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West Midlands - Day 3

Mason Croft (CV37 6HB)

House: Mason Croft, now the home of The Shakespeare Institute, takes its name from the family who lived in the building for more than 150 years.

Address: Church Street, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6HB, UK (52.18972, -1.7093)
Phone: +44 121 414 9500
Website: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/edacs/departments/shakespeare/index.aspx
English Heritage Building ID: 366202 (Grade II, 1951)

In 1900 the famous novelist Marie Corelli was living at Avon Croft in Stratford when she became aware that Mason Croft was available for rent. Although it was somewhat dilapidated, the house appealed to her sense of romance. She and her lifelong companion, Bertha Vyver, made it their permanent home. An elegant XVIII century town house of two storeys, with a simple symmetrical line of three windows on either side of the oak front door and seven on the first floor. The rear of the building, however, is gloriously different, with its seemingly haphazardly-placed pointed gables, conservatory and extensive gardens. The site was originally occupied by two houses: one a large freehold property owned by the Bartlett family since 1610 or earlier; the other a tenement belonging to the manor of Rowington (near Warwick), but associated with the Bartletts since 1632. In 1698 Ann Bartlett married the lawyer Nathaniel Mason and in 1710 they began to create a bigger, more modern dwelling. Their first additions were to the rear of the house, building a kitchen wing and chambers above, along with a “portal” and a tiny gable. Ann Mason died in 1717 and two years later Nathaniel married Elizabeth Rowney, a wealthy heiress from Halford. The joint income from Nathaniel’s business and Elizabeth’s leasing of property meant that substantial rebuilding of the family home could now take place. A new phase of building, beginning in or around 1724, created a more symmetrical house, with a butler’s pantry behind, “a place for coals,” a study, rear staircase and cellars. Above were bedrooms and, at the top, new attics. In 1727 Nathaniel bought the adjoining house, and in 1728 he had a plan for an expanded dwelling drawn up. In 1735, his son Thomas Mason bought an additional strip of land to the south of the house, and the following year he acquired two cottages on the northern boundary where the “great gates” to the rear were still sited. This impressive stone gateway was moved to its present site on the south side. The kitchen wing was extended, and to commemorate his improvements he fixed a new rainwater head, inscribed “1735 TM,” onto the rear of the building. Thomas Mason rebuilt the study wing in 1745. The paddock, acquired the previous year, was encircled with a brick wall, with “handsome gates, pillars and stone balls handsomely erected and finished.” The house remained in the family until the death of the last of the line, Thomas Mason, at the age of 90 in 1867. The property was bequeathed to Thomas Mason’s cousins John Paget and William Harcourt Clare, who sold it on to a Stratford ironmonger, Henry Newton. In 1869 the property was acquired by one William Daniels, who sold it five years later to Dr John Day Collis. Dr Collis was founder and headmaster of Trinity College, next door to Mason Croft, and he used the newly-acquired building for teaching purposes. In 1901 Marie Corelli was able to buy the property, and set about fashioning it to suit her taste. The interior decoration was renewed and she converted what had been the dining room of Trinity College into a music room. She also made a significant addition to the street frontage, adding a low wooden fence along the front of the house and a portico over the stone entrance steps. Striped blinds also appeared, a swathe of Virginia creeper, and window boxes packed with flowers according to the season. At the back of the house Corelli built a large conservatory called the “Winter Garden,” filling it with wicker furniture and palm trees. Marie Corelli died in Stratford and is buried there in the Evesham Road cemetery (Evesham Rd, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9AA). The marble angel that Bertha Vyver had ordered from Italy is set up to watch over her tomb with one outstretched arm pointing the way to heaven. Bertha died in 1941 and is buried next to Marie. Some rooms at Mason Croft remain substantially as she left them. The sitting room retains its oak display cabinets over the fireplace, and the latter its copper hood with recurring motif of waves and a single heart. The massive fireplace in the music room still bears the intertwined initials M.C. and B.V., encircled by laurel leaves, and with the legend “Amor Vincit” (love conquers.) In 1951 the building was bought by the University of Birmingham, and the paddock was reclaimed from the Fire Station. Mason Croft has now been the home of the University’s Shakespeare Institute for 60 years. Much of the building is still as it was in Corelli’s day. The most obvious addition to the grounds is the Shakespeare Library, a purpose-built research library designed by alumnus V.H. (“Johnnie”) Johnson, which was officially opened in 1996.

Who: Marie Corelli (May 1, 1855 – April 21, 1924) and Bertha Vyver (died November 20, 1941)
Marie Corelli was a British novelist. She enjoyed a period of great literary success from the publication of her first novel in 1886 until WWI. Corelli’s novels sold more copies than the combined sales of popular contemporaries, including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling, although critics often derided her work as “the favourite of the common multitude.” For over forty years, Corelli lived with her companion, Bertha Vyver (died in 1941); when she died she left everything to her friend. Although she didn’t self-identify as a lesbian, biographers and critics have noted the erotic descriptions of female beauty that appear regularly in Corelli’s novels, while admitting they are expressed by men. Descriptions of the deep love between the two women by their contemporaries have added to the speculation that their relationship may have been romantic. Following Corelli’s death, Sidney Walton reminisced in the Yorkshire Evening News: “One of the great friendships of modern times knit together the hearts and minds of Miss Marie Corelli and Miss Bertha Vyver... Her own heart was the hearth of her comrade, and thought and love of “Marie” thrilled through Miss Vyver’s veins... In loneliness of soul, Miss Vyver mourns the loss of one who was nearer and tenderer to her than a sister... Over the fireplace in the fine, old spacious lounge at Mason Croft the initials M. C. and B. V. were carven into one symbol. And it was the symbol of life.” Corelli is generally accepted to have been the inspiration for at least two of E.F. Benson’s characters in his Lucia series of six novels and a short story. The main character, Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas, is a vain and snobbish woman of the upper middle class with an obsessive desire to be the leading light of her community, to associate with the nobility, to see her name reported in the social columns, and a comical pretension to education and musical talent, neither of which she possesses. She also pretends to be able to speak Italian, something Corelli was known to have done. The character of Miss Susan Leg is an author of highly successful but pulpish romance novels who writes under the name of Rudolph da Vinci and first appears in Benson’s work a few years after Marie Corelli’s death in 1924.
Source: Idol of Suburbia: Marie Corelli and Late-Victorian Literary Culture, By Annette Federico

Hall's Croft (CV37 6BG)

House: Hall's Croft, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, was owned by William Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna Hall, and her husband Dr John Hall whom she married in 1607.

Address: 7 Old Town, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6BG, UK (52.18856, -1.70864)
Phone: +44 1789 338533
Website: www.shakespeare.org.uk
English Heritage Building ID: 366336 (Grade I, 1951)

The building now contains a collection of XVI- and XVII-century paintings and furniture. There is also an exhibition about Doctor John Hall and the obscure medical practices of the period. The property includes a dramatic walled garden which contains a variety of plant life that John Hall may have used in his treatments. John and Susanna Hall later moved to New Place, which William Shakespeare left to his daughter after his death.

Who: Marie Corelli (May 1, 1855 – April 21, 1924) and Bertha Vyver (died November 20, 1941)
After the death of Marie Corelli’s mother, in either 1876 or 1877 Bertha Vyver, a childhood friend, moved into Fern Dell Cottage, at Box Hill, near Mickelham, from her mothers home in Belsize Park, London. Bertha Vyver's mother, the Contess Van de Vyver died in May 1890. Marie and Bertha took a break and spent ten days in Stratford-upon-Avon, staying at the Falcon Hotel opposite the site of William Shakespeare's home. They signed the visitors book at Shakespeare's birthplace on 20th May, went boating on the river, and visited the Flowers family at their house on the banks of the river Avon. In 1899 Bertha suggested to live in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Marie wrote to Mrs Croker, the owner of Halls Croft, to ask for a furnished let for four months. Marie and Bertha moved there in mid-May. Sarah Bernhardt arrived in July to play at the Memorial Theatre in a production of “Hamlet,” and stayed at Halls Croft. Marie entered into the social life of the town; she was frequently asked to be the guest of honour at public functions, opens bazaars, and gave public speeches. Marie and Bertha decided to stay in Stratford, and offered to buy Halls Croft but Mrs Croker wished to return home. In September they moved to The Dower House, then called Avon Croft, a few doors down the street, and stayed through 1900 while they looked for a suitable property. Marie nearly purchased Alveston Leys, a house with lovely gardens on the banks of the Avon, but worrying it might be damp, she decided to lease Mason Croft in Church Street for 18 months with an option to buy. The house was a little dilapidated, and needs renovation work before it was ready for the two ladies to move in 1901.
Source: Memoirs of Marie Corelli. B Vyver, Alston Rivers 1930

Queer Places, Vol. 2.2: Retracing the Steps of LGBTQ people around the World
ISBN-13: 978-1544067568 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1544067569
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Amazon kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01IZ1KZBO/?tag=elimyrevandra-20

Queer Places, Vol. 2.2 (Color Edition): Retracing the Steps of LGBTQ people around the World
ISBN-13: 978-1535453332 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1535453338
CreateSpace eStore: https://www.createspace.com/6444429
Amazon print: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1535453338/?tag=elimyrevandra-20
Amazon kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01IZ1KZBO/?tag=elimyrevandra-20

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