Obituary: Margaret Read

As a Catholic convert, but married to the Anarchist and agnostic, poet and critic Sir Herbert Read, one might think that Margaret Read had few opportunities for keeping her own faith tuned. In fact she was three times lucky.

When she was a young woman - she and Read having dramatically eloped from Edinburgh - Henry Moore lent them his studio in the Mall Studios in Belsize Park, north London, where her immediate neighbours were Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth with Moore himself just round the corner. But - pour combler le bonheur - there was the Roman Catholic church of St Dominic, within, she might have said, whistling distance. "There was a little passage and if you went to the priory and said a little prayer, there was a movie there, just opposite the passage; you said your prayer, nipped out of the church and into the movie." Was it a fluke that she was so close to a Catholic church? "Oh, a pure fluke, and there was the monastery at the end of our garden."

There would be a much larger monastery years later when Herbert Read, a born Yorkshireman who had always longed to return to his beginnings, found a lovely old house, near Kirbymoorside, not far from the farm where he was born - and within easy reach of Ampleforth College and Monastery. There Margaret Ludwig, a professional viola player who had once been in the orchestra at Glyndebourne, found a rich religious and musical life, with intelligent and musical monks - and a college for the three Read boys; and, even closer, Hovingham Hall, childhood home of the later Duchess of Kent. There she invented, organised and inspired three wonderfully idiosyncratic music and opera festivals.

But in the years between, the war years and late Forties, the family lived in Buckinghamshire which she rather despised as suburban. It was a simple house in the village of Seer Green that saw a coming and going of some of the most eminent artists, writers and musicians of the time. A string quartet was formed and, at the famous Mayflower barn at Jordans, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears and Poulenc and many others accepted her urgent pleas to come and perform.

At Broom House a Bible was always placed beside the bed when T.S. Eliot was expected. Once when the (wealthy) Kenneth Clarks announced that they would "drop in", "The Clarks are coming slumming," she warned. Naum Gabo came several times, irrepressible and unstoppable; he talked sculpture, philosophy, politics in his rich Russian accent, keeping Herbert up into the small hours while the hostess resolutely went to bed. Oskar Kokoschka appeared bringing Herbert a lovely watercolour of a fish (not many English artists whom Herbert Read had helped to fame were so generous) and George Hoellering was around, the Hungarian film producer who had just finished his film of Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, making quite a pass at Mrs Read; too much of a professional charmer to be taken seriously. (She was unimpressed by the film.) Her gibes about some of the visitors were witty but never malicious. Who was it whom she described as a rose-red pansy half as old as time?

Karl Mannheim, the sociologist, came to lunch at the round Finnish dining table, with a swivelling serving platform on top which you had to turn yourself to seize the food. It showed you up as either greedy and pushing or as timorous, with probably an inferiority complex, he pronounced. "Ludo" Read was quite pleased with that analysis, and some time later the movable servery disappeared. Altogether, modern Finnish furniture was not her choice and if there was any audible disagreement between the spouses it was not over the most obvious subject of religion but something one might label "The Battle of Styles". Black leather and steel armchairs and glass tables furnished even some of the 18th-century Stonegrave House, in Yorkshire; but now and again Lady R came back from a country auction, pleased like a Yorkshire cat at having purchased some heavy mahogany piece with knobs - which Sir Herbert called names and tried to banish into the garage.

On the other hand she was extremely fond of their modern artist friends, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Patrick Heron and their works - but quite undaunted by them. Once when Hepworth, much "into nature", criticised her for wearing high heels, she looked amazed, saying - "What's wrong - cows walk on them, don't they?"

The last two years of her life brought her the third and closest encounter with her church: the convent of St Nicholas in west London, where she was most admirably looked after by the nuns; and there she died with six nuns surrounding her, saying the Rosary.

Leonie Cohn

Margaret Ludwig, viola player: born Aberdeen 27 March 1905; married 1936 Herbert Read (Kt 1953, died 1968; three sons, one daughter); died London 10 March 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little