May 11th, 1943
This is going to be a short note I'm afraid, to enclose this very interesting article about Cliveden. Evidently, I am not the only one who thought it was beautiful. It was of especial interest to me because I know two of the nurses in the picture. No. 1 is Sister Cran who was - for some time, my day nurse and No. 2 is Sister Ross, my night nurse. She had a bad operation must be about a year ago, but seemingly recovered OK. No. 3 is Sister Warham whose special pet I was. She got married about a year ago and is no longer nursing. The others I have seen but do not know by name.
Sent you a telegram today asking you to send all my book material at once because I will be here for some time I am afraid, so I might as well do something instead of waste my time. I hope you think to include my two diaries. They will be invaluable.
I am afraid I am going to have to sell my watch again because I am running terribly short of money. I bought it for $8.98 in Montreal but I can sell it again for $15.00, so I ‘m not really worrying. I can buy another watch with the profit. That telegram today came as a terrible surprise. It cost $1.32. Things certainly are dear over here. The same thing would have been about 25c over there.
I got Mary's letter OK. It was very interesting. Nothing much else to say.
Toronto, May 8th. 1943
"Cliveden Set? Rot!" Lord Astor Says So
by Frederick Griffen
By special cable to the Star Weekly from London
Cliveden, the magnificent home and estate of Lord Astor on an unspoiled reach of the Thames out beyond the sprawl of London, has been given to the nation. The gift has a great relation to Canada. Through the Red Cross, it includes a million-dollar military hospital - perhaps the finest in Britain, built with Canadian people's donations.
The rental of this hospital after the war will help to maintain Cliveden in perpetuity as a national property. Such revenue will be added to interest from a million dollars of investments which - in addition to Cliveden itself, Lord Astor has turned over to the National Trust for its partial support as a public shrine.
Cliveden - pronounced Clivden (it's name associated in prewar days with "appeasement" through much popular use of the term "Cliveden set"), has other Canadian ties. The Astor family's vast wealth - at one time reckoned America's most colossal fortune, had its late 18th century and early 19th century beginnings in the Canadian fur trade. This is acknowledged in Viscount Astor's coat of arms. As "supporters" on each side stand a Red Indian and a fur trader carrying guns.
The family founder was John Jacob Astor the first - born in 1763 at Waldorf, a German Rhine village where he worked for his father as a butcher's boy. There have been a number of John Jacob Astors since. One was drowned on the Titanic. The present Lord Astor's brother is Col. Jacob Astor, MP. who is head of the London Times. One of Lord Astor's sons is called John Jacob.
The name Waldorf has also been honored frequently as a family Christian name, it is Lady Astor's name for her husband. It is familiar to everyone on New York's second famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
In 1779 the original John Jacob Astor migrated to London to seek his fortune. There - within sound of Bow Bells, he learned imperfect English and in five years of humble work, saved 15 guineas. Five of these guineas he used to buy steerage passage to Baltimore, USA. shortly after the American Revolution. Another five he invested in seven flutes made by a brother. Five he cannily retained to tide him over while he got his bearings and disposed of his seven reeds at a profit as his first business trading in the new world.
The Astor Wealth
Reaching New York in 1784 he peddled cakes for a start. Then he began peddling and buying furs on a small scale. In 1788 he visited Montreal for the first time. From then on for some years, his prime interest was furs. He became a man of imperial trading dreams. He eventually built up a far-flung American fur company which fought the North-West Company and was the Hudson's Bay Company's rival. As a cross-border trader on a big scale, he was involved in the war of 1812. He bought lands in the province of Quebec and had much early relationship with Canada.
In 1800 - when New York had 60,000 inhabitants and Astor was already rated worth $250,000, he began a consistent program of investment in Manhattan real estate which in the next 50 years - as the city grew fast, was to make him the richest man in America and one of the sixth richest in the world. His was the first American regal fortune. Besides furs and city blocks, he was involved in shipping and banking. Trading with Europe - retailing and wholesaling, he was one of the mightiest merchandisers of all time.
The father of the present Lord Astor was William Waldorf Astor, son of John Jacob Astor, who was grandson of the original John Jacob. William Waldorf Astor - a man of tremendous wealth, was from 1822 to 1885 US. minister to Italy. Yet, in 1899 he became a naturalized Englishman and in 1916 was created a peer of the British realm.
Failing to find out why this rich American should have thus so suddenly and completely turned Britisher, I asked Lady Astor - during a visit to Cliveden when she not only had me to lunch, but personally conducted me through the house and grounds. She said in effect "He was a very shy man and hated publicity. The yellow press in America pilloried him and his family. He came over here to escape, liked it and became a citizen.
Thus - like Lindbergh, the man who became the first Lord Astor sought British sanctuary from American interest in his affairs. But unlike Lindbergh, he and his family stayed to identify themselves with British affairs, for in two generations - rather three, four sons are serving with the British forces in this war, the Astor family has played a considerable public part.
I need scarcely remind you that Lady Astor - a most remarkable grandmother who at 60 still plays tennis with the vigor of 30, was the first woman to sit in the British House of Commons. Born in Virginia and still speaking with a southern drawl but with pungent non-stop force, she is world-famous in her own right. During our three hours, her mind ranged over a score of subjects from the casualness of today's children to the obligations of wealth, from vegetables to the evils of liquor, which she hates.
Cliveden House - perched incomparably above the winding Thames on its loveliest reach, the Astors owning both banks within an eye range of superb vistas, is less than 100 years old, classical in design, spacious, gracious and modern, its architect having been Sir Charles Barry of House of Parliament fame. Yet, it is historic. The first house on the present site, was built about 1666 by that George Villiers who was the witty and wicked Duke of Buckingham. It was destroyed by fire in 1795. The second house was built about 1830. "Twas bought by the Duke of Sutherland in 1849 and burned down the second time six months later. The present house was begun in 1850, finished in 1857."
In the time of Villiers - profligate favourite of Charles the Second, it was the scene of many wild escapades. This dashing Buckingham had a flirtation with the Countess of Shrewsbury. He fought and killed her husband in a duel. It is said that - disguised as a page, the lovely countess held the earl's horse to witness the combat and when Shrewsbury fell mortally wounded, she did not linger but fled to Cliveden with her lover.
But besides the Dukes of Buckingham and Sutherland, Cliveden also belonged for a while to the third Duke of Westminster. Another owner was Lord Orkney, one of Marlborough's generals. Today in its great hall, hang three marvellous Brussels tapestries which Marlborough gave to Orkney. Another one-time resident was Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George the Second.
Lady Astor said sadly "Cliveden has never passed from father to son. Yet it has been loved by all who have ever lived here as no log cabin was ever loved." Here at Cliveden ‘Rule Britannia' was first sung in 1740 at a play performed before the above Frederick. Here have walked Britain's monarchs and statesmen, its sometimes wisest, wittiest and sometimes wickedest men. In recent years, here met many notables and here arose the popular (rather unpopular) legend of the ‘Cliveden set'.
Lord Astor took occasion during my talk with him to say - as he has publicly said before, that talk of the ‘Cliveden set' is "purest poppycock!" - an entirely imaginary conception. Then went on, "We were alleged to have incredible influence over the Neville Chamberlain government. We were alleged to be Fascist and pro-Nazi, Complete moonshine! Ribbentrop never visited Cliveden but Litvinoff has been here as a guest. So has Maisky. Look at the visitor's book and see the people who have been here of every kind and type, educationists, public health men, civil servants, Rhodes scholars, trades union leaders, Socialists, radicals, Lloyd George was here before he was respectable, Bernard Shaw's been here often. Cliveden has done great service in enabling many kinds of men to meet here quietly, without publicity."
That is why in donating it to the nation, Lord Astor expressed the hope that it would continue to be used as a meeting place of minds and that the National Trust would form an advisory committee to run it as a friendship centre of international good-will. "Thus perpetuate the "Cliveden set" he told me smiling. On the other hand, Lady Astor said "What I like, would be to have Canada take it over either as a residence for her high commissioner, or some such national purpose."
Beauties of Cliveden
After showing me the grandeurs of the great hall, magnificent library and other rooms, this magnetic lady led the way out of a flagged terrace and lawns stretching toward the Thames. We then walked through woods of sheer beauty, along paths of haunting quietude - the demesne has some seven miles of them, and visited the gardens. Lady Astor walked me into a sweat! She talked as she walked energetically with forcible opinions on everything, including Canadian soldier patients who threw empty cigarette cartons away along Cliveden's paths. She swooped on such waste paper and had me swooping too, until she had gathered an armful with which to confront the Canadian hospital colonel.
Along the paths, lawns and in the gardens, she pointed out neglect due to lack of help. Cliveden before the war had some 60 indoor and outdoor servants. The domestic staff has shrunk to a skeleton, according to Lady Astor. "As for gardeners - look at this old rascal as an example," she said, jabbing one veteran playfully with her umbrella. "We have only crocks who were unfit in the last war!" Yes, most of the help seen were indeed ancients...
The Canadian Hospital
Earlier I had asked Lord Astor if the war's pinching of Britain's rich had forced him to donate Cliveden to the nation. He replied in effect, that death duties would have made it impossible for his son to have lived in Cliveden. "The National Trust" he said, "won't have to pay income tax on the income capital investment. Every pound I get in income today is worth roughly a shilling, maybe 18 pence. With the National Trust 20 shillings in the pound will go to the upkeep of Cliveden."
I have no idea what Cliveden might be worth if a purchaser these days might be found for the great house plus over 600 acres of magnificent woodland meadows and farms. As a suburban real estate development on the beautiful Thames site within easy commuting reach of London, it sure would have fetched plenty some day. But long before the war Lord Astor like his neighbour Lord Desborough of Taplow Court, had taken steps to preserve inviolate the beauty of this river stretch known as Cliveden Reach for all time. Under an Act of Parliament, they were the first landowners in England to renounce prospective building values by registering adjacent lands as "private open spaces".
Lord Astor insisted that his final gift of Cliveden to the National Trust was merely carrying out the policy of preservation which he had begun quite a long time ago.
Not only did he hand over the great inheritance, but with it he gave to the National Trust investments worth a million dollars to help pay for its future upkeep. He explained that the Canadian military hospital also is being turned over to the trust after the war by Canadian authorities, would represent further income for the purpose from - say, half a million dollars. Lord Astor explained how the idea of his gift and of Canadian co-operation developed. He said "As you know, there was a Canadian military hospital at Cliveden in the last war. Again in this war, I offered the Canadian authorities free use of certain land and houses for hospital purposes. This included Taplow Lodge - a house which I might have let for 400 pounds a year, and a number of cottages. The Canadian Red Cross built and equipped the magnificent hospital. This - according to agreement, was to be torn down after the war and the ground restored.
"When hospitals were bombed I asked myself if it was fair to ask the Canadian authorities after the war to pull down this splendid hospital when there would be real need of such institutions. Thus, the idea in my mind developed. For one thing, the hospital had taken away much of Cliveden's privacy and therefore its value as a private residence. Death duties were very high. If they had to be paid, it was very doubtful if my son could ever have lived at Cliveden. "Thus I came to consider handing it over to the National Trust, which had already accepted a number of historic properties such as Blinkling in Norfolk - a beautiful Elizabethan house left to it by my friend Lord Lothian and his wife. The trust will only accept such landed property if accompanied by sufficient income to keep it up. Blinkling had a large farm acreage to yield such income and pay for maintenance of house and ground. Cliveden has only a small farm acreage, hence the need of my supplying another form of income for its future maintenance. Cliveden is not old like historical estates which the National Trust has hitherto accepted. But it is beautiful, and I ought to have this beauty preserved for public enjoyment. Now, it will not be a public park like Hyde Park. People will be admitted only under control."
I asked Lord Astor his status now at Cliveden. "I'm a tenant," he said simply. "There is merely a gentleman's agreement with the National Trust that I should remain and I'm not sure that they couldn't turn me out if they desire. On my death, the National Trust can let Cliveden as they will and indeed, my son might not want to live here. But if he should, I hope the National Trust will let him. Actually, it is to the trust's interest to treat us well in order to encourage others to do as we have done.
A Canadian Sanctuary
In Cliveden is a little beautiful sanctuary that is forever Canada. This is a cemetery in which lie buried a number of Canadian soldiers who died from wounds or sickness in Cliveden hospital in the last war. Lord Astor had it put under the war graves commission so - as he explained to me, whatever happens to Cliveden, it will be tended for all time.
With Lady Astor, I visited the unforgettable Canadian shrine, the tenderest, the most peaceful war memorial I have ever seen - this sanctuary in English woods above the quietude of the ancient Thames where the dust of Canadian lads lies beneath the velvet mellowness of moss and grass.
It is impossible to give you an adequate picture of this sublime place where some few of our last war's dead sleep so long and soundly. It moved the onlookers with mystic consecrated force - though it lacks religious symbolism, except for the word on the pedestal. As we stood looking at it reverently, Lady Astor whispered - and she does not often whisper, "When Barrie saw it, he said it looked like a Keats poem." As we walked away she said briskly "There's no death about it, just beauty." And she was indeed right.