Enter Noel Coward; exit R.D. Blackmore

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

“…the birth of their first son, Russell Arthur Blackmore Coward on 1 August 1891, named after his godfather R.D. Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone and one of Teddington’s celebrities. Blackmore was ‘fond of young ladies especially if modest and gentle’, and Violet visited his home, Gomer House, to talk and take tea; Blackmore’s wife had died in 1888, and Violet was a consolation to the novelist. After Violet’s marriage the friendship persisted, Blackmore liking Arthur whom he regarded as ‘an accomplished musician and genial friend’; he went so far as to break with his usual custom and call upon the Cowards at Waldegrave Road. ‘What a peaceful and delightful baby!’ wrote Blackmore. ‘I shall be proud to have such a little godson; who deserves and (I trust) will have a very happy life…’

Russell was the focus of his parents’ attentions, ‘so lovely and so clever, too clever’, recalled Violet, who noted that her first son developed musical talent at a much earlier age than did her second…Blackmore doted on Russell, and sent his pony carriage to take the boy driving, promising to give Russell the white pony for his own when he was old enough. He even ordered a saddle to be made for his godson. ‘Our lives were wrapped up in his, and those six years were so happy’, wrote Violet. But aged six and a half, Russell developed spinal meningitis. It killed him within days…

…On the afternoon of 15 December 1899, Violet was standing at the window of ‘our cosy little home’. Outside it was beginning to snow. The time seemed right for her new child, and she suddenly felt the first contractions. By two-thirty the next morning, she was delivered of a baby boy, weighing a healthy seven and a half pounds, with golden brown hair. ‘He was a fine big baby, and oh the joy of him!’

The boy was named Noel, it being so close to Christmas…”

From the website of the Twickenham Museum:

Richard Doddridge Blackmore was brought up in Devonshire and went to Blundells School in Tiverton and then Oxford to study law. He was called to the Bar in 1852.

Now married, in 1854 he was advised to seek outdoor employment for his health and he moved to Hampton Wick. He had obtained a teaching post as classics master at Wellesley House School in Hampton Road, Twickenham and the walk between the school and his house at 25 Lower Teddington Road provided the outdoor part of his needs: he was subject to epilepsy.

Blackmore did not enjoy teaching and he was relieved of the need for this employment by a substantial bequest from his uncle in 1857. He bought land in Teddington and built himself a house which he named Gomer House, apparently after a favourite dog. Here he proposed to start a market garden to supply fruit to London.

His western boundary adjoined land acquired by the South Western Railway Company for the construction of the line connecting Twickenham with Kingston. For some years there were disputes, mainly about his boundary, access and the siting of the station.

In 1857 Blackmore told his father in a letter that he had found a sixteen acre site in Teddington which should be ideal for the growing of fruit but he was having the soil tested. In 1855 the idea of the railway line passing through Teddington had already been discussed at a Vestry meeting and it is thought that by 1858 the railway company may have acquired the land required for the line and station which would have taken a piece of the land Blackmore was interested in, leaving him about eleven acres instead of the original sixteen acres. Fairly recent information regarding the ownership of the land on either side of the railway line has come to light and it is possible that the other five acres were on the west side of the proposed line whereas the land he cultivated was on the east side of the line. It is apparent from correspondence with his father that even while his house was being built he was having arguments with the Railway Company.

Blackmore devoted about eleven acres of his land to horticulture but he was not particularly successful in this enterprise, although he persisted for over forty years.

He published much but achieved success and fame only with the publication of Lorna Doone in 1869 – a continuously popular story set in the late 17th century on Exmoor.

Blackmore’s wife died in 1888; there were no children of the marriage and after her death he was looked after at Gomer House by two of her nieces until his own death on 20 January 1900. He is buried in Teddington Cemetery alongside his wife. Blackmore was considered a recluse by the local inhabitants and also rather bad tempered but after the success of Lorna Doone he received many visitors from America including a number of young ladies.

Gomer House was demolished in 1938 and the memory of Blackmore is retained in various road names: Gomer Place, Blackmores Grove and Doone Close.

It is sometimes claimed that there are still fruit trees originally a part of his nursery in various local gardens, but this is doubtful after such a long time (150 years).”

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