"Early in 1924 Lytton (Strachey) and Ralph (Partridge) jointly purchased Ham Spray House in the Wiltshire downs, registering it in Ralph's name, as he was considerably the younger. During that Spring electricity (self-generated) was installed, as well as a massive central-heating system, whose large formidable-looking radiators never managed to attain anything above mild tepidity, even when the boiler was constantly stoked with hods-full of coke. No matter, the house was a dream, and the beauty of its position and its view - looking out towards downs that were neither too close nor too far away, but composed a perfect whole, set off by the beechwood hanger on their domed top - was a source of perpetual joy.'
'The front hall is yellow (wrote Ralph in July), the arches in the passage to the kitchen, Giotto blue - but it's really more Fra Angelico."
"January 3rd 1928. Away at last! A fine morning; nearly all the snow gone, and a car from the Bear at Hungerford to fetch us. From the windows of our train we gazed out at
acres of floods on both sides; we swam through Newbury station like a swan; the rails had disappeared under water."
Even greater insight into the complexity and intensity of life in the "group" can be gained from the following summary of Dora Carrington's life, and her connection with Ham Spray House:
"The painter Dora Carrington (1893-1932), later always known simply as Carrington. attended the Slade at Oxford, and whilst there she met Mark Gertler, a fellow artist who
would pursue her romantically for several years. Gertler introduced her to Lady Ottoline Morrell, and thus into the Bloomsbury group. It was while visiting Morrell at Garsington Manor in 1915 that
Carrington was introduced to Lytton Strachey, a writer and confirmed homosexual. Gertler, feeling that Strachey could act as a safe go-between for himself, encouraged their friendship. To his dismay,
Carrington fell inexplicably and deeply in love with Strachey, a love that would last for the rest of her life and cause her to follow him from life into death.
In 1917 Carrington's relationship with Gertler ended and when Strachey rented Mill House, Tidmarsh, she moved in with him. Carrington met Ralph Partridge, an Oxford
friend of her younger brother Noel, in 1918. Partridge fell in love with Carrington and, accepting that she was still in love with Strachey and would not give up her platonic relationship or living
arrangements with him, married her in 1921. In 1924 he and Strachey purchased the lease to Ham Spray House, near Hungerford, and all three lived out their lives there.
Over the next eight years Carrington divided her time between domestic chores, caring for Strachey whose health was erratic, and her art work. She painted on almost any
medium she could find including glass, tiles, pub signs, and the walls of friends' homes; she also made woodcuts for Hogarth Press and did some leather work.
She had two well-known affairs, one with Gerald Brenan, an army friend of Partridge's, and the other with a sailor, Beakus Penrose. In 1926 Partridge formed an
attachment to Frances Marshall, ending his marriage with Carrington in spirit, if not in law, but maintained his role of manager for Ham Spray House, visiting most weekends.
In November 1931 Strachey became suddenly and violently ill. Doctors fluctuated between diagnoses of typhoid fever and ulcerative colitis, but his condition - stomach
cancer - was not accurately diagnosed until an autopsy was performed. Round the clock nurses were hired and various treatments were tried. In late December he took a turn for the worse and on 20th
December Carrington attempted suicide by shutting herself in the garage with the car running. Partridge rescued her and she recovered enough to spend the last few days of Strachey's life taking
her turn watching over him.
On 21st January 1932 Strachey died. The local doctor Dr T G Starkey-Smith wrote a paper on Strachey's illness and the post-mortem findings. The paper was published
in the British Medical Journal on 28th May 1932. [Many thanks to Susan Fox for this reference].
The greatest concern of their friends now became preventing Carrington from killing herself; arrangements were made to keep her occupied and attended.
In March Carrington was planning for a trip to France and her friends began to feel less concern, but she also borrowed a gun from a neighbour, ostensibly to shoot rabbits
in her garden. On 11th March 1932 she shot herself fatally. She was found before she died and Ralph Partridge, Frances Marshall, and David Garnett arrived at Ham Spray House in time to say good-bye."
Shortly after Carrington's death, Ralph Partridge and Frances Marshall married on 2nd March 1933, and they lived happily at Ham Spray until Ralph's death in 1960. In her memoirs and diaries, Frances made frequent references to walks along the Kennet and Avon Canal, watching the swans at Crofton, and to staying at The Bear in Hungerford. She also writes of walks and drives in Savernake Forest, as well as over the downland around Inkpen Beacon.
Through her reminiscences grows a realisation of the importance of this tranquil background to the intellectual and social activity of the key members of the group, and
particularly of Strachey's writings and Carrington's art.
- British Medical Journal paper on Strackey's illness and post mortem, 28th May 1932
- Obituary of Frances Partridge, Daily Telegraph, 7th Feb 2004
- Ham Spray House
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