The Old Orchard of Wymering Manor: ‘with the original sinse we are only yearning’

April 26, 2014

A chance visit yesterday to the vicinity of Wymering Manor – ‘the most haunted house in Britain’ – has led me to explore some parallels between what a local resident told me about what he’d heard of the sinful behaviour of nuns and monks at the Manor and the associations opened up by a ‘stray’ reference in Finnegans Wake.

Wymering Manor. Note the heart shapes in the shutters.

Wymering Manor. Note the heart shapes in the shutters (Picture from here).

When I remarked upon the close proximity of the dilapidated Manor (hemmed in by the encroachment of modern housing), the resident explained that the cul-de-sac of 1960s houses we were stood in was built upon the Manor’s old orchard. Responding to me saying “It’s haunted, isn’t it?” my informant gestured in the direction of Cosham, and said, “the monks lived down there and they used to come and visit the nuns here and, well you know… they did what they shouldn’t have done, they sinned, and… they buried the babies in the garden”. It’s pretty macabre and, I have to say, I haven’t found (yet) any mention of pregnant nuns and the burial of infanticides amidst the plethora of accounts of uncanny atmospheres and spectral appearances around this old house. I wonder if the story is connected with this episode in the Manor’s history:

In December, 1858, the Reverend George Nugee became (following the death of his younger brother Andrew) Vicar of Wymering. He apparently purchased the Manor House choosing to reside there in the company of 12 young men belonging to his recently re-created Order of St. Augustine. The nearby vicarage was set aside as accommodation and base for his Sisterhood of St. Mary which had accompanied him from his previous appointment in London.
The Rev. Nugee was a colourful personality of independent means, having a distinct propensity towards particularly high church services and ritual. During his incumbency at Wymering, he built a private chapel in the Manor House and, in addition, what is apparently an oratory concealed within the walls of an upstairs room. In 1872 after appearing before a Royal Commission on Church Ritual and later enquiries into his questionable morality, he was ordered to resign his living and leave the parish. He died at Talaton, Devon, in 1892.

(Retrieved from this site: http://history.inportsmouth.co.uk/events/billys_and_charleys.htm)

One former resident of the Manor claimed he often saw a choir of nuns crossing the hall at midnight, chanting to the sound of music.


Mulling all this over back home, I recalled that James Joyce had perhaps alluded to Wymering in Finnegans Wake as ‘whimmering’. Not such an unlikely proposition. After all, Joyce had holidayed about twenty miles away in the West Sussex village of Sidlesham, near Chichester, in 1923, and it is probable that his visit to the churchyard of St Mary’s Sidlesham prompted Joyce to use the name Earwicker in the Wake, for the character Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (recognised throughout the book by the initials, HCE, and all permutations of his name, like ‘Here Comes Everybody’). Rather than flick through my own dog-eared copy of the book, I web-searched for the word, ‘whimmering’, and was directed to this discussion of original sin and sex in Joyce’s book, in the context of the Garden of Eden, which immediately evoked associations with the libidinous monks and nuns, murder, and the orchard and the gardens I’d heard tell of earlier in the day:

Pity poor Haveth Childers Everywhere with Mudder!

(FW 535.31-35).

The character ALP/Issy in the Wake‘s garden of Eden is both the pregnant Virgin Mary, as well as the seductress Eve, and the sin is specifically one of reproduction:

Eat early earthapples. Coax Cobra to chatters. Hail, Heva, we hear! This is the glider that gladdened the girl that list to the wind that lifted the leaves that folded the fruit that hung on the tree that grew in the garden Gough gave. Wide hiss, we’re wizening. Hoots fromm, we’re globing. Why hidest thou hinder thy husband his name? Leda, Lada, aflutter-afraida, so does your girdle grow!

(FW 271.24-272.3).

The Wymering reference appears in the same context of Edenic temptation of Eve, evoking a shimmering, fascinating, satinous (satanous) dress, sloughed off like snakeskin:

her downslyder in that snakedst-tu-naughsy whimmering woman’t seeleib such a fashionaping sathinous dress

(FW 505.7).

Mindful of the way Finnegans Wake is intentionally imitative and therefore expressive of the structure of the ‘chaosmos’, in which everything is connected, then in regard to the general state of repair of the Manor – recently handed over by Portsmouth City Council to a Trust – ‘downslyder’ would seem to be an apt description. The coincidences keep piling up (like the wreckage from the Tower of Babel or Walter Benjamin’s ‘storm of progress’). Acknowledging the literary method for generating coincidence, Joyce further compounds the Edenic and sexual references here:

Quoint a quincidence! O.K. Omnius Kollidimus. As Ollover Krumwall sayed when he slepped ueber his grannyamother

(FW 299.8-10).

Aside from the vaginal pun of including a Middle English term for pudendum – ‘queynte’ – Joyce may also be cognisant that the quince was thought by some authorities to be the fruit that tempted Eve, as he alludes to the Fall of Man and Humpty (HCE) in the Ollover Krumwall reference. A couple of other quincidental references (courtesy of Wikipedia) are also illuminating. Thus, among the ancient Greeks the quince was a ritual offering at weddings, for it had come from the Levant with Aphrodite and remained sacred to her. Correlating with the orchard of Wymering Manor is the tradition from Slavonia (Croatia) that when a baby is born, a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life. The Fall is encountered, too, on the opening page of the Wake, as it sets the scene for a simultaneously cosmic and personal drama:

The fall… of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy

(FW 3.15-18).

In terms of the fall of Humpty, would it be over-egging the pudding to glimpse the last owner of Wymering Manor before it was turned over for use by the military in 1939 (the year of Finnegans Wake‘s publication), Thomas Knowlys Parr, who died in 1938?

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