|This is my contribution to Round Fourteen of ABC Wednesday. For the fifth time I am focusing on people – some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, but all with a tale to tell.|
Born in 1883 to a privileged background (he was to become the 14th Baron Berners), he displayed his peculiar take on life at an early age.
Having heard that you could teach a dog to swim by throwing it into the water, Tyrwhitt decided to throw his mother’s dog out of a window to teach it to fly.
Tyrwhitt’s father was a naval officer and rarely at the family home of Apley Hall in Shropshire and he was raised by his mother, a woman of many prejudices and little intellect who had little interest in her son’s musical pursuits. This trend continued when he was sent to Eton where he later claimed he had learned and that the school was more concerned with shaping the young men’s characters than supplying them with an education.
Tyrwhitt joined the diplomatic service and continued his taste for practical jokes. One particularly pompous diplomat would always end his pronouncements by putting on his glasses. Tyrwhitt attached said spectacles to an inkwell with a piece of thread so that the next time the diplomat ended a long-winded speech he covered himself with ink.
But Tyrwhitt’s intolerance to bores went much wider and he went out of his way to avoid them, particularly when travelling on trains. He would wear a black skull cap and ‘novelty’ black glasses and lean out of the train window when it arrived at a station, beckoning people to join his compartment. Not many took him up on the offer.
He was no less eccentric at home and visitors would be met by whippets wearing diamond collars, doves dyed all colours of the rainbow and possibly a tune from the clavichord built into the rear seat of his Rolls-Royce.
In 1935 Tyrwhitt applied for planning permission to build a 140-foot high tower at his home at Farringdon House in Oxfordshire. Despite objections from the public, he was able to obtain permission by arguing that ‘the great point of the tower is that it will be totally useless.
The completed tower had a sign that read: ‘Members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk.’
Tyrwhitt loved rich food (‘loathsomely rich,’ according to one visitor) and was sent special powder from Paris to make blue mayonnaise.
Even in the austerity years that followed the Second World War, Tywhitt’s kitchen garden was among the most productive in Britain. ‘When every sort of luxury has been forever banned in England,’ declared Cyril Connolly, ‘Lord Berners will somehow manage to maintain a secret melon house.’
Tyrwhitt died in 1950, leaving Farringdon House to his long-time friend and companion, Robert Heber-Percy, and the epitaph on his gravestone reads:
Here lies Lord Berners
One of the learners
His great love of learning
May earn him a burning
But, Praise the Lord!
He seldom was bored.