I am currently visiting my parents in Gloucestershire, and we took the opportunity to visit Tredegar House, near Newport. Tredegar House was the home of the Morgan family, as in the famous Captain Morgan, but I’m not going to discuss him today– or William Morgan, builder of the house, who married two fabulously rich heiresses, one of whom was his cousin. The second, Elizabeth Dayrell, absolutely hated him; she used to call the maids into the bedroom to show them ‘how much he looked like a monkey’, and they had furious rows. Eventually, she attempted to stab him, and was committed. Nor am I going to discuss Lady Rachel Morgan, who nearly bankrupted the family by the simple expedient of refusing to die, or their famous horse, Sir Briggs, which served in the Crimea, and took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade. (So did two of the sons of the house, one of whom was Sir Briggs’ owner, but Sir Briggs outlasted him on the field)
No, instead, this post is about Evan Morgan, 2nd Viscount Tredegar, and his sister Gwyneth.
The Morgan siblings came from eccentric stock. Their father, Courtenay, owned one of the largest yachts in the world, and sailed around the globe in it twice before refitting it as a hospital ship in World War One, and their mother, born Lady Katherine Carnegie, believed herself to be a kingfisher, though apparently the worst this led to was dressing only in blue and green, and building birds’ nests to give to friends, so it could have been worse. Evan and Gwyneth came of age in the 1920s, as Bright Young Things, and took to it with abandon.
Gwyneth, living in London, fell in with a ‘Bad Crowd’. She was known to be a drug addict, and her disappearance was reported in 1924. Some months later, a body presumed to be hers was recovered from the Thames, identified only by her necklace, and her underwear, which had her name on. Lacking DNA tests, she was never identified for sure.
Evan Morgan, meanwhile, strikes me as a Bertie Wooster who never found his Jeeves. Notoriously gay, he nonetheless married twice. The first marriage ended when his wife left him, went off to Budapest to stay with the Cartiers, and eventually died from dubious slimming pills. His second marriage, to Princess Olga Dolgorouky, was dissolved in 1943, but the two remained friends, though she once said she could not distinguish between fact or fiction when he spoke to her.
Evan kept a menagerie at Tredegar, which included a swearing parrot, a baboon called Bimbo who wandered carelessly throughout the bedrooms, and a kangaroo. Guests were invited to box with the kangaroo. It won.
There are several rooms at the top of the house styled as they would have been in Evan’s day. Martini glasses proliferate, including in the bathroom, and the bedroom contained a jeroboam of champagne, tucked into an armchair.
Evan was, simultaneously, chamberlain to two popes, and an occultist hailed by Aleister Crowley as ‘Adept of Adepts’. Apparently he performed his rites both in his bedroom, and below stairs in the basement, which must have been rather a trial to the servants.
Below stairs at Tredegar, where they’ve been having a bit of trouble with collapsible chimneys that shouldn’t.