On this day in 1928 a marriage was celebrated in the small church of St. Anne’s in Bucks Mills. What makes this happy event interesting are the guests as two of our volunteers, David and Val explain…
For the past few years we have been working on the parish registers of North Devon transcribing the entries onto a computer. Usually it is a fairly monotonous job, but it is useful because now people can search for their families easily without the trouble of going all the way through the books. A fortnight ago, something sprang off one of the pages. It was the signature of a witness to a wedding in Bucks Mills in 1928. Usually, we haven’t paid much attention to the witnesses, but we paid attention to this one! It read “Clementine S. Churchill.”
Was it really the wife of Winston Churchill, the future Prime Minister and war leader? Yes it was – we found her signature elsewhere, and it was the same. In which case, with all respect to Bucks Mills, which is a lovely hamlet but not exactly the centre of the known universe, why was she there? Who were the couple – Gilbert Davies and Beatrix Whyte? The mind boggled.
The answer came from the pages of the North Devon Journal, even though it followed the long-established tradition of the Press and spelled a lot of the names wrongly. The edition of 2nd August, 1928, included the following:
BUCKS MILLS WEDDING
Davis – Whyte
The picturesque little hamlet of Bucks Mills was gay with flags and bunting on Thursday, of the occasion of the marriage at Bucks Mills Parish Church of Miss Beatrice Ida Whyte, eldest daughter of Lady Maud Whyte, of London and Bucks Mills. to Mr. Gilbert Austin Davis, of 6, The University, Glasgow. The Vicar (Rev. Guy S. Whitaker) officiated, and present.
The bride, who was dressed in beige marocain, with a navy-blue hat, carried a bouquet of mauve stocks, was given away by her mother, who wore a grey dress, trimmed with black lace. The only bridesmaid was Miss Mary Churchill, cousin of the bride, who was attired in yellow georgette, and carried a bouquet. The organist was Miss Dark, who accompanied the hymn, “Love Divine, all loves excelling,” and gave as voluntaries, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and the Bridal March of Lohengrin.
Later in the day Mr. and Mrs. Davis left by car for Exmoor for their honeymoon, the bride travelling in a navy-blue costume, with hat to match.
Lady Maud Whyte has been residing in the district, formerly in Bideford, and since for many years in a cottage at Bucks Mills, overlooking the Bay – altogether for about twenty years and more.
On Wednesday, the day prior to the wedding, the villagers were entertained to an open-air tea by Lady Whyte, followed by a social evening. The oldest inhabitant, Mr. J. Braund, presented Miss Whyte, on behalf of the villagers, with a silver sugar basin.
So why was Clementine Churchill there? Mary Churchill, her youngest daughter was the bridesmaid, and since she was only five years old, Mum had to go along as well. Mary, of course, became Mary Soames, the mother of Sir Nicholas Soames, former Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary, and friend of Prince Charles. She died aged 91 in 2014.
If Mary was a cousin of the bride, what was the family connection? The Whyte family are difficult to track down because they seemed to flit between Scotland and the USA, but it is clear that Maude Whyte was originally Lady Maude Josepha Ogilvy, born 1859 to the 5th Earl of Airlie and his wife the Hon. Henrietta Blanche (nee Stanley). All the sources (including Mary Soames) say that she had four children, Madleine, Felix, Mariott and Mark, but there is no mention of Beatrix!! There is a further difficulty. The Marriage Register says that Beatrix was 45 when she married in 1928. It does not take a genius to work out that she was born about 1883. However Maude did not marry Theodore George Willam Whyte until 1886. The easiest explanation takes into account that there was no such thing as official adoption in Britain until 1927, and that Beatrix was a taken in by the Whytes because she needed parents.
Who was Beatrix? It seems impossible to say. She said she was born around 1883, but there was no Beatrix Ida Anything born in England and Wales within two years of 1883. If we knew where she was born it would help. What we do have is an entry in the 1901 census for Scotland, and there, in St. Andrews, we see the Whyte family. They are Theodore and Maude, with children Madeline, Maryotta, Marcus, but not yet Felix, who was presumably away from home. Also, there is Beatrix, aged 17, but her entry is interesting. The Whytes are entered as her parents, but under place of birth, it says “British subject, ancestia.” This is extremely unusual, for this column usually gives a place, as do the entries of the other children. One guesses that it might be a Latin ablative and mean “by ancestry,” because she was their natural born child.
The blood connection between the families was that Clementine’s mother, Lady Henrietta Blanche Hozier (nee Ogilvy), was the elder sister of Lady Maude Whyte. Therefore Maude was Clementine’s aunt and Mary Churchill’s great aunt. The closest connection between the two families after World War One was through Marriot Whyte (known as Poppet to her family). The Whytes were relatively poor, and Mariott, who would have to earn her living, trained as a Norland Nanny. The Churchills actually employed her to look after their children at Chartwell, so we have the strange situation of the nanny actually being the cousin of the mother of the family. What is more, Mariott was Mary Churchill’s godmother! And Beatrix was Mariott’s (kind of) sister.
What about the happy couple? Gilbert Austin Davies was 59 years old when he married Beatrix in 1928. The register describes him as Professor of Greek at Glasgow. Before that he had been Professor at Liverpool University, and before that Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He retired in 1934, and died in 1948 in Lancaster. Beatrix lived on until 1959, when she died in Lancaster Moor Hospital, which, before the humanising influence of the NHS had been know as the Lancaster County Lunatic Asylum. Alan Bennett describes his mother’s time as a patient there, and said that her ward was a place of ‘unimagined wretchedness,’ and that ‘Lancaster Moor Hospital is not a welcoming institution. Seen from the M6 it has always looked to be like a gaunt grey penitentiary.’
That’s an awful lot of interesting stuff to come out of one signature. Who said archives were boring?