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

Located in the original Bapst Library building on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, the John J. Burns Library offers students, scholars, and the general public opportunities to engage with rare books, special collections, and archives.
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