A relic of the talented Messel Family

Messel Medea cover 001Found in a box of old text books (Zinn collection)  is this copy of part two of C. B. Heberden’s edition of Euripedes’ Medea ( notes and appendices) published by the Clarendon Press in 1886.Stamped in gold lettering on the light brown cover of this distinctly dull-looking school text book are the words MESSEL/TARVERS. Inscribed in pencil on the fly-leaf we find ‘ L.Messel/Tarvers ‘, which suggests that it belonged at one time to Leonard Charles Rudolph Messel ( 1872 – 1953), father of the famous stage designer Oliver Messel. Beneath the inscription are two pencil and ink drawings—one of a veiled lady in Victorian dress, the other a small profile of a man’s head.

Leonard was the eldest son of Ludwig Messel, a German stockbroker who had emigrated to Britain, possibly in the late 1860s.He married and in 1890 bought Nymans, a 600 acre estate near Hayward’s Heath in West Sussex. His son Leonard was sent to Eton, where he joined Tarver’s house, and that is all we really know about his life as a schoolboy. However, if he did execute the two drawings, then he obviously passed on his artistic skills to his son Oliver, who may also have inherited skills from his mother, who was the daughter of Edward Linley Sambourne, the eminent Punch cartoonist. This being so, it is equally likely that Oliver, who also attended Eton, inherited his father’s copy of Heberden’s Euripides, and it was he who drew the veiled woman and male profile.

Sometime after leaving Eton Leonard joined the Royal Sussex Regiment, where he reached the rank of Lt-Colonel. However when the First World War broke out his German ancestry meant that he was barred from fighting abroad. So when he inherited Nymans and a huge fortune in 1915, he immediately channelled the energy he had hoped to expend in France into building a new house, which he later filled with pictures and furniture, and began transforming the gardens into an Arts and Crafts showpiece. [R.M.Healey]

Messel flyleaf drawing 001

One thought on “A relic of the talented Messel Family

  1. Alastair Harden

    I have a book with the same gilt letters on the front board: Thucydides VI/VII, with an ink drawing of some fish and some pencil doodles. He notes “Beginning for Michaelmas Schooltime 1889” on page 90.


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