Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Travels with du Maurier

Travelex founder puts the childhood home where Daphne du Maurier allegedly conducted two of her most illicit relationships on the market for £32 million


The best-selling author Daphne du Maurier had a relationship with her actor-manager father Sir Gerald that could at best be described as “curious”. The family’s home from 1916, Cannon Hall in Hampstead, is currently owned by Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman and it has recently been placed on the market.


A view of Cannon Hall from the rear garden
A view of Cannon Hall from the rear garden
Dame Daphne du Maurier DBE, Lady Browning (1907 - 1989)
Dame Daphne du Maurier DBE, Lady Browning (1907 – 1989)
Lloyd Dorfman
Lloyd Dorfman

Dating from approximately 1730, Cannon Hall was home to a secretary of the East India Company named Sir James Melville and Sir Noah Thomas, Physician-in-Ordinary to George III prior to the du Maurier and Dorfman families. It was where Daphne du Maurier grew up and is described as where “she began her voyage of literary discovery”.


At Cannon Hall, according to Daphne author Justine Picardie, a young Daphne du Maurier allegedly partook in two of her most illicit relationships. Of the first, with her father, Picardie states:


“For while there has never been conclusive proof that he expressed explicitly incestuous desire for his daughter, his extreme possessiveness veered towards the inappropriate. Thus when du Maurier announced, at the age of 25, that she and [her future husband Sir Frederick] Browning were to be married, her father is said to have burst into tears and cried, ‘It’s not fair!’”


Actor manager Sir Gerald du Maurier (1873 - 1934) and his actress wife Muriel Beaumont (1881 - 1957)
Actor manager Sir Gerald du Maurier (1873 – 1934) and his actress wife Muriel Beaumont (1881 – 1957)


“He died less than two years afterwards, at the age of 61, though not before he had read du Maurier’s novel The Progress of Julius, published in the year after her marriage, which describes a father who drowns his 25-year-old daughter because he cannot bear the prospect of her involvement with another man. Du Maurier’s description of his incestuous feelings was remarkably open in a novel of that period – Julius’s wife is shocked by his ‘voracious passion’ for their adolescent daughter, and when he watches her playing the flute, he is himself aware of ‘an odd taste in his mouth, and a sensation in mind and body that was shameful and unclean’. (According to du Maurier’s son, Kits Browning, ‘It’s a fascinating story, with an awful lot based on Daphne’s father. Julius is utterly ruthless, but he has a magnetism and charm’)”.


The second relationship was allegedly conducted whilst du Maurier’s “handsome cousin, Geoffrey’s” wife was convalescing in a nursing home and he was staying at Cannon Hall. Of this, Picardie recounts:


“[Geoffrey] was already married to his second wife by then, but appears to have enjoyed the illicit flirtation with his adolescent cousin [Daphne du Maurier]. ‘As the August holiday progressed so did the understanding, and this was something that must not be told to others’, wrote du Maurier, nearly six decades later, ‘…and after lunch, when we all lay out on the lawn like corpses to catch the sun, rugs over our knees, Geoffrey would come and lie beside me, and feel for my hand under the rug and hold it…’”


“Later, the hand holding progressed to passionate kisses… Du Maurier wrote in her diary at the time, ‘When the others go to bed I let him kiss me in the drawing-room… It seems so natural to kiss him now… The strange thing is it’s so like kissing D[addy]. There is hardly any difference between them. Perhaps this family is the same as the Borgias. D[addy] is Pope Alexander, Geoffrey is Cesare, and I am Lucretia. A sort of incest’”.


The entrance hall and staircase are described as being two of Cannon Hall's "most impressive and distinguishing features"
The entrance hall and staircase are described as being two of Cannon Hall’s “most impressive and distinguishing features”
The wood panelled dining room can comfortably seat eighteen
The wood panelled dining room can comfortably seat eighteen
A drawing room is to be found on the first floor
A drawing room is to be found on the first floor
The current owners have added an indoor swimming pool to the house
The current owners have added an indoor swimming pool to the house
Cannon Hall stands on a plot of just under half an acre
Cannon Hall stands on a plot of just under half an acre

Now a much more tame family home, Grade II* listed Cannon Hall features 9,959 square foot of accommodation over three levels. The house features 5 reception rooms, a billiards room, a conservatory, 6 bedrooms and an indoor “orangery-style” swimming pool and in addition there is a staff cottage, a double garage and parking for ten cars. Whilst the most impressive feature is a mid-18th century staircase centred within a grand entrance hall, other highlights include a weather boarded cock and bell turret and a wood panelled dining room with an early 19th century fireplace that seats eighteen.


Cannon Hall is for sale for the extraordinary sum of offers in excess of £32,000,000 through Trevor Abrahmsohn of Glentree Estates.



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