7 June 2008

Netherwood, Hastings: Lionel Britton Rants

The postcard above shows a drawing of Netherwood in Hastings by ‘Barbara’, and has been posted to a blog entitled ‘Old Postcard Art’. It represents how the house looked after it was restored in the second half of the 1930s. It was then owned by the forgotten actor and playwright E. C. Vernon Symonds and his wife ‘Johnnie’, and their intention was to convert it into a left-wing guesthouse, a place for socialist meetings and trade union conferences. The writer Lionel Britton was one of the people who worked on it for many months, receiving free board and lodging in return for manual work. Britton’s letters to friends express his suspicion that the Symonds are really members of the bourgeoisie posing as socialists, although in the letter extract below he finds an excuse to plunge into a wholehearted assault on the class-based design of the original house itself, and by extension the bourgeoisie as a whole. It is fourteen pages long and addressed to 'Bertski', Britton's nickname for Herbert Marshall, who was working with the film director Eisenstein in the Soviet Union (and which explains the reference to 'no bloody revolution'):

‘Worked terrible hard down here, building up [this socialist utopia]. Not from the raw and virgin forest, you know; merely the bourgeoisie giving place. Big house in 4 acres of ground, built for two people with about twelve servants. Damned interesting to see a house like that, sort of bare [...] inside. Usually you only see it in its separated aspect, as bourgeois or proletarian, and it’s most illuminating to see it with its inside all brought to light dissected and laid out to view like an anatomical specimen. You have the house separated into two portions, with the biggest half [sic] and its spacious rooms shut off for the use of the “quality” with their two ineffectual useless lives, the rest of it being divided into grades among the proletarians, butler and housekeeper being partitioned off from contact with lower mortals, just as they themselves were shut out from contaminating the Great. Then among these lower lower lower orders there were better and best and bloody awful bedrooms for them to crawl up to exhausted and creep out of refreshed as best they might, to take up the labour again of keeping Greatness alive for its fatuous existence. Two baths for Quality to keep their cocks clean, and two W.’s, but not a bath for the whole bloody dozen, and no W. either unless you went outside in the wet. And a cottage in the grounds with an earth-closet! Think of that! Bugger me, we aint particular, we bloody dirty stinking bourgeoisie, we aint. Dirty lot o’ bastards.

If they did get diseases serve the buggers right. Ought to be executed, dirty rotten sods.

No place to wash in, no light, no fire, bit o’ candle and a pisspot p’raps, and work your bloody guts out to keep these stinking lumps of fat alive. And no bloody revolution, either: now what d’you think of that? There’s a bloody world to live in’ (1).

Netherwood is today perhaps best remembered as the last home of 'The Great Beast' Aleister Crowley, who was looked after by Johnny and Vernon Symonds. The building has since been demolished.

(1) Lionel Britton, letter to Herbert Marshall, 20 May 1936, the Lionel Britton Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Southern Illinois University, pp. 12–13.


Anonymous said...

Not only is the site of Netherwood haunted by Crowleys ghost,the remaining part The Robert De Mortaine Pub is also cursed by Hastings Rock on its punny 1 month licenses!"

Anonymous said...

Jeez, that's not very punny.