Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Orchard, Chorleywood

For most of the First World War the William Pearsons lived in a comfortable house called The Orchard (above) in Shire Lane, on Chorleywood Common, at Chorleywood, near Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire, on the northeastern edge of London, within easy reach of town by the Metropolitan Line.

Here they are, clockwise from top left: Great-grandfather William Pearson, who was barely 52 years old, with his elegantly groomed, spade-shaped beard.

Beside him stands Cousin Mollie (Mungie), the child of Sophie Pearson’s beloved youngest sister. Mungie lived with the family, and went to boarding school through most of the war years. Her aunt Minnie (the author Mary Grant Bruce), who was her father’s sister, was in touch with the Pearsons throughout the war, and indeed the plot of her novel
From Billabong to London seems to have been largely based on the Pearsons’ life in England.

Then come Granny, looking thin but cheerful; her mother, Sophie, in the hat, and Emily (Aunt Mim) who by this time was a war widow, her husband, Pat Jackson, having been killed in the trenches not long before.

Finally there is raffish Uncle Roy of the 13th Hussars, with his moustaches, bow tie, and pumps, looking somehow prematurely older than he should.

At this date, Granny and Aunt Mim volunteered as nurses at the Rickmansworth Convalescent Home for wounded soldiers (
q.v.) (Matron: Miss C. L. Owen), which was located quite nearby.

The Orchard was in fact designed for himself and his family in 1899–1900 by the celebrated Arts and Crafts architect and designer C. F. A. Voysey and, comparatively modest in scale, the interior (above), with its white-lacquered details; customized furniture, pale green ceramic-tiled hearths and wrought-iron fittings; the unstained oak staircase; the daring color scheme of green cork carpet tiles upstairs; handmade rugs in the colors once known as “drab” and “peacock blue” downstairs, and bright turkey-red curtains throughout.

The rusticizing “cottage” windowframes, and doors, with wrought-iron latches, could not have been more different from, or modern than, the elaborate drawing room at Kilmany Park (

Voysey described the slate roof as “a silvery grey, tinged here and there with the tints found in the plumage of pigeons.” For William Pearson he extended the ground study window into a discreet and sunny bay. The house was widely published, by Charles Holme in his edition of
Modern British Domestic Architecture and Decoration (London and New York: Offices of The Studio, 1901, pp. 181–194), and in Country Life (Vol. VI, 1899, pp. 389–390) and Architectural Review (Vol. X, 1901, pp. 32–38). It was widely imitated.

The family’s last war-time ration book survives, and although the picture it paints is grim—sugar, lard, “meat,” spare, etc.—and the atmosphere conveyed by these photographs is hardly extravagant, nevertheless the family was obviously shielded from the worst austerities of war-time Britain. The pretty dogs show no signs of distress.

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