LIVES – ANTHONY NICHOLAS DIAMANTIDI
Researched and written by Jeremy Palmer and Susan Morris
Anthony Nicholas Diamantidi lived in Effingham from 1922. He sits at the heart of this Exhibition as a person moving comfortably and internationally in the highest artistic circles of the day, particularly the ballet. Yet only the barest details of his life have ever come to light and of the sources we have turned up, we cannot always be sure which reliably refer to him. We have heard him described as a “shady character” and as a “smooth operator”, a man who wrote felicitous letters to Effingham Parish Council and appeared quite agreeable to sorting out problems on his land, and yet engaged in a bitter and protracted dispute with another Effingham resident of high repute. He held house parties in Effingham attended by members of The Russian Ballet no less, piquing the interest of residents such as Mrs Lena Bridger whose shop they visited. In a later oral interview Mrs Bridger told her interviewer:
“In those days Mr Diamantidi lived at Grove House and members of the Russian Ballet visited him and came into the shop.”
He lived to the age of either 97 or 103 (depending on which source one believes) but in all that time as far as we know only one photograph of him – shown at right – ever slipped into the public domain. This one was published in The Sketch on October 20th 1937.
According to the numerous passenger manifests for his flights to and from the US in the late 1950s and 60s, he was born on Chios, Greece on November 4th 1883. Effingham residents who knew him said he was a White Russian who had fled to the West after the end of the First World War. That Diamantidi had some Russian contact or history may well be true. Some online genealogy websites state that he was born on November 4th 1888 in Taganrog, a port city on the Black Sea coast of south-western Russia (which had started as a Greek settlement). Bearing a Greek name meant that he could travel as a Greek, which potentially made it easier than identifying as Russian during his American ventures in the late 1950s. Claiming to be born in 1883 would also have made him 31 at the start of WWI as opposed to 26. An older age might have allowed him to explain away an apparent lack of war service. Some passenger lists in the 1950s have him named as Antoine Diamantidi.
He may have first come to notice as a person having some expertise in insurance or reinsurance. An “A Diamantidi” is mentioned in The Gloucester Citizen of February 16th 1916 as an insurance manager in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) taking a share in a new insurance company, The Overseas Marine Company Limited, in the business of insurance against loss or damage at sea by war or other means. There is also an “A N Diamantidi” who published a handbook on reinsurance in January 1918. He was moreover cited in The Times on January 3rd 1921 as someone with expert knowledge in this field. An “A Diamantidi” is further mentioned in insurance trade magazines as being the foreign representative in England of a group of Russian insurance offices.
By 1922, according to an address given on a passenger manifest for a sailing from Southampton on 30th November, Diamantidi was residing at Grey Wings in Ashstead. This is a highly noteworthy property, occupied at the time by Lawrence and Ethel Margaret Boustead, with their son Hugh. Ethel would later move to Effingham, living in Old Westmoor Cottage on Orestan Lane from 1933 until her death in 1936. Possibly her move had been influenced by this connection to Diamantidi.
On February 16th 1924 Diamantidi married at St Nicolas Church, Great Bookham to Gladys (née) Hayward. The marriage certificate gives his place of residence as Ashstead and a newspaper jotting mentions him as then living at Moorlands in Ashstead. His father’s name is entered as Nicholas Dimitri Diamantidi, both son and father generically describing their profession as “merchant”. Gladys was the daughter of the late Victor Silberberg Hayward, born in Hungary, and his wife Augusta Mary. Both were marrying late: Gladys was 37 and Diamantidi was 43. Victor had died in 1923 and been buried in the same church.
Gladys’s parents had run a well-known costumier known as “Madame Hayward” on New Bond Street – their names are mentioned in connection with a libel case reported in The Globe on April 30th 1908. The article can be viewed using this button:
“Madame Hayward” was renowned as a court dressmaker and by the 1910s the shop had also begun dressing stars of the stage such as Marie Tempest and Ellen Terry. Gladys is mentioned as working as a manageress there in 1931.
After Diamantidi and Gladys married they may then have taken up residence in The Villa on the Guildford Road, Effingham. The previous tenants, the Ross family, had vacated it after the father, James Aitchison Ross, had died in 1920.
The Villa is shown on the map segment opposite, contained in the brochure for a local auction in 1921. The main house was the west-most building whilst the elongated structure to its immediate north-east was Grove House Cottage (sometimes called simply Grove Cottage). The square structure just south-east of this (above the letter ‘A’ in the map’s ‘MANOR’ label) was a small cottage which eventually became Walnut Tree Cottage, although before that had been named Allways Cottage.
The Villa was put up for sale in March 1922, as shown in this advertisement published at the time, and it is presumed that Diamantidi was the purchaser and moved into the property in that year.
Diamantidi renamed The Villa as Grove House. Whereas he had (apparently) worked previously in the insurance business, he seems now to have begun developing properties in Effingham as new opportunities arose.
In 1928, according to a later resident, he bought Walnut Tree Cottage on the Guildford Road (now called “The Coach House”, virtually opposite Effingham Golf Club) on March 27th 1928, and would keep it until October 7th 1932 when he sold it to Mrs Marguerita Pughe, mother of the champion figure skater John (“Jackie”) Dunn.
He also bought Norwood Farm in 1928 from its owner Charles Meaburn Tatham. This farm had been tenanted by the Hemus family during the previous 18 years. Miss Hemus recorded that this sale apparently took place without the knowledge of her grandfather, which led to their leaving. Diamantidi promptly set about doing the place up, uncovering some coloured Latin frescoes dating from the 15th century in the process of demolishing a wall, as reported in the article at the left published in The Surrey Mirror and County Post on May 24th 1929. He then sold it on to Sir Nicholas Waterhouse in 1930.
In later life he mentioned buying and doing up another cottage ‘facing the Common’ at about the same time, but so far we have not been able to identify which this was. Other old properties were shipped in from further afield; next to Grove House he built, using imported old materials, Grove Paddock which was let to the revue star Gwen Farrar from June 1934. Another house, The Old Cottage (now called Pilgrims), was likewise built by him nearby on the Guildford Road.
Continuing the theme of stage artists moving to Effingham, he may also have had something to do with the actor Andrea Malandrinos moving, around 1939, into Grove House Cottage which stood in the Grove House grounds close to the main building. He and Malandrinos would have a very close friendship for the remainder of their lives. Malandrinos is another of the artistic incomers appearing in Effingham in the interwar period.
In the village he also brought in The Barn, set to the west of The Street and just off Madge’s Lane. In about 1970 the Effingham builder Henry Tyrrell (born in 1875) told the late Mary Rice-Oxley that the timbers for this had come from Wonersh. Diamantidi’s address was written as The Barn in the lease for Grove Paddock dated June 14th 1934. Thus while still owning Grove House, he must have built The Barn by this time and was using it for some purpose, even if he still entertained at Grove House. In time he would move into The Barn after finally disposing of Grove House.
Diamantidi also owned as part of the Grove House estate the Village Hall standing at the bottom of The Street. The article at right, published in The Surrey Mirror and County Post on November 21st 1930, is an example, among several, showing that he allowed uses of the Hall by others.
Grove House was advertised for sale on several occasions in the Thirties, including 1931 (in both May and December), 1932, 1936 and 1937. In the latter year the contents were put up for auction as shown by the notice opposite, published by The Surrey Mirror and County Post on December 10th, and the house itself may, at last, have been sold soon afterwards.
The Ballets Russes
The Diamantidis possibly also maintained a property in Shepherd Market in London’s Mayfair; Eileen Ascroft, ever alert to using her Effingham neighbours and contacts, in a February 1938 Daily Mirror column mentioned that Mrs Diamantidi had a small house there, while extolling the parties she hosted for Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes (this was the successor company to The Russian Ballet, which had fallen apart in 1929 after Diaghilev’s death). The Daily Mirror had earlier reported on the Russian Ballet stars visiting there.
How and when Diamantidi’s connections to the Ballets Russes began is uncertain and, given that this organisation had an extremely complicated history, it is unlikely to ever be fully determined. The photograph of him seen above shows that an association was established pre-War. Whether this began in Russia and whether he was the “A Diamantidi” acting as a conduit for insurance business between Russia and the West, we do not know.
It was in the 1950s and 1960s that Diamantidi became more visible. Firstly, after the Colonel’s sudden death in August 1951, he looked after de Basil’s widow, Olga Morosova. Katherine Sorley Walker, in her book “De Basil’s Ballets Russes” (p.156-7), writes:
“De Basil and Morosova were now living in an apartment borrowed from a friend in the rue Jean-Mermoz in Paris. Another friend of long standing saw a good deal of them. This was Anthony Diamantidi, a charming and by all accounts unscrupulous Greek financier who had known them all since the ‘thirties when he lived in Effingham in Surrey. Now de Basil recommended him to Morosova as someone who would look after her in an emergency.”
Diamantidi arranged a studio residence for Morosova in the aftermath of de Basil’s death but, as with Norwood Farm, he sold the lease to it without notice. He also took control of two separate holding companies for the Ballets Russes. As Sorley Walker says, these companies formed the background for Diamantidi’s ‘Diaghilev and de Basil Ballets Foundation’. This formed a vehicle for selling at auction scenery and costumes associated with the legendary years of de Basil’s ballet.
Items had been originally stored in Montrouge, Paris but then used by de Basil. When he died in 1951 they were warehoused again, presumably in Paris with Diamantidi paying the storage costs. However, Diamantidi then became involved in a court case concerning another warehouse full of ballet props which had been stored in Montreal by de Basil during WW2. In December 1958 fire had swept through that warehouse. Diamantidi, via one of the holding companies – the Russian Ballet Development Co Ltd of London – issued a $300,000 damages action, as reported on January 10th 1961 in The Gazette (Montreal):
The damages action article can be viewed here.
Conceivably, Diamantidi took whatever could be recovered and shipped it back to Paris. Alternatively, if nothing was recovered, this may have prompted Diamantidi to think of auctioning the items in the Paris repository before they too were rendered worthless. However this played out, we do know that, as Sorley Walker points out, new object clauses were added to the Russian Ballet Development Co by Diamantidi on November 20th 1964, essentially in order to acquire and sell on items relating to the original Russian Ballet companies.
He first took representatives of Sothebys to the Montrouge warehouse after an initial small sale of Diaghilev ballet material in June 1967. Subsequently the riches of the Ballets Russes were put up for auction by Sothebys on July 17th 1968 causing, as Sorley Walker says, “wild excitement”. Further auctions would follow. In 1969 Diamantidi gave £30,000 towards a National Museum of the Performing Arts, in which some of the purchased items from the auctions would be displayed [The Guardian, December 17th 1969].
By the 1930s Anthony and Gladys Diamantidi were well-placed to become part of Surrey society. We see their names cropping up in the guest lists for fashionable weddings. We see him performing charitable – or at least not-for-profit – actions around the village, although he could not always be trusted to follow through on his good intentions. For example, he was listed on the subscriber list for the Effingham Playing Fields Committee in an interim report in 1937. He had pledged to donate £250 towards the fund for the purchase of land for playing fields in Effingham but by the time the fund was reaching completion in 1938 its Hon. Treasurer Miss Nina MacNair was writing to the Committee that she had given up trying to get the donation out of him. It is perhaps too tempting to use this as evidence of his unreliability; Diamantidi’s Effingham property ventures seem to have run into the buffers by the late 1930s after multiple unsuccessful attempts to sell Grove House. It should be noted that Diamantidi supported attempts to protect Effingham Common in the 1970s, including sending a cheque for £50 for this cause in September 1975.
Loss and Renewal
Besides problems with property and finance, Diamantidi may also have been having to deal with family illness. His mother-in-law Augusta Mary Hayward died at The Barn on November 21st 1946:
Just two months later Gladys also died, on January 31st 1947, in 3 Rue Hotel de Ville, Vevey in Switzerland.
A later Effingham resident said that Gladys had died from cancer. Diamantidi may have kept the Swiss residence for business reasons or perhaps for the potential health benefits for his wife. Her name does not appear on her parents’ headstone and so it is probable that her remains were not returned to Bookham.
He subsequently entered into a relationship with a German-born woman, Mimosa Dietlinde Dorothea Maria Wilhelmine Luise Daniele von Klitzing. She came to live in The Barn along with her daughter, also named Mimosa (familiarly known as “little Mimosa”), from her second marriage to Ludolf Graf von Alvensleben Schönborn. Mimosa produced two further children, Helene and Joachim, but some people who visited The Barn in the 1950s do not recall them being present there. In the entry in The Times announcing Diamantidi’s death he was described as the “dearly loved father of Helene and Joachim”:
Helene married in Effingham in June 1975 to Jonathan Fitzroy Talbot Baines. We have not so far found any evidence that Diamantidi and Mimosa Dietlinde von Klitzing ever married.
Diamantidi’s ruthlessness and ability to exploit a situation to his own advantage should not be under-estimated. When the Ross family left The Villa and the Diamantidis moved in, Miss Effie Jane Ross was living at The Hollies on The Street. She was a pillar of the village establishment with a solid record of volunteering and support of many charitable causes in the village since World War I. She had leased from Diamantidi the field directly opposite (west of) The Hollies, which had the effect of preserving for her a view from her front windows of open countryside, and a part of her childhood home. The understanding was that this was some sort of garden or agricultural lease on the land and she paid a rent for it.
Allotments were provided in the village by Mr Almond on some of his land at The Vineries on Lower Road, but when this had to be withdrawn, a new site was required. While various candidates were tried and failed, Effie, apparently out of charitableness, allowed some people to use the Diamantidi land for allotments. However, when her lease on the land came up for renewal, at some point in the period 1946-55, Diamantidi refused to renew on the grounds that she had breached the terms, that is, she had sublet the land for a purpose not covered by the original terms). He also demanded a sum of money to cover appropriate back rent, causing Miss Ross great embarrassment.
It took the intervention of Barnes Wallis as Chairman of Effingham Parish Council to smooth this out. There are indications that he personally may have paid some money to Diamantidi. In addition, the Council agreed not to object if planning consent were sought by Diamantidi from Guildford Rural District Council for buildings on his land bordering The Street. In return Diamantidi donated some land behind this to Effingham Parish Council for use as allotments.
At some point Diamantidi left the village and seemingly took up permanent residence at his Swiss property in Vevey. He died in Switzerland on August 12th 1985. The current owners of Grove Paddock have told us that Diamantidi returned to visit that cottage in the 1980s, which it would be pleasing to think indicated his affection for the village, a tone previously set in his letters to the Parish Council during the battle to save the Common
Effingham also has cause to be grateful for his actions in saving and renovating several old properties which otherwise might have been bulldozed. Indeed one could make an argument that by transporting other old houses to the village, these were at least saved for posterity too, even if ultimately they were interlopers. It is fair to say that Anthony Nicholas Diamantidi’s great contribution was to create this brief but rather wonderful small Bohemia in the Surrey countryside, when one might have sauntered through Effingham and encountered quite casually any number of celebrities one might otherwise have only ever seen in magazines.