The Strange Account of Major George Wyndham Le Strange.Perhaps it was that darkening that called to my mind an article I had clipped from the Eastern Daily Press several months before, on the death of Major George Wyndham Le Strange, whose great stone manor house in Henstead stood beyond the lake. During the last War, the report read, Le Strange served in the anti-tank regiment that liberated the camp at Bergen Belsen on the 14th of April 1945, but immediately after VE-Day returned home from Germany to manage his great uncle’s estates in Suffolk, a task he had fulfilled in exemplary manner, at least until the mid-Fifties, as I knew from other sources.
It was at that time too that Le Strange took on the housekeeper to whom he eventuallly left his entire fortune: his estates in Suffolk as well as property in the centre of Birmingham estimated at several million pounds. According to the newspaper report, Le Strange employed this housekeeper, a simple young woman from Beccles by the name of Florence Barnes, on the explicit condition that she take the meals she prepared together with him, but in absolute silence. Mrs. Barnes told the newspaper herself that she abided by this arrangement, once made, even when her employer’s life became increasingly odd.
Though Mrs. Barnes gave only the most reticent of responses to the reporter’s enquiries, my own subsequent investigations revealed that in the late Fifties Le Strange discharged his household staff and his labourers, gardeners and administrators one after another, that thenceforth he lived alone in the great stone house with the silent cook from Beccles, and that as a result the whole estate, with its gardens and park, became overgrown and neglected, while scrub and undergrowth encroached on the fallow fields.
Apart from comments that touched upon these matters of fact, stories concerning the Major himself were in circulation in the villages that bordered on his domain, stories to which one can lend only limited credence. They drew, I imagine, on the little that reached the outside world over the years, rumours from the depths of the estate that occupied the people who lived in the immediate vicinity.
Thus in a Henstead hostelry, for example, I heard it said that in his old age, since he had worn out his wardrobe and saw no point in buying new clothes, Le Strange would wear garments dating from bygone days which he fetched out of chests in the attic as he needed them. There were people who claimed to have seen him on occasion dressed in a canary-yellow frock coat or a kind of mourning robe of faded violet taffeta with numerous buttons and eyes. Le Strange, who had always kept a tame cockerel in his room, was reputed to have been surrounded, in later years, by all manner of feathered creatures: by guinea fowl, pheasants, pigeons and quail, and various kinds of garden and song birds, strutting about him on the floor or flying around in the air.
Some said that one summer Le Strange dug a cave in his garden and sat in it day and night like St. Jerome in the desert. Most curious of all was a legend that I presume to have originated with the Wrentham undertaker’s staff, to the effect that the Major’s pale skin was olive-green when he passed away, his goose-grey eye was pitch-dark, and his snow-white hair had turned to raven-black. To this day I do not know what to make of such stories. One thing is certain: the estate and all its adjunct properties was bought at auction by a Dutchman last autumn, and Florence Barnes, the Major’s loyal housekeeper, lives now with her sister Jemima in a bungalow in her home town of Beccles, as she had intended.”
W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, published in German in 1995, translated by Michael Hulse and published by New Directions in English in 1998
Article: Eastern Daily Press
Housekeeper Rewarded for Silent Dinners
A wealthy eccentric has left his vast estate to the housekeeper to whom he hardly spoke for over thirty years.
Major George Wyndham LeStrange (77), a bachelor, collapsed and died last month in the hallway of his manor house in Henstead, Suffolk which had remained virtually unchanged since Georgian times.
During the last war, Le Strange had served in the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment which liberated the concentration camp at Belsen on 14 April 1945. Immediately after VE-Day he returned to Suffolk to manage his great uncle’s estates.
Mrs Florence Barnes (57), employed by Le Strange in 1955 as housekeeper and cook on condition that she dined with him in silence every day, said that Le Strange had in the course of time, become a virtual recluse but she refused to give any details of the Major’s eccentric way of life.
Asked about her inheritance, she said that, beyond wanting to buy a bungalow in Beccles for herself and her sister, she had no idea what to do with it.
5,084 total views