Tag Archive: Chelsea


A Spirit Message for Napper

I have been trawling around for anecdotes relating to Elvira’s and Billy Milton’s friend, Napper Dean Paul – the disreputable but rather engaging brother of the much better known Brenda. I’ll post some of these shortly but this snippet (which, I freely admit, has nothing really to do with Elvira) struck me as so singular and downright odd that I thought I’d share it.

It comes from “The Wisdom of the Gods” by H.Dennis Bradley, which is an account of his researches into the spirit world. Spiritualism was very popular in the aftermath of the First world War and, along with Theosophy, had quite a following in artistic and alternative circles. The book  consists largely of supposedly verbatim reports of seances, most of which took place in Chelsea, in the years 1924 and 1925.

H. Dennis Bradley

“Mr. John De Forest has a dramatic experience: Theodora giving him a message to “Napper “—The spirit of T. W. H. Crosland tries to speak and fails—The author is satisfied

January 12, 1925

AFTER the failure of my first experiment on my resumption of personal mediumship, I had no intention of holding a further séance until a full week had elapsed. On this day, however, a friend of Anthony’s, Mr. John De Forest, a younger son of Baron De Forest, was dining with us. Mr. De Forest had no knowledge of spiritualism, but having heard of certain of my experiences, introduced the subject and discussed it with avidity. After dinner he was extremely desirous that we should make an experiment. I was not at all anxious to go, but eventually, as my son was also keen, and as he was returning to Cambridge the next day, I agreed.

“The circle therefore consisted of my wife and myself, Anthony, and Mr. John De Forest.

Anthony asked me if I would mind the jazz instruments being placed in the middle of the circle. I told him that he could do exactly as he pleased. The luminous trumpet was, as usual, also placed in the centre of the room. Lights were turned off and the gramophone turned on. Within five or six minutes after the second record had been played, the luminous trumpet was taken up, moved quickly all round the circle and taken up towards the ceiling. On a jazz record being played, the drum and cymbals were played in syncopated time. When Galli-Curci and Battistini records were played, the trumpet was lifted and the songs were conducted. I asked the question : “Was that Palastrina conducting?” and a very loud tap on the trumpet came in the affirmative.”

Palastrina ( probably not pondering about the arrival of jazz)

“After about twenty minutes the trumpet was lifted and a feminine voice spoke to Mr. De Forest in a somewhat excited manner.

MR. DE FOREST (apparently recognizing the voice) Are you Theodora speaking to me?

THE VOICE: Yes.

THE VOICE: Will you tell “Napper” about this?

As I had no knowledge as to the identity of “Theodora,” or as to whom the name “Napper” referred, I said to Mr. De Forest : “Do you know who ‘Napper’ is? ”

MR. DEFOREST: Yes, it is the name by which we call Dean Paul.

HDB: Did you notice that the “spirit” volunteered this name ?

Immediately I made this remark the luminous trumpet switched away from Mr. De Forest and came straight over close to me, saying: “Yes, I did.”

The trumpet then went back again to Mr. De Forest, and a further conversation was carried on between them.

Mr. De Forest informed me afterwards that Theodora was a young lady friend of his who had died a fortnight previously of typhoid fever. He was greatly impressed by the phenomenon, saying : “It is simply marvelous.”

Annie spoke to Anthony, to my wife, and also to me. I asked her if it were quite all right for us to resume our sittings, and she replied that it was.

The power did not appear to be very strong, and the conversations could be maintained for only a very little time.

After a short interval, another spirit came through in an extremely agitated manner, speaking in a very hoarse whisper which it was most difficult to interpret. All we could get from him was “Crosland “—the name was repeated twice. I tried to encourage the voice, and to get some information, but it was quite impossible, and the luminous trumpet fell clattering to the ground.

I lifted it and then asked: “Was the last voice that spoke T. W. H. Crosland?” and a loud tap on the trumpet came in the affirmative. We sat for another ten minutes, but nothing occurred, whereon the sitting, which had lasted for about one hour, was closed.”

T.W.H.Crosland

“Neither the power nor the strength of the voices seemed to be nearly as strong as on occasions of the last experiments in October. At the same time, I was quite satisfied with the results of this second experiment after the resumption, and the point of evidence given through by the volunteering of the name “Napper” was of distinct value.”

If you so wish , you can read the entire book here  The Wisdom of the Gods

As far as I know, this is the first appearance in print of the wayward Brian Dean Paul. Given the date, it looks like his nickname predated his career as an opium smoker and morphine addict – I had assumed “Napper” referred to “nodding out”. Whether his friend John De Forest( or  Bradley’s son,”Anthony”) became part of his and Brenda’s circle I can’t say. My guess is not, as De Forest became a top amateur golfer (Walker Cup) in the 1930s. He was part of the “respectable” upper-echelons of smart society and gets a mention in Barbara Cartland’s memoirs. His father, Baron De Forest ( Maurice Arnold De Forest – later Baron Bendern) was a wealthy Liberal MP, a keen promoter of sport and an early motor-racing enthusiast. John was the father of Caroline De Bendern, who became the icon of a later generation of rebellious youth when she was photographed in the May 68 Paris demonstrations. She was, like some of her Jazz Age counterparts, disinherited for her act of defiance.

“Marianne 68”

T.W.H.Crosland was a poet, polemicist and an editor of The Academy who was known for his fierce opposition to homosexuality (he’d have loved Napper). He co-wrote Lord Alfred Douglas’ autobiography – where Douglas recanted his wayward youth and launched a lifetime of venom on his former lover Oscar Wilde.  Robbie Ross, something of a patron saint to the more aesthetically inclined of the Bright Young People, was a particular target of their bile. It is also claimed that Crosland plagiarised the work of two of Ross’s proteges, Wilfred Owen and Sieggfried Sassoon ( later the lover of Bright Young Aesthete Incarnate – Stephen Tennant). Crosland had died just before the seance took place.

What I really like about the seance is the unlikely arrival of jazz into the world of the supernatural. Daft as this particular instance is, it does indicate how much it had permeated the culture to become, by the mid-twenties, an established idiom and a recognised marker of youth.Of the other musical fare on offer, Battistini was a noted Italian baritone and Amelita Galli-Curci was a soprano whose records sold in vast quantities. In keeping with the mysticism of the evening, she was an early Western advocate of Yoga.

As to the author of Wisdom of The Gods, bizarrely but rather neatly as far is this blog is concerned, he was the man chosen, in 1932, to adapt Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies for the stage. He made quite a success of it. Whether he had any help from Theodora, or others from her realm, is not recorded.

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“Mauve” Waterhouse

Charlotte Breese’s  biography of Leslie Hutchinson, “Hutch“, apart from being a moving and rather sad portrayal of the Bright Young Thing’s favourite cabaret performer, is a mine of information and, sometimes slightly scurrilous, revelations about the antics of  the “faster” crowd between the Wars. One anecdote in particular caught my eye.

Hutch 1928

In a section of the book that begins with the statement, “While most of the parties that Hutch attended were fairly decorous, some were scenes of open debauch.”, the following is given as an example –

“The wife of Sir Nicholas Hildersley, Audrey, known as “Mauve”, used to entertain her decadent friends at their home in Swan Walk, Chelsea. While her husband, often with his fellow philatelist George V, worked on his stamp collection in the basement, the guests, stimulated by drink and cocaine at his expense, used to chant “Hey, Hey, Let Nicky Pay!” Hutch and Mauve, armed with a musical saw, used to sing and vigorously enact “Let’s Do It”.”

“Mauve was a vain woman, in a cloud of Turkish cigarettes and Chanel No. 5, who avoided having children for fear of losing her beautiful figure . Although Hutch probably tried various drugs – Billy Milton, a rival pianist, claimed he took cocaine – he did not become dependent on the stimuli of the very fast set, limiting himself to being a lifelong heavy smoker and drinker.”

So, we find another seemingly respectable Chelsea household where drug-taking and sexual shenanigans are the order of the day. As a bonus, we also have a mention of Elvira’s friend, Billy Milton.

Now, I have no wish to contravene the libel laws or to offend anybody related to the Hildersleys  and the story, presumably related by one of that ilk, cannot be independently verified, but it does seem worth pointing out the following facts.

There is no record of anyone called Hildersley residing in Swan Walk in the relevant years (1928-30, I’d guess). However Sir Nicholas Edwin Waterhouse, senior partner in the already powerful accountancy firm Price-Waterhouse, lived at No.2 with his wife Audrey, known as “Mauve” to her friends. Sir Nicholas was a keen philatelist, his book on American postage stamps can still be found. Conspicuously wealthy, the couple were both keen patrons of the arts.

Swan Walk, Chelsea

One artist who benefitted especially from their support was the great “lost Modernist”,  the maverick and irascible Wyndham Lewis. By the late 1920s, having alienated most of literary and artistic London, Lewis was in need of sympathetic patronage. The Waterhouses funded his journal The Enemy and helped him financially during the writing of The Apes of God (a novel which lambasted everyone Lewis knew, thus ensuring his further isolation.)

Wyndham Lewis was connected to Elvira’s world through Marjorie Firminger’s unfortunate infatuation with the artist  (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/mary-ashliman-heather-pilkington-and-the-blue-angel/ ). It just possible that Firminger and her friends  met Lewis at Swan Walk. Firminger’s narcotically-inclined co-host at many a Chelsea bash,Olivia Wyndham,was distantly related to Lewis (but then again so was she to almost everybody.)

Audrey Waterhouse was much older than Elvira and I think it is unlikely that they were acquainted. However, if true, the presence of yet another Chelsea residence where cocaine was freely available would not have escaped the notice of the circles Mrs.Barney inhabited. As to Hutch, there might be – according to Charlotte Breese – an even closer connection to Elvira than simply a shared fondness for “decadent” parties – and that will be dealt with shortly.

 

 

James Laver, Iconographer

In the context of the era of parties and excess, James Laver is remembered mainly for an extract of comic verse entitled  “The Women of 1926” . This witty and insightful summary of, at least, one aspect of the 1920s features  prominently in both Marek Kohn’s “Dope Girls” and D.J.Taylor’s’ Bright Youmg People“.The poem has just the right mixture of satirical distance and insider knowledge to simultaneously valorize and deplore its chosen target. It is a tease   – but telling and achingly evocative, nonetheless.

“Mother’s advice, and Father’s fears,
Alike are voted—just a bore.
There’s Negro music in our ears,
The world’s one huge dancing floor.
We mean to tread the Primrose Path,
In spite of Mr. Joynson-Hicks.
We’re People of the Aftermath
We’re girls of 1926.

In greedy haste, on pleasure bent,
We have no time to think, or feel
What need is there for sentiment
Now we’ve invented Sex Appeal?
We’ve silken legs and scarlet lips,
We’re young and hungry, wild and free,
Our waists are round about the hips
Our skirts are well above the knee

We’ve boyish busts and Eton crops,
We quiver to the saxophone.
Come, dance before the music stops,
And who can bear to be alone?
Come drink your gin, or sniff your ‘snow’,
Since Youth is brief, and Love has wings,
And time will tarnish, ere we know,
The brightness of the Bright Young Things.”

But James Laver wrote far more than these few lines. In fact, he was a bit of an expert when it came to affectionately sending up the Manners and Mores of the Bright Young People. Apart from the racy 1933 best-seller, Nymph Errant – turned into a musical by Cole Porterm he produced three  long verse pieces that attained cult status. A Stitch in Time (1927) Love’s Progress (1929) and Cupid’s Changeling (1933) (collected together as Ladies Mistakes 1933) were three mock-Augustan pastiches chronicling the journey of various young women through the pifalls and perils of the Modern World. Imagine Alexander Pope among the Bright Young People and you get a sense of the mood. Considered quite saucy at the time, they remain an engaging social document and are still entertaining, even though the humour is a little forced. The marvellous  illustrations by Thomas Lowinsky make them even more attractive and worth hunting down.

“Love’s Progress” is my favourite. It tells the sad tale of a young Suburbanite, Araminta, and her entanglement in the Artistic circles of Bloomsbury and Chelsea. The description of a Chelsea party and its guests conjures up the world of Olivia Wyndham or Viva King with uncanny accuracy,

The poem continues

“One girl, with more to show, wore even less,

And one young man came in a bathing dress.

Another man (though to describe him thus,

As masculine, is almost libellous)

Had shaved his eyebrows smoother than his chin

And painted more artistic eyebrows in.

One woman wore a short, divided skirt,

A black tie and a very stiff, white shirt

As if to show herself a thing apart,

And tell the world she carried in her heart

All Messalina’s wild desires, or worse,

And everything of Sappho – but her verse.

To you Fair Reader, sated as you are

With gin on tap in your own private bar,

This party would have offered nothing new,

Nor had to her, were Araminta you.

But she, poor girl, cut off from knowledge quite

Had passed her youth in grim, Suburban night;

And that instinctive preference for the best

That you by Nature, and at birth, possessed,

She knew not of, nor could she e’er have guessed

That these were what the gossip-writer calls

“All Chelsea’s smartest Intellectuals”.”

and so forth. There is more acute social observation in the hundred or so light-hearted pages that make up the trilogy than in any of the novels of the era, with the possible exception of Evelyn Waugh. More examples can be found at

Ladies’ Mistakes – Laver and Lowinsky

and for more on the illustrator see

Thomas Lowinsky

James Laver (1899-1975), who described himself as an “iconographer”,was nothing if not diverse in his interests. As a a curator and consultant at the V&A, he practically invented modern fashion history, bringing a psychological and what might be termed a “Cultural Studies” approach to the area. He was just about the first person to deem theatre design and stage sets worthy of scholarly interest and C20th Design History is deeply indebted to his pioneering efforts. He was a gifted translator of verse, an influential teacher and a useful journalist. He also contributed to the first forays into fashion and design programmes on television (both pre-war and in the 1950s). As a sideline he was an expert on the Occult and knew Aleister Crowley during the The Great Beast’s final days.

He was drawn into the world of Bohemia and all things theatrical through his marriage to the actress Veronica Turleigh.The couple lived in Piccadilly and then Chelsea. Always something of an outsider, his father was a printer and he was a “scholarship boy” at Oxford, he appears to have enjoyed slipping between different social worlds. In his autobiography “Museum Piece” he recalls, with some relish, “To my colleagues at South Kensington I had become a cigar-smoking, Savoy-supping, enviable but slightly disreputable character, hobnobbing with chorus girls and hanging round stage doors. To Gertrude Lawrence and her friends I was something ‘in a museum’, engaged in mysterious and apparently useless activities quite outside their comprehension; a character out of The Old Curiosity Shop, hardly fit to be let out alone.Perhaps unconsciously, I played up to both these delusions.”

Laver’s  classic textbook (still used by students)

He was an observer rather than a participator. He did know some of the leading Bright Young People (including Brenda Dean Paul) but he was never of that circle. However, through his novels, his satirical verse and his collaborations with the likes of Cole Porter, Oliver Messel, C.B.Cochran, Gertrude Lawrence and,even, Anna May Wong he found himself at the centre of Fashionable Modernity and to no little extent helped shape the way in which that world – in all its modes and manifestations – were perceived by the wider society.He was no moralist or political analyst but, as he himself put it, an iconographer – and often a very perceptive and playful one.