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Evan Morgan and the First World War

Eva Morgan with his father

Evan Morgan with his father

Earlier this year I was invited to give a talk to the Friends of Tredegar House and decided to look at the Tredegar Estate during the First World War. As is often the case when researching the Morgan family’s ancestral home, I was distracted by the activities of Evan Morgan. The following consists of  just a few random elements in the story of Evan’s war.

In 1913, Godfrey Morgan, first Viscount and second Baron Tredegar died with no offspring.  His nephew Courtenay Morgan inherited the entire estate. Courtenay, his wife Katharine and their two children; Evan Frederic and Gwyneth Ericka were something of a colourful family.

Courtenay took to messing about in boats when he bought himself a large ocean going steam yacht called the Liberty. The Liberty was certainly providing Lord Tredegar with much welcome distraction. When the new lock for the Alexandra Docks was opened in July, the ceremony was conducted on the Liberty by Prince Arthur of Connaught. Even Evan was on board for the occasion. A few weeks later the Liberty would be handed over to the Admiralty.

Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th of August.  Courtenay offered his yacht to the Admiralty and paid for it to be fitted out as a hospital ship and provided a crew. The new Lord Tredegar’s son and heir took a little longer to burst into action. Evan Morgan joined the newly formed Welsh Guards as a Second Lieutenant in June 1915.  This was most likely to have been his father’s idea than his own.

Evan’s army career became very unconventional and he spent more and more of it on sick leave. This allowed him more time for his art and poetry.  Even after leaving Oxford he was often to be found there and was an occasional guest of the Morrells at Garsington Manor. He was very keen to be part of the literati of the day whether with the Bloomsbury Group, or the Café Royal set.

 

Evan always looked ill. He had asthma and other complaints. In February 1916 he had pleurisy, a few months later he was operated on for an abscess in his ear and the following summer had damaged the cartilage in his knee. Evan began to receive a series of odd postings and attachments. These included being a King’s messenger (Carrying diplomatic papers to Embassies), finding himself on the staff of disgraced French General Robert Nivelle in North Africa and then back to convalesce in Oxford after some malady.

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Robert Graves

This would be the chance for another opportunity to get an invite to Garsington Manor and a chance to rub shoulders with the in-crowd.  It was probably on one such trip that he met with Robert Graves who had been hospitalised after being wounded in France.  They had been canoeing together and the meeting would prove to be a very useful one to Graves some months later.

Robert Graves and fellow poet Siegfied Sassoon were both serving officers in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Sassoon had been decorated for bravery, but was becoming increasingly disillusioned. He too was a visitor to Garsington and it may well have been on the trips that he was persuaded to write an open letter which was widely distributed and appeared in the press, condemning the war and announcing his refusal to take further part in it. Graves knew this would mean Court Martial and at least prison which he doubted Sassoon would survive. Therefore he got in touch with Evan to see if he could use his Cabinet contacts for Sassoon to be deemed medically unfit instead. Evan succeeded.

At the beginning of 1917 Evan was in Whitehall, working for William Bridgeman in the Ministry of Labour in Lloyd George’s coalition Government. He was also doing his best to ingratiate himself with Lloyd George and had an idea that he could be the War Cabinet’s adviser on literature.  He had also begun to form a relationship with Lloyd George’s personal secretary( and mistress), Frances Stevenson. Frances was already friendly with Lady Tredegar and had been a visitor at the newly acquired Honeywood House. Evan latched on too and there are hints of a possible relationship at one point.

 

Evan’s sister, Gwyneth had entered the war briefly too. The creation of the Wrens attracted her as a modern woman. And she signed up to be an Admiralty driver on the 16th of September 1918. She went on sick leave on the 28th and was discharged as medically unfit on the 6th of November. Five days  later the War was over.

Evan resigned his commission and left the Welsh Guards (did anyone notice?) However, Herbert Creedy (Assistant to Secretary of the War Office) requested that Evan be kept in Paris for the Peace conference.  Here he tried to gain favour with Frances Stevenson again, but instead became something of an embarrassment. However, before we dismiss Evan as some cowardly upper class idiot, it is worth remembering that some of the roles he performed required some amount of responsibility and discretion.

Evan’s First World War was unconventional and somewhat bizarre; his involvement in the Second World War seems to have been a rather odd affair too. However, I will leave that to others who have researched much more deeply than I have.

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A New Season at The House

I didn’t spend much time at Tredegar House during the 2013 Season (even then I was mainly in the office) but managed to put in an appearance at the Christmas event. The 2014 Season has begun with the opening of the Downstairs areas and some short tours Upstairs. Volunteers have been taking visitors up the Bachelor Staircase and into the Master’s Bedchamber, Cedar Closet and the Cow Bathroom. An area of the House that has not been regularly open to the public since the National Trust took over the management of the property.

Also, we are all delighted to see the House Manager, Emily Price, return from her maternity leave. Emily has been a key member of the Tredegar House Team for some years now. She was the Tredegar House Curator under  Newport Museums & Heritage Service and came here from The Queen’s House in Greenwich.

Tredegar House had a curator as it was, and indeed still is, a museum. The House is one of several National Trust properties which have full museum accreditation. The National Trust was keen to ensure that we kept our accreditation following the handover. It serves as a reminder that there is even more to the place than the beautiful building itself, there is the Tredegar Collection too.

In addition to the parts of the Collection original to the House there are many items on loan from other museums and galleries and from private owners. One of these items is leaving Tredegar House.  The full length portrait of Henry Rich, first Earl of Holland by (or after) Anthony Van Dyck has been displayed in the stairwell of the Great Staircase for many years on a long term loan.

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The Cedar Closet at Tredegar House

I have to apologise for not updating this blog as often as I should. I hope to do more throughout the 2014 Season. With visitors already getting access to rooms such as The Cedar Closet, we are already getting queries that we have not had to deal with for a while. Last week I was asked about the painted glass Sun Dial and the name of the artist. I think that could be something for the next post.

The full Tredegar House experience begins on Saint David’s Day.


W. H. Davies

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This Friday sees the official opening of the 125 Exhibition at Newport Museum. It has actually been open for the public to view for a few weeks already, and one of the popular exhibits is the bronze of W. H. Davies by Jacob Epstein.

The Exhibition celebrates the 125th anniversary of the Museum and displays 125 exhibits arranged by the year they were accessioned (one for each year) and reflects the changes in collections management and the way the public see the function of museums. 125

Epstein and Davies had become friends in London and mixed in the same circles as Evan Morgan, son and heir of Courtenay Morgan, Baron Tredegar. The bronze currently on display at the Museum belonged to Evan Morgan who later donated it. Davies also paid Epstein for another cast for himself. In fact, there were six casts made in all.

W H Davies, the Newport born poet, is probably best remembered for his Autobiography of a Supertramp. His poetry remains popular today; the best known being “Leisure” (What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?).  A new edition of Supertramp was published in April by Parthian Books.

Jacob Epstein was born in the USA, but took British citizenship. His works were often controversial and he probably came into contact with Davies during his dalliance with the Vorticist Movement at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Bloomsbury. Evan Morgan was always very keen to be part of the set that would hang out here. He commissioned Epstein to produce a bronze of his hands around this time.

Evan Morgan was friendly with many of the “Eiffel Tower” stalwarts, including Nancy Cunard, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis and Ronald Firbank.  He was an aspiring artist and poet and felt that he was in the company of his fellow travellers.  The outbreak of war in 1914 seems to have been an annoying disturbance of his literary and artistic aspirations. His persuasive manner and connections were useful for getting him cushy postings during the conflict, however his attempt to become Lloyd George’s wartime literary adviser seems to have been a step too far.

The W H Davies bronze head is in its rightful place. Following Evan’s death in 1949 most of the Morgan art collection was sold off and ended up in the hands of galleries, museums and private collectors around the world. This piece is exactly where Evan intended it to be, and you can see it in the current exhibition until October.


New Tenants in a Council House

Tredegar House has been a National Trust property for six months now. On March the sixteenth Newport City Council officially handed over the keys to the House and the Trust’s management commenced. I say management because the arrangement was, at the time, quite unique. The National Trust are not the owners; the House is leased from the Council. As, I’m afraid, I say on public tours, it is still a council house – it just has new tenants.

Things were a bit hectic, to say the least, when it was decided to open the House to visitors within three weeks. There had been plans formulated and decisions made beforehand of course. One thing that was certain was that the visitor route and entrance would have to be changed. The Seventeenth Century entrance would become the main way into Tredegar House for the first time in nearly a hundred and fifty years. Another huge change was that there would be no guided tours. Visitors would enter and experience the House in a free flow system and everything would be much more hands-on and approachable. This would be facilitated by National Trust volunteers acting as Meeters-and-Greeters and Room Hosts. The problem was that in an area with very few NT properties there was no army of volunteers to call upon and therefore a recruitment drive was initiated. Very soon we had a good core of about fifty people who were willing to give up their time to help us open the House. Currently we have around two hundred and fifty volunteers on the books with about seventy or eighty coming in on a very regular basis.

Some of the ‘veterans’ and staff at a party celebrating getting through the first month!

There were a couple of downsides to these decisions. The logistics of it all meant that eight of the refurbished rooms that had previously been opened for guided tours, had to be closed for the time being. The decision to make the House more family friendly with a hands-on approach necessitated the removal of many original pieces from display. However, this was the price we would have to pay for becoming more attractive to visitors. I have to say, it is quite a relief not to be continually worrying about antiques and furniture being touched and not having to keep telling people not to touch or lean or sit on items. In many ways, it all makes for a happier, friendlier and more welcoming Tredegar House. Indeed, that is the response of a good eighty per cent of the visitors who leave comments.

Visitor numbers are up. We had hoped to have forty thousand visitors in the first year and we have already had thirty four thousand, so it looks like we will easily achieve that target. Membership is going well too. However, for me the success story is the group of regular volunteers we have here now. As one of them, John, said to me “This place gets a hold on you. I love it. When I’m not actually here, I’m reading about the House and the family”.  I know what he means and he is far from being alone in thinking that.

Therefore, the new tenants of Tredegar House seem to have settled in and I suspect they will be resident for quite some time.