Patrick O’Donovan in Personal Memoir in Mary Craig, editor, Woodruff at Random, The Universe, 1978: “It was a joyous and exciting house.”
It had been a cell or dependent priory of Abingdon abbey. The sixteenth-century, two-storey building on the right, alongside the garden, became Douglas’s library and their chapel.
Mary Craig in Craig, op cit: “What he was […] looking for was not a house but a library, and, leafing one day through Country Life, he found […] what he wanted. It was a picture of the library at Marcham Priory, near Abingdon, in the Vale of the White Horse (shades of Chesterton). ‘He wanted that library whatever happened,’ says Mia. ‘He didn’t care at all what the house looked like.’ On the day that the auction for Marcham Priory took place, Mia was away in the north-east, attending the installation of their friend Gordon Wheeler as Bishop of Middlesbrough. She returned home tired, opened the door, ‘and saw on the hall-table two bottles of champagne, three pictures of Marcham Priory and a huge map of Berkshire.’” I remember him, some days before, calculating on the back of an envelope how much he would need to spend.
The library was not quite on the scale of Acton’s and I am not sure how many of the books he had had in Evelyn Mansions made their way there. He admitted that libraries needed to grow organically, but he bought indiscriminately. The contents of entire (so it looked) antiquarian and second-hand bookshops, from tomes almost as old as printing to ones a few years old, would arrive at Marcham.
Douglas passed on the advice he had been given as a young man: “Read for four hours every day, it doesn’t matter what, and you will become a wise man.” I didn’t take it. I remember him as he often was before a meal, with a book pressed to his nose, so that he could just see the print, in his reclining leather chair, a glass of sherry nearby on one of the precarious piles. When his eyesight started to fail him badly, he would listen to tapes or be read to.
I organised the library’s contents prior to its sale, c 1975, to Notre Dame in Indiana.
The Priory housed a large part of the Acton correspondence until 1973, when these papers joined Acton’s library and the other materials already at Cambridge University Library.