Archives Diary: Norah Lindsay – Socialite, Gardener and Entrepeneur

Photo postcard featuring Norah Lindsay, sent from Lindsay to Hilaire Belloc, from the Hilaire Belloc Papers, MS2005-02, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Photo postcard featuring Norah Lindsay, sent from Lindsay to Hilaire Belloc, Box 108, Folder 5, Hilaire Belloc Papers, MS.2005.002, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

During this time of the year, when the trees  have lost their leaves and the days are short, it is comforting to remind oneself of the glorious colors of beautiful gardens.  And what better way to see beautiful gardens than through the eyes of garden designer Norah Lindsay?  Lindsay (1873 – 1948) was an English socialite and garden designer.  Between the World Wars, she became a major influence on garden design and planting in the United Kingdom and Europe.  International garden historian, lecturer and author Allyson Hayward has written a wonderful book about Lindsay, entitled Norah Lindsay:  The Life and Art of a Garden Designer (Published by Frances Lincoln, 2007).

As part of her research for this book, Allyson Hayward interviewed Lindsay family members, visited many archives, and read documents written by and to Lindsay.  The Burns Library was one of Hayward’s research stops because Norah Lindsay corresponded with Anglo-French writer and historian Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953).  Safely stored in the acid free boxes and folders of the Belloc Papers at the Burns Library, are some beautiful old photo postcards that Lindsay sent to Belloc.  Hayward found these postcards quite valuable for her research.  Hayward’s goal in this book was to show that Norah Lindsay was not only a social butterfly but also a very hard-working, talented and intelligent woman who used her connections in society to support herself after her marriage and finances fell apart and she was forced to support herself for the first time at the age of 51.

One of the postcards sent by Lindsay to Belloc, featuring a photo of Norah Lindsay's home, Sutton Courtenay, from the Hilaire Belloc Papers, MS2005-02, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

One of the postcards sent by Lindsay to Belloc, featuring a photo of Norah Lindsay’s home, Sutton Courtenay, Box 108, Folder 1, Hilaire Belloc Papers, MS.2005.002, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Norah Mary Madeline Bourke was born to an upper-class Anglo-Irish family in Ootacamund, India in 1873.  Her father was employed in the British military in India, but he moved his family back to England after his brother (Norah’s uncle and the Governor-Viceroy of India) was assassinated.   At the age of 22, Norah married Harry Lindsay and they settled into their manor of Sutton Courtenay.  It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when Norah Lindsay became a serious gardener, but when she moved into Sutton Courtenay, she set to work immediately on the gardens there as though she knew exactly what to do.

The postcards Lindsay sent to Belloc give us a glimpse of a woman who was immersed in her work but , because of her social background, thought that she should never give off the impression of working too hard.  I encourage you to visit the Burns Library Reading Room to find out more about the friendship between Lindsay and Belloc through these postcards.

  • Justine Sundaram, Reference Librarian/Bibliographer, Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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