Lucy Lethbridge

Of Barons and Butchers

The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness


Granta Books 240pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The hazy black-and-white photograph of a pair of imposing gateposts which adorns the dustjacket of Elizabeth Speller’s memoir of her family suggests that the gardens of her childhood were rather grand. This turns out, intriguingly, to be only half-true: in among the usual middle-class British family tree peopled by characters spiralling up and down the social scale, there was a startlingly unusual connection. In the 1880s and 1890s Gerald Richard Howard – wealthy son of Lady Fanny Cavendish and her husband Frederick Howard MP, and nephew of the Duke of Devonshire – lived with Ada Curtis, a former maid and daughter of a Lincolnshire butcher; the couple produced eight children, including the author’s grandmother. The Howards and Cavendishes are the ‘grand gates’ aspect of Speller’s family, but there are also affluent shopkeepers from the 1920s, a fashionable screenwriting uncle in the 1960s, and a missionary great-aunt in Bulawayo. Speller’s grandmother had a passionate liaison with a Polish soldier during the War, and her great-aunt Gwynneth travelled the South of France with a companion, Sidney, who had dyed red hair and wore make-up.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Lecture on war and peace in 19th-century Europe by Professor Sir Richard Evans, Thurs 25 Oct, 6.30pm Europe House… ,
    • 'Why, throughout the world, are so many people fascinated by the fiction and reality of espionage? And why of all p… ,
    • . here on books, Muriel Spark and life's tangled dance ,
    • RT : There aren't enough aggressive subtitles these days: ,
    • Churchill's on the cover of the October edition of the magazine. Piers Brendon reviews two new books about the Brit… ,
    • 'Readers have no more power to predict where the next story is going to take them than the prisoners had to determi… ,
    • 'Ho was no Soviet or Chinese puppet. He was a nationalist first and foremost. Had the Americans just realised this.… ,