Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Decline and Rise

Evelyn Waugh did not have an overly happy time when he first went down from university. Funds were not overly available, and there were a succession of half hearted attempts to find a direction in life which culminated with a period as a schoolmaster in Wales which culminated in an attempted suicide.

His personal life was also far from secure. After Richard Pares had been spirited away by those who saw clearly his academic potential (and the threat posed to his reaching it by the company he kept), Waugh had fallen into company with Alastair Graham. Somewhat indulged by Graham's mother, the friendship/relationship/affair prospered for a while, and included a period where they shared a caravan on the fringe of Otmoor.....

....which brings us onto the Abingdon Arms, in Beckley. It was in the grounds of this pub, with its commanding views over Otmoor, that the caravan stood. Even after the affair with Graham broke up it continued to be a place that Waugh returned to - he spent the honeymoon of his first marriage to Evelyn Gardner here, and, in much the same way as he would do later in life with Chagford, adopted the pub as a literary retreat. It is believed that he wrote parts of Decline and Fall here, along with elements of other works of the period.

I've always had a soft spot for the Abingdon Arms - tucked away down a narrow lane it is one of those places where time feels like it has been standing still for a few decades. The food and beer hasn't been bad either. However, it has changed hands with alarming frequency over the years - possibly because being so tucked away means it has struggled for passing trade or impulse visitors. Recently it closed completely, and there were fears that it was going to become just another former pub (Oxford has depressingly many of these), whose attractive building will make a fine house for someone with the requisite amount of money.

To their credit, the local community organised themselves to fight this possibility and now we read in the Oxford Mail that their proposals (and more importantly money) have been accepted. The Abingdon Arms is moving into community ownership, and so this little piece of the literary landscape is saved for another wave of people to draw inspiration from its beautiful surroundings.

The caravan's long gone though.

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