Waugh in Chagford
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
It’s raining here so, in an attempt to cheer myself up, it seems a good moment to ask: is this the nicest open-air public pool in England? The pool, which was opened in 1934 (see below), lies on the edge of the medieval stannary (i.e. tin-mining) town of Chagford, in the heart of Dartmoor National Park. It is fed by the nearby river Teign.
The Times recently ran an item on “the 30 best lidos in Britain” (we do love lists in this country, don’t we?), in which Chagford Pool was placed a lowly 28th. I’d have put it much higher.
A mile or so down the road is Easton Court, the rather unprepossessing hotel where Evelyn Waugh stayed, on army leave, in 1944, to write Brideshead Revisited: “I came to Chagford with the intention of starting on an ambitious novel”, he recorded in his diary. Meanwhile, to his wife Laura, who was expecting, he wrote in February, “The other guests in the hotel are all like old house-keepers. There are plenty of eggs. I have found an old man who will go to Stinkers to get me claret”, He was composing at quite a rate – “Mag. Op. steams along slowly at about 1500 words a day”. The novel is signed off “Chagford, February-June, 1944.” To his friend and literary agent A. D. Peters he confessed “It would have a small public at any time [he has the wartime paper shortages in mind]. I should not think six Americans will understand it”.
On February 13, he notes in his diary “My wine arrived on Thursday”. But the war is never far from his thoughts: aside from the anxiety at the possibility of having his leave cut short – “No news from the War Office” – he feels that “it is hard to be fighting against Rome. We bombed Castel Gandolfo”.
The baby arrived in May: “Telephone message that Laura has had a daughter and is well. A dull day’s work.” The next day, “. . . walked to Mass at Gidleigh – delicious fresh morning and beautiful path by river” (“mass” would of course have been pronounced with a long vowel).
Near Easton Court is the field where the Chagford Show is held every August. In Chapter Four of the novel Waugh describes how Sebastian and Charles are “sunbathing and watching through a telescope the Agricultural Show which was in progress in the park below us. It was a modest two-day show serving the neighbouring parishes, and surviving more as a fair than as a centre of serious competition”. It would be nice to think that Waugh may have got the idea for the scene locally.