Lovers who loved Rye

Festival chairman John Case introduces Dr Ormrod and Linda McCarthay

Dr Richard Ormrod delivered a fascinating talk at the Methodist church about the time spent in Rye by the writer Radclyffe Hall and her partner, the sculptor Una, Lady Troubridge.

Hall, whose name was Marguerite but was known as John, is most famous for her lesbian novel “The Well of Loneliness” published in 1928. The book was the subject of an obscenity trial following which its publication was banned and all copies in the UK were ordered to be destroyed. In the wake of the trial, the two lovers took refuge in Rye and spent the 1930s in various residencies in the town.

At different times they lived in a small cottage in Hucksteps Row, the Santa Maria in West Street and spent several months as guests at the Mermaid Inn. At the Mermaid they often entertained friends including EF Benson, author of the “Mapp and Lucia” books.

In 1930, Hall bought Black Boy House in the High Street. The building was given that name as King Charles II is reputed to have stayed there, the monarch’s dark Italian looks having earned him that soubriquet. The two women also spent many happy years in the Forecastle, also in Hucksteps Row.

Hall and Troubridge met in 1915 through the lieder singer Mabel Batten known as “Ladye”, who was Hall’s lover and Troubridge’s cousin. The awkwardness of this situation was resolved in 1916 by Ladye’s death. As a token of their love and affection for Ladye, and perhaps motivated by a sense of Catholic guilt, the women installed a magnificent rood in the church of St Anthony of Padua in Watchbell Street, when they were living in a house opposite the church. On the floor beneath the wooden cross is a plaque that reads “Of your charity pray for the soul of Mabel Veronica Batten in memory of whom this rood was given. 1930”.

Dr Ormrod’s insightful lecture was interspersed by readings from “The Well of Loneliness” by Linda McCarthay, whose mellifluous voice added drama and depth to Hall’s prose.

Image Credits: Tony McLaughlin .


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