Greenery Street by Denis Mackail was first published in 1925 but I read a Persephone reprint. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this one for years and years as everyone seems to love it – and so did I. I only have one other book by him, it’s called Upside-down and I haven’t read that one yet. He was Angela Thirkell’s brother, worked as a set designer for a J.M. Barrie production and the family had lots of links to upper class English/Scottish society. The artist Edward Burne-Jones was his grandfather, and he was also related to Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin.
Greenery Street is very much an autobiographical book which tells of the first year of marriage of a young couple – Felicity and Ian Foster. Felicity’s parents had banned her from seeing Ian before they had even met him, she was their youngest daughter and Ian didn’t earn much money at his job in an insurance firm in the city. This of course only makes the young couple even more determined to see each other and Felicity’s much older sister Daphne is deployed to help the situation.
With permission to get married they set out to find a home and settle in Greenery Street, number 23 – a corner house. They love it but are very short of money and end up in a huge amount of debt to the local builder. Felicity is just useless at housekeeping and her two servants run rings around her. Ian and Felicity are both rather frightened of approaching the servants to complain of anything, even the disappearance of Ian’s five bottles of whisky!
Felicity ends up being overdrawn at the bank and Ian says:
‘Do you realise that you’ve got through the whole of your quarter’s allowance in six weeks?’
And still Felicity didn’t answer. If Ian and the man at the bank both held this extraordinary belief it seemed useless for her to argue. Horrible loathsome money, why must it come and spoil everything like this? She supposed she’d known it all along, really, only still it seemed impossible. Extravagant? It was monstrous to say she was extravagant, when she’s bought nothing for herself – absolutely nothing – since that hideous cotton frock which she’d never been able to wear.
It was all those foul tradesman, and their foul weekly books!
Of course Felicity had been gasping to buy that dress when she saw it in the shop window.
This is a lovely read, it’s funny and will remind a lot of people of what it was like to be setting up their first home, although most of us probably didn’t have such an upper class way of life.
But from what I know of such people it is really true to life. It seems that the richer people are – the less inclined they are to pay the bills of the tradesman that they use – leeching off people who have far less money. Seriously I’ve known a few people who have gone out of business because of this attitude, although to be fair Ian and Felicity’s debt is on their conscience.
However, back to the book F’licity as she is known in the family is a dippy charmer and Ian is besotted with her. The book is dedicated to Diana, the author’s wife and sadly she died in 1949. Up until then Mackail had published a book every year but he gave up writing after her death. He died in 1971.
Greenery Street was actually 23 Walpole Street, London which despite apparently being too small to accommodate a growing family has now been split up into flats, one of which sold recently for £1.49 million. The photo below is of Walpole Street although number 23 was of course a corner house so presumably was an end terrace towards the left of this photo. If you’ve read the book you’ll recognise the little balcony that Felicity sat on. Not at all bad as a starter home I’m sure you’ll agree. Coincidentally P.G. Wodehouse had also lived in this house at an earlier date.