Murder at Liberty Hall: A Novel
Chastleton's owner, Alan Clutton-Brock, published 'Murder at Liberty Hall' in 1941, more than a decade before inheriting Chastleton House from his cousin Irene Whitemore-Jones.
A copy of his crime novel can be found in the collection at Chastleton. The cover gives little clue to what the pages of the book contain, although an illustration of a bottle of 'Genuine Fino Sherry' is a potential plot spoiler. We can imagine its dust jacket becoming worn as the volume became well-thumbed by members of Alan's family, all eager to read his work!
The story centres around Scrope House, a liberal and free-thinking boarding school, where several incidents of arson lead the main protagonist, psychologist James Hardwicke, to be called upon to investigate.
Whilst staying at the school and carrying out various interviews and searches to discover who might be responsible, murder occurs. The main suspects appear to be the teachers and a thorough investigation of the character of each of the academics at the school commences. The book touches on subjects from psychoanalysis to communism, and there is a surprising amount of cricket!
Penning murder mysteries was not Alan's main profession. He was an art critic and journalist, more used to reviewing novels than writing them. As a critic and art lover it is no surprise that Alan, and his wife Barbara, accumulated a very large collection of postcards and prints from the many exhibitions and museums they visited. This collection had been left at Chastleton when the National Trust acquired the property. Tucked away in a store, and having evaded cataloging until now, there are hundreds of images of famous artworks and well-known buildings from across the world. Alongside those from closer to home, many are from the British Museum and other large national institutions.
In Murder at Liberty Hall there is a curious passage which might gives us an insight into Alan's opinions on quality postcards. When James Hardwicke, acting detective, ventures to the British Museum in pursuit of one of his main suspects, he cannot help but have a little look in the museum giftshop. He writes:
'...I had plenty of time to reflect on the enormous capriciousness of the British Museum, which provides a great many postcards, coloured reproductions of Chinese pictures, expensive volumes or reproductions of anonymous dotted prints, but, unlike every other museum in Europe, refuses to supply the ordinary public with photographs of even its more obvious and eminent exhibits'.
Alan's playful nature comes out when he leads his detective to action:
'The stimulus of adventure had made me bold and I ventured to ask the young woman behind the counter for a photograph of my favourite piece of Etruscan sculpture; I hope this annoyed the Museum, but I doubt if the reproach was really felt'.
Whether the British Museum ever felt his criticism is unknown, however Alan went onto become a Trustee of the National Gallery. Maybe he felt able to give another prominent institution some advice in this area?
This quirky example of Alan's humour is in keeping with what his colleagues at The Times wrote in his obituary in 1976. The writer describes Alan as 'a man of high intelligence and charm, it was not his practise to allow the latter gift too much license...' going on to say 'his wit, wide reading and store of historical knowledge were instinct in all that he wrote'.
You can find out more about the life of Alan Clutton-Brock when Chastleton reopens.