A Personal Tribute to Laurence Harwood, OBE: Godson of C.S. Lewis

By Deborah Higgens, PhD

[Note: it is with fond remembrance and personal sorrow that we share the news that Laurence Harwood, C.S. Lewis’s Godson and a friend of the C.S. Lewis Foundation, died on November 23, 2020]

“I’m here to take Debbie to lunch,” Laurence, the god-son of C.S. Lewis, told Stan Mattson, President of the C.S. Lewis Foundation.  We were all standing in the Common Room of The Kilns.  Oxbridge 2014 was in full swing and guests filled The Kilns.  Laurence and his lovely wife, Melissa, had driven down from Grasmere in the Lake District to take me to lunch at the Eagle and Child (former meeting place for the Inklings) to celebrate the conclusion of my four years serving as Director (or Warden as the English call it) of the C.S. Lewis Study Centre at The Kilns in Oxford, England. 

Melissa Harwood, Laurence Harwood, & Debbie Higgens at “The Kilns”

Shortly after my arrival at The Kilns in my new position in 2010, Laurence phoned me and we chatted, not only about all things C.S. Lewis (to my delight), but about my position and my workload while serving as Director/Warden.  We hit it off and at his invitation I stayed at their lovely National Trust cottage in the Lake District while on my way up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (which fast became a yearly visit with them). 

As a result, I also became close with Melissa Harwood and the phone calls, visits to one another’s homes, and interesting and pleasant conversations deepened into valued friendship, welcome advice, and support from Laurence’s position as advisor to The Kilns. 

Laurence Harwood was indeed a special person.  He was one of the few remaining people who really knew C.S. Lewis (or Jack as his friends called him).  Laurence’s father, Cecil Harwood, became fast friends with Jack through their mutual friend, Owen Barfield.  Cecil Harwood became an anthroposophist (Steinerite) through his wife, Daphne (daughter of Lord Oliver, governor of Jamaica, and cousin to Laurence Oliver), as did Owen Barfield, and thus began “the Great War” as Lewis called it in Surprised by Joy (chapter 13). 

In Laurence’s treasured book, C.S. Lewis, My Godfather: Letters, Photos, and Recollections, he talks about the relationships Lewis had with his father, Owen Barfield and Laurence’s mother, Daphne.  Daphne and Jack exchanged many delightful letters (all in Laurence’s book), but especially delightful was one titled, “Being in Love”.  The book provides us with a picture of Lewis as a family man, enjoying treks with his friends, delight in the visits with the Harwood children, and letters that have an intellectual wit that opens doors into the lives of them all. 

Laurence said that he and Lewis exchanged letters at all stages of his life, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood and until Lewis’ death in 1963, far more than is typical of a godfather.  He said that Lewis adapted his writing to every level and often drew pictures in the margins.  Laurence kept every letter and shares them in his book.

When Laurence experienced “failure” at Oxford due to his lack of being a natural academic, and double pneumonia while taking preliminary examinations, Lewis not only encouraged Laurence to pursue a different vocation, but paid for him to attend the Royal Agricultural College to undergo training to become a land agent and surveyor.  Lewis followed up by paying for Laurence’s education!

Through his training and degree, Laurence joined the National Trust in 1960, beginning a career that would span the next 36 years.  His final post before retiring was to be North West Regional Director, including the vast holdings of the National Trust in the Lake District, containing Dove Cottage, former home of poet William Wordsworth.  In 1996 Laurence was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to conservation, reflecting his love for conservation of the countryside and coastline of the U.K.  I think that Laurence paid out Lewis at every turn with an exceptional life and work!

Laurence Harwood at The Eagle & Child Pub in Oxford

Sadly, Laurence passed away quietly on the morning of November 23rd, 2020 in his home in the Lake District.  He is sorely missed by his wife, Melissa, and by those of us who knew him well.  His wit, his care for the countryside, his deep concern for others, and his love for his godfather will always remain with us in our hearts. 

I treasure the memories of our visits and conversations, the red-carpet treatment at Dove Cottage when I walked in with Laurence, but especially the lunch we had at the Eagle and Child Pub in Oxford when I was leaving my post as Director/Warden. 

As we sat in the pub’s room filled with photos of Lewis and his friends, he insisted on my taking a photo of him next to the picture on the wall of his father and mother with C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield sitting on a hillside—after all that’s where it all began. 

–Debbie Higgens

You may purchase Laurence Harwood’s book on Amazon:

And if you would like to listen to his stories in person, here is a youtube clip of a lecture he gave to The California CS Lewis Society on Lewis as his godfather: