Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson
Lord Berners, also known as Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, was a novelist, composer and general man of high culture. But, while this may suggest that the aristocrat was a man of refined taste and manners and every inch the perfect English gentleman, he also had a stranger side. Indeed, Lord Berners was famous for his eccentric ways. Evident from an early age, these only became more pronounced with age and, when he finally came of age and had a whole country house and estate to himself, he was really able to indulge his inner craziness.
By all accounts, Lord Berners had a normal childhood for an English aristocrat. He was born in the family home of Apley Hall, in the county of Shropshire, in 1883. His parents were very different. Young Gerald’s father was an officer in the Royal Navy and so was rarely home. His mother was from a relatively humble background and was far from an intellectual. She was strongly set in her ways and believed in the traditional gender roles. So, while Gerard’s grandmother tried to install in the boy her strong sense of religious duty, his mother tried to forge him into a manly man – something against which he, as a sensitive homosexual, rebelled against.
Even as a boy, Gerald started gaining a reputation for being a bit different. On one occasion he famously threw a dog out of a window: he had learned that dogs could be taught how to swim by simply throwing them in water, so he wanted to see if they could be made to fly. Even the strict environment of the prestigious Eton College failed to straighten him out. Luckily, however, he didn’t need any of the benefits of an expensive education because, in 1918 his uncle died, making young Gerald the 14th Baron Berners, a title that came with a large home in Faringdon House, as well as lots of land and even more money.
When his mother died, Gerald moved into Faringdon House himself. He was joined by his lover, Robert Heber-Percy (a man 28 years younger than him) and his wife and child. Here, in the comfort of his own home, he was free to do as he pleased. So, he would dress his dogs in jewels and pearls, invite horses in for afternoon tea and dye the feathers of his pigeons bright colors. Visitors to his house, among them Salvador Dali and H.G. Wells, would be pleased to find random jokes and phrases written on pieces of furniture. They would also see him driving around his vast estate with a pig’s mask on his head in an effort to scare the local residents. His Rolls-Royce was also fitted with a clavichord so he could play music as he drove around.
Lord Berners died in 1950 at the age of just 66. He left his home and estate to his young partner and his ashes were scattered on the grounds of Faringdon House. While he is often remembered for his eccentric ways, he was also a respected composer and author, penning ballets, symphonies, novels and four autobiographical tomes.