The Lady of the Castle

Guilhermina Suggia is the centrepiece of the castle’s art installation for 2022, which considers both her music – through artist Paul Rooney’s "Song (After Nature)"– and her relationship with two men synonymous with her time spent at Lindisfarne; Edward Hudson and Lytton Strachey

Suggia got to know the castle’s occupant, Edward Hudson, after she moved to London from Paris following the outbreak of war in 1914 and would soon be a regular visitor to Hudson’s place by the sea. Someone who only visited once was the writer and biographer Lytton Strachey, but despite this he left us some of the most rich and detailed accounts of life at the castle in this period. 

And he was thoroughly besotted with Suggia.

Strachey’s visit was for a house party in late August/ early September 1918, along with the publisher William Heinemann. Suggia brought along her mother (“the subject of a Balzac novel” according to Strachey) and her piano accompanist George Reeves. Suggia, Strachey and Reeves all wrote letters (mainly to each other) both during and after the party and these give us a record almost unique in the castle’s history of a particular time and event. The gossip between Strachey and Reeves about Hudson’s romantic intentions towards Suggia (they thought she was far too good for him), Strachey’s fawning letters to Suggia eventually addressing her as The Lady of the Castle, and indeed the two men hinted at their own sexual encounter (neither were interested in Suggia in such a way).

By March 1919 Strachey and Reeves’ worst fears were realised; Hudson and Suggia were engaged to be married. Hudson bought a 1717 Stradivarius cello as an engagement gift, the one that features in the painting of Suggia by Augustus John, which itself was paid for by Hudson (and John made sketches of her playing in the Upper Gallery). But by the end of that year Hudson had put the castle up for sale so something must have changed, and the pair would never marry. What happened we will probably never know, but they remained friends until Hudson died in 1936 and he even left her £250 in his will in recognition of her “valued friendship and glorious music”. 

Strachey and Suggia continued to correspond until 1922; the last postcard she sent to him was signed off simply “A Cellist”. Suggia though really seemed to have confided in Strachey through their letters; the detail she goes into in particular speaks of a close relationship which begs the question, did Strachey speak out against the engagement? His opinion of Hudson (again, from these letters) was not high, calling him “a pathetically dreary figure – so curiously repulsive, too, and so, somehow, lost. He seemed a fish, gliding underwater, and starstruck – looking up with his adoring eyes through his own dreadful element to Suggia in her inaccessible heaven.” 

The gathering at the castle in August/September 1918 lasted no more than a few days, but the effect it had on those present was lasting. But surely none who were there could have imagined that over 100 years later, we’d still be talking about it.