A Postcard from Cheltenham

No, no, no I’m not in Cheltenham but I got this postcard sent from there. To slip in a quick digression, Gustav Holst was born there in 1874. Fancy that. I’d thought he was German and indeed on his father’s side he is a Latvian, Swedish, German mongrel.

The statue is of Edward Wilson an artist and zoologist who perished in 1912 on Scott’s tragic Antarctic Expedition. It is sculpted by Kathleen Scott, widow of the expedition’s leader, Captain Scott. The postcard inscription calls her Lady Kathleen Scott which is utter tosh. Wiki, not infallible, has got it right this time.

 In 1913, she was granted the rank (but not the style) of a widow of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. This meant that, for the purposes of establishing official precedence, she was treated as if she were the widow of such a knight. However, she was not entitled to be called Lady Scott merely by virtue of this, and it did not amount to Captain Scott being posthumously knighted.

Her second husband became Lord Kennet so she can be called Lady  K. Let’s press on but before we do, she did a bronze of the Indian actor Sabu. If Sabu’s name is familiar it may be from this post: The Empire Trilogy. Frankly it looks kitsch.

Kathleen Scott, SABU bronze with brown patination.

Lady K was already on my mind before I got the postcard. James Lees-Milne was devoted to her and very distressed when she died in 1947. After visiting her in Paddington hospital, he writes in Caves of Ice:

I left and walked home across the Park sick at heart and again impressed by the realisation that this woman is dear to me because with her I need never dissemble – which is a very rare thing – in mind or spirit; with her there is no call for flattery or insincerity; with her there are no barriers of any kind. Yet I can’t determine precisely wherein the intimacy between us lies.

Her son, artist and naturalist Peter Scott, married (first) Elizabeth Jane Howard. EJH paints a picture of a difficult, interfering and critical mother-in-law. Strangely, James Lees-Milne was an usher at the wedding. It’s hard to reconcile how the same person can be seen so differently through two sets of eyes.

Here is another of her bronzes, in Waterloo Place. It is of her husband and the inscription is rather famous.

Robert Falcon Scott, Captain Royal Navy, who with four companions, E.A. Wilson, H.R. Bowers, L.E.G. Oates, E. Evans, died March 1912 returning from the South Pole.
Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.
From Scott’s diary.

Captain Scott, Waterloo Place, July 2017.


10 thoughts on “A Postcard from Cheltenham”

  1. My grandparents knew the Scotts and Lady K was determined that her son, Peter , should grow up to be as tough as his father. My mother once met Peter, a contemporary, aged 12 or so, in the Cromwell Road. It was mid-winter and he was wearing shorts and an open necked Aertex shirt. She noticed that his chest was unnaturally hairy and assumed this was because he had been brought up to wear very few clothes. I rather doubt , on reflection, the causal relationship, although my mother was frequently right.

    1. James Lees-Milne corroborates your mother’s story: “Sybil (Colefax) told a mutual friend that Peter, then aged three, would die of pneumonia if K allowed him to walk about London in winter stark naked.” 3rd January 1949, Midway on the Waves.

  2. Kathleen’s son by her 2nd marriage, Wayland, 2nd Lord Kennet, told me that his mother was socially fixated on gay men, a fact which did not amuse his very heterosexual father. Hence her liking for James Lees-Milne (the quotation from whose diaries quoted here is hinting at the fact that he can be open with her about his sex-life).

  3. My grandmother and her sisters were taught music by Gustav Holst, at James Allen’s School for Girls in Dulwich, and remained in contact for much of their lives. All three sisters, Lily, Rose and Violet Ramsay, studied at the Royal College of Music and all went on to become professional musicians. I am told my great aunt Lily became the first ever lady leader of a London orchestra, the Stoll Theatre orchestra, but with the demise of the cinema orchestras she spent her declining years as first violin with the Eveleyn Hardy Ladies Band which specialised in tours of hotels in the Far East.
    Incidentally, Gustav Holst found that neuritis prevented him playing either the piano or the violin (he was apparently restricted to the trombone), while my grandmother, Rose, shut her hand in a car door requiring the amputation of the top joint of her middle finger (restricting her to teaching only). I am certain my grandmother would have forced him to admit that her injury represented the greater loss to music.

  4. I remember this statue from my school days, although didn’t realise that Lady K had made it. Which statue do you think is better? Do you prefer the statue in Waterlook Place?

    Remember being called up to the headmaster’s study for some reason and he had Edward Wilson’s skis propped up against the wall, recovered from the disastrous 1912 expedition. Incidentally I enjoyed your previous (and rather poignant) post on Jeeves and Cheltenham College, and nearly left a comment, but, like you, as I was “wet”, rather than “dry,” am not especially up on the cricket.

    Have you come across John Betjeman’s poem, “Cheltenham”? Years ago, I wrote to the old boy, asking for permission to write a schoolboy piece about it for The Cheltonian, and received a charming reply. It’s up in the attic somewhere.

    1. I hadn’t heard of this essential guide but have, on your recommendation, bought it at some expense.

  5. Crikey. Yes, I’ ve seen the prices dealers are asking for it. Do hope you like it when you get it and it lives up to expectations.

    Having said that, some enlightened friend of Venetia’s gave it to us as a wedding present, and I’ve spent many happy hours pouring over it: it’s currently one of my all-time favourite reference books.

    Look forward to hearing what you think…

    1. If you read my posts about money, which you probably skip, you will know that I am pragmatic. I got a “free” book this morning, the subject of tomorrow’s post and that encouraged me to splash out £65 (+pp) on your recommendation.

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