Last time I wrote about my family’s connection with Jane Austen and her family. But there are also connections between the Morlands and the celebrated World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. Before the war Sassoon lived in Matfield, about 4 miles from Lamberhurst. He was born into a wealthy family in 1886, and he lived the pastoral life of a young squire: fox hunting, playing cricket, golfing and writing romantic verses.
His war poetry was bleak and unforgiving. Being an innocent, his reaction to the realities of war, both through his poetry and on the battlefield, was all the more bitter and violent. Many critics have put the horror and brutality of war that comes across so vehemently in his poetry, down to the contrast between his idyllic pastoral life in Kent and the sheer bloody awfulness of war. As it is the 100th anniversary of World War I, I thought I would delve a little further into this connection with Court Lodge and the Morland family.
As well as his war poetry, Sassoon is well known for his memoirs; a trilogy collectively known as The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. In these books he gave a thinly fictionalised account of his wartime experiences, contrasting them with his nostalgic memories of country life before the war, and recounting the growth of his pacifist feelings.
The first book in this trilogy is Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, which depicts Sassoon’s childhood and early adulthood spent in the Kent countryside. He was well acquainted with Lamberhurst, which he calls ‘Amblehurst’, and also with the Morland family, whom he refers to as the ‘Maundle’ family. He talks of playing golf on Squire Maundle’s private nine-hole golf course, which goes down to the River ‘Neaze’ (River Teise). The private nine-hole golf course is still owned by the Morland family, and now forms part of Lamberhurst Golf Course. Here is a quote from Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man:
“What are you going to do today George?” asks Aunt Evelyn, as she gets up from the breakfast table to go down to the kitchen to interview the cook.
“Oh, I shall probably bike over to Amblehurst after lunch for a round of golf.” I reply.
Over at Amblehurst, about four miles away, there is a hazardless nine-hole course round Squire Maundle’s sheep-nibbled park. The park faces south-west, sloping to a friendly little river – the Neaze – which… divides the counties of Kent and Sussex. On the other side of the river is the village. Squire Maundle’s clanging stable clock shares with the belfry of the village school the privilege of indicating the Amblehurst hours. My progress up and down the park from one undersized green to another is accompanied by the temperate clamour of sheep-bells (and in springtime by the loud litanies of baa-ing lambs and anxious ewes). The windows of Squire Maundle’s eighteenth-century mansion overlook my zig-zag saunterings with the air of a county family dowager who has not yet made up her mind to leave cards on those new people at the Priory. As a rule I have the links to myself, but once in a while “young” Squire Maundle (so-called because his eighty-seven-year-old father is still above ground) appears on the skyline in his deer-stalker hat, with a surly black retriever at his heels and we play an amicable round.
Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (Faber and Faber, 1928) pp. 84-85.
“Old Squire Maundle” refers to William Courtenay Morland (WCM), my great great grandfather. Early on in the book Sassoon talks about attending a child’s party with his Aunt Evelyn. He writes “And old Squire Maundle, nodding and smiling by the door, as he watched his little granddaughter twirling round and round with a yellow ribbon in her hair.” (p. 41) The little granddaughter would have been my great aunty Vi, whom I remember as a very old lady when I was a little girl. She used to tell her children and grandchildren that she remembered opening the door to Siegfried Sassoon when she was a little girl and saying to him “Who are you?!”
In the quote above Sassoon mentions “young” Squire Maundle appearing in his deerstalker hat with his surly black retriever at his heels. “Young” Squire Maundle is to WCM’s eldest son, Charles William Morland. Thanks to Siegfried Sassoon, and allowing for some poetic license, we have a literary portrait of him. He gives us the following description of Charles:
Without wishing to ridicule him, for he was always kind and courteous, I may say that both his features and his tone of voice have something in common with the sheep who lift their mild munching faces to regard him while he plays an approach shot in his cautious, angular ,and automatic style. He is one of those shrewdly timorous men who are usually made a butt of by their more confident associates. Falstaff would have borrowed fifty pounds off him, though he has the reputation of being close with his money. His vocabulary is as limited as his habit of mind, and he speaks with an old-fashioned word-clipping conciseness. His lips are pursed up as if in a perpetual whistle. The links – on which he knows every tussock and ant-hill intimately – are always “in awful good condition”; and “That’s a hot’un!” he exclaims when I make a long drive, or “That’s for Sussex!” (a reference to the remote possibility that my ball may have gone over the river). But the best instance I can give of his characteristic mode of expressing himself is one which occurred when I once questioned him about a group of little grey stones among the laurel bushes outside his stable-yard. After whistling to his retriever he replied “House-dogs bury in the shrubbery; shooting-dogs bury in the park”…
Siegfried Sassoon, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (Faber and Faber, 1928) p. 85
So the little pile of stones in the laurel bushes would have been the grave of a house dog, buried in the shrubbery. There is still a laurel bush next to the Coach House, which is where the horses were stabled, and which was converted into a house in the 1980s. It’s where my family and I are now living. And as a child I remember exploring in the rhododendron shrubberies, and coming across small rectangular arrangements of stones, which the gardener told me were the graves of former pets.
Research into our family history rarely gives us an insight into the mannerisms and characteristics of our ancestors, so I feel immensely fortunate to have these literary references to my great great grandfather and his family. My research is beginning to build up a picture of these people through their diaries, and other historical documents, which recount their activities, decisions and actions. But the literary portraits given by Siegfried Sassoon help to complete that picture with the sort of detail that would be otherwise unavailable.
Charles William Morland, or “Young Squire Maundle”, with his surly black retriever at his heels
William Courtenay Morland, or “Old Squire Maundle”