Katherine Everett: a life devoted to building houses and designing gardens
Bricks and Flowers are symbolic of her life: bricks thrown at her, flowers symbolic of her growing
Katherine Everett: she had to work hard for a living all her life and made a great success of it
Bricks and Flowers, a memoir by Katherine Everett, was originally published in 1949 to considerable acclaim. It is now available again in paperback from Somerville Press.
The author was born Katherine Herbert and brought up in Cahernane House outside Killarney.The two Herbert brothers had come to Ireland in 1656, having been granted land near Killarney. One built Muckross and the other Cahernane, now a luxurious hotel. Queen Victoria stayed in Muckross, but the estate had gone bankrupt within 20 years of her visit.
Katherine’s mother, a terrifying and unhappy woman, brought up her children on the peerage and Anglo-Catholic theology. Eventually Katherine managed to escape, initially to a neighbour, Lady Kenmare, who ran an Arts and Crafts school and had spotted Katherine’s skill at drawing and needlework. Lady Kenmare, who was very rich and rather looked down on the Herberts, persuaded Katherine’s mother that the girl should go to England and study art. In the meantime, it was arranged that she would stay in Leicestershire with her mother’s cousin, Ina Ferrers.
Ina Ferrers, who had been born Ina White, a daughter of the third Earl of Bantry, was married to a wealthy English peer called Sewallis Ferrers, and lived in Staunton Harold Hall, whose large complement of staff included powdered footmen. The marriage was a disaster, partly because of her husband’s possessiveness, and she had never got over leaving Bantry House. She once said to Katherine, “I loved it as I never can never love any other place, and after my sisters had married and my father had died I lived there for ten years with my brother, and I don’t think there was ever a happier partnership. We left each other perfectly free to go and come and do exactly what we liked, and as we knew everyone and entertained a great deal in an easy and informal way, people liked coming to Bantry.”
After Ina became ill, she had to leave and having nowhere to go, ended up living with her eccentric cousin Aurelia, who was married to an elderly clergyman in the south of England. When she said that she wanted to attend the Slade, Aurelia announced that she would go as well, and bring her son, Herbert, with her. Herbert Everett eventually became Katherine’s husband, and their honeymoon was spent on an extremely frightening journey sailing to Australia.
She devoted the rest of her life to building houses and designing gardens in Italy, Ireland and various parts of England. After the Easter Rising, she moved into a large house outside Dublin which belonged to her bossy cousin Lady Ardilaun, one of the many exotic people in the book. Lord Ardilaun was better known as the MP and philanthropist Sir Arthur Guinness, and there is a statue of him in St Stephen’s Green. At the height of the Civil War, the author was dispatched on a terrifying assignment by train and bicycle to retrieve some of Lady Ardilaun’s possessions from Macroom Castle, which had just been burnt down by the IRA. When Lady Ardilaun’s house outside Dublin became too damp and cold in the winter, she, her secretary and a maid would move into the Shelbourne Hotel.
The book is well worth reading if only for her descriptions of famous people she knew during her life, including Oscar Wilde, George Moore, William Orpen, Augustus John, Rodin and Mrs Pankurst. Although she was related to various grand and rich people, she had never had much money, particularly after her husband left her to bring up two children on her own. She had to work hard for a living all her life and made a great success of it.
She died in England in 1954.
These are excerpts from some of the reviews the book received on publication:
“It is a fascinating book that Mrs Everett has written. Much she has seen and known, and we are privileged to share it. In the end she found her vocation as a builder of houses and designer of gardens. Bricks and Flowers are symbolic of her life: the bricks being thrown at her and bravely withstood, the flowers symbolic of the beauty of her own growing.” AA Milne in the Sunday Times
“This does not in he least resemble the stock autobiography and more than Mrs Everett can resemble other elderly ladies who are interested in houses and gardens. It is a gay, constantly surprising book, warmly recommended to any reader.” The Spectator