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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power