Cecily Sidgwick biography - Chapter 18 - Alfred's Final Years
All friends and family of the Sidgwicks will have been concerned at the ability of Alfred to cope on his own. Albeit in reasonable health, he was now 83 and the vast garden at ‘Trewoofe Orchard’ and the difficult access to the property were by no means ideal for someone of his years. Whilst Dora Clemmens and her daughter, Marjorie, had been the Sidgwicks’ servants for some years, Alfred made it clear in a letter to Ella Naper, in June 1934, shortly before Cecily’s death, that they were not highly regarded, labelling them "those two idle and wasteful women" (Naper archive)! Accordingly, without Cecily, who had clearly supervised all household matters, how would absent-minded, other worldly Alfred, who had no clue about domestic issues, handle two lazy maids? One can only assume that ‘Darling Ella’ came to the rescue - repeatedly.
Cecily’s last letter indicates that, even before her death, there was a plan for Alfred to go to London. However, this seems to have expanded into a journey to visit not only his closest relatives but also some of the places for which he had a deep affinity. Now conscious of his own mortality, he wanted to reconnect with certain people and places one last time No doubt the relatives that Alfred visited wondered if Alfred would decide to stay on at ‘Trewoofe Orchard’ or somewhere else in Cornwall that was more suitable, or whether he would prefer to move nearer to them. Human nature being what it is, no doubt some also wondered to whom a widower without children might leave his money! In the event, just over a month after Cecily’s funeral, Alfred set off on a tour of the country that would take him to Bristol, Liverpool, the Lake District, Skipton and then back home via London. His trip is recorded in a series of letters that he wrote, almost daily, to Ella Naper, which reveal the depth of his affection for her.
Ella insisted that he travelled first class and his first stop was in Clifton, Bristol, where he stayed at 6 Princes Buildings, the home of his cousin, William Ward, who was the nephew of his mother, who herself had been born nearby. His room was quiet and had beautiful views over the Avon Gorge, and the house was full of old portraits and antiques which Alfred felt Ella would appreciate more than himself. In his first letter (Tuesday 25th September), he indicated that, due to Cecily’s health problems, this was the first time that he has been away from home for three years and, although he thought that it may be a good thing to be pulled out of his normal groove, he was already missing Ella and looking forward to seeing her again on the station at Penzance. He had a fairly busy in time in Bristol, seeing several films, which he enjoyed, and meeting a number of leading local personalities, which he did not. He told Ella, "Give me a quiet game of chess at Trewoofe Orchard and wireless music in the evening". (Thursday 27th September).
On Friday 28th September, he travelled by train up to Liverpool, where he stayed at 4 Gambier Terrrace, close to the Cathedral, with Phil England, the son of his old, but now very ill, lecturer friend, Edwin England, who had attended his wedding (possibly even being his best man), and with whom Cecily and he had holidayed in the Lake District early in their marriage. Phil, who had been born in c.1880, was now a wealthy cotton merchant and had married Amelia Goldring (known as Milly) in 1922. In speaking of the pair, Alfred commented, "Milly is kindness itself and Phil is of course Phil though no longer the child we knew at Manchester nor the boy we knew at Ullswater. Big business has taken hold of him and hardened him, so that his opinions have a definiteness and finality that I hope mine will never have. Still he remains Phil deep down and he has some memory of the good old times." (Saturday 29th September) The connection with the England family was further strengthened by the fact that Phil’s elder brother, Edwin Thirlwell England, who became Headmaster of Bury St Edmunds Grammar School, had married Alfred’s sister’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth Marshall, in 1904.
Whilst Alfred listed a few minor grievances, such as the stench of moth balls in his room, the lack of water in his water jug, and the scarcity of writing tables about the house, and whilst he also found the hustle and bustle of the household, with endless visitors dropping in, not to his liking, there was one evening in Liverpool which he enjoyed immensely, as another weekend guest was a flamboyant singer, whom he described at length.
"She arrived from London at tea-time and has been entertaining us ever since. She calls herself Miss Henschel, though she is married and has a son of 19. He I find is not only studying for the stage but is a member of the repertory theatre here. She is a German and Polish Jew by birth, but has been brought up chiefly in America. Speaks several languages easily and her English is entirely free from American or any foreign accent. Her chief profession is of course singing at concerts, but in order to make a little money in the intervals she goes round to hairdressers in all the chief towns and instructs them in the art of making up ladies’ faces! The idea is to advertise the various face-creams of a certain make, by giving the hairdressers a 20 minutes’ lesson in using them. We had a really merry evening last night with many good stories well told. Then her son got up and went to the piano to act as a German professor teaching singing to a pupil - his mother. They romped together like a pair of children. Really she is a person you would appreciate - so entirely without pretence or swagger and so full of life. She would even go down in our critical Lamorna society." (Saturday 29th September)
This is likely to be Helen Henschel (1882-1973), the daughter of the famous conductor, Sir Isidor George Henschel, who had only died on 10th September that year. However, a weekend of the energetic Helen and her son was more than enough. Alfred also fitted in two visits to Birkenhead to see Phil’s father, who just about recognised him and remembered some of the names from their times together at Ullswater. He also went to a school for defective children run by Milly’s sister.
After all that, he longed for the peace and quiet of Skelwith Fold, where his widowed sister, Annie, was living with her daughter, Cordelia. He arrived there after a long journey on 2nd October, describing the house as "like an enchanted castle in a forest", and he found the silence after Liverpool most soothing. However, his sister, Annie, whom he had not seen for seven years, had aged considerably, did not come down until lunchtime and did not get out at all. Both her memory and hearing were not good, but she still read. As Cordelia had "her hands full with business and golf", he was left to his own devices for most of the time, which suited him. However, after a while, he found it depressing, as it rained a lot. The silence in the woods, having first appeared restful, now seemed rather eerie and he could not help noticing an air of neglect everywhere in the garden. He became acutely aware that this was likely be the last time that he would see his sister or her home.
On Friday 12th October, he left Skelwith Fold and arrived in his old home town of Skipton, hardly recognising the area between Leeds and there as it had been so built over. He commented, "I am pretty tired after the journey but glad I came. But I do wish Aunt Cecy could be here to see it with me." Next day, he wandered around the town, accosting anyone elderly with white hair, but found that very few remembered his family - "once kinown to the whole Skipton world". He spent two hours back at his old family home, which he found interesting, but there had been a lot of development all around and the views from the house that he remembered of the church and elsewhere were drastically curtailed due to the growth of trees and shrubs. As promised, he sent Ella some Yorkshire oatcakes, with instructions as to how best to eat them.
On Monday 15th October, he arrived at Euston and stayed at 7 Palace Road, Kingston-on-Thames with Cecily’s sister-in-law, Hilda Ullman, who was very good to him, turning out of her own bedroom for him. They went to see some films, and she arranged for him to have a new suit from the tailor who was used by her son, Dick. They inspected Jeffrey Ullman’s charming new flat, furnished with presents from his recent wedding to Molly. One of these was a dinner wagon that had been given them by Ella, indicating how involved she was with the whole family, and Alfred reported to her that "it was doing good service for them every day and was much appreciated". Dick took time off work to drive him around, and they went to look at the Sidgwicks’ old home in Cambalt Road, Putney, whilst, one day, his Lamorna neighbour, Wilmet Becket, who was in town, picked him up and took him to her home in Montpelier Row for lunch, and then to Dorothy Coulson’s for tea. He made the journey back to Cornwall on Wednesday 24th October, having been away a full month.
The letters are full of expressions of affection for Ella and he signs one "Your affectionate friend and Uncle and child and more". His overriding desire is to be back in her company. There is never any question of him moving away from Lamorna. He cannot wait to get back to ‘Trewoofe Orchard’, to quiet evenings playing chess with her. In one letter, he comments, "Hooray for the sloe and apple jam, and still more for the sloe wine. Won’t we enjoy a cocktail together when the good time comes along."
On his return, Alfred turned his attention to financial matters, as he needed not only to deal with Cecily’s estate, but also to amend his own testamentary arrangements. Whilst this process was in the hands of his solicitors, he sat down in November 1934 and wrote a note to Ella for her to read after his death, as she was not prepared to discuss financial matters with him (Naper archive). In this, he summarises their finances, indicating that their marriage settlement was worth about £4,000, that he had received £6,000 from his mother and that Cecily’s retained earnings were in the region of £3,500. However, he indicated that Cecily had been "anxious to do all she could for her own relations - Ullmans and Maases - the former being not well off and the latter dependent on Walter, who might die or lose his money at any time". However, he added that, "Cecy and I often thought and talked about the pity it was that you couldn’t have a servant so as to set your time more free." Accordingly, in 1932, after Cecily had been taken ill, they had made codicils to their 1928 Wills, in which they provided for a legacy of £1,000 to Ella on the death of the survivor. In March 1935, Alfred was sufficiently comfortable with his position to increase this legacy to Ella to £2,500, saying that his own nieces were well provided for anyway. He told her, "So now it will be as if you had won the Daily Mail crossword puzzle that you and I so often vainly tried for."
Against all his expectations, he did make one last trip to see his sister in Skelwith Fold in June 1935, but only one letter from this visit survives, and this was written on his train journey back to Euston. In this, he mentioned that he had seen in the paper recently that a son of Augustus John had fallen over the cliff at Newquay. He added, "I suppose the time when Augustus John came to Lamorna and was worshipped there was before you came. It was thought a great event by all our friends there. I only met him once and he seemed to me a cross between a pirate chief and Jesus Christ - in looks, I mean." (June 28th 1935)
Alfred, who was reclusive by nature anyway, lived out his final years quietly at ‘Trewoofe Orchard’, with Ella constantly in attendance. He does not appear to have sociallized much, and it is interesting that nothing in Cecily’s album post-dates her death. In 1937, Dick Ullman appears to have paid an extended visit, as once again that year he registers with the Botanical Society of the British Isles a number of new plant discoveries in West Cornwall. In the War years, he was forced to make over rooms for others to stay in. During their time at ‘Trewoofe Orchard’, Dick and Barbara Waterson received a number of visitors, who recalled Alfred’s last few years and painted a picture of a rather grumpy old man, who wanted the child lodging with him to spend all his time out of doors and who locked up the food in the kitchen as he accused the maids of stealing. Maryella Pigott, Ella’s niece, who stayed at ‘Trewoofe Orchard’ herself on a number of occasions during the War years, recalls that he was always in his study.
Alfred died in West Cornwall Hospital in Penzance on 22nd December 1943, aged 94. He had been in good health until a few weeks before, when he had decided, despite his age, to cut down a tree in his garden! I have found no record of who attended his funeral. His personal effects totalled £12,397 gross (£10,643 net). In addition to the legacy of £2,500 to Ella Naper, there were gifts of £500 to his nieces, Mary England and Cordelia Marshall, and, despite his earlier comments, legacies of £400 to each of his servants Dora Clemens and her daughter, Marjorie. He also left £80 to his "friend and neighbour" Eleanor Hughes, but the difference in size to his other legacies suggests that Eleanor had not played a pivotal role during his final years. The residue was divided in half, with Hilda Ullman enjoying a life interest in one half, with remainder to her three children, whilst Cecily’s sister, Adele Maas and her daughter Evelyn shared a life interest in the other half, with remainder to Adele’s other children, Walter, Gerald and Cyril Maas. In March 1944, the contents of ‘Trewoofe Orchard’ were sold at auction. Apart from a watercolour by Laura Knight (subject not specified), there were no paintings specifically listed and little else of much interest, apart from Admiral Fitzroy’s barometer. Harold Knight’s portrait of Cecily was retained by the family. David Evans indicated that Alfred left his father, Gilbert, his rotating study chair.
Despite this sell-off, ‘Trewoofe Orchard’ did not leave the family, but was acquired by Cecily’s nephew, Dick Ullman, who, during the War, served in the Royal Artillery, rising to the rank of Colonel. At the time of Alfred’s death, Tommy and Edith Fielden, musicians who had made a number of friends in the art colonies of Lamorna and Newlyn in the pre-1914 period, wrote to Stanhope Forbes enquiring what was to become of the property, as they clearly were interested in acquiring it. Forbes indicated that prices being paid for Lamorna properties at the time were very high, but that Ullman was happy to let it out on a ten year lease. In the event, the Fieldens did not pursue their interest, and Dick Ullman himself lived there after his retirement. He owned the property until March 1959, but the connection of Cecily’s family with the Lamorna Valley did not end then, for, in 1931, Cecily’s sister-in-law, Hilda Ullman, had bought ‘Morsylla’ from Colonel Paynter, and this has remained in the family ever since, now being owned by Percy and Hilda’s grand-daughter, Gillian Shaw. Hilda herself died in January 1964, having called her home in Esher ‘Trove’, (the name being the way that ‘Trewoofe’ is pronounced), whilst her youngest son, Jeffrey, who only survived her by a few months, was living at the date of his death close by in Esher in a house called ‘Rosemerryn’. Nothing could better demonstrate an enduring love affair with Lamorna.
I hope that this research will inspire others to become more familiar with Cecily Sidgwick and to acknowledge her important contribution to the history of Lamorna as a colony and as a tourist destination.