|| Editor's Intro
|| Story behind
| BIRSTALL - BRIARMAINS
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and book extract
Woodiss achieved notoriety in the 1920s, when a Yorkshire baronet, Sir Coningsby Coningsby-Clarke, sued for divorce on the grounds of his wife’s adultery with his gamekeeper. To his horror, Woodiss became a national figure. He was vilified in the press:
a gamekeeper, a servant, a common man, who had dared seduce a lady.
Woodiss – Lady C’s Lover - became the prototype for the most infamous English gamekeeper of all.
Woodiss deeply resented the way he had been portrayed: by his account, it was Lady Edith, who had artistic pretensions, who had ordered him to pose naked in the woods, sketched him, then shamelessly exploited her social position to seduce him.
THE LADY was Edith Coningsby-Clarke. She was in her late twenties, a year or two younger than her husband, slightly older than her lover. She had been born into one of the richest families in England. Her mother was the daughter of a mill-owner, sometime Liberal MP and reputedly, one of the most enlightened men in politics.
Before her marriage, Edith had studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, and was a contemporary of Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer. She produced a vast amount of work of varying quality. Her best efforts are drawings of Woodiss.
THE HUSBAND. In the spring of nineteen eighteen, Edith married Coningsby Coningsby-Clarke, son of the fifteenth baronet. At the outbreak of war, unlike most of his contemporaries, he did not rush to volunteer, and it was nineteen seventeen before he joined up. Soon afterwards he became engaged to Edith. When he was ordered to France they hastily married.
|By his own admission, Con found the prospect of life in the trenches unnerving. On joining his battalion, however, he was relieved to find a familiar face, a man he had known all his life. This was Henry Woodiss, the son of his father’s gardener, and now, in a reversal of status, Con’s company commander.|
|Military service. At the outbreak of war, Woodiss, lying about his age, immediately enlisted in a local infantry regiment. Before he was twenty-one he had been badly wounded twice and each time returned to duty; he had been decorated for distinguished conduct and ordered to take a commission.|
Despite the traumatic start, a close and loving relationship had developed, and after she and Con divorced, Edith married Woodiss. She enjoyed the support of her family, but on condition that Woodiss was kept out of sight. Edith’s passion for Woodiss did not diminish, and they enjoyed a contented life together until she died at a tragically early age. During this time, Woodiss also forged a close relationship with Edith’s brother, George. Their friendship endured until George died, many years later.
AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT
Woodiss chose to he present his account of this period in his life as comic fiction. His mockery spared nobody, least of all himself, whom he depicted as a hapless buffoon in the middle of the farce. In reality, Woodiss, according to those who remember him, was an astute man, with wide interests; a prominent member of his community, and greatly respected for his outstanding war record.
What he did with his manuscript is not known. Until recently it was in the possession of an old man whose father was one of Woodiss’s drinking companions. It may be that Woodiss realized that he had revealed intimate information about several women - one of whom had become a national figure – and to protect them, chose not to publish. It was perhaps a relief to make this decision, for despite his oft-expressed determination to ‘put the record straight’ about the events at Coningsby, he was very reluctant to reveal himself in print.
After the events described in his book, Woodiss remained in Briarmains. He lived there, contented and comfortable, for more than twenty years, but his last days must have been lonely. He was in poor health. Miriam and George had died, and he lived alone in Hollows House, with only his dogs for company.