An interest I had had all my life was agriculture and gardening. As small children, we each had a plot in the kitchen garden at Harehope and sowed seeds there. I helped mother at Hauxley, planned all our gardens when I was married and ordered all the seeds. I had permission from Marna Pease, who was in charge of it then, to join the Bio Dynamic Movement, and to have a copy of the Agriculture Lecture Course. At that time only specified members had access to and could buy the Course since it was geared to farmers and agricultural scientists, a highly specialised course. I felt very privileged. This Course made an enormous impression on me, and I realised at once how some of the treatments described could be used both positively and negatively.
Our kitchen garden, over an acre at Caspidge, was a perfect place to get going at working bio dynamically. An agricultural scientist, Dr. Carl Alexander Mirbt, also an Anthroposophist, had been brought over from Germany by D. N. Dunlop to inaugurate the bio dynamic work over here. Marna Pease had most generously accommodated Dr. Mirbt and his family up at Otterburn. So it was to him I applied for instructions on how I should set to work. He came down to Caspidge and we got busy at once making a compost heap. My first problem was to win over Jim Davis, but Carl Alexander was so friendly that this wasn’t too difficult. And when it came to putting the preparations into the finished heap, naturally, since it was my special interest, I did the work as well as the spraying of soil and plants. It was important for Jim to see results, and I could not expect him to understand what I was doing.
At this time I used to take the children for part of their winter holidays up to Hauxley and also down to Bournemouth. But I wasn’t at all happy about the way they were looked after by either set of grandparents. In Bournemouth, some of them unfortunately got chicken pox, and from a telephone call, I realised that Idonea was really ill and not being properly looked after. So I sent Davis down by car, with blankets and hot bottles, to bring them all home. The chicken pox had temporarily affected Idonea’s heart. Tiggy and John only had it rather mildly and soon recovered.
I also took the children and their Nanny up to Hauxley for part of their summer holidays but had to leave them there because of commitments at home. When, after a fortnight, I went back to join them, I found that they were quite happy there, chiefly I think because there was a wonderful cook who spoilt them with such things as pink cakes! But I found that they were being left out down by the sea and getting really cold, which of course annoyed me! When we all got home, I talked this summer holiday question over with Hugh, and we decided that what we needed was a place by the sea of our own somewhere.
The Welsh coast was the nearest to us, so that autumn we set off from Caspidge to explore. We stayed at the Oakley Arms Hotel, run by Mary and John Roberts, friends of my cousin Belinda, who was the Licensee. We began our search at Aberystwyth. From there we looked at all sorts of places, none of which were suitable. The Roberts advised us to go on through Portmadoc to a very small village, Morfa Bychan, close by the sea. They came along to help us in our search. At the bottom of the hill leading into the village there was a chapel and a road leading past some houses. At the end of this road there was a white house up against the hill. Hugh liked the look of it and wondered if the owners ever let it for holidays. So I was dispatched to go and ask! The owner was not there, but friends were staying there. They told me that it was just a private house and never let.
During our conversation I was told who the owner was, a Miss Joan Howson, an artist in stained glass windows who lived in London. Hugh had meanwhile come to join in these talks and could hardly believe it when told who was the owner — Joan Howson got most of her coloured glass from Chance Bros.! On the strength of this amazing coincidence, Hugh thought she might make an exception about letting the house, and accept the Chance family as tenants for part of their next summer holiday. As a result of the subsequent correspondence, Joan Howson agreed to let the house to us in the coming August since they needed a change, and so we could take the children to the sea.
We still had not found a site for our own holiday home and drove on down a road which led to the sea. On the way we had called at the Post Office to ask if there was anyone willing to sell a plot of land for building. We were told of a Mrs. Williams who had a small holding off the road running down to the sea. We called on Mrs. Williams. She was elderly, a widow living alone, very Welsh, speaking an English that was rather hard to understand! She lived in an old stone cottage with a cow byre built on at one side, and the property was about forty acres, a lot of it sand dunes which went right down to the sea. Mrs. Williams, after a great deal of talking over our tea, eventually understood what we wanted. Not only this, but she agreed to sell us what amounted to one-third of an acre of sand dune, right down by the sea.
Back then at the Oakley Arms, there was a great deal to discuss. We needed a solicitor to draw up a deed of sale, an architect and a builder. The Roberts helped us to find a solicitor and suggested an architect living in Portmadoc. Hugh later got in touch with both, and found the architect, Griffith Morris, not only very helpful, but co operative and with a lively imagination.
Hugh had recently been on a Glass Works business journey to Canada and the U.S. and had fallen in love with the wood houses and cedar shingle cladding of the houses in Canada and on the eastern sea board of the United States. He described these to Griffith Morris and asked if it would be possible to build such a house down here. Griffith said he could think of no objection by the Local Council, and in fact there were none. So plans were begun for our house.
Hugh realised that cousins and friends would soon discover he had this plot in North Wales, which would be ideal for a camping holiday. The house would also need a garage. So Hugh contacted Griff to design a garage which would also have a lavatory and toilet facilities, and a small bedroom at the back, the garage part, which had to be at least eighteen feet square, to accommodate two cars. The building, of course, was all to be in wood. As the house itself would need a septic tank, Griffith got one made to deal with both house and garage sewage. The garage was duly built and was more a cottage than a garage by the time it was finished!
Hugh was in Scotland at this time, and had a letter from Griff enclosing one from the Local Council, stating that, as the garage did not comply with building regulations, it must be pulled down. By our boundary fence there was a small garage belonging to the bungalow next door, and unfortunately Griff had not paid attention to the ruling about the necessary distance between buildings on adjacent sites. Our garage was much too close to the other one! But Griff was not going to be defeated and was determined not to pull down our garage. So he had a brilliant idea of insulating it with asbestos sheeting between its outer and inner walls. And mercifully the Council accepted his plans and our beautiful garage was saved.
The family and I were, by August, in Joan Howson’s house, and I found the beds extremely uncomfortable. So I decided to furnish the garage enough to make it possible to go and live in it. At a splendid shop in Portmadoc I found everything I needed, including a coal burning cooking stove. I got our builder to install it complete with chimney. As it was the same that all the cottages had, it worked perfectly. I found a place that made me a matting to completely cover the garage floor, which of course was only concrete. The bedroom was fitted up with two beds, a chest of drawers and a couple of chairs, and I got a table and chairs for the large room. Idonea then came with me to spend our first night in our new cottage. I had got oil lamps for light, and as Mrs. Williams’ cows were still wandering about down there, they came to investigate this new light, and I got Idonea to go out and chase them away, while we firmly shut our garage doors.
Plans for the house were by now well advanced, and all was ready for the foundation to be laid. The friends at Clent Grove were very interested in the house particularly as it was going to be called St. Bride’s House. Maria Geuter and I drove down to Morfa Bychan, and together we buried a foundation dedication in the middle of where the concrete “raft” was to be laid. Fried Geuter had written a special dedicatory foundation poem that we placed in a beautiful pot made by Rosemary Dugdale Bradley, a talented potter who had set up a kiln at Clent Grove.
The design of the house was really very simple. The large sitting room was lit through a bow window across nearly all of its front wall. A window seat was perfect for looking out over the sand dunes to the sea. There was a massive stone fireplace, with seats at the sides and a splendid chimney. There were bedrooms at each of the corners of the house and a passage going the length of the house behind the sitting room. A good-sized kitchen, with well-planned cupboards and larder, lay behind the sitting room. A bathroom and lavatory were at one end of the passage. The house had a large, very steep roof, and the chimney going up through the middle of the house created two large areas, which we did not at that time turn into rooms. Over the sitting room, a bed/sitting room was made, with a fairly big stone fireplace. This was to be my own private sanctum. Over the bow window I had a balcony, which gave wonderful views right down the bay and over the hills, away beyond Harlech Castle.
But having transformed the original garage into a cottage, we still needed a garage, and bought a pre-fabricated Boulton and Paul wooden one which was put up by the western boundary fence. We had also had a large tent made, which we put up on the site of the house. I had a wooden floor made for it, and lit the tent by a hurricane lantern suspended from the crossbeam. The children used the garage as a bedroom, for which I got beds, and Hugh and a cousin were in the tent, also with beds and mats. It was really very comfortable and sophisticated camping. I slept in the cottage bedroom.
The building of the house went on at a pace. Just before it was finished, probably 1938, I went down by myself and spent a few nights there, and really appreciated this all-wood building. I was able to find some Indian cotton material for the curtains, all in different shaded colours, so the rooms had pinks, greens, blues and yellow. When the lights were on shining through all these colours, Michael Wilson once remarked that it looked like a jewel box.
Meanwhile, a friend of David Clements, Alistair Macdonald, had come to join him at Clent Grove, and with another friend set up a workshop in some of the outbuildings. This was primarily to make furniture for Clent, but they also wanted to create a style of furniture for the new age and to make Clent Grove a show place for the new style. I needed certain things for St. Bride’s House and wanted them also to have a distinctive character. The first thing was a table for the sitting room, and with Leslie Ladell, the talented furniture maker at Clent, we designed an oval table big enough to seat twelve, to fit into the large bow window. It was made of English Walnut with the table top in one piece, which fitted on to trestle shaped legs. I had six stools made, as the window seat would easily accommodate another six. I also bought a beautiful writing table, in the same wood from their workshop, and a chair to match. The whole sitting room was actually made of birch: the floorboards were birch, and the ceiling was birch ply wood panels, while the walls were a figured birch from the Baltic, Masur birch, which Griff Morris had been able to find, giving a wonderful character to the room. The bedrooms were all quite simply straightforward pine, a good background for the coloured curtains. A dressing table with mirror was fitted into the window corner, and each room had two comfortable beds, two chairs, and a good little chest of drawers. I got Indian rugs for the floors, and altogether the bedrooms each had real character.
Came the time for a house warming ceremony, and I decided that this must be very special, considering the founding of the house on the Celtic Saint Brighid. I invited a lot of local people to come to this ceremony, including a well known Bard who lived near Cnicht; two celebrated harpists, and people I knew interested in the Celtic history of Wales. From Clent Grove we had both an instrumental and vocal quartet, all trained by Michael Wilson. The evening began with music by the instrumentalists and also some of the Sunfield songs by the vocal quartet. Then Fried Geuter gave a talk on the Celtic spirit, in which he spoke about the significance of this whole part of North Wales for the spread of the Cosmic understanding of Christianity, and how from Ireland and from here this teaching spread far into Europe. He spoke of the place of St. Bride in this teaching and hoped that the spirit of this most loveable of saints would radiate over this house to give a special kind of happiness to all who came here. The bard from Cnicht then spoke appreciatively of this insight into the spiritual background of the country, and then after more music and singing from the Clent quartet, the two harpists gave a performance of typical Welsh harp music. It was really fascinating to listen to this after the classical music from our own quartet. There seemed to me a certain harshness from the harpists, which detracted from the actual musical quality of what they were playing, but they were very talented professionals.
Then we had copious refreshments, after which all our people had to say goodbye and go back to Clent — they after all had to start work at about 7:00 a.m.
Our Welsh guests were most upset at this break up of the party, as they were used to such evenings lasting well into the small hours, but they understood the circumstances and were most appreciative of what had really been a memorable occasion.
A tragic situation developed at Sunfield when Fried Geuter and Isabel Newitt fell in love and their behaviour made this obvious to the staff. Isabel was determined to replace Maria and made Maria’s life so intolerable that she left the Grove and went to live with her son Herbert in Hagley (who by now had a large flourishing medical practice). I warned both Michael Wilson and Gladys Morrison about Fried and Isabel, but neither would take this seriously. When Isabel miscarried, she and Fried left Sunfield. My warnings were realised as fact.
This, of course, created a great crisis at Sunfield, and Michael was most deeply upset that his faith in Fried had suffered a tragic betrayal. It was the same for me, resulting in the end of my association with Fried Geuter.