Mrs J.H. Whitworth

IdaWhitworthneeKing square
Ida Mary Whitworth nee King [1]
Mrs J. H. WhitworthIda Mary Whitworth née King, 43, (1889-1959), a Quaker, daughter of  Julia Constance King née Oliver, at this table, and Alfred John King, cotton bleacher and Liberal MP. Ida had four daughters but her barrister husband Major John Howarth Whitworth died of his wounds near Rouen in April 1918. Ida was active in WW2 in support of refugees from Germany. A fell walker and rock climber, later in life she would translate a book of Swiss folk tales and a travel book.


Probably the chance to talk directly with the two gentlemen at the table would have been good. As a translator of travel and folk tales she may have hit it off well with Gordon West the travel writer, even though her own translation of a travel book would not be published until 1960, and after her death.


We don’t know what she was active in at this time: her daughters (between 14 and 18) had not yet flown the nest so doubtless on the lookout for opportunities for them as well as causes that she herself could get involved in. Conversations with JT and with Gordon West may have given her ideas. And this was an opportunity to meet many other women who had contributed greatly to society. As it was later written, she was “game for anything.”


Ida Mary King was born on 11th October 1889, in Rainow, Cheshire, the eldest child of Julia Constance King née Oliver, and the Quaker cotton bleacher and MP Alfred John King. She had two brothers: John Francis Oliver King (born in Rainow in 1893) and Philip Fell King (born in 1897, in Bollington, Cheshire, later a cotton manufacturer).

As a young woman, Ida studied music in Dresden.[1] In 1913 Ida married barrister and would-be Liberal MP John Howarth Whitworth (pictured below). In their short marriage they had four daughters, Julia Marian, 17.5.1914, Elizabeth Mary, 27.8.1915, Ida Margaret 7.10.1916 and Joan Howarth, in late 1918, all born in Cheshire with the exception of Joan who was born in Westmorland (now Cumbria). But Ida’s husband John died of his wounds near Rouen, in April 1918, before the birth of his fourth daughter. His younger brother was killed in action in September 1918. Ida’s brother John died in the early 1920s, of TB, having been gassed during the war.

JohnIda and John’s grandson writes: “John Whitworth, his brother and three sisters spent much of their childhood in Kansas, USA (where he showed an early interest in politics, when as a boy, he questioned President McKinley on tariff policy at one of his election meetings).  John’s father loved horses, and had moved to Kansas to become a farmer. John’s mother died of rheumatics, and his father died soon after, after being kicked in the head by one of his horses.  John and his sisters returned to England, where they were supported by their uncle Jesse Howarth, who was a wealthy Manchester merchant (who later gave a substantial endowment to the Egyptology Department of the Manchester Museum). John read law at Oxford and was eventually called to the bar in Manchester.  John enlisted in 1914, and was awarded an MC and a DSO, but died of his wounds at the end of March 1918, leaving Ida with four young daughters to bring up.  Ida and her family moved to Ambleside to be near her parents. Although John was a Unitarian, Ida remained an active Quaker all her life.”[1]


In 1938 the Quakers in Manchester set up the ‘Refugee Committee of the Society of Friends in Manchester and District’ (QRC). Ida’s future son in law, Roger Carter of the Berlin Quaker Centre, witnessed Kristallnacht in Berlin in 1938. Ida was regarded as one of the more well-to-do members and at one point she had four refugees living with her and her daughters in their home, Woodburn, Red Lane, Disley in Derbyshire: Gerta Flack and her son, Peter, from Germany; Fritz Pringsheim (later Professor of Roman Law at Oxford) and his wife, Kathe, from Freiburg im Breisgau. In the 1939 census three different refugees are listed, two from Austria, in paid domestic service (more of a formality, an occupation being necessary to expedite their move to Britain), and a former teacher from Germany. Also living with her was a child of one of the several families from Guernsey who settled in Disley after the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

Ida’s daughter Julia also joined the committee, and had studied German and music in Freiburg – Julia, who was studying at Manchester University in 1939, married Roger Carter in 1940.[2] [3] Ida’s daughter Ida Margaret married in 1941. Ida had four daughters, but her third daughter Elizabeth died in hospital in London in 1937.[4]

Alp Legends coverIda’s grandson writes: “After the war, Ida lived for some time in Paris, again helping with the resettlement of displaced people. She had an abiding interest in mountaineering and she and her family spent long periods in Switzerland, for which she had a life-long affection. In the early 1950s, she edited and translated a book of Swiss folk tales.”[5] 

Alp Legends inside
An early free-climber?

Sadly she did not live to see the publication of the translation of a Swiss tourist guide, as reviewed below in the Alpine Journal.  The illustration is from a 1996 promotion of the sale of copies, donated by her daughter Joan.

The Lotschenthal for sale“The Lӧtschental: A Guide for Tourists. By the Rev. Prior J. Siegen of Kippel. pp. xi, 74· Translated by Ida M. Whitworth. Titus Wilson, Kendal, 1960. 10s. 6d.”

“UNTIL the advent of the Lӧtschberg railway, the Lӧtschental remained remote and isolated and, thanks to the fact that its charms are more intimate than glamorous, it is still prostituted to tourism less than most of the valleys than run down to the Rhone.  It had retained a pattern of traditional life which is rapidly disappearing in the popular valleys.”

“For nearly seventy-five years Prior Siegen, the grandson of Joseph and the great-nephew of Johann Siegen, who in 1859 were on the first ascent of the Bietschhorn with Leslie Stephen, [the father of Virginia Woolf Ed.]has lived in the Lӧtschental absorbing the history and the way of life of his flock.  His book, with its fine photographs and informative pen and ink sketches, is not a guide: it is the distillation of his unique knowledge of his people.”

I cannot do better than quote from Lady Chorley’s excellent and sympathetic foreword.  ‘Turning over the pages one forgets the Valais of tourist hotels, even of mountaineering achievement, and feels the beat of the heart of this matchless canton: the passion for freedom of its people, their staunch self-reliance, the charity and justice which bind and energise the pooled activities of their communes.’

“It is very bitter that Mrs. Whitworth, to whom the translation of Prior Siegen’s book meant so much, did not live to see it published.” P. BICKNELL. VOL. LXVI NO. CCCII  Alpine Journal page 175″[6]

A very personal tribute by the aforementioned Lady (Katherine Campbell) Chorley was published in the The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District in 1960.  “IDA M. WHITWORTH, 1924-195  Ida Whitworth joined the Club in 1924.  It must have been while she was qualifying for membership by adding some rock climbs to her long list of fell walks that my husband and I lured her over to Buttermere at New Year for a day on Pillar.  I think we did the North Climb; I remember it was pretty wet and cold.  She had just time on our return to bolt one of Miss Edmondson’s superb teas, and then she had to set off back to Ambleside by car to play the violin that evening at a concert.  All this was typical of Ida.  She was game for anything, she embraced life from so many angles and her zest was an unfailing spring.  Typical also were the days at her home at Broad Ings when we would set off in the morning with her four children for a family fell walk, and spend the evening after the children were in bed discussing politics in general and the League of Nations in particular.  Ida was an idealist; she had strong individual dislikes, but she could not help believing that human beings as a whole are motivated by generosity and a warm disinterested love of their fellows, because these were her own motives.  When one sometimes teased her or argued that she was being unrealistic, it felt rather like winging a bird in flight.”

“She expended a lot of her idealism on ’causes’… but causes never prevented her from turning her idealism to people.  Those who knew her well knew the careful, loving and continuous trouble to which she would go to help anyone in any sort of distress.  She was a member of the Society of Friends and a frequent worker in their undertakings, and in her was exemplified the Quaker spirit of caritas, corporate and personal, at its best.”

“After the First World War she took her four small children abroad and lived for a time in Switzerland.  She climbed a number of peaks either then or on subsequent visits and made several ski-tours.  She got to know the life of the peasants in the high valleys and her translation of Prior Siegen’s fascinating book on the Lӧtschenthal, just now published, is her tribute of affection and admiration.  She had also translated a collection of Valaisian folk stories: ‘The Alp Legends’.  I do not think that she attended meets of the Club very often, with the exception of the Annual Dinner, but many members must have known her and responded to her warmth and enthusiasm. K. C. CHORLEY.”[7]

Ida died in The Christie Hospital, Withington, Manchester, on 24th August 1959, when resident at Spring Cottage, Skelwith, near Ambleside, Westmorland.


[1] With many thanks to Ida’s grandson, Michael Carter, for this picture and for his contributions below.

[2] Bill Williams, Research Fellow, Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Manchester. Honorary President, Historic Adviser and a founder member of Manchester Jewish Museum. SERIOUS CONCERN, Manchester Quakers , and Refugees, 1938-40, accessed online 3.3.2019

[3] Bill Williams, Jews and Other Foreigners Oxford University Press, 9.4.2013

[4] Ancestry sources and Wills.

[5] With many thanks to Ida’s grandson, Michael Carter.

[6] P. BICKNELL. VOL. LXVI NO. CCCII  Alpine Journal page 175.

[7] The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District, Edited by Muriel Files, No. 54 VOLUME XIX  (No. I) 1960

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