Aldbourne Heritage Centre

In Malaga, near the bullring, is the ‘English Cemetery’. In the cemetery is a headstone inscribed ‘Gerald Brenan- Escritor Ingles – Amigo de Espana” which translates as: English Writer – Friend of Spain. Gerald Brenan once lived at Bell Court.

Edward FitzGerald ‘Gerald’ Brenan, born in 1894, came from a military family but he shunned that prospect preferring an unusual, often frugal, lifestyle. Despite his distaste for the military he volunteered for WW1 Army service, spent four years in the battle lines, being wounded twice and was awarded the Military cross and Croix de Guerre. During UK leave, a friend introduced him to the thinkers, writers and poets of the ‘Bloomsbury Group’. Late in 1919, to get a life of his own and to maximise his small allowance and pension, Gerald moved to southern Spain, renting a house in the poor and remote mountain village of Yegen, south of Granada. He spent seven years there reading (he had 2000 books!), walking, writing and absorbing Spanish life. Contacts with the Bloomsbury Group continued via occasional visits by Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell and many long letters to others in the Group. He returned briefly to England, met and married Gamel Woolsey, an American poet, in 1931 and then they returned to Spain to live near Malaga.
In 1936 the Spanish Civil war began. Gerald and Gamel were amongst the last of the British residents to leave Malaga before the bloody atrocities reached their peak. In 1938 Gerald and Gamel settled in Aldbourne, a convenient location between his ailing father in Gloucester and Lytton Strachey’s home near Hungerford. In that November Gerald rented Half Moon Cottage (Castle Street) whilst building work was carried out on Bell Court which they had bought. They lived at Bell Court for 15 years and there Gerald wrote his two most famous books; ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’; a much respected account of the social and political background to the Spanish Civil War (1943) and ‘The Literature of the Spanish People’ (1951). Despite being banned in Spain until after Franco’s death in 1976, ‘The Spanish Labyrinth’ was essential (underground) reading for Spanish literati. Whilst at Bell Court Gerald was again visited by writers etc., incl ding Dylan Thomas (who stayed at The Crown for a week and drank his way around the five pubs) and Henry Moore, the sculptor. Locally Gerald socialised with Desmond Morris (writer) and (unrelated) Johnny Morris (later a broadcaster) and Jimmy Bomford a flamboyant character who lived at Laines, near Aldbourne.
In 1953, despite his controversial ‘Spanish Labyrinth’ publication, he was allowed to return to Malaga where he lived until his death, age 93, in 1987. In his later years he was feted by the Spanish for his books about Spanish history and culture. He received several awards and two roads near Malaga are named after him. In 1982 he received a British CBE for his contribution to literature and Anglo-Spanish relations. In 2003 a Spanish film was made of his book ‘South from Granada’, his account of his years in Yegen. The biography ‘The Interior Castle- a Life of Gerald Brenan’ is fascinating. He wrote two autobiographies: ‘A Life of One’s Own’ and ‘A Personal Record’ as well as ‘South from Granada’.