The Life of Dorothy Hartman, 1898-1957
Before the curtain
The former Lady Dalrymple, and now the widow Dorothy Hartman, known to her intimates as Dodo, had been a glamorous society hostess and successful business woman. Her life spanned five decades, three marriages from the music halls to the jazz age, through two world wars to the birth of rock and roll. But it was not how it had begun.
Dodo really didn’t want her early life re-called, she had gone to some lengths to re-invent herself (and parentage too), and the past truths could have jeopardised her present fiction.
This is her story, because it falls short of a detailed biography, as there are no diaries, papers or photographs for the first half of her life to refer to, and if they had existed, they would have been air-brushed out of the picture long ago. As if the certain past had never existed.
There are of course official records and some newspaper cuttings –they could not be edited-out, although some of these too have been recorded with a touch of the family obfuscation, sending the researcher in a different direction.
However, we get a glimpse of the pert young show-girl, and the parts played by her family. In charting her progress it was necessary for the writer to occasionally speculate with these small factual jig-saw pieces to form a mostly true story narrative.
Dodo had suffering from a heart complaint for some time for which there was no cure. Her fate had been sealed as inevitably 1957 drew to a close. No amount of wealth could prevent it – ‘like the distant roll of thunder at a picnic’ .
A past secret had surfaced in the last few years, so she had made a new will. The contents of which, once revealed would cause surprise after her death, and continue to cause family acrimony.
In the last few weeks she had taken to bed, attended only by her servants, private secretary and occasional visitor. The time usually spent in her Mayfair apartment at Berkeley House during the week –would now continue, the weekend entertaining at Stumblehole Farm in Surrey put on hold. Despite her illness she still insisted on the high standards expected of staff.
In fact in her remaining weeks she had dismissed her London Cook Ivy Hinton over an incident concerning some inappropriate menus. She had sent for her dependable Stumblehole cook, whose maternal nature instinctively coaxed ‘the patient’ to eat simple and nourishing dishes to encourage her failing appetite.
Dorothy Hartman was widely acknowledged for her generosity with household and business staff, not to mention the beneficiaries of her various charities and Children’s Home. The farm and estate children had been collecting firewood for weeks, and unusually Hartman had given permission to use any remaining straw in the barn, with the effect that the bonfire burnt for four days like a funeral pyre . Although the weather was not promising as it had been stormy and wet since the beginning of November. It wasn’t surprising that she had provided twenty-five pound’s worth of fireworks for their annual ‘Guy Fawkes’ bonfire night celebration at her farm. Then on the same evening of 5th November 1957 at around eight o’clock she died quietly with only Henry Rowan her physician Helene Dupont her lady’s maid and loyal butler Frank Gear in attendance.
Keeping a vigil her close confidante and executor Nicky Vansittart was devastated. The following day, whilst household staff were coming to terms with events, Gear had the unenviable task of officially registering her death with the Westminster Registrar, Marjorie Jordan, Hartman’s personal secretary had telephoned Mrs Farr, with the news one of many on her contact list, she was the wife of the Rector of St. Mary and St. Ethelbert church in the Wiltshire village of Luckington; Hartman’s country home during the war years.
She knew what to do. Making her way to the nearby village of Sherston, she entered the High Street post office, and took a telegram blank from the rack, away from prying eyes and local gossip she composed a brief message to send to South Africa.
=MOTHER DIED 5TH CREMATION MONDAY = FARR + 
But to observers Dorothy Hartman didn’t have any children –did she? There was Mark, a distant step–son from her marriage to Sir David Dalrymple, and a married step-daughter Betty Gwinner, from her late husband Frederick Hartman’s first marriage – but no other children. The press had always reported she was childless.
This was a complete mystery to everyone including her business partners, household staff and particularly the Executor of her will a close friend.
Her life had been one long performance –but in death it now began to unravel.
Act I A child of the fin de siècle (1898 -1915)
/1 New Woman / 2 Cow’s cathedral / 3 Maud Manchester / 4 William Abbott
/ 5 The Jubilee party / 6 Country girl /7 Ingénue in the chorus
Act II Captain Lewis takes leave (1915 – 1923)
/8 The gas cloud at Ypres /9 Love at the Cavendish /10 A marriage of convenience
/11 In praise of older men
Act III Lord Dalrymple entertains (1919-1932)
/12 The Albion affair /13 Marriage amongst the clans /14 A very public divorce
15 The Dalrymples’ of Newhailes /16 The actress and the peer /17 Iberian sojourns
/18 David’s dénouement
Act IV Captain Hartman’s business (1933-1942)
19 Third time lucky /20 The Hartmann family /21 The Lady Hanson affair
/22 Lendrum & Hartman Ltd /23 The Gabrielle Brown affair
/24 Northease Manor /25 The Beaufortshire spies
Act V Nicky Vansittart –‘at last’ (1938-57)
/26 Luckington /27 The Vansittarts’ /28 Smoke & mirrors
29 Post war years /30 The Mayfair hostess /31 Dodo’s child /32 Stumblehole
/33 Dodo’s bequeath /34 End of the tour
After the curtain
/35 Rapprochement /36 Envoi
Act I A child of the fin de siècle (1898 -1915)
“The boy I love is up in the gallery,
The boy I love is looking now at me,
There he is, can’t you see, waving his handkerchief,
As merry as a robin that sings on a tree.”
Chorus of a music hall song, made famous by Marie Lloyd -not to mention Maud Coleno
-1- New Woman
Maud Coleno’s daughter was born into a late Victorian London at the beginning of 1898. This was the fin de siècle -an explosive cocktail of endings, beginnings and transitions, a remarkably dynamic time. The naughty nineties, was a period of fun-loving and laxity, especially in sexual morals. It was an age of tremendous change, not only in morals but art, politics, science and society were revolutionised by the emergence of new theories and challenges to tradition. It was a time of heightened uncertainty and questioning old values as the century was coming to its end.
In Britain by 1891 nearly half the women were in the paid work force, with the overwhelming number in domestic service, textiles and clothing factories – the working class occupations. But for those with any talent the stage offered an independent life for many of them, through the burgeoning demand in the music halls and stardom for a few.
In London a few years earlier the women and teenage girls working at the Bryant and May Factory in Bow, took part in what became known as the match-girls’ strike. Over a thousand had refused to work -sparked by an unfair dismissal, and combined with poor working conditions. Their factory day lasted fourteen-hours, their meagre pay was often finned excessively on some minor pretext, and the conditions produced severe health complications working with white phosphorus. The strike publicity caused a public outcry, and within a month they had won concessions and their strike ended.
It was an emerging form of emancipated womanhood. The figure of the ‘new woman’ threatened conventional ideas -both social and sexual about ideal Victorian womanhood. In 1867 the London Society for Women’s Suffrage had been formed; and three years later the Married Women’s Property Act was passed by Parliament which allowed married women to own their own property. Previously, when women married, their property transferred to their husbands. Divorce heavily favoured men, allowing property to remain in their possession. This act allowed women to keep their property, married, divorced, single or widowed.
Around the mid-1890s the term ‘new woman’ had drifted into circulation with the foundation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. A rebellion that was free-spirited and independent, educated and uninterested in marriage and children. Women’s rights were promoted in literature by sympathetic authors like Grant Allen, who published a novel The Woman Who Did in 1895, creating controversy right from the start, with conservative readers. However, the social mood was changing, and Allen’s title could have served as a ten-plate for the child of this story.
The new industrialisation was making England the richest country and London the greatest city the world had seen in size, wealth and grandeur. Yet it was also a city where poverty and disease were rife. It had seen its population raised six fold in a century and together with its outer villages and suburbs it reached six million in 1900.
It became a magnet absorbing over half of all migrants from within Britain itself, as well as immigrants, created by revolutions and political struggles of late nineteenth-century Europe bringing many from Russia, Poland, France, Italy and Germany. This cosmopolitan mix filled its neighbourhoods, occupying the bright streets and dingy courts of the capital with their trades, languages and customs.
The influx of people fuelled a need for social entertainment, more than just the old meeting places taverns and coffee houses of the eighteenth century, where men met to drink and do business.
A new type of entertainment developed out of these pubs -the music halls, introducing performers who sang songs whilst the audience now ate drank and joined in the singing. These became so popular that entertainment was put on two or three times a week. By the 1870s over three hundred music halls had been built in London alone, such as the Alhambra in Leicester Square, the Oxford Music Hall, famous for its lively barmaids, and hundreds more scattered across the British Isles.
New performers were needed to fill the stages at all these brash new Empires and Palaces that soon sprang up to meet the new middle-class demand, so young women – often the daughters of supper club and tavern veterans – stepped into the spotlight for the first time.
A typical music hall bill would feature a chairman keeping order with a gavel, a comedian or two, dancers in daring costumes, novelty acts like a juggler, contortionists, trapeze artists or trick cyclists, a drag act, and a magician.
However, singing and the comic song remained at the heart of music hall – and the star was always the singer. Men like Albert Chevalier and then George Robey were adored, but it was the women and their signature songs that topped the bill.
-2- Cow’s Cathedral
London at the turn of the twentieth century, was a city full of crowded streets with the pervading smells of chipped potatoes, horse dung (one-thousand tons deposited daily –by something like three-hundred thousand horses) and old leather. Whilst at night the leaping naphtha flames along the main roads; the glittering multi-coloured shop windows, the sound of street barrel organs, brightly lit music halls with their enticing posters and the highly decorated pubs with their ornate mirrors and plate glass windows.
The streets littered with cigar and cigarette ends, mud and straw created a wave of specialist trades such as ‘sweepers’ –to clear your path across the road, ‘uniformed shoe-blacks’ –to clean muck off footwear, ‘link-boys’ brandishing flaming torches would appear as if by magic in thick fog to guide you.
In the winter months, when dusk gathers in the mid-afternoon, the looming buildings would merge into a dark labyrinth of shadows beyond, created by a ‘London particular’ when in 1871 a New York Times article referred to “London, particularly, where the population are periodically submerged in a fog of the consistency of pea soup…” So called by it similarity to that colour and consistency – very thick, and often yellowish, green.
You could smell and taste the fog, smoky sulphur, which produced a choking sensation. The product of a million coal fires burning cheap bituminous coal in open grates polluting the atmosphere with clouds of filthy black smoke, which could not easily disperse, carrying noxious fumes, infections and lung diseases.
The city resounded with a symphony of fog horns on the river and thousands of people coughing in the street. This image of London became fixed in the imagination of the world – a place where caped policemen flitted in pairs between gas-lamps through the sulphurous haze, and men worked all day at counters and ledgers by artificial light and in the winter never saw the sun.
London has always been a city of villages each becoming absorbed by the steady expansion from the old city limits, but even today they retain much of their individuality.
The district of Camden lies just three miles north of the city of London, on the road through Kentish town towards Hampstead and Highgate. It was a rural setting in the early nineteenth century, which had been slowly developed, because of its location, canals and then later the railways, enabling it to become a thriving economy.
Most of Camden’s early houses had been designed for middle class families. These houses, built in yellow stock brick, were typically of three storeys, with a basement service area and often an attic containing the servants’ quarters. Some smaller two-storey cottages had also been erected for the less affluent.
No one in the middle of the nineteenth century depicted the rural suburbs of London better than Charles Dickens, and Camden in particular, in which he sets many of his fictional characters –where as a boy, he lived with his impoverished family. His memories of that time were vividly brought to life in his later novels. His home, a four roomed house in Bayham Street – then a rural area, backing on to meadows, became the setting of the Cratchit family in A Christmas Carol (1843). Bob Cratchit used to run from his home in Camden to the city each day thus saving bus fares, a round trip distance of six miles. Another fictional resident was Polly Toodles family featured in Dombey and Son, (1846) his novel in which he describes the coming of the railways to Camden. His old house yet again becomes the setting of his impecunious Micawber family in David Copperfield, (1849). Camden was also the location where Dickens installed his teenage mistress the young actress and Meuse Ellen Ternan after he left his wife.
By the end of the nineteenth century most of the housing stock was now soot-stained and run-down. Multiple-occupancy had become the norm: large houses originally built for the middle classes and their servants had been divided into apartments, and few premises were without boarders or lodgers.
At the heart of Camden’s community the Bedford Music Hall, had reigned supreme for over thirty years. It was demolished in 1898 and a new theatre, The Bedford Palace of Varieties, was built on the site a year later. It would feature performers like Marie Lloyd, Little Tich and later both the actor Charlie Chaplin and singer Gracie Fields appeared there.
Near the junction of Camden High Street, was another much older institution, the Mother Red Cap pub so called after Jinny Bingham known as ‘The Shrew of Kentish Town’, who’s chequered love life included sheltering highwaymen. She lived up to her legend as a witch in a cottage -with her black cat, where the pub now stands. It was rebuilt in its present form in 1875 and by 1898 it was run by landlord Walter Holden. It still stands today, although re-named the Worlds End.
On the other side of the same road at the junction of Camden High Street and Kentish Town Road, where the workhouse once stood until 1817; Thomas Brown a farmer since 1790 had opened his dairy in 1822. Brown’s Dairy in its early days was a no-nonsense utility place, but in its later years had developed all the ‘folie de grandeur’ of a late Victorian public house. The interior of the shop was handsomely fitted up and contained some elegantly carved oak frame work, with costly embossed and engraved plate glass, the work of an eminent west-end firm and manufactured expressly for the premises it included large glass cases of gaily feathered stuffed birds. The whole edifice was known locally as the ‘Cows Cathedral’ .
By the 1890s this family run Dairy at 176 Camden High Street, had sub-divided their property and created a number of additional low rent shops with lodging rooms above.
The shop front at number 176a, was taken by Arthur Robert Miles for the St Pancras (West) Conservative Association, 176b, was occupied by John Pfund, a provision dealer, 176c, was a fried fish shop run by a Swiss national Antonio Monico, and from 176d, Robert Fairbairn, operated his tailor’s shop.
The weather in London during December 1897 had been mild and changeable, with frost and fog there had also been some rain with thunderstorms. After the rain, the roofs of London would glisten when the winter sun shone through. This effect came from the unique building material used in Victorian London -almost universally provided by the mountains of Wales, shipped from Lord Penrhyn’s quarries near Snowdonia. The dark blue grey Welsh slate, the most durable in the world with a life expectancy of over one hundred and fifty years had become the roofing of choice for Victorian buildings.
There had been a typical ‘London particular’ on the 18th December –a nick-name often used to describe the fog –taken they say from the special brown Madeira wine produced for the London market from around the reign of Queen Anne. So dense was it, that amongst other events a rugby match between Cardiff FC and Blackheath FC had to be cancelled. As the incredulous Welsh Club secretary later recorded:
“…but that conveyed little of what a London fog was like”, he continued, “On this particular occasion we set off from Charring Cross about 11.30 a.m. and in the ordinary course should have arrived at Blackheath Station about 35 minutes later, but on this occasion we proceeded by such easy stages that we arrived at Blackheath about 4 p.m. It was as black as night there, so we immediately got into a train to go back to Charring Cross, which station we ultimately reached at 7 p.m., having practically been on the train for six hours.”
As December moved into the new year of 1898, the weather was generally dull, dry and abnormally mild for January.
The crowded rooms above Robert Fairbairn’s tailor shop in Camden High Street was rented to two families with children, and a couple of single lodgers, altogether around a dozen or so inhabitants occupying this small terraced building. Here we find the Yarmouth family, a bus conductor his wife and one year old son. William Hurley, a tailors’ porter, his wife Julia and their four sons, George aged eight, Edward six, William three, and Joseph just nine months old.
Other lodgers included an Egyptian Mohamed Abdow who was a Turkish bath attendant and Edward Griffiths a Welsh railwayman.
It was amongst this medley cast that on Tuesday 4th January 1898, in a cramped room and in reduced circumstances the attractive twenty four year old music hall artiste Maude Coleno who could not write her name, gave birth to a daughter in secret. She was named Dorothy Maud Abbott.
A month later on 12th February Maud Coleno –who’s married name was Maud Wainwright falsely registered the birth under the name of Alice Edith Abbott.
Alice of course was unaware that her husband had fathered a child –but all this would emerge in due course. In the meantime William Abbott and Maud Wainwright had to think of what to do with their love child -little Dorothy.
The winter of 1897-98 had been generally snow-free up to this point, when a low pressure tracked southwards across England by February gave London its first big snowfall of the year. The Christmas Pantomime at the Drury Lane Theatre was appropriately Babes in the Wood, with Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell, and by March the fog had returned.
In a few short years all trace of these rooms and buildings would have disappeared. The occupants dispersed. The shops and dwelling house on the corner site of Camden High Street and Kentish Town Road, including Brown’s Dairy were sold for demolition in December 1903, and the dairy moved across the road to Park Street.
This was to make room for the new Camden Town underground station, to the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway (now the Northern Line). The station was finally opened in 1907 by then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and the location of the former ‘Cow’s Cathedral’ dairy was redeveloped by the Midland bank (now HSBC).