Sex, scandal and suicide attempts. Alcohol, affluence and audience...
From Oxford to Wallingford to Woodstock…we explored the county for romance and found hotels, affairs, sadness, art, death and love.
"Putting on your soft slippers"
Oxfordshire also saw the events that led to C.S. Lewis’ happiness and heartbreak.
You may have heard that Marco Pierre White is opening a restaurant in Oxford’s Eastgate hotel, and it was here, years ago, C.S Lewis got engaged to his wife.
He later married Helen Joy Davidman in the Oxford Registry Office, but Joy sadly died not long afterwards from cancer. Following her diagnosis she went to Wingfield Hospital in Headington and it was here that the pairs’ marriage was blessed. She was able to live with Lewis for a short time, until she died in the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1960…she was 45.
Lewis published A Grief Observed after the passing of his wife. It reads, “For those few years H. and I feasted on love; every mode of it – solemn and merry, romantic and realistic, sometimes as dramatic as a thunderstorm, sometimes as comfortable and unemphatic as putting on your soft slippers”
So Oxfordshire has been host to tragedy and also love – a love that possibly wasn’t always plain sailing and joyous, but one that was honest and true.
From rags to Rossetti
From humble Oxford beginnings to posing for world famous artists, Jane Burden might be described as a girl who done good. It is not merely her work as a model, though, that qualifies her for this article, but her romance with Gabriel Dante Rossetti which she embarked on having already married William Morris.
In 1839 Jane Burden was born in the far from luxurious St Helen’s Passage, Oxford. When she was 18 this daughter of a stableman was spotted by Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and Rossetti; they were in Oxford painting the Oxford Union murals and taken by the young woman’s looks (as Arthur Marwick writes “The original Pre-Raphaelites went out deliberately looking for what they referred to as ‘stunners’”). Jane went on to sit for the Pre-Raphaelites. Consequently she met William Morris who she married in 1859.
Becoming Jane Morris did not stop her engaging in a love affair with Rossetti. Lisa Dallape Matson remarks, “Jane was more a femme fatale, involved in an illicit affair with Rossetti, even with the certain knowledge of her husband”.
In 1871 William Morris and Rossetti rented Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire as a summer home. When William was away, Jane and Rossetti were able to continue their affair which ended in 1876.
There is a blue plaque commemorating Jane Burden (Mrs William Morris) on the modern wall of the Hertford College building in St Helen’s Passage.
The Teardrop Room
There is more to Wallingford’s George Hotel’s history than the highwayman Dick Turpin hiding from the police there. The hotel is home to the Teardrop Room, so called because of particular markings on the wall. These were made by a heartbroken girl following the stabbing of her fiancée in a pub fight. Through use of the water running down her face and soot from the fire she reflected her pain graffiti style. It’s been said that one time, a guest at the hotel woke to see a crying female who then retreated into the wall, out of sight. Perhaps whoever stays in the Teardrop Room today should not dismiss a ghoulish experience as merely a result of too much time in the hotel bar, and see it as a return of the sobbing girl whose love was taken from her.
"When you get aroused playing Scrabble, that’s
love, baby" (Elizabeth Taylor)
Sex, scandal and suicide attempts. Passion, paparazzi and performance. Alcohol, affluence and audience. The affair between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor has been described by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger as “the most notorious, publicised, celebrated and vilified love affair of its day”. Burton and Taylor travelled all over; Rome, Paris and…Woodstock.
“We flew in the 125 to Oxford last Friday landing, by special permission, at Abingdon and went straight to ‘The Bear’ at Woodstock” reads a 1967 entry in The Richard Burton Diaries. At The Bear, the couple could keep away from the press in the comfort of the Marlborough Suite.
Oxfordshire: undeniably part of a mad and world famous romance.
Top Image - Jane Morris (The Blue Silk Dress) by Rossetti (Image Credit: ©Society of Antiquaries: Kelmscott Manor)
Middle Image - The George Hotel, Wallingford
Bottom Image - Kelmscott Manor (Image Credit: ©Society of Antiquaries: Kelmscott Manor)