My village has been burying a bit of its past. It was Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Godley, who was once Kitty Freud, and before that Kitty Garman.
Her mother was also a Kathleen Garman, one of the extraordinary Garman sisters who, like a troop of girl guides, decamped from respectable Walsall into the giddy clutches of Soho, and cut their own swathe through that between-the-wars crop of painters, sculptors and Bohemian all-sorts.
Kathleen — that is, Kathleen the mother — became the model, muse, then the enduring mistress of Jacob Epstein, the world-renowned sculptor. Epstein’s long-suffering wife, Margaret, once shot her with a pearl-handled revolver, wounding, but not killing her.
Kathleen survived to bring her three children to these parts to shelter from wartime bombings much, perhaps, to the consternation of the village grand dames. Only in the 1950s did she finally marry Jacob, becoming Kathleen, Lady Epstein.
On the other hand, villagers were probably well attuned to eccentric lifestyles, not least because in 1927 old Bertie Russell, later leader of CND, and his campaigning wife, Dora, were running a ‘free’ school on the top of the downs and mocking just about everything to do with academic convention.
So perhaps people here were quite proud of the artistic free-thinkers who came to live among them. For instance, in the mid 1930s, one house up the road a little seemed to have been visited by half the then British Communist Party.
It was inhabited by Peggy Guggenheim, the heiress, art collector and museum founder, and her lover Douglas Garman, Kitty’s uncle and tireless worker for the Communist Party, He was the first of the Garmans to arrive here.
Peggy herself had scant regard for Karl Marx, but she became so engrossed in the French writer Proust that, fabulously wealthy though she was, she could be found in a freezing bedroom turning the pages of a book, wearing fur gloves.
It was an era of artistic people falling desperately in love with one another while they spent their intellectual moments fiercely falling out over socialism, fascism and the Spanish civil war. Kitty inherited the same spirit of adventure as her mother. She went to London studying art and by 1948 she had married Lucian Freud, the painter, and became the model for perhaps his best-known early work, Girl with a White Dog.
She had two daughters by him, before marrying the economist Wynne Godley, by whom she had another daughter. She was herself a talented painter while Jacob Epstein used Godley’s head as St Michael’s for his statue at Coventry Cathedral.
All the daughters – Annie, Annabel and Eve – came together to say goodbye to their mother in the village she grew to love.
The greatest tragedy in Kitty’s life came when her brother, Theodore, died accidentally in an ambulance in London in 1954. In her grief his sister, Esther, committed suicide.
That was why Kitty Godley, called ‘gentle, sweet and vulnerable’ at her funeral service, came back to join her mother, sister and brother in the graveyard. Locals seemed quietly proud she had.