LIVES – NICHOLAS & AUDREY WATERHOUSE
Researched and written by Jeremy Palmer.
At the heart of Effingham’s Bohemian scene in the 1930s were Sir Nicholas and Lady Audrey Waterhouse of Norwood Farm on Effingham Common. They had lived there from 1930 onwards and had established links to various artistic circles in London, cultivating friendships with musicians, actors and writers, some of whom – like Yvonne Arnaud shown below with the Waterhouses – had followed them to live in Effingham. Norwood Farm is located to the north of Lower Farm Road and is a Grade II listed Hall house dating to the early 16th century (LBS Number: 288665). An account of life in Norwood Farm before the Waterhouses owned it can be read in the transcription of Doreen Hemus’ Oral History.
Sir Nicholas (born August 24th 1877, died December 28th 1964) was the second son of Edwin Waterhouse who had co-founded the accountancy practice of Price Waterhouse in 1865. His uncle Alfred Waterhouse was the architect responsible for designing London’s Natural History Museum and, as an assessor for architectural competitions, was very influential in promoting the neo-Gothic idiom of many Victorian buildings.
Sir Nicholas grew up in the Waterhouse’s country retreat of Feldemore in Holmbury St. Mary, built in 1879.
Feldemore in Holmbury St. Mary
His father had employed George T. Redmayne, a Manchester architect who had worked extensively for Alfred, to design the house. It is especially notable for the Arts and Crafts decoration chosen by Edwin, including furnishings by William Morris and tiles by William de Morgan. After Edwin’s death in 1917 Feldemore passed into the hands of the Waterhouse Trust and later would become the Belmont Preparatory School. Sir Nicholas was educated at St David’s in Reigate, followed by Winchester and then New College, Oxford.
Sir Nicholas’s first wife, Audrey Hale Lewin (born June 26th 1883, died September 7th 1945), was the third and last child of Colonel Thomas Herbert Lewin of Parkhurst in Abinger, which is in close proximity to Feldemore.
Parkhurst in Abinger
Audrey was exposed to the Arts from an early age. Her father was a close friend of the artist Edward Burne-Jones and also of the novelist George Meredith who lived at Box Hill. Through Meredith Colonel Lewin may well have known the Maxse family at Effingham Hill in the far south of Effingham parish. Beyond these local connections, Audrey’s uncle William Terris and his daughter Ellaline were both famous London stage actors. Audrey learnt music from an early age, and later studied violin at the Royal College of Music. Under the name “Audrey Hale” she had musical compositions performed in London, in the 1920s. John Whitehead notes in his biography of her father Thangliena: A Life of T. H. Lewin that her father thought Audrey “perhaps the cleverest and most original of the three (children)” (p.344) and also mentions that Audrey composed “light music hall songs” (p.393).
THE WIFE OF A FINANCIAL EXPERT : LADY WATERHOUSE
Lady Waterhouse is the wife of Sir Nicholas Edwin Waterhouse, K.B.E., of the famous firm of Price, Waterhouse & Co., chartered accountants. He was Director of Costings at the War Office from 1917 to 1919. Lady Waterhouse was married in 1903, and is the daughter of the late Lieutenant-Colonel Lewin, of Parkhurst, Abinger, Surrey.
Photograph by Bertram Park.
from The Sketch, February 1st 1922
under Licence from the Mary Evans Picture Library © Illustrated London News Ltd. / Mary Evans
Audrey and Nicholas married in 1903. They lived at 71, Victoria Road in London W8 until in 1926 their main London residence became 2, Swan Walk, Chelsea.
She accompanied him on overseas business trips and holidayed with him across Europe. In his unpublished memoirs Reminiscences Sir Nicholas remembered how they toured San Francisco’s Old China Town in 1906 just prior to its destruction by the great earthquake. From 1908 onwards they visited remote parts of France, Spain and Germany, relying, as Sir Nicholas recounts, on Audrey’s linguistic skills:
“Her French, German and Spanish were such that when in those countries she was usually taken as a native and she also could get on pretty well with Italian and Swedish.” (Reminiscences, p.67 – Sir Nicholas Waterhouse)
Their marriage did not produce any children. John Whitehead describes how Audrey filled her days, including doing works of philanthropy among Jewish immigrants to London from south Germany (Thangliena, p.394). A later friend, Wyndham Lewis, would record that she drove an ambulance in WW1, whilst Sir Nicholas mentions the old Rolls Royce that he had bought pre-war being put to good use by the Belgian Red Cross.
Upon his father’s retirement from Price Waterhouse in 1906, Nicholas was elevated to the partnership. Although his apprenticeship had been decidedly average, his avuncular charm and ability to balance competing points of view enabled him to become a very successful partner in the firm. Effingham resident Michael Waller reported the same impression that many others held:
“… he appeared very approachable, quite tall, bespectacled and distinguished …”
2, Swan Walk in Chelsea
Edgar Jones, in his history of Price Waterhouse (True and Fair – A History of Price Waterhouse – publ. Hamish Hamilton, 1995), echoed this in his description of Sir Nicholas (p.218):
“He had a capacity for self-deprecation and his puckish humour could often defuse a tense situation … he manifested the qualities of a gentleman: honesty, reliability, modesty, an absence of show or ostentation, reserve and probity.”
In 1930 Sir Nicholas bought Norwood Farm on Effingham Common from the Effingham property developer Anthony Diamantidi, funding the purchase from selling one of his collections of stamps.
Norwood Farm in Effingham
© Ronald George Burton
Sir Nicholas was an internationally known philatelist, with a world-famous collection of stamps from the United States. He would build up further collections, keeping them in a walk-in safe in Norwood Farm. He had astutely acquired stamps of the United States cheaply and before they became desirable items, selling his first collection for £13,700 on November 14th 1924 through Puttick and Simpson (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, issue of November 15th 1924). This funded the purchase of 2, Swan Walk but Waterhouse kept sufficient stamps back to form the basis of a new, and subsequently award-winning, collection. This was sold by private treaty in America in order to fund the purchase of Norwood Farm, although again a few were retained to form the nucleus of a third collection (Reminiscences, p.86).
Norwood Farm would be their country residence until the outbreak of war, at which point they moved to Effingham to escape the Blitz. We know that Swan Walk was badly damaged in late November or early December 1941. The St. Lawrence Church accounts show Sir Nicholas donating money through the 1930s and we know that he also gave £5 to the restoration of the cricket pavilion just across Effingham Common Road from Norwood Farm. His generosity extended in other directions too; descendants of his chauffeur, John Hubert Jebbitt, have told ELHG that Sir Nicholas allowed Jebbitt (who lived in Balham) to borrow the Rolls Royce and take local children for rides in it. Sir Nicholas was also a significant (but anonymous) donor toward the fund raised in the 1930s for the purchase of the King George V Playing Fields in Effingham.
Norwood Farm was a working farm with a herd of cows. The farm manager was a man named Bertram Lewis who lived with his wife Ellen (née Colborne) in “Tyrley”, Surrey Gardens; their marriage had been solemnized at St. Lawrence on February 20th 1936.
Norwood Farm was close to Orchard Cottage where Teddie Gerard, the revue artist, lived. Probably, Audrey already knew Teddie through Gwen Farrar, since Audrey and Gwen were two of the four women who had opened the Chelsea Art Gallery on the King’s Road for young artists in January 1921. Gwen’s story can be read on this page. Audrey and Teddie were also guests at Gwen’s partner Norah Blaney’s engagement party in April 1922.
Another star of stage and screen, Yvonne Arnaud, would also come to live a short walk away at Banks Way Farm. Arnaud and her husband Hugh McLellan built their new home on land which, it is believed, had been gifted to them by the Waterhouses from the Norwood Farm estate.
Arnaud stayed at Norwood Farm from January to May 1937 (as evidenced by correspondence between Arnaud and Val Gielgud in the BBC archives) while this new house was being completed. On June 16th Arnaud took part in a photoshoot and the results provide us with a unique view of the interior of Norwood Farm in the 1930s. We might infer that her newly completed house was deemed insufficiently photogenic and that she therefore posed in the Waterhouses’ home instead.
Yvonne Arnaud at Norwood Farm
© Historic England
Parties and Visitors
Norwood Farm seems to have been the venue for wild parties in the 1930s although Sir Nicholas is circumspect about them in his Reminiscences. However, Eileen Ascroft, working as a journalist for The Daily Mirror during this time, and whose mother lived in Flower Cottage next door to Norwood Farm, did leave us a hint. Writing in that newspaper on February 24th 1938 she says:
“I think that Lady Waterhouse has this charming gift of real hospitality. Invitations to her lovely country home on Effingham Common are much prized, and all the young people who flock down on Saturdays and Sundays adore her. She makes everything such fun and so homely.”
One of Sir Nicholas’s close friends, the author and artist Wyndham Lewis, went further when writing to him in June 1952, complaining that the Reminiscences had excised the more exciting stories of the parties in Effingham. This was probably due, as Sir Nicholas mentions in the text, to the influence of his second wife, Louise How (born May 22nd 1907, died November 23rd 1986). She seems to have had various roles in the Waterhouse household, employed as a hairdresser according to the 1939 National Register, as the housekeeper, and as the teacher / ward of the wartime child refugees. They were married on August 12th 1953.
Wyndham Lewis, co-founder of the Vorticist art movement and now seen as one of the most important of all British Modernist artists, had met the Waterhouses in 1926. They became generous and consistent supporters and Lewis in turn dedicated his novel The Apes of God to them. Despite controversy never being far from Wyndham Lewis (for example he was sued for libel by one of Sir Nicholas’s other friends, the writer Godfrey Winn), Sir Nicholas steadfastly supported him through illness and crisis, even helping his widow after Lewis’s death. Lewis’s letters to the Waterhouses sent during the War describe his memories of them and of visiting Norwood Farm. Late in life, Lewis would also base his character Percy Lamport in his novel Self-Condemned on Sir Nicholas.
Wyndham Lewis with his portrait of T. S. Eliot,
controversially rejected by the Royal Academy in April 1938
from The Bystander, April 27th 1938
under Licence from the Mary Evans Picture Library
© Illustrated London News Ltd. / Mary Evans
Another visitor to Norwood Farm from the Arts was the French violinist and impresario André Mangeot. Audrey had met Mangeot through her youthful musical circles and it had proved an enduring friendship. We know of one recital at which he appeared with Bienvenido Socias at their Swan Walk residence on November 4th 1926 (see the flyer on the right, reproduced here by kind permission of the Royal College of Music, London).
The flyer, on which the year is not stated, has been manually altered to read Tuesday (instead of Thursday) November 4th, from which we can infer that the concert must have taken place in 1926; this fits in with another concert, at which Mangeot and Bienvenido Socias performed together on October 29th at the Bedford Music Club, in the Hall of Bedford High School where Mangeot was teaching violin.
The 1923 Membership List of Mangeot’s Music Society includes Yvonne Arnaud and Lady Waterhouse amongst other luminaries. Audrey would also become friendly with Mangeot’s second wife, the Australian violinist Beatrice Huckell, who would come to live at Norwood Farm for a period during WW2. We believe that the undated photograph below shows André Mangeot (on the left) with the other two members of his Cembalo Trio, John Ticehurst (centre) and Beatrice Huckell (on the right).
licensed from the Royal College of Music / ArenaPAL
reproduced by kind permission of the Royal College of Music, London
André Mangeot’s greatest contribution to the Arts was through fostering young talent, such as the conductor John Barbirolli who joined Mangeot’s Quartet as a cellist in 1922. A mutual friend was Yvonne Arnaud, who frequently accompanied Mangeot on piano in concert, as late as 1939. They corresponded even after she had moved to Effingham and indeed Mangeot would write an unpublished biography of her. She remained a lifelong friend of Barbirolli too, and her last written letter from May 1958 describes meeting him in Manchester. The photograph below, dated to the 1940s, shows Yvonne Arnaud and André Mangeot and may have been taken in the garden of Arnaud’s Effingham home.
licensed from the Royal College of Music / ArenaPAL
Mangeot was also closely involved in the early career of Benjamin Britten, participating in the first concert and broadcast performances of Britten’s Phantasy Quartet in 1933. We further know from Britten’s diaries from this time that he accompanied Mangeot out to Effingham to play tennis, most likely on the court at Norwood Farm. The novelist Christopher Isherwood, as a young man, was also employed by Mangeot as the Secretary for his Music Society, and his relationship with Mangeot and his family is discussed at length in Peter Parker’s biography Isherwood (publ. Picador, 2004). ELHG has been told anecdotally that Isherwood was another visitor to Norwood Farm.
Mangeot and his wife Beatrice appear in the 1939 National Register at Banks Way Farm, evidently staying with Yvonne Arnaud and her husband. Beatrice would also live at Norwood Farm later in the War. After the War and having separated from Mangeot, she remarried, to the career diplomat Sir Patrick Hancock.
Lady Waterhouse, writing in French to Mangeot on August 9th 1940 (letter held in the André Mangeot archive at the Royal College of Music), wrote evocatively of the dangers in the Blitz. Sir Nicholas was still commuting into London:
“He goes 2 to 3 times a week and almost each time his train is stopped by raids so we never really know when he will be arriving.”
The Waterhouses had also helped out an old employee. Audrey writes:
“Do you remember Emily, the parlourmaid at Victoria Road? Very nice girl who married one of the P.W employees and who has a 13 year old daughter. Their house got destroyed by a bomb and the little girl has been chased by a dive bomber while she was cycling to school. So we offered them to come and rest here for 1 month during which the husband will try to find a new house.”
She also mentions the evacuees who were staying in the bungalow on Norwood Farm, saying the children had to sleep in her husband’s study because of the intensity of the raids. The Waterhouses took in a series of child evacuees from South London. Effingham Local History Group interviewed one of these Norwood Farm evacuees, Ronald George Burton, in October 2013, recording his memories of an idyllic life at Norwood Farm, fishing and collecting birds’ eggs with Sir Nicholas, working with the dairy herd on the Farm and watching wartime aerial dogfights over the Common. Ronald’s friendship with Sir Nicholas continued after the War and he recalled a children’s Christmas Party hosted by the Waterhouses at Swan Walk.
However he was not among the Norwood Farm evacuees whom Audrey formed into what became her so-called “Cockney Choir”. The newspaper articles below provide examples of the entertainments they provided.
The Surrey Advertiser, December 7th 1940
(click to enlarge)
The Surrey Advertiser, December 28th 1940
(click to enlarge)
The Surrey Advertiser, August 16th 1941
(click to enlarge)
There were other shows around the immediate area. Audrey, writing about a year later to Wyndham Lewis in Canada, told him that her activities with the evacuees led to a variety show and a tour of canteens and hospitals, describing their popularity thus:
“We used to go down like Nervo and Knox on Saturday night at the Palladium …”
The BBC had apparently recorded the Cockney Choir but regrettably the recordings were lost in the Blitz. Ronald Burton mentioned that another evacuee, named Ron Bailey, had had a lovely singing voice and was a particular favourite of Audrey. However, he ran away back to London with his sister Rosie, causing much distress to Lady Waterhouse.
By this point, however, Lady Waterhouse must have been seriously ill. Sir Nicholas had written to Wyndham Lewis on December 8th 1941 describing her illness, which was probably a heart problem. He would continue the gloomy prognosis in later letters through the War. Lewis returned to England in August 1945, and having taken time to get his affairs in order, wrote to Audrey on September 19th. However he was too late. Lady Waterhouse had died at Norwood Farm on Friday September 7th, aged 62.
The Surrey Advertiser reported her passing a week later. Her father, Colonel Lewin, had chosen to be cremated at Golders Green, and similarly Audrey was laid to rest in a private ceremony at Woking Crematorium on Monday September 10th 1945.
Sir Nicholas continued at Price Waterhouse until 1960, when at the age of 82 he finally retired. His retirement was commemorated by a visit to Norwood Farm by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, as Sir Nicholas had held the Auditorship of the Abbey from 1916.
After a brief illness he died on December 28th 1964 at the Nuffield Nursing Home in Woking. Like Audrey he was cremated and his ashes interred in the Waterhouse family plot in the churchyard at Holmbury St. Mary.
Audrey’s niece Eileen Margaret Lewin, who had married Major Cecil Bednall in Jerusalem in 1937, would move into Norwood Farm in the mid-1960s. Lady Louise Waterhouse who had been living there then moved to Flower Cottage, a property adjacent to Norwood Farm. They were essentially swapping houses as the Bednalls had been associated with Flower Cottage from at least 1941, at which time they had probably bought it from Winifred Ascoft when she moved to London to live with her daughter Eileen. Their story, including more information about Flower Cottage, is told on this page.
Major General Bednall would become Paymaster-in-Chief at the War Office from 1948 to 1955 and then Colonel Commandant of the Royal Army Pay Corps until 1960.
Thereafter he retired from the military and became a Lonrho director in Rhodesia. From what we can tell the Bednalls occupied Norwood Farm from late 1965.
A fuller biography of Major General Bednall’s life and military career was set out in The Staffordshire Sentinel (August 31st 1948) and in his obituary in The Times (June 2nd 1982); the former article can be read using the button below.
Major General Sir Cecil Norbury Peter Bednall
by Walter Stoneman, commissioned 1954
image licensed from NPG Creative Commons
By 1971 Norwood Farm was no longer occupied by either Waterhouses, Lewins or Bednalls, and Major General Bednall (a keen golfer) was giving The Club House, Effingham Golf Club as his address in the UK. Lady Louise Waterhouse continued living in Flower Cottage until at least 1972, before moving to Worthing. The Waterhouses’ long association with Effingham had come to an end.