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Posted in Suffrage Stories on February 6, 2015
For some time I have been meaning to investigate Charlotte Robinson, ‘Home Art Decorator’ to Queen Victoria, mention of whom I came across years ago while researching the interior design career of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett. Now that I have done so, I’ve discovered, as an added bonus, her family link with one of the WSPU’s more imaginative publicity stunts.
Charlotte Robinson was born c 1859 in Settle in Yorkshire, one of the younger children in the large family of a Yorkshire solicitor. He died in 1870, leaving an estate of c £20,000. A later biographical piece about Charlotte noted that she (as presumably were all the children) was left a share of his property and it was this that gave her the freedom to develop a career.
By 1871 Charlotte had been sent as a boarder to a small school in Bolton but was later moved to the rather more prestigious Queen’s College in London. Education complete she returned home for a time – the 1881 census finds her living with her brother, William, a solicitor, in Keighley. She then spent some time travelling abroad.
For some of that time, certainly in 1883, Charlotte was travelling in America with Emily Faithfull – described on the manifest of the ship on which they travelled to New York as ‘Secretary’. You can read a very interesting article about Emily Faithfull here. It would seem, from remarks recorded by Emily that she had met Charlotte when the latter was still a pupil at Queen’s College.
Emily Faithfull was, of course, a fierce advocate of work for middle-class women so it’s unsurprising that, when interviewed in the 1890s for Manchester Faces and Places, Charlotte described how on her return from her travels ‘she resolved to invest her money in a business which she could control herself instead of returning to the usual round of gaieties, varied by intermittent charitable enterprises.’ The journalist then elaborated – ‘Having always been interested in decorative art, friends who knew her marvellous deftness of touch and infallible sense of colour, strongly advised her to turn these special gifts to account.’
In an interview that appeared in the Women’s Penny Paper, 9 February 1889, Charlotte went into more detail. ‘The idea of house decoration as a profession came to me while travelling through America. I was much struck with the interiors of some of the magnificent houses to which I was invited in some of the principal cities between New York and San Francisco, and on my return to England began to supplement previous artistic study. My first professional business was in furnishing houses, now I decorate them through, as well as working in conjunction with my sister, Mrs McClelland, who presides over the studio from which come the beautiful friezes you have just been admiring.’ So that is how Charlotte Robinson came to become a ‘house decorator.
She was setting up in the house decoration business ten years after the trail had been blazed for women by Agnes and Rhoda Garrett and, like them, she stressed the necessity of undergoing a training. However, although we know that the Garretts were pupils of the architect John Brydon, I’ve been unable to discover where or with whom Charlotte Robinson trained. All that is revealed in the Manchester Faces interview is that she ‘went through the necessary course of study and thoroughly qualified herself for the work.’ As Emily Faithfull put it in a later article Charlotte studied ‘house decoration from hearth tiles to frieze painting’.
According to Emily Faithfull, Charlotte Robinson first went into business in London. This must, I think, have been immediately on their return from America – and was probably by way of dipping a toe in the water. But very soon – probably in late 1884/early 1885 – the two women moved to Manchester and, as Emily wrote, ‘regardless of that bugbear which terrifies most women – she [Charlotte] put up her own name over the door.’
That door gave entrance to 20 South King Street, in the central Manchester shopping district, the premises serving primarily as a shop. It would seem from other remarks that Charlotte’s design work was done at home – 10 Plymouth Grove – the house she shared with Emily Faithfull. By 1886 a part of 20 South King Street had been given over to a ‘Typewriting Office’, run by a Miss Giles. As the Manchester Courier remarked when reporting this ‘Doubtless the typewriter will soon become as popular here as in America’. One can imagine that this was a development of which Emily Faithfull was fully supportive.
It is clear from every description that Charlotte Robinson’s ideas of interior design were the antithesis of those of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett. It is impossible to imagine the latter displaying mirrors such as one to be found in Charlotte Robinson’s establishment – for on it was painted ‘a pool fringed with rushes in which a wild duck and her brood were swimming, while the old mallard was taking wing to enjoy the pleasures of the world beyond – after his kind – leaving to the mother the care of the little fluffy yellow ducks, whose very feathers seemed to move with the passing wind’. (Manchester Courier, 6 February 1885).
Items such as this were produced not in Manchester but in London, in the studio of Charlotte’s sister, Mrs McClelland (33 Warwick Avenue, Paddington). Epsey McClelland was twelve years older than Charlotte – in the 1891 census she is described as a widow, a ‘decorative artist’, living with her daughter at the Warwick Avenue address. In an article on ‘Ladies as Shopkeepers’, reprinted in Pall Mall Gazette, (23 December 1887), Emily Faithfull extolled Charlotte’s taste – ‘Her furniture designs are simple and unique; she has dainty and quaint arrangements for cosy nooks and odd corners, and has good reason to be proud of the work of the artists employed in in the studio over which her clever sister, Mrs McClelland is the presiding genius.’
In 1887 Charlotte Robinson took stands at two exhibitions. In Saltaire in June she showed ‘..beautiful painted screens, brackets, plaques, a corner cabinet richly decorated with painted flowers and an excellently painted frieze.’ (Leeds Mercury 3 June 1887).
Of the Manchester Jubilee Exhibition, June/July 1887, the Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher wrote:- ‘Miss Charlotte Robinson showed a frieze, corner sideboard, overmantel, draught screen, fire screens, Tuckaway tables, and other knickknacks, all, more or less decorated with the light and fanciful painting for which she had made a name. It is in some aspects too “pretty” for our taste, but it is none the less skilful. This lady is happy in the sprightly woodwork forming the foundation of her paintings. The corner sideboard is particularly pleasing.’
We can get a clearer picture of the ‘light and fanciful painting’ from a description given of Charlotte’s stand at the Glasgow Exhibition the following year. ‘Visitors to this stand ought to note the billet-doux writing table, a facsimile of that purchased by the Princess of Wales, and invented and patented by Miss Robinson. Beside this is the ‘Interloper’ chair purchased by the Countess of Rosebery. Both are painted with white French enamel, and decorated with blue tom tits. There are two friezes, specially designed for drawing rooms bearing groups of roses and chrysanthemums and one for a smoking room, with a design of wild ducks in flight.’ (Glasgow Herald 25 May 1888).
Blue tom tits for the ladies and wild ducks for the gentlemen – an aesthetic very different from that of the Garretts, whom Sir Hubert Parry commended – writing in his diary while staying in their house - ‘The quiet and soothing colour of the walls and decoration and the admirable taste of all things acts upon the mind in the most comforting manner. I was quite excised of the vulgar idea that everything ought to be light & gaudy & covered with gilt in London.‘
In late 1888 Charlotte received the accolade of being appointed ‘Home Art Decorator’ to Queen Victoria. Over 20 years earlier Emily Faithfull had been appointed publisher and printer in ordinary to the Queen, her brushes with scandal having apparently done nothing to dent her reputation in the eyes of the royal family. On 9 October 1889 the Leeds Mercury reported that ‘Miss Charlotte Robinson has had the honour of submitting to her Majesty some dessert d’oyleys painted on silk, from sketches taken near Palé as mementoes of Her Majesty’s visit to Wales’ and, as we have seen the Princess of Wales had already bought one of her writing tables’.
By October 1888 business was sufficiently prosperous for Charlotte to open a London showroom – in Mayfair – at 20 Brook Street – and in the same month was appointed as editor of ‘the decorative department’ on the magazine, The Queen, in succession to Mrs Talbot Coke. She was now in a position both to dictate taste and to supply the means of achieving it. She held her position on The Queen for the rest of her life. A small measure of this power was the fact that in an advertisement a Gloucester furnishing store, Messrs Matthews, regularly mentioned that their stock was approved by the leading Art Critics of the Day – such as Charlotte Robinson, Mrs Talbot Coke and Mrs Panton.
The interview given to the journalist from the Women’s Penny Paper took place in the Brook Street showroom, among the ‘cream coloured music racks, dainty billet doux tables, LouisSeize screens etc which provide an artistic public with useful as well as beautiful wedding and birthday gifts’. Charlotte commented that ‘I spend a great deal of time in Manchester, where I have a large business to control, and much is taken up in travelling “back and forth” as we say in the north, between the various houses I have to decorate and furnish in London and the country.Through The Queen I have to advise about houses in every part of the world.’
However for all the reports of how busy she was with her commissions – ‘She can drape a room in less time than it takes most people to think of it’ – there is no information now available to tell us who her clients were or which were the houses she decorated. In the case of the Garretts I was able, from a variety of sources, to piece together a short list of their clients, but I can find no trace at all of Charlotte Robinson’s private clients. There is mention that in in June 1892 she was commissioned to decorate a hotel being erected in Manchester for the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, that she did some work for Cunard, and that she was called upon to redecorate the Lord Mayor’s Parlour in Manchester Town Hall. The latter is a superbly Gothic creation and certainly no place for tom tits and wild ducks.
Emily Faithfull died in 1895, leaving all her property to Charlotte. In her will, which had been written in 1893, she wrote that’ I feel sure that any loving members of my family, who may survive me, will appreciate my desire that the few possessions I have should be retained for the exclusive use, and as the absolute property, of my beloved friend Charlotte Robinson, as some little indication of my gratitude for the countless services for which I am indebted to her, as well as for the affectionate tenderness and care which made the last five years of my life the happiest I ever spent.’
After Emily’s death Charlotte Robinson continued to cut a dash in Manchester society. The local newspapers record her attendance at numerous balls and conversaziones – for instance, in July 1899 dressed in white brocaded silk and heliotrope velvet. On these occasions she is often in the company of Julia Dux, who lived close by in Plymouth Grove.
Charlotte Robinson’s career was brought to a premature end, however, by her death at home, in October 1901. She left £3100 – and the executors of her will were her sister, Epsey, and her niece Elspeth McClelland.
The latter, then aged 22, continued along the path that her aunt had, to a degree, forged and, with the changing times, was able to become more fully a professional and practise as an architect. You can read an account of her career here. She, like her aunt Charlotte, was clearly a woman of independent thinking and, not unsurprisingly, was swept into the Edwardian suffragette movement, achieving a certain notoriety in 1909 when she was one of the ‘Human Letters’ sent as a publicity stunt to 10 Downing Street. You can see a photograph here of Elspeth posing for the camera – with Daisy Solomon, her fellow ‘Letter’, on the left and Annie Kenney in support on the right. Under her married name – Mrs Elspeth Douglas Spencer – she has an entry in the Suffrage Annual and Woman’s Who’s Who.
Thus, by way of Charlotte Robinson’s ‘home art decoration’ , we can trace a line of endeavour that stretches from Emily Faithfull’s involvement in the 1860s with the Langham Place Group (middle-class women intent on improving work opportunities for their sisters) to a woman architect who, in her short life, managed to design and build several houses – as well as giving birth to three children. It was, apparently, that third birth that in 1920 killed her – putting an end to another interesting career.
For more about the interior design work of Rhoda and Agnes Garrett see Enterprising Women: the Garretts and their circle, published by Francis Boutle.
Posted in Kate Frye's Diary on February 2, 2015
Kate and her family were never ones to miss an ‘Occasion’ and as occasions went few were more important in the nation’s eyes than the funeral of Queen Victoria.
Kate went by tube with her mother and sister, Agnes, to Lancaster Gate and remarked on the vast numbers of people pouring into Hyde Park. They then walked to Edgware Road, near Burwood Place, to a Leverett and Frye grocery store – one in the chain owned and run by Kate’s father.
Saturday February 2nd 1901
It [the shop] had all been boarded in – the big round step and the two skylights in front and at the side so there was lots of room and it was quite private. The window had been let to a party – Mr Hunt’s friends took the two skylights – we and another lady had the step – till the five chance customers who had bought the only seats sold turned up then they had the front behind the barrier. Much to our surprise who should walk in but Annie and Guy Gold and later Amy – Mrs Watney – and her son Jack. We all saw most perfectly .
[Kate sat or stood on a box on the high step from 9.15 to 1.15 – it was cold]. Miles and miles of soldiers – a regal soldier’s funeral truly and the most impressive one possible. We could see them coming half the length of the Edgware Road – from the Marble Arch and they looked like some long long wave. The brass helmets then the banners. I never took my eyes off the coffin whilst it was in sight – as if I couldn’t let our Queen go. Before the body had gone a band playing Chopin’s Funeral March and now ever will the scene come back to me when I hear those sad strains – that to me is the only Funeral March.
Some of the uniforms were magnificent – but the German Emperor had a Field Marshall’s uniform as had the King. I do love the Emperor’s face – he is so striking – I am glad to have seen him. The King looked round our way – so I saw him well – he looked very pale and puffy but nicer than I expected.
The funeral procession was making its way to Paddington Station, from where the coffin journeyed on to Windsor – which explains why it was travelling up the Edgware Road. Kate, along with the rest of Britain, was not to be so impressed by the German Emperor in later years. I suppose Kate was surprised to see Annie and Guy Gold because they were members of higher-status branch of the family and would not, perhaps, have been expected to choose a grocer’s shop as their grandstand.
For much more about Kate’s life – as told in her biography, based entirely on her own diary, – see here.
Posted in Kate Frye's Diary on January 22, 2015
Kate, who had just celebrated her 23rd birthday, is living with her family in middle-class comfort at 25 Arundel Gardens, north Kensington.
Tuesday January 22nd 1901
The Queen is Dead. We heard the paper boys in the street about nine o’clock. As I write the bells are tolling. The earth will be a very black place for a few weeks. I am about to undress for bed but stopped to write these few lines first.
Wednesday January 23rd 1901
I looked out a black coat and skirt of Agnes’ to send to Abbie [an impoverished cousin] as I know she has not black at all – and of course could not buy any, poor girl – and one would feel it so much now.
Stella [an older, glamorous, friend, reported that at Whiteleys] the people were standing 8 and 10 deep at the glove counter waiting to be served [with black gloves].
What a blessing we all have a few black garments – it would be a terrible rush to get any made. Last night I took some coloured ribbon from an otherwise all black hat & pinned in a black feather I had by me –so with my black coat and skirt and a black silk front to a blouse I was quite alright.
It seemed a funny sort of day – between a bank holiday and a Sunday. [Went with Stella to tea at the Empress Club – new premises] which really are magnificent – a most gorgeous place. [For more about the Empress Club see here.]
[Afterwards they walked along Bond Street and Oxford Street to Marble Arch tube station] I never saw such a sight as the shop windows – everything black in them – even the fancy shops and as for the Drapers it looks too awful. Everyone is dressed in mourning – men with the deepest of hat bands etc – not a piece of colour anywhere – and of course black shutters to all the shops. [A fancy dress party that Kate had been so looking forward to – she had her Nell Gwynn costume ready – was cancelled.] Our future is a blank. All theatres still shut.
Tuesday January 29th 1901
They were selling little crape rosettes in the streets – as they sell red, white and blue ones on festive occasions – they looked very horrid.
For much more about Kate’s life – as told in her biography, based entirely on her own diary, – see here.
Posted in Suffrage Stories on January 20, 2015
In the Introduction to my The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide I wrote:
‘Although women may be “hidden from history” they are not, on the whole, hidden from the Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths nor from the Principal Registry of the Family Division (in England and Wales) or the General Register Office in Scotland.’
However there is no getting away from the fact that, despite one’s best efforts, there are some women who resist all attempts at discovery. One such is the rather mysterious ‘Mrs Alice Green’ who we come across in the intertwined stories of Emily Wilding Davison and Kitty Marion.
For instance, in The Life and Death of Emily Wilding Davison (p 131-32) Liz Stanley and Ann Morley tell us that for some months in 1913 Emily Davison was staying with Mrs Green at 133 Clapham Road. We assume that it was from here that on 4 June she set out for the WSPU office and then the Derby. They also note The Suffragette (13 June 1913) as mentioning that a Mrs Green was at Emily’s bedside in the Epsom Cottage Hospital. However, although Stanley and Morley do so much to reveal other branches of Emily’s friendship network they pass Mrs Green by without comment.
And I’m not surprised – because ‘Mrs Alice Green’ is more resistant than most to the historian’s intrusive gaze. But, lifting the dusty Victorian curtain, the earliest sighting I have of her is at the Dover Register Office on 11 June 1898 where, as ‘Alice Kellie’, spinster, 26 years old, she married Edward Basil Green. The couple each gave their address as 4 Eastbrook Place, Dover.
But who was ‘Alice Kellie’? From searching through all the resources of Ancestry and FindmyPast I could find no suitable candidate and was sufficiently intrigued to order a copy of the marriage certificate in the hope it might offer a clue. Well, the only extra information it gave me about ‘Alice Kellie’ was that she was the daughter of ‘James Kellie (deceased), boot (or book?) dealer’. That actually didn’t get me any further because I couldn’t find a trace in any census of a suitable James Kellie. Whose to know if Registrars are given the true facts? I can find sufficient evidence in my own family history to know that they often are not.
On the other hand I had no difficulty in uncovering the background of the bridegroom. Edward Basil Green had been born in 1873 in Folkestone, the youngest son of Samuel Richard Green ( 1837-1882), a mechanical engineer, and the grandson of Edward Green, a Yorkshire ironmaster and founder of E. Green and Son. At the time of the marriage he would have been 25 years old – yet the certificate has his age as 27. The bride’s age is given as 26. If the bridgroom felt compelled to add a couple of years could this mean that the bride was perhaps rather older. Who’s to know!
What the marriage certificate did tell me was that no member from either family was there to witness the marriage. The certificate is signed by the wife of the Registrar and by either the wife or the daughter (they both had the same name) of the tobacconist whose shop was next to the Register Office. This lack of family support may be explained by the next sighting I have of the happy couple – as they became parents of a son (Edward Basil Green) on 27 August 1898. It looks as though Alice Kellie was about seven months pregnant when she married Edward Green.
And that is the last I time I catch sight of Alice Green before she appears 15 years or so later as a friend and supporter of Emily Wilding Davison. I cannot see that either she or her husband were on the electoral roll as inhabitants of 133 Clapham Road and, indeed, cannot spot them in London until they appear on the 1921 electoral roll (with their son) living at Powis Terrace in north Kensington. From 1930 until 1939 Alice and Basil (as her husband was known) continued to live in this area – now at 13 Colville Mansions.
In the meantime Mrs Green, as well as supporting Emily Davison, had also helped Kitty Marion, being one of three (Dr Violet Jones and Mary Leigh were the others) who took her to Paris on 31 May 1914 to show Christabel Pankhurst the result of the treatment that she had suffered in prison. As Kitty Marion was on the run at the time as a ‘mouse’, Alice Green was taking something of a risk in accompanying her.
In 1915 Mrs Alice Green was secretary of the Emily Davison Club that Mary Leigh had formed to perpetuate their friend’s memory. In October 1915 Mrs Green was one of those who contributed towards Kitty Marion’s fare to the US – the party to bid her farewell was held at the Emily Davison Club. Meetings of the Club were held in 144 High Holborn, which housed the offices of the Women’s Freedom League and the WFL’s Minerva Cafe. Over a period of years, from the 1920s until at least 1938, the Greens were also, with others, such as Charlotte Despard, Elizabeth Knight, Octavia Lewin, leaseholders of 144 High Holborn.
From her involvement with the suffrage movement I get the impression that Mrs Green was reasonably well off, although I cannot discover how her husband was employed. The family does not appear in the 1911 census – presumably they followed the WFL/WSPU boycott. As a mechanical engineer did he, perhaps, work for the family firm?
Any difficulties there may have been over the shotgun wedding had long since been forgotten. In 1923 Edward Basil Green was left £10,000 in the will of his uncle, Sir Edward Green, and many years later his son was the executor of the will of one of his Green aunts.
It’s not only Alice Green’s birth that is obscure, but, very surprisingly, I cannot even discover when she died. Her husband was living at Minehead when he died in 1958 – but probate was granted to a solicitor (and not, rather surprisingly, to his son) and I haven’t gone so far as to investigate his will.
The career of Alice and Basil Green’s son is rather easier to follow – he became chairman of Doulton, retiring in 1963. I wonder if his descendants have any information about ‘Mrs Alice Green’ – or are aware of the part she played in supporting two of the most militant of the suffragettes?
Posted in Collecting Suffrage on January 16, 2015
In over 30 years spent hunting for and selling objects related to the women’s suffrage campaign, this little box is the only example I have ever found of ‘Votes for Women’ Hooks and Eyes. Although I had it photographed in black and white back in the 1990s, the box in reality is tricked out in the WSPU colours of purple, white and green.
The manufacturer registering ‘Votes for Women’ as its trademark was not the only maker of hooks and eyes to discern a market for its goods among the supporters of the suffrage cause. Votes for Women (eg issue for 23 April 1909, p 26) carried advertisements for ‘Smart’s invisible hooks and eyes ‘ which were the’ patented invention and property of two members and supporters of the Women’s Social and Political Union.’
These items might well have been found amongst the stock of the suffrage shops opened by the various suffrage societies.
As well as being campaigners, the majority of suffragettes and suffragists were, of necessity, also needlewomen. So here was an opportunity to back the Cause while sewing fastenings onto their skirt plackets or bodices.
Posted in Mariana Starke on January 12, 2015
At the end of my last ‘Mariana Starke’ post I left Mariana, her mother, father and her sister, Louisa, in the winter of 1791 journeying south through Europe. On 3 December Mrs Crespigny, Mariana’s friend and patron, noted in her diary that she had received letters from Lyons; from the context I presume these were from the Starke party.
We next glimpse the Starke family at Nice on 18 April 1792 – at Louisa’s deathbed. She was just 20 years old.
Mariana and her parents, presumably still accompanied by Mrs Crespigny’s servant, ‘Scott’, then left Nice in May in order to travel north to Geneva. It is this journey that Mariana describes in ‘Letter 1′ of Letters from Italy, the work that eventually developed into Information and directions for travellers on the continent, the guide to European travel for which she became famous.
Mariana’s magnum opus has a complicated publishing history, each stage in its development reflecting the changing ability and inclination of the British (and, indeed, American) public to travel and consume culture during the period 1792-1838 as Europe swung between war and peace.
The first edition of the work that eventually developed into Information and directions for travellers on the continent was published in December 1799 (with 1800 publication date on title page) by ‘R. Phillips of 71 St Paul’s Churchyard’ and was entitled:
Letters from Italy, between the years 1792 and 1798, containing a view of the revolutions in that country, from the capture of Nice by the French republic to the expulsion of Pius VI from the ecclesiastical state: Likewise pointing out the matchless works of art which still embellish Pisa, Florence, Siena, Rome, Naples, Bologna, Venice etc. With instructions for the use of invalids and families who may not choose to incur the expence attendant upon travelling with a courier. It was printed by T. Gillet, Salisbury Square, Fleet Street, for R. Phillips, no 71, St Paul’s Church-yard, in 1800.
The two-volume work followed in the epistolary tradition well established by male – and a few female – travel writers but, as you will see from the lengthy, explanatory title, included not only comment on the current state of affairs but detailed information on all the art and antiquities that the author considered should be viewed by the tourist, together with exhaustive recommendations – and warnings – covering all practical details of routes, inns, shopping, laundering, eating etc in order to make the journey – particularly if taken for reasons of health – as comfortable and economical as possible.
Mariana’s publisher, ‘R. Phillips’, was Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840) considered by his contemporaries an eccentric and a radical and, even more preposterously, renowned as a vegetarian. Five years later Phillips published William Hayley’s Ballads, illustrated by William Blake. It may be that Phillips was already in Hayley’s circle in 1798/1799 when Mariana would have been looking for a publisher. The firms of J. Walter and Debrett, with whom she had previously done business, had either not been approached or had rejected this new venture.
I have no idea if, when she set off with her family in the autumn of 1791, Mariana thought that she would publish, in any form, reports of her travels. With her mother, she was the sole survivor of the party and did not, I think, return to England until 1798. However, at some point during those seven years the idea of turning her experience into a publication must have occurred to her, for in the ‘Advertisement’ to the second edition (1815) she notes that ‘The first Edition of this Work was written abroad, where the Author had so many domestic duties to fulfil, that she could only find leisure sufficient to draw up a hasty statement of facts…’. For during those sometimes harrowing years it was Mariana to whom responsibilities as both nurse and journey planner fell – but it’s clear that, nevertheless, she did keep notes that could be worked up into a book.
We can follow a variety of clues in order to spy on Mariana as she travelled. For instance, we know that, having journeyed north to Geneva in May 1792 the Starkes returned quickly to Nice, arriving on 22 September, when they learned of the impending war between Sardinia and France. By the 27th the French fleet was off Nice. In her Letters Mariana describes how ‘I immediately went to the quay, with an intention of hiring an English merchantman (our nation being at peace with France), and getting my family and friends embarked before the city was bombarded, a circumstance which we hourly expected to take place; but no English vessel could I find ready for sea…’ After a great deal of anxiety the Starkes were eventually able to escape by sea. Having been ‘advised to make as little parade as possible on our way to the port, my family went two and two by different paths, while I, being obliged to stay to the last, walked down, dressed as a servant, passing all the French posts without the smallest molestation…‘ With her love of theatricals, I can imagine that Mariana rather revelled in playing this part.
The Starkes reached Genoa on 14 October 1792, went from there by sea to Leghorn (Livorno) and then on to Pisa. There they encountered, among other English visitors, Lady Spencer (mother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire), to whom, in 1811, Mariana dedicated the first poem in her slim volume, The Beauties of Carlo-Maria Maggi Paraphrased.
In April and May 1793 the Starkes were in Rome, meeting there with the family of John Flaxman, the sculptor. If the Starkes had not previously been known to the Flaxmans – the latter having been in Italy since 1787 – during the course of the next couple of years a firm friendship was cemented.
The Starkes returned to Pisa where they spent the winter of 1793/4 and it was there that Richard Starke died, aged 74, on 5 March 1794. He was buried on 9 March at Livorno. [For a very interesting article about Richard Starke’s grave see here.]
We know that some days later, on 21 March, Mariana was visiting her friend Lady Bolingbroke who was also in Pisa. [I can’t at the moment check the reference but believe it comes from the Journal of Sarah Bentham, held in the Colchester Papers at the National Archives.] Lady Bolingbroke was born Charlotte Collins, daughter of the Rev Thomas Collins, who had been tutor to Viscount Bolingbroke. A friend of the novelist Charlotte Smith, Lady Bolingbroke had translated some of Smith’s poems into Italian and presumably shared a similar literary friendship with Mariana. Poor Lady Bolingbroke certainly needed to think beautiful thoughts in order to take her mind off the scandal that had enveloped her marriage (for gossipy details see here). Previous sightings of Mariana and Lady Bolingbroke together had been made in Pisa by American-born Count Rumford in late 1793.
Mariana and her mother remained in Pisa before moving on to Florence, where we shall renew our acquaintance with them in the summer of 1794.
After an engagement of eleven years Kate Frye and John Collins are at last about to be married – in All Saint’s Church, Hove. No wedding photographs were taken so we have to imagine Kate in her ‘best black frock – new boots, my silk hat which is quite pretty – squirrel coat and muff. Agnes’ present [a gold watch and bracelet] has blue stones in it and I borrowed a handkerchief from Mother. I was wearing a mixture of old and new.’ John, of course, wore his officer’s uniform.
The moment of departure arrived, the hiatus between the old life and the new.
My Wedding Day and my Birthday. 37.
‘Just after 12.30 Mother, Agnes and I left in the taxi for All Saints Church, Hove. We walked up the Church – Mother and I together and she and Agnes went into a seat. Then I saw John coming from the Vestry. I was only conscious that he looked alright and not nervous. I spoke very, very slowly I noticed, as if I were weighing every word – and I said “obey” most deliberately and carefully. I would have rather had it left out altogether but had come to the conclusion that if I had the Church of England marriage service at all there wasn’t much more objection to that one word than to much of the other. That I still object fundamentally to unequal vows is one thing very sure, but it has been so restful not to have to go and argue with the Vicar beforehand, which I meant to do and should have done if I had not been so tied to the house. He would not have altered it I am sure and it would have spoilt all the joy of the good feeling. It probably sounds lazy. One ought to battle for one’s conviction.’
There was no father figure to give Kate away, no best man to support John and no bridesmaids. It was as simple a wedding as could be. Perhaps one All Saints regular might have slipped in a pew, but otherwise Mother and Agnes were the only witnesses. Did Kate have any moment of regret that hers was not a grand wedding? She had witnessed so many over the years as Gilbey, Blyth and Gold brides, bedecked with satin and lace and trailing bridesmaids, were supported up the aisle by their prosperous fathers. She had inspected mountainous displays of presents, listened to the congratulatory speeches and seen the happy couples depart on honeymoon visits to the Italian Lakes, or Paris, or Switzerland or Rome. But, if there was ever a twinge of disappointment, Kate did not confide it to her diary. She thoroughly enjoyed herself, taking pleasure from everything the day had to offer.
‘Brighton was all en fête as the King and Queen had come to visit the wounded – and as chance would have it when we were turning off the front we saw a little group of people and finding the King was expected we waited for about ten minutes. Then past they came, the King quite deliberately turning to John and returning his salute. It was exciting and on my Wedding day too. I wanted to stop them and tell them all about it.’
Returning to Portland Road from All Saints, which Kate described as ‘such a gorgeous Church – like a small cathedral’, Mr and Mrs John Collins walked up the short tiled path and into number 58. The winter sun shone through the decorative door panels of art-nouveau stained glass as married life at long last began. ‘I just took off my hat and coat and John came upstairs. And John kept kissing me and I said “someone’s coming” in the old way, forgetting it wouldn’t matter.’ For tea ‘we had a wee cake covered with white sugar and I cut it with John’s sword’ and then it was off to Brighton station ‘to catch the 4.40 train. It proved slow – but it didn’t seem to matter – we just sat and hugged each other – Government compels us now-a-days to travel with the blinds down so it was alright.’
From Victoria they took a motor taxi to the Great Central Hotel at Marylebone Station, where they had decided to spend their wedding night. ‘I suggested we had better not pay too much, but it was really rather nice on our arrival not to be consulted and just taken to the first floor – Room No 123. I suggested to John – my husband – that he could go on down while I changed but he flatly refused so he sat and watched me do my hair and then did my dress up for me.
We went straight into dinner about 8.15 and had nine rather bad courses. Very few people there and the room gradually emptied till we were the last. I was hungry and ate quite a lot. Then we strolled round the palm court where a band was playing but we didn’t seem to want people so we went in the drawing- room.
Then we both said we were tired so I said I thought I had better go to bed – it was then 10. John said he would come, but I told him not for twenty minutes. He didn’t like it but gave in and I went and got the key and went up alone. I was so excited – who isn’t at such a moment?
I undressed all backwards and was only just done when John arrived. Ours was a gorgeous room, the bed in an alcove. We had meant to have a fire, it would have been nice, but really the room was so warm we didn’t need it. I laughed at first. Later I shed a tear or two and John would turn up the light to look at me. Then he saw my tears and wept himself. We did try to go to sleep, but I don’t think John had more than two hours and I had considerably less. But we were very, very happy.’
The Hotel Great Central is still there – now the Landmark Hotel. In 1919 Kate was to renew her acquaintance with it in very different circumstances when it had been turned into a hospital for officers and John was admitted as a patient, seriously ill with Spanish Flu.
[Incidentally – very incidentally – it was on the site of the Hotel Grand Central that in the 1870s and 1880s Elizabeth Garrett Anderson ran her first ‘New Hospital for Women’. It was because the houses in which the hospital operated were due to be demolished to make way for the new station and hotel that she was forced to look elsewhere – eventually selecting the Euston Road site on which to build what became the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital – see Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Gallery.]
Kate’s wedding day was re-enacted in episode 2 of ITV’s The Great War: The People’s Story (shown on 17 August 2014) – in which Romola Garai plays Kate and Tom Turner plays John.
For much more about Kate’s life – as told in her biography, based entirely on her own diary, – see here.