I FIRST met Alice Buchan at Elsfield Manor where on Sundays in the 1920s the John Buchans kept open house at teatime for undergraduate friends who walked or bicycled up to that hilltop overlooking Oxford. This graceful girl, only 16 or 17, with long, fair plaits, seemed poised and at ease in the large and lively company - only later did one realise what shyness the poise concealed.
Elsfield was a bookish home and Alice had plenty of time to read, for, while her three younger brothers - Johnnie, William and Alastair - went off to prep school and Eton, she had lessons with a governess at home (supplemented by drawing classes at the Ruskin School). Her relish for Scott and Stevenson won her father's approval - later she dared challenge him on Wyndham Lewis and Eliot (her copy of Ulysses was disguised by a dustjacket of The Pilgrim's Progress). With her much-loved aunt Anna - John Buchan's sister, the novelist O. Douglas - she shared a passion for Shakespeare and for the theatre generally; when Anna came down from Scotland they were, as she recalled, 'intemperate playgoers' at Stratford and in London. After enduring a London season or two as a deb, Alice became a student at RADA.
When John Buchan was appointed High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1933, Alice was one of the Maids of Honour at Holyrood, and Brian Fairfax-Lucy one of the ADCs. A few months later they married - a long marriage that weathered many changes of place and circumstance, and that brought them finally to the Lucy family home at Charlecote in Warwickshire. Alice's work on the archives resulted in her Charlecote and the Lucys (1958), a solid contribution to Shakespeare studies, and Mistress of Charlecote (1987); when Brian succeeded his brother, she became the chatelaine of that historic house with all its Shakespearian associations. Once installed, Alice worked hard to interest the National Trust in taking it over, leaving the family one wing to live in; she became a pillar of the trust, serving on the Council, lecturing on Charlecote.
When in the late 1950s Alastair Buchan asked me to write John Buchan's life, I wondered what difficulties I might run into with the family. They were minimal, and this was partly due to both Alice's and Alistair's strong sense of history, which let them view their father's career objectively and unpossessively. With her excellent memory and her direct assessments, Alice was a great help to me in writing that biography and the later John Buchan and His World (1979).
In her last widowed years Alice retired to a small house in Burford - happy with her books, her family, her friends, always stimulating and fun to be with, and still graceful and poised as in those far off Elsfield Days.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content