Moeran in Eynsford
"I lost faith in myself round 1926
and composed nothing for several years. I even nearly became
a garage proprietor in partnership with Cockerill the ex-air
ace...I had an awfully lazy period in Eynsford. If you knock
off for a long time, it is frightfully hard to get going."
Letter to Peers Coetmore, 1948(?)
Eynsford lies to the south east
The village of Eynsford
lies to the south east of London, just outside the M25 orbital
motorway, in the county of Kent. No longer, perhaps, the sleepy
idyll it might once have been, with a fair amount of traffic
passing through its main road, the setting is peaceful enough,
managing to be engagingly rural without frightening off the
affluent commuters able to afford the relatively high house
prices there. It is a village that has seen a fair amount
of history, and there is a brief if mildly interesting visit
to be paid to the ruins of its small castle.
One thing the local historians don't mention
too often is a notorious set of residents who lived there
between 1925 and 1928. It was during these years that Jack
Moeran, Peter Warlock and Warlock's
manservant, Hal Collins, took up residence in a small house
in the centre of the village, next door to a chapel, a few
yards across the road from the pub. To say that these three
lived eccentrically would be an understatement.
The Five Bells pub
Little has thus far been written about this
time - the lack of musical output puts it somewhat outside
Self's remit (though do see the page on 'Maltworms'),
and Lionel Hill's book begins almost twenty years later. So
I am glad to report that, from a pamphlet written by Gwen
McIntyre of the Farningham and Eynsford Local History Society
a few pieces of the Moeran jigsaw may be reassembled.
McIntyre's primary interest is in Warlock, but
she had unique access to long local memories as well as musical
history books with which to write her text, and there is plenty
there too for the Moeran detective.
In the garden of the Five Bells
Collins, Moeran, Constant Lambert, Warlock
In addition to Moeran, Warlock and Collins (a
Maori also known as Te Akua, of whom it is said that he "consumed
vast amount of stout and would sometimes perform Maori war
dances with terrifying realism") there was a fourth member
of the household, Warlock's girlfriend, Barbara Peache. With
frequent visitors filling up the small house, it was not unusual
for Warlock and Peache to share their bed with a third girl.
That this gossip should have escaped the cottage is perhaps
an indication of the scandal brought on the village by the
household. Other shocks for the locals included public nudity
- Warlock riding his motorcycle around the village naked,
a visitor collecting fish and chips in the buff, and a strange
young man playing the piano with no clothes on. It seems even
when clothed, Warlock and Peache always walked around barefoot
indoors, which in itself was enough to cause shocked comment.
Their capacity for drink was legendary - "they
would full up big urns at the Five Bells and take them back...the
kitchen [was] swimming in beer." At the time Moeran had a
"big Renault car", which they often took (if not riding a
penny farthing bicycle) to The Peacock, a pub in a neighbouring
village. "Once Jack Moeran came home alone and drove his car
through a hawthorn hedge and damaged his face."
Moeran in the late 1920's
From a friend, Jack Lindsay, comes this evidence:
"We drank up all the beer and hurried across to the Five Bells
where we sat at the back on the garden seats by the rickety
table, with the leaves of the trees brushing the sweat from
our brows...then we carried a beer-supply home in a large
McIntyre relates: "Once a party of them left
the Five Bells and went towards Shoreham in Moeran's car.
They ended up in a ditch but without much damage to the car
or themselves, fortunately.
"...they were very generous to the clientele
of the Five Bells and popular with them. During a convivial
session, they were joined by a little old man who had made
his way to Eynsford from Dartford where he was living in the
workhouse attached to Dartford Hospital. Subsequently they
had him to stay in the cottage for a week or two and his little
figure, which they wrapped in a blanket, was part of the party
crossing the road to the pub. They also put him in Jack Moeran's
car, wrapped in his blanket, and took him on jaunts round
the countryside - no doubt to other pubs." The other main
form of transport appears to have been a wheelbarrow, used
to carry Warlock home from the station (where the local station
master had instructions to haul him out of the train...),
and to transport assorted guests and interlopers to and from
the Five Bells and various local parties.
Geoffrey Self mentions the household's habit
of singing uproarious sea shanties on Sunday mornings to try
and drown out the church services next door, for which they
received the God-fearing villagers' prayers. They also managed
to outrage the Sunday School superintendent once, when Warlock
walked over from the Five Bells to talk to some children standing
by the church railings, saying to them "I'll be your Jesus."
But there must have been a kind of resigned tolerance too,
as Warlock played for the children in the church's schoolroom,
a musical performance "somewhat marred by his pulling faces
as he played...one girl was so taken with the giggles she
had to rush from the room." The local children nick-named
him "Gentleman Jesus".
The cottage in Eynsford
But in all of this, while Moeran developed a
complexion which earned him the affectionate moniker "Raspberry"
or "Old Raspberry" and did very little work, Warlock was productive,
though plagued with bouts of depression, as Moeran later recalled:
"When the black mood passed he would write a song a day for
a week, fumbling about with chords and whistling...All his
work was done in this way - quickly, at the piano and often
in an atmosphere that was far from quiet."
There were many regular visitors to the house
- assorted artists and musicians, including John Goss, Cecil
Gray, Bernard van Dieren, Lord Berners, Hubert Foss and Constant
Lambert - plus Moeran's 'girlfriend' of the time, Nina Hamnett.
"She tells of the large, important lunch that was cooked on
Sunday with everyone in the house helping. Some serious beer-drinking
was done in the garden of the pub opposite while the food
cooked...[Warlock] loved to have large bonfires [which used
to] smoulder and smoke at night."
During this time Moeran's previously prolific
output petered out, and all we have is a handful of songs
and short piano pieces. The time probably also sowed the seeds
of his alcohol problems. And yet, coming out of the other
side of this manic 'time out' Moeran was to reappraise his
work and develop his technique into the mature style which
was to prove so fruitful in the 1930's and 1940's.
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