Sunday, 18 October 2015

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols (1898-1983)

The books that I discovered in my father's loft after his death are turning out to be a treasure trove of delights. Before finding the collection I suffered from the delusion that I was reasonably well read. But I have found books by authors about whom I previously knew nothing, or very little, yet who were, or are, very well-known in the post-war years (I am old enough to still refer to WW2 as 'the' War).

Currently I am reading Merry Hall, by Beverley Nichols, which was first published in 1951. What can I tell you about the book and its author? It is a charming and witty book that will delight anyone who is interested in gardens (Nichols is best remembered as a writer of gardening books though his range was extensive) and anyone interested in the social history of an England that has long-vanished - vanished unless you happen to be Prince Charles and live in Highgrove House


Merry Hall is autobiographical writing - the first in a trilogy of books about the discovery, purchase and renovation of a decrepit Georgian country house, which the author claims, perhaps with a touch of literary irony, to have purchased largely on account of a fabulous display of Regale lilies in the kitchen garden. We read about Mr. Gaskin, Mr. Nichols' manservant from 1924 until his death in 1966, and the laconic gardener Oldfield; about the Siamese cats, and Nichols' disparaging friend Bob R..., a member of an eminent and wealthy Jewish family, as well as about the mammoth task of taming the house and garden.Some of the anecdotes are making me laugh out loud. On the down side, I find the personification of Mr. Nichols' cats a bit twee and disingenuous.( But I don't like cats, so perhaps I'm biased).

You may by now have gathered that Mr. Nichols came from the upper crust of English society at a time when a firm class system, now largely declined, was entrenched. Which is to say that everyone knew his place and by and large stuck to it. As a result of his privileged upbringing and an education at Marlborough College (attended more recently by the former Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge) and Oxford University Beverley Nichols books are written in a style of English that is grammatically impeccable, a voice that resounds with echoes of upper class speech patterns, and a type of wit that typifies men educated in the very best public schools.( I feel that I can testify to the wit as one of my past and varied employers was a gentleman who was educated at Eton and who carried his minor hereditary title lightly).

You can read more about Beverley Nichols here -  http://www.beverleynichols.com/