Monday, January 30, 2017

Mary Hunt Devon's 'Romantic Poet' and the Devon Connection at Dunkeswell

Having just written Down the Devon Roads to Dunkeswell, a piece about Elizabeth Simcoe and her links with Dunkeswell for my new Blog Voices from Wildridge, which ends with a reference to poet Mary Hunt, plus link to my old blog piece about her poem, I remembered that I had a backlog of email conversations, which I had promised to add to the blog. At the time of the emails,which concern the life and family of Mary Hunt I was in the midst of a difficult time, so posting was unintentionally forgotten. My apologies to Patricia Dolby and Andrew Ashfied.

 Hence this new post. I am just posting the main messages received from Patricia, as I promised I would. I have added excerpts from another, related email conversation from Andrew Ashfield, at the end of the first Mary Hunt blog here. Readers who are interested in this C19 writer may find the following of interest. The conversation took place in 2015.

Path leading to site of Dunkeswell Abbey
Postcard of Dunkeswell Abbey

I read your scrapblog abt Mary Hunt and you mentioned Mary Ward another devonian poet.

I am researching a Ward/Hunt connection...Dr. Edward Hunt, Rector of Stoke Doyle and Benefield was grandson of the Baron Wards...Sir Edward Ward...daug Jane Ward married Thomas Hunt and inherited the manor of Wadenhoe...only abt 2 miles from Aldwinckle.

Could you tell me more abt Mary Ward?

As you know finding info abt. Victorian era women is rare.

My family was from 1871 my Dolby ancesters were footman and housemaid for 4 Hunt siblings living @ 20 St. James Square Bath but born in Stoke Doyle from 1792-1805.

Coincidentally...I live in Canada abt 2 miles from Navy Hall where Mrs. Simcoe had written letters to Miss Hunt @ Wolford.

Thanks, Patricia


Hi Julie,

Regarding The Visitations on Dunkeswell Abbey poem written by Miss Mary Hunt in 1786.

Thought you might find this interesting. I've figured out who Miss Mary Ann Hunt was. She was the daughter of Rev Rowland Hunt DD the Rector of St Rumbold Church in Stoke Doyle. He was the son of Thomas Hunt of Boreatton and Jane Ward daug of Sir Edward Ward of Preston Rutland.

I've been working on her genealogy with some assistance from a local historian although not final when compared against the Index to Burkes Dictionary of the Landed Gentry written in 1853 by Sir Bernard Burke some adjustments are still required. The attchd file shows her Hunt family members. The attchd email shows how I determined who Mrs. Ann Hunt and Miss Mary Ann Hunt were.

Her ancestry shows that her family had involvement in the Dissolution of the Monestaries.

Thomas Hunt b 1599 represented Shrewbury in the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
In 1656 he served the office of High Sheriff of Shropshire.
and.. after the restoration of Charles ii he purchased the estate of Boreatton Shropshire.

Sir Edward Ward's father was William Ward and he was brother in law of William Shields
William Shields 2nd marriage was to Elizabeth Cromwell the youngest daughter of Oliver Cromwell.
William Shields was MP for Rutland in 1654 during the Protectorate Parliament.
(see rutland newsletter Apr.2014 No. 1/14)

....and I'm sure there would have been others as well.

The poem Visitations on Dunkeswell Abbey written by Mary Hunt in 1786 during her visit w the Simcoe's was written with her knowledge of the events of the Dissolution of the Abbey's through her families involvement.
Her family had gained considerable wealth by taking over monestary property during the dissolutions and the reformations.

And of course I thought you should know that Mary was more than just a tutor to the Simcoe children and that her mother Mrs. Ann Hunt would not have been just a "housekeeper". Now we know.

I also noticed that Mary daug of Rev Rowland Hunt DD of St Rumbold Church Stoke Doyle was not included in Burkes Landed Gentry written in 1853 but all of her cousins were. I wonder why.

It shines a whole new light onto her poetry.


Subject: Mrs. Simcoe & Mrs. & Miss Hunt
Date: Wed, 23 Jul 2014 01:27:20 -0400

This information is from abt 1780-1871

1)  Traditions & Recollections by Richard Polwhele 1826
Wolford Lodge Oct 13 1790   Mrs.Simcoe to R.P.
"begs to inform him that MISS HUNT has at last, at the solicitations of her friends, consented to have her name affixed to the Verses on Dunkswell Abbey.  She desires it may be inserted

"MISS HUNT, daughter of Doctor HUNT rector of Stoke Doyle in Northamptonshire."

The poem and reference to #2,3 & 4 below can be seen @

2)  English Poetry 1579-1830 Spenser and the tradition
Written during her extended visit with L/Gov Simcoe & Mrs Simcoe after an outing to the ruins of an ancient Abbey in Devonshire, Sept. 1786.  see Traditions & Recollections  "she hath for some months been at Admiral Graves."

3)  The General Evening Post  (9 Nov 1786)
"Miss Hunt would seem to have a powerful advocate as her poem appeared in at least 5 periodicals (twice in the universal magazine) before being collected in the anthology of Devonshire & Cornwall poets." 
Miss Hunt was not from Devonshire or Cornwall, the topic of her poem was.

4)  Poems Cheifly by Gentlemen of Devonshire & Cornwall (1792)
Miss Hunt is described as the 'daughter of the late Dr. Hunt, Rector of Stoke Doyle, Northamptonshire.'

5)  The European Magazine Volm.8    Monthly Obituaries  Dec. 1785
"Lately the Rev Rowland Hunt DD upwards of fifty years Rector of Stoke Doyle near Oundle Northamptonshire"

6)  The Gentleman's Magazine Volm. 90  1801
Obituary of Remarkable Person's    Bill of Mortality
"At Bath in her 69th year Ann widow of the late Rev. Rowland Hunt DD Rector of
Stoke Doyle  Northamptonshire."

7)  British History Online  Parish of Stoke Doyle  as well as
8)  The Victorian History of the county of Northampton Published in 1930 by St. Catharine Press
A memorial to Katharine d 1760 wife of Dr. Rowland Hunt rector can be found at St. Rumbalds aka All Saints Church in Stoke Doyle.

9)  Traditions & Recollections
Correspondence  Badock writes to Mr Moore Canon of Exeter  Sept. 27, 1786
He speaks of Miss Hunt's impressive qualities, abt. her Dunkswell Abbey poem and of her being just 20, if so

So ....  Rev Rowland Hunt DD (Doctor of Divinity) was born abt. 1730-35  & d. 1785
he may have been married twice:  1st to Katherine d.1760,  2nd to Ann b. 1732 d. 1801
Mary Ann Hunt was b. abt  1764-1766 therefor Ann is her mother and she did reside in Bath, Somerset.

I have found reference to Rowland Hunt being their son, but no other children such as Caroline or Edward.
I have found reference to Rev Rowland Hunt's brother Edward and his children.  I think that the Caroline & Edward Hunt mentioned as children of Rowland & Ann Hunt were Edward's children. 
 I have no idea who the Joseph Hunt from the attchmt is,  I see no relation. 
Captain Ward Hunt MD is from further descendants of the Hunt family.

10)  Found @ open
The Victorian History of the county of Northampton c1930 
"the editor credits assistance from, (among others) Mrs. G.W. Hunt and Captain Ward Hunt MD"
Mary Caroline Hunt (d. unmarr. 1847)  daughter of Rev. Edward Hunt younger son of Thomas Hunt of Boreatton.
Mary Caroline contributed greatly to the repair of the church in 1844.
I believe this is Miss Caroline, called by her second name to avoid confusion w her cousin Miss Mary Hunt.

11)  Northamptonshire Records Office
Edward Hunt of Oundle inherited Wadenhoe Manor through his mother, sister of Phillip Ward d. 1752.
Phillip Ward bought the manor in 1735.
Thomas Welsh Hunt d. 1824 murdered while on honeymoon in Italy
then to his Aunt Mary Hunt d. 1835
to cousin Mary Caroline Hunt d. 1847  and so on....

12)  same ref as # 11  Manor of Stoke Doyle
1687 to Sir Edward Ward Chief Baron of the Exchequer, sons Edward & Phillip Ward d. 1752
the manor was to be sold and divided amongst sisters and/or their descendants
however the Manor was obtained by Rowland Hunt by 1789
Jane eldest daughter of Sir Edward Ward married Thomas Hunt d.1753, their son Rev. Rowland Hunt DD Rector of Stoke Doyle d 1785, his son is the above mentioned Rowland Hunt d. 1831.

13)  The Gentleman's Magazine Volm. 131  June 5 1822
"The Rev Edward Hunt MA.  He was of Pembroke College, Oxford MA in 1784.  In 1786 he was presented by Rowland Hunt Esq. to the rectory of Stoke Doyle co. Northampton;  and in 1807 by Sir J. & Lady Pocock, to the rectory of Bennyfield in the same county."

14)  The Gentleman's Magazine  Historical Review  Volm. 197
1855  Deaths
"June 21 at Sattara Bombay Presidency, aged 52 Edward Hunt Esq. late Lieut. 1st Gren. Bombay NI second son of the late Rev. Edward Hunt Rector of Benefield and Stoke Doyle, Northamptonshire.

15)  1871 Census  Walcot Parish, Bath  @  20 St James Square
Sophia Hunt head of household unmar 74 yrs old landowner born in Stoke Doyle
Maria Hunt  sister unmar  71 yrs  landowner b. Stoke Doyle
Thomas Hunt brother unmar  64 yrs. landowner b. Stoke Doyle
John Hunt brother unmar 64 yrs. Lieut Colonel HM Bengal Army Retired List b. Stoke Doyle
Samuel Dolby  servant  single  23 yrs.  Footman  b. Apethorpe Lodge
Francis Dolby   servant  single  21 yrs.  Housemaid b. Apethorpe Lodge
( Samuel & Francis are siblings of my Great Grandfather Joseph Dolby b 1842 @ Apethorpe Lodge)

16) Northamptonshire Mercury  Nov. 28, 1874
"Thomas Hunt Esq. Nov. 26 at Bath St James Square in his 84th year the eldest son of the late Edward Hunt MA Rector of Benefield."

17)  Directory of Northamptonshire  1874  Stoke Doyle
The Villas property of Misses Hunt, Thomas Hunt Esq. and Lieut. Col. John Hunt
Rt Hon George Ward Hunt MP owner of the Manor House.

Chapter 6 : Wadenhoe history in the 19th century  by Julia Moss
1835 from Thomas Welsh Hunt (died tragically in Italy) to his father's sister Mary d. 1835 then to Mary Caroline Hunt.
In 1835 Mary Caroline Hunt provided Caroline Cottage for a school.
In 1844 major repairs to Wadenhoe church paid for by Mary Caroline Hunt and Sophia Hunt (and others)
In 1847 Mary Caroline Hunt died.

19)  Titchmarsh Manor Aldwinkle
Not related to Hunt family other than close proximity
briefly...   By 1463 Lenton - 1627 to 1723 to Elmes Spinkles eventually to Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim,  married Lieut. Col. John Graves Simcoe and were dealing with the property in 1784 and 1788.

I am currently, or I was before this, researching the Lenton family, John Lenton b. 1785 Gretton is the grandfather  to my great grandmother Mary ELizabeth (Chapman) Dolby b 1856 in Benefield daugh. of William Lenton b. 1824 in Benefield and Betsey Ann (Lenton) Chapman b. 1828 in Gretton.
My Lenton/Chapman/Dolby families had lived in and around this area of Northamptonshire for many generations.

I hope this clarifies the conflicting information abt. the Mrs. & Miss Hunt whom cared for the Simcoe children during the Canadian years.
Members of the Hunt family had continued to contribute to Canadian History.
Please do let me know what you think. 
Thank you.



New New Blog Piece

I have posted another piece on the new blog, 

Dunkeswell churchyard
Photo Julie Sampson

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Moving on ... a new book blog about a new Devon book looking for its way

If you have occasionally looked up this blog and are wondering  why it appears to have disappeared into the virtual mire, you might be interested to follow its own follow-up. Although I may sometimes still posts add to this Scrapblog, my new blog at  Women Writing on the Devon Land; the Lost Story of Devon's Women Writers and its explanatory home page, will explain why I have not even occasionally written posts for this one, during 2016/7. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Devon; Celebration; 2016; Ten Women Writers; Anniversaries; Lives & Texts.

Tor Down House, Belstone, Devon
home of Doris Lessing from 1964-68.
F Names; Dates; Texts
50 years ago, 1966, Doris Lessing was living in a longhouse at Belstone tucked beneath the  granite folds of Dartmoor's sheltering tors. Lessing kept her home in Devon for four years, from  1964-1968. She may have been working on short stories from Winter in July (published 1966); or stories from The Black Madonna (pub. 1966); or The Summer Before the Dark (published 1973) - but see below.
50 years ago, 1966, Wide Sargasso Sea, one of the C20's iconic texts was published. The novel was written by Jean Rhys, another internationally acclaimed writer, who completed the novel after moving into a cottage at Cheriton  Fitzpaine, near Crediton, in 1960.
100 years ago, from February to in 1916, writer/poet H.D stayed in north Devon, where, revelling in the sea and scenery, she wrote new poems and translated older lyrics of the Classicists. Her first poetry collection, Sea-Garden, had just been published.
100 years ago, during summer 1916, writer E.M. Delafield, during lunch hours away from war work, was drafting her second novel The Pelicans, [possibly] in Rougemont gardens, Exeter. The novel was eventually published in 1918. It seems that Delafield had begun to write The Pelicans but, by 1917, on the advice of her publishers and following the success of her newly published first novel Zella Sees Herself, had set the 'Pelicans' manuscript aside, in order to complete the then more topical The War Workers, which was also published early in 1918.
150 years ago, on 4th November 1866, Scottish writer Jane Findlater was born    near Edinburgh. In 1899 Jane moved with her sister Mary and family to Paignton and then Torquay, where the sisters co-wrote  several novels, including Crossriggs, which was published in 1908.
200 years ago, in 1816, Devon born novelist Elizabeth/BridgetBluemantle, (also called Elizabeth  Thomas), nearing the end of her writing career, wrote and published the novel Purity of Heart, her  satirical response to Lady Caroline Lamb's first novel, a bildungsroman, Glenarvon.
Also 200 years ago, in 1816, Jewish writer, Grace Aguilar, (who later spent several of her formative years in  Devon, at Teignmouth and Tavistock), was born in Hackney, London. 
250 years ago, in 1766, according to her own diary, Elizabeth Simcoe was born in Whitchurch, Herefordshire; however, most authoritative sources now state that Simcoe invented the date and  place of her  birth; she was actually born in 1762. Simcoe first stayed in Devon when she was a young child and sometime after her marriage, in 1782, made the county her home.
Also, 250 years ago, in November 1766, Devon born writer, Catherine Jemmat [aka Catherine Yeo] died. Jemmat's Miscellanies in Prose and Verse was also first published in 1766.
300 years ago, on 9th February 1716, Mary Palmer (born Reynolds), sister of Sir  Joshua Reynolds, was born in Plymouth. Palmer was the writer of A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect, a text once  thought to be 'the  best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon' ...


    Some years present more anniversary and celebratory literary connections than others. For Devon women writers who lived and wrote in, or were in other ways connected with the county of Devon, 2016 is one such year ...

    Skimming stones back, just fifty years, there's a satisfying background literary contextual link between a medieval Devon longhouse set one the edge of one of Dartmoor's quintessential villages and one of the C20's towering female writers, Doris Lessing, who some have labelled the 'Grand Dame' of literature. Sources say that the writer adapted the original shippen at Tor Down House - which at the time of her arrival,was still occupied by horses - into a writing room. I can't confirm which texts Lessing was working on whilst she lived in Belstone; a variety of different possibilities are named. One source says she was writing part of the series Children of Violence. If so, then presumably (because of the novels' respective publication dates) she may have been working on Landlocked (pub 1965) and/or The Four Gated City (1969). Other possibilities (because of their publication date) are The Black Madonna (1966); Winter in July (1966); The Summer Before the Dark (1973); or, The Memoirs of a Survivor (which the author called 'an attempt at autobiography', 1974).
     As far as I can tell, there is little information as yet available about Lessing's links with Devon. I have not tried to sift through any archives and I also understand that the author's own dairies will not be made public as long as any of her children are alive; one day there may be more commentary by Lessing herself apropos her time in the Westcountry. At the moment I have to be content with tantalising snippets. According to the Western Morning News, 'she [Lessing] spent many hours in the study which had a large picture window with panoramic views across the paddock towards North Devon and the hills of Exmoor, and she used the room to write in.' We are also told that Ted Hughes, who lived just seven or so miles away and was one of Lessing's friends, was a frequent visitor; there are suggestions that Lessing bought the house in order to be close to Hughes, and that he found the cottage for her He is supposed to have berated her 'for covering up the pony ring in the floor of the shippen ... because he felt it should remain visible'. (Western Morning News, November 2013). I understand that Tor Down House is now home to The Dartmoor Soap Company, whose mission 'to support Dartmoor's natural environment' including such worthy charities as Butterfly Conservation, would presumably be approved by Hughes, were he still alive. 
      It seems that Devon was anything but a backwater for a few of the most celebrated women writers in the mid nineteen sixties. Not only was Doris Lessing tucked away writing in a converted shippen under the moor, but just over twenty miles north-east toward Exeter, since 1960, Jean Rhys had been stowed in the hold of a mid Devon village - a place which apparently she hated. We may not know what Lessing thought of the village she'd made her home for four years, but it is the opposite with Rhys, who persistently vocalised her negative response to her Devon locality. I have written about Rhys in Devon in another, earlier blog piece, which you should be able to read at Scrapblog - here and in another Scrapblog piece - here. I do not know if the two writers knew one another, or ever met. Possibly not, given the near thirty years difference in their ages; but each must have been aware of the other's literary importance and there may have been a kind of connection if not  a meeting, because Ted Hughes' literary agent sister Olwyn happened to take on Rhys' writing.
Mid Devon landscape near Cheriton Fitzpaine.
      Slip into the past just another stone's throw of fifty years back from 1966, to 1916 and there is at least one significant Centennial event, for during early February 1916 H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), accompanied by her husband Richard Aldington, travelled down to north Devon from London and moved into the Old School House at Martinhoe,  
Old Schoolhouse Martinhoe

A month later, in March, the Aldingtons moved along the lanes and took up residence in Woodland Cottage, at nearby Parracombe.

Woodland Cottage, near Parracombe,
where H.D, lived  in 1916

       The couple were soon joined by their friend John Cournos.
H.D. seems to have loved Woodland cottage and the spectacular scenery nearby. She told friends how happy she was. Referring to her surroundings as “wild and pagan,” she mentioned that the “thatched cottage with a brook [was] backed by a wooded hill with a small mountain in front and the sea, with cliffs covered with gorge, is half a mile down the valley.” In a letter in May she told her friend, F.S. Flint, that “every day we go to Heddons [sic] Mouth about 1.30, bathe, scamper about on the rocks, build a drift-wood fire & have tea.”
      Aldington and H.D. were both writing avidly. She was working on Euripides’ Ion; Iphigenia in Aulis; the poems “Heliodora” and ‘Nossis” )See Collected Poems; she may have been drafting her extensions of Sappho’s fragments, (in Collected Poems), as well as several of the poems later published under The God, (in Collected Poems) and may have worked on an early draft of an essay on Meleager, entitled “Garland."
     In  Aldington enlisted as a private in a local regiment and left for training. H.D. remained at Woodland with Cournos for a while and then moved eastwards to stay near where Aldington was based, at Corfe. As far as I know she did not return to Devon.
      H.D's famous early and short imagistic lyric 'Oread' appears in Sea Garden, and, although  the poem was probably written before she arrived in Devon, its sentiments convey the dramatic ambience of the spectacular coastal seascape within which she had immersed herself down in the South-west. 

Whirl up sea-
whirl your pointed pines
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us
cover us with your pools of fir.
You can read more about H.D.'s time and writing in Devon in an essay here - Sea-Thyme in the South-West; H.D.'s Se/a/cret Garden (scroll down to page 8).

        I don't know if H.D. had any occasion to meet new novelist E.M. Delafield whilst she was in the county, or indeed, had ever heard of her; she may have, but it is perhaps unlikely. Although by 2016 Delafield had completed her first novel Zella Sees Herself, it was not published until early the following year, in 1917. During 1916, Delafield was drafting her second novel,The Pelicans; its last page notes the dates,  'Exeter June 1916; London June 1917', confirming the manuscript was first penned in Devon. However, according to her biographer Violet Powell, Delafield had been persuaded to temporarily abandon that manuscript in favour of The War Workers, which, in light of the contemporary situation, was considered likely to gain more immediate public interest.
Rougemont Gardens, Exeter
where E.M. Delafield drafted her early novels.

E.M. Delafield's home
Croyle House,
near Kentisbeare.

       As a young girl  Delafield had holidayed in Devon with her parents, at Butterleigh, near Cullompton and after the war and following her marriage to Paul Dashwood, the couple bought Croyle House, near Kentisbeare, where the family remained until her death during World War Two, You can read more about E.M. Delafield and her Devon connections in another blog piece,  Sad December.


Delafield a younger novelist, by about a quarter of a century, to the Scottish Findlater sisters, frequently spent her childhood summers at East Butterleigh House, in mid Devon. She was probably not aware of the Findlaters' existence when, according to Violet Powell, she was sitting, aged 8, in the Butterleigh meadows, avidly listening to her mother reading Pilgrim's Progess. It was about the same time that Jane and Mary Findlater travelled down south, from Edinburgh to Torbay; soon, Devon became their settled home. However, it is possible that by the time their co-written novel Crossriggs first appeared, in 1908, Delafield, now 18, may have come upon and read what had by now become a popular novel.
      Delafield was born in 1890. The Findlater sisters first arrived in south Devon in 1899. There seems some dispute as to whether Jane, the younger of the sisters, had been born in Perthshire in 1866, or in Edinburgh; but, after their father's death when she was twenty, Jane moved with her family to Prestonpans near Edinburgh. Some ten years later, in 1896, Jane's first novel, The Green Graves of Balgowrie (the plot of which was based on her mother's family history) was published; the novel soon became a sought after book and quickly (after the family became concerned with their mother's fragile health) left them with sufficient income to move to warmer climes, in Devon.
      There's a short commentary about the Findlater sisters in Devon on the blog, here - Going Back to the Findlaters
At Prestonpans, East Lothian, where the Findlater sisters lived from 1886.
      The  C19 fiction writer Elizabeth/Bridget Bluemantle/Thomas, whose novel Purity of Heart was published two hundred years ago, in 1816, remains an enigma. There are many occasions when a woman author's identity is elusive because of the different names she has taken on, either as pseudonym/s or through a series of marriages, but this novelist's identity has proved to be more complicated than most. I have had her on a list of mystery writers for many years, but only recently had time to go on a google trail. Googling has proved useful and has at the very least provided a few clues, a starting-point. This is what I have found: 

Berry House Hartland. 

Elizabeth Wolferstan was born circa 1770/1, at Berry House two miles west of Hartland. Daughter of Edward Wolferstan and his wife Mary; it seems the Wolferstan family had a long standing link with that parish. Berry House was remodelled in the 1760's to provide a home for the Land Agent of Hartland Abbey. The following account about Berry's history appears on the description of the Hartland Heritage Trail walk  Presumably, Elizabeth, the writer's family of Wolferstan, are, or were one and the same as the Wolfenston family:

Berry House has been the subject of a recent sympathetic renovation (in 2009). The property came to prominence when the orphaned Wolfenston child came into the care of his aunt at Hartland Abbey. As he came of age and married he took on the lease of Berry and transformed it into a house suited to his status. Wolfenston had possibly inherited income from large estates in the Midlands which gave him the finance to transform a traditional farmhouse into his mansion. He became involved in the administration of The Hartland Abbey Estates on behalf of his cousin and amassed a substantial property holding of his own. The family, after three generations, moved to Bristol where they established further business dealings. Bristol was chosen by many merchants as it was a major trading port, whereas the local ports of Barnstaple and Bideford became silted and less accessible to the larger merchant ships. Berry farmhouse has extensive views south along the coastline towards Cornwall and must have been splendid on a good day. The interior of the house has been restored to its heyday and still shows all the evidence of its former life. (See The Devon Heritage Walk)

       The Wolferstans apparently descended from a family who held Statfold Hall in Staffordshire. The following blog-piece, HandedOn, concerning that house, contains lots of fascinating Wolferstan-family leads. Back in Devon, the family are listed as one of the armigerous families of Hartland. There is said to be a tablet to the Wolferstan family at St Nectan's Church; Devon Record Office holds at least one archival record relevant to the family and North Devon Record Office another. As yet, I have not had a chance to seek these out. 
        Elizabeth Wolferstan married Reverend Thomas of Tidenham circa 1795 and moved to Gloucestershire. However, she must have eventually moved back to her home county, for her death was at Parkham, in north Devon, in June, 1855. Another wikipedia lead helps out here. It indicates that the writer probably had a son, Frances Wolferstan Thomas, who became both Rector and Rural Dean of Parkham; he had a son, also Frances the subject of this wiki article. We can probably assume that the writer moved to her son's household sometime before her death. Here is the will of Francis but you will have to pay National Archives to download it and make it legible. If it is him, then his death was only a year after that of his mother. In the Preface to Purity of Heart the author states that 'it has been finished amid the various occupations of domestic life, by the mother of a growing family'; so Elizabeth must have borne several children.
      I don't know if the author Elizabeth Wolferstan Thomas knew Lady Caroline Lamb. Perhaps she did, because they may have come from similar backgrounds. Perhaps, Elizabeth made a bee-line for her contemporary's first novel, Glenarvon, in 1816, because she knew its author and was being nosey. Elizabeth appears to suggests such: 'The  novel of Glenarvon fell into her [Elizabeth Thomas'] hands, with numerous other publications'. In the Preface to her novel, the full title of which was Purity of Heart, or The Ancient Costume, a Tale in one volume addressed to the author of Glenarvon, Thomas maintains that the manuscript was completed in three weeks; she didn't  delay in making her response. Anyway, by all accounts, Thomas' rewriting of Glenarvon, a satirical fictional reposte, seems to have sparked off a vituperative spar between the two writers. Narrated by an 'old wife of twenty years', its main character, Calantha Limb is a corruption of Calantha Delaval (alter-ego of Caroline Lamb (who appears in Glenarvon).  Purity of Heart presents a counter narrative to the earlier novel, ultimately presenting an unflattering depiction of Caroline, Bryon's onetime lover. Thomas does not hold back when she justifies her attack on Lamb in her Preface, specifying 'its [the novel's] horrible tendency, its dangerous and perverting sophistry its abominable indecency and profaneness'. [It] 'struck [her] with such force', she continues, that she 'could not resist the wish that came into my [her] mind to ridicule it'. 'Purity of Heart' responded to Glenarvon's 'Kiss and Tell' with a virulent, polemical narrative, which Caroline Lamb, in quick self-defence, immediately reacted to:

Before a person attempts to turn another in to ridicule as is stated in the preface, they ought to know how and the author of Purity of Heart has less idea even of common humour and liveliness than anyone I ever met with. Better to take no notice of it -
she added, but did concede that 'the verses' which prefaced Purity of Heart's chapters, were 'rather good', You can read more detailed commentary concerning the inter-textual debate between the two writers and their novels at Lady Caroline Lamb; a Biography by Paul Douglass, the main source of my information about the interchange between them. 
       However these two novels were received by the public in 1816 - and it seems that reaction to Glenarvon (although the book sold out soon after publication, thus instigating multiple reprintings) - soon led to Caroline Lamb's social ostracisation, after her friends found themselves cast as targets of the scandal plot's satire, Glenarvon  has survived through the two centuries since; contemporary literary studies often feature it as a work of early feminist appeal. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Thomas' Purity of Heart' has not retained too much readerly appeal, but only seems to create a buzz of interest because of its connection with that a priori text.


Grace Aguilar
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

      Writer Grace Aguilar was born two hundred years ago, in June, 1816 - the same year that Purity of Heart was published. Aguilar was twelve when in 1828 she moved down to Devon with her family, because of their father's fragile state of health. The family may also have been thinking of Grace herself, who from an early age had suffered from a chronic long-term illness. In Devon the Aguilars lived in Teignmouth and I understand, also, for a while, in Tavistock.
While Grace was taking care of him, her father taught her the oral history of the Jews of Spain and Portugal, complementing her mother's earlier instruction in Judaism. He may also have taught her Hebrew, which was extremely unusual for a Jewish woman to know at that time. Both her religious and literary interests date to that time of her life; she began indulging them both by making her first efforts at poetry and fiction and attending some Protestant services. A collection of conch shells she found on a Teignmouth beach spurred her to attempt a scientific paper on the subject (Wikipedia Grace Aguilar)
      One source states that it was after the move to Devon that  the young writer 'wrote her first completed manuscript, a play called “Gustavus Vasa” about a Swedish king (now lost)' - see Grace Aguilar. - while in her own memoir she records that her first poem was written in Tavistock two years after they moved to the south-west, when she was fourteen. By the time she was fifteen she had begun drafting her first long narrative 'a historical romance set during the Spanish Inquisition called The Vale of Cedars, or The Martyr' (Grace Aguilar). The text took four years to complete. I believe that the Aguilars were in Devon until 1835, when Grace, now nineteen, contracted measles (from which, apparently, she never fully recovered). Perhaps it was her illness which prompted her parents to move away from South-west England and return to the south-east, to Brighton, where Aguilar found a publisher for her first book of poems, Magic Wreath of Hidden Flowers, (some of whose lyrics must surely have been drafted whilst the poet lived in Devon). One source suggests that it was 'amid the beauty of the surrounding scenery [around Tavistock] that she first gave vent to her thoughts in verse' (see Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History)


Entrance to Wolford Chapel
where the Simcoes are buried.

     Just like Grace Aguilar, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim/Simcoe was not born in Devon, but her first acquaintance with the county began when she was younger than the Jewish writer.You can find the details of Elizabeth's ancestral background at Dictionary of Canadian Biography but the fullest informative and engaging text about her life is the biography by Mary Beacock Fryer. I'm not sure when or how the birth date of 1766 came about. Perhaps it started as a recording error; or maybe it is true that Elizabeth gave the incorrect date, so as to make herself seem four years younger. You will find both dates given online; Mrs Simcoe Diary edited by Mary Quayle Innis gives the later date, but Beacock Fryer's account seems authoritative.
      Briefly, here, orphaned at birth, Elizabeth's aunt Margaret took on charge of her niece and so, when in 1769 (Elizabeth was about seven), Margaret married Admiral Samuel Graves of Hembury Fort House near Honiton, the child inevitably began to spend time with the couple.  Eventually she moved in with them and Devon then became her home.

Elizabeth had visited Henbury Fort House frequently as a small girl where her uncle doted on her as a daughter and riding companion. When she moved in permanently she continued her love of horses and art. She had already had a very privileged upbringing with French and German governess’s and excelled in music and painting. She loved dancing, outdoor life and plants. Indeed she was extremely accomplished at all the necessary society pursuits appropriate to an heiress to considerable sums from both parents. She was rich and very well connected and would be seen as a very good match for any man of the time seeking to make his way to the top. (See Hembury Fort House)
You can find a few notes pertaining to Elizabeth Simcoe on the blog WomenTravelling and DevonRomanticPoets.

         So nothing shall tempt me from Harry
         His Heart is as true as the Sun
         Eve with Adam was ordered to marry
         This world it should end as begun
         (From The Rural Lass, by Catherine Jemmat)

          Catherine Jemmat, born Yeo, in 1714,  died in 1766, the same year that Elizabeth Simcoe said she was born. The two writers do bear some resemblance to one another: they both had eminent naval family connections; they both lost their mother very early in life (Jemmat's mother died when she was five or so); there are still unsettled facts re either their birth or death dates. In Jemmat's case it is the year of her death that is still uncertain. You will find that the year of her death is stated as 1766, but there are still doubts about that fact:

In November, 1766, the London Magazine reported what seems to be her death notice, yet her Memoirs were reprinted by subscription with new subscribers in 1771. Some sources list her death date as 1766. Condensed from a biography written by Sarah Forney. (See A Celebration of Women Writers)

       Catherine Yeo/Jemmat is even more elusive than Elizabeth Wolverstan/Thomas/Bluemantle; that is perhaps understandable, given that Jemmat's life takes us back even further than Thomas', to over 250 years ago. And yet, oddly, contradictorily, Yeo presents herself  vividly to us; we can almost visualise her before us, she comes across as a larger than life character:
At the time of my birth my father, the late Admiral Yeo, was a captain in his Majesty's Navy and resided at Exeter in Devonshire, where I was born. My parents when I was yet an infant removed to Plymouth, a principal sea-port and very compatible with his maritime employment., where he raised to the rank of half pay admiral.He was a finish'd tar in his own house, a baashar whose single nod of disapprobation struck terror in the whole family. Between five and six years of age I unhappily lost a tender mother, my father was then at sea and arrived the very night her funeral rites had been performed. The night of my mother's interrment and of my father's arrival from a long voyage was the first time to my remembrance I had ever seen him. My mother left in his care besides myself, a brother and sister who were yet younger. My father to apolgise for his coming to England without the knowledge or permission of the Lords of the Admiralty pleaded his extreme fondness and passionate regard to his wife. However he was severely reprimanded for it by their hardships and had not as I have been informed, a ship to command for nine years after. He was so enthusiastically fond of her as to insist on having her corpse taken up from the grave to bid a last adieu to the inanimate lifeless body buried in the clay. However, with much difficulty was eventually persuaded from doing so. However, such was his grief, that nine weeks later he married a giggling girl of nineteen. She had five children, four of whom it has pleased providence to call to a better state and had the worthy captain, my half brother completed the number of the deceased, the world and myself might well have borne the loss with christyn patience and resignation.To complete the dismal scene that was opening to us, new characters in the great drama of life, my grandfather, a pious, plain, upright man who boarded with us, was snatched away by death. Had heaven pleased to have lent us his life a little longer, he would have at least have seen us properly instructed in the principles of religion and morality.

         I think Catherine Yeo's/Jemmat's Memoirs might be the earliest autobiographical writings that we can read penned in the first person by a Devonshire woman.
         You can also find Jemmat's lively poem, A Rural Lass, included in several poetry anthologies, including in Eighteenth Century Women Poets, ed. Roger Lonsdale 

        And, last, but decidedly not least, there's Mary Reynolds Palmer, born 300 years ago, 9th February, 1716. Remembered as the elder sister of the much more famous painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, she is probably one of a number of women whose own talents became subsumed under the celebrity umbrella of other, usually male, relations. In the case of Mary Reynolds Palmer, she seems to have had advanced artistic as well as writing talents; it was her own drawing skills which initially tempted her brother to take up the art. Mary Palmer is also documented for her role as patroness (of Dr Johnson and others) and as being the mother of two daughters whose features are preserved into posterity after their uncle represented them in famous portraits. (They are easily found online, one such is at Yale University Digital Collection - Mary Palmer, niece of Joshua Reynolds).

Mary Palmer Reynolds
Joshua Reynolds
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Reynolds Palmer, as Devon writer, is unique in her creation of the (as far as I know) sole written text in the local dialect,  A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect - once named as the 'best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon -
Opening of
A Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect

      You can still see Mary Palmer's home now known as Palmer House, in Great Torrington,


     So, there we have it.
     Ten women writers -
     (perhaps - or not - to emulate?).
     Devon. Celebrate!

(Any errors or inconsistencies in the above piece may well be mine. I apologise for any you might find) 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Delafield's Devon Double-Scapes

       Also   See Women Write in the Devon Landscape
Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, where EM Delafield wrote her first novels, in 1915.

         Almost a year ago, as the last day of the past year fast approached, aware that 2015 was to be a special time of commemoration for past war events, I'd decided I should also give particular attention to Devon women writers during World War One. Somewhat un-enthusiastically, I'd downloaded E. M.Delafield's The War Workers on my Kindle, and with the start of the first day of the New Year, began to flick over the pages. It might be a cliché but, within a few page-swipes and a rare occasion nowadays, this was a book I could not put down. As yet, my fastest Kindle read.
        I knew that this year, 2015, was to be the 125th anniversary of E M Delafield's birth; this was part of my reason for catching up on her novels. She'd completed her first novel Zella Sees Herself, in 1915, just a year after she'd moved to Exeter as V.A.D. worker. Zella quickly gained public acclaim and whilst she was in Exeter Delafield was prompted to draft her second novel, The War Workers, which was also soon much admired.
         A quick plot resume of the second book may help here:

Published in EMD's second novel, The War Workers, centres on a community of female war workers, in particular a triangle of women: Charmian Vivian, upper-class daughter of the squire of the local country estate, 'Plessing'; Grace Jones, daughter of a Welsh clergyman and a new recruit to the Midland Supply Depôt, of which Charmian is Director; and Lady Joanna Vivian, the squire's wife. Charmian controls the operation of the depot; she is ruthless, an  autocrat and her apparent self-sacrifice as she works all the hours God has provided attracts admiration from all those who work for her. These women, mostly young and middle-class, live near the Depôt in a rather uncomfortable hostel, sharing bedrooms and providing each other with early morning tea. Grace Jones is kindly, charming, excellent at her job, and soon becomes popular with all the other women; however, she does not join in the adulation of martyred Miss Vivian. Charmian's father suffers a stroke, and eventually dies;  Charmian is conflicted with her double duties of war work and  home. Grace, meanwhile is drawn into the orbit of Char's ostensibly charismatic mother, Lady Joanna; she also becomes close to Char's cousin John Trevellyan, who's recovering from his war experience and injury.

       Even in these early novels, EMD was adroit at portraying slight alterations of emotional perception and nuance in person to person inter-relationships. During the opening chapters Charmian Vivian, female protagonist in the The War Workers, and autocratic Director of the Midland Supply Depot (rumoured to be cast as an unflattering portrait of the real Dame Georgina Buller), sits up and takes notice of her new recruit, Grace Jones; the realisation gradually dawns on Char that her newly recruited Welsh secretary, unlike all the other fawning staff who surround her, providing her with the adulation her self-martyring, attention craving persona demands, is not necessarily going to be at her beck and call. The mirroring and gradual reversal of situational roles in the two women's awareness of each other is captured in a series of subtle conversations. The novel's narrative closely pursues the playing out of the dynamic between Char and Grace, gradually drawing into its orbit Char's own fraught relationship with her mother, Lady Joanna Vivian.

"Who is the little dark-haired girl I've been working with, Char? The one at that table..."
"Oh, a Miss-er-Jones," said Char languidly.
"You never told me you had any one of her sort here. I want to ask her out to Plessing. Couldn't we take her back in the car tonight?"
"My dear mother!" Char opened her eyes in an expression of exaggerated horror.

      The resulting denouement between the three women unfolds throughout the book, providing the novel's emotional crux; set against a background context of war, it gradually reaches its culmination after Char's father's stroke and eventual death:

"Excellent!" said Joanna callously. "I shall be delighted to see Miss Jones. I wanted to ask her here, but Char nearly had a fit at the idea. She'll certainly think I've done it out of malice prepense, as it is. She's got a most pigheaded prejudice against that nice Miss Jones."
"Lady Vivian!"
Lady Vivian laughed.
You'll have to break if to her, Miss Bruce, that it's Miss Jones who is coming. And don't let her think I did it on purpose!"
"I am sure she would never think anything of the sort."
"Perhaps not. But Char does get very odd ideas into her head, when she thinks there's any risk of lėse-majesté, to her Directorship. I must say," observed Joanna thoughtfully preparing to go upstairs for her night watch, I often wish that when Char was younger I'd smacked some of the nonsense out-"
But before this well-worn aspiration of Miss Vivian's parent, Miss Bruce took her indignant departure.

        As I read I find myself thinking of character duplications and splittings, of landscape and place-swaps in fiction. I'm also remembering my own three idyllic months spent here, in the midst of the Devon capital, some 45 or so years ago.

       A few weeks later, early Spring, I go to Exeter to wander up near the castle ruins, at Northernhay gardens, where EMD is said to have written the manuscripts of her first novels.

      'Double-Take' is the expression that comes to mind.

      Today is the day I've been aware of a coming to terms with that long ago time. Around every corner and in every street, this city brings up places, endlessly self reflecting mises en abeyne, halls of distorted mirrors. A site then; a site now. They are the same; yet utterly different.

       E.M. Delafield's time in Exeter during WW1 was just over fifty years before my adult life began there. At that time I was light-years away from considering myself as writer. But looking back at those few months I can see how for a young author the bildungsroman is an ideal genre. A way of burying the hatchet of one's pre-adult years. Both of EMD's early books seem replete with doubled and redoubled character or personality re-inventions and deliberately, deliciously encoded name twists. The writer is evidently writing out her own past in her fictional recreations of Zella, in Zella Sees Herself and perhaps of Grace, in The War Workers. Both novels are peopled with a panoply of real characters EMD knew commingled with those she created, who were apparently based on them.

       Delafield references her own concern with real versus imaginary characters, when in the Foreword to The War Workers she states a disclaimer:

The Midland Supply Depot of The War Workers has no counterpart in real life, and the scenes and characters described are also purely imaginary.

          We can take EMD's statements with a large dose of salt. From the onset of first publication of War Workers there were rumours that Char was the real larger than life Dame Georgiana Buller, the only woman appointed as Administrator in a military hospital during World War I. EMD's biographer, Violet Powell commented, 'Elizabeth admitted that she had got into trouble over The War Workers, and, even more candidly, that she deserved to do so'. Powell adds that even years later, faced with meeting Delafield at social occasions, the Buller family were still uneasy. That might account for the prefacing waiver at the opening to The Way Things Are, a novel written twelve years later, when, the author, now writing in her prime, was able to view her own writing peccadilloes with a certain wry detachment:

A good many of the characters in this novel have been drawn, as usual, from persons now living; but the author hopes very much that they will only recognise one another.

          Although ultimately, to do so raises more question than answers, it is fascinating to consider the splittings and doublings of character and place which frequent this novel, and that of the earlier Zella Sees Herself, with regard, both to the author's own personal life, and in terms of the fictional echoes or reflections apropos real events of live war-time Exeter. One local war event which the novel appears to pick up on is the handing of food bags to soldiers on a troop-trainpassing through Exeter station. By February 1915, the then new mayoress, who, like Georgiana Buller, became known as a formidable woman organiser and fund-raiser, had raised £400. Accompanied by 4 other women the mayoress doled out, to every soldier, a large sandwich, two pieces of cake, an orange or banana, and a pack of cigarettes. In the novel, this scene's fictional transference zones in on Char, who, suffering from an extreme bout of influenza, still revels being in the limelight as the object of mass adoration:

Char moved up and down the length of the train.
She never carried any of the laden trays herself, but she saw to it that no man missed his mug of steaming tea and supply of sandwiches and cake, and she exerted all the affability and charm of which she held the secret, in talking to the soldiers. The packets of cigarettes with which she was always laden added to her popularity and when the train steamed slowly out of the station again the men raised a cheer.
"Three cheers for Miss Vivian!"

           If we explore the doubled or duplicated fictional/real lives hinted at in fiction we can often open up lost links and connections that once existed between individuals and families of the past. Both of Delafield's early novels apparently sail close to the autobiographical winds of her early years. In the first, Zella's childhood home, Villetswood, 'where there is not another house in miles', is sited somewhere in Devon; was the author picturing the house at Butterleigh, where she had spent many happy childhood summers? Boscastle, the novel's other unspecified family house, home of her aunt and uncle might be based on her real-life aunt's home at Penstowe, near Bude, on the Devon Cornwall border. Zella also sets a literary Devonshire context, as, in an early conversation with her cousin, Zella, the girl heroine, who 'sometimes thought of herself as a Devonshire maid', soon establishes Lorna Doone as 'the Devonshire story' whilst declaring her own loyalties that, 'of course I am from Devonshire'.
           In the second novel, Charmaine's fictional ancestral family home, in War Workers, named Plessing, is likely to be based on Downes near Crediton, the real-life estate of the Buller family and Dame Georgiana's actual childhood home. Was EMD so taken with Georgiana, that she found herself inscribing her contemporary in her early fiction? Indeed, the first stirrings of text may have made its first appearance because of the author's initial fascination with this striking and powerful woman, possibly, to such an extent that the real person could not really be separated from that of the fictional character. The doublings of real and imaginary split selves in this novel replicate phantasmagorically, for it is not only Char, but also, her fictional mother Lady Vivian, who appears as an embodiment of her real-self model, Charmaine's mother, Lady Audrey Buller. One commentator describes that

In various archival references Lady Audrey Jane Charlotte Buller, Georgiana's mother is always referred to as an exemplary woman who certainly on the surface level seems to mirror exactly the fictional Lady Vivian.

       In the novel, as war-fever crescendos and Char's displaced work-ethic effort increases, her already complicated relationship with her mother Lady Joanna Vivian decidedly worsens, whilst, in a neatly plotted change-over, Grace's bond with Joanna grows in warmth and intensity. By the time the novel finishes, Grace has supplanted Char and become Lady Vivian's substitute daughter.
         I have no way of knowing if Audrey Buller's relationship with her daughter, the real Georgiana, was as difficult and negative as the pair's fictional counterparts in War Workers, but it is possible they were, and that if so during her early weeks and months as VAD in Exeter there may have been occasions in which could observe EMD mother and daughter together. Given the problems she had with an overbearing mother herself, she may have been drawn to and susceptible to the signals of such a relationship and what it might reflect back to her of her own. EMD's interest in Buller mother and daughter may have been even more likely because of similarities between their and her own social status, backgrounds and life-events.
         The women also had a formidable family military man in common. Although there is no obvious link between Sir Piers Vivian and his fictional counterpart in the novel, Lady Audrey's real-life husband, Sir Redvers Buller, was one of Devon's and the country's most famous, exemplary war heroes, whilst EMD's (step) uncle, Colonel Algernon Thynne, became a prominent World War One army figure. Her step-father, Sir Hugh Clifford, also had a distinguished diplomatic record; all three were eminent men who must have created quite a stir in the lives of the women to whom they were related.
       The most puzzling and fascinating of all the possible doublings in EMD's first novels however is that of Grace Jones, the other main female character, in The War Workers. Does Grace represent another facet of the author's own personality? Grace is also from an upper class background and is Welsh (Delafield's childhood included several years in Llandogo, in Wales). Grace's main achievement in War Workers is her deployment of a dose of inner integrity, which gives her the strength to disrupt and disarm Char's control freak nature. Did EMD, newly arrived in Exeter, similarly, and really, manage to challenge the authoritative Georgiana Buller? Or, as she observed the dominating Director steam-rollering her way through the cowering other workers at the War Depot, was she projecting, harbouring a fantasy of wishful thinking through the creation of her own imagined character? Of course, we shall never know, but the possible interconnections between real-life and fictional-lives in these Devon-set novels provides us with a kaleidoscope of new material upon which we can mull ...

At Northernhay Gardens, Exeter