Mrs J. Bell Finlay

Margaret Helena with one of her children c1910, almost certainly her eldest son John Euston Bell Finlay[1]
Mrs J.B. Finlay (Margaret Helena née Davies), 55, (1877-1961) was the wife of Welsh businessman James Pettigrew Bell Finlay and mother of five children, her nineteen year old youngest daughter Margaret accompanying her at the dinner. We know little of her personal life aside from family relationships, though this has yielded good photographs.[2] [3] [4] [5]



Whilst we have uncertainties about three of the guests I suspect Margaret would have been comfortable seated beside any of her fellow guests. One choice of course was whether to sit with her daughter Margaret or not, but perhaps they sat separately to allow both of them to converse with others – and for her 20 year old daughter to learn more.


Not a lot to go on. It is quite possible that she is there to accompany her daughter and to introduce her to those guests she knew.


Margaret Helena Davies was born in Blackwood, Mon, South Wales on 24th November 1877 (precise date from 1939 census), the daughter of Hannah Morris (1846 – 1931?), of Llangunllo, Cardiganshire, and John Euston Davies (1851 – 1919), South Wales draper and J.P., born in Newquay, Cardiganshire. On 30th July 1903 Margaret married James Bell Pettigrew Finlay, born in Monkland, Lanark, Scotland on 16th April 1870, and seventeen years her senior. James was an engineer, of Portskewett House, Portskewett, nr. Chepstow, and co-founder of Finlay Engineering, South Wales. The Finlay home, Portskewett House, was midway between Llanwern (the Rhondda home) and Chepstow (the Lysaght home). Margaret was known as Madge in the family.

According to the obituary of her husband James, the Finlay family were well known in the West Scotland for having been the founding members of the East India Company – though other reports suggest the family were in reality successful competitors of the British East India company.[6] Either way, a successful trading pedigree. James was also a member of the “well known” Finlay, Jenkins drapers of Cardiff. He and his eldest daughter Frieda were in the papers in 1919 when he sued, unsuccessfully, the governors of her boarding school for the poor diet given to the children.[7] I doubt if Margaret went on to attend that school!

Frieda (eldest daughter), Hannah Morris (mother), Jack (eldest son), Margaret Helena Finlay, Margaret Morris Bell Finlay, (youngest daughter), James Finlay, (husband)[8]

Margaret and James had five children, of which Margaret Morris Bell Finlay was the third. Their second son Graeme Bell Finlay (1917 – 1987) became a Conservative MP.   There is a memorial to Robert Pettigrew Finlay, Margaret Helena’s brother-in-law, also an engineer, at St Mary’s Church at Llanwern, where there are also memorials to Lord Rhondda, Sybil and Margaret.[8]

It would be good to know more about Margaret’s own life, but the views below at least give some insight into her choice of husband. In 1914 a letter to the press criticised his support of women’s suffrage:

WOMAN SUFFRAGE Sir—Mr. J. B. Finlay seems to argue that an adult person, as such, has a right to the franchise, without regard to the danger to the community threatened by unrestricted privileges. Now, an adult person has natural rights. I not seek to belittle them, but among them is certainly not the right to the Parliamentary franchise. To be logical, your correspondent must admit the “natural right” of hundreds of millions of Indians, men and women, to the possession the franchise; but I doubt if the most extreme of democrats is prepared to adulterate the franchise in that fashion. The franchise is conferred on a section of the community for the benefit of the whole, and no matter what happen in other countries, woman suffrage in Britain, on the same terms as the vote is or may be granted to me, would lower the standard of the franchise and introduce element of instability to the State. If Mr. Finlay desires me to amplify these arguments, I will gladly do so. When he says “militancy and non-militancy are merely the methods of obtaining the rights of the people” he surely is too complacent about the violent outrages on decency and too ready to believe, in his innocence, that militancy is merely an arguable method of securing alleged rights. I would advise him to leave his armchair and consider feminine hysterics in another light. Militancy is not a “method,” it is calculated crime. A cause that is promoted by crime, aggravated as it is by the justification of purblind advocates, is a cause that is discredited in advance. Mr. Finlay rejoices to think that all the better intellectual forces are being enlisted in support of woman suffrage. It all depends on what he regards as the “better intellectual forces” but, in any case, his rejoicing and general gladness are premature because the rare intellects of the W.S.P.U. have only succeeded in bringing their movement into the gutter.-I am. &c., PERCY COHEN. 25. Princelet Street, Bishopsgate, London, July 17.[9]


Margaret (Helena)’s daughter Margaret (Morris), at the table, was engaged in 1935 and married in 1936. Sadly for Margaret Helena her husband died in 1936, at 84, but in December, so he was alive for his daughter’s wedding. Margaret Helena lived into her early 80s and died on Boxing Day, 26th December 1961, at Douro Court, Douro Road, Cheltenham, where she was living with her youngest son, Robert John Bell Finlay. Her probate was awarded to John (Jack) Euston Bell Finlay, her eldest son, and Frieda Bell Wilson, her eldest, married daughter.



[1] Source

[2] Margaret Helena Davies, The Peerage accessed 10.4.2019

[3] James Bell Pettigrew Finlay, Graces Guide, accessed 10.4.2019

[4] Graeme Finlay, Wikipedia, accessed 10.4.2019

[5] James Bell Pettigrew Finlay, The Peerage accessed 10.4.2019

[6] Western Mail, 2.1.1937

[7] Western Mail, 14.3.1919 p3

[8] Noting the memorial to Robert Pettigrew Finlay at the church at Llanwern.

[9] Western Mail, 20.7.July 1914 p4

Can you tell us more?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s