A lecture to Molesey History Society: Part 3
Julian's brother Howard Overing Sturgis (1855-1920) also became a writer. Unlike Julian, Howard was born in England. He too attended Eton, before going up to Cambridge. Howard was openly gay, which was both conspicuous and brave after the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895. The court declared that the Marquess of Queensbury's accusation that Wilde was "posing as a Somdomite" was "true in substance and in fact", which rendered Wilde legally liable under the 1843 Libel Act. Subsequently, a warrant for Wilde's arrest was applied for on charges of 'sodomy' and 'gross indecency'. The latter charge was a term meaning other homosexual acts not amounting to buggery, which were an offence under a separate statute of the Law Amendment Act of 1885. After the death of his parents, Howard Overing Sturgis bought a house in the country, which he named Queen's Acre, or Qu'acre. 'Howdie' (as Sturgis was known) and his much-younger lover William Haynes-Smith (who he called 'the Babe') entertained a wide circle of friends, mostly gay young Etonians, and literary figures such as Henry James, E.M. Forster, and Edith Wharton. His 1st two novels Tim: A Story of School Life (1891), and All That Was Possible (1895) were both successful, but his third Belchamber (1904), failed to find a readership despite being considered a masterpiece by Forster and Wharton (and me). Belchamber inspired Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Sturgis's novels are mostly about young men, in a style influenced by Walter Pater and George Meredith. George Meredith was greatly admired and was a close friend of Sturgis. Sturgis is the subject of a memorable biographical sketch by E.M. Forster, who was also selected for The Elmbridge Hundred. E.M. [Edward Morgan] Forster lived at 19 Monument Green in Weybridge with his mother from 1904 to 1925. All six of his novels were completed or written at Monument Green, including most of A Passage to India. Small-town bourgeois intrigue, the crushing of personal values by worldly necessity, conflicts of conformity and propriety were given a passionate and dramatic voice in his writing. ??
Another American who made Elmbridge her home was Hannah Weinstein [née Dorner] (1911-1984), and American journalist, publicist, and left-wing political activist who fled to England as a refugee from the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunt in the 1950s. She became a TV producer and was best known for producing The Adventures of Robin Hood series in the 1950s. To write the series Weinstein hired many American writers who had been blacklisted by the McCarthy Communist hearings. She established her own production company at Walton, called Sapphire Films, and in 1982, she received the Women in Film Life Achievement Award.
Hannah Weinstein was one of three Jewish people that were selected for the Elmbridge Hundred. Another was the hugely admirable Harry Cohen (1912-2000). Harry was the founder and Headmaster of the pioneering Finnart House School on Oatlands Drive (only Finnart Lodge survives today) from 1937-1970. Finnart was the 1st 'Approved School' for Jewish 'problem' boys, mostly from poor backgrounds in London and other inner cities. From the late 1930s onwards, Finnart also included CoE boys. Cohen was also a founder of Northwest Surrey Synagogue in 1968, a councilor, and Mayor of Elmbridge.
One Elmbridge resident that crossed the Atlantic the other way to Hannah Weinstein, went to America, failed miserably, hated it, and came back, was Sir Henry Clinton, (1730-1795), army officer, served with great distinction in the Seven Years' War and the American War of Independence. In the winter of 1777-8, Clinton became commander-in-chief of British forces in America. Eventually, the insubordination and surrender of his 2nd in command, Charles Earl Cornwallis, effectively ended the American war, Clinton's command, and his active military service. He returned to England in June 1782. Clinton married Harriet Carter (1747-1772) on 12th February 1767. However, on 29 August 1772 his wife died after giving birth to her 5th child in 5 years. Clinton was grief stricken by Harriet's death, and her parents and 2 sisters moved into his house in Weybridge to care for his children.
Another Elmbridge resident that went to America, failed miserably, hated it, and came back, was Charlie Drake (1925 - 2006) the comedian, actor, writer, and singer. Drake walked out of America's Ed Sullivan Show and never worked in the country again, because the producers would not allow him to do his routine the way he wanted. However, he is primarily remembered for the hugely popular The Charlie Drake Show in the 1960s, and his catchphrase "Hello My Darlings". The popular character from the show The Worker had connections in Weybridge and Drake's funeral was held at St James' Church. In his many interviews at the Labour Exchange (Job Centre), The Worker's fussy and snobbish social pretensions made him unemployable. He always comically referred to Weybridge as "upmarket", and would pompously introduce himself "Charles Drake from Weybridge", which turned Weybridge into a national byword for posh and pretentious. The selection panels felt Charlie Drake did as much as Henry VIII and John Easthope to colour national perceptions of Elmbridge, and shows the power of television.
Several powerbrokers of the popular media are on The Elmbridge Hundred. A recent American academic term is 'mediacracy', which as a collective noun for media folk in general sounds aptly close to mediocrity, although none of those selected can be described as in any way mediocre. Richard Cawston, (1923-1986), was a documentary filmmaker who was born in Weybridge. He became film editor and then producer of the popular Television Newsreel, producing 700 editions between 1950 and 1954. With the BBC news division he produced a series of major documentary films, many of which won national and international awards. After the start of BBC2 in 1965, he was made head of documentary programmes, and for 14 years influenced a whole generation, including many of today's leading documentary filmmakers. Of his own later documentaries, Royal Family, which was a yearlong record year of the private and public life of the queen during from 1968-69 was, when it was broadcast, the most popular documentary in television history, and led to him producing the queen's Christmas day broadcast to the Commonwealth from 1970 to 1985.
Brian George Wenham (1937-1997) was also a broadcasting executive. Between 1962 and 1969, he worked in production and editing at Independent Television News (ITN). In 1967, ITN launched News at Ten, its groundbreaking half-hour prime time news programme, which was the leading news programme for over thirty years. Wenham was the programme's first editor, and gave it its title. In 1969, at the age of 32, he moved to the BBC to edit its flagship current affairs programme Panorama. Two years later, he was promoted to head of the BBC television current affairs group, and in 1978, he was appointed to controller of BBC2. Under Wenham, BBC2 had a new lease of life. He redefined the shape and attitude of the channel by introducing innovative and accessible arts and current affairs programmes, such as Newsnight and The Shock of the New, alongside satirical, alternative comedy and topical drama, such as The Young Ones, Not the Nine O'clock News, Boys From the Blackstuff and Edge of Darkness. However, it was as director of programmes for BBC television, between 1982-85 that he made his most significant contribution to British broadcasting, when he successfully defended the principle of state-funded, public service broadcasting to Sir Alan Peacock's review of BBC funding, which was instigated by Margaret Thatcher. This resisted the implementation of free-market theory (commercial advertising as funding) in response to Thatcher's belief in the left-wing bias of the BBC. Wenham lived and died in Weybridge, and is buried at St James's Church.
A figure from an earlier, pioneering generation completes an impressive triumvirate of documentary filmmakers in Elmbridge. Paul Wyand (1907-1968) started his career as a motor-racing mechanic at Brooklands, working for Parry Thomas. However, it was as a newsreel cameraman for Pathé News and British Movietone that he found fame, and is today regarded as perhaps the greatest British newsreel photographers of all time. His 5,206 assignments included throughout the late 1920s and 1930s pioneering 'swing shots', and many other camera techniques still used in sports and outside broadcast. He also filmed countless news events, including the first pictures of our present Queen. When the 2nd World war broke out, he joined the British Army Film Unit, and filmed many famous events, including dramatic footage of the battle of Monte Cassino, and Churchill's crucial wartime visit to USA. He crossed the Rhine with the advanced allied troops, and perhaps most importantly of all made the appalling film of Belsen concentration camp that was shown at Nürnberg trials. I mentioned Hannah Weinstein, and Harry Cohen, but the third Jewish member of The Elmbridge Hundred was Yehudi Menuhin, (1916-1999) the violinist and conductor who, in 1962, founded the music school at Stoke d'Abernon, where he is buried. After Paul Wyand's film was shown in British and American cinemas, Menuhin went with the composer Benjamin Britten to perform for inmates of Bergen-Belsen, soon after its liberation in April 1945. In 1965, while he was still an American citizen, Menuhin was made an honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire, and after Menuhin took British citizenship in 1985, his knighthood was upgraded and he became Sir Yehudi Menuhin. In 1993, he was made a life peer, as Baron Menuhin of Stoke d'Abernon Paul Wyand later filmed the German surrender, and after the war, he made the official films the 1948 London, and 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, but died shortly before he was due to film the 1968 Mexico Olympics.
Sport, and being Surrey that means cricket, features heavily in Elmbridge's history. The Elmbridge Hundred has another great triumvirate, or rather a hat trick of cricketers. Edward 'Lumpy' Stevens (1735-1819) is generally regarded as the 1st great bowler in the game's history. Lumpy was a gardener, but his bowling prowess got him a job at Walton House, the mansion that made way for Mount Felix, on the estate of the 4th earl of Tankerville. He was universally known by his nickname 'Lumpy' even on scorecards and reports, and was rarely called Stevens. His legendary nickname may have arisen because he was adept at choosing pitches to suit his subtle variations of pace, length, and direction. In those days, the leading bowler on each side chose the place where wickets would be pitched. A famous verse of the day goes: "For honest Lumpy did allow, He ne'er would pitch but o'er a brow". He probably began playing in 1st class matches in the mid-1750s when underarm bowlers still 'trundled' the ball all along the ground. It is possible that Lumpy was the first to 'give the ball air', and was involved in that crucial evolution of the game sometime before 1770. He made a careful study of flight and worked out variations in pace and length. However his greatest legacy to the game came in a match on the 22nd and 23rd May 1775 when Lumpy beat the great Hambledon batsman John Small three times with the ball going clean through the 2-stump wicket. Because of his protests, the patrons agreed that a 3rd stump should be added.
William [Silver Billy] Beldham (1766-1862) was a cricketer associated with The Hurst in Molesey, and is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest batsmen of the underarm era. The Times named him as one of its 100 Greatest Cricketers of All Time.
The third cricketer selected for The Elmbridge Hundred was H.H. [Heathfield Harman] Stephenson (1833 - 1896), which is apt, because he was the first cricketer to be awarded a hat for taking three wickets in consecutive balls - the origin of the word hat trick. In 1859, Stephenson was also one of the 12 players who took part in cricket's 1st overseas tour when an England team visited North America, and in 1861-62, Stephenson captained the England team that made the inaugural tour of Australia. He was born in Esher, but played for Thames Ditton and England.
In truth, there was a fourth cricketer selected for The Elmbridge Hundred, which is Wally Hammond (1903-1965), a cricketer who played for Esher and England, and is regarded as perhaps the best batsmen in the history of cricket. Personally, I think the final selection panel should have declared after the third innings to give the hat-trick real poignancy, but Elmbridge can argue to be the true home of cricket.
The Moulsey Hurst, of course, features prominently in sporting history. Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751) became a great patron and player of cricket. Coming from Hanover to England in 1727, it probably began as way of 'anglicizing' his popular image. However, Frederick soon became a devotee of the game. At first, he enjoyed betting, but later in played and formed his own team. In the summer of 1733, he presented a silver cup to a Surrey and Middlesex team that had beaten Kent, which was the first trophy awarded rather than just prize money. The Prince of Wales may even have died because of bodyline bowling. A sporting injury to his chest, where a ball struck him, possibly whilst playing at Moulsey Hurst, may have contributed to his death. John Tufton (1773 -1799), a noted English cricketer of the 1790s, was the first player ever to be recorded as being given out leg before wicket, which happened in a match on Moulsey Hurst in August 1795, when Tufton played for England versus Surrey. The bowler was John Wells. 'Leg before wicket' is found on the scorecard for the first time, before, when any one was got out in this way, it was marked down as simply bowled. In 1758, the great actor David Garrick (1717-1779), who lived across the river at Hampton, organized the 1st recorded game of golf on English soil for a group of Scottish friends at Hurst Park. Zoffany painted the golfing party on the lawn of Garrick's house with The Hurst as a backdrop looking across the river. Tom Cribb (1781-1848) the world champion bare-knuckle boxer, fought there. The Duke of Clarence, later William 4th (1765 -1837) was an important royal patron of Hampton Races that took place there.
The other great horse racing arena in Elmbridge is Sandown, and the only equestrian figure selected for The Elmbridge Hundred was Fred Archer, (1857-1886), the jockey who became one of England's first national sports stars. In 1874 he became champion jockey, a title he retained for thirteen consecutive seasons. During his brief career, he rode 2748 winners (from 8084 mounts), including 5 Derbys and 16 other classics. His record of 246 winners in the 1885 season remained unbroken until 1933. He won the inaugural race at Sandown on Thursday 22nd April 1875.
In June 1913, racing on The Hurst was halted, and never really recovered from, the protests of Kitty Marion (1871-1944), the suffragist and birth control activist. Marion, whose real name was Katherine Marie Schäfer, along with Clara Giveen, set fire to the grandstand at Hurst Park racecourse, in protest against the government's obduracy in not giving women the vote, and to commemorate Emily Wilding Davison's death at the Epsom Derby earlier that same year. As a German in 1913, she was given three years, although Clara Giveen was not punished. She served less than four months, after going on hunger strike and being force-fed, and then released under the 'Cat and Mouse Act'.
I am told that you know all about the former President of the Molesey Arts Society, Terence Tenison Cuneo (1907 - 1996), so I shall remain quiet as a proverbial mouse.
History does not record which brand of matches Kitty Marion used to set fire to the grandstand at Hurst Park racecourse, but most likely, they were Bryant & May safety matches. William Bryant was the founder of the match company, but it is his son that Frederick Carkeet William Bryant (1843-88) that was selected for The Elmbridge Hundred. Frederick Bryant acquired Woodlands Park near Stoke D'Abernon as a country house in 1879, and substantially rebuilt it in 1885. There is an article about the building work in The Builder of 20th November 1886. 'The Victorian Country House' by M. Girouard (OUP, 1971) also asserts it was one of the 1st country houses to have electric light in the 1880s. However, it is really for his financial infamy that Bryant was selected. The financial press of the day condemned the firm's annual reports as "the most cynically meagre and imperfect documents published by any board in the country", accusing Bryant of regular insider dealings to rig the share prices for his own ends (Financial News). Widespread mistrust of the company was fuelled by the famous matchgirls' strike of 1888, when the Bryant brothers took on the women's rights activist Annie Besant. In Annie, Bryant finally met his match. After supporting an all-out strike, the matchgirls had most of their grievances; the arbitrary fines and deductions imposed by Bryant, remedied, and secured the right to a trade union, albeit short-lived.
The great advocate of women's rights that was selected for The Elmbridge Hundred was was Harriet Mill (1807-1858). Her reputation has until recently been often overshadowed by her 2nd husband, the philosopher John Stuart Mill. In 1826, she married John Taylor, a wealthy merchant and together they had three children. The Taylors became active in the Unitarian Church, and in 1830, her Unitarian minister introduced Harriet to the philosopher John Stuart Mill, and they began an intimate and lasting friendship that lasted for more than 20 years. At first, Harriet's husband reluctantly tolerated their relationship, which both claimed was non-sexual, but in 1833, she separated from her husband and moved to Walton-on-Thames. To avoid gossip John Taylor remained in London, and John Stuart Mill lived with his family in Kensington. History records that Harriet Taylor 'hid' away from society at Walton-on-Thames, where Mill could discretely visit her at the weekends. However, Elmbridge at that time had a major literary community. Nevertheless, their behaviour scandalized English society, they saw only close friends, and were widely shunned in public. Her essay, 'The Enfranchisement of Women' (1851) is now considered one of her most important works, but was originally published under Mills's name. The essay strongly advocated that women be given access to the same jobs as men, and that they should not have to live in 'separate spheres'. Her views on equality were inevitably even more radical than those of Mills himself. In 1849, Harriet Taylor returned to nurse her husband who was dying of cancer. John Taylor died in 1849, and she finally married John Stuart Mill in April 1851. In autumn 1858, they travelled to France seeking a better climate for Harriet's tuberculosis, but she died of respiratory failure in Avignon on 3 November 1858. John Stuart Mills' most famous work 'On Liberty', which they had written together, was published in 1859 and dedicated to Harriet.
The kind of women's liberation perhaps not quite envisaged by Harriet Mill was personified by the aptly named, Felicity Anne Cumming (1917-1993), who did not make it past the first round of judging for The Elmbridge Hundred. Ms. Cumming was a sexual traveller and adventurer, and writer of erotic travelogues, who was born in Walton-on-Thames on 14th December 1917. She was the granddaughter of Sir Grimble Groves, who sounds like an implausible character from one of George Bernard Shaw's more farcical social satires. Of course, Sir Grimble Groves was a wealthy brewery-owner and Conservative MP for Altrincham, and his beery fortune freed felicity from ordinary domestic and financial worries, and allowed her to concentrate on living up to her name by seeking happiness and bliss. She was educated at Horsely Towers in Kent, before attending finishing schools in Germany and Switzerland, and in 1935 she was presented at court. She studied drama at Dartington Hall School under Michael Chekhov, the nephew of the famous Russian playwright. At Dartington, she met her first husband, Henry Lyon Young. The young couple joined a new performance group, Chekhov Theatre Players, and went to perform in America, although their acting ambitions were curtailed by the outbreak of the 2nd World War. In 1948, she divorced Young and married the novelist Richard Mason (1919-1997), who wrote The Wind Cannot Read (1946), The Shadow and the Peak (1950), both of which were made into popular films. In 1957, Mason became the bestselling author of The World of Suzy Wong. Suzie Wong is a Hong Kong hooker with a heart of gold, who introduces herself as a rich virgin whose father has five houses and more cars than she can count. In 1958, they moved to Rome, and she began working in the Italian film industry, as a publicist and dialogue coach. However, as her marriage to Richard Mason broke down, she embarked on a series of casual, sexual affairs with younger men. She was later to write about many of these affairs in her first book of memoirs, published in 1977, the scandalously sexually confessional, The Love Habit. She increasingly began travelling alone, making a series of adventurous journeys around the Middle East. Her travels in the Arabic world aroused in her a fascination for the exotic and erotic, which increasingly shaped her life. She befriended and became lovers with marginal social figures, artists, writers, outsiders, and eccentrics of diverse social backgrounds and nationalities. Fluent in French language and literary culture, she was attracted to what she self-consciously termed 'The Other', that capitalized, Constitutive Other of continental philosophy. Living mainly in Tangier and Paris, she became intimate with several of the American Beat poets, the novelist William Burroughs, and Paul and Jane Bowles. The louche, journalistic profiler of colourful personalities, Robert Tewdwr Moss later wrote, "She was a great catalyst and helpful conspirator in other people's affairs, be they social, sexual or professional". In 1991, she published a second autobiographical travelogue of her sexual adventures called The Love Quest. Both books of her memoirs are outrageously candid, but are rarely lewd or unkind to her former lovers, and her slightly more that kiss-and-tell indiscretions are mitigated by a perceptive, and… I have to say it… penetrating wit. In her later years, living in New York, she dressed outmodishly (which is a compound word of my own invention, which I think, our cultural language of arrested adolescence badly needs). She wore her outfits and hats from the Fifties, and the pose she perfected was ladylike, conventional, almost aristocratic, allowing her outrageous conversation and flagrant sexuality to surprise. As she became older, her shock tactics, perhaps encouraged by the declining standards of tabloid culture often descended into the vulgar. In 1992, she appeared topless in the Sunday Sport under the title 'Stunnagran', and, wearing only her pearl necklace and earrings, appeared naked on Channel 4 in the world's first nude chat show. In 1986, she was diagnosed HIV positive. However, in her final years she resumed her travels, visiting Brazil, India, Oman, Uzbekistan, and Russia. Having made promiscuity and confession her modus operandi, she kept her the nature of her illness quiet, perhaps not wanting to appear an object lesson to conservatives, or a tragic victim to fellow libertines. She died of bronchopneumonia in August 1993 at the London Lighthouse, a care centre for people with HIV and AIDS.