Mrs Gertrude Roberts

no-picture-square3Mrs Gertrude Roberts, 54 (1878-1953), has been hard to pin down but I am now close to certain that she was Mrs Eliza Gertrude Roberts née Denby, the widow of the late Bertram Foster Roberts, a Yorkshire wool spinner and manufacturer, and daughter of Sir Ellis Denby, a wool merchant.  At the time of the dinner, living at 1, Sussex Place, Regent’s Park.  Her husband Bertram had died at the age of 36 in 1912, when she was 33, leaving her to bring up their four children, then aged between 2 and 8 years old.  She was not poor however – Bertram was running the notable Saltaire wool mills of Bradford, and moved to London after selling the family property of Knoll, in Shipley.  She seems to have kept a low profile, on her death in 1953 bequeathing Frank Brangwyn’s Fisherwomen painting to the Bradford Art Gallery, at a time when the family was also bequeathing land to the city, now known as Roberts Park.

puzzle-piece2-50Though all other possible candidates for the dinner have fallen by the wayside, she is nonetheless a very credible candidate to have been at the dinner – but I am still looking for that “clinching evidence” to make a positive link.  Perhaps she had been supportive of suffrage, given the company she was keeping that evening at the Rembrandt, perhaps she knew the Marshalls socially.  Perhaps Arthur Marshall had provided legal services at some point.  However, having been a Mystery Guest for more than a year of whom we knew very little, we now do have someone with whom we can identify.  The original limited sighting we had, of her residence at Aubrey Lodge, Notting Hill (see below) in 1920-21, would fit in well with her seeking a home in London when first moving from Yorkshire in 1919.[1]  So we shall retain the puzzle sign for now and welcome any ideas and information on what interests she pursued later in London.  Watch this space.  And a picture would be good to have!

SEATED BESIDE…

Most probably beside whoever invited her, which would be either Miss Auld (who also had an unnamed guest and thus the front runner for being the table organiser) or with the Marshalls.  And then perhaps with the modest poet Joy Scovell, albeit a somewhat modest unknown quantity.  This would have been an interesting table to join, with a very varying range of experiences.

WHAT’S ON HER MIND?

For a widow in London with all children grown up, Gertrude probably enjoyed all opportunities to network.  And there are a few from Yorkshire at the dinner.  I hope we can discover more.

GERTRUDE’S STORY SO FAR

Eliza Gertrude Denby was born in Manningham, Bradford, Yorkshire, in July/August 1878, to Clara Sophia Slater, daughter of wool manufacturer Jeremiah Slater, of Calverley, Yorkshire, and of her husband Sir Ellis Denby, wool merchant, JP for Shipley and President of the Shipley Liberal Association (but not the MP, as erroneously stated by the Shipley Times at the time of his death).[2]

Sir Ellis and Lady Denby, Gertrude's parents [3]
Sir Ellis and Lady Denby, Gertrude’s parents [3]
Their only child, in 1903, at 24 Gertrude married Bertram Foster Roberts, son of Sir James Roberts from Haworth, who was managing the notable Saltaire Mill, built by Sir Titus Salt, now an UNESCO site given its particular attention to good housing and facilities for the workforce.  At their wedding, huge affair given the importance of the groom’s family and the local position of her father, she was described as “a lady of refinement, beauty and culture.”[4]

Gertrude and Bertram had four children, two sons and two daughters, but in 1912 Bertram died at 36, of neuritis, leaving her with their four children, aged between 2 and 8.  It was also the sudden end of a life of affluence, with a public role, opening the bazaars and seeking to improve living conditions for the local population – on one occasion giving land for a playing field for the children, as increasing traffic made the roads unsafe for them.  Her sons, James and William, were both educated at Rugby and Oxford, but it is not clear what education the daughters were given – the same of course applies to Gertrude herself, though she is listed as “scholar” in the 1891 census.  Most probably her daughters were educated at home.  In 1919 Gertrude sold the family home and was keen to move on.  In a document written at the time, her father in law, Sir James Roberts, commented: “Mrs Roberts has, I believe, sold the Knoll, but in great sacrifice in what it had cost, and she is naturally anxious to leave the district.” [5]

We do have a picture of Gertrude’s children with their grandfather, Sir James Roberts, beside some new machinery of the Saltaire Mill (below).

Mary Roberts starting a new mill engine, with William, James, her grandfather Sir James Roberts, and her sister Betty.[6]
By the time the war ended in 1918 the children were growing up, James, now 14, at Rugby School, Mary 12, Catherine Elizabeth (Betty), 11, and William 8, perhaps on the verge of starting at Rugby.

In 1920-21 Gertrude was, I believe, the “Mrs Gertrude Roberts” living at Aubrey Lodge, in Notting Hill.  This information was the first toehold we had for a possible Mrs. Gertrude Roberts and seems very likely to be her.  The Lodge and Aubrey House were owned by the “Misses Alexander”, three sisters who had inherited the property and used it in support of humanitarian causes.  During WW1 the House had been used as a war hospital.  It was a house with a strong suffrage history, and with Mrs. Gertrude Roberts on a strongly suffrage table the link was promising.  In 1930 Aubrey Lodge was being advertised with rooms to rent.

Whether it is the same person or not, by 1924 Gertrude was living at 84 Addison Road, a few streets down from Aubrey Lodge, off Holland Park Avenue.  By the end of 1927 she was living at 1 Sussex Place, Regent’s Park, one of the large white stuccoed terraces that surround the Park.  It was from here that her daughter Mary was married on 6th December 1927.  Today it houses the London Business School, and in WW2 it was requisitioned as a hospital.  Gertrude’s second daughter Catherine Elizabeth (Betty) was married from that same address on 28th March 1928 – she went on to have two children.  Earlier, in July 1927 James had married to an Oxford double Blue winning woman who he had met whilst they were both at the University.  By the time of the dinner all of Gertrude’s children, save William, were married – in 1935 he would marry a young lady from New Zealand, Helen Percy Fyans Fenwick, who had featured in the NZ press when she, her sister and others were presented at Court.  Gertrude remained at 1 Sussex Place until 1935 and then moved to 26 Abbey Lodge, Regent’s Park.

The exodus from Yorkshire had not just been Gertrude and her children, as she was joined in London by her parents, Clara, Sir Ellis and his unmarried brother William (just a year younger) who had retired from their local responsibilities.  Her parents and uncle lived together in Holland Park at 6 Royal Crescent, another elegant white stuccoed block, close to the Shepherd’s Bush roundabout – not far from Addison Road and from Aubrey Lodge, so it would seem that area was a bit of a focal point for them.  After Gertrude’s mother Clara died in London in 1930, the year in which Clara was invested with the O.B.E. for her work with the Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, her father and uncle continued to live in Holland Park.

By the time of the dinner, Gertrude’s daughter Mary was divorced, as her husband remarried in 1932.  The husband in question, Charles Vivian Jackson, educated at Rugby and Oxford (perhaps introduced to her by one of her brothers?), was a fast living man, a physicist and member of the Royal Astronomical Society, an amateur jockey, up before the beak whilst at Oxford after a car accident that killed a young woman, and son of a rich Welshman.  He had a twin who pursued an almost identical professional and private life, though the latter married six times (including to one of the Mitfords) to Charles’ two.  In November 1936 Charles’ second wife sued for divorce, citing one of the Ziegfield Follies girls, later “celebrated” in a recent biography “The Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce.” On 30th December 1936 Charles was killed in a sleigh accident in St Moritz, his gold-digging Follies girl escaping with minor injuries.[7]

So by the time Gertrude was seated at Table 22 with the Marshalls, with Miss Dorothy Auld and her unnamed guest, and with Joy Scovell, the modest poet of Time and Tide, she had covered a lot of ground.  While we lack clinching evidence, Gertrude is still at the table by default, so to speak, but nonetheless is a credible candidate, daughter of a Liberal, living handily in London and quite possibly an acquaintance of a number of the diners.  I do wonder if she remembered, if she noticed at all, that when she signed her daughter’s marriage register, the residence given by the fast living Mr Charles Vivian Jackson, was The Rembrandt Hotel.

WHAT GERTRUDE DID NEXT

A month or so after the dinner, Gertrude’s daughter Margaret remarried. The marriage ended in divorce in 1943, and she remarried in 1944.

LBS_campus
Sussex Place, overlooking Regent’s Park [8]
In 1936 Gertrude moved to 26 Abbey Lodge, Regent’s Park, three years before 1 Sussex Place (pictured above) was requisitioned as a WW2 hospital.  Her father and uncle both died in 1939. Interestingly, on a visit back to Shipley that year, the brothers were staying at the alms houses.  Her father Sir Ellis Denby died back in London, at 165 Dorset House, Gloucester Place, the other side of the Marylebone Road from Regent’s Park.

Later in life, Gertrude’s final abode in London was 72 Palace Gardens Terrace, running behind Kensington Place and Gardens.  She did return, and was warmly welcomed, as “Mrs Bertram Roberts”, to Shipley in 1948 to open the new public park at Baildon, on the land where her former house, the Knoll, used to stand, and accepted the position of Chairman of the Baildon Trust.[9]

Gertrude died on 8th April 1953 at her Palace Gardens Terrace home, probate assigned to her two sons.  In her will she left some artworks to the new Bradford Art Gallery, Frank Brangwyn’s Fisherwomen being the second of his works that grew into a large collection at the Gallery.

BACK TO TABLE 22


[1] Various references to the Lodge in The Times including: 3.7.1919 and 2.11.1933 and the 1920 and 1921 PO Directory records Mrs Gertrude Roberts living at Aubrey Lodge.

[2] Shipley Times and Express, 3.1.1940 p6.

[3] From the Anniversary edition of the Shipley Times and Express for June 1918  http://www.shipleyww1.org.uk/1918-6-7.htm

[4] Bradford Weekly Telegraph – Saturday 25.4.1903 p3.

[5] From a document reproduced in the Anniversary edition of the Shipley Times and Express for June 1918  http://www.shipleyww1.org.uk/1918-6-7.htm

[6] Shipley Times and Express, 8.10.1915 p3.

[7] The Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life and Times of Peggy Hopkins Joyce.” 1 April 2001, by Constance Rosenblum.

[8] Photograph by Sylla24 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47453183

[9] Shipley Times and Express, 21.7.1948 p1.

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