Siegfried Sassoon

Heytesbury

In 1933 Siegfried Sassoon bought Heytesbury House, a Georgian mansion surrounded by 90 acres of parkland and 130 acres of woods just outside the village of Heytesbury in Wiltshire. Sassoon was living here when he died and the site is much changed now. This page shows how it was at the time, and what has happened to it since.

Heytesbury House

Left: Heytesbury House

Prior to marrying Hester Gatty in 1933, Siegfried Sassoon was looking for somewhere to set up home with his new wife. He had seen Heytesbury House before and admired it in passing. He bought the house from Captain Jump for the princely sum in those days of 20,000.

Many famous people came to visit Sassoon at the house including William Walton, Hilaire Belloc, T. E. Lawrence, Edmund Blunden, Geoffrey Keynes and Ottoline Morrell.

It was here, in 1936, that Sassoon’s only son George was born. Also born at this house were Sassoon’s three books of real autobiography: The Old Century and Seven More Years, The Weald of Youth, and Siegfried’s Journey.

The evacuees were replaced by American troops...

By the 22nd September 1939 there were sixteen new residents at Heytesbury, evacuees sent for safety at the beginning of the Second World War. Later, Sassoon’s friend Sydney Cockerell, Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, arrived with 200 books and manuscripts for safe keeping at the the house. In addition to this, in 1942, Sassoon’s lawyer, Anthony Lusada brought his picture collection also for safe keeping.

Also in 1942 the evacuees left Heytesbury and were replaced by American troops in November. By the middle of 1944 there were twenty-five American troops sleeping in the house and another thousand camped in the grounds. Sadly, by November 1945, with his marriage broken down, a lorry arrived at the house to take away Hester’s furniture, with his wife and son gone, Heytesbury House was now barren. After the war problems continued and in 1948 Sassoon’s woodman, cook and gardener quarelled and all handed in their notice.

Siegfried Sassoon died in September 1967. His son George was living at a decaying Heytesbury House at this time, struggling to keep it up but in 1974, expenses and insurance losses compelled him to sell many of the books, manuscripts and letters from his father’s library. Other sales followed and Sassoon’s literary legacy was scattered across the the globe, much of it going to the United States. George had also spent a great deal of money trying to fight plans to put a new by-pass through the park, in this he failed, and the busy A36 now cuts the house off from the original location of the main gate.

In 1986 the house was finally sold and is now divided up into flats and a large mound of earth now cuts it off from the new road in order to keep down the noise of the traffic.

Below: The original entrance and main gates to Heytesbury House. The A36 now runs across the middle of the driveway in the background, cutting the house off from this entrance.

Heytesbury House Main Gate

Below: A view of the house as it was from the location of the new garage block built after the house was sold to developers and converted into flats.

Heytesbury House View
Heytesbury House and Cricket Ground

Left: This aerial photograph (taken from Google Earth) shows how the A36 cuts straight through the grounds of Heytesbury House, left to right. The house is the large building on the right, the original main gate used to be south of this, on the other side of where the road now crosses the park.

As it could no longer be used, a new entrance gate was built to the west, as can be seen on the top left of the picture, with the double row of trees running along the new drive.

The buildings in between are mainly new, and various grassed over mounds can be seen along the top edge of the A36 in an attempt to muffle the noise of the traffic.

Sassoon would occasionally walk from his house, down his driveway and onto the cricket pitch seen centre bottom in the picture. Even in his old age, he still liked to take a turn with the bat.

Heytesbury House 1905

Heytesbury House Postcard Front

Heytesbury House Postcard Reverse

Completely unconnected with Siegfried Sassoon as he was not the owner of the house at this time, but interesting nevertheless, I recently acquired this postcard. It shows a coloured picture of Heytesbury House and carries a postmark dated 3rd August, 1905. the message appears to have been written by a member of staff of a visiting family that had rented the house for a short stay. At the top of the postcard is written “Heytesbury House, Heytesbury, Wilts.” The message is as follows:

“Dear Nell, Just a line to let you know I am alive, hoping you are quite well, we have been at this place for a week, our people have taken it for 3 months, it is a very pretty place. tell mother I will write tonight, I only got her letter this morning. Love to all from Tom.”

Postcard Showing Heytesbury House Dated 1936

Heytesbury House Front

Heytesbury House Message

There have been many different postcards produced over the years depicting Heytesbury House, Siegfried Sassoon’s home from 1933 until his death in 1967. Most of them date from around 1900 or just after and give no indication of what was going on in the house or who indeed lived there. However, I believe that in the example above we have a fascinating exception. The message on the reverse of the card gives little away, who was K.C.P? Who was Mrs Coney? The card may have been bought at the local Post Office by a traveller visiting the area who thought Heytesbury House made a nice picture. Interestingly we do have a date, August 13th, 1936, showing that the card was posted at the time when Sassoon was living at the house. But when was the photograph taken? There are clues that lead me to believe it was taken when Sassoon was at the house, which I explain below.

Heytesbury House Porch

Sassoon on Heytesbury House Porch

Above is a close up of the porch in the postcard picture showing two chairs. Siegfried often sat on this porch with his friends and family.

Above is a picture showing Siegfried, Hester and George sitting on the same porch in two chairs.

Sassoon in his "awful old Hat"

Figure in Heytesbury House Garden

A picture of Siegfried wearing what his friends referred to as his “awful old hat” at Heytesbury. Look at the picture of the porch above, is that not his hat lying upside down on a cushion at the foot of the middle column?

Over on the left of the main picture in front of the hedge we can make out this figure, a tall man with his hands on his hips. The master surveying his garden!

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