Join me and doctoral student Isobel Staton as we explore the relationship between Selina Bridgeman and Lawrence Kay-Shuttleworth, with a story that in many ways epitomises love and loss in wartime…
Holly: Hello darlings and welcome back to Past Loves – the history podcast that explores affection, infatuation and attachment across time to add a touch of romance to daily life. I’m Holly, your true romantic host, and it’s been a little while since my last episode about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West but we are back today with a new love story which has been discovered in the archives. So that’s very exciting.
And I think we should get right down to it today because my guest and I had so much to talk about. I am joined for this episode by Isobel Staton who I met whilst I was doing my masters. She is a doctoral student at the University of York who completed a research project, funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities, at Gawthorpe Hall on Selina Kay-Shuttleworth. It is the love story between Selina and her husband Lawrence Kay-Shuttleworth that we are going to discuss in more detail. Honestly, this is new research, absolutely fresh from the archive, so it has been so exciting to talk to Isobel and to recover this love story from the depths of Gawthorpe Hall’s history.
Gawthorpe Hall was the home, built between 1600-1605, for the Reverend Lawrence Shuttleworth whose family had settled at Gawthorpe at the end of the 14C. In the mid-19C, Gawthorpe was redesigned by Sir Charles Barry, who also redesigned Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey and today, Gawthorpe Hall stands as a fine Jacobean historic house set in over 40 acres of woodland, in the care of the National Trust and Lancashire County Council.
The love story between Selina Bridgeman (later Kay-Shuttleworth) and Lawrence Kay-Shuttleworth, heir to Gawthorpe Hall, in many ways epitomises the experience of many women during the 20C, experiencing love and loss in the intensity of wartime…
Because most people probably won’t have heard of Selina and Lawrence that we should maybe start with how you would describe Selina.
Isobel: So it’s a little difficult to describe Selina in really exact terms and particularly she has lived such a long life. She was born in 1886, and she lived until 1982, so she was nearing 100. So she kind of had many different phases of her life, many different interests, and also a lot of what I’ve been using to try and get a sense of who she was are things that were written by other people. There are a few letters written by her that survive, but since obviously it’s her collection of letters, mainly it’s ones that was sent to her by other people. So kind of generally being trying to find her in the negative space or in the way that she saved letters from her children to each other, how they describe her to each other and things like that. But the young Selina who met Lawrence, to me, she kind of comes across as being politically minded, very curious, religious – her faith is very important to her throughout her life. She’s very affectionate. She’s kind of sociable, charming, very forthright if somewhat uncompromising. She also seems to have quite enjoyed being admired.
Holly: She does sound absolutely fascinating and super complex as a person. But if we kind of go back to super basics, who were her parents? So we kind of get an idea of what her childhood is going to look like.
Isobel: Yeah. So Selina comes from a really interesting family herself. So as I said, she was born in 1886, and her mother was Gertrude Cecilia Bridgeman which is an name you don’t hear often enough at all
Holly: Amazing name
Isobel: And Gertrude was the fourth of eight children. Her parents were George Hanbury and Mary Trotter. These names sound very kind of ordinary, but Mary Totter actually came from a very upper-class family. Her father was a captain in the lifeguards and her mother was one of the first Baron Ravensworth’s eleven children. There’s a lot of big families on big families in Selina’s background. But then Mary, when she married George, when she was about 20, she could maybe think that she took a little bit of a step down in the world because George was very well to do. He was from a more mercantile family, as he was a hop merchant. But Gertrude’s marriage brought her back more towards her own mother’s military and aristocratic roots. When she was 23 or 22, about then, she married the Honourable Francis Charles Bridgeman. So he was quite a bit older; he was 37 at the time and he was the youngest child of Orlando Bridgeman, the third Earl of Bradford um and his wife, Francis’ mother, was the Honourable Selina Bridgeman née Weld-Forester, Countess of Bradford, and Francis’ parents, and particularly our Selina’s namesake, the Countess – they led pretty fabulous lives themselves. So Orlando had a military and a political career. He served under three Conservative prime ministers, including Benjamin Disraeli. And when Orlando was in his 20s, Disraeli described him as being ‘a very agreeable, shrewd, tall, fair, unaffected, very young man,’ so very complimentary. But Disraeli comes into the Bridgeman’s life a lot later as well, because I think this might be interesting to people interested in historical romance…So Selina, Countess of Bradford, and along with her older sister Anne, Countess of Chesterfield, they were kind of leaders of fashionable society. So, in the 1870s, Selina became great friends with Disraeli who had been very recently widowed and he actually very quickly became completely besotted by Selina. He wrote to her obsessively, even like scribbling while he was in the Chamber at Parliament and we’ve got over 1000 surviving letters that he wrote to her.
Holly: Yeah. And that’s such a coincidence, because my next episode is going to be about the Disraelis.
Isobel: Oh, amazing. They are a fascinating couple.
Holly: All linking together and a testament to the fact that Selina and Lawrence’s love story weaves into this just incredible narrative of love stories through the ages. So she came from quite an upper-middle class family then.
Isobel: Francis’, her father’s, career was military and political as well. He was a British Army officer and he steadily progressed the ranks. But he also aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps and take up a political career. And he stood unsuccessfully in three elections. But eventually he managed to be elected as the Conservative MP of Bolton, which is the role he had for ten years, and Selina was kind of born during a particularly successful period of Francis’ life. He had been finally elected the year before she was born, and the year after she was born, he became a Colonel. So it was quite a good time for the Bridgeman family.
Holly: Yeah. Lots of celebrations. Do we know much her about childhood?
Isobel: We don’t know a huge amount about Selina’s childhood. She was the second of five children. She had an older brother, Reginald or Reggie, and three younger brothers, who is Francis (known as Paul), Humphrey, and Orlando and the older four are all born quite close together, but Orlando was the baby. And we know the family mainly lived in London and Shropshire, but otherwise we kind of get brief impressions and little bits of memories from her letters. For instance, Selina’s described as being a little girl riding a horse called Persimmon. And Reggie wrote to her kind of reminiscing about when they were small, dressed up in their best clothes, very slowly descending the staircase at Weston Park, which was the home of the Earl and the Countess of Bradford, to be viewed by a very correct and dignified and august company. But otherwise the ways that we’re going to get to see Selina in her youth, pre marriage, are she makes various fleeting cameo appearances in newspaper articles. As you said, she’s part of the upper echelons of society whose weddings, days out, social gatherings, fundraising activities, balls, parties, and outfits were very regularly reported. So between ages six and 18, Selina mainly features as a bridesmaid at family weddings, wearing various kind of array of charming outfits. I particularly like imagining Selina, age eleven, imperiously directing kind of the younger page boys as they distributed buttonholes and shoulder sprays to the guests.
Holly: Sounds about right.
Isobel: Poor little brother Paul, aged four, he was kind of got up in this described as picturesque, cream silk Robin Hood’s outfit, which sounds very embarrassing for a poor boy.
Holly: Do we know much about her education?
Isobel: We don’t really know anything for certain. We know her brothers were all kind of sent off to be educated at public schools and then later at various universities or at hospitals as medical students. But it’s likely that Selina was privately educated at home, possibly alongside one of her cousins, Eveline, because they both send off various creative endeavours to the Gentlewoman Magazine, to the Children’s Salon. Selina doesn’t get very complimentary uh feedback on her work. One of her photographs says ‘it’s a very pretty little group,’ but it does say that the black dog touches the skyline ‘unpleasantly.’ When you’re artistic endeavours are described as unpleasant, it’s not particularly complementary.
Holly: It’s not great no.
Isobel: But her creativity is something that she enjoyed throughout her life and it’s something that her family who knew her in her old age, she still really enjoyed. Despite all her brother’s absences at school, Selina seems to have been very close to them – Reggie in particular. And this kind of closeness of family is something that you see with Lawrence as well and in their married life. So Reggie’s letters, give a sense of what their family was like. He talks about how close their family were. He thought they were closer than most people’s families, that they were unusually close and he also thought that their family had had a very strong formative effect on all of them. And he also stressed how important his sister was to him and Selina seems to really treasure those letters. The two confided in each other, they advised each other, they shared into those feelings and enjoyed each other’s company and conversation. And Reggie admired Selina for her energy and her drive and her loving care and the style of her writing, actually. And Selina’s parents also seem to have had a lasting influence over her as well. Her mother died when she was 25, but in later years Selina would write about the religious principles that her mother had instilled in her. She’d even use those principles of ammunition in arguments with her lovers later in life. Francis’ passion for politics seems to have inspired Selina’s lastly interested in, and sometimes disruptive engagement, with politics and they remained close throughout his life.
A big event that marks a change in how Selina appears in newspapers is that when she was 18, in 1905, she was presented at Court by her mother and, obviously, that’s her coming out when she officially comes out into society. And then she begins to appear in articles which kind of give us a bit of a taste of her social world. She’s at garden parties, hunt balls. She’s selected to be the debutante who holds the collection plate at the fundraising event attended by the great and the good – events of the seasons, such as Shropshire’s Horticultural and Floral Fete, where she was mentioned in the section on ‘Well Gowned Women.’ We know she’s called to attend Court again in 1908 at Buckingham Palace, along with her parents, her grandmother (who was a lady in waiting for the Princess of Wales) and various members have extended family on both sides. And a lot of these social events, you see a lot of similar names and you also see a lot of names of Selina’s extended family featuring. So she was obviously moving in a network in which she was known and connected.
Holly: This network that she was working in, attending all these events, is this how she came across Lawrence?
Isobel: We don’t know how they first met. The earliest letter that we have between them is undated, but based on kind of context clues, I think it’s either from June 1912 or June 1911, perhaps, and at that point their relationship is well underway and it’s progressing very seriously. And Selina would have been like 25 or 26 at that point, and Lawrence a year younger. They probably met in London. Both their families spent time there and socialised there. And the diaries of Edward, who is Lawrence’s younger brother, survive from 1914 to 1916, which was the period when Edward met his wife. And I think that the way that their courtship progressed is probably quite a good template for how it’s likely that Lawrence and Selina met as well, which is that most of their courtship is taking place at parties and balls, kind of talking and dancing late into the night. That’s what I suspect happened. Also, their families were both political families, although Selina’s family was a Conservative family and Lawrence’s family was a Liberal family.
Holly: Do you have any feeling of what may have attracted them to each other?
Isobel: Yes, there is…at least I’m going to get a sense of what might have attracted Selina to Lawrence.
Isobel: Both in a superficial level, but also in a more in-depth way as well. There’s a really glowing description of Lawrence, which appeared in The Daily Sketch in 1913 – so it was actually from after his marriage to Selina, shortly after their marriage – but I think it gives us a sense of how Lawrence appeared to others and what might have been alluring about that about him. It really focuses on how tall he is. He’s six foot three and a half inches tall, but he doesn’t move awkwardly. He carries his inches really well. They say there’s something winning about this young giant. And he has a charming platform manner because they’re describing him speaking in his when he stood for the Altrincham election. They say he’s boyish. He’s charmingly frank. He has a wonderful smile which captivates the watchers. It spreads all over his face.
Holly: This is an impressive report.
Isobel: I know. They also say that he is a splendid speaker, with a ready answer to any queries that had been put to him. And he also seems to have had this sense of really just solid, unshakable confidence. They described him standing on a soapbox for half an hour at a works meeting, arguing with a workman who shouting questions and all topics towards him and Lawrence just kind of batting back out answers. And I think it’s this combination of seriousness with gregariousness, with this kind of confidence, with this vulnerability that we really see in the letters from their engagement, which I think might have been quite appealing.
Holly: And then Selina was a very similar temperament and exciting and beautiful and interesting and clever and all of that.
Isobel: Yes. And his letters are really well written. They are themselves fluent. They’re very emotional and letter writing must have been a way that they communicated a great deal when they are kind of moving between their different family homes. And writing seems to have been important to Selina. She kept up a huge correspondence, and is complimented on her writing. And she was also a good speaker herself. There’s a newspaper article from after the outbreak of war. She gave a speech which, of the Speech of the Day, it’s the only one that’s kind of extensively quoted from. So I think words mattered to both of them. And they were also both very interested in politics. That’s something they really shared and as well as religion. Lawrence is very seriously religious. At his Memorial, the priest who took it, who’d known him personally, talked about how he was a truly religious man, how for him religion wasn’t something that happened on a Sunday, how he carried God into his daily life. That kind of sense of faith leading life, being woven through your life again, has a lot in common with Selina and as well, a certain intensity of emotion seems to be shared by both of them, that they are affectionate to each other and also to other people in their lives. They can both came from very close families, very affectionate to them, their families, and to friends. And I think there’s also a certain worshipful tone in Lawrence’s letters around the time of their courtship and their engagement, that he wasn’t sure that he was worthy of her, that ‘had he taken pity on her,’ ‘how wonderful she was,’ and ‘she was bestowing so much upon him, what did he have to offer her?’ And this worshipful tone is something that comes up again in letters from later lovers which she shared that she saved. So there is a sense that she finds that kind of dynamic, at least that way of writing to her quite seductive, even if that is not what sustains a relationship for her, that is not what ultimately bonds her to a person. It certainly seems to be seductive.
Holly: Part of that wooing
Isobel: But something that really kind of comes across really strongly in the letters is that they have a real desire and excitement to grow together, to grow as people together. Shortly after their engagement, Lawrence wrote to her that he said, “I’m at last realizing that it really is true and that the greatest hopes I’ve ever entertained will be fulfilled. And I pray more earnestly than ever that together with you, I may lead a fuller and more Christian life than in the past. I know it will be better because of my happiness and joy with you. Even here, I feel there are degrees and we must sore upwards, however thin the air and aspire to overcome the difficulties, however vast. My beloved, it is glorious that we start so young and have so much ahead.”
Holly: Gosh I mean, it’s really impossible not to kind of fall in love with him, being able to write like that, isn’t it?
Holly: It’s so romantic. So maybe we should talk a little bit about Lawrence because we’ve kind of explained all of his glorious attributes. But maybe we should talk about who he was. So if we go back to his family, you mentioned we’re a political family. Who were his parents? What were his roots?
Isobel: So Lawrence was born in 1877, 21 September 1877 and he was born at Barbon Manor in Kirkby Lonsdale, which was Lord Shuttleworth Westmidland residence because his parents were Ughtred K. Shuttleworth, who was 1st Baron Shuttleworth and Blanche, who is the youngest daughter of Sir Woodbine Parish. Ughtred was a landowner and a Liberal politician and he had inherited Gawthorpe Hall and the Shuttleworth estates from his mother, Janet Shuttleworth, who was an heiress, and his father, James Kay, who’d been a physician, civil servant and social reformer, took her surname upon their marriage because she was an heiress, because he was entering into the Shuttleworth tradition. And both Blanche and Ughtred continued their interest in social reform and they were both quite passionate about education. They had six children, of which Lawrence was the fourth and he had three older sisters, Angela, Nina and Rachel, and then a younger brother and sister, who are Edward and Catherine. And it’s through Edward’s eyes that we do get a bit of a snapshot into Lawrence and Selina’s relationship as well.
Holly: So you mentioned Gawthorpe Hall, and maybe we should just pause for a second and discuss Gawthorpe Hall a little bit to understand what it meant to be the heir. Can you describe the history of Gawthorpe Hall?
Isobel: So the Shuttleworth family had been landowners in the area of Gawthorpe Hall since the medieval period. But Gawthorpe Hall as we know it now really, starts to come into being in the late 16th Century. We have Richard Shuttleworth, who lives at his house, Smithfield, near Bolton, and he perhaps starts to think about building at Gawthorpe. But he dies in 1599. Doesn’t really get started with it. And he’s succeeded by his brother, Lawrence Shuttleworth – he’s a clergyman – and he manages to build Gawthorpe Hall, build this beautiful hall, which we actually know quite a lot about the building process of, because the accounts from that period survive. But he doesn’t uh really get to enjoy the fruits of expenditure and labour because he dies in 1608. And then we get another Richard Shuttleworth, and he actually gets to live in Gawthorpe Hall and enjoy it. And then the family just continues on.
Holly: It’s a big legacy to take on, isn’t it? And I guess that’s why I’m also not surprised that Lawrence seems to have had quite the gentleman’s education as well.
Isobel: He was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, so a very common track that many many people followed. And then he started a legal career. He was a law student. He was engaged in a temple and then he was called to the bar in 1913. But he also spent a lot of time being trained to be the next Lord Shuttleworth, getting a handle on everything and really being groomed to be a successor.
Holly: Yeah. So you said the magic year 1913. And I know that’s the year that they get married. Can you describe their wedding a little bit? Because I love a wedding.
Isobel: I love a wedding as well. They got married on the 1 February 1913. And so many newspaper reports to comb through about this wedding and lots of really lovely photographs of the couple. But they got married in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, which is the same spot where Samuel Peeps, John Milton and Winston Churchill had all had their respective hands joined in Holy matrimony. So a very historical spot. They got married when Selina was 26 and Lawrence was 25. And her dress was white with an overlay of old family lace and a train that was embroidered in gold, which just sounds breath-taking. Her veil was also lace and she had flowers in her hair. Just really beautiful. But it wasn’t all perfect because the day was rainy. There were showers.
Holly: Oh what a surprise February in the UK, and it just rained.
Isobel: But luckily one of their wedding gifts was an umbrella, so they were well cared for.
Holly: So what were the first couple of years of their marriage like? Do we know that much?
Isobel: So we know a little bit and most of that what we know kind of comes through, of what the character marriage is like, comes to us through Edward’s eyes through his diaries. And we also see together they had three children as well, and their first child was born very soon after their wedding – must have been kind of a honeymoon baby – and a lot of them also had very cute nicknames, so his nickname was Dickie Bird which is very sweet. And Edward’s diary entry for the 1 January 1914, when the couple have been married for less than a year, got a new baby. He says that ‘Richard squawks a lot, but now weighs 13 pounds. He’s a strapping baby.’ And he says that Lawrence and Lina – the family called her Lina rather than Selina – were (my French is terrible), but ‘terriblement devoué.’ You can tell that obviously the education of the Gentry was much more continental on my own, but that means that they were terribly devoted. So that’s really sweet to see, although I’m sure they were exhausted with their squawking child.
Holly: Yeah I’m sure slight sleep deprivation but nice to know that clearly they were extremely happy together.
Isobel: And that kind of impression continues. And obviously this is the impression that we’re seeing through someone else’s eyes, but it does seem to be quite a good impression. It also seems that Selina was very integrated with the Shuttleworth family and that her own family is very integrated with the two families themselves are quite integrated. Reggie, Selina’s brother, being at Shuttleworth family events. Edward lunching with Colonel Bridgeman, Selina’s father, when Selina wasn’t present. So it does seem that it’s very close, caring family network, and particularly a family who are very interested in politics, like Edward, often talks about going to dinner or lunch with Lina and Lawrence and says they have terrific political talk. Although, it’s not all perfect. He does say that one dinner that they go to, he has very dull and depressing conversation.
Holly: They weren’t dazzling at all times.
Isobel: Exactly. You can’t always on good form. You also get a sense of Edward, of Selina’s forthrightness. So in this period of this diary, Edward himself he’s met the woman he wants to marry, Sybil, she wants to marry him. But he’s also embarking on a legal career, going for the bar. But with that, he’s not expected to earn enough to have a wife for at least six years and this is a real problem for the couple. And Selina says to Edward, ‘I don’t really think you’re in love with her, to be honest.’ They’re obviously very close, very Frank with each other. And Edward records in his diary and says, ‘Well, I just can’t act the part of the sad lover,’ because he said there was part of me that believes it will happen, it will come true. Selina obviously had quite romantic vision of what a spurned lover in her head should look like, which I suppose takes us back to this romantic courtship that she and Lawrence had, from the look of her letters, and that Lawrence is suffering anguish at the thought of whether he’s worthy enough. She’s like, ‘Well, I’m not seeing enough suffering, anguish here, Edward. I’m not 100% sure about it.’ But yeah, they socialised a lot. They had a lot of dinners, very close, and also again, just over a year after they married, Edward says he went to dinner with Lawrence and Lina, and I really enjoy his description. He said ‘they both seem very well.’ He said that Lawrence ‘is rather dictatorial, but Lina seems to love him unboundedly, however, in spite of the snappiness of his remarks, at times just like father’s to mother.’ So it seems like they were kind of starting to settle into a happy but the models of their own, of relationships that they’d obviously seen growing up. And it seems that despite his snappiness, Lawrence seems to have really appreciated his marriage and seen that as the central part of his life, because when Edward was having all these troubles trying to work out how he was going to afford to get married, Lawrence was very supportive of him in that and supported of him changing career, supported him to their father, either to change career or asking for their father to help Edward financially. Because Lawrence believed that marriage was the most important thing in life beyond career, and that should be kind of the centre of it.
Holly: Well, shall we move to something a little more sad then and talk about what the outbreak of World War One meant for them as a family.
Isobel: Yes. So we know from the newspapers accounts of Selina giving these kind of patriotic speeches to local women around the area where the Shuttleworths lived, you’d think it was all idealism and positivity and just thrusting forward. She talked about how cooperation was really important, how although desolation and sorrow will come, that this war actually has the potential to break down prejudices, to upheave things that we’ve never thought of before and kind of change the national character and basically forge them in the fire, make them better. However, in private conversations with Edward, it seems that she wasn’t in such good spirits. It’s very tiring to keep up that level of positivity and they found that both of them found that there was much too much talk of distress and also relief at Gawthorpe Hall for both of them. They went for walks together. But Edward and Lawrence both joined up. They joined Kitchener’s Army – Edward almost immediately, Lawrence took a little longer to join up because he needed to set estate affairs in order and set home affairs in order. And before he joined up, he also worked with committees that dealt with national relief questions in Lancashire. But he then went on to join the Royal Regiment of Artillery and went to France in 1915. And he was mentioned in dispatches for gallant conduct during the Battle of Loos. He served in the Royal Field Artillery supporting the Canadian divisions both in the Somme and in the neighbourhood of Vimy Ridge. He was promoted to Captain in 1917, and he served continuously in Flanders and France until his death. Selina was also very busy on this side of the Channel. The British Red Cross still holds her VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] record. She also gave birth during this period. Their second child, Rosemary was born in September 1915. Her nickname was Rosebud. So chunk of the first portion of the War was spent presumably being pregnant. But then Selina, she became a nursing probationer and then also a carpenter.
Holly: Oh course she did.
Isobel: She was a full time volunteer for three months and then a part time volunteer after that. First at the Weir hospital in Balham, Rowland Gardens Hospital, St. Dunstan’s, and then at the Carpentry Department of Kensington War Supply Depot in 1918. And when she’s just about to start nursing, Lawrence wrote to her, ‘good luck in your new work. But remember, wounded men are not all heroes, and most of these fellows are very rough and wild,’ which is quite an interesting thing to say. Also Selina and Lawrence, although she had her own endeavours, they also seem to have worked together in tandem on either side of the Channel. So Lawrence was quite committed to the welfare of his men. For instance, he encouraged and facilitated the starting of a canteen for them. He himself was t-total and non-smoker and he was very concerned about the kind of temptations that were available to soldiers overseas. So he was kind of quite interested in welfare. But he would often write to Selina, about the situations of men in his Regiment and asks Selina to take action in London on their behalf, particularly to help them to gain access to appropriate support for their families. So she’s pushing on that administrative front at home while he was kind of dealing directly with people who are having trouble over there. So, yes, Lawrence and Selina seem to have worked in tandem on each side of the Channel, attempting to assist and support the men in Lawrence’s Regiment.
Holly: That’s quite impressive. Still working um as a team even hundreds of miles away from each other.
Isobel: Yes. Although there does seem that there are some changes in their relationship from what we saw at the beginning of it. So none of Selina’s letters to Lawrence survive as far as we know at the moment, but one or two from him survive and they show that she was writing to him very regularly and he would sometimes receive a bundle of letters all at once, which he would really enjoy. But it seems that Lawrence struggled to write more. We kind of said how eloquent and his early letters were, and people commented on how good a speaker he was, but he writes one of his letters, how difficult he was finding it to write letters when he felt he needed to have news, he needed to have things to say, he needed to have factual things to cling onto. It’s not quite the same emotional outpourings in his early letters. He spoke less about his feelings. It was more about reality and practicalities and he encouraged and supported Selina in her endeavours as I said kind of wishing her luck and giving her advice. But it’s interesting seeing that contrast again with their early letters while there, the way he talked about it, they were kind of both kind of partners in hope and idealism and looking towards the future. He kind of now seems more muted and is warning her not to idealize the soldiers she wants to care for. So he obviously seems to be feeling that they’re in different positions at this point in terms of how they’re looking at now and perhaps how they look at the future as well.
Holly: So how did their marriage end and what did this mean for Selina?
Isobel: So Lawrence was killed in action in March 1917 and is killed in a shell explosion in the run up to the Battle of Vimy Ridge when he was serving as a Captain in the Royal Field Artillery, supporting the Canadian Corps, who did actually go on to have victory at that battle. And it was obviously a great loss to his family and to Selina. People who he had known in his Regiment, such as his chaplain and his Commanding Officer, also wrote to the family about that it was a loss for them as well, that he’d been well known . The chaplain said he was one of those officers who, by their example in life, make the chaplain’s life easier because you could think that a lot of what people say in these kind of letters are you’re saying the words you should say? Of course, he’s missed But the way they talk about him and the way they chime with what other people say, what the letters say, it seems that they are personal. He was a good friend to his Commanding Officer. They had interesting conversations and his Commanding Officer said that his loss left a gap which no one can fill as he did, which is obviously a feeling that was made out shared by many others, by Selina herself.
Holly: And Selina’s whole world must have shifted because of how much of her future had been tied to Lawrence’s.
Isobel: Yes, her entire future had been tied to what he was going to do. She wasn’t going to support him in his political career. She wasn’t going to be the lady of an estate. And when he died, she was pregnant with their third child, Ronald, who was actually born after his death. So she was left with three children and no clear idea of exactly what her future was going to look like. And 1917 was just an awful year for her – Lawrence was not her only loss. The year began with the death of her cousin, who was killed in action in January. Lawrence was killed in March. Then two months later, Selina’s youngest brother, Humphrey was killed in action. He’s only 25. Then in July, Edward, Lawrence’s younger brother, was killed. And then in September, Selina’s father died suddenly while he was out riding. And she saved many of the condolence letters that she received on her father’s death. And they give an impression that Selina was just more lost and alone than ever before now that she was without her father, that he had been, say, a ray of Sunshine and strength to her, giving her comfort and support and counsel in this really difficult time when she’d lost her husband, when she was alone. And that now, on top of all your other sorrow, this must seem entirely overwhelming.
Holly: And I think one of the reasons why we wanted to discuss her and Lawrence’s love story and their life was because she had other loves after Lawrence and so she epitomises this capacity of early 20th-century women to have their whole world, their love, ripped away from them and continue finding new people, new ways to love. And so I thought maybe we should talk a little bit about the other men who came into her life and how they shaped her. So the first one is a Russian general, is that right?
Isobel: Well, he’s the first long term one. So there’s hints that Selina was having at least flirtations before then as well. There’s a letter from May 1917 – so only a couple of months after Lawrence has died – and it seems that Selina goes into we talk a lot about the Roaring Twenties, but it seems that Selina goes into her own kind of version of this more frenetic, decadent lifestyle. And yes, this letter from May 1917, she just calls him my ‘Dear General.’ So we’re not really sure who it is. She says it seems that she’s had a letter from this man which perhaps wasn’t very complimentary – it seems to be cutting off ties with her – because it says, ‘I think your decision is the right one, although many of your conclusions are painfully incorrect. And it saddens me to know that your intimacy with a widow and your reading of one or two and unwholesome books at her dictation have clouded your better judgment to the extent of embittering you against a whole English nation.’ So I suspect that this was a Canadian general ‘that I have not even the heart to object. You’re thinking me a liar might have proved to you that I’m a sad woman still in love with her husband, whether alive or dead. You’re misunderstanding whatever Colonel James’s information [and Colonel James is Lawrence’s brother-in-law, he’s the husband of one of Lawrence’s sisters] concerning me may have been similar to your misunderstanding of my whole outlook on life.’ And then she bids him farewell.
Holly: That is an incredible breakup letter I have to say.
Isobel: Yes. She says, ‘do not think me utterly ungrateful, quite insensible at the kindness you’ve shown me but perhaps you had better think of me as a she devil.’ So it seems that perhaps Selina’s intentions and the readings and understandings of another person were quite disparate, at different odds and also just raises so many questions as well: what are these books that she’s told him to read? And what impression did they give? What information did Colonel James give that he could have misunderstand? What was his misunderstanding for whole outlook on life? Then we get onto the general.
Holly: Yeah, the other general.
Isobel: There’s a lot of generals. She’s only interested in Generals.
Holly: I mean that’s fair – if you have a type, I mean…
Isobel: You like what you like and that’s fine.
Isobel: So he’s Kostia Bessino, usually signs off Kostia and he had come across to England, obviously, the First World War and particularly the Russian Revolution and some of their letters do discuss his thoughts about the Russian Revolution, what he thinks Britain should be doing. So the first letter that we um have from them is from November 1917, which is very soon after after Ronald, her youngest child of Lawrence’s birth which we know through some of the things that Kostia writes to her in her letters. Her relationship with Kostia seems to have been quite turbulent, seems to have a lot of highs and lows, very passionate, but also full kind of quite passionate hurt as well. And the reason we have Selina’s letters, at least one in particular of Selina’s letters to Kostia, is because he annotated it. It made him so angry that he annotated it and sent it back to her with portions underlined as to which parts have made him so angry and comments into why they had made him so angry.
Holly: I love that you can read into their arguments. Like that, that’s amazing that that still exists. And you can have a peek into their life about what this lovers row was about. And to be fair, to annotate anyone’s letter, I mean, I bet that really annoyed her.
Isobel: Yes and it’s interesting as well because it’s interesting because that interaction gives so much insight into how much of their relationship was through letters as well. And this is a recurring theme with Selina’s relationships later in life is that so many of them are long distance, at least a good portion of the time. They are conducted a huge amount through letters. And when she writes him this letter, that makes him a bit angry. She says, ‘I want you to keep this letter with the one that you wrote to me’…so Kostia writes a letter, Selina writes a letter, Kostia writes a letter and sends a letter back to her. But she’d written, ‘I want you to keep my letter pinned to your letter so that you can see my disagreement with you, so that you can kind of come back and read it and see who you think is right, essentially.’ So there’s a sense of like this archive of letters that they reread, they go back through. And also the fact that Selina, through her life, kept this exchange of angry letters between them. He didn’t keep her letter pinned to his, but she kept those letters pinned together. She kept that exchange. I mentioned earlier there’s the argument that she brings up her mother’s religious teachings to her in a letter, in an argument with a lover and it’s this argument with Kostia and is the thing that he underlines. And he finds blasphemous, frankly. He is also very religious, but as I said that Selina kind of enters into this more…I’m trying to think of the right word…
Holly: Like a more decadent.
Isobel: Yes more decant phase…
Isobel: Yeah and he hates this. She lets other men kiss her and he hates that. She has tete-a-tete (so one on one meetings with the men) and he hates that. She doesn’t spend enough time with her children to his mind and he thinks that they need more guidance from her. He tells her that people are talking about her, and it seems that their relationship is well known in social circles. He talks about other people’s opinions about what’s happening with them. And essentially, Selina says, ‘I don’t really care what Lady so-and-so has to say about me. If you don’t want me to be friends with other men, that’s going to be a problem for me.’ And he also says that as well – it’s quite offensive, actually – he also says that ‘these men are not really interested in you as a person. They’re just flattering you. They’re not really interested in your intellect. I really care about you and I guide you and I do this. Other people, they don’t actually really see you as an equal or someone to be interested in. What they want from you is flirtation and more essentially.’ But yes, so Selina is not having it. And she said, ‘I don’t really care what Lady so-and-so says about me. I only really care about what I think Jesus thinks about me. When a man kisses me, I think, how would I feel if Jesus walks into the room now and I wouldn’t feel bad about it? And that for me means it’s okay. And that her mother taught her that they should be careful about their judgments about other people and social convention isn’t the thing that should guide you or bind you or constrain your behaviour, but instead it should be God and your faith.’ And she didn’t think that she was doing anything wrong in the eyes of God. Her beliefs about the only thing that’s important is God rather than social convention, it’s a double edged sword. She sounds very Liberal. But also when homosexuality was being legalised and things like that, she did write some quite vicious letters about that. So her progressiveness only extended so far really.
This sense of distance doesn’t seem to only have been geographic. But, at least with Kostia. It seems to have been that he felt a particular emotional distance between them. You get this repeated sense, and he says very explicitly often, that he’s very in love with her and he doesn’t feel that everything is reciprocated. And it seems as well that they have a very physically intimate relationship and it seems like for him, this inability to have true emotional closeness with Selina, that there seemed to always be this kind of distance between them, that he doesn’t feel that they feel the same for each other, sharing that physical intimacy for him is what I suppose the proxy for that, is the replacement for that. And their nicknames for each other are also kind of quite telling. He’s her big Russian bear, and he calls her the little Bumblebee, which seems to be for a couple of things. It does seem to have like sexual connotations and that he kind of talks about like her nectar of her kisses and also her pansy and things like that. But also that she is, I suppose, vivid and alive, but also that she has a sting and that is very apparent from her letters is that the kind of the pulling of close together and then pushing apart.
Holly: And so this level of intensity that existed in this relationship, was that there in her second marriage to Major-General William Birchall Macaulay King – that was a long name – because they got married in 1920, didn’t they?
Isobel: Yes. It’s really interesting because there’s the long process of ending things with Kostia. One of the things she said that really stuck with me is that she said in the final letter that we have is that ‘Today General W [who I wonder if that is her who becomes her husband, I think it is] kissed me with a deeper affection than he ought to have and I let myself be so treated. And this must be so unpleasant to you that I earnestly want you to block me from your life. And she says to him, I am not what you call in love. I shall never be so. I’m too selfish. I realise fully all but this man, he might call my friend. And I shall never even want to get to know him in the way I have grown to know you. I merely tell you this in the vain hope that you may not think I compare you as one with another.’ And she says she doesn’t want to have this overlapping relationship and she also says, ‘I love because I can never be in love and when I meet men who cannot love but only be in love, I must cut myself off from contact with them and from a mutual affection which might be one of the most sweet pleasures in this topsy-turvy planet.’ That also leave me with so many questions about what she means by ‘in love’ and ‘love’ and when she says ‘I shall never be so’ is she looking back at her relationship with Lawrence with different eyes, or is this for her looking ahead? And also to some degree is some of this to soften the blow with Kostia, who knows? But I do think there is this sense of kind of talked earlier about how she does enjoy being admired but isn’t necessarily what is going to sustain a relationship. And I wonder if this kind of distinction she makes between ‘I love because I can never be in love. And I meet men who cannot love but only be in love’ is that she recognises in herself that actually this kind of relationship does not sustain her and it’s not really what she wants. And her marriage to the General does begin with a lot of optimism. And you see that a lot in letters with her brother, Reggie, because there’s an understanding there as well that her marriage, Lawrence, was actually quite short. They were only married for four years. And he says, ‘this is exciting for you. You’ve not really been very married. You’ve been a bit married’ and this is a whole new life because the General was Canadian, it would mean her moving to Canada, which was a very different social world. And Reggie as well, he was a socialist, and he was very excited about the prospect of Selina going to this whole new social and cultural sphere and living this different life and her children having a different life. And he said that they seemed very happy together. But as well as being socialist, he was also quite interested in what the General’s prospects were because he did still want his sister to be cared for in quite conventional terms. He says, ‘now, at any rate, you will be completely and absolutely married. And I do wholeheartedly rejoice at it and believe that your new and broader life must be wholly good for your children also. It will give them a larger outlook than if they were brought up in England only.’ But yes, he was very optimistic about their life and a sense that Selina was very optimistic about their life as well.
However, it’s a marriage that starts with such great optimism and so much hope, but it doesn’t seem to have been fulfilled that hope, shall we say. The marriage itself also was difficult in that it caused tension with Lawrence’s family, with the Shuttleworth, because they were not excited – particularly with Lord Shuttleworth, because he was not happy at the idea of Selina’s children moving to Canada and for them to be educated differently to how his sons had been educated and how he himself, how they were all educated because Richard, Selina’s oldest son, was his heir and he wanted him to be there and to be raised in a way that he thought was appropriate. So that was a huge amount of tension, and also because Selina ended up travelling back and forth from Canada to England so much when they’re in Canada, her husband supported her when she was in England, she had to support herself through the money that had been uh her portion that had been left to her at Lawrence’s death, which she wrote Lord Shuttle with seemed like a good amount at the time, but in the changing circumstances and with three children and two of them at public schools isn’t really going very far. And caused her to develop some resentment towards certain members of the family, particularly Lord Shuttleworth, particularly as he lived well into his 90s. As he continued to live longer and longer, her sons were not inheriting. And she was struggling for money. Selina still preserved her curiosity, politics and spiritual campaigns and the arts. She still had this life of earnestness laced with mischief. One of my favourite things is a photograph of her in a newspaper she kept hens in the boot room of her Kensington home, for example. She felt very stifled by financial worries and the burden, as they call it, domestic (again, their word) drudgery. And there’s this kind of profound sense of potential left unfulfilled, permeating many of the letters in her collection. The family wanted her to be happy and she loved them. She was still close to them. But there were these kind of smouldering resentments which became quite ugly and really, I think, really grew. For instance, she went to see this clairvoyant (we’d probably call them) when she was over in Canada. Essentially, the clairvoyant said that Lawrence was still close to her and that she was very surrounded by love. And Selina wrote a note to herself at the end that she was going to ask Lawrence’s spirit to help work on Lord Shuttleworth, to help her and her family. And that hate never got anyone anywhere, which kind of gives a sense of where some of her feelings had got to, also a sense of some of the dissatisfaction that she felt in her marriage. At one of these readings, they said that she would be widowed before too long and that’s just written very broadly without comment. And that could just be because that was the way she was recording the fact. But it does suggest a kind of acceptance. I suppose it happened to her once.
Holly: So I found it interesting that, in December 1935, in the London Gazette she issues a statement that she’s returning to her first married name, and she says, ‘I’ve renounced and abandoned the name of Selina Adine Shuttleworth-King.’ So she’s kind of returning back to Lawrence slightly in just that statement.
Isobel: It’s really interesting because that kind of sense of her still being a Shuttleworth, it’s apparent early in the marriage as well as well as at this point, at the end of it. And also as time goes on, my children are getting at school, she moves back to England more permanently as well. So there is kind of that geographical separation between her and her husband as well. But back in 1920, in the same month that she remarried, when she married the General, Selina went to have her portrait taken at this very prestigious photography studio in London, Bassano Limited. And at those photographs, she wore Lawrence’s Royal Field Artillery badge pinned to the centre of her dress just for her neckline and with a string of pearls kind of bordering it like drawing attention to it. And she wore it. She was photographed by Lawrence’s children and in the portrait of her just by herself as well. This badge is still very much in evidence in this portrait shot, it’s worn high enough and just catches the light um as she’s sitting there alone, kind of gazing out at the viewer. So there is, even at the start of their marriage, even as Reggie is writing to her about kind of this new start, this new broad life, she’s still presenting herself as Lawrence’s wife, as Laurence’s widow. And in some of the publicity around her marriage to the General, she is very explicitly called ‘the beautiful widow’ – this beautiful widow and this kind of very romantic widow-y portrait of her used. I think there is this love for Lawrence that abides, this relationship with Lawrence that abides. But it also seems like it very much becomes part of identity to be his wife and to be his widow. And she very much returns to that very very firmly.
Holly: Very publicly.
Isobel: Very publicly and very firmly
Holly: Let’s move onto the kind of last relationship that we wanted to talk about – Algernon. Tell me what happened.
Isobel: So it’s very interesting, her relationship with Algernon and I have to say some parts that make me feel a little uncomfortable. And some of that is the way people write about romance is different in different ages and some of the ways that they write about romance feel odd in our context. So Algernon is quite a bit older. Their families knew each other. Algernon knew her as a child. At various events, that newspaper’s Selina is at, you see Algernon’s name and his wife’s name and members of their family’s name. Little Algernon, the son, was actually the page boy at Selina and Lawrence’s wedding. So these are families that are quite intertwined. So their relationship, it’s interesting because there’s almost like you’ve kind of gone through a looking glass into seeing what could have happened if Lawrence hadn’t died. Because Algernon is a landowner. He has an estate. He thinks of himself as being a very conscientious and caring landowner. When he goes on holiday, he goes to look at like better housing for tenants and comes back and does the stuff. He works with a fire Brigade. He does all this kind of thing. He’s very active – he rides, he hunts, he shoots. So you’re kind of seeing some of you engaging in this correspondence mostly with someone that always seems to be like a what could have been. It’s also interesting because we’re perhaps seeing ways in which Selina may have changed a little bit, because when he’s talking about how conscientious he is about the housing that his tenants have, he’s offended because Selina has accused him of having ‘a landlord’s viewpoint.’ He writes to her that he says, ‘I disagree with you absolutely and entirely when you draw such conclusions that you and I have very different standpoints and view things differently, throwing in my face that I look at things from a landlord’s point of view, is that view necessarily a wrong one?’ So many things that are written about Lawrence, his memorial for instance, people who wrote about him, they really praise him for sharing essentially Algernon’s viewpoint, which is that it is your obligation, responsibility to try and improve the social and moral conditions of people who are lesser status to yourself. And here we have Selina who is presumably planning to live a life of those things, arguing with Algernon, criticising Algernon to his mind, throwing it in his face that that is the life he leads. And I kind of wonder exactly what her political stance became at this point and how much the views of her brother Reggie had influenced her. From the letters, it seems that she was never as out there as he was politically. But it is intriguing, kind of seeing perhaps this change that’s happened. Is this an argument that we could have seen between Selina and Lawrence at any point, or have things changed for her? But something that Algernon and Selina do share very much is faith. There is a kind of religious tenor to the way that he talks about her. And there’s also really interesting dynamics between these very two – and again, we don’t see it from Selina’s side, but on Algernon’s side and I wonder whether this is happening to Selina or not. It seems complicated in a different way on her side – is that these two very religious people negotiating the fact that they are both married to other people, but engaging in a romantic and sexual relationship with somebody else. And how do they rationalise that? How do they make that work? And Algernon talking about that God has sent them to be a comfort for each other, to bring joy to each other, that to reject each other is to reject what God has offered. And he talks about himself as being Selina’s mate (I suppose we’d call it soulmate) and in one letter he gets very upset because she’s referred to her husband as her man. So it seems that for Selina, despite the fact that, as you said, her marriage to the General didn’t give all that she hoped that it promised. There was still something there. They had a relationship that was ongoing, and that there was still something too. And she obviously still felt some connection and loyalty and belonging with him. And again, he kind of talks about their relationship and love as having a very spiritual dimension to it. He says that they’ve been sent to each other to relieve each other’s loneliness: ‘It appears to me more and more strongly that was the object that he had in bringing us together again, that we should love and help one another to a far greater extent than anyone else can. And this is the reason why I keep on imploring you to pour out your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, keeping nothing back, hiding nothing, treating me as yourself. This is surely what God wishes. It is not what I may say or may not say that matters. It is what we are, the frightful loneliness that we both feel evaporates to a great extent when we are together and that is because God has made us essential, one to the other, and the more you fight against this loneliness and agony single handed, the more you refuse God’s purpose in making us love one another.’ Yeah, it’s interesting, this is all contrasted with chat about her kids and housework and like the day-to-day. So there is like this very the low and the high to their letters. So there is a real sense of companionship from him as well. There’s a sense of with Kostia, this kind of willingness to share physical intimacy and to a certain degree, emotional intimacy with Algernon. But perhaps this desire to stay partially unknown, whether that’s uncomfortable or whether that’s because she writes to Reggie that some mystery, some unknown-ness is essential to make love work to her mind and kind of wonder how much all of this plays together in the way she thinks about things.
Holly: I mean, she is fascinating, and certainly her love life, her romantic life, is full of mystery. And you’ve done wonders trying to pick apart all of that mystery through all of those letters. And as you said, like finding her in the negative space.
Isobel: And this is an ongoing project. This is just kind of the start of looking at Selina.
Holly: So maybe we should talk a little bit about what you see as the legacy of Selina and Lawrence as a couple.
Isobel: So it’s quite an interesting one thinking about what their legacy is. I don’t know how much legacy they have because in terms of beyond their immediate relationship, in terms of like for the Hall, because not only did Lawrence not inherit, but Selina was never even became the mother of the heir. Well, that’s not true. Her sons, Richard and Ronald, both became Lord Shuttleworth after the death of their grandfather, but both of them were killed in the Second World War at young ages. So again, Selina and Lawrence doesn’t necessarily have that legacy on what happened with the Hall in terms of its succession. So I think perhaps their legacy is kind of twofold. As you said, Selina is to some degree an archetype in that her loss was not unusual, as the priest said at his memorial: ‘he’s but one of tens of thousands of young men who’ve gone out and given their all in the cause and given their all in the cause they believed believed in, to the cause of humanity in the world and didn’t come back.’ In a way, it’s because her isn’t unusual, that it’s no more or less profound than many others that kind of makes her in her life particularly rich and fascinating to kind of look back at and to study because she had to forge a new life in a world that’s changing radically, while she’s still bound into the lives, traditions, and expectations of the elite. And her relationship with Lawrence also kind of created a template for viewing Selina’s life as well at the time, which was she was looked at this kind of litany of losses, grief following grief. We talked about how many people she lost in 1917, and then she lost her sons in the Second World War and then her youngest son shortly early. This came to be the defining narrative of Selina’s life to many people who wrote to her. And we’re kind of focusing on these series of losses, presented Selina as someone who had passed through repeated trials of grief and hardship and through these trials has been shaped and hardened and brought closer to God. And it seemed that this narrative wasn’t just imposed on Selina by other people, but she saved many of the letters that wrote about her in this way which suggests perhaps this way of looking at her life kind of fortified and comforted her and also gave her motivation for many of the campaigns that she joined in. It informed so much of her life. So for Selina herself, perhaps that’s one of the legacies of their relationship.
Holly: Well, thank you so much for giving me such an insight into all of the research that you have done about them and particularly into Selina’s letters. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having this little insight into the archive and into their love story. Thank you.
Isobel: No, thank you very much for having me. It’s been lovely to talk to you.
Holly: And thank you for listening! I hope you enjoyed listening to the love story of Selina and Lawrence Kay-Shuttleworth and then our exploration into Selina’s continuing quest for love as she had the experience of many women at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, of having to adjust her life plans when the love of her life was lost. It still breaks my heart to think of Lawrence writing to Selina: ‘My beloved, it is glorious that we start so young and have so much ahead’. The romance of his letters is…well very, very special.
It has been, therefore, such a joy to be invited into the Selina’s archive by Isobel. Her research is invaluable and has shed so much light on this fascinating couple and to spend so much time with Isobel discussing these things was amazing – we could have talked for hours so I hope you enjoyed this slightly longer episode. But, as Isobel said, this is just the beginning of researching Selina’s life and loves and so it will be very interesting to see where the research goes from here – I just think it’s so exciting to have been given this research hot off the press as it were.
If you would like to visit Gawthorpe Hall and roam the same building and grounds as Selina and Lawrence then you can visit the Gawthorpe Hall website to book tickets – I will leave the link in the show notes. Right now, for the coming months, there is an exhibition at the Hall titled ‘Gawthorpe’s Remarkable Women’ which explores the fascinating lives of some of the women of the Kay-Shuttleworth family, and the impact they had regionally and nationally – of course you might just come across the familiar face of Selina. So I will again leave more information in the show notes.
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