‘He needed whiskey as a car needs petrol’ - The rise and fall of Patrick Hamilton: Part 2
- Credit: Archant
Patrick Hamilton, one of the most gifted and admired writers of his generation, found his final home in north Norfolk. In the second piece of a two-part series, ALAN TUTT from Cromer Museum traces his rise and fall.
NOTE: This is the second part of a longer reader about Patrick Hamilton in Norfolk. To read the first part, see here.
After the war, in 1946, Bruce and Patrick spent a week in Holt, trolling around the countryside in Hamilton's Ford.
They revisited Overy Staith where Bruce was amused that Patrick did not want to be recognised - had he embarrassed himself one time too many in the local there?
They played golf at the clifftop links at Sheringham, perhaps it was then he took a shine to the town?
Hamilton returned to North Norfolk for good in 1958.
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Having previously rented houses at Long Acre in Cley; and in Blakeney itself, at Highfield House, for ten bob a week. He described looking south from the latter, 'an absolutely unspoiled view of miles of the most rural part of Norfolk - a garden big enough to turn into a miniature golf course, which I've done'. He later spurned golf, as the drinking further kicked in.
Hamilton had divorced first wife Lois in 1953.
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His second wife Lady Ursula Chetwynd-Talbot, another minor novelist, known affectionately as 'La', obtained somewhere permanent for them to live in Norfolk.
He later provided this description of the solace he took from living in Sheringham, in a letter to Bruce, who had decamped to Barbados,
'… a sort of suburban house with a garden….divided into four flats. You can see the sea from it, about five hundred yards away, and the golf course can be cut into (dodging the Club House) by walking for about three minutes. I'm very attached to it and don't want to ever leave it. But I expect that sooner or later I'll have to, or want to'.
That house was rambling Martincross, on the corner of Boulevard and St Nicholas Place, in Sheringham. Architecturally it was reminiscent of Hamilton's Sussex birthplace.
Spiritually 'the rural recluse of Sheringham was no longer the man who had walked 20,000 streets of London' as Nigel Jones put it in his Hamilton biography, 'Through a Glass Darkly'. Within a short space of time, Patrick suffered a series of bereavements causing him to morosely observe, 'one feels like a surviving player for Manchester United,' a reference to the recent Munich 'Busby Babes' air crash.
In 1960, Bruce paid his last visit.
He liked Martincross but noted how cold the flat was, with gas fires on almost permanently.
When La went away, Patrick gave up his bedroom for his brother and took the spare.
Bruce tried not to be critical of his brother's drinking but it must have been hard to watch. The housekeeper, Mrs Cooper, would try and coax Patrick to eat, but it was a liquid diet he wanted. 'Death in life', Bruce called it.
Interestingly, Patrick cut his brother out of his will. All would go to La and first wife, Lois. Bruce was understandably bitter with that outcome
Whether he wished to or not, Patrick never did leave Sheringham. He died there on 23rd September, 1962. By then, it was Guinness for breakfast, gin through the day and a bottle of scotch to top it off. The local doctor, Dr Geldard, became a regular visitor, but to no avail.
Cirrhosis of the liver and organ failure did for Patrick Hamilton. He was just fifty-eight and one can only guess at the misery that drove him to such an end. His writing, mirroring his life, confronts us with loneliness and futility.
The sheer absurdity of being human. La's journal describes his demise poignantly,
'I got into a dressing gown, listened to P's breathing, then went into the kitchen, snatched a biscuit and cheese, washed up the tea, too tense to sit and do nothing, then went to listen to P. again - there was silence.'
She called it 'the silence of snow'.
This underrated writer, whom Doris Lessing described as a 'marvellous novelist…grossly neglected', was no more. He was cremated in Blakeney. To a small handful of mourners, La read a passage from Shelley's 'Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples'. Perhaps these,
'…Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care…'
His ashes were scattered at Blakeney flats.
An odd postscript to Hamilton's residence at Martincross, is that there is now a blue plaque attached to the house. Hamilton would have smiled wryly, for it is not dedicated to him but to an earlier resident, composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who wrote 'Sea Symphony' there in 1919. Perhaps Hamilton deserves one too?
- Interested in local history? Cromer Museum is running guided history and archaeology walks. Saturday, July 20 at 1.45pm is Salthouse Prehistoric Barrows and St Nicholas Church with landscape historian, Ian Groves. Saturday, September 14 at 1.45pm is Brampton Roman Town again with Ian.
- There are two Ghosts and Legends walks, on Sunday, August 4 at 6.45pm, and on Sunday, October 27 at 3.30pm, with Rebecca Lusher and Anna Crane; two Cromer at War walks on Sunday, July 21 at 12.45pm and Sunday, August 25 at 12.45pm with Alan Tutt; and two Cromer History walks with Cromer Museum curator, Alistair Murphy, on Sunday, August 18 at 12.45pm Sunday, September 15 at 12.45pm. For bookings and more details call 01263 513543 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Walks cost £4 for 1.5/2 hours.