Miss Cicely Hamilton

Cicely Hamilton.png
Cicely Hamilton c 1907[1]
Cicely Mary Hammill, later self-styled Hamilton, 60, (1872-1952) was an actress, writer (on suffragism, travel, science fiction, war, plus many plays), and suffragist – though “more a feminist than suffragist” in her own words.[2] She joined the suffragette WSPU and wrote the words for the WSPU anthem, ‘The March of the Women’. In 1908 she founded the Women Writers’ Suffrage League with the writer Bessie Hatton, and the Actresses’ Franchise League with the actress Elizabeth Robins. Cicely joined the Board of Time and Tide in 1921. On the day of the dinner she was promoting her new book on France at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly a favourite haunt of this network.[3] [4] [5] [6] This essay is quite extended as we report on Cicely’s own celebratory dinner in 1931, attended by many of the same crowd – and Cicely also did have her portrait later painted by Alice. From a different angle The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction also has commented that “Hamilton is one of the first—and among the darkest—of those UK sf novelists whose vision of things was shaped by World War One, which they saw as foretelling the end of civilisation.[7]

SEATED BESIDE

For a night of reflections, to be seated between Lilian Baylis, with whom she wrote the history of the Old Vic, and Elizabeth Lucas, who worked at a hospital near the Belgian border, in France, might have been a good choice. Young publisher and MP Harold Macmillan, might have been good, as might have been Francophile Stephen Gwynn, also with Irish heritage. Or perhaps this was the occasion where she first got to know Alice Burton. Plenty of choice.

WHAT’S ON HER MIND?

She may have had fresh anecdotes to relate from her lunchtime presentation on France.  I’d have loved to have been at her part of the table: one of my favourite finds.

CICELY’S STORY SO FAR

Cicely Mary Hammill generally avoided discussion of her early childhood and parents, with biographies generally reporting that she was born on 15th June 1872, the eldest of four children of the Irish woman Maud Mary Florence Piers and the army officer Denzil Hammill, that she was raised by foster parents (a very bad experience for her and her siblings), was sent to a Malvern boarding school and then to Bad Homburg Germany.[8] Her mother is either reported to have been sent to an asylum or died when she was 10. In her memoir Life Errant Cicely herself simply reports, the parentheses hers: (As a matter of fact, the parting from my mother came early in life, but it was a parting whose finality was not recognised at the time).[9]

Most (but not all) of that is true, though it is also true (but seems never to be mentioned) that her mother Maud Mary Florence (I will use MMF for short), born in Islington in 1844, was also the second daughter of the Irish Sir Henry Samuel Piers 7th Baronet of Tristermagh Abbey, Co. Westmeath (who died when she was 6). At the age of 17 MMF was a visitor in the house of another Baronet, Thomas Style, onetime MP for Scarborough, in Bathwick, Bath, and MMF in fact lived until 1924, when Cicely was 52.

The Piers family were engaged in two major lawsuits of the 19th century. In the first, the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry’s brother, was successfully sued with record damages for the type of case, for seducing a friend’s wife, quite possibly for a wager. The 6th Baronet had finally died in St Omer, France, in 1845, where he was living to avoid creditors. John Betjeman later wrote a poem about this Cloncurry case. The second, Piers vs Piers, saw two daughters of the 6th baronet, Louisa and Florence, successfully suing their uncle the 7th Baronet (Sir Henry) for money – in what proved a major case with respect to the validity of a marriage. At the time of Cicely’s birth in 1872 her uncle Eustace Fitzmaurice Piers held the baronetcy. The current Baronet lives in Canada. Perhaps this family of controversies was one from whom Cicely was only too happy to keep her distance.

In the records Cicely is not with her mother MMF in the 1881 census when MMF was living at 12 Woburn Square, London, with her own mother and sister and her daughter Evelyn and son John Eustace. Charles Raymond, her brother, was in Bathwick, Bath with Isabella Style, where his mother had been visiting in 1861. Cicely may have slipped though the 1881 census net, the year her father went to the Nile with the Gordon Highlanders. There is no confirmed sighting in 1891 (though there is a Maud Mary Hammill listed, 48, servant, in what is probably a lodging house in Holborn). In 1911 MMF was a visitor in a house in Richmond, a house which also had 2 inpatients, the wife of the house medically trained, plus one nurse. It is nonetheless consistent with someone who may have needed medical care and leads to a peripatetic childhood for Cicely and her siblings.

When her father was away with the army, in 1881–85, Cicely and her sister and two brothers were living with foster parents in Clapham. In her memoir she reports that she considered suicide, it was that bad. Curiously her uncle Eustace Fitzmaurice Piers, the baronet at the time of her birth, was born in Clapham in 1840, living there with his parents Henry and Alice (Cicely’s maternal grandparents) and Alice’s mother Susannah. The foster parents may well have been someone the family knew from that time.

In 1891 Cicely (then 18) and her 11 year old brother Raymond were boarding with two aunts, unmarried sisters of their father Denzil Hammill, in Holdenhurst, Bournemouth.

Her father – absent abroad for much of her life – died of malaria, aged 50, retired from the army but HM Consul in Bonny, West Africa, in 1891 when Cicely was 19. [10] [11] [12] [13] [14]

Cicely shared a house, 44 Glebe Place, Chelsea, with her sister Evelyn Maude in 1909 – Evelyn lived, unmarried, in Chelsea until her death in 1947 (Cicely handling her will). Her first brother John Eustace emigrated to Australia by way of New Zealand (where he was on the NZ army reserve rolls in 1916), and her second brother Charles Raymond was married twice, once in Grand Rapids USA, in 1908, and once in London in 1917, having emigrated to Australia, joined the Australian Army in 1916. He died in the Somme, in September 1918. A third sister Margaret Lucy was born in 1877 but died after 10 days.

Cicely Hamilton2.png
Cicely Hamilton[15]
So much for the bumpy start, and it’s not surprising a change of name was a good idea too.

From an early age it would seem writing of some sort was likely to figure in her future. In her own words Cicely was, from age three, “a child whose nose it was impossible to keep out of a book”.[16] After a relatively short time on the stage (adopting the surname Hamilton) Cicely focused more on her writing, with more than 20 plays or books. Her 1911 play Just to Get Married, was revived for the first time, in London at least, for almost a hundred years in 2017.[17] In 1919 her novel William: An Englishman won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize – fellow dinner guest Sylvia Lynd was on the Prize Committee, though perhaps not at that time. She co-authored with Christabel Marshall the famous suffrage play “How the Vote was Won”, for which she is probably best known today. This photograph is probably of a performance of Cicely’s 1910 play “A Pageant of Great Women” by the Actresses’ Franchise League, c1909-1914, performed in London and up and down the country:

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Suffrage theatricals performed by the Actresses’ Franchise League, c1909-1914[18]
Winifred Mayo, a cofounder of the AFL, appeared in the Pageant as Jane Austen.[19]

During WW1 Cicely served with the Scottish women’s ambulance unit and as an administrator in military hospital at Royaumont Hospital opened by Scottish Women’s Hospitals and operated under the Red Cross, in the Abbaye de Royaumont 40km north of Paris.[20] From 1917 to 1919 she was a member of a repertory company organized by her friend the suffragette Lena Ashwell which provided wartime entertainment for the troops.

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The Scottish Women’s Hospital : In The Cloister of the Abbaye at Royaumont. Dr. Frances Ivens inspecting a French patient. By Norah Neilson-Gray (1882 – 1931)[21]
Cicely was an active member of the Six Point Group, a Director of Time and Tide and contributor during the 1920s[22] and in 1926 wrote a history of the Old Vic with Lilian Baylis (with whom she became close friends).

Her writing wasn’t just on particular feminist themes. She wrote a wholes series of books on European countries (see below) and her science fiction novel, Theodore Savage: A Story of the Past or Future (Leonard Parsons, 1922) is about a future war which destroys London and brings Britain back to superstitious barbarism. It was also published in 1928 in new, amended and remodelled edition as Lest Ye Die by Jonathan Cape.

Florence-Restaurant
Celebratory dinner for Cicely at the Florence Restaurant 1931.  Picture by Lenare. 

In 1931, in a similar vein to our dinner, her friends held a celebratory dinner for her at the Florence Restaurant, an Italian restaurant on Rupert Street in Soho, famously frequented by Oscar Wilde and entertaining Pietro Dorando, the 1908 marathon runner (the one who didn’t quite make the finishing line). Speeches all round with Cicely quipping that she was the only one who didn’t get a formal invitation but thought she would drop in anyway. This  photograph taken by the now defunct society photography agency Lenare sums up the atmosphere. Lady Rhondda is standing towards the back on the left [23]

The Vote, The Guardian and the Yorkshire Post all gave this dinner good coverage, leaving us with an excellent summary of the many dimensions of Cicely’s life which earned her the respect of her contemporaries – and given the theme of our website The Dinner Puzzle, it is fun to report on this similar event for this remarkable network of women. Two dinners for the price of one.

This advertisement appeared in The Vote, with tickets being sold by Charlotte (Charlie) Marsh:

The Vote 13th November 1931

“A Dinner to Cicely Hamilton, Playwright, Novelist, Critic, Publicist, Actress, Political Thinker, with special reference to her work in’ connection with the “Old Vic. Book,” will be held at the Florence Restaurant, Rupert Street, W.’, on Sunday, November 22nd, .at 7.30 for 8 p.m. The Chairman will be Sir Nigel Playfair, and he will be supported by Lena Ashwell, Lilian Baylis, C. H., M.A., Oxon., Hon., Mme. Bohn, of the Institut Francais, the Rt. Hon. Margaret Bondfield, a representative of the German Embassy, Robert Lynd, the Viscountess Rhondda, Sir Henry Simpson, K.C.V.O., F.R.C.S.E. , and others. There will be music by members of the Old Vic. Opera Company, organised by Constance Willis. Tickets, 7s. each, from Miss C. Marsh, 132, Cheyne Walk, S.W.3.[24]

The Guardian 23rd November 1931

(From our London Staff.) Fleet Street, Sunday [perhaps Kate Isitt?]:

MISS CICELY HAMILTON Notable Tributes . Miss Margaret Bondfield, unable to attend the dinner given tonight by many friends to Miss Cicely Hamilton, sent a cordial message to ” one who is held in high esteem by a large class of workers for what she did to awaken public opinion to the abuses of the Living-in system in shop life.” This was the first of several references to the play, ”Diana of Dobson’s,” that brought fame to Miss Hamilton. Mr Edward Knoblock said proudly that it was one of twenty plays he had to read in a day, and that he had hurried off to tell Miss Lena Ashwell it would be her next play for the Kingsway Theatre, where it had a great success…………….etc etc[25]

The Vote , as might be expected, wrote a most comprehensive review

The Vote 27th November 1931

DINNER TO CICELY HAMILTON The dinner to Cicely Hamilton, ” Playwright, Novelist, Critic, Publicist, Actress, Political Thinker,” last Sunday evening, was a brilliant success. The guests were received by The Viscountess Rhondda, Miss Cicely Hamilton and Miss Lilian Baylis, C.H., and the Florence Restaurant was crowded to its utmost capacity with friends and admirers of the guest of honour—actors, actresses, artists, writers, journalists, suffragettes and co-workers in the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont.

Sir Nigel Playfair presided, Miss Lilian Baylis, Lessee and Proprietor of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, recorded her grateful appreciation of Cecily [sic] Hamilton’s work for the Old Vic; Lena Ashwell recalled the production of “Diana of Dobson’s” at the Kingsway, how folk during the rehearsals had declared that the play could not possibly succeed because there was a scene in which people undressed and actually got into bed, and, anyway, no one took any interest in shop-girls, and how this play had proved the falsity of both these statements, and had roused public opinion against the “living-in” system.

Mr. Von Halen, a representative of the German Embassy, paid a high tribute to Miss Hamilton’s book “Modern Germanies“. By it she had done more for international understanding than many famous politicians. Madame Bohn, of the Institut Francais, brought greetings from Frenchwomen and their appreciation of her work at the Abbaye de Royaumont; and Robert Lynd expressed astonishment at the generosity of human nature which could, without envy, admire all Miss Hamilton’s varied gifts.

Lady Rhondda spoke in high praise of Cicely Hamilton’s work as a journalist—she had the true kind of originality—and, later in the proceedings, presented her with a cameo brooch, subscribed for by a few personal friends.

On rising to reply, Cicely Hamilton was greeted with musical honours. In a delightful, whimsical speech, she said she seemed to be the only one who had not been invited to be present that evening but, that hearing something about it, she thought she had better drop in. Some of the pleasantest things in life seemed to be, well, just pure accident. She had no idea that she had ever been of any international importance; or that anything she had done at any time merited the very kind things that had been said that evening. But just for that evening—tomorrow she might feel differently—she would try to believe they were all true. It was extremely pleasant to be among so many friends. She thanked them all most warmly. Sometimes she had thought that the two possessions she would prize most towards the end of her life would be fine thoughts and good friends. She could not, perhaps, be sure of the fine thoughts, but she rejoiced that she had so many good friends. She again thanked them most cordially.”[26]

And finally, the Yorkshire Post didn’t ignore her personal background and gave its own angles on such affairs. It is quite likely that Violet Scott-James, who wrote the “London Letter” for the Yorkshire Post, contributed this one, and quite probably she was there too. It suggests the writer knew a little more about the baronetcies in the family.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 23rd November 1931

Miss Cicely Hamilton, in whose honour a public dinner was given tonight with Sir Nigel Playfair in the chair, and some 200 guests representing the various arts and professions to support him, is well known both as a writer and speaker in the North. She is a soldier’s daughter brought up in a military atmosphere, from which she broke away while still a young girl to try her hand at journalism. Politically she might be described as a democratic Conservative and hereditary Imperialist, with a tendency to support the Radical left wing whenever their attitude on some question of justice to women or the underdog seems to her to be right.

Both as novelist and playwright Miss Cicely Hamilton has taken war as her theme. Her war novel, “William, an Englishman,” won the Femina Vie Heureuse Prize for the best work of fiction of 1919. Since then Sir Barry Jackson has produced Adam’s Breed,” a play dealing with another aspect of the war spirit. In her latest novel, “Full Stop,” she has turned from war to domestic politics. She has seen many journalistic changes, but varying fortune has never tempted her to sell her pen to the highest bidder or “write down to order”.

A public dinner is a curious way of recognising merit, but as long as this compliment is paid, for want of a better, it is pleasant to raise one’s glass in honour of so worthy a chief guest”.[27]

puzzle-piece2-50Does someone has the guest list for Cicely’s celebratory dinner?

At lunchtime on the day of the (1933) dinner Cicely had been speaking to the subject of “In search of France” to the Wayfarer’s Travel Luncheon at the Criterion Restaurant (a favourite haunt of the women’s network), under the presiding eye of the French Ambassador.[28] The talk was undoubtedly related to her just published book Modern France as seen by an Englishwoman, the third in a series of nine such titles based on her own travels written between 1931 and 1939, the first being Germany, in 1930 and Italy in 1932. I have recently obtained a File Copy dated 9th March 1933 of the book on France and the chapter headings give a clear impression of the focus of Cicely’s attention: The Passing of the Peasant; The Birth Rate; The Subsidized Child; The Debatable Lands; La Jeunesse and its Outlook; The French Child’s War; La Jeune Fille; The Family; Things They Do differently; Sidelights on Depressions; Sport and Suffrage; The Western Front; The Army of Today; The Outskirts of Paris – interspersed with photos of the crêches in the Michelin City in Clermont Ferrand, women “newsgirl” racing cyclists, reflections on the poor women’s suffrage record (even worse than that of the hausfrau!). Cicely had a keen eye for detail and good head for data.

A final curious fact is that her grandfather’s baronetcy was one of two Baronetcies that have held the name Piers: the first, extant in 1720, occupied Stonepits House, Kent – the house later occupied by Lady Rhondda and Helen Archdale. There does not seem to have been any connection between the two Piers baronetcies but perhaps might have been a talking point at the time?

WHAT CICELY DID NEXT

In the years up until the war her series of books on European countries continued to flow, each year, with Russia (1934), Austria, Ireland, England, Scotland and in 1939, Sweden. Though Cicely had her celebratory dinner before Lady Rhondda, she had some catching up to do on the autobiographical and artwork side. In 1935 her life story, Life Errant appeared, and in 1937 her own portrait, by Alice Burton (who else) was exhibited at the Royal Academy. It has recently been on show in London. One critic commented “one finds a ruggedness unexpectedly in Miss Alice Burton’s Cicely Hamilton”. It is a powerful portrait.[29]

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Alice Mary Burton’s portrait of Cicely Hamilton by permission of Paul Butler, Tarrington, Herefordshire

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In 1938 Cicely was awarded a civil-list pension for services to literature. Her book Lament for Democracy was published in 1940 just when the war was going badly, pessimistic about the fragility of democracy when faced with the threat of totalitarianism. After the war, from 1945 to 1952 she worked as the editor of the press bulletin of the British League for European Freedom and her final book Holland Today was published in 1950.

Cicely died of heart failure on 6th December 1952 at her Chelsea home.[30]

BACK TO TOP TABLE


[1] Image from Wikipedia

[2] Cicely Hamilton, Life Errant, p65, cited in Harriet Blodgett, Cicely Hamilton, Independent Feminist, Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, Spirituality, Values and Ethics, Vol. 11, No 2/3 1990, University of Nebraska Press

[3] Cicely Hamilton Wikipedia

[4] Cicely Hamilton Persephone Books

[5] Cicely Hamilton Wikipedia 

[6] Catherine Clay, Time and Tide, Edinburgh University Press, 2018 p19

[7] Edward James, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers in the Great War, accessed 19th April 2019

[8] Maroula Joannou, Hamilton (née Hammill), (Mary) Cicely, (1872–1952), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23.9.2004

[9] Cicely Hamilton, Life Errant

[10] Piers Baronetcies

[11] Slideshow on Piers

[12] Piers of Nova Scotia 

[13] Piers and stonepit

[14] Piers stories esp scandal and legitimacy lawsuits

[15] Sourced from the webpage Cicely Hamilton Persephone Books 

[16] Cicely Hamilton, Life Errant

[17] Susannah Clapp, The Observer, 6.8.2017, Just to Get Married

[18] Photograph by F Kehrhahn & Co, Bexleyheath, Kent. TWL.2002.615 From the LSE Women’s Library Collection

[19] Irene Cockcroft and Susan Croft, Art, Theatre and Women’s’ Suffrage, Aurora Metro, 2010 (see www.aurorametro.com )

[20] The Scottish Women’s Hospital, Royaumont

[21] The Scottish Women’s Hospital: In The Cloister of the Abbaye at Royaumont. Dr. Frances Ivens inspecting a French patient. Painted in 1920 by Norah Neilson-Gray (1882 – 1931) from the Imperial War Museum Collection. Sourced from Wikipedia

[22] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian, p 73

[23] Photograph by Lenare, from Cicely Hamilton, Life Errant, J.M. Dent, 1935

[24] The Vote 13.11.1931

[25] The Guardian 23.11.1931

[26] The Vote 27.11.1931 p8

[27] Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 23.11.1931

[28] The Times, 23.3.1933, page 17.

[29] Belfast Telegraph 1.5.1937 page 11

[30] Maroula Joannou, Hamilton (née Hammill), (Mary) Cicely, (1872–1952), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23.9.2004

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