Mrs A. C. Dawson Scott and her Cornish writers’ retreats. ‘The  bungalow for a novel ‘.

Jot 101 Bungalow Richardson Odle picIt is in The Last of Spring, one of Rupert Croft-Cooke’s many autobiographical volumes that one finds an account of the author’s experience of renting one of the Cornish bungalows built for writers by the eccentric spiritual medium and author, Mrs A.C. Dawson Scott, in the early 1930s.

Croft-Cooke, armed with an advance of £20 from his publisher, Chapman Hall, following the success of his first novel was seeking a cottage in the country that would afford him the solitude and remoteness he needed to write a follow-up. He found one by answering an advert placed in a literary weekly by the novelist Dawson Scott, now better known as the founder of P.E.N. She herself lived in a holiday bungalow near Padstow and had had the idea of buying some land south of Trevose Head to build more bungalows which she would rent out to writers who needed a retreat.

The bungalows duly became a colony she called ‘ Constantine ‘, after the nearby ruins of a church and a Holy Well,  aimed at providing accommodation for those attending the Cornish Art and Literature Season in July and August, when she charged £5 a week to tenants. Luckily, Dawson Scott, nicknamed ‘ Sappho’ by her family, charged Croft Cooke the off-season rate of only £1 a week. Meeting his landlady in her London flat to arrange the tenancy was a daunting experience for the novelist. He found

‘ a forceful woman, decisive and grimly affable, obviously a born organizer. I never knew her in Cornwall, yet through vivid descriptions by Noel Coward, who was one of her early paying guests, and others, I see her in fancy in her Cornish setting, square, tanned, blatantly healthy, wearing a djibba, with the wet sand oozing up between her toes, and her hair undisciplined in the breeze, a woman with a purpose. ‘ Continue reading

A.L.Rowse and Lady Cynthia Asquith —a ghostly company

This two page letter from professional Cornishman, popular historian and alleged poet, Alfred Leslie Rowse, to ghost story compiler Lady Cynthia Asquith, came to light when I was sorting out a bunch of old letters recently. Dated March 29th and written with a ball point pen on All Souls College notepaper, its date would be 1951 or not long after. This is because in the letter Rowse thanks Lady Cynthia for remembering that he enjoyed ghost stories, by sending him a copy of her 1951 anthology, What Dreams May Come (though the book is not mentioned by name).This collection contained a number of her own stories, some of which Rowse singles out for special praise, as being not particularly ‘ghoulish‘, but instead ‘far too delicate and subtle and so beautifully written‘.

…I greatly appreciated the ‘ Olivia’ -like theme and atmosphere of ‘ The Lovely Voice’, the ‘Jane Eyre’-like ending of ‘The Playfellow’ , the conjured-up  Dickensian atmosphere of ‘ The Corner Shop ‘. But the masterpiece, I thought, was the last. ‘God grante that she lye stille’ —a perfect story bewitchingly evoked. ( I think my choice betrays too my especial response to the historical & nostalgic ).

Rowse also mentions that on one occasion he took another prolific writer of ghost stories, Elizabeth Bowen, to Ireland with him and that he felt that her novel, The Last September (made into a film starring Michael Gambon 1999), was ‘ the best of her books in some ways’. With the letter Rowse sent Lady Cynthia a second hand copy of one of his own collections of ghostly tales —probably West Country Stories (1945).

Incidentally, Rowse once replied to a letter I sent him about fellow Cornishman Geoffrey Grigson by arguing that the latter, though a native of the county, was not a true Cornishman because his father came from Norfolk. I considered responding with an invitation for him to apply his theory to people born in Yorkshire, but I decided against it. [RMH]