Mrs C.R. Niven

Mrs C.R. Niven with her husband meeting the new premier of Northern Nigeria, the Sardauna of Sokoto, as the Region gained independence in March 1959, 26 years after the dinner.[1]

Born Dorothy Marshall Mason, Mrs Cecil Rex Niven, 33, (1900-1977), who styled herself Mrs D.M. Niven when travelling, was the wife of Sir Cecil Rex Niven (20.11.1898 – 22.2.1993), an anthropologist specialising in West Africa and an-up and coming  colonial administrator in Nigeria. She clearly took a great deal of interest in Africa herself – though would not go to join her husband in Lagos until 1934. She attended the dinner no doubt as part of the delegation of four guests from the Gledstone/Mason family, who may well have been financial backers of the dinner and portrait as well as the youngest, Margaret Gledstone, Dorothy’s cousin, selling the tickets.

Seated Beside …

It is probable, I suppose, that some of the Mason/Gledstone family sat together, but more interesting if they were spread around the table of eight. She may also have enjoyed the company of the American born Lady Butterfield – who would have been tell stories about the home country of Dorothy’s mother, Mary Crouse of Akron, Ohio.

What’s On Her Mind?

There were several mothers at the table and the topic of conversation may have touched on how she was coping with the fact that she was living in London with her daughter whilst her husband was out in Nigeria. Perhaps it was already being discussed that she might be able to move there in 1934 (as she did) and whether or not she relished the prospect of the colonial life.[2]

Dorothy’s Story So Far

Dorothy Marshall was born three days into the 20th century, on 3rd January 1900, the daughter of Mary Robison Crouse, daughter of a former member of the US House of Representatives, and the Liberal MP, suffrage supporter, banker and businessman David Marshall Mason.[3] [4] Dorothy was the niece of her table companions Mrs William Liddle Gledstone and John Marshall Mason, and first cousin of Miss Margaret Gledstone, also at this table. She married Rex in Chelsea on 9th June 1925.

The Times records that on 24th May 1928, at the Third Court of the Season, at Buckingham Palace, among the General Company were Mrs D. M. Mason, Miss Christian Mason (her daughter, then 21), Mrs C. R. Niven, then 28, and to add spice for us, one Viscountess Rhondda. On that occasion the Masons were attired by Thorpe, of 17 and 18A, Cromwell Place, Mrs C. R. Niven in “a gown of gold crepe satin, the corsage outlined by a bird of paradise in shades of green sequins. A train of gold lace, lined with chiffon”. The Viscountess was attired by Russell and Allen of Old Bond Street in “a gown of finest black silk net with a full skirt and draped corsage. A train of the same net, held on each shoulder by a jet and diamanté ornament. A black chiffon fan”.[5] It is probable that this is the Dowager Viscountess, Lady Rhondda’s mother, given her all-black attire.

Dorothy’s great nephew Christopher Spicer tells us that “She was then living in 1933 in England with her young daughter Verity. She did not join her husband Rex in Lagos, Nigeria until 1934 when conditions for European wives became possible. Being the daughter of a Liberal MP (in the Coalition Parliament ) and the wife of liberally minded Colonial Administrator,  she would have undoubtedly had views sympathetic to those of Lady Rhondda. Lloyd George attended their wedding in 1925.”[6]

What Dorothy Did Next

On 7th July 1934, a year after the dinner, she attended (perhaps on behalf of her husband?) the reception given by The African Society, at the Imperial Institute, for the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emirs of Kano and Gwandu. This was also the year she went out to Nigeria. The photograph above shows her with Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sarduana (Crown Prince) of Sokoto, 25 years later when Northern Nigeria achieved independence.

Little remains of the magnificent splendour of the Imperial Institute, once part of the South Kensington museum quarter incorporating the Albert Hall, The Natural History Museum and the V&A, save for one small building, some obelisks and the tall Queen’s Tower.

Three years later on 5th May 1937 Dorothy attended a reception, given by her mother Mrs David Marshall Mason, at the Mason home at 34 Queen’s Gate Gardens, attended by most of the family: her uncle John M. Mason (on our table, brother of the hostess Mrs D. M. Mason); the Misses Mason (most probably her younger sisters Christian Helen and Katherine Eadie); Mr. Stephen P. Mason, her brother; Mr. and Mrs George Mason (her brother and his wife); Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Gledstone (her aunt – on this table – and her husband); and Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Spicer (her sister Martha and husband – and the parents of our contributor Christopher Spicer).

Dorothy travelled to the USA when her husband was British Consul in New York, and to Japan. She always styled herself Mrs D.M. Niven on the travel records.

In January 1955 the eldest daughter Rosemary was married in Rhodesia, pictured in the Tatler.[7] On her husband’s retirement in 1962 they moved back to the UK, to the Kent coast. He did go back to Nigeria in 1968 advising General Gowon. Sadly a few years before Dorothy died, their younger daughter died in a sailing accident off Ramsgate. Lady Dorothy Marshall Niven died at The Old Cottage, Hope Road, Deal, on 8th October 1977, at the age of 77.[8] She predeceased Rex, who remarried in 1980.


[1] In an earlier draft I was assuming she was visiting from Nigeria: thank you to Christopher Spicer, her great nephew, for that correction – see his contribution in the body of the text.

[2] Illustrated London News, 28.3.1950 p19 ©Illustrated London News Group/Mary Evans

[3] David Marshall Mason, Wikipedia

[4] Christabel Pankhurst, The Story of How we Won the Vote, Hutchinson, online version accessed 12.2.2019

[5] For fashionistas we can also record that Mrs D. M. Mason was attired in a gown of oyster crêpe beauté, embroidered with diamanté. A train of oxidized lace, bordered with the crêpe, lined with lily-of-the-valley green chiffon, and finished with a large cluster of pink and green flowers on the shoulder. A bouquet of pink carnations and lilies of the valley. Her daughter Christian was attired in a picture gown of rose pink mousseline de soie, entirely embroidered with diamanté. A train of rose satin celeste, bordered with chiffon, and embroidered to match the gown, with a trail of shaded roses falling from the shoulder. The Times 24.5.1928, p10

[6] With many many thanks to Christopher Spicer, nephew of Dorothy, for this contribution to The Dinner Puzzle, – also on his great  uncle “Jack”, John M. Mason. And also thank you to Charles Spicer, Christopher’s nephew, for his insights and advice.

[7] Tatler, 19.1.1955 p47

[8] Source Ancestry Wills and Probate

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