Built around 1540, the Tudor Cottage known as “Allways” is located at 2 Glatton Ways in Glatton Village, Cambridgeshire. It is a Grade II Listed Building and is acknowledged by The National Trust and English Heritage as a building of significant historical interest. The property is steeped in history; in fact, during the 1930’s and 40’s it ranked alongside Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (wife of William Shakespeare) as the most visited Tudor Cottage in England. The cottage was thrust into the public spotlight with the publication of the “Allways Chronicles” (also referred to as the “Glatton Trilogy”); a trilogy about the house, the garden and the village by its most famous owner; writer, journalist, playwright and composer, Beverley Nichols. More of Nichols later.
The house was originally built as three (possibly four) cottages to accommodate local farm hands and fishermen who fished Whittlesey Mere. Over time the cottages were converted to form one single, beamed and thatched cottage, typical of the Tudor era.Up until March 1918, the cottages formed part of the Glatton Hall Estate. The Estate was broken up and sold by auction on 6th of March 1918 when lots 23, 25 and 26 were bought by the owner of “Allways” to form a sizable estate in the heart of Glatton. (See photo of Glatton Hall Estate auction plots).
Although Beverley Nichols was the most celebrated owner and resident of “Allways”, he was not the only famous owner/occupier. Nichols bought the property from Ms Emily Borie Ryerson in 1928 when she inherited it from her brother John Borie, a very well-known American architect who died in 1925. Beverley Nichols had become good friends of John and Emily Borie who he had met on several occasions some years earlier in the USA. John Borie specialised in gardens and interior design, working on projects on a grand scale, not just in the UK but across Europe. Borie had an extensive list of friends that included many famous celebrities of the day, including writer Henry James. John Borie lived at “Allways” with his musician partner Victor Beigel. Victor Beigel was an internationally renowned pianist and vocal pedagogue whos friendships linked him with the painter John Singer Sargent, the interior designer Sybil Colefax and the composers John Ireland, Percy Grainger and Gervase Elwes. His list of notable students included Lauritz Melchior. John Borie and Victor Beigel were buried side by side in the grounds of St Nicholas’ Church, Glatton and are marked by memorial slabs designed by Borie before his death. John Borie’s slab is engraved with the phrase “AN AMERICAN WHO LOVED ENGLAND” and Victor Beigel’s slab carries the phrase “FOR EVER UNITED TO THE BEST FRIEND MAN EVER HAD”. Interestingly, running across both slabs, reading from left to right is the opening of the Requiem for the dead which forms an important part of the church liturgy.
It is worth recording that Emily Borie Ryerson, the absent owner of “Allways” from 1925 to 1928, was a survivor of the RMS Titanic that sank on 15th April 1912. She survived by boarding Lifeboat No 4 with her three children and her maid. Her husband perished.
When John Beverley Nichols (known as Beverley Nichols) first visited his friend John Borie at “Allways” in the early 1920’s, the quintessentially Britishness of the house and its garden made an immediate and lasting impression on him. Consequently, he did not hesitate to telegraph Emily Borie Ryerson making her an offer for the property as soon as he learned of John Borie’s death. Although Nichols bought the property in the Autumn of 1928, he did not move into it until Spring 1929 when he found it a run down and badly neglected shadow of its former glory. Shortly after moving to “Allways”, Nichols was joined by his stage actor partner, Cyril Butcher who remained a life-long friend and companion until Nichols death in September 1983.
The boundary of the property at the time of Nichols’ purchase has been annotated on the accompanying photo, but in 1930 he bought additional land adjoining and to the east, in order to plant a wood. The cover and front plate of Beverley’s most well-known book “Down the Garden Path”, carries a drawing by painter and illustrator Rex Whistler capturing Beverley’s grand design for his extensive garden. Most of Nichols’ garden design came to fruition over the following 6 years with a statue of the Greek God Antinous forming the centrepiece and focal point of the garden. Unfortunately, Antinous was last seen in 1992 and its whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.
Whilst at “Allways”, Beverley Nichols wrote the three books that put the house, its garden and Glatton on the map. The first of the “Allways Chronicles” (or Glatton Trilogy) was “Down The Garden Path”, a book about the realisation of his garden dream. The second book “A Thatched Roof” was about the restoration of the derelict cottage and the third of the trilogy, “A Village in a Valley” was about life in 1930’s Glatton. In all three books “Allways” was a pseudonym for Glatton and the house was referred to as “Thatched Roof”. All three books carried illustrations by Rex Whistler who visited the house several times and said of the cottage “It’s the Tudor cottage to end all Tudor cottages”. A drawing by Whistler from “A Village in a Valley” illustrates a young Beverley Nichols sat looking from the “music room” window across to the village church of St Nicholas. This drawing has been etched onto a memorial stone commemorating Beverley Nichols which is sited at the village crossroads, exactly half way between his beloved house “Allways” and the cemetery at St Nicholas where his ashes were scattered after his death in 1983. It is said that Nichols’ ashes were scattered “within line of sight of Allways”, and consequently is within line of sight of his memorial stone.
Whilst at “Allways”, Nichols had a great many famous visitors including Churchill (although there is some debate whether it was Winston Churchill or Peter Spencer Churchill), Dame Nellie Melba, Cecil Beaton, Vivian Ellis, Robert Byron, Sir Geoffrey Harmsworth, Dame Rebecca West, Sir Hugh Walpole, Baron Berners, John Van Druten, Auriol Lee, Raymond Massey, Seymore Hicks, Oliver Messel and a host of Lords, Baron’s, Dames and many others. Instead of asking these visitors to sign a visitor’s book, he invited them to “sign the wall”. This was a small section of wall in Nichols’ music room which still exists today and is of special historic interest. There are several sketches by Rex Whistler on “The Wall” depicting the cottage, Beverley’s dog “Whoops”, various cherubs, and an elephant probably signifying “an elephant in the room” a cryptic reference to Nichols & Butcher’s relationship status. Photo shows “The Autograph Wall” (the wall itself does not carry the annotations as per the accompanying photo).
In his book “A Thatched Roof” Nichols describes how, during his tenure, he had the cottage re-thatched, installed central heating and electricity, whilst the book “Down the Garden Path” describes how Nichols bought the adjoining land and set about planting the wood. Whilst renovating “Allways”, Nichols unearthed a very old recipe book with recipes dating back to 1698. This was buried behind a panel masking an alcove under the stairs. Nichols re-published the recipe book as written, complete with all grammatical, spelling and textural errors as “In an Eighteenth Century Kitchen”. In the final chapter of “A Thatched Roof”, Nichols prophesised that after his death his spirit would return to the thatched cottage for “one last look” and another Whistler illustration on the final page of that book, depicts Nichols hands (representing his spirit) entering the bedroom window. Such was Nichols’ love for “Allways” and for Glatton Village.
Beverly Nichols sold “Allways” in 1937, having moved out in 1936. He was forced to raise money to fund a west end play (Floodlight) which subsequently proved to be a failure. There were other reasons for the sale of the property. Although Nichols sold the property in 1937 he retained the newly planted wood, adjacent to the house, for a further year in order for the trees to become established.
The new owners were the Hollingworth family from Blackpool. Ernest Hollingworth and his wife Lily stayed at “Allways” until 1946. There is a tradition at “Allways” that the property owners are permitted to sign the wall, and both Earnest & Lily did place their autographs on the wall. Whilst at “Allways”, the Hollingworth’s had their very own VIP visitor. Captain Clark Gable arrived at nearby RAF Polebrook in June 1943 to serve the American 351st Bomber Group flying B17’s. Gable accepted the invitation to sign the wall and the photo shows him in the garden at “Allways”.
“Allways” passed from the Hollingworth family to the Snowden family in 1946. William Oliver Snowden lived there with his wife Mabel Elizabeth and their daughter Muriel Elizabeth Snowden. The Snowden family grave is in the grounds of St Nicholas’ church, close to where Beverley Nichols ashes were scattered.
In 1962 the “Allways” land plot was broken into four smaller plots which were sold off as individual building plots as shown on the accompanying sale diagram. “Allways” was bought by Alfred and Edith Denton. With the passing of Alfred and Edith, the property passed to their twin daughters Gillian and Joan Denton, who, together with their brother, Peter and nephew Kevin, remain the owners and trustees of “Allways” to this day. Alfred’s signature can be seen on the wall. Alas, the garden is a shadow of it’s former glory of Beverley Nichols bygone era, but each Spring a thousand snowdrops and brilliant yellow aconites, planted by Nichols himself, adorn the garden at “Allways”. One of these snowrops has been transplanted in front of the memorial stone at Glatton’s crossroads where daffodils from his garden, another of Nichols’ favourite plants, are sited on either side of the stone: a fitting memorial to Glatton’s most famous resident.
Author: Terry Brignall, MBE