Tuesday, 1 May 2012
A bizarre personality
Last week's visit to Tredegar House included an excellent guided tour around the upper half of the house, set in the 1930s, when Evan Morgan, 4th Baron, 2nd Viscount Tredegar lived at the house.
He was a noted eccentric, though I feel that term hardly does him justice. At the time, I wondered how much of his behaviour was pure eccentricity, how much assumed in order to shock people (and delight himself) and how much was down to his mother, the former Lady Katherine Carnegie, who could best be described as . . . unbalanced. She seemed fascinated by birds, and imagined herself to be a Kingfisher. Guests at Tredegar House were given birds' nests which she had made herself. Her obsession must have totally overwhelmed her in the end as she had a gigantic person-sized nest built, complete with eggs, and she would spend time in her nest, brooding her eggs . . . It is hard to imagine that both nurture and nature had not influenced her son. Her daughter, Gwyneth, was described as "Bohemian" and was found dead in the Thames in 1925, aged just 29. I believe there were murmourings of drug-taking linked to her name.
Evan Morgan's house parties were the talk of the town. Distinguished guests such as Aldous Huxley, artist Augustus John, George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells, and Nancy Cunard enjoyed his hospitality. They all seemed to believe in Homeopathy and I am sure there were other beliefs linking them, beside several being noted for their Bohemian behaviour. Nancy Cunard set a trend by appearing in her collection of African bangles which were at first considered shocking and then highly fashionable - the "barbaric look".
Evan was a homosexual, although he married twice, for convenience, and each wife a society beauty. I should imagine each party "did their own thing" and pretty well led separate lives.
What they (or indeed the house guests!) thought of Evan's parties, with animals from his private zoo being allowed loose in the house (imagine opening your door to find a Baboon reclining on your bed!), his famous party pieces - Blue Boy the macaw being trained to climb up inside his trouser leg and appear from his open flies - and snakes and reptiles roaming the house is unrecorded. I dare say enough cocktails would numb your responses!
Perhaps his close friendship and association with occultist Aleister Crowley is the most shocking aspect of Evan Morgan's life. He became adept at black magic himself, and on one occasion, when he had been court marshalled for sharing war secrets with some Girl Guides, of all people, he asked Crowley to help him set a curse on his arresting Officer . . . who did indeed end up ill in hospital.
He also became a Catholic, serving as Chamberlain to the Pope for 15 years. The strangest thing happened as I was admiring the Elizabethan wedding feast which had been laid out in the Dining Room, it suddenly came into my mind to ask if the family were Catholics!
As I said, how much of Evan's behaviour was for show and how much was his real character is hard to say. He wrote very poor poetry and considered himself an artist (but his work was not widely admired or praised). Virginia Woolf seemed to have his number, and summed him up as an immense show-off. This blog gives much better detail than I have time to write.
Apparently the house is very haunted - do a check and I am sure you will find several sites dealing with all the spectral inhabitants of the house.
There will be another post dealing with the "lesser" rooms of the house - the domestic ones - which I found fascinating.