Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cliveden and the Astors

I receive a monthly e-newsletter from Cliveden in Berkshire England - “one of the world’s finest luxury hotels” - not because I can ever afford to stay there, but because I used this grand country house in my latest novels. Under the ownership of Waldorf and Nancy Astor, Cliveden became the centre of social and political life between the wars, with many illustrious guests from royalty to George Bernard Shaw, Churchill, and Charlie Chaplin.

During WWI, the Astors offered their indoor tennis court and bowling alley to the Canadians, which became the core of the Duchess of Connaught’s Canadian Red Cross Hospital. Nancy Astor (who didn't become Lady Astor until 1919) was renowned for visiting the men and cajoling them into getting well. A Canadian hospital was once again built in the grounds during WWII, and remained a hospital until the 1980s.

One of the Canadian doctors who worked there during the Second World War talks in his memoirs about Nancy’s generous nature, friendliness, and determination to help. He and other staff were often invited to dine with the Astors, who were teetotal. However, the butler would discreetly ask the guests if they would care for more sustaining refreshment, and pour them glasses of whiskey.

Some of my characters dine with the Astors in Elusive Dawn, while others work at the hospital or are patients. One day I should like to dine at Cliveden as well!

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