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Mr Lucy Boston (also known as Wood, Wood)

Lucy Maria Boston (nee Wood), writer, was born on 10 December 1892 at 8 Scarisbrick Street, Southport, Lancashire, the fifth of six children of James Wood, engineer and sometime Mayor of Southport, and Mary Garrett. She had two older brothers, two older sisters and a younger brother. After marrying (William) Harold Boston in September of 1917, Lucy and Harold lived at Norton Lodge, Norton, Cheshire, near Harold Boston's work as a director of the family tannery.

Her father was a passionate man with an appreciation of the aesthetic side of life, albeit channelled largely through his religious convictions, whereas her mother was devout and abstemious. Her mother had to perform duties as Mayoress for many years, at which Lucy says she must have been very bad. In particular, entertaining must have been a strain for her as "her idea of food was that it was a sad necessity. [After her husband’s death] she even began to think it was not even necessary and the boys raged with hunger."

Lucy’s father died when she was six. This resulted in a change in the family fortunes. As was the custom, her mother had been left only enough money to keep the house together, while each child was left a small fortune to be spent on their education.

The Wood children now were all sent to school. They spent a year near her mother’s family home at Arnside, Westmorland. This move to the countryside gave the children a more free and easy life-style than had been possible in Southport. Lucy describes the "wide and inexhaustible joys of Arnside", on an estuary of the river Kent. The children were free to wander woods and fields, explore the cliffs and coves of the river.

The return to Southport, after the year in Westmorland, was hard for Lucy. Every night she wept for all she was parted from: worn rocks and turf under her feet instead of pavements, "the night sounds of the river birds, flocks of sandpipers in flight, curlews and solitary gulls".[2]

When she left school Lucy went to a finishing school in Paris and the time came for her to be formally received into the Wesleyan community. To her mother’s horror, she refused. Her mother wept and implored, told her she was "lost", but Lucy remained adamant. "Yet as I stepped out of the fold into the unknown I repeated privately to myself, ‘He shall keep my soul until that day’. I knew I was in search, not in denial. The abandonment of one’s father’s faith is a deep fear and sorrow and I felt an outsider."

Boston went up to Somerville College, Oxford, to read English in Autumn 1914, the first months of World War I. During her second term, she decided to leave college after her first year and go to war as a volunteer nurse. Her ambition was to get to France, where, as she put it, "it was all going on". Her brothers were all serving in the armed forces but they were a close family, and spent any leaves or spare time together. Boston's youngest brother Philip was reported missing in 1917 when his plane was shot down.

In her memoir, Perverse and Foolish (1979), she gives an account of her war-time experiences. After training at St Thomas's Hospital in London and Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, she was posted to a casualty clearing station at Houlgate, Normandy.

Lucy married her distant cousin Harold Boston in September 1917 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. They lived at Norton Lodge, Norton, Cheshire, near Harold Boston's work as a director of the family tannery, and had one son, Peter Shakerley Boston, born in September 1918. Following the failure of the marriage in 1935 Lucy travelled in France, Italy, Austria and Hungary, visiting the musical capitals of Europe. She studied painting in Vienna and immersed herself in this for the next three or four years.[3]

In 1937 Boston rented a flat in Cambridge, and shortly afterwards she bought the 12th-century manor at Hemingford Grey, near Huntingdon. Boston dedicated the rest of her life to restoring Hemingford.

Over many years Boston remade the garden, which is distinguished for her topiary and collection of old roses. During the Second World War Boston held regular concerts of classical music, played on her gramophone in the music room at the manor, to give respite and pleasure to Royal Air Force crews serving at nearby bases. Lucy Boston died at the manor, following a stroke, on 25 May 1990.

Perverse and Foolish ends with her return to England in 1937, when she took rooms in Cambridge where her son, Peter, now aged 19, was an undergraduate. Hearing that a house was for sale in the nearby village of Hemingford Grey, Lucy remembered that in 1915 she had glimpsed from the river a seemingly derelict farmhouse. She jumped to the conclusion that this must be the house for sale, drove out to Hemingford Grey in a taxi, knocked at the door and announced to the owners that she would be interested in buying it. It transpired that they had only that morning decided to sell, and the house advertised for sale was a completely different one. In 1937 Boston rented a flat in Cambridge, and shortly afterwards she bought the 12th-century manor at Hemingford Grey, near Huntingdon. Boston dedicated the rest of her life to restoring Hemingford.

Another autobiographical memoir, Memory in a House, describes her life after moving to Hemingford Grey, including the renovation and restoration of The Manor.[4] This book, published before Perverse and Foolish and written when Boston was eighty-one, can be described as an extended love letter to the house. In 1992 the two memoirs were published in chronological order in a single volume entitled Memories.

The ancient Norman Manor house, built in about 1130, was reputed to be one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in the British Isles. It became the focus and inspiration for her creativity for the rest of her life. Work on the garden began as soon as essential work on the house was finished.

Boston lived at The Manor for almost 50 years, in which time she created a romantic garden and wrote all her children’s books.

Boston died, aged 97, on 25 May 1990 having suffered two strokes in March of that year.[6] Her son Peter, an architect and illustrator, lived in the Manor at Hemingford Grey (Green Knowe) with his wife Diana until his death, in November 1999.

Boston created over 20 patchworks during her lifetime. The only mention of patchwork in Memory in a House comes when she describes repairing an old patchwork hanging in the dining room, in which every piece of material was pre-1830. The existence of the patchworks was scarcely known until 1976, when the conductor and keyboard player, Christopher Hogwood, who was a friend, arranged an exhibition of them at the King's Lynn Festival. Boston's daughter-in law, Diana Boston, published the story of the patchworks in The Patchworks of Lucy Boston (1985), using a collection of letters which Boston wrote to her niece, Caroline Hemming, as well as catalogues and patchwork paraphernalia amongst her possessions.


Green Knowe series
  1. The Children of Green Knowe (1954)
  2. The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958); U.S. title, Treasure of Green Knowe
  3. The River at Green Knowe (1959)
  4. A Stranger at Green Knowe (1961)
  5. An Enemy at Green Knowe (1964)
  6. The Stones of Green Knowe (1976)

The Green Knowe series was published by Faber and Faber and by Puffin Books.

Other fiction
  • Yew Hall (1954)
  • The Sea Egg (1967)
  • The Castle of Yew (1968)
  • Persephone aka Strongholds (1969)
  • The House That Grew (1969)
  • The Horned Man: Or, Whom Will You Send To Fetch Her Away (1970)
  • Nothing Said (1971)
  • The Guardians of the House (1974)
  • The Fossil Snake (1975)
  • "Curfew", a short story which appeared in the anthology The House of the Nightmare: and other Eerie Tales (1967)

A book of poetry, titled Time Is Undone: Twenty-Five Poems by Lucy M. Boston was published in 1977 in a limited run of 750 copies.

Associated Places