Featured Artifact: Wooden Chest and Bookshelves belonging to Charles Williams

The Wade Center owns a number of artifacts that were once in the personal possession of one of our seven authors. Our featured artifacts for this blog post are a set of bookshelves and chest from the home of Charles Williams. These handsomely carved wooden pieces can be viewed in the main hall near the museum displays as you enter the Wade.

The bookshelves stood for more than thirty years in the Williams’s flat at 23 Antrim Mansions, Belsize Park, London; they were given to the Wade Center in August 1979 by Michael Williams (son of Charles and Florence “Michal” Williams). The bookcases were originally used to hold Wade reference volumes and related office materials, but once relocated to our current building, the bookshelves were put to practical use displaying items in our sales area – which they still do to this day. The bookshelves measure 26 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 41.5 inches high. We do not have any additional information on who made the shelves or how they came into the possession of the Williams family.

In January 2016, a beautiful carved wooden chest arrived at the Wade Center from England. It also originally belonged to Charles Williams, and was later passed on to his son, Michael, who used it to store various editions of his father’s books. Upon Michael’s death in 2000, the chest was given to his friend Terry Drummond and his family: wife Lynda and son Matthew, who later kindly donated it to the Wade Center.

The chest measures 14 inches wide, 20 inches high, and 3 feet long. Along with the bookshelves, it is now on display in the main hall of the Wade Center where each of these Williams artifacts can be enjoyed by our thousands of visitors.

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A sign describing the chest’s history which reads: “This carved wooden chest originally belonged to Charles Williams and was donated to the Wade Center in January 2016 by Terry, Lynda, and Matthew Drummond. Charles Williams’s son, Michael, inherited the chest after his parents’ deaths. He used it to store various editions of his father’s books as well as works by T.S. Eliot. Upon Michael Williams’s death in 2000, the chest was given to his close friends the Drummonds, for whom Michael served as an honorary grandfather to their son, Matthew.”

Revd. Drummond has graciously provided the memories below of his family’s close friendship with Michael Williams, including details on the wooden chest.

Wade hallway

The hallway in the Wade Center where the chest and bookshelves are displayed. The bookshelves (not visible in this photo) are near the front windows on the right.

Michael Williams (1922-2000): A Reflection on a Friendship

It was a cold March Sunday in 1976 when my wife Lynda and I first met Michael Williams. We had arrived at the closed door of the church of St. Botolph’s Aldgate, where I was joining the staff to work with the single homeless. Standing at the door was Michael, and we had a brief conversation before the doors opened.

I later discovered Michael’s anticipated impressions of us when he had heard the previous week that a Captain (that is a Church Army Captain) and Mrs Drummond were joining the staff on the following Sunday. He had thought that this would be of no concern to him; Captain Drummond would be in his mid-50s and Mrs Drummond would most likely be of a similar age and he would have little contact with either of them.

During the Eucharist he realised that the Drummonds were the same young couple he had met earlier at the door (I was 25 years of age). This was a surprise given his preconceptions.

Our next contact was on a Monday lunch time for mid-day prayers. These were led by the Lady worker, a German Jew who had escaped Hamburg with her father when the Nazis came to power. Trudie was tiny and very Germanic, her prayers included something along the lines of ‘we pray for Mr. Brown, Mrs. Brown and the baby Browns’. I looked up from my stall and caught Michael’s eyes and from that point a friendship developed.

The coming weeks and years led to a deep and close friendship. At an early stage I discovered that Michael was the son of author Charles Williams. I had read all Williams’s novels and was of course pleased to get to know his son.

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Charles Williams, 1935 (Wade Photo Collection, CW / P-3)

One Saturday we went to lunch at his flat in Belsize Park. It was at this lunch that he showed us the wooden chest (now in the Wade Center) which was filled with first editions of various of his father’s books, along with some of the works of T.S. Eliot — including signed first editions of each of the four poems eventually comprising the Four Quartets.

As our friendship deepened it became clear that Michael had no great love of the memory of his father, and could become quite angry as he recalled their relationship. He was never happy talking about him, and when for instance he met Humphrey Carpenter who was researching his book The Inklings I was present to offer support.

On other occasions visitors would come to talk about Charles. For instance Wade founder Clyde Kilby was always welcome; his relationship with Michael was a close one. Others were also welcomed though he could become irritable with those he thought were ignoring him and trying to be close to his father.

In 1978, our son Matthew was born, and from the very beginning Michael became an honorary grandfather! This may seem like an unusual designation, but it was one that Michael loved. He was also Godfather to his friend Hilary’s two boys, and in many ways our two families became his extended family.

At the beginning of our relationship, his Aunt Edith (Edith Williams, sister of Charles) was living in St. Alban’s in the family home. I visited her with Michael on one occasion and it seems that I was one of the few people who had ever seen the inside of the house. When Edith died in July 1977, Michael inherited the estate, though in those days this was not as large a sum as it would be in the years that followed when inflation increased the value of properties.

The inheritance allowed Michael to buy a flat in Bethnal Green for the now inconceivable sum of £11,000; a flat today in the same area would cost 25 times more. The flat was his home for the rest of his life; a place in which he was happy and felt that at last he could settle into a life of his own.

In the biography of Charles by Greville Lindop (Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. Oxford UP, 2015) there is a suggestion that Michael had less of a life because he lived in the shadow of his father. It is certainly true that the shadow was ever-present. It is also the case that Michael built a life of his own when he moved to Bethnal Green in East London; he made friends with a neighbour and they spent a lot of time together. The neighbour was an East Ender through and through, and had no idea about the Williams family.

Michael also developed other friendships; one of which was with my mother who lived in Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. He would book a taxi and be driven to stay with her. It must be said that this horrified my mother who thought the cost of a taxi was far too much, especially when he could have travelled by train. I believe that for Michael the cost was not important; his friendship with my mother and her friends was what mattered. He would share evenings with them playing bingo in what is called a Working Men’s Club. The culture there was very different from the one in which he had been brought up.

Michael was a good friend and a generous one. He, like so many of us, had his demons which I believe were banished by the friendships that came later in his life. The three boys, that is the two godchildren and Matthew, and their parents were for him a new family.

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Michael Williams with his mother Florence “Michal” ca. 1967. (Wade Photo Collection: CW-F / P-8)

Whilst he had difficulties with his father, his love for his mother Michal was total. Following Michael’s death, Hilary and her husband travelled with Lynda and the three boys to take his cremated ashes to Oxford where they were buried in the grave of his parents.

Many years ago, Michael Williams donated some bookshelves to Wheaton College that had also belonged to the Williams family; I saw them on a visit I made in the 1980s to the Wade Center. The shelves were being used to hold a mix of papers; to be honest they were cluttered! The librarian asked me what ‘Mr William’s would think if he had seen the shelves being put to such daily life use’. I could only respond that ‘Mr Williams would think it was the best use they could have’! A view that was affirmed when I told him the story.

I started this remembrance with Michael’s expectation that Captain and Mrs Drummond would be nice 55-year olds who would have no effect on his life; how wrong he was! That cold March Sunday when we first met led to a friendship that lasted until his death.

Revd. Terry Drummond

Wade Collection ca. 1980s

Wade Collection ca. early-mid 1980s. The Williams bookshelves are visible in the background behind Wade staff member Evelyn Brace. Lewis’s wardrobe is on the left. (Wade History Archive Photos Collection)

6 thoughts on “Featured Artifact: Wooden Chest and Bookshelves belonging to Charles Williams

  1. Very interesting about Williams’s bookcases, and the signed copies of the individual Four Quartets, but what happened to the books themselves. Does Wade have them? Or a list of them?

  2. Thank you for this – it’s delightful to read the Revd.Terry Drummond’s memories of Michael Williams.

    Michael was a good host, kind and pleasant, when I visited him in Bethnal Green. We discovered we both loved the works of Barbara Pym, and when I later was surprised to have the good fortune to acquire a couple books which had been owned by her, I gave him her copy of the Everyman’s Library reprint of Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne, much to his delight. Since he passed away, I’ve often wondered what became of it and hoped it found a good home with another Pym enthusiast.

    • Ha! I have a battered Everyman’s Library issue of Dr. Thorne — not THIS one, of course.

      The importance of the Everyman’s Library for Lewis and Tolkien will be suggested in a forthcoming post at the Pilgrim in Narnia blog. I’d like to know more about the EL’s importance for Charles Williams and his family.

      Dale Nelson

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