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.

6 June 2008

Cyril, Mary, and Ivy Britton and Children

This photo shows Cyril and Mary (née Hunt) Britton at an unknown outing in 1924, with Cyril's sister (Kathleen Ethel) Ivy below Ida. I now more or less copy from the comment below by Cyril's oldest granddaughter, Valerie Ruth Britton:

'In the picture the centre girl is Mildred (my aunt Milly), their eldest surviving daughter, and the chap bottom left their eldest surviving son, Douglas, my own father. The lad in Cyril's arms is Herbert (uncle Bert) and bottom right is Leslie, I guess, still a baby.'

Cyril was a younger brother, and Irza the mother, of the working-class writer Lionel Britton.

Many thanks once again to Helen Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image, and to Valerie Morris for filling in the pictures and doing a little correcting.

4 June 2008

British Mills, Redditch

British Mills in Redditch was a large needle and fishing tackle factory on Prospect Hill founded by Samuel Thomas senior – the great-grandfather of Lionel Britton – who used to live with his family in a self-contained house (part of which is visible to the left of this photo) attached to the facade. Of note is the painted 'S. THOMAS & SONS LTD' towards the top of the building. Today, virtually all that remains of the factory is this facade.

Many thanks once more to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.

St Stephens School, Redditch, and 6 Hewell Road, Redditch

St Stephens School in Redditch was where working-class writer Lionel Britton was educated. He stayed there until he was about twelve, later saying that the headteacher told him that he had learned all they could teach him. He later found a job sandpapering fishing rods, although didn't do this for long: he went to Birmingham for several days before finding various poorly paid jobs in London, where he would briefly make his name as a writer.
6 Hewell Road was the home of Samuel Thomas junior and his wife Marie Antoinette. It was where Lionel, Ivy, Percy (or Bob) and Cyril Britton lived for several years after the death of their father, Richard Britton.

Many thanks to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.

John James Britton (Probably)


The above photo is probably the poet and solicitor John James Britton, although it is by no means clear.

Many thanks to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.

Cyril Britton

Cyril Britton was born in Bournemouth and died in London. He was the son of Richard and Irza Britton and the brother of Lionel Britton.

Many thanks to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.

Ivy Britton

Ivy Britton was born at Astwood Bank, near Redditch, and died in Islington. She was the daughter of Richard and Irza Britton and the sister of Lionel Britton.

Many thanks to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.


3 June 2008

Irza Britton and Companion (detail)

Irza Vivian Geraldine Britton was Lionel Britton's mother and the daughter of Samuel Thomas junior of Redditch, Worcestershire.

The date of this photo is unknown.

Many thanks to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image, a copy of which is also in the Lionel Britton Collection, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois.

Lionel Britton: Portrait of the Writer as a Young Man

This is the earliest known photo of the working-class writer Lionel Britton, when he was in his twenties. The bizarre thing is that he is wearing a tie and what appears to be a three-piece suit: Britton later shunned formal wear for an open-neck shirt, shorts, plimsolls, and an uncombed mop of hair.

Many thanks to Jane Matthews and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.

2 June 2008

John James Britton (1832–1913) at Halford, 1912, and a Back View of the House by Elizabeth Hilda Dorothy Britton (1889–1966)

The photo above is a rare picture of the poet, journalist and solicitor John James Britton, the father of Richard Britton and the paternal grandfather of the working-class writer Lionel Britton. In various posts below, I have mentioned more things about John James Britton and his family, so I leave a comment on the above from a recent email I received from Robert Hughes, a great-nephew of Lionel's:

'I don't know whether this shot was actually taken by Cyril [Britton, Lionel's brother], although it was in his collection. I could hardly make out the figure of J[ohn] J[ames] at all in the original, but scanned by Jane [Matthews, Dorothy Goodbun's daughter] it has come up extremely well [...]. [T]he house is clearly the same house as in the postcard from the Stratford records office, showing the front elevation rather than the rear elevation. The chimneys and roof line are distinctive, and the beads in the windows are clearly the same, as is the shape of the windows themselves.'

Many thanks to those mentioned above for making possible the publication of this photo.



The above sketch is a representation of the back garden of The Yews (or Maryland), Halford, Warwickshire, drawn in 1913 by Elizabeth Hilda Dorothy Britton, the year of John James Britton's death. The Longfellow poem is form 'The Open Window'.

Many thanks to Paul Eyres Britton and Robert Hughes for making possible the publication of this image.