Stanley North (later Stanley Kennedy North) 1887-1942
My grandfather was an artist, illustrator, restorer, musician,
philanderer and would-be urban sewage composter. He emerges from
bits of his work, a Times obituary, a few photographs, a rude anecdote,
an honorary mention in a memoir his friend the poet Edward Thomas
and from scraps of family conversation from thirty and more years
Stanley was part of the revival of the English folksong and folk
dance tradition. It was a scene famous for free and easy sexual
mores, and if so one can see why it might have suited him. Anyway,
he eventually married a leading figure in it and had a family with
her. He certainly liked the Northumberland bagpipes and often played
them at picnics.
There is also the tantalising glimpse of his (possibly over-lapping)
involvement with the daughters of two married women (both had distinguished
It is a story of a clever, energetic young progressive a
socialist and a bohemian as he lives the creative life. He
was as brash as my father, his first child, was quiet.
Heres a neat portrait of him, from Eleanor Farjeons
1958 account of Edward Thomass Last Four Years [1912-1917]:
Stanley North was a mercurial artist in stained glass whom
Edward had met at [their mutual friend, the writer] Clifford Baxs,
and whose company he usually enjoyed. Stanleys ribald songs,
appalling language, and atrocious manners could be extremely amusing
or quite inexcusable, as you chose to take him. At this time 
he was hard up, but in his successful later years his work brought
him into High Society; and Princess Louise [Queen Victoria's artist
daughter] was enchanted to be told by him, Look here old girl,
come off it, youve no bloody taste at all.
Stanley had married Vera Rawnsley, an artist. Much later, she would
marry Clifford Bax, the affluent man of letters and man about town,
who incidentally ran a literary and artistic cricket tournament
from his Elizabethan manor house in Wiltshire. Maybe thats
where Stanley became a part of that set.
Stanley was a working-class boy. He was the son of a London (horse)
omnibus driver, and was born in a West London mews, probably above
a stable. He was always mysterious about his parentage, liking to
hint that he was the illegitimate son of an aristocrat, perhaps
of the Duke of Norfolk's family. That explains the Arundel
which he was to give my father as a middle name. (That Sussex town
is the ancient seat of the Norfolks.) But he also hinted that he
was the illegitimate son of Lord North.
Anyway, he was a romantic as well as perhaps a fantasist. He was
drawn - like hundreds of artistic people before him - to the chivalric
middle ages, whose style he would rework in stained glass, in book
illustrations in the Riches Heures de duc du Berry style, and in
copying 14th and 15th century paintings.
He met my grandmother, Vera Rawnsley, when she was a chic young
student at the Slade School of Art. She was from a military family
with connections to the Canon Rawnsley who helped start the National
Trust. Her father was larky and grumpy, a retired Army colonel who
was secretary of Brookss (the gentlemans club). He was
reportedly unamused by the liaison and marriage, and presumably
also by the later defection of Stanley from the marital home and
its young son, my father Paul, born in 1912. Stanley did not fight
in the First World War: Colonel Rawnsley might have thought that
Margaret Gardiner tells her story...
One can only guess what other women there night have been, but
we next hear of Stanley from Margaret Gardiner, a radical and feminist
who became famous for starting the Pier Arts Centre, an art gallery
on Orkney, in the Shetland isles. She was the child of a woman with
whom Stanley dallied under her husband's nose.
She died in 2005, but a couple of years before, ensconced in a
perfect Hampstead house, she told me: I adored Stanley. He
was gorgeous. I wasn't a young child, I was 11 or 12 or 13. He was
wonderful and he was a sort of symbol of emancipation, of freedom
of speech, and learning a few swear words. He was also an introduction
to ballads, for instance. He loved ballads. Things like Chevvy Chase
and all that lot.
This must have been during the First World War, granted that Margaret
was born in1904. Her father was the famous (and affluent) British
Museum Egyptologist, Sir Alan Gardiner.
I was born in Berlin because my father was working there
and at the beginning of the war we moved back to London and he worked
as an Egyptologist at the British Museum. We were very cultured,
very cultured. My mothers name was Hedvig, she was Austrian,
and her father was Jewish, but her mother came from Finland, and
had an island. She never let on about the Jewish bit, I only discovered
that a good deal later. My mother didnt have any money of
her own. She didn't do anything, but she was very good at decorating,
and she did that quite a lot with and under the influence of Stanley.
At one point he was around a great deal. He stood for imagination.
He didn't dress outrageously, he dressed like most men I suppose.
My mother and Stanley didnt go away together, not exactly.
He joined us on holiday quite often. Yes he was around a great deal.
My brother was often away at boarding school. There was a
friend who lived with us called Hermione, in what we called the
school room, where we had lessons with a governess. I remember Stanley
said to her, When you grow up, you're going to marry me,
and Hermione said yes, and I was furiously jealous that he was going
to marry Hermione and not me.
We had our supper in the schoolroom. It was the
childrens sitting room on the fifth floor - it was a big house.
The food came up on a lift on ropes, and Stanley very often shared
supper with us. The servants were in a sort of way in the know that
he would sleep on the floor.
The first floor was my father's study, and two drawing rooms
and a grand piano. And the next floor was my parent's bedroom -
they had separate bedrooms after a while - and my younger brother
and his nurse. And then, up a floor, was my elder brother and I
and anyone who came to stay. When my brother was away at boarding
school Stanley would use his room. And above that the school room
which was really our sitting room, and there was a scene there once
with Stanley and my father.
He was a friend and/or a lover of my mother. I don't know
the details of that, but they were great friends and my father obviously
didn't like him and at one point there was a scene. Stanley said
something which annoyed my father very much and he lost his temper
which he very rarely did. And Father said in a very loud voice:
Get out of my house. And Stanley replied, Certainly
Alan, I will get out of your house. Goodbye Margaret and goodbye
Heddy. And he bowed to us and left. I was horrified. I was
so ashamed at my father losing his temper and thinking that Stanley
might go for good and knowing how it would upset my mother. He probably
came back in a day or two or even the next day.
To begin with Stanley was like any other guest, he was a
scholar and working very hard all the time and she loved going to
private views and galleries and it was nice for her that here was
a person who liked to take her. He decorated a room for my mother
in London and that is being now reset up in my nephew's house in
Dorset. It wasn't a difficult situation. My father and Stanley didn't
get on. They didn't have the same interests. But it wasn't difficult.
There wasnt, this bloody man and so on. Not until
later on anyway. There were always people around, children, friends
staying. We lived separate lives so much in our house, there were
even different floors, for my parents and my younger brother and
his nurse. And then there was a different thing going on with the
servants, in what was called the servants hall. It was a big house.
Stanley was rather left wing. I remember him saying he would,
and I think he actually did, go to a very posh-looking man and say,
Excuse me, sir, but are you anyone of great importance?
That was very Stanley.
Liza Banks tells her story.....
Liza Banks was born a few years before Margaret but had a very
similar account of Stanley to give. She told me that Stanley was,
gorgeous. And he taught us how to swear. He didn't teach us
'f**k', but he taught us nearly everything else.
Liza's father was the painter and illustrator, Sir William Nicholson
(father of Ben and grandfather of Rachel). According to Sanford
Schwartzs William Nicholson, Stanley may have
first met Williams wife Edie before the First World War when
the painter and his family were at their country home in Rottingdean,
East Sussex. Stanley apparently spent time there, not least organising
some sort of folk music entertainment. In the 1930s, Stanley
wrote a rather good account of William and his work, and for this
or some other reason, Stanley was a fixture at the London and Wiltshire
houses of the family. In time, William and his wife separated, and
according to the impression received by the teenaged Liza, a liaison
between Stanley and the wife may have been part of the cause.
Stanley always smelled wonderful, says Liza, now in
her mid 80s. He must have anointed himself in sandalwood.
And he wore lovely clothes. He also loved to have everything around
him beautifully made. In her airy fourth floor flat, she has
a couple of tables, a Heals glass-fronted cabinet and a high-class
utility-style kitchen dresser, all inherited from her
mother but originally owned by Stanley. They seemed to have changed
hands as her mother paid some of Stanley's debts, perhaps to save
him from bankruptcy. He draped the walls of his restoration studio
in flax sheets, hand woven specially for him (perhaps for temperature
and dampness control). The trays he used for his plant propagation
work were made beautifully in teak.
Stanley's professional life
Heres the bit I know least about. Stanley seems to have been
some sort of organic pioneer and when he died was in the late stages
of persuading some London authorities that they should be composting
waste. Weird, really, that interest in waste disposal should bind
His restoration work led him to become the Keeper of the
King's Pictures a semi-formal role which later the disgraced
spy and art historian, Sir Anthony Blunt was to fill. In the 70s
(a few weeks before he was finally exposed as a spy for the Soviets),
Sir Anthony told me that Stanley's restoration of the Hampton Court
Mantengas, his most famous work, was not a bodged job, as I had
rather gathered. Sir Anthony said that Stanley's restoration, involving
a wax treatment of his own devising, had preserved the painting,
grime and all, and that made it easier for later restorers to apply
their own much more thorough techniques. Stanley was an enthusiastic
experimental chemist and physicist: he devised, for instance, unique
X-Ray equipment with which to examine paintings, and may have given
himself the cancer which killed him by careless use of the apparatus
(that or his constant smoking).
Blunt also told me that sometime between the wars (I forget if
he told me more precisely when) he (Blunt) was wandering around
a show at the Royal Academy when he saw the director of the Academy
and Stanley deep in conversation before a picture. Blunt told me
that Stanley was dressed in a rather stylish, if loud, check tweed
suit. Thats how I knew it was him, said Blunt.
Anyway, the director asked Stanley what he thought of the
painting and Stanley said, Poor old Boucher, he can only paint
c**t, but its the kind of c**t I rather like.
It was a perfect Stanley story but not one I felt I could tell
my father. All my life I have sworn like a trooper and been prone
to an almost Turettes utterance, though I curbed it a bit when with
Stanleys son, whose style was gentler.