Mrs De Coundouroff

Edith de Coundouroff on the beach at Wimereux in 1935 Winifred Holtby Collection in Hull History Centre
Edith de Coundouroff on the beach at Wimereux in 1935 © Winifred Holtby Collection in Hull History Centre

Edith de Coundouroff, 44, (1888-1956) was “the widow of the Holtbys’ unofficially adopted Georgian son George lost in fighting between Red and White Russians”.[1] In 1933 Edith was living with Alice Holtby at “Bainesse”, Cottingham, Yorks – now called “Holtby”, in private hands after being for a time owned by Hull University.[2] [3] [4] [5] At the time of the dinner her priority was probably to keep up the spirits of her very recently widowed mother-in-law Alice, having herself done much of the caring for Alice’s husband. Edith had one daughter, Margaret, born after Margaret’s father George’s death.

It would be good to find out more about her life aside for the births, marriages and deaths. Vera Brittain, the biographer of Winifred Holtby, wrote “Efficient, reliable, intelligent, but comfortable unafflicted by the restless urge of ambition, Edith neither pretended nor desired to be “highbrow”. But her tolerant acquaintance with many tempestuous intellectuals was to give her an affectionate sympathy – enhanced rather than diminished by freedom from competition – with their problems and preoccupations. To a recorder of Winifred’s life the value of her accurate memories and honest impressions is beyond all gratitude”.[6] She sounds like a safe, loyal family friend.

SEATED BESIDE…

There are two possible seatings on this table of four. Either the two friends of Winifred’s are seated together, or the party is mixed up so that Edith would have been seated between two of Winifred’s friends. Perhaps it is likely she will have been seated next to Alice, to keep her spirits up. Perhaps one day we will know who the mystery guests were if some diary emerges of the time.

WHAT’S ON HER MIND?

Probably trying to raise the spirits of the widowed Alice.

EDITH’S STORY SO FAR

SS-Burutu

The S.S. Burutu[10]

Edith Fyfe Millar was born on 15th November 1888 in the Canary Islands, the daughter of Mary Anne Lewis Royan, born 20.4.1863 in Birkenhead, died November 1950 in Chester, and Robert Fyfe Millar, a shipping clerk, born 26.3.1859 in Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland, died 13th April 1933 in Malaga, Spain. Both parents, married in Liverpool on 15th August 1880, were children of drapers.

Savoy-Hydro
Savoy Hydro, Blackpool[10]
In June 1911 Miss Edith Fyfe Millar appeared on the ship’s register of the Elder Dempster Line’s Burutu sailing from Las Palmas with Mrs G Fyfe-Millar, Mr R Fyfe-Millar and Miss Jessie Fyfe-Millar. In 1918 the same ship was sunk after a collision in the Irish Sea, with 148 lives lost – and that after having successfully avoided a submarine attack earlier in that year.[7] [8] [9] In 1926 her parents were sailing to the Canary Islands after spending time at the Savoy Hydro, Blackpool.

Edith spent her schooldays at a Belgian convent,[11] and in 1912 she was working as the “pretty curly haired” secretary of the Principal of Cirencester Agricultural College, where she fell in love with the Georgian/Russian George de Coundouroff, the son of George and Athena de Coundouroff, of Tiflis, Georgia, born in 1894. He had been sent to the UK to study agriculture, had become a private in the Royal Fusiliers and the unofficially adopted son of Alice Holtby.

George and Edith were married at St Augustine’s Birmingham on 18th December 1915 [12] and lived temporarily in Oxford, where Winifred Holtby came to stay when taking the Somerville entrance examination. Edith, expecting their child, went to stay with the Holtbys in Yorkshire when George went to France, and remained there for another twenty years.[13] George was lost in fighting between Red and White Russians, officially on 25th July 1919, at the age of 27.[14] [15]  But it was quite a while before Edith knew what had happened. That July, perhaps even before his loss was feared, “Edith de Coundouroff, not caring whether the customary habits of babies might ruin her pretty summer frock, sat miserably on the lawn with one Bridlington infant after another on her lap”.[16]

George-de-Coundouroff.png George de Coundouroff, husband of Edith[17]

So in March 1933 Edith was still living with Alice Holtby and at the time of the dinner no doubt having to provide comfort to her adopted mother-in-law who had just lost her husband David. For many years Edith had regarded the caring of David Holtby as her special task, so perhaps his death was as important to her life as to Alice’s.

WHAT EDITH DID NEXT

The next few years saw three important funerals. Edith’s own father Robert died a month after the dinner, in Malaga, on 26th April 1933 and was buried in the Cementerio Inglés de Málaga. In 1935 Winifred Holtby died, leaving her wireless set and furniture to Edith. And then in 1939 she and Vera Brittain attended the funeral of Alice.

On a happier note, Edith’s daughter Margaret Athena, educated at the French convent in Hull, was married on 7th April 1945 to one Sydney Ballard of Harrow with whom she had five daughters. During the war Margaret had served as a warden, nurse and then with the Metropolitan Police, and Edith also served as a warden.

The de Coundouroffs seem to have had a penchant for striding the boards: the success of Winifred Holtby’s “South Riding“, awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize by the Professor of Literature of the University Edinburgh, led to it being filmed in 1937 at Denham. Robert Donat took the role of “Carne” and Mrs de Coundouroff’s daughter Margaret played the head girl in the school scenes.[18]

In December 1945 Edith played Janet Fraser in a performance by the Beaufort Players (the dramatic section of the Fulham Men’s Institute) at Toynbee Hall of Part One of Table A’s St. John Ervine’s play, The First Mrs Fraser.[19] Edith was living at 13 Arnold Mansions, Queen’s Club Gardens, Fulham from at least since 1939 until her death in aged 65 on 3rd November 1956.[20]

Daughter Margaret died on 24th April 1914 at the hospital in Kingston-upon-Thames.[21]

BACK TO TABLE 6


[1] As cited in Shirley Williams’ autobiography, Climbing The Bookshelves, Hachette UK, 3.12.2009

[2] Paul Berry, Mark Bostridge, Vera Brittain, A Life, Hachette UK, 2016

[3] Lisa Regan, Winifred Holtby, “A Woman In Her Time”: Critical Essays, Lisa Regan, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 14.12.2009

[4] As cited in Shirley Williams’ autobiography, Climbing The Bookshelves, Hachette UK, 3.12.2009

[5] Commonwealth War Grave Commission

[6] Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship, The Story of Winifred Holtby, Macmillan, 1940, Virago edition 2012 pages 66 and 67

[7] S S Burutu https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?13768 accessed 27.2.2019

[8] S S Burutu http://ssburutu.blogspot.com/2013/07/an-account-of-sinking-from-elder.html

[9] Image of S S Burutu https://re-entanglements.net/tag/s-s-burutu/

[10] S.S Burutu and Savoy Hydro postcards

[11] Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship, The Story of Winifred Holtby, Macmillan, 1940, Virago edition 2012, p113

[12] Source: British Army Pension Records, via Ancestry.com

[13] Vera Brittain,  Testament of Friendship, The Story of Winifred Holtby, Macmillan, p11

[14] Shirley Williams, Climbing The Bookshelves, Hachette UK, 3.12.2009

[15] Paul Berry, Mark Bostridge, Vera Brittain, A Life, Hachette UK, 2016

[16] Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship, The Story of Winifred Holtby, Macmillan, 1940, Virago edition 2012 p67

[17] George de Coundouroff, posted by George A. Condover on Find A Grave, November 2018

[18] Hull Daily Mail, 27.5.1937

[19] Fulham Chronicle 7.12.1945

[20] Last resting place of George de Coundouroff, https://www.twgpp.org/photograph/view/860119 accessed online on 13.3.2018

[21] http://announcements.telegraph.co.uk/deaths/176618/ballard

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