Matching meals and a folly…

G.H Tyrwhitt-Wilson (1883-1950)

Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, the 14th Baron Berners, was a gifted
composer , novelist, painter and devisor of practical jokes..
When he was a young boy, he learned that birds learn to fly when they
are pushed from the nest. So he attempted to “teach” his mother’s dog
to fly. He was later punished for throwing the dog out a window of his
After making several booby traps involving his long suffering nanny, he
was sent off to be educated at Eton. He later studied music in Dresden
and Vienna , and then pursued a career as a diplomat before inheriting
his uncle’s title, fortune, and properties. The years working as a diplomat
did not impair his sense of humour, Whilst in Vienna he took a dislike to
a rather pompous member of the German embassy who began every
statement by making a show of cleaning his spectacles before wearing
them again. With a piece of thin thread Gerald attached the spectacles
to the ink bottle, blotter and a carafe of water. So the next time the
spectacles were raised to be polished to start his speech, most of the
contents of the table went with them.

In 1918 shortly after inheriting his title ,he left the diplomatic service and
retired to the family estate at Faringdon, Oxfordshire, in order to devote
his life entirely to the pursuit of his pastimes and pleasures

As the new lord Berners he attended a parliamentary session at the
House of Lords and left early after finding it all too boring. Many years
later when asked about his experiences he replied, “I did go once, but a
bishop stole my umbrella and I never went there again.

Burners also collected other peoples calling cards which he had a
particular mischievous use for. Having lent his house in Rome to a
honeymooning couple, he sent the cards of London`s most celebrated
bores on ahead to the butler with strict instructions to deliver two or three
to the couple every day. The poor honeymooners spent most of their
stay diving for cover everytime they heard someone at the door

In December 1926, he, placed an advertisement in the personals
column of the London Times:
“Lord Berners wishes to dispose of two elephants and one small
rhinoceros (latter house-trained). Would make delightful Christmas
When a newspaperman telephoned, Berners took the call himself,
pretending to be the butler. “Actually, I haven’t seen the rhino, myself,
sir,” he said, “but it’s often about the house. It’s quite gentle, I’m told.
The weather was getting too cold for the elephants, so I’m glad they’ve
gone. They went on Saturday. I understand Mr. Harold Nicolson has
bought one and Lady Colefax the other. I hope they have good homes.”

Berners hated company when he travelled by train and used to wear a
black skull cap and thick black spectacles. As the train stopped for
passengers to board he would lean out the window and beckon people
inside, this charade normally ensured that he would have the carriage to
himself. But if someone was foolish enough to join him, he would take
out a giant thermometer and with a worried expression start taking his
temperature. This normally did the trick.

Farringdon House, his country seat was equally strange. All along the
fences surrounding his estate were signs reading “Dogs will be shot:
cats will be whipped”. Within the grounds were doves dyed all colours of
the rainbow, a collection of antique Rolls Royces including one with a
clavichord built into the backseat in order for him to compose wherever
he went.. Looking across from his house is the 140 foot high Farringdon
Folly, built in 1935 purely to annoy his neighbours. On being asked why
he had built it Berners repliesd “ The point of the tower is that it is
entirely useless” The completed folly had a sign stating “Members of the
public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”

Depending on his mood he would sometimes have monochromatic
meal, for example a lunch might consist of beetroot soup, lobster,
tomatoes and strawberries. He would then have the doves carefully
redyed to match what he was eating.

He had other friends that were just as eccentric as himself. One such
friend, Salvador Dali, requested his help in a lecture during the 1936
International Surrealist Exhibition In the lecture, Salvador Dali was to
give a speech from inside a diving suit. Dali later commented on the
“Lord Berners was in charge of renting the diving suit in question, and
over the telephone they asked him to specify exactly to what depth Mr.
Dali wished to descend. Lord Berners replied that I was going to
descend to the subconscious, after which I would immediately come up
again. With equal seriousness the voice answered that in this case they
would replace the helmet with a special one”.

Berners was openly gay and his mother seemed blissfully unaware of
this but she was horrified to hear that he had been seen with one of the
most notorious society lesbians in London. In order to placate his mother
he placed the following in The Times.
“Lord Berners wishes to announce that he has left Lesbos for the Isle of

He lived for over 20 years with a man 30 years his junior, the equally
eccentric Robert “Mad Boy” Heber-Percy. The doctor who attended Lord
Berners during his last years refused to send a bill, saying that the
pleasure of his company had been payment enough.
His epitaph reads
Here lies Lord Berners
One of life’s learners
His great love of learning
May earn him a burning
Thanks be to the Lord
He never was bored

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to Top