Marcham Priory

July 26 2014

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Mentioned in the post before last. Where Douglas and Mia Woodruff lived from 1964, when they left London, until their deaths, his in 1978, hers in 1994.

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.

One Response to “Marcham Priory”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    There is an unsigned piece about the library in The Tablet’s May 14 1983 issue:

    http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/14th-may-1983/8/notebook

    It says that his library contained 12,000 books at the time of his death. But he sold as well as bought: it was not a single collection that had been growing since his youth, though he had had many volumes for a long time. The sale to Notre Dame was made before his death.

    Acton estimated that the main library at Aldenham contained 45-50,000 books.


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