Tuesday 22 May 2007

The Home of Robert Hugh Benson

I spent the night with some friends at Hare Street, Hertfordshire (just north of London) - the former home of the convert writer Mgr Robert Hugh Benson (author of Lord of the World, Dawn of All, Come Rack! Come Rope!, etc) and, since Benson's death in 1914, the country house of the Archbishop of Westminster. 

In the grounds is a charming memorial chapel:

Mgr Benson himself is buried in the nave:

I said Mass for the repose of Mgr Benson's soul - quite a different feel to Masses in a busy urban parish, with the background sound of birdsong, flies buzzing around and the summer sunshine streaming through the windows.

There is a charming rood above the screen dividing chancel from nave:

Above the side altar there is a statue of Our Lady, carved by Mgr Benson. She is shown trampling some rather frightening demons - demonstrating his rather macabre interest in the occult (as also seen by his ghost stories). He called it Notre Dame des Diables.

As I celebrated the sacred mysteries, I almost expected Benson to make the responses from his tomb! Hare Street is, I most confess, a rather spooky place - there is supposed to be a haunted room and one member of our company had a rather disturbed night, though I suspect he was dreaming. It is certainly a 'magical' place: an Edwardian time-warp full of character, with Benson's own carvings up the stairs and elsewhere - even an imaginary hiding-hole:

I could easily have spent a few more nights at Hare Street and hope to return in the autumn!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If memory serves, he also wrote Confessions of a Convert, which I have yet to read...

6:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mgr Alfred Gilbey used to complain that the interior of Hare Street had been ruined by Cardinal Heenan, much of the original decoration taken down (ie Mgr Benson's bizarre mural of the Dance of Death), furniture and books sold. Is that true? I've only seen photographs of it.

7:27 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Mark - yes, you're dead right, and I recommend that book to you.

Anon - Gilbey's comment is partly true, some things have been lost, but a lot survives, especially his library (about half the books in the library have RHB's name in them). See separate post on the tapestries.

8:23 pm  
Blogger Mark Langham said...

The Cathedral received the crucifix and six candles from Mgr Benson's Hare Street chapel a few years ago. They were used for Masses in the crypt, until one of the candlesticks was stolen. Sadly, they are now locked away.

11:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had no idea that Msgr. Benson was so artistically inclined. How lovely that you can go and stay in his house.

3:51 pm  
Blogger BCB Webmaster said...

That priest in the seventh photo down looked a little familiar.

5:28 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi. My Parents were caretakers at Hare St. House during Cardinals Heenan and Hume`s days. Many times I served in the chapel there and have very fond memories of being let free to explore the House and gardens. Amazed to find this site and would be interested in keeping in touch with those interested in RHB and Hare St. House.

Peter Hankard

5:18 pm  
Blogger c├ípsulas filos├│ficas said...

Fr. Nicholas: I have just seen your post, and I am really glad to be able to see photos taken in Hare Street House. My name is Sergio and I am writing a doctoral thesis on Robert Hugh Benson in the faculty of Philosophy in the University of Barcelona. I have put a link to your blog in my site (www.roberthughbenson.com). Do you know if there is any chance for the house to be visited by a Spaniard like me?

12:50 pm  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

If you write to the Archbishop of Westminster, I'm sure he'll give you permission to visit - mention my name if you like!

3:07 pm  
Blogger Tito Paolo said...

Belle foto di Hare Street. Posso usarle per un profilo di Benson on line (www.it.cathopedia.org) ?

5:27 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Si - certo!

8:54 am  

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