Lady Clara Vyvyan
Following my original article on Lady Clara, I came into further information which I shall detail here. I also have been given permission to share some memories from her surviving great nephews. Hopefully these new stories will help to illustrate Clara’s character and relationships with her family. You may care to read the original article in order to obtain more background and dates, which I do not feel necessary to repeat here.
Incidentally, although the author of several books and writer of many articles, Clara rarely spoke to her family about her successes.
Clara recalled in a letter she wrote in 1972,
‘My mother on reading my first book Cornish Silhouettes in 1924 (forty-seven years ago) opened it and found the word ‘Damn!’ on the first page that she read and remarked drily, “Pray, is all the rest of the book like this? The other exception was my brother Michael; who said he liked best something that I wrote about foxgloves.’
Clara married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan after being friends with him and his wife for many years. They were near neighbours and social equals. Clara and the baronet had spent time working together at Rouen during WW1. They did not marry until 1929, 18 months after Sir Courtenay’s first wife died. Clara always referred to her short marriage, which only lasted 11 years until her husband’s death, as her happiest time. The couple were in love and shared a common passion for flora, fauna and Trelowarren. Clara lived at Trelowarren for almost fifty years.
And died there.
The Daily Standard Brisbane
Monday 23rd September 1929,
QUEENSLAND GIRL ENGAGED
TO CORNISH BARONET.
The engagement is announced of
Colonel Sir Courtenay Bourchier
Vyvyan to Miss Clara Coltman Rogers,
second daughter of the late Edward
Powys Rogers, of Toorilla Plains,
Colonel Sir Courtenay Bourchier
Vyvyan, 10th baronet, Is the eldest
son of the late Rev. Sir V. Vyvyan,
and was born on June 5th, 1858. He
took an active part in every war in
which Britain has been engaged since
he entered the army in 1878, and
frequently was mentioned in dispatches.
Almost immediately after her husband died, Trelowarren was requisitioned by the Army. They had been taking in evacuee children since the beginning of the war and it had then been used to house W.A.A.F.’s and then by 2,000 (sometimes destructive) troops. So, Clara went to do her ‘War Work’ in Bristol. She worked through the war years based in a dingy office next to a bombed-out house. She was responsible for the maintenance of clothes and household goods collected for the bombed and needy in the South West and the Cotswolds. From this office, she would walk down the concrete steps, across a flooded floor, which had once belonged to the kitchen of the shattered house and walk to her tiny rented flat. Clara said that she had never been so lonely as she was at that time. Homeless, widowed and alone. She remembered taking great delight in noticing one day in 1944, a tiny coltsfoot plant which had snuck under the dividing wall to brighten the grey, damp, drab yard outside her office.
Clara soon settled in however and expanded her ‘War Work’ to accompanying refugee children and bombed out elderly people from London to various destinations around Britain. Clara often visited new friends and helped some on their farms and continued to enjoy where possible, the country experience she was missing so dreadfully. She made every day count.
We should move sideways in Clara’s story and bring in her familial relationships in more detail. In these accounts, ‘Granny’ refers to Charlotte Harriet, elder sister of Clara. ‘Aunt Kay’ refers to Clara, it being a pet name of her nephews and nieces. No one quite remembers the origin of Clara becoming Aunt Kay and I have yet to discover anyone outside of the family who used that name.
Their father Edward Powys Rogers, who was the second son of Rev J Rogers of Stanage Park, Hertfordshire shipped out to Australia in 1873 and took over Toorilla Plains, Rockhampton, Queensland from his uncle, Frank Newbold (brother of Edward’s mother). Frank had taken up Toorilla Plains in 1859 and turned it into a huge and successful cattle station. Edward travelled from England with his first cousin Edmund de Norbury Rogers who settled in central Queensland and eventually created a large fruit farm.
A nephew says,
‘It was a huge acreage I remember Granny saying. Edward managed Toorilla until the end of the 1880’s, introducing Herefords successfully. When he returned to England to live at Burncoose, he kept a close interest in Toorilla, visiting frequently. It was eventually taken on by his second child, Charles Michael Rogers (born 1st March 1884) and who was still managing it when his father died in 1920. Aunt Kay eventually married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan of Trelowarren, Cornwall and was a well-known travel writer. Granny and Aunt Kay had a wonderful relationship.’
Clara wrote in Roots and Stars,
‘many a time when we were children, we would persuade my father to repeat to us the tale of his Uncle Frank Newbold who was forced to eat his boots after being shipwrecked on his way to Australia and of Uncle Willie Newbold who met his violent death on the Queensland plain. My mother would never speak of those great uncles by marriage, she did not think they adorned the family pedigree but we children all felt it was a fine distinction to have such people amongst our ancestors.’
Willie had been killed by Aboriginal Australians.
There was a great deal of travelling between the Cornish properties and the Queensland ranch. Ship passenger lists show regular travel for the entire family to Plymouth and back. The family always travelled First Class. I don’t know why, but were listed as Irish on those sea crossings, perhaps Cornish was mis-transcribed.
Edward had a couple of dealings with the Rockhampton Police Court and the law while there.
In 1887 he was tried in his absence for non-payment of a fine to the Gogango Marsupial Board. At this point there were 10,500 head of cattle on the ranch and 100 horses. The Board stated that there were also sheep on the ranch. Edward did not attend the hearing and refused to pay the fine as the State had not pursued him until more than six months following the fine application date. The fine was £26.10 with a 10% penalty, plus costs. The original fine was dated 17th April 1886 and the case was heard on the 7th September 1887. There was a possibility that they would remove his grazing rights. In the end, the case was adjourned for a fortnight. At the second hearing which Edward did not attend either pleading innocence, he was fined £20.10 plus 10% including costs. It didn’t affect his future however, as he was already a magistrate, a JP and soon became a member of the Gogango Marsupial Board, as did his son Charles Michael in turn.
In 1901 Edward inherited £14,100 following the death of his cousin George Frank Rogers, who had spent his life in London as a lawyer and his final years living at Toorilla.
Edward died in 1920 and the following was published locally,
The Capricornian Rockhampton
The seal of probate has
been granted of the will of Edward Powys
Rogers, formerly of Burncoose, Gwennap,
in the county of Cornwall, England,
but late of Tregye, Perranwell,
gentleman deceased to Robert Cecil Boland.
the lawfully appointed attorney of Charlotte Rogers,
of Tregye, Perranwell, the
sole executrix. Mr. P. T. Read Jones,
solicitor for the attorney, appeared in the
Edward left to his wife, Charlotte. £35,787.
The Capricornian Rockhampton, March 12th 1920.
Another old pioneer of our grazing
industry, Mr. Edward Powys Rogers, of
Toorilla Station has passed away. Mr.
Rogers was born in 1855. He was
educated at Wellington College, England, and,
at the age of seventeen years, in 1873,
on the death of his uncle, Mr. Frank
Newbold, of Toorilla, came out from England
to that station, where he gained his
colonial experience under the management of
the late Mr. J. C. Collins. In 1879 he took
full charge of the station, and in 1879 he
was married to Miss Charlotte Williams,
daughter of Mr. John Michael Williams,
of Caerhays Castle, Cornwall. About
1906 he returned to England, where,
except for occasional trips to Queensland,
he afterwards resided. For the last six
months his health had been failing. Mr.
Rogers was a keen sportsman both on land
and sea. He took special interest in
horse racing. He was a keen student of
stock matters. He was a great believer
in the Hereford breed of cattle, in fact,
the herd of Herefords that he founded on
Toorilla may claim to be one of the best in
Queensland. Mr. Rogers was for some
time a member of the Gogango Divisional
Board and the Gogango Marsupial Board.
He always took much interest in the
welfare of the country. There were five
children of the marriage — two sons and
three daughters — of whom one son, Mr.
C. M. Rogers, of Toorilla, and two
daughters, Mrs. MacLaren and Miss C. Rogers,
are living, the second son, Lieutenant H.
P. Rogers, R.N, being been lost in the
ill-fated Monmouth off the coast of Chile.
In the early days of the war Mr. C. M.
Rogers joined the British Army, the
Dorset Yeomanry, and obtained his discharge
in February 1919. Mr. Rogers is also
survived by Mrs. Rogers and five
grandchildren, for whom as well as the rest of
the bereaved family, deep sympathy
will be felt by a large circle of friends
and acquaintances both in Australia and
Clara was a very fit woman despite chain smoking Turkish cigarettes known as Balkan Sobranie and Egyptian Abdullas, She travelled the world, often alone and just as often with her friends or brother Michael (Michael suffered from depression) or sister Harriet. Michael would travel to meet Clara either from the ranch in Queensland or from Burncoose. He would leave his wife and son (also Michael) and join his sister for another adventure. They both liked a drink too, although Michael liked it more than most.
The Queensland ranch was sold during the 1930’s and Michael remained in Cornwall with his family. He often visited Clara at Trelowarren and would take the largest box of market garden produce home, when offered. Clara said that he did it without thought. They went to Austria in 1938 to visit castles and stayed at a beautiful hotel there. Clara remembered the patron worrying about the letters he was receiving from the authorities, asking if he or his family had any Jewish blood.
Clara trained as a social worker in London. She graduated with distinction from the London School of Economics with a degree in Social Science in 1913. Then she worked in the London slums for the Charity Organization Society. Her sister Harriet was one of the founding members of St Loyes School in Exeter and regularly attended meetings there. The family had an affinity with those less fortunate than themselves. They were aware that they were privileged but felt no guilt for that fact. They simply liked to help others.
Kalgoorlie Western Argus
A marriage of interest to many
folk in Kalgoorlie is thus described
by the “Royal Cornwall Gazette”
The marriage of Miss Charlotte
Harriett Powys Rogers, eldest daughter
of Mr. E. Powys Rogers, of
Toorilla, Queensland residing at
Burncoose, Perranwall. To Mr. J
Malcolm Maclaren, younger son of
Mr. J. M. Maclaren, of Thames (N.Z.),
was solemnised at Gwennap Parish
Church on Tuesday. Much local
interest was manifested in the
wedding, and the church was crowded
some time before the bridal party
arrived. The bride, who looked
very charming in her trousseau of
deep ivory charmeuse and crepe
chiffon. with a Court train, lined
with silver throughout and trimmed
with silver roses and Brussels lace,
(the gift of Mrs Pocklington
Coltman), was given away by her father.
She carried a beautiful bouquet of
carnations, white heather and fern,
tied with Maclaren tartan ribbon.
The bridesmaids were Misses Clara
and Naomi Powys Rogers (sisters of
the bride), Gwladys Rogers, May
Williams and Mary Arnott
(cousins), and Miss Davies Gilbert,
who wore dresses of deep ivory satin
and tinted lace, with waist belts of
deep rose. chiffon, old gold plait and
posy of small Banksia roses, with
head-dress of small Banksia, roses
and gold tinsel net. They also wore
pendants of New Zealand green
stone, Queensland pearl and
Cornish diamonds, the gift of the bride
groom. The charming group were
provided, with bouquets of white
chrysanthemums and fern tied with
broad ribbon of the. Maclaren tartan,
Mr. Edward Loring, London, was
groomsman. Mrs. Powys Rogers
was attired in a charming dress
of violet chiffon velours and toque
to match, and carried a bouquet of
purple orchids. The service, which
was choral, was conducted by the
Bishop of St. Germans assisted by
the Rev. J. L. Parker, MI.A., vicar
of Gwennap. The church had been
beautifully decorated and presented
a pleasing appearance with its
adornments of plants and flowers,
mostly chrysanthemum ferns and palms.
An awning was erected from the
entrance to the south porch, while a
crimson carpet was laid to the altar
steps. Mr. McLaggan, the organist
played as voluntaries Wagner’s
Bridal Chorus and Mendelssohn’s
Wedding March and the hymns
‘The voice that breathed o’er Eden’
and ‘O Perfect Love,’ were sung.
After signing the register
Mr and Mrs. Maclaren returned by
motor car for Burncoose, entering
the ground ‘under a triumphal arch
of evergreens intertwined with the
national colours. A crowd of well
wishers gave them a hearty send-off
from the church. Mrs. Maclaren is
very popular in the district by reason
of her good works. among the sick
and poor and she has also been
great help at Gwennap Sunday
School. The reception at
Burncoose was largely attended. A
splendid scheme of decorations had
been carried out in the house and
the conservatory was fitted up with
fairy lamps which when lighted in
the evening made a charming display.
During the afternoon the happy couple left
for honeymoon and will leave England
for Burma about the middle of
January. The bride’s travelling dress
was a coat and skirt of dark red
cloth with a black and white
Clara’s sister Charlotte Harriet, was born on the 26th August 1882 at Rockhampton. Clara loved Harriet as she did all her siblings and the girls were as independent as each other. They looked very similar too and as they aged, the similarity did not alter much. Indeed, her great nephews have remembered from their visits to Trelowarren when they were children, that the pair looked so much alike, it was uncanny.
One told me,
‘Aunt Kay, as she was always known in our family, was an inspiring character and although I only knew her late in her life, I saw her quite often in the late 60’s and very early 70’s, while I was in the UK at University. We had a good relationship and enjoyed each other’s company. She was my maternal grandmother’s sister, Charlotte Harriet Maclaren. I had been very close to Granny and had only recently lost her when I first met Aunt Kay. Their similarities, both physically and in character, created a warm link, which Aunt Kay enjoyed knowing.’
‘I was born and brought up in Northern Rhodesia/Zambia and Harriet lived with us from when I was born until her death in 1964. Harriet never travelled back to England in that time and thus the two sisters never saw each other in their later years. They did keep up a regular correspondence however, through weekly letters, so were obviously close. CCV was often talked about and all her books, published articles, etc., were proudly read. CHM would talk about their early life on the station in Queensland.’
Charlotte Harriet died at the family farm, Muckleneuk, Zambia in August 1964. She was buried in the family graveyard beside members of her family including her son Peter, her daughter, Margaret (Peter’s twin) and Paddy, Margaret’s husband.
Peter was the father of three boys.
I was told,
‘Poor Granny Maclaren (Harriet) lost all three sons early, one at school of an appendix, one killed in WW2, by an English drunk driver, or perhaps in a tank accident (varies from story to story) in North Yorkshire and my father by crocodile in 1956. My father worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fish in what was then the colonial service in Nigeria and North and South Rhodesia. He taught the locals how to make and use fishing nets (give a man a fish and you feed for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life). I was just 4 when a crocodile got the better of him. ‘Uncle Michael, (son of Charles Michael, nephew of Clara and Harriet), felt so sorry for my widowed mum with 3 small boys, he set up a trust to pay for our schooling at Stowe where my father had gone.’
‘We would visit Aunt Kay a couple times a year either camping with my two brothers, or while staying at Burncoose with P M Williams. My brother kept up writing to her until her death. Aunt Kay was a lovely lady, quite eccentric, wore old coats tied up with string, drank lemon verbena tea. Oh, and made the most fantastic saffron cake. That is the sort of thing a ten-year-old remembers.
My mum had the task of cataloguing Kay’s huge library and dispersing the books around – many first editions and signed copies.’
‘My grandmother, Clara’s sister, travelled with her husband by every form of transport there was, boat, train, bicycle, horse and camel. She and Aunt Kay looked very alike and probably were made of the same stuff – i.e. no wimps.’
‘I visited Clara (or Aunt Kay as we called her) several times in her Trelowarren house. Once she took me down a maze of corridors to visit Foy Quiller-Couch who lived at the far end of the mansion. There was something very strange, mystical, fairy-tale, about these two old ladies each living in a tiny section of this great mansion and seeing each other only a couple of times a month. I liked Kay a lot. She was a few generations ahead of her time in some ways but a few behind in others.’
Foy lived with Clara in her wing at Trelowarren for many years. The women had been friends for almost all their lives and spoke highly of each other. Clara found her company comforting when she felt particularly vulnerable as she gradually lost her hearing, sight and strength. Foy eventually became ill and moved from damp and cold Trelowarren in 1971 to a flat in Lanhydrock before her final rest at Bodmin. This was the same time that the heir John Vyvyan, was having Sir Courtenay and Lady Clara’s precious gardens, orchards and beech grove, where Sir Courtenay’s ashes had been spread in 1941, bulldozed to make way for caravan pitches.
Clara it seems was ruggedly independent and not the slightest interested in ideas of male superiority. She loved natural history and books as any reader of her work will testify.
A great nephew,
‘One thing I will say, when Aunt Kay died, we were all asked what we wanted from her estate. Her valuable book collection – full of signed first editions. She had left all her possessions to a relative and he didn’t invite her to his mother’s funeral because “it’s just for close family”. Kay was dressed and ready to go to the funeral when she was told this. Then she went out one day for a walk and arrived back to see a removal van in her yard. What are you doing? They were carting away some of her precious books without her knowledge, because she had already left them to her “nephew” in advance of her death, probably to escape death duties. Sad way to spend your last few years.’
‘When my wife and I were married, we asked Aunt Kay to the wedding, but she decided she’d rather not attend the event, preferring instead a quiet weekend with us both beforehand. Thus, about a month before the wedding in March 1970, I drove down to Trelowarren from Somerset and fetched her for the weekend. She had a lovely time with us and surprised us by producing for my fiancée’s wedding present a shabby recycled envelope from her artist’s smock pocket; this had an equally shabby jewel case in it and inside that was an exquisite Victorian diamond and pearl pendant on a silver chain. We were gobsmacked – it wasn’t paste as we first thought, but the real thing, mounted on platinum and worth then a small fortune. (Heaven alone knows what the piece is worth now.) My wife wore it at our wedding and it’s been one of our prize possessions ever since, as you might imagine. Kay gave me a cheque for £25 as my wedding present, in itself a very nice gift! ‘
In, The Helford River, Clara told many tales of her adventures on the river and the banks bordering the Trelowarren lands. There were tales of picnics, boating and fishing. One of her great nephews remembers shrimping with her.
‘I was staying with Kay at Trelowarren, when she suggested going out to catch shrimp for our supper. We went down to her favourite spot on the Helford Estuary, armed with her trusty shrimping nets. It was a new venture for me but being 90% blind didn’t deter her showing her colonial nephew how to do it and we soon had our supper in the bag. I treasure a lovely memory of Kay, her long skirt tucked up into her voluminous pantaloons leading the way in what I thought were very chilly waters. She wore a set of yellowing, unmatched pearls in a long rope around her neck and when I enquired why she wore them out shrimping, she promptly told me that the blessed things needed airing she’d been told and she only wore them out shrimping, hoping the string might break so she could lose them! They had been in the Vyvyan family for hundreds of years, given by one of the Kings Henry (I forget which) as a gift when he and his Queen had had to call off their planned visit due to some crisis in the Royal Court. The pearls were known, by Kay at any rate, as the Henrietta Pearls.
She always wore her favourite red artist’s smock, tied at the waist with binder twine, long skirts, sensible brogues and a bedraggled black beret. On leaving for a walk or ‘an excursion’ as she called them, she habitually patted her pockets, muttering her checklist of “knife, baccy and matches”. When I knew her, she was still smoking occasionally and always the oval Egyptian ‘Abdullas’, sent to her in neatly packaged boxes of 500 by Harrods.’
‘I am guessing she was anti-American (as most English people were of that age and class) because of the cultural and educational differences and resented the need to make Trelowarren available for the soldiers. Although of course she would have been greatly behind their invaluable contribution to the war effort. Two books cast light on her attitude to Americans, other than the works you mention. One was Kay’s insight from her visit to the States (Nothing Venture) I can also recall when she told me she was appalled by the way her American host treated his wife. Another was a book by Daphne du Maurier where she doesn’t mention Kay by name but is clearly referring to her and was based on the American “occupation” of Cornwall during the war, and Kay’s resistance to it. (Rule Britannia.)
Kay showed me the wooden strips that “the Americans” had nailed on her staircases to avoid damage by the hob-nailed boots of the soldiers. This did not strike me as “utter carnage” (although I don’t know what was happening outside the house). On the contrary, I was impressed that the troops had bothered to go to so much trouble.’
Clara wrote about the carnage in the garden and grounds in her many articles and her book The Old Place.
‘I remember hearing that she had a car accident while driving just outside the gates of her home. She ran over and killed a pedestrian. She was so upset by this she never drove again, although I do remember going into “town” on a horse and trap with her. I thought that was fun, although I now realise it’s because we couldn’t go by car.’
‘One memory that casts some light on her attitudes. She had no time at all for my godfather, Peter Michael Williams (cousin PM) who lived at Burncoose. My father has been born there and I visited Burncoose quite a number of times. Presumably, Kay was a first cousin to PM, who was a bachelor and a businessman. PM was a millionaire. “Do you know what his ambition is?” Kay asked me once. “To double his money before he dies! Can you imagine that? What an awful man!” Or something like that. In other words, money was not a big part of Kay’s life and was not a motivator. I came to feel a bit sorry for her, because she was obviously a very capable person, with a good education but a career was not a possibility for a woman of her class and generation. She was allowed only to do good works, for free. So, she filled in her life by gardening, by travel and by writing. From my generation’s perspective, I think she would have got more out of life if circumstances had allowed her to make a more meaty contribution to her community. That is not to disparage her considerable writing talent.’
Clara had changing views about Peter Williams. They met constantly as cousins and often travelled together in Peter’s chauffeur driven Rolls Royce. Several times Peter arranged for a joint birthday party with Clara, where there would be a cake each at opposite ends of the table – often from Fortnum and Mason – and they would each eat a slice and then Clara would be taken back to Trelowarren. Clara worried about him when he was ill later in his life. He suffered with his gall bladder but could not have an operation because of his weight and his weak heart. It killed him eventually. Following his death Clara noted that everyone she knew was either ill or dead. She wrote in a letter after she had attended Peter’s funeral,
‘Yes, I do agree with you about P.M.’s death. There is always so much humbug about death and people say only nice things about the victims and give them only appreciation which might have been welcome when they were living. As a matter of fact, the Cathedral service was rather moving and made me realise that he had done more good with his life than most of us. Cathedral was full, 22 relations and tribute from the Dean about his austere personality. There was also beautiful music. I felt like a ghost, too blind to recognise faces and too deaf to hear words. There was a strange scene, comic I thought, when P.M.’s sister May, guarded by the Mother Superior of the Epiphany, held court from the bath chair, to all the relations, one by one. She was enjoying her self enormously. “Yes, he was the loveliest man I ever knew, but what could you expect with that money and that spoiling?”’
And from a nephew,
‘My memory is very selective and is made up of snapshots but with often gaps in between. My brother’s aged about 13 and 11, set off from Salisbury on bikes to ride to Trelowarren, Mum and I left a few days later in the Ford Escort van to meet them at Aunt Kay’s. I can’t remember putting up the tent. I remember Mum had a terrible night as Aunt Kay had given her silk sheets and she kept on sliding off the bed! ‘
Clara first visited Ireland in 1907 and stayed at the same friend’s house that her sister Harriet had been staying in for several years at Kilkenny. Harriet would catch the ‘Pig-Boat’ from Falmouth and was always careful not to buy a ticket which included meals. At Kilkenny they drove to another friend’s house at Malahide and would visit Dublin. They were at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre to watch The Playboy of the Western World when they saw a tall, dark figure with a flowing bow tie. It was W.B. Yeats.
She next visited Ireland during the summer of 1929, while she decided on the proposal received from Sir Courtenay and whom she married later that year. She referred often to ‘the troubles’ in that narrative. Clara travelled to Ireland again in 1935 with several travelling companions, all of whom were lifelong friends, including Betty Bolitho.
Betty Bolitho was a cousin from her mother’s side of the family (Williams.)
They visited and stayed in the beautiful Aran Islands the year following the filming of the Gainsborough picture called the Man of Aran
She wrote about it in her book On Timeless Shores, which you must read if you want to discover more about the local people who appeared in the film and who became friends with Clara. She made friends wherever she travelled.
Clara found Ireland to be magical and heard many tales of the supernatural with myths and legends seemingly being lived out in the villages and settlements she visited
On Aran she had a meeting with a woman, who told Clara of her difficult life. The woman asked Clara about hers and I feel that the words are worth transcribing here.
‘Then she questioned me about myself.
What would I tell her? All the troubles of my broody, introspective nature through youth and middle age had paled into insignificance before the simplicity of this island woman. I had just shared a meal with her and Dara, potatoes, eaten with our fingers, straight from the cooking pot. I would not tell her that at home we were never hungry, that servants waited on us at our meals, that we never cooked our own food nor washed our own clothes. It was only with birth and death and loneliness and hunger that she was concerned; she would not understand the things that made up our everyday life in England. So I told her, at full length, how my younger brother went down fighting in HMS Monmouth, together with her sister ship, and whether they were drowned or burned alive we shall never know: we only know that of all those fifteen hundred souls not a single one was saved. Then I told her how he was the best of the family and how that same thing had happened to all our friends and relations; the one who was killed in the war would always be the best one in the family.’
The medals are now in the possession of his great-great nephews who wear them proudly on Anzac Day.
‘On the day of the first man landing on the moon in 1969, My wife and I were staying with Kay at Trelowarren and we wanted to watch it on TV. Kay didn’t have a TV (…” not much use to a blind person!”), but her retired gardener who lived in a comfortable cottage by Trelowarren’s main entrance, had his TV and he welcomed us in to watch it there. Kay wasn’t going to miss this chance and we installed her close to the old B&W TV. She was deeply impressed. When we returned home late that evening, we had a cup of tea together and she then bid us goodnight, saying she was going to do some writing. We could her tap-tapping on her old portable typewriter until quite late – she’ll have known her typewriter keys well enough to use it fast and accurately, despite being so blind that she needed a magnifying glass to proof-read what she had typed. In the morning, she gave me a letter (in one of her recycled, brown envelopes) for posting. I noticed it was addressed to the Editor of ‘The Lady’ and a week later they published a full page of her thoughts about the changes she’d seen in her life, from motor cars, to steam ships, then air travel and now a man on the moon!’
That gardener was Ernest Rowe who had been with the family man and boy since 1911.
‘I spent about a week with Great Aunt Kay (Clara) I think it must have been 1964 when visiting the UK with my mother and brother, I was left with poor Aunt Kay, she must have been about 78 then, a big ask of Kay by my mother! My Mum and brother then went on a trip. I would have been ten at the time and poor Kay did a great job of looking after me, I have very fond memories of Trelowarren and of Kay picking flowers and cape gooseberries to be sent to Covent Garden in London and me exploring the house & grounds which I thought were far more jungly than the Africa I came from. In my mind I mix my grandmother and Aunt Kay up, I think they both looked very similar. Oh! and sleeping in an enormous bedroom overlooking the house chapel. The old house creaked and acted like an old Cornish house should, but it must have accepted me as I wasn’t spooked at all.’
This chapel is now a luxury Christian retreat, assigned to them in 1973 when Lady Clara still lived at Trelowarren.
Another great nephew.
‘My grandmother, Harriet Maclaren, looked very like Aunt Kay and I was brought up short when I first met Aunt Kay as she could have been a double. The description of shrewd, bird-like eyes comes to mind as echoed in your article. I do think she would have hated the word blog but would have embraced the communication technology of today with wonderment and delight.
Both Granny Maclaren (Our reference to Harriet) and Aunt Kay had a deep love of all things green and both were talented gardeners and landscapers with green fingers. Trelowarren and our garden here in Zambia testify to this long after their passing. I am surrounded by large stately Blue gums, Indigenous fig trees and a landscaped array of beds of colour. Aunt Kay never visited here but would have enjoyed it as she never tired of new ideas, places and thoughts. I made quite a few visits to Trelowarren and whenever I got there and later when my wife joined me in my visits to Cornwall, we would be put to work trimming Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas that had grown out of bounds. Every cut we made with a bill-hook or saw was supervised by Aunt Kay with her walking stick. We would retire at midday leaving a burning bonfire and take her to her pub of choice for a ploughman’s lunch and wherever we went she seemed to be known and greeted with delighted smiles. Quite a few times the owners would not hear of her paying for a drink and meal. In the afternoon we would cram into my Mini Countryman and she would direct us to out of the way scenes and views we would never have otherwise found. It delighted both of us to be with her as her enthusiasm was infectious.
I never met Daphne du Maurier, but I do know Aunt Kay held her in very high esteem. She was great friends with another lady called Betty Bolitho, whose brother was a well-known ballet critic. We took her there to tea twice that I recall.
I found the gardens at Trelowarren uplifting, even though they were over-grown and neglected which caused Aunt Kay grief. The house was in a state and there was little love lost between the Vyvyan who inherited and Aunt Kay. Basically, he wanted her out so he could save what was left. I gathered from Aunt Kay that she had left him the Estate some years earlier to get around an Inheritance Tax law. Provided she lived for five years after bequeathing it he would not be liable to this tax. All well and good but Aunt Kay lived much longer than expected! I met the relevant Vyvyan cousin once and remember little of him except a sense of aloofness and definite ill-feeling between them both.
Her last few years were lonely I think. She phoned a few times and I phoned her occasionally. Two of her phone calls were memorable. One was when man first landed on the moon and she was so excited by that accomplishment and the fact that she had lived long enough to experience that! She had been determined to live for that occasion and glued herself to the wireless for all the reports! Another call was to instruct me to listen to the BBC at a set time, as she had taught “that whipper-snapper of a reporter a lesson he needed to remember”! The man had made the grave mistake of asking, in opening, how old Aunt Kay was! This was very impolite in her view of the world! Gentlemen did not ask ladies their age. She noted that he only had a few questions listed so answered each one with a “yes” or “no” and the man was soon floundering with time to spare! She used that time to explain to him why she thought he was so bad mannered. Her fire in her well-lived in sitting room was always weak and the room was cold. The stairs up to her bedroom were very steep and small. After her death I did hear that the people attending had a real problem getting her down the steps. She would have laughed! She always wore a black beret and mittens that needed repairs and always spurned the new mittens we tried giving her! She always pressed apples on us and was very proud of their keeping ability, and even though small and wrinkled by the end of winter they were tasty.’
Betty Bolitho had never married and lived most of the time on Cornwall’s Hayle Estuary. She was part of the Bolitho banking family, who were I think taken over by Lloyd’s Bank.
Clara was an expert (she would not admit that she was) on plants and birds. Her friend Gwen Dorrien Smith, an excellent artist and companion on several of her world adventures and who had predeceased her, was also an expert on birds. When they travelled through Canada to Alaska (An Arctic Adventure) and on her trips around the Scilly Isles (The Scilly Isles), staying at Gwen and her parent’s home, Clara would hungrily collect the names and pictures of the local bird and plant life. Gwen would paint the same and her pictures still fetch a decent price if they come up for auction – a very rare occurrence. Clara valued her friends but valued her solitude more and often said that the true meaning of life could be found in those moments of oneness with the natural world. I hope that in her latter years, with failing eyesight and inability to travel, she was able to retreat further into her own mind and find peace and contentment there.
A story of Clara’s passing.
‘Years after she died, we met the kind person who sat with her after her fateful fall out of bed, breaking her hip. She apparently refused to be moved out of her bedroom for hospital treatment and died peacefully in the presence of this kind person, John Simpson, then a R.N. Padre from Culdrose. He subsequently left the Navy and became the Vicar at Curry Rivel in Somerset, my wife’s home village, where we met. He became a family friend and related to me how proud he had been to conduct Kay’s funeral, something he did for both of my wife’s parents. Sadly, my wife and I were working in a remote corner of the Congo when Kay died and it was weeks after her death that we eventually heard that she had died. It was the passing of one of life’s leading characters and we were immensely heartened that we had had the privilege to have known and loved her.’
Clara wrote the following in closing her book Journey Up The Years.
‘To return, however, to the question of my own old age.
All through life I have longed for adventures, sought them and pursued them to the end. Now I am moving upward to the last adventure.
Fruit hangs upon the tree and ripens slowly in the open or it may hang against a wall and ripen quickly with comforting support and warmth, but in any case autumn’s mellow sunshine may be a token that life can sometimes hold a blessing to the end. As for the last adventure, perhaps it may prove to be the greatest one of all.
I watch the falling leaves of autumn and reflect that each one of us will be absorbed back into the earth; it is our common destiny that our bodies help to create new life. And my spirit? Perhaps it will linger on in the memory of those whom I have loved.’
In her book Coloured Pebbles, Clara talked about her own aunts and her reaction and relationship to them. She then compared her new role as an aunt and how she hoped her own nephews and nieces felt about her.
‘Nowadays as an aunt, I ride somewhat uneasily in the saddle and find that having aunts and being an aunt are widely different experiences. There is no question now of expecting subservience from the younger generation. In fact, the old must curry favour with the young to gain mere toleration.
Yet strangely enough, just as I credited my own aunts with a fixed personality, so my nephews and nieces relegate me, with certain parts of my life, to a permanent niche, after investing me with an unchanging and unchangeable personality. When they introduce me to their friends, they make a point of mentioning, as if to justify their aged aunt’s existence, journeys I have made and books I have written. Then the journeys and the books are put back into their niche and I am left to feel that my contemporary existence is that of a shadow. From my watchtower in old age, I look out on memories of their birth, infancy, adolescence and maturity, but they know nothing about my formative years, my dearest associations, my unfulfilled daydreams, that are still directive.’
I hope I have put that to rights – a little.
I could not have written this article without the unselfish and very kind assistance of her surviving great nephews. All have been wonderful in sharing their memories with me and subsequently with you – the reader.