STW
Little Zeal, 22 August 1931

My Dearest Love,

After I had finished my letter to you last night I got into bed, and felt as I curled up, my warm shoulder – and thought, This is Valentine’s wife.
You have no idea what you’ve escaped. I found in a book of sayings about weathers and signs and times of year a set of sooth-sayings about the character of wives according to the month they are married in. If you had waited a month later you would have married a ‘chattermag’ – in August, a spendthrift. But a January bride, it says, will make a prudent housewife and has a sweet temper.  […..]

Sylvia

Having decided to mark the 11th of  January 1931 as their ‘marriage night’, Warner & Valentine had since then been spending their time between staying together in their little Chaldon cottage, as well as back at their own separate homes in London (for Warner) and Winterton (for Valentine). Occasionally, Warner had to also spend time at her mother’s home at Little Zeal, especially after the death of her step-father. Warner’s mother had her initial reservations towards her daughter’s ‘intense and sudden friendship’ with Valentine, and has shown more hostility than acceptance in the matter. But over time, Mrs Warner slowly mellowed, as shown in one of Warner’s letters in September 1932.

  Meanwhile, wonders do not cease. This evening, while Nora (Mrs Warner) and I were straying around the china cabinet, she suddenly handed me a small object and remarked – By the way, I found this and thought that you and Miss Ackland might like it.
I looked. It was a China pomade pot, circa about 1870, in an early Goss manner. It was dark fig-green, and had on the lid a picture of two ladies out walking. One was tall and one was short, both alike wore black riding-boots, black coats and black top-hats. They were walking past a Gothic cell and a greyhound precedes them; and underneath (have you guessed it?) it says : The Ladies of Llangollen.

The cottage in Chaldon proved too small for a permanent home, and in July 1933, Warner & Valentine took a lease on Frankfort Manor, a beautiful seventeenth century house near Sloley, Norfolk. Here, they enjoyed one of the happiest times of their lives together. However, they were forced to leave about a year later, being drained of their funds in the  heavy legal costs resulting from a libel case involving them and the Chaldon Vicarage.

In a letter prior to leaving London for Frankfort Manor :

STW
Inverness Terrace, 1 June 1933

My dearest Love,

   How carefully I put these dates and places of parting. In the time before you, one day, one place, seemed as good as another to mope in; but now, on this day so like our love, so blue, so fervent, and yet so living and stirring, and in this room that still echoes with your presence, there is an odd reality about being alone, and ready to mope. But mope I will not, I do not so easily forget the promises I made with your lips upon mine; and after I have written to you, I will go down into that placid empty kitchen, and sort out the dishes, the glasses, the cooking pots which however they go, will go to our married estate. […..]
William (Warner’s ageing dog) has gone out to grieve in the garden; he reproached me with wails when I came in alone, and then rushed downstairs to tell his sorrows to the polygonum and the dustbins. [….]
A house is so much to us if we are to live and to love in it. But what is any house to me, any world, any wilderness of a lovely world, or the least, rasping-without, sleek-within, beech-mast cap that may fall on our drive, except for you, my light and my gravity? Care only for yourself, only for all I have.
My love, my dearest most-mated dear, I send you my love.

Sylvia

It was a beautifully proportioned house, with a Dutch gable and a reed-thatched roof – filled with the noise of trees. Valentine found it, exploring inland, but only because her quick eye caught sight of it behind its rampart of trees …. [….] It stood in that stretch of Norfolk where the soil is deep and fertile: a soil for oaks and chestnuts to plunge their roots into. We never found time to count all the trees but there must have been nearly a hundred of them.
‘We have a library now’, I wrote to Llewelyn Powys, ‘all Valentine’s books and mine at last assembled and in order.’ [….] The house was extravagantly too large for us – another reason for delighting in it.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Narrative 5 – I’ll Stand By You : The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland

The house and gardens provided them with the perfect rural location in which to write and potter about. Warner’s The Cat’s Cradle Book(1960) was inspired by a family of cats that lived in the hall’s outbuildings. The book is a collection of short stories seen from a cat’s point of view.

It was after William’s death that the rough cats declared themselves. There was an indigenous tribe of them, thick-coated, low to the ground, moving with a swift slouching gait. They preyed on rats and birds, ate acorns and sweet chestnuts and grew familiar enough to come as far as the back door for scraps; but held no intercourse with our housecats, though when we domesticated one of the rough kittens, it attached itself to me with intense affection.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Narrative 5 – I’ll Stand By You : The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland

In her autobiography For Sylvia, Valentine describes the house’s attractions as follows:

At Frankfort Manor, then, we lived in a kind of solemn, fairy story splendour. The first spring and summer brought nothing but miraculous days. Every day a fresh discovery; one day I found white currents….another day we met a hedgehog walking up the drive, another day I was picking green peas into a colander and saw the earth near my feet heaving and a mole emerged and I caught it instantly in the colander and carried it in to Sylvia and set it down beside her typewriter on her table.

Warner herself describes their days at Frankfort Manor as follows :

Throughout the autumn, we worked hard and honestly in the kitchen garden.There was about an acre of it, four square plots with flower-borders smothered in bindweed, two asparagus beds and a fruit wall. When we arrived, the ground was under potatoes. These we sold to a fish and chip shop on the Wroxham Road. [….] We made jam and conserves and pickles and sold them. We needed every penny we could raise if we were to stay on in this kind paradise where we were so happy, so hard-working, so good. Goodness is like a flower of the locality. We were never again so unimpededly good as we were at Frankfort Manor.

Sylvia Townsend Warner, Narrative 5 – I’ll Stand By You : The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner & Valentine Ackland

It was also during this time at Frankfort Manor that their first and only collaborative work, a book of poetry titled Whether a Dove or a Seagull, was published. It was truly a time of happiness and productivity, a time that was to be deeply cherished by Warner.

There was a Victorian wire arch over a path in the kitchen garden, and I remember hanging grey kittens among its lolloping pink roses to get them out of my way as I thinned carrots, and thinking as I heard Valentine whistling nearby : ‘It would not be possible to know greater happiness.’
It did not occur to me that such happiness might be too good to last.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s