Tag Archives: Evan Morgan

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.

robert_graves

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.


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.


The Beginning of the End – a Centenary at Tredegar House

Monday, 11th March 2013

One hundred years ago today Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar, died at his home of Tredegar House in Newport. This was a pivotal moment in the fate of the Morgan dynasty and their ancestral home. This was the beginning of the end.

Godfrey Funeral

The Funeral of Godfrey Morgan, Viscount Tredegar

The Morgan family had lived at the Tredegar Park site for well over five hundred years. By the end of the Eighteenth Century they owned over forty thousand acres of land. When the Industrial Revolution came into full swing they capitalised on the new wealth it brought. They were responsible for the economic development of the Newport area and benefitted from strong links (sometimes by marriage) with the new industrialist dynasties. Godfrey Morgan was actually the “spare”, his brother Rodney being the “heir”. However, the rather wayward Rodney died prematurely in France in 1854 and Godfrey found himself next in line to inherit the Tredegar Estate. This he did on the death of his father Charles Morgan Robinson Morgan, the first Baron Tredegar, in 1875. Unlike his father, Godfrey spent most of his time at Tredegar House. He took more of an interest in local politics and society and was regarded as a great philanthropist. He could afford to be. Godfrey had never married, there were no children and his lifestyle was simpler than those who preceded  and succeeded him. He was also the owner of land that was bringing industrial wealth and had interests in much of the economic infrastructure in the area. By the turn of the Century there were around a thousand farms paying rent to the Tredegar Estate. Godfrey’s net daily income was in the region of a thousand pounds.

The fortunes of the Morgans were at an apex when Godfrey died. So were the fortunes of South Wales generally, of course, with coal production at its peak. However, the iron, steel and coal industries of Wales were being threatened by the increasing competition of other European economies that had been developing and that of the United States of America. The following year would see the world thrust into the tragedy of the Great War and all of its repercussions and socio-economic upheavals. However, the Morgans were about to go into a downward spiral of near self-destruction anyway.

Courtenay Morgan

Courtenay Morgan

Godfrey’s brother Freddie had already died in 1909 and the Estate would now pass to his nephew Courtenay. Courtenay had a serious side to him, but also knew how to enjoy himself and had a very extravagant lifestyle. He spent a small fortune on servants at the various properties he owned and ran, there were yachts, parties, affairs and two children who knew how to spend just as well as their parents. Courtenay’s wife, Lady Katharine, had no desire to live in Wales and had properties in London and laterly in Surrey. When Courtenay  died in 1934 it was not just the extravagances that had taken their toll on the family fortune, but death duties were contributing to the problems of a rapidly dwindling estate. The heir to it all was not to help matters at all. Evan Morgan took his responsibilities very lightly indeed. At least Courtenay had employed level headed Estate Managers to try and manage things, Evan’s choice of employees often had more to do with their good looks than ability. By the Second World War, Evan Morgan was using only part of Tredegar House to live in, most of it was in mothballs. There was a skeleton staff running the House and the property was in need of basic repairs.

In 1949 Evan died at his mother’s home of Honeywood House. The next to inherit was his elderly Uncle Fred. Owing to his age and failing health arrangements had already been made that although Fred would inherit the title of Baron Tredegar, the bulk of the Estate would go directly to Fred’s son John in order to avoid paying double death duties.

John Morgan and sister

John Morgan and sister

John Morgan had little interest in the area. Indeed after feeling that he had been snubbed when not invited to any of the formal local celebrations and events marking the Coronation of the Queen in 1953, he decided to sever all links with South Wales.  He sold Tredegar House and its immediate grounds and gardens to the Sisters of St Joseph who would go on to use it as a Convent School and later  a comprehensive, St Joseph’s High School which outgrew the property and moved out to a purpose built establishment. John began selling off everything quite ruthlessly , with tenant farmers sometimes only discovering that their livelihoods were to be auctioned by reading it in the local press. Much of the local land went to the Eagle Star Insurance Company.

In 1954 John’s father died and John took the title finally.  John himself died in 1962. The childless Baron was the last Lord Tredegar. Twelve years later Tredegar House became the property of Newport Borough Council. An estate that had taken over half a millennium to build up had disappeared in less than half a century.


Evan Morgan and the 1930s Suite.

Although I have fallen behind on my updates relating the progress of the Spring Clean at Tredegar House, the Clean itself has carried on apace with only the kitchen areas remaining. There is much more happening at the House now, and I have found myself in a new position. When I last posted on this Blog I was a Tour Guide for Newport City Council. Since Saint David’s Day I have been aVisitor Experience Assistant with the National Trust and last week the other Tredegar House staff donned the NT fleeces and polo shirts as the takeover finally happened on March the Nineteenth.

In the meantime I thought I would mention a few rooms that have been spruced up. The King’s Room (and accompanying bathroom), Red Room and the Blue Room were actually cleaned several weeks ago. These rooms will be on view more or less as they are now, when the House opens to the public on the fourth of April (although you may have to book a place on a mini-tour included in the admission fee – please, check before you come to visit us).

The King’s Room recently appeared on the BBC’s Upstairs Downstairs, when it was depicted as a hotel room full of high-ranking Nazis. In the Nineteen Thirties and Forties it was actually the bedroom of Evan Morgan, Viscount Tredegar.  Evan was a man with very catholic tastes and, indeed, with a taste for Catholicism. You won’t find his grave in the family plot at the nearby St. Basil’s Church; his remains are at Buckfast Abbey. Evan had converted to Catholism in 1919 and even became a Private Chamberlain of the Sword and Cape to Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI. A portrait of Evan in his Papal robes hangs in the adjoining bathroom.

Evan Morgan was quite a party animal, and you can hear some of the stories about him, his menagerie, his fascination with the occult and the women in his life on the mini-tour of this suite of rooms.

From the King’s Room, past the Bathroom and then into the Red Room. For a while this was the bedroom of Evan Morgan’s second wife, Olga Dolgorouky. His first wife, Lois Sturt, had died while staying with friends in Hungary.  The Room has been restored to its former state by Newport Council, the Damask wall covering’s colour gives the room its name and the same applies to the adjoining Blue Room (a sitting room-cum-dressing room) which is again part of the mini-tour.

The idea is that we will be presenting these rooms to feel as if Evan is still there.

A couple of years ago, a clairvoyant kindly remarked that from the way I talked about Tredegar House I must of lived there in a previous life. I jokingly replied that I hoped it wasn’t as Evan. “Oh no, dear”, was her reply “He’s still here”.

I do wonder at times.