I recently visited Whichert House, in Knotty Green, near Beaconsfield. This the house where Martin wrote many of the letters quoted in the book. He lived there with his Aunt Dorothy Preston, during the vacations from Oxford – and where Nancy spent a lot of time, during their whirlwind romance in 1938-9.
As I discovered doing research for the book, she also lived at Whichert House for several years after Martin disappeared, staying as close as she could to the place where their love had unfolded.
Whichert – ‘white earth’ — is the name for the mixture of lime and straw used in the construction of the outer walls. This method is unique to Buckinghamshire and gives the house the feeling of being, literally, part of the landscape. In the summer, the garden is a riot of flowers. Bees drunk on pollen move among the blooms. There are cries of ‘Roquet!’ mixed with the clink of crystal goblets filled with champagne or Aunt D.’s legendary elderflower cordial.
Martin’s Home From Home
Martin lived at Whichert House on and off for most of his young life. He was an orphan of Empire. He was shunted off to boarding school at the age of six by his parents, who were diplomats in Cairo. This beautiful, arts and crafts house therefore became his home from home. He stayed here during school and university vacations.
The Role Of The House In The Love Story
Whichert House played a crucial role in the love story that unfolded between my mother and Martin. They frequently spent time at the house. One of my favourite scenes in the book is based on a reference in one of Martin’s letters. In it, I describe how they get home late from London and dance to Fats Waller records in the living room.