by other houses.”

The house has been re­dec­o­rated since its Blooms­bury days. But the same things that en­chanted Frances – the white façade and “in­ex­haustible” view – also ap­pealed to the Grays. “We thought there must be a catch, but there wasn’t,” says Mary.

Even without Car­ring­ton’s bold colours, Ham Spray’s in­te­rior is lively. There are curved doors, al­coves with book­shelves, wood pan­elling, and arched ceil­ings in two of the bed­rooms.

In Stra­chey’s for­mer study – now a bed­room – there are sur­viv­ing works by Car­ring­ton, in­clud­ing a mu­ral of an owl and a self-por­trait of her rid­ing across the Downs, painted on a tile.

On a door in the cor­ner of the room is a trompe d’oeil of a book­shelf, fea­tur­ing ti­tles such as De­cep­tion by Jane Austen and The Empty Room by Vir­ginia Woolf. “It was in­cluded in an ex­hi­bi­tion of Car­ring­ton’s work at The Bar­bican,” says Mary.

Ham Spray’s lay­out is largely as it was when Frances sold it, al­though the mu­sic room, with its six tall win­dows, is now a draw­ing room and there is a large farm­house kitchen with an Aga.

“It is the hub of the house. The Par­tridges would have had ser­vants, so it wouldn’t have seemed so big,” says Mary.

Parts of the house need restor­ing, but Mary is con­vinced it will be bought by some­one who ap­pre­ci­ates its Blooms­bury con­nec­tions – and spec­tac­u­lar view. “It is beau­ti­ful even when it’s tip­ping down with rain,” she says. “And in the evening light the shad­ows are in­cred­i­ble.”

In­spir­ing: Ham Spray House and views, top and left; works by Car­ring­ton, cen­tre and top; and Stra­chey

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.