Timothy D'Arch smith - memories of Carlton Hill

literary connections

52 Carlton Hill 1947 left to right: Pamela Frankau, Ursula D'Arch Smith, author, Bobby Carrington
Tim D'Arch Smith

We had lived ever since I was nine years old in the upper storey of a Victorian house, a short walk away from my new place, in Carlton Hill: literary associations there are worth a mention. I never asked how this absurdly cheap accommodation had been negotiated but I suspect it was through my aunt Pamela Frankau. The house belonged to Rebecca West’s son Anthony, dwelling on the ground and first floors, keen I dare say, to supplement an income supporting a wife, Kitty, and two children, Edmund and Caroline. Pamela had been a source of great comfort to Anthony ever since schooldays at Stowe when the illegitimate son had been shuttled back and forth between mother and father, H.G. Wells, a lover by then sent about his business. Anthony was later, to Rebecca’s displeasure, to portray her maternal neglect and autocracy in his novel, Heritage. Rebecca complained to Pamela about this, as she saw it, gratuitous spite, to which Pamela replied, attuned to her friend’s constitutional viperishness: ‘All they that take the pen shall perish by the pen.’

The Wests’ offbeat, almost hippie ménage – writing, painting, children running wild – was completed by the presence in the basement of an unmarried couple, Richard and Bobby Carrington, the former an authority on the African – perhaps the Indian – elephant on which he wrote an authoritative and best-selling manual. He was a fellow of the Royal Zoological Society which in those days provided members with a book of tickets giving free admission on Sunday mornings to the Regent’s Park Zoo – closed to the public until the afternoons – of which in the school holidays I took full advantage.

Literary links were not altogether severed when the Wests, moving to the country, sold the house (with my mother and myself still on board) to Ruth Howard and her mother, a gentle old lady, undeservedly nicknamed Witchie. Ruth’s niece was the novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard, [see Elizabeth Jane Howard under Literature & Writers] whose frank conveyance of adultery in The Long View upset Witchie. It was a matter for speculation whether her great-niece’s literary frankness affected Witchie to a greater or lesser degree than the irregular union conducted by her basement lodgers.

The Howards were ‘musical’, an epithet of some opprobrium on the Frankau side of my family, who shared Nabokov’s opinion of music as ‘an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating noises’. Ruth had been an early pupil of Dame Myra Hess, a regular visitor to Carlton Hill accompanied by her entourage of two women, Marjorie Gunn with the deepest voice of any woman, my aunt included, I have ever heard, and her sister ‘Saz’. A grand piano in the drawing room tinkled daily under the Howards’ expert fingers.  Lovers of classical music find it unthinkable that people exist in the world, people that is with any claim whatsoever to manners, taste, education, who are unresponsive to the Orphean transcendence of spirit experienced the moment an orchestra pipes up, a soprano trills; and it was this incredulity I suspect which prompted the Howards one day to invite my mother to a recital given in Bernard Miles’s Mermaid theatre, situated in those days in his St John’s Wood garden. A female singer had been the star attraction, in my mother’s words to me in a letter at school ‘some sad little European refugee who was, I suppose, doing the best she could’. A second urgent corrective letter underlined the full extent of the Frankau musical crassness. The singer had been Kirsten Flagstad.

From the book:

The Times Deceas’d: The Rare Book Department of the Times Bookshop in the 1960s by Timothy d’Arch Smith

Published  by:

Teitan Press, York Beach, Maine, USA in 2011

This page was added on 20/08/2012.

Comments about this page

  • I lived at 23 Carlton Hill with my mum and dad Rose and Tom Barrett. I went to Barrow Hill Road School and Kynaston. I spent many years as a member of the 8th St Marylebone Scout Group at The Mansergh. I try to visit St Johns Wood for trip down memory lane when I go to Lords for cricket. My nan Ethel Hunt lived in Charles Lane

    By David Barrett (05/09/2017)
  • Raymond Hunt, I remember the Barrets at 23; the Reynolds family lived in the basement at the same time, daughters Mary, Barbara & Maureen. I was at 24, good friends to the  3 girls. In the basement at 24  lived the Toms family. My maiden name was SHURETY & my sister Janet also. Mum & Dad ( sadly passed away now ) were Edie & Ernie.

    By Susan Markham (19/09/2015)
  • Yes Terry, I spent 3 years in the Merchant Navy. A guy in my class went on to become the First Sea Lord , Sir Mark Stanhope. I believe you became a black cab driver .

    By david hussey (09/09/2015)
  • My Aunt & Uncle (Rose and Tom Barrett) lived at 23 Carlton Hill; they ran the scout group with my cousin David Barrett at the Mansergh. My dad was born in Charles Lane, fond memories of visiting my nan there when I was very young.


    By Raymond Hunt (08/09/2015)
  • I lived at 19 then 24 Carlton  Hill from 1955 – 1972. My parents names were  Edith & Ernest SHURETY . At 19 we had marble black & white front stairs & lived on the middle floor. Clare & John lived on the ground floor with a daughter called Jill.  Our bath was under a work top in the kitchen but at 24 we had a separate bathroom, luxury. We lived on the top floor, middle floor was Kitty Scales & husband with daughter Linda. Ground floor was the Wilkinson family and basement was the Toms family.Across the road we had the Reynolds family and Garret family. Cathy with long blonde curly hair lived I think at 28. The pub up the top of the road had a beautiful ginger colour husky dog and red ABC phone box. We used the swing park at Blenheim Terrace. The second house into the road a boy had a dog called Rusty.  Lovely memories.

    By Susan Markham (24/07/2015)
  • Dave, I seem to remember when you left Barrow Hill you went to The Royal Nautical School, I wonder, did you then go on to have a career in the Navy ?

    By Terry Farmer (23/07/2015)
  • I used to live at 40 Carlton Hill in 1952. I took my mum up there on a memory lane trip and was outside the house when  a woman asked if we were lost and when we told her that we used to live there in the 1950s she got the owner and he invited us in and gave us tea and wanted to know all about the place. We had had  the ground floor and another couple lived upstairs .Across the road was all bomb sites if I remember rightly. We then moved to Linnet House on the Barrow Hill estate.  Shortly after our tea party  I believe the house was sold for £3 million. Didn’t know you lived in Carlton Hill as well Terry

    By David Hussey (25/06/2015)
  • Hello Terry

    Sorry I have not logged onto the site for ages, so I have just seen your post, my Mum (Auntie Clare) and Dad (Uncle Reg) are no longer with us but I think you probably know that my Dad passed in 1984 aged 73 and Mum 2005 aged 85. I think both your parents have passed as well if my memory serves me well? I am still living in St Johns Wood as does my daughter who now has 2 year old twins girls, my son still lives with me. I am in touch with a few of the people that used to live there although it is not what is used to be as it is now so trendy and expensive.  I still have a very professional photo of you somewhere that I kept from my Mum’s when she died when you were about 18 months to 2 years old with lovely curly hair!! My Dad always spoke so well of you as a baby. I hope you and your family are well and would love to hear from you sometime, I will make sure I log in more regularly!



    By Janet Bassett (30/09/2014)
  • Hello Janet, My Mum Rosie Knowles is your second cousin and also lived in Townsend Cottages with my Nan Edith Bassett.  I went to Barrow Hill and was the third generation to do so.They moved out of Swallow House up to 11 Queens Grove, which we all left in 1972.

    By John Levey (24/09/2012)
  • Hello Janet,we haven’t seen each other for many years, I do still occasionally get back to the wood,although I’ve now retired, I remember your mum ( auntie Clare) and your dad (uncle Reg) so well.

    By Terry Farmer (12/09/2012)
  • I was also born at 46 Carlton Hill but in 1954 the Farmers lived in the same house as well as the Green’s, I think they came later once the Farmer family had moved and the Wolfe family who were on the ground floor.

    By Janet Bassett (09/09/2012)
  • I was born at 46 Carlton Hill in 1951, after the war due to the shortage of homes for returning servicemen, Marylebone Council adopted something called Council requisition taking over empty properties for local families, so we had one bedroom and a kitchen and shared the house with two other families until being given a flat in Allitsen Rd.

    By Terry Farmer (24/08/2012)

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