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.
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.