I was reading Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor and came across the anecdote of Lord Byron’s slippers. I’d read it before (it’s part of Leigh Fermor’s book of travels in Greece, Roumeli) , but I had forgotten it long since. The only reason I pricked up my ears this time is that it referred to Judith Blunt-Lytton, 16th Baroness Wentworth, who I had occasion to mention in this previous post.
Fermor first. He was a cheerfully wayward autodidact , charmer, adventurer, writer, war hero and social climber who had a particular affection for all things Greek.
As a favor to a friend who was trying to compile a definitive collection of Lord Byron’s letters with a view towards publication (it happened, you can find them here), Leigh Fermor and a friend who happened to be on good terms with Lady Wentworth went down to Crabbet Hall for lunch.
Miss Marple this was not. The old lady was near eighty at the time, still running the stud farm her parents had begun, though a little disappointed in the later results. On the day of Leigh Fermor’s visit, she had spent the morning in a round of squash and some riding. They grew them tough in those days.
Crabbet Hall itself was full of Byron memorabilia and other detritus of the ages. Artifacts are all well and good, but Leigh Fermor was most interested in Lady Wentworth herself. Besides the lineage and physical strength, she is said to have a demotic turn of phrase more familiar to the Regency age than the twentieth century.
The old woman didn’t hold out much encouragement, but did just mention, apropos of Leigh Fermor’s Greek connection, that she had received a letter soon after the First World War from an Australian sergeant who claimed to have met a local in Missolonghi who claimed to have a pair of Lord Byron’s slippers, leftovers from the poet’s final days fighting for Greek freedom.
Moreover, the sergeant included additional correspondence from the caretaker himself who wished to return the footware to the family. The second letter, alas, was in Greek, a language Lady Wentworth did not know. No further correspondence followed, and that seemed to be that.
Not to Leigh Fermor. Surrounded as he was at Crabbet Hall with more Byroniana than even the most passionate poetry lover could want (and Leigh Fermor had a thing for poetry), he was entranced by the idea of the poet’s slippers back in Greece. In due course, then, Lady Wentworth forwarded him the relevant letters and wishes for good hunting.
Never the most organized of men, Leigh Fermor neglected to carry the letters with him back to Greece, and so he was soon in Missolonghi without the man’s name or much idea of where he might find him. So he made the rounds of the town, buttonholing everyone he met and asking if anyone know of the man with the Lordos Vyron’s slippers. No luck on that long and hot day, but when he returned to his hotel he found a young woman waiting for him. The man in question was her uncle, Charalambos Baiyourgas.
Roumeli explains how he got them. The question then arose, where they the real thing? Leigh Fermor looked the artifacts over and found that the right show had an unusually worn instep. A good sign. Baiyourgas, it appeared, had not been aware that Byron’s right foot was clubbed.
He was, however, now disinclined to give them up. Perhaps the impulsiveness of youth had given over to caution of old age (he was himself in his seventies). What ever the reason, he had changed his mind. The slippers stayed with him and presumably are still gathering dust somewhere in Greece, perhaps with the niece who waited for Leigh Fermor so patiently.
He brought word back in person to Lady Wentworth. A disappointment, but there it was. She thanked him, then suggested a game of billiards, at which she proceeded to trounce him.
All of which peters out a bit as anecdotes go, but it does give a nice light on the younger Wentworth and will perhaps introduce the strange Leigh Fermor character to those who may have missed him. He’s full of that kind of peculiar story.