Miss Edith Shackleton

edith-shackleton.pngEdith Shackleton Heald, 47, (1885-1976) was a highly regarded feminist journalist and writer, at the time of the dinner, and the younger sister of Nora Heald. She wrote for the London Evening Standard, The Daily Express, The Sunday Express and The Sketch. The ripples that her later relationships with with Yeats and Gluck would cause were still for the future.  


The plan we have drafted for this table involves the Heald sisters not being seated together but beyond that they could be good companions for all the party. After that it is a question of how to best entertain the two visitors to London, the two Sarahs, Sheridan and Millin.


Somehow Edith seems to be the least serious of everyone on the table. She writes for gossipy tabloids, coins witty epigrams, if that is the right word, and though she like Vera Brittain lost a brother in the war we are not aware that she dwelt on her loss for the rest of her life in the same way. Might be thinking what she might be able to write about the evening – if anything.


Edith Shackleton Heald was born at Ballyclare, co. Antrim, Ireland on 12th September 1885, the youngest of the four children of Mary Shackleton (born Stacksteads, Lancs in 1857, died in Steyning, Sussex in 1934) and John Thomas Heald, a schoolmaster, born 1851 in Blackburn. The eldest child, Harry was a mechanical draftsman in 1901, age 21; the younger of the two brothers, Ivan Shackleton, a clerk in the iron works, 17 – and by 1891 in London working as a Fleet Street sub-editor; and her elder sister Nora, then 19.

Her father John Heald had abandoned the children in their youth (he seems to have been teaching in various places). Brother Ivan was regarded as “Fleet Street’s most acclaimed humorous writer” but all that was cut short when he joined the Royal Flying Corps and died on 4th December 1916 in Northern France, buried in the Cabaret Rouge Cemetery, Souchez, north of Arras. [1] Edith’s eldest brother, Harry, became a leading textile engineer, and moved to Coventry, where he died on 6th September 1956. Harry’s son, Ivan, born a year after his uncle Ivan in France died, became a doctor and died in 1997 aged 80.

In 1911 Edith was a sub-editor on the Daily Sketch, living in lodgings. It was her brother Ivan who suggested she got into journalism. She wrote for the London Evening Standard, The Daily Express, The Sunday Express and The Sketch.

As Edith was a writer we might leave her to speak for herself. At the Six Point Group’s White Press Luncheon at the Criterion Restaurant (Piccadilly Circus) in January 1929, celebrating the press who had been supportive of the fight for political suffrage, she is reported as follows:

“Miss Edith Shackleton, speaking in a lighter vein of her early days of the struggle, said that ‘she was tempted at one time to become an anti-feminist journalist because it would have paid so well then and because it was being so badly done. The change that had come about could be seen in this – that there was no demand now for an anti-feminist journalist. She was less scornful of a “woman’s page” than other speakers, for she thought that women were better dressed, better fed, and better looking than they were in the days before the woman’s page appeared. There was a reference in Miss Shackleton’s speech to modest snakes in the grass in papers that were not “White” papers, which suggested to some present the difficulties of a “White” celebration such as this, for the workaday journalist is not always on the opinion side of a newspaper, and if the journalist on the chief papers had been “paired” on the suffrage question some surprising results might have appeared”. [2]

Yeats called her “the best paid woman journalist of her time”, and Arnold Bennett called her the “most brilliant reviewer” in London.[3] I rather like the comment made by Rebecca West in 1928, during an exchange reported in the Common Cause paper.

The Evening Standard…… often publishes anti-feminist fatuities, but it often as not publishes feminist sense. Otherwise it would hardly have published so much of the work of the incomparable Edith Shackleton”. [4]

Shackleton and Lang.png

For a current photograph of Edith we can reproduce one taken at the luncheon of the Critics Circle in February 1932 and published in The Sketch, one of her papers. Matheson Lang was a Canadian film and stage actor, and playwright, best known in the UK for his Shakespearean roles.[5] [6]

Edith’s bon mots and sayings were frequently published and a series of light reading one pagers in The Sketch of 1932 had intriguing titles: The Frightened Young Man, 30th March; The Lady New-Poverty, 6th April, Ideal Homery and the Tudor Complex, 13th April; and Making the World Safe for Grandmother, 20th April.[7]

And a year earlier “The chemist who found out how to make cheap artificial silk in stockings is largely responsible for the short skirts”.[8]

Edith features in the cartoon of Theatreland, bottom right hand side – though it is hard to know who might be who.[9] Edith regularly reviewed theatres, then books, for T&T throughout the 1930s.[10]  




Gluck and Edith[12]
In April 1933 Edith and fellow guest St John Ervine were amongst the several people elected as councillors of the Critics Circle.[11]

Whilst for some the conversation at the dinner table might have been about impending conflict, others about the latest book, others their political or social cause, the state of the economy, or literally the health of the nation’s people, Edith may well have engaged her friends with her reflections on how people lived in these days of technological change, in a world where upstairs/downstairs had broken down but somehow things don’t improve in the way there were supposed to.  Just before the year was out, on 29th December 1933 The Spectator ran piece by her entitled The Unsimple Life.  Here is a flavour of her light/serious piece, typical of her writings, reflecting on the prewar days of youth when people talked about the Simple Life and might have known “Walden” almost by heart.

Despite the “progress [that] has been made in the application of science to our domestic  affairs ….. most of us live in an irritating mess.”  Edith laments that people were finding it hard to shake old customs and that “servant problems remain to devastate conversation. …….Any woman who turns to domestic life with eyes cleared by experience in business or a profession must find herself disconcerted by the mountains of domestic labour, or of labour-saving expense, which go to produce our miserable mice of household comfort and beauty.”

After a whirlwind of allusions to past dreams of progress – Nausicaa and Homer, Voltaire’s Candide, Mistral’s Provencal farmhouse, R.L Stevenson’s ultimate island, or to Rousseau’s house in Chambery, Edith reaches her final observations:

“…women who could afford to keep house in the best possible way, instead of trying the new things like water softeners and rubber floors and magic cookers …. instead of celebrating the reduction of labour by becoming more decorative and hospitable ……. assume that there is no glory in housekeeping and want to run dress shops. ”.[13]

Edith had her own approaches to lifestyle too.  She was the last mistress of W.B. Yeats, from 1937 until his death in 1939 and then in 1944 Edith’s lover Hannah Gluckstein, aka Gluck, moved in to the house that Edith shared with her sister Nora.  Nora moved out for a while because of the scandal. [14]

Edith died on 4th November 1976.[15]


Dinner Puzzle reader Liz Goldthorpe has written to note that Edith and Nora were great friends of Frances ‘Fay’ Kyle and her sister Kathleen McCloy of Belfast. Fay was the 1st woman called to the Bar in Ireland (1921). Liz is currently writing the biography of Fay’s colleague, Averil Katherine Statter Deverell, the 2nd woman called in 1921 and the first woman to practise in the Irish Free State from 1922. Averil also had connections to the Actresses Franchise League founded by Table 18’s Winfred Mayo, and Sime Seruya, in 1908 at the Criterion Restaurant in Piccadilly – other Dinner Puzzle members included Cicely Hamilton, Table A, author of the play ‘How The Vote Was Won’ which Averil staged in 1911 in Ireland- and links to the International Federation of University Women and their affiliates. Liz will be on the lookout for further insights on Edith and Nora, indeed on others at the Dinner. Thank you Liz!


[1] Joseph M. Hassett, W.B. Yeats and the Muses, OUP Oxford, 2010

[2] The Guardian 25.1.1929 p10

[3] Wikipedia sourcing from Joseph M. Hassett, W.B. Yeats and the Muses, OUP Oxford, 2010

[4] The Common Cause, 1.6.1928

[5] The Sketch, 17.2.1932 p11 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans

[6] Matheson Lang, Wikipedia

[7] The Sketch, 30.3.1932; 6.4.1932; 13.4.1932, 20.4.1932

[8] Western Gazette, 24.6.1927 p12

[9] First Night Sensation in Theatreland, The Bystander, 2.12.1932 pp40-41, © Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans. Image ©The British Library Board.  All Rights Reserved.

[10] Thank you to Cathy Clay for that little nugget.

[11] The Stage, 6.4.1933 p9

[12] My daily arty display, WordPress, on Gluck, accessed 15.10.2018

[13] The Spectator, 29.12.1933 p958 15.10.2018

[14] Abstract re Gould W. (1987) “What is the explanation of it all?”: Yeats’s “little poem about nothing”. In: Gould W. (eds) Yeats Annual No. 5. Yeats Annual. Palgrave Macmillan, London   accessed 20.4.2019

[15] Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Shackleton_Heald

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