Mabel’s two interviews for ‘Lady of the House’ (September 1893 and July 1894)

“For what daughter of Eve could forego ‘the cup that cheers’. ‘And although we often suffered terribly from want of water’, said Mrs. Bent as we chatted about her last journey, ‘I usually managed to have a cup of tea every morning’.”

“Mrs. Theodore Bent might claim, was she not a very modest woman, to be the champion lady explorer of modern times. Together with her husband, the late Mr. Theodore Bent, she has undertaken successfully 13 voyages of exploration, and probably few women are as familiar with the little known islands of Greece as is Mrs. Bent; she was also one of the first to traverse Arabia.” (Southampton Observer and Hampshire News – Saturday, 3 July 1897)

For Mabel Bent’s birthday, 28 January (she was born in 1847), we reprint below two interview-based articles about her that appeared in Lady of  the House on 15 September 1893 and 14 July 1894. It is unlikely that they have seen the light of day since then. In their way, they are remarkable.

Lady of the House

Now viewed by some as Ireland’s first magazine for women, Lady of the House was launched in 1890 in Dublin. This refined Irish magazine regularly, and unsurprisingly, published news of the activities of Mabel Bent, associated, as the latter was, with two eminent Irish families – the Lambarts of Co. Meath, and the Hall-Dares of Co. Wexford.

Mrs J Theodore Bent, Society Portraits feature, “Lady of the House”, Friday, 15 September 1893 (The Bent Archive).

The magazine’s features team clearly recognised that news of Mabel was exactly the right fit for its modern readership. The relationship began, it seems, back in September 1893, when Mabel was the subject of a 500-word piece for the magazine’s ‘Society Portraits’ page: it may well have been based on an interview, and it’s great highlight is a photograph of Mabel in profile that has been much reproduced. As might be expected, the tone of the piece is more than a little hyperbolic, and there are some strange references, i.e. that the couple undertook ‘some successful “digging”’ in Egypt (this they did not, other than bury some picnic rubbish near the Sphinx!), and their work on the island of Thasos, northern Aegean, is relocated to ‘an Egyptian town near Thrace’. The concluding sentence is accurate however: ‘… and last winter [1892/93] they went to Abyssinia, where they made several valuable discoveries, and returned with a collection of curiosities for the British Museum’. The oblique reference to Mabel’s possible election to join the Fellows of the Royal Geographical Society is noteworthy – she was on the shortlist for the second tranche of women Fellows that year, but the RGS executive decided to stop the practice. Mabel is trying not to show disappointment (Theodore, of course, was a Fellow).

The same photograph of Mabel is used the following summer (14 July 1894) to trumpet the Bents’ epic foray into the remote and hazardous Wadi Hadramaut (Yemen) – Mabel is still thought to be the first ‘European’ woman to have (voluntarily) travelled there. The revelation of the piece is that they returned with “very valuable parchments, illuminated on almost every page, which are supposed to date from the time of Mahomed” [sic]. This is the first and only reference to such acquisitions, and where they might be now is anyone’s guess.

The journal continued to report on Mabel’s comings and goings after her widowhood (1897) and into the decades that followed – it may well be that it was supplied with ‘press releases’ direct from 13 Great Cumberland Place, Mrs. Bent’s London headquarters.

Lady of  the House, 15 September 1893, page 19, ‘Society Portraits’ (c. 500 words):

The expeditions
The expeditions of Theodore & Mabel Bent, 1883-1897 (© Glyn Griffiths).

“In the present day travelling has been made so easy that under the auspices of Messrs. Cook & Son it is possible to make oneself acquainted with all parts of the civilised world at a cost which is – comparatively speaking – trifling, and one can go to India, for instance, in a shorter time than it took our ancestors at the beginning of this century to make ‘the grand tour of Europe’, without which no young man of position was supposed to be educated!

“But all travellers now-a-days are not content with the stereotyped tours ‘personally conducted’ (excellent and convenient as these undoubtedly are), and of late years we have heard of journeys which involved considerable risk and privation, and resulted in most important antiquarian discoveries. That an Irish lady should be the most distinguished member of her sex in this respect is distinctly gratifying to our patriotic feelings, and her countrymen and women may be justly proud of Mrs. Theodore Bent, who has shared with her husband all the dangers of exploring remote districts, and assisting in his geographical research.

“Mrs. Bent is a daughter of the late Mr. Hall-Dare, of Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, and her mother was Miss Lambart, of Beau Park, Co. Meath.

“Although Mrs. Bent’s travels usually occupy a considerable portion of each year, and her home is now in England, she always manages time for an annual visit to Ireland; and the lace industry established by her family at Newtownbarry for the benefit of the tenancy and cottagers in the vicinity has still a staunch supporter in the subject of this sketch.

Mabel Bent’s birthplace, Beauparc, Co. Meath (copyright JP and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons).

“As to the journeys accomplished by Mr. and Mrs. Bent, it is, unfortunately, only possible to give a brief outline, but doubtless most readers are aware that the recent discussion at the Royal Geographical Society arose by the reason of the wish of several members to confer on Mrs. Bent the distinction of being a ‘Fellow’ of that body of notable travellers. Those who were against the admission of ladies have – temporarily at least – gained the day, but Mrs. Bent has not experienced the slightest disappointment about the matter, as she never sought a ‘Fellowship’, and is quite content with the privileges she already enjoys.

“It is about nine years since Mr. and Mrs. Bent started for Athens, and made themselves acquainted with the most interesting portions of Greece, returning next year to the Cyclades Isles, and bringing back to the British Museum many valuable relics dug out of the ruins at Antiparos. In Egypt, too, some successful ‘digging’ was accomplished, and also at an Egyptian town near Thrace, while at Celecia this adventurous couple discovered Olba and the famous ‘Korycian Cave’. A long tour through Persia and over the Caucasus preceded their celebrated expedition to Mashonaland, and last winter they went to Abyssinia, where they made several discoveries, and returned with a collection of curiosities for the British Museum.”

Lady of  the House, 14 July 1894, page 4, ‘In a Sultan’s Harem’ (c. 1000 words):

Bent’s iconic likeness from the studio of James Russell & Sons, around 1895 (The Bent Archive).

“Mrs. Theodore Bent’s name is so familiar to all who are versed in the events of the day, it is hardly necessary to remind our readers that this distinguished member of her sex is an Irishwoman, and therefore a brief account of her last journey cannot fail to have a special interest for her countrywomen. That Mrs. Bent is endowed with unusual courage and fortitude goes without saying, for perhaps no other woman has undertaken such arduous and dangerous journeys, nor assisted so indefatigably in the antiquarian research which is the raison d’être for Mr. Bent’s travels.

“After the unpleasant experiences in Abyssinia during the winter and spring of 1893, many of Mrs. Bent’s friends thought she would not be inclined to seek fresh dangers, but undeterred by what she had gone through, Mrs. Bent commenced preparations last autumn for the South Arabian expedition, as she invariably sees after the necessary camp furniture and provisions, the latter consisting principally of tinned meats, milk, etc., and, of course, tea. For what daughter of Eve could forego ‘the cup that cheers’. ‘And although we often suffered terribly from want of water’, said Mrs. Bent as we chatted about her last journey, ‘I usually managed to have a cup of tea every morning’.

Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut, 1894. From Theodore Bent’s 1894 paper for the Royal Geographical Society. Image © The Bent Archive
Imam Sharif’s map of the Bents’ expedition to the Wadi Hadramaut, 1894. From Theodore Bent’s 1894 paper for the Royal Geographical Society. Image © The Bent Archive

“Mr. and Mrs. Bent left England on the 24th November, accompanied by an Arab zoologist, a botanist (sent from Kew), a surveyor from the Indian Government, an archaeologist, and last, but certainly not least, by the faithful Greek servant who had attended the travellers throughout their former journeys, and an interpreter joined them on landing. Starting from Aden, the little party wended their steps towards the interior of South Arabia, camping out at night and by day riding on camels, with the exception of Mrs. Bent, to whom a horse had been presented by a friendly Sultan. Being extremely fond of animals (and of horses in particular), a warm friendship soon sprung up between owner and steed.

Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ long-suffering assistant from Anafi in the Cyclades, thought to be in his nineties in Athens in the 1930s (© Andreas Michalopoulos).

“To give in detail the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bent’s wanderings would be impossible in a necessarily limited space. Suffice it to say that often their path was rough and difficult, and dangers beset them on every side as they got further and further into the country, at length reaching a district where no European had ever entered. The natives – a very strict set of Mahommedans – were determined ‘the unbelievers’ should not pass though, and attacked the little party with their primitive, but dangerous, firearms, and on one occasion the travellers seemed to have slight chance of saving their lives. Yet in the midst of an unknown country, surrounded by foes, Mrs. Bent never once showed fear, though all the members of the expedition, save Mr. Bent and the Indian surveyor, completely lost hope, and gave vent to their terror unreservedly. Mrs. Bent kindly endeavoured to cheer the Greek servant, but he refused to be comforted, ‘although’, she added with a smile, ‘I reminded him we were the first Europeans who had entered the district, hoping he would consider this some compensation. But he replied sadly, “Yes, and probably we shall never leave it!”’ Unfortunately, the poor fellow was so terrified he refuses to accompany his master and mistress on their next visit to Arabia, a resolution which they much regret.

“But there were many pleasant incidents too connected with the months passed in that remote country, and I was greatly amused and interested in Mrs. Bent’s graphic account of a visit to the Palace of Shibam, where she was allowed to enter the harem and spend some time with its inmates. The Sultan of Shibam is the husband of thirteen wives, whose principal occupation seems to consist in painting their faces yellow, and decorating themselves with innumerable gold chains and ear-rings. One of these ladies has considerable influence with his dusky Majesty, and at her instigation he is now building another palace. But the other wives are decidedly stupid and uninteresting. The harem is hung with looking glasses, and furnished with the usual large and rather hard cushions and rugs, while the thirteen ladies wore the long shapeless dress of the country, made of indigo-dyed fine cotton, richly embroidered, in pale grey thread, and further ornamented with pieces of bright-coloured cottons, ingeniously arranged and set off by beads of several hues.

Mabel’s doodle of a face-mask (December 1894, in Muscat/Oman; see ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent’, Vol.3, 2010, p.249 ).

“Mrs. Bent showed me a facsimile of the Royal ladies’ apparel she was lucky enough to secure, and also the face mask worn by all the Southern Arabian women except in the privacy of the harem. It is indigo-dyed cotton, with two slits for the eyes, and an embroidered band which ties round the head. They also wear a heavy leather and brass girdle and brass anklets, which are well displayed in front, as the dress I have already described barely reaches to the knees, although hanging in a train at the back. The Sultan’s wives, Mrs. Bent told me, burn quantities of incense in the harem, and brought out boxes of gold chains for her edification. They glanced pityingly at her single pair of ear-rings, for with them this would be a mark of extreme poverty, and when they discovered she was Mr. Bent’s only wife, no doubt of his financial condition was entertained by them!

Mabel Bent’s own photograph of the Sultan of Makalla’s castle, Shibam, Wadi Hadramaut (Jan 1894). It appears in the Bents’ ‘Southern Arabia’ (1900), p.125 (archive.org).

“But the Sultan, who saw Mrs. Bent doing embroidery (work in which she excels) and busying herself about household matters in the camp, came to the conclusion that one wife like her was of more value than his thirteen put together; and when he found how delightfully she can converse, this opinion was strengthened, for, as he candidly acknowledged, his wives were stupid and lazy! As Mrs. Bent hopes to return to Shibam next winter, let us hope the fair inhabitants of the palace have not heard their lord and master’s sentiments. By the bye, Mrs. Bent took a number of photographs in Arabia, including one of the Sultan, who looks as though he was thoroughly pleased with the attention, while a view of the palace gives one a good idea of that genial monarch’s home. Mr. Bent also has souvenirs of the journey in the form of admirable water-colour sketches, and the travellers’ collection of Arabian things embrace specimens of native workmanship and clothing, in addition to wonderful and very valuable parchments, illuminated on almost every page, which are supposed to date from the time of Mahomed.

“If all goes well, Mr. and Mrs. Bent intend starting about November for South Arabia, and penetrating further into the country than they have already done, when it is likely the records of the Royal Geographical Society may be further enriched by Mr. Bent’s explorations, and our charming countrywoman will have again proved what Irish ‘pluck’ can accomplish.”

[You might also enjoy other interviews with the Bents, see the Irish weekly The Hearth and Home  (2 November, 1894) and  The Album (8 July, 1895), as well as the feature in The Gentlewoman, 11 November, 1893]

Coincidental bedfellows most strange – Balfour, Bent, and Blouet (November 1895)

Jabez Balfour as caricatured by “Spy” in Vanity Fair, March 1892 (wikipedia).

Mabel Bent, of course, was a Hall-Dare: a very wealthy Essex (London) family with connections to large tracts of land and grand properties. One of these was Ilford Lodge, Barking, which had been carved from the much larger adjoining estate of Valentines; it had passed into the hands of Mabel’s great-grandfather Robert Hall, who was previously a tenant there, before 1810. It remained within the various Hall-Dare families until 1883, before its acquisition by the larger-than-life character, and crook, Jabez Balfour, and his Liberator Building Society – which collapsed in 1892, and saw Balfour imprisoned for embezzlement.

Our great coincidence occurs at Balfour’s second trial: “In the Queen’s Bench yesterday [Thursday, 21 November 1895], before Mr. Justice Bruce and a Special Jury, the second prosecution of Jabez Balfour was commenced. The indictment charged that he, being a Director of the House and Land Investment Trust (Limited), fraudulently applied to uses and purposes other than the uses and purposes of the Company, divers large sums of money, between February 4, 1886, and October 15, 1887.”

Ilford Lodge, Barking, Essex (London), one of the country properties of the Hall-Dares. It was sold to Jabez Balfour in 1883 (from Edward Tuck, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’, Barking, 1899?, pp.52-53).

And who should appear now but Theodore Bent – husband of Mabel, née Hall-Dare, and one, no doubt, acquainted with Balfour’s Barking mansion, the erstwhile family demesne! In court that day an application was made “that no Juryman, interested in any of the Balfour group of Companies should be permitted to serve… Only one Juryman, however, was interested, he being a shareholder in the London and General Bank, and, accordingly, he was excused. Another Juryman was excused because he was a manager of a bicycle Company, and he was the only person to look after the interests of the Company at the Cycle Show.” And, now for our surprise, “Mr. J.T. Bent was also excused in consequence of being about to start upon an expedition to Africa on behalf of the Geographical Society…”

What Balfour’s legal team would have made of it had they discovered that juryman Bent was the husband of a Hall-Dare, whose relatives had sold their client his Ilford estate in 1883, we will never know!

Mr. Paul Blouet, aka Max O’Rell (wikipedia).

The above newspaper quotations are from the London Standard of Friday, 22 November 1895. The Westminster Gazette of the same day was slightly less po-faced:  “The number of jurors who claimed exemption at the commencement of the second Balfour trial yesterday [Thursday, 21 November 1895] were far less than on the previous occasion. ‘B’ was the fatal letter from which the panel was drawn. Amidst the private individuals came two celebrities, Mr. Paul Blouet [aka Max O’Rell] and Mr. Theodore Bent. The genial Max O’Rell did not appear, as an Irishman would say, to offer any explanation for his absence. Mr. Theodore Bent, however, had more respect for the majesty which Mr. Justice Bruce represents, and expressed his willingness to attend, subject to the necessity imposed upon him of going to Africa on a delimitation commission. In this journey, as in many another, he will be accompanied by his wife. They are sailing in a day or two [The Bents left from Charing Cross station for the Red Sea on 2 December 1895].”

It’s very gratifying to see the Bents labelled ‘celebrities’. The couple are now at the height of their fame – having explored Great Zimbabwe (1891) and regions of Ethiopia (1893) and Yemen (1894-).

Θαυμαστὸν μὲν ἴσως οὐκ ἔστιν, ἐν ἀπείρῳ τῷ χρόνῳ τῆς τύχης ἄλλοτε ἄλλως ῥεούσης, ἐπὶ ταὐτὰ συμπτώματα πολλάκις καταφέρεσθαι τὸ αὐτόματον…  (Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 1)

The Bent-Glaser Correspondence

“The third fragment is perhaps the most tantalising of all; it is a fragment of the lip of another large bowl which must have been more than two feet in diameter, and around which apparently an inscription ran. The lettering is provokingly fragmentary, but still there can be no doubt that it is an attempt at writing in some form: the straight line down the middle, the sloping lines on either side recall some system of tally, and the straightness of the lettering compares curiously with the proto-Arabian type of lettering used in the earlier Sabæan inscriptions…” (J.T. Bent, The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, London 1892, pp. 199-200)

Eduard Glaser (wikipedia)

The chance find of this above-mentioned fragment of an ‘inscription’ among the ruins of Great Zimbabwe in the summer of 1891 provided Theodore Bent with an opportunity to make contact with one of the leading, if not the leading, Orientalists of his day – Eduard Glaser (1855-1908).

Correspondence between Bent and Glaser is in the process of digitisation by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Library, Archive and Collections: Information & Service (Vienna) as part of their fascinatingly important project Glaser Virtual World – All About Eduard Glaser. We are very happy to acknowledge the current owners of the material reproduced: Regionální muzeum K.A. Polánka v Žatci  (K.A. Polánek Regional Museum, Žatec, Czech Republic) and Státní okresní archiv Louny (SOkA Louny) (State District Archives, Louny, Czech Republic).

To date (December 2023), five letters from Bent to Glaser have been scanned: they are associated with the former’s travels in present-day Zimbabwe (1891), Ethiopia (1893), and Southern Arabia (1894-97).

Letter 4 (19 July 1892) is of unique interest. In it Bent lists his reasons for his theory that the Great Zimbabwe ruins are of ‘Phoenician’ origin. His opinions are not presented in this exact way in any other known source.

The transcriptions that follow are provided by the editors (and include interpretations). Bent’s phraseology reflects his era. Selected comments are added below each letter (and are likely to be expanded in the future).

Letter 1: 1 February 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-001)

[From 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]

 

Dear Sir

Page 1 of Bent’s letter of 1 February 1892 to Glaser, who has made multiple annotations (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-001).

My friend [Dr] Charles Bezold has very kindly given me the enclosed card of introduction to you. I am going therefore to venture on asking you a few questions on the ancient inhabitants of Southern Arabia.

I have just returned from excavating very extensive ruins in Mashoonaland between the Zambesi and the Limpopo rivers about 300 miles inland and in the centre of the gold producing country.

My finds there are decidedly puzzling, they have no relation whatsoever to anything African; the buildings are massive stone walls of small granite blocks, 30 to 40 ft high and 15 ft thick – no mortar. Some are circular and cover a large area of ground.

Some of the ‘phalli’ from Great Zimbabwe that Bent brought back to London. They were exhibited at the British Museum in 1930. It is thought that some of these objects were retained by Cecil Rhodes for his private Cape Town collection (BM no. EPF9883. Trustees of the British Museum).

Of the objects we discovered, the most prominent are a large number of phalli in soapstone; most of them are circumcised and are an almost exact reproduction of the organ. Many birds on pedestals, 5 to 6 ft high, also in soapstone, bowls of the same material with cleverly designed hunting scenes, etc., carved thereon – very good glazed pottery worked on a wheel.

The chief point in the largest circular building is a tower 32 ft high built of small granite blocks and entirely solid, also with a pattern a few courses below the summit.

In looking for a solution to this mystery we naturally turn to Arabia. That it was the capital of a gold producing population is obvious from the furnaces, crucibles, ingot moulds, etc., with traces of gold in them which we found there.

That the ruins are of great age is proved by the records of the early Portuguese travellers, who speak of them in exactly the same condition as now centuries ago, and the nature of our finds point distinctly to archaic art and archaic cult.

If you can give me any points from your knowledge of ancient Arabian art which will throw light on this question I shall be greatly obliged. May I ask for an early reply as I have to give in a report of my work to the Societies which sent me out.

Yours truly

J. Theodore Bent

Four scenes from Great Zimbabwe, based on Mabel's photographs (photo: The Bent Archive)
Four scenes from Great Zimbabwe, based on Mabel’s photographs (photo: The Bent Archive, from a contemporary edition of ‘The Graphic’).

Notes: Bent reveals to Glaser some of his early discoveries and (erroneous) theories about Great Zimbabwe, as well as his developing interests in ancient links between certain African regions and ‘Southern Arabia’. Carl Bezold (1859-1922) was a German orientalist. Known primarily for his research in Akkadian (Babylonian-Assyrian), he also researched other Semitic languages: Syriac, Ge’ez (Ethiopic) and Arabic (source: Wikipedia). A colleague of Glaser’s at the University of Munich, Bezold probably became acquainted with Bent via the British Museum, but no other references to him in Bent’s works have surfaced to date. Interestingly, the letter is not on Bent’s usual headed notepaper. The couple only returned to London by ship at the very end of January 1892; it is possible that Bent drafted this letter at sea. The ‘Societies’ Bent refers to in his last sentence were the Royal Geographical Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. With typical enthusiasm and hard work, Bent was ready to present his results to the former by the third week of February 1892, and to the latter by the end of March (at which it is said that prime minister Gladstone himself was to attend).   

Letter 2: 4 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-003)

[On Bent’s letterhead, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]

 

Dear Sir

Detail from a contemporary map showing part of ‘Mashonaland’ (Zimbabwe) explored by the Bents in 1891.

Thank you very much for your last interesting letter received on the 2nd [July 1892]. In answer to the questions you put me, I beg to state that the ruins we excavated are identical with those described most accurately by Herr Mauch, as far as he could do so without removing the mass of jungle and débris.

This spot Zimbabwe formed the capital of a long series of temple forts stretching up through the gold country from the Limpopo to the Zambesi, and to the west of the Sabi River. We visited six of the sites and they all correspond in structure and design – but we only excavated at Zimbabwe and there only found things in one particular spot, which is in the shade of a large rock, and hence had not been disturbed by the kaffirs, who build only in sunny spots.

All the bowls, ten in all, plain and decorated, of which we found fragments are of the same size, 21 inches in diameter, one represents a procession with offerings being carried, the rest of the patterns are from animal or vegetable life.

One fragment only would appear to have had an inscription round the lip, the few letters of which are so uncertain that I have not yet found anyone who can venture an explanation. I append a copy in hopes that you may be able to give some idea.

Yours sincerely

J. Theodore Bent

Examples of the iconic soapstone birds from Great Zimbabwe (‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, p.181).

Notes: The hiatus between Bent’s letter of 1 February and this subsequent one is, as yet, unexplained; we await details of Glaser’s observations. Karl Gottlieb Mauch (1837-1875) was a German explorer and geographer of Africa. He reported on the archaeological ruins of Great Zimbabwe in 1871 during his search for the biblical land of Ophir (Wikipedia). For a panoramic (if not breathless) introduction to the region and the countless quests for its riches, see the section on ‘Mashonaland’ in J.M. Stuart, The ancient gold fields of Africa: from the Gold Coast to Mashonaland (London, 1891, p.201 ff; a reference to Bent’s theory p.231 [the link opens the personal copy of another great African adventurer, Hans Sauer]). Many of Bent’s finds, having been exhibited in the UK, were returned to the care of Cecil Rhodes, who gave some of them to the South African Museum, Cape Town (see, e.g., Edward Matenga, The Soapstone Birds Of Great Zimbabwe (2011). See Letter 3 (below) for more on the rim fragment.

Letter 3: 16 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-004)

[On Bent’s letterhead, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]

 

Dear Dr. Glaser

The sketch of the rim-sherd found at Great Zimbabwe that Bent returns to Glaser in his letter of 4 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-003).

Many thanks for your letter of the 18th [?]. In reply to your questions, I beg to state that your sketch B (which I return to guide you) is exactly right. Line ‘a’ is the inner rim of the bowl where it slopes into the centre ‘m n’ is the outer rim; the inscription is on the flat surface between and consists only of this [drawing].

These lines are sharp and clear and evidently extended to the left where the fragment is broken, but not to the right. The fragment is 4 inches long and the flat surface 1½ inches wide. I may add that we have a large plain bowl without any lettering or figures of exactly the same shape which is 2 feet in diameter, and the fragments of the bowl all seem to have had the same radius and were 1 foot 2 inches in diameter.

Yours very truly

J. Theodore Bent

Bent’s own watercolour of Great Zimbabwe (‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, London 1892).

Notes: See Bent’s initial report (and illustration) of this sherd in his The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892, p.198). Where this rim fragment is today is unclear; it was item 25 in a loan exhibition of antiquities from Zimbabwe held in the British Museum in London in 1930, the year after Mabel Bent’s death (‘Loan exhibition of antiquities from Zimbabwe and other ancient sites in Southern Rhodesia’, London: British Museum, 1930); some of Bent’s finds from Great Zimbabwe are identified in museum collections in Cape Town; hundreds of ethnographical items are in store in the British Museum, London. In a letter (from Lisbon?) to Scott Keltie at the RGS [13 January 1892, RGS Archives: ar/RGS/CB7/Bent, T&M] Bent writes “My inscription is Himyaritic and the nature of the ruins closely akin to Arabian, and I can prove the Sabæan origins of the ruins now beyond a shadow of a doubt…” The discovery of this sherd is problematic. In her diary, Mabel Bent writes (18 July 1891) of a “dream of an inscription, beginning ‘Iris’, unfulfilled as yet” by one of the excavators, Mr King. A later critic, Franklin White, in ‘Notes On The Great Zimbabwe Elliptical Ruin’, Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (1905, Vol.35, 39-47), writes that he has it from ‘a reliable authority’ that ‘some if not all of these lines are recent scratchings most probably made by some one in Mr. Bent’s escort’. One cannot help being reminded of the later controversy over the ‘Bethel Seal’ recovered from the Hadramaut, in which Glaser also plays a part.

Letter 4: 19 July 1892 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-002)

[On Bent’s letterhead, 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.]

 

My dear Sir

A page from Bent’s significant letter to Glaser of 19 July 1892, in which he lists his reasons for associating Great Zimbabwe with the Phoenicians (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-LOAR-232-15-002).

I am extremely obliged to you for the two letters you have written me and the interest you have shown in my South African discoveries.

Curiously enough, before I went out to Mashonaland I was firmly convinced that the ruins were of [Sasanian] origin,  and so convinced was I on this subject that I made my theory public at a meeting of our Royal Geographical Society in 1890.

However after the inspection of the ruins and the results of our excavations I was reluctantly driven to abandon this idea, firstly because neither the ruins themselves nor the finds bore any resemblance to what we know of that race, and secondly because the time which elapsed between the possible date for that race to have occupied Mashonaland and the incursion of the present race of barbarians did not seem sufficient for so colossal an empire to have been built up and for such extensive gold workings to have been carried on. The whole country is honeycombed with deep shafts and the output of gold must have been enormous.

After a careful examination of all our finds I have been obliged to admit, though I must say with reluctance, a Semitic influence for the following reasons:

(1) The presence of a winged sun on the shaft of one of the phalli.

(2) The oft recurrence of the rosette in the decorations.

(3) A curious object with knobs left on it in relief is exactly the same as an object found in excavations at Paphos in Cyprus.

(4) An ingot mould for gold is exactly the same in pattern, namely ‘astragoloid’, as an ingot of tin with an Egyptian punch mark on it now in one of our museums.

(5) The Phœnician treatment of the bowl decorations.

(6) The exact orientation to the rising sun of all the buildings and patterns

There are many other points which I cannot enter into here and which compel one to look in that direction for the origin of the race, but I hope to get them into book form in the autumn.

I am happily able to read German and shall be very glad to hear again from you on the subject.

Again thanking you for your very kind reply to my letter.

I remain

Yours very truly

J. Theodore Bent

“A curious object with knobs left on it in relief” (‘The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland’, p.182).

Notes: This letter is a revelation. For Bent’s earlier thoughts on the origins of Great Zimbabwe, see Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, n.s. v.13 (1891), pp. 1-21, following E.A. Maund’s eye-opening presentation to the RGS. Like a weather-vane, Bent was to alter his thinking many times and we may still feel he was ‘bounced’ by Rhodes, who had his own agenda. Ultimately, his published theory was disproved by archaeologists such as Caton-Thompson and others in the 20th century, clearly tarnishing Bent’s reputation. We are reminded of Grant Duff’s (apocryphal) anecdote: “Acton confirmed a story which I had heard, but not from himself, to the effect that Mr. Rhodes had asked him: “Why does not Mr. Theodore Bent say that the Zimbabwe ruins are Phoenician?” Acton replied: “Because he is not quite sure that they are.” “Ah!” said the other, “that is not the way that Empires are founded.” (Grant Duff, Notes from a Diary, 1896-1901, vol I, p. 185; London 1905). Bent indeed, with incredible speed, had his monograph on sale by the end of 1892; The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland proved a bestseller and ran to several editions. 

Based on information received from Bent, Glaser drafted an essay in June 1892 on the discovery of Great Zimbabwe, the manuscript of which has survived: (Part 1) and (Part 2).  

Letter 5:  27 April 1893 (GlaViWo – Archive: AT-OeAW-BA-3-27-ZAMU-11-02-133

[Addressed from Bent’s home – 13 Great Cumberland Place, London, W.] [From a copy in another hand, made 30 April 1893]

 

Dear Sir

Some of Bent’s actual squeezes from Aksum, reproduced as Plate 4 in D.H. Müller, ‘Epigraphische Denkmäler aus Abessinien Nach Abklatschen von J. Theodore Bent, Esq.’ (Vienna, 1894).

It is now some time since I corresponded with you about [our] finds in Mashonaland at Zimbabwe. Since then I have been in [Abyssinia] to Aksum. Near Adoua, I [illegible] Himyarite inscriptions and a temple, also at Aksum many very early [illegible] inscriptions closely akin to Himyarite. Being now thoroughly interested in this subject I am hoping next winter to go into Arabia and should [much] like to [know] what routes you have followed and what inscriptions you have [copied] so that I may take other [things] and not do your work over again.

If you will kindly give me information on this point I shall be greatly obliged. When the squeezes of my Himyaritic inscriptions arrive I shall have much pleasure [in] sending you copies; they are at present on the sea.

Yours very truly

J. Theodore Bent

A limestone incense-burner with Sabaean inscription (2nd c BCE) from As-Sawda, acquired by the British Museum from Glaser in 1887 after one of his journeys to Yemen. Like the Bents, Glaser would sell items to fund future explorations (BM no. 125141, Trustees of the British Museum).

Notes: Glaser made four ground-breaking field-trips to ‘Southern Arabia’ (Yemen) between 1882 and the spring of 1894. The Bents were planning to make their first visit in the winter of 1893/4 and were keen not to duplicate Glaser’s work. It would have been fascinating were they all to have met up in Aden, the British port (with its eccentric hotels) all the travellers came to know well. Broadly speaking, the Bents were to interest themselves with the western extremes of the Wadi Hadramaut, while Glaser took to the east. Whether Bent ever sent Glaser the ‘squeezes’ to which he refers we are yet to learn (there is still a great deal of Glaser’s archive still to process), but the set he sent to D.H. Müller was published in 1894 (see the illustration above). These few lines by Bent are fateful, if not fatal. It is his pursuit of a dream to link up the early cultures and civilisations of certain African regions and ‘Southern Arabia’ (and we cannot rule out some associations with the mythical Queen of Sheba and the gold of Ophir) that led to his death from malarial complications in 1897 at the age of 45. (In Glaser’s 1895 study Die Abessinier in Arabien und Afrika, auf Grund neuentdeckter Inschriften (Munich), there are several references to Bent’s Aksum inscriptions.)

Acknowledgements and further information

We are extremely grateful to Elisabeth Cerny, Ronald Ruzicka, and George Hatke in Vienna for their invaluable assistance and authorisation to share this material (Copyright CC-BY-4.0 non-commercial, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Library, Archive & Collections, Project IF2019/27 Glaser Virtual World ­– All About Glaser).

Click for further references to Theodore Bent in the Glaser archive.

Elisabeth Monamy has written several articles on Glaser that can be recommended, including the entertaining graphic biography Eduard Glaser – From Bohemia through Yemen to Austria.

(all websites last accessed January 2024)

Mabel’s Manors – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 5: Wyfields, Ilford

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (née Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge‘, (4) ‘Cranbrook‘, (5) ‘Wyfields’, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others, all with links in one way or another with Mabel Bent.

No. 5: Wyfields – Ilford, Essex, UK.

The site of Wyfields, Ilford. Detail from Ordnance Survey, London Sheet IV.SE, revised: 1893 to 1895.

The grand house of Wyfields (also variously Withfield, Wythefeld, Wye Fields; not to mention Widmundes felt, Wyficld,  Wyfields, Withheld), like most of the valuable lands in the area, derived from parcels and portions of the extensive estates of Barking Abbey, consolidated and expanded ever since its foundation in Saxon times. Wyfields was the third property with associations to the Hall-Dare family (Hall, Grafton, Dare, Hopkins, and several others) representing the paternal lineage of Mabel Bent, the other two estates being Cranbrook and Ilford Lodge, all within a few miles of each other and each featuring, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, imposing houses reflecting the architectural tastes of wealthy families going back to Tudor times, if not earlier.

Counties of Kent and Essex within twelve miles of London, from ‘Environs of London’, Vol. 4, by Daniel Lysons, London, 1792 (archive.org).

We rely on the History of the County of Essex (Vol.5, pp.190-214) for details: “The manor of Wyfields or Withfields [in Ilford] was a free tenement held of Barking Abbey. Part of it, including the manor house, lay west of Cranbrook Road, adjoining the manor of Cranbrook [conveniently between today’s North Circular and the A123!]. The remainder was to the east of the road, and south of the original Valentines estate. Withefield was an ancient place name, possibly derived from the 7th-century Widmundes felt, but the manor probably took its name from the family of a 13th-century tenant, whose lands were not necessarily in the original Withefield area…

Not ‘Wyfields’, but nearby Eastbury House, showing perfectly the 18th-century style favoured by Mabel Bent’s paternal Essex line, which was to develop into the smaller residences of the ‘stockbroker belt’ of the early 20th c. (to be, in turn, replaced by the ‘footballers’ palaces’ of the 21st. ( ‘Environs of London’, Vol. 4, by Daniel Lysons, London, 1792, p.78).

“The manor house of Wyfields was about 70 yds. north-west of the building known in the 19th century as Cranbrook Farm, but in the 17th century as Highlands… It was an L-shaped building with two stories and attics. The cross-wing, which may have been earlier than the rest of the building, had a lean-to addition at the side and a two-story bay in front. The bay was surmounted by railings, behind which could be seen a large circular window in the gable of the cross-wing. The other windows were rectangular, but above them were traces of filled-in segmental arches. This may have been a medieval house extended or rebuilt in the 16th or early 17th century. It was still in existence in 1818 when the occupier was Robert Westley Hall [later R. W. Hall-Dare (1st), Mabel Bent’s grandfather], whose mother-in-law, Mrs. Grafton Dare, was then the owner of the manor of Cranbrook, including this part of the former Wyfields, and herself lived at Cranbrook House. Hall-Dare and his wife succeeded to Cranbrook in 1823 and by 1829 Wyfields appears to have been demolished.”

Bamber Gascoyne (1935-2022), whose forebears owned Wyfields (photo: Christina Gascoigne, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia).

Notable earlier residents of Wyfields included, it seems, Sir Nicholas Coote, a judge of Essex Quarter Sessions, who, in November 1605 was to interview Richard Franklin about a certain Guy Fawkes. Coote’s widow sold the manor on to the Brewster family, from whom, before 1651, it was purchased by a John Bamber,  M.D., whose daughter, and heir to Wyfields, married Sir Crisp Gascoyne, the 18th-century Lord Mayor of London, the son of Bamber Gascoyne (the name Bamber was the surname of the Lord Mayor’s wife, and was given to their son). If the name rings a bell, our contemporary Bamber Gascoyne (1935–2022) was a direct descendant of Sir Crisp Gascoyne.

Did Mabel Bent know much of these great properties? We can’t say for certain, but, perhaps as a young woman, she may have ridden or been driven around these leafy (then) parts of Essex and the sites of these former extensive residences. We have to remember, of course, that she wasn’t born until 1847, and would never slept under their bat-haunted roofs.

References

Environs of London, Vol. 4, by Daniel Lysons, London, 1792, p. 79ff.

A History of the County of Essex: Vol. 5, pp.190-214, originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The English counties delineated; or, A topographical description of England. Illustrated by a map of London, and a complete series of county maps, by Thomas Moule,  Vol. 1, London, 1838.

The History of Essex, from the earliest period to the present time. Illustrated with accurate Engravings of Churches, Monuments, Ancient Buildings, Seats, Portraits, Autographs, &c., by Elizabeth Ogborne, London, 1817.

Coming next: No. 6: ‘Theydon Bois’.

If you have any photographs or memories of ‘Wyefields’ we would be delighted to hear from you!

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

 

 

 

BARD versus BENT – A birthday tribute

For Theodore Bent’s birthday today (30 March 2023; born 1852) we thought we would present him with his very own (Google) BARD resumé! It was generated from a request for “A short account of the life of the explorer J. Theodore Bent”.

And here it is, experimentally of course, paragraph by paragraph, followed by our corrections: we would not want some of the AI (Artificial Intelligence) data appearing in a school essay!

BARD (for it is he or she, etc.): “James Theodore Bent was an English explorer, archaeologist, and author. He was born in Baildon, Yorkshire, England on March 30, 1852. Bent was educated at Malvern Wells preparatory school, Repton School, and Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated in 1875.

BENT ARCHIVE (thus this is us): Actually Bent was born in Liverpool (his uncle, a successful brewer, had been Lord Mayor). He was brought up in Baildon (between Bradford and Leeds); that he was born there is a long-perpetuated myth. The educational details are correct; Bent took a History degree from Oxford.

The expeditions
The expeditions of Theodore & Mabel Bent, 1883-1897 (drawn by Glyn Griffiths © Glyn Griffiths and Gerald Brisch)

BARD: “After graduating from Oxford, Bent travelled to the Aegean Islands, where he began his archaeological career. He later travelled to Bahrain, Cilicia Trachia, Mashonaland (now in Zimbabwe), Ethiopia, and the Arabian Peninsula. Bent was a prolific writer, and his travels and archaeological research resulted in a number of books, including The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892), The Land of the Sun (1893), and The Southern Arabs (1895).

BENT ARCHIVE: Bent’s first researches were in Italy, he did not reach the Aegean in any meaningful way until 1882; he married Mabel Hall-Dare (1847-1929) in 1877. The reference to the Mashonaland volume (1892) is accurate, but arguably his most successful book, The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks (1885), was not picked up by BARD in this search. Bent’s 1893 monograph on Aksum (Ethiopia) was called The sacred city of the Ethiopians; his great work, Southern Arabia, was published posthumously in 1900. Click here for our own full bibliography.

BARD: “Bent died in London on May 5, 1897, at the age of 45. He was survived by his wife, Mabel, and their two children.

BENT ARCHIVE: By all means quote the first sentence, but ignore the second: the Bents had no children.

BARD: “Bent was a pioneer in the field of archaeology, and his work helped to shed light on the ancient cultures of Africa and the Middle East. He was also a gifted writer, and his books continue to be enjoyed by readers today.

BENT ARCHIVE: Impossible to argue with that. Bravo BARD, nice try, you will get there no doubt. Meanwhile, it will be amusing to see how long it takes for Bent’s two imaginary children, Lionel and Mabel, to appear online! We pressed BARD (29/3/2023) a little more on them: “Did the explorer J. Theodore Bent have any children?”

BARD: “Yes, James Theodore Bent had two children with his wife Mabel Hall-Dare: Lionel Bent (1880-1943) [and] Mabel Hall-Dare Bent (1881-1971). James Theodore Bent died in 1897, when his children were still young.

BENT ARCHIVE: Fascinating. Happy Birthday Theodore!

Where the Bents celebrated their birthdays: a review based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897

The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)

Theodore’s last (45th) birthday took place on 30 March 1897 on the island of Sokotra. Within a few months he was dead, back in London, succumbing to a recurrence of malaria, probably initially contracted in the Cyclades in 1883/4.


There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.

Mabel Bent – A Cycladic birthday, 28 January 1884

Sikinos, Greek Cyclades (Google maps).

As remote as you like, for her 37th birthday in 1884, Mabel Bent finds herself on the Greek Cycladic island of Sikinos, a dot squashed between Folegandros and Ios, a leap northwest of Santorini. She and her husband, Theodore Bent, no less inquisitive than acquisitive, were hopping around the islands looking for material for a book which was to appear the following year – his celebrated guide The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks. [See below for a summary of Bent birthdays in foreign lands.]

The couple arrived on Sikinos from Ios, a little to the east, on 27 January 1884 and were put up in the house of the demarch, presumably within the medieval, walled chora. They were well looked after, as Mabel notes in her diary:

“Few  remains  in  Greece  are  more  perfect  than  this temple  of  Apollo …” Episkopi, Sikinos, before the recent restoration works (Wikipedia).

“[The Sikinos demarch] received us very hospitably. We have a real bedroom and washing table and all. We were soon at dinner and many people came in to see us. When we came out of our bedrooms yesterday morning, 28th, my birthday, we had a tray with a coffee pot and sheep milk and some very hard bread with sesame, all at different times, and very soon after eggs and wine, and then set off with a good many men on mules and foot to the Church of Episkopi, once the temple of Apollo Pythios, about 1½ hour off; of course a steep and rocky way. One could quite well see what it had been in spite of the Christian alterations.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J.T. Bent, Vol. 1, Oxford, 2006, p.41)

Theodore gives this small but imposing (and important) monument ten out of ten. Its designation as a temple to Apollo comes from an inscription identified by Ludwig Ross in the 1840s,  but it is more securely considered a mausoleum from Roman times, subsequently rebuilt in the 3rd century AD as a Byzantine Church. Read about it all in a remarkable article, fully illustrated, at Diocese of Sikinos: A unique monument is dedicated to the public today (accessed 19/01/2023).

Very fortunately, the monument escaped the spades of the Bents. Over the last few years it has been re-excavated and restored by the Ephorate of Antiquities (EFA) of the Cyclades, who were awarded the Europa Nostra Award for their work in 2022. The great find was the high-status tomb of a woman apparently named Neiko; Theodore stood just a few metres above her, and she eluded his attentions (unlike the less lucky Karpathos Lady).

Map of the Cyclades from Bent’s 1885 travelogue, showing Sikinos (archive.org)

Here are his words: “Few  remains  in  Greece  are  more  perfect  than  this temple  of  Apollo  at  Sikinos.  Somehow  it  has  escaped observation,  and  it  has  been  too  high  above  the  sea to  make  it  of  any  use  for  building  material;  hence  it escaped  during  the  earlier  years  of  Vandalism;  and  then when  it  was  turned  into  a  place  of  Christian  worship  a certain  amount  of  respect  was  secured  for  it,  which  other ruins  did  not  obtain  until  later  years…” (The Cyclades, or Life Among the Insular Greeks, 1885, London, p.176)

Bent also mentions that they met up with the former mayor, Iakovos Kortesis (Theodore names him Kortes) : “An old man, the former demarch, came in shortly after we were up, and begged for the privilege of taking us about the town. In many respects he seemed a man more respected and looked up to than our jocular host; for we were told that if his age and infirmities had not interfered with the fulfilment of his duties he would still have been in office. Wrapped in a shawl, and stick in hand, he seemed to despise the cold, and trudged on at a good pace to show us his garden. Kortes was the name of the old man, and after showing us his garden he conducted us to his house, a large cold place, without any glass in the windows, just over the town gateway…” (The Cyclades, p.178) There is a splendid Sikinos website with contemporary photographs and references to Bent, and see these other (slightly later) photos of the exterior of the house the Bents visited, and a ‘Sikinos gate‘.

Later in 1885, Bent wrote a bizarre article linked to Sikinos entitled “A Romance of a Greek Statue” (possibly fictitious), on which there is a comment in a Revicto (06/01/2022).

2022

By the way, Mabel was born (see ‘My Baby Blue Eyes‘) in her grandfather’s stately home at Beauparc, Co. Meath, Ireland, a very long way from Sikinos!

A review of Bent birthdays based on Mabel Bent’s Chronicles, 1884-1897

The accompanying interactive map below plots these birthdays: Mabel in green, Theodore in blue. (NB: London [13 Great Cumberland Place] stands in for unknown locations in Great Britain; the couple could have been away visiting family and friends in Ireland or England, including at their property ‘Sutton Hall’, outside of Macclesfield.)


There were 28 Bent birthday events (2 x 14) between 1884–1897 (the years covered by Mabel Bent’s diaries). Of these 28, only 5 (18%) were not spent in the field, and only 7 times (25%) does Mabel refer to a birthday in her notebooks directly. In the above Table, column 1 gives the year and ages of the Bents on their birthdays; columns 2 and 3 give their birthday locations. Events in red are when Mabel refers directly to their birthdays. ‘London’ is standing in for unknown locations in Great Britain. If not at their main residence (13 Great Cumberland Place), the couple could have been visiting family and friends in Ireland and England, including at their property Sutton Hall, outside of Macclesfield.

‘Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging…’ New Year, 2023

Title page to John Murray’s ‘Greece, etc.’ 1884 (archive.org)

At the end of the 19th century, between western ‘Christmas’ and the New Year, Mabel and Theodore Bent could be waved to embarking on their imminent winter/spring campaign, or putting last preparatory touches to its details; packing all their necessaries into dozens of bags and boxes, and trunks, mixed in with the travel books, and clothes; very important… the clothes, the books. One essential volume, for example and of course, would be a Murray: his Handbook for travellers in Greece…, the 1884 edition is referenced reverentially in Mabel’s travel diaries for 1885 (the Dodecanese).

 

And explorers (of all genders) into the Levant in 2023 should heed and endeavour to follow the dress code as stipulated by Murray; it was religiously adhered to by the Bents:

‘Let his dress at all times be obviously that of an Englishman…’ Travel poster boy Theodore Bent taken (pre 1895) in the studios of society-photographers, Russell & Sons. Three years later Mabel was to approve it for her husband’s obituary in the ‘Illustrated London News’ [May 15, 1897, page 669]
“Clothes. — These should be such as will stand hard and rough work. They must not be too light, even in summer; for a day of intense heat is often followed by a storm, or by a cold night. As some indication of the requirements of the case, we may observe that the traveller is not likely to err greatly if he selects for travel in Greece and Turkey much the same outfit that he would take for shooting in the Highlands. Let his dress at all times be obviously that of an Englishman, which he will find the most respectable and respected travelling attire throughout the Levant… Carelessness about dress in travelling, even in remote districts, cannot be too severely reprobated, especially in towns, however small.” [Handbook for travellers in Greece… 1884, John Murray, London, p.24]

 

An uncaptioned studio portrait of Mabel Bent. Possibly Cape Town, 1891 (The Bent Archive)

A decade later, July 1895, the Bents gave an interview to The Album, and Mabel opens the Bent wardrobe doors for us: “And have you any views on the best travelling costume?” [The interviewer enquires]. “Yes, inasmuch that we do not alter or modify our travelling costumes, wearing the same kind of clothes in both Africa and Asia. [Theodore] finds a Norfolk jacket and breeches the most practical and pleasant form of dress for either riding or actual exploring work. My travelling dress consists of a tweed coat and skirt, a pith hat, with breeches and gaiters. The skirt is made in pleats, and is so arranged as to act as riding habit when I am on horseback. When actually in camp, that is to say, during the heat of the day – for early morning and evening are the only safe hours to travel – I put on a linen shirt or blouse and ordinary skirt.”  [The Album: A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day (8th July, 1895, Vol. II, No. 23, pp.44-45)]

Best wishes for 2023 from the Bent Archive.

‘Not fare well / But fare forward, voyagers.’

Mabel’s Manors – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 4: Cranbrook, Ilford

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (née Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge‘, (4) ‘Cranbrook’, (5) ‘Wyfields‘, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others, all with links in one way or another to Mabel Bent.

No. 4: Cranbrook – Ilford, Essex, UK.

A period photograph of Cranbrook Manor taken from Edward Tuck, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’ (Ilford, 1899(?), pp. 36-39).

The jewel in the triple-crown of the Ilford estates linked to Mabel Bent’s connections on her father’s side was ‘Cranbrook’, taking its name from a stream that made its slow way down to the Thames through its acres. The stream was dammed in the 17th century to make a lake for the grand chalet of Valentines nearby, and the best way to locate what was once Cranbrook is to cross the happily labelled A123 at the west end of this water feature, and there the suburban sprawl that greets you all around affronts the memory of Mabel’s grandfather’s fine demesne. By 1901 the estate and manor house were gone. Mabel is unlikely to have stayed there, the lands being inherited by her uncle Henry on her grandfather’s death; however she may well have called in for tea.

Ordnance Survey: Essex Sheet LXXIII Surveyed: 1863, Published: 1873. The arrow points to Cranbrook, Ilford. Valentines lake is to the right of today’s A123.

Our two guides to the manor house of Cranbrook and its lands are the very straight-bat of The ancient parish of Barking: Manors, in Volume 5 of A History of the County of Essex (originally published in 1966, edited by W.R. Powell and now as essential as it freely accessible, online); and Edward Tuck’s whimsical A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (1899?).

It is not at all hard to distinguish the pens, not least because Tuck adds a final ‘e’ to the name.

To open the bowling, then, with Powell: “The manor of Cranbrook (in Ilford) which lay about ½ mile north of Ilford village, was a free tenement held of [Barking] abbey. It derived its name either from the Cran Brook, a tributary of the Roding, or from a family of Cranbrook which was itself named from the stream.” (Powell 1966, 190ff)

Barely visible, but Tuck assures that this is (was) a way to enter ‘Cranbrooke Park’. Taken from his book c. 1899. The whole estate was soon to be eradicated.

Tuck chips in at this point: “It may here be remarked that Cranbrook Manor is the oldest manor connected with the ancient abbey of Barking. It was held by the Malmeynes for several generations prior to 1314, giving it a period from 600 to 650 years at the least; during which time it has maintained its unbroken dignity of being a ‘Gentleman’s Mansion’…” (Tuck 1899, 36-9)

The erstwhile manors of Barking – three of which benefited Mabel Bent’s family connections – ‘Ilford Lodge’, ‘Cranbrook’, and ‘Wyfields’ (after ‘The ancient parish of Barking: Manors: A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, 1966, pp.190-214′.

Powell again, clearly annoyed at the interruption: “In 1805–6 the estate was acquired by John M. Grafton Dare (d. 1810). In 1805 Dare, originally surnamed Grafton, and his wife Elizabeth, had inherited the estate of John Hopkins Dare, her son by a previous marriage… In 1808 Cranbrook comprised 179 [acres, c. 70 ha], including some 60 [acres, c. 25 ha] lying west of Cranbrook Road… After J.M. Grafton Dare’s death the estate passed to his widow, Elizabeth Grafton Dare (d. 1823), and then to her daughter Elizabeth, wife of Robert Westley Hall [Mabel’s grandfather]. Hall, who then assumed the additional surname of Dare, was the son of Robert Hall, of Ilford Lodge [Mabel’s great-grandfather]… Hall-Dare died in 1836, leaving Cranbrook to his second son Henry [Mabel’s uncle. (Her father was to have rights to East Hall in Rainham, and a huge sum from compensation due after their plantation slaves in Demerara were freed after Abolition in 1833)]… [Henry] sold it, some time after 1847 [Mabel’s birth year]…”

The area today where the lands of Cranbrook spread themselves for some 700 years. The western end of Valentines lake is the blank grey area, top right (Google maps).

“The last occupier of Cranbrook House, A.S. Walford [husband of the novelist L.B. Walford], gave up his tenancy in 1899, and by 1901 the house had been demolished and the estate cut up for building. The site is now occupied by De Vere Gardens, Endsleigh Gardens, and adjacent roads.” (Powell 1966, 190ff).

Mrs Lucy Bethia Walford (1845-1915), writer of popular fiction. The final resident at Cranbrook before its demolition. Born two years before Mabel, there is every chance her books were in the Bents’ library in their London home (Wikipedia).

Tuck saw the writing on the walls for this elderly estate long before the death of Queen Victoria; he will tell us, in a style reminiscent of Dr Frederick Chasuble, but not before his recommendation to read the ‘light-hearted domestic comedies’ of the previous dweller: “This mansion for a number of years was occupied by A.S. Walford, Esq., J.P., and his wife, Mrs. A.S. Walford, the well-known and popular authoress, whose works find favour, not only in many a household, but also in our principal public libraries… But this handsome mansion and estate is doomed; the destroyer’s hand has commenced operations, the beautiful park, the great resort of the inhabitants of Ilford for generations, is now cut up and covered with houses.” (Tuck 1899, 36-9)

Mabel Bent’s great-grandfather, Robert Westley Hall (© Bob Speel 2022).

He should see it now. The fine house numbered among its owners “families of honour and distinction”, opines Tuck, including: “Robert Westley Hall-Dare, Esq., J.P. and M.P. [Mabel’s grandfather]. [He] was elected M.P. in December 1832. He was always most interested in the affairs connected with the Ilford ward, and the Parish Church, Ilford, owes its origin to his indefatigable exertions. His daughter Mary [Mabel’s aunt] was selected to lay the foundation stone, and the building was named St. Mary’s.

St Mary’s, Ilford. The name is connected with Mabel Bent’s aunt, Mary Hall-Dare, who lived at Cranbrook (Wikipedia).

“This church was opened on June 9th, 1831, by Bishop Blomfield, Bishop of London, and the day was spent in general festivity from the highest to the lowest classes. All labour was suspended and the poor were not forgotten, being provided with food at their homes. A large party was entertained under a marquee on the lawn at Cranbrook, and after luncheon a ball was opened by Mr. Hall-Dare, who chose for his partner Miss Ashmole, a daughter of one of the oldest trading families of Ilford.” (Tuck 1899, 36-9) Those were the days.

References

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors, in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, ed. W.R. Powell (London, 1966), pp. 190-214. British History Online.

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Ilford, 1899(?), pp. 36-39).

The Ilford Historical Society has several features on the Essex estates of Mabel’s connections in its Newsletters, e.g.:

August 2011

April 2016

April 2019

August 2019

December 2019

An interesting announcement in The London Gazette of June 20 1865 relating to the will of Mabel’s grandfather, Robert Westley Hall-Dare (the first, d. 1836).

Coming next: No. 5: ‘Wyfields‘.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

References

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Barking, 1899?), pp.52-53.

The borough of Ilford (pp. 249-266): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The Ilford Recorder, 22 April 2017: ‘Heritage: The fraudster who gave our streets their names’

https://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/lifestyle/21197094.heritage-fraudster-gave-streets-names/

Ilford Historical Society Newsletter No.129, April 2019

https://ilfordhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/2/2/11222518/ihs_newsletter_129_draft_at_09.03.19.pdf

For an overview of Cranbrook Manor written before 1792, see also Daniel Lysons, The environs of London: being an historical account of the towns, villages, and hamlets, within twelve miles of that capital interspersed with biographical anecdotes, London, 1792, pp.84-85.

For a photograph of Mabel’s uncle Francis Marmaduke Hall-Dare (1830-1897), past owner of Ilford Lodge, click here.

If you have any photographs or memories of Cranbrook we would be delighted to hear from you!

 

The Bents: a rare interview from ‘The Album’, 8th July, 1895

‘The Album: A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day’ (8th July, 1895, Vol. II, No. 23, pp.44-45).

In July 1895 Mabel and Theodore Bent gave an interview to The Album: A Journal of Photographs of Men, Women, and Events of the Day (8th July, 1895, Vol. II, No. 23, pp.44-45). Published by Ingram Brothers (Strand, London), it was a short-lived venture (the market was extremely competitive); a browse through a collected volume gives an unsurprising but fascinating glance back to Victorian Britain at its zenith.

Zenith can equally well be applied to the fame of the Bents in 1895 – they were celebrities. They had more or less covered the Eastern Mediterranean by the end of the 1880s; ridden south-north the length of Persia (1889); had famously explored the ruins of Great Zimbabwe for Cecil Rhodes (1891); become entangled in the Italian debacle in Ethiopia in 1893; and were now (1895) obsessed with Southern Arabia – their work in the region was to provide the data for Theodore’s great quest of a history linking both sides of the Red Sea over three millennia. This was not to be however – within three years of the article you are about to read, Bent was dead, a victim to feverish malevolence, east of Aden, in the spring of ’97.

Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Bent

Since the days when Sir Walter Raleigh returned from the West Indies laden with good things, down to our own unromantic time, there have always been a large number of large-hearted Englishmen who have devoted their lives, fortunes, and too often their healths, to exploring the little-known corners of the earth with a view to increasing our knowledge of far-off climes, and of adding to the instructive contents of the British Museum and of the other vast treasure-houses possessed by the nation. note 1 

Mr. J. Theodore Bent has played a leading part among latter-day travellers. Accompanied by his plucky and charming wife – nee Miss Hall Dare of Newtonbarry, Co. Wexford –  note 2  he has explored in turn many pathless portions of the uncivilised world, to say nothing of his valuable researches into the bygone civilisations of Greece, Asia, and Africa.

Each one of Mr. and Mrs. Bent’s expeditions has hitherto resulted in a valuable addition to geographical and archaeological literature, and the former’s book, dealing with the famous ruins of Zimbabwe, was the first and in many respects the best, account of Mashonaland published.

The well-known explorer and his wife have lately returned from their second journey into Arabia, and I found them, (writes a representative of The Album), settled for the season in their museum-like London home, a house filled with momentoes of my hosts’ many years of travel, from Greek antiques to the barbaric, if splendid, gifts of his Arab Sheikh friends.  note 3 

The first appearance of this well-know portrait of Theodore Bent, taken (pre 1895) in the studios of society-photographers, Russell & Sons. Three years later Mabel was to approve it for her husband’s obituary in the ‘Illustrated London News’ [May 15, 1897, page 669]
“What do we consider to have been our most interesting and perilous expedition?” echoed Mr. Bent, in answer to a question. “Our last, undoubtedly, for when one comes to think of it, there is scarcely anything known about the land which gave Europe Algebra. There is practically no modern literature dealing with the country. In the old days, when geography was written merely by hearsay, historians and travellers were more reckless as to what they said, but it is wonderful to note how often they arrived at right conclusions. Ptolemy, for instance, wrote about Arabia, and my wife and myself were able to identify several sites mentioned in his works.  note 4  In modern days, certainly, no country has been so little explored. When it was announced that we were going there, the Indian Government placed a surveyor at my disposal, and we hope to complete our task of surveying the whole of the country from Hadramout to Dhofar, and so on.”

“And what were the practical difficulties in the way of an Arabian expedition?” “Owing to the slave trade the Arabians are not at all anxious to have their dark ways made light. Each district is governed by a Sheikh, and the country is in a wild a lawless state. Indeed, Arabia was far more civilised before the rise and spread of Mahommedanism. I traced many of the ancient Sabæan fortresses and towns, and found most interesting inscriptions. We entered Arabia by Merbat, and thanks to the European resident in Muscat, got on fairly well, but of course in the interior our means of getting about was by the help of camels only used to carry frankincense.”

“And what did you take in the way of provisions, and so on?” “I always leave the commissariat side of our journeys to my wife,” answered Mr. Bent, smiling. “She sees after everything of the kind; but as to food, there is one point I should like to mention. I am a thorough believer in tea, and do not advise anyone to explore on spirits, although on this last expedition we took a little rum much over proof to dilute. Then, of course, quinine is the best travelling medicine in the world.”

Mabel Bent with one of her large-format cameras. She was expedition photographer from 1885 until 1897.

“Our exploration larder”, added Mrs. Bent, “is quite varied enough for all reasonable requirements; desiccated soups, corned beef and beef essence, potted meats, condensed milk, and last but not least, some sackfuls of dry bread, are all included, for long experience has taught us both what to avoid and what to add to our travelling impedimenta.  note 5  We always try to be as comfortable as possible when journeying, and so take plenty of sheets and towels; but, of course, the lack of water is a great annoyance. By-the-way, we always travel with one of Edgington’s green fly-tents, with double flaps, the whole made of the green Willesden canvas which does not get mouldy when folded up wet.”   note 6 

“And are you accompanied by a large party?” “During our last journey we were eleven in all; my husband and I were the only Europeans among them. There is no use in taking English servants. Of course this increases danger in uncivilised countries. Constantly on our travels the Bedouins with whom we have been travelling have turned against us, and on one occasion we seriously thought of trying to find our own way to the coast alone.”

“My travelling dress consists of a tweed coat and skirt, a pith hat, with breeches and gaiters. The skirt is made in pleats, and is so arranged as to act as riding habit when I am on horseback.” Mabel Bent dressed for travel. (Photo taken (pre 1895) in the studios of society-photographers, Russell & Sons)

“And have you any views on the best travelling costume?” I enquired. “Yes, inasmuch that we do not alter or modify our travelling costumes, wearing the same kind of clothes in both Africa and Asia. My husband finds a Norfolk jacket and breeches the most practical and pleasant form of dress for either riding or actual exploring work. My travelling dress consists of a tweed coat and skirt, a pith hat, with breeches and gaiters. The skirt is made in pleats, and is so arranged as to act as riding habit when I am on horseback. When actually in camp, that is to say, during the heat of the day – for early morning and evening are the only safe hours to travel – I put on a linen shirt or blouse and ordinary skirt.”  note 7 

“And on the whole, what is your verdict on the various countries you have so successfully explored?” “South Africa is, undoubtedly, the land of the future,” answered Mr. Bent decidedly. “Perhaps you know that in 1891 we explored the ruined cities of Mashonaland, the Royal Geographical Society and the British South Africa Company aiding us in paying the expenses of the expedition?  note 8  Our experience while in the interior taught us something of the possibility of Rhodesia, and I think that an energetic emigrant has as a good chance there as anywhere else; but of course opinions differ. I myself fell a victim to South African fever, but I have noticed that this kind of disease disappears with civilisation, and my views have been thoroughly borne out in the case of Kimberley.” note 9 

Note 1:  See here for the Bent collections worldwide.
Return from Note 1

Note 2:  An error in the text, Mabel’s home was Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford, Bunclody today.
Return from Note 2

Note 3:  For this ‘museum’, see The Gentlewoman – The Illustrated Weekly Journal for Gentlewomen, No. 175, Vol. VII, Saturday, November 11, 1893, pages 621-622.
Return from Note 3

Note 4:  For example, see the Bents’ identification of the site of Abyssapolis (Khor Rori, present-day Oman).
Return from Note 4

Note 5:  For more on Mabel the quartermaster, see this other interview she gave.
Return from Note 5

Note 6:  Mabel took several photographs of their tented camps, many of which appear in her book Southern Arabia (London, 1900).
Return from Note 6

Note 7:  For more on Mabel’s travel kit, see this other interview she gave.
Return from Note 7

Note 8:  In particular, Bent is referring to his work in 1891 at the remarkable monuments of Great Zimbabwe.
Return from Note 8

Note 9:  In fact the start of Bent’s demise can be traced back to the Cycladic island of Andros in 1884, and the malarial coastal hamlet of Gavrio on the north-west (Mabel Bent, Chronicles, Vol. 1, Oxford, 2006, pp. 50-51).  The malaria he contracted there was to return many times in the years to come, and he died at 45 of complications from it in May 1897, on his return from Socotra and Aden.
Return from Note 9

[You may also enjoy the two interviews Mabel gave to Lady of the House in 1893 and 1894]

Mabel’s Manors – The Essex homes of the Hall-Dares. No. 3: Ilford Lodge, Ilford

Map from P. Morant’s ‘The history and antiquities of the County of Essex’ (London, 1768).

The aim of this short series of posts on the Essex homes (essentially northern Greater London, England) of Mabel’s kin – on her father’s side – is to give a quick look at the open spaces and sorts of landscapes that Mabel Bent (nee Hall-Dare) would have enjoyed as a young woman on the eastern shores of the Irish Sea, predisposing her to an adventurous, outdoor life – horses everywhere, rivers, forests, walks, new rail links, not to mention the travelling involved in getting up to Dublin from Co. Wexford and then across the sea to London (there were rented properties in ‘Town’ too of course), for stays in Essex before, for example, spending the long summers touring Europe with her siblings. Indeed, she was to meet her husband-to-be, Theodore Bent, in Norway on one such tour (although we still don’t know when, where, how, and why).

The Essex properties, lands, and churches featured include: (1) ‘Fitzwalters‘, (2) ‘East Hall‘, (3) ‘Ilford Lodge’, (4) ‘Cranbrook‘, (5) ‘Wyfields‘, ‘Theydon Bois’, and others, all with links in one way or another to Mabel Bent.

No. 3: Ilford Lodge – Ilford, Essex, UK.

Before AD 687, the Saxon king Œthelræd gave to the newly-founded abbey of Barking large parcels of land in the area, and over the subsequent centuries, further patronage, crown and mitre, established in this corner of Essex, after the Dissolution this is, estates such as Aldborough Hatch, Bifrons, Clements, Hainault, Highlands,  Valentines, and Ilford Lodge, our subject.

The mansion of Ilford Lodge – hardly a lodge as we might think of one – was a late 18th-century edifice of yellow brick – a central block and side wings, all in three storeys (from Edward Tuck, ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’, Barking, 1899?, pp.52-53).

The mansion of Ilford Lodge – hardly a lodge as we might think of one – was a late 18th-century edifice of yellow brick – a central block and side wings, all in three storeys. Fine enough, if not exactly characterful, although Edward Tuck (of whom much more later) thought it ‘distinguished’. It stood, suffering several vicissitudes, until demolishment as recently as 1960. It is unlikely that Mabel Bent ever slept under its roof, as the property was owned by soldier-uncle Frank, who, like Mabel, was hardly ever at home; but she may well have taken tea there – we can only guess.

The erstwhile manors of Barking – three of which benefited Mabel Bent’s family connections – ‘Ilford Lodge’, ‘Cranbrook’, and ‘Wyfields’ (after ‘The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, 1966.

The estate of the same name, dates only from the late 18th/early 19th centuries, and was just a short distance down a lane from another Hall-Dare mansion, ‘Cranbrook’, which is to feature in another of these posts. Incidentally, according to our Edward Tuck (p. 53) – “It may, in a passing remark, be said that the road shadowed by the beautiful trees and shrubs along this estate down to Cranbrook was one of the most charming walks in the neighbourhood.’ He would not write the same now.

Ilford Lodge had been carved from the much larger adjoining estate of Valentines, and it passed into the hands of Robert Hall, who was previously a tenant there, before 1810. It remained in the Hall-Dare families until 1883, when it was acquired by the larger-than-life character, and crook, Jabez Balfour, and his Liberator Building Society, which collapsed in 1892, and Balfour imprisoned for embezzlement. His story his well worth a read and for an amusing coincidence click here!

The site of Ilford Lodge (OS London Sheet IV.SE, Revised: 1893 to 1895, Published: 1894 to 1896).

In 1896 the Ilford Lodge Estate was put up for sale as the ‘Ilford Park Estate’, sold, and subsequently developed into mostly residential housing – very much as can be seen on the maps today: no more gardens, gazebos, and children’s ponies grazing in the distance; pretty nondescript, suburban, a stone’s throw from Ilford railway station (opened 20 June 1839 for Eastern Counties Railway).

A Google map of Ilford today, the arrow pointing to where Ilford Lodge once was.

When the estate was sliced up for building, Ilford Lodge was preserved as a sports and social club for the local residents of Wellesley Road. As mentioned above, the roof under which Mabel never slept was torn down in 1960. Nothing remains.

Tuck’s entry on Ilford Lodge, from ‘A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford’, Barking, 1899?, pp.52-53 (archive.org)

But now it’s time for Tuck proper and an account of the mansion’s heyday; his work on this corner of Essex is unparalleled: “‘THE LODGE’. This once distinguished house, although not one of the Manors connected with the Abbey of Barking, held a very prominent position among the leading seats of the surrounding gentry. The mansion and estate was for a number of years owned and occupied by Robert Hall, Esq… Their family consisted of a son and a daughter. The son, Mr. Robert Wesley Hall… married the only daughter of Marmaduke Grafton Dare, and on their marriage took the name of Hall-Dare, omitting Grafton, through some dispute of the Grafton family… It appears that the Graftons were once Romford people. I found on a tomb in the Churchyard ‘John Marmaduke Grafton, died 1788,’ aged 70. His son (named also John Marmaduke Grafton) married Mrs. Dare, of Cranbrook, and assumed the name of Grafton-Dare. Some years after, Mrs. Grafton-Dare’s daughter became the wife of Robert Wesley Hall, and they assumed the name of Hall-Dare. On the death of Mr. Robert Hall-Dare [i.e. Mabel Bent’s grandfather] his widow succeeded to the estate, and outlived her husband for several years… On her demise the mansion and estate came, by will of the grandfather, to Captain Frank M. Hall-Dare, third son of Robert W. Hall-Dare, Esq., of Cranbrook.

Jabez Balfour (1843–1916), whose Liberator Building Society was involved in fraud concerning the Ilford Lodge estate, inter alia (Wikipedia).

Having entered the army when young, he did not occupy the estate, nor leave the army till after the Crimean War, where he gained… four medals… After the war he retired from the army, and spent most of his time in travel. He subsequently disposed of the estate to the Liberator Building Society [see above for the rogue Jabez Balfour]. The mansion is now used for a club-house, and the estate covered with residences…’ (Edward Tuck, pp.52-53)

Coming next: No. 4: ‘Cranbrook‘.

The back story

Of course Mabel was fortunate in that her family (on both sides) were landed (obviously) and comfortably off. Mabel’s paternal grandfather was the first of  the Robert Westley Hall-Dares proper, an astute, baronial, figure who sat at the head of a coalition of wealthy and influential Essex families (Halls, Dares, Graftons, Mildmays, Kings, to name but a few), garnering in with him two major estates (Theydon Bois and Wennington) and various other demesnes, farms, and assorted dwellings, large and small. His wealth and assets were based on rents, farming, ventures, deals, and investments – including a sugar plantation in what is today British Guyana. This plantation, ‘Maria’s Pleasure‘, still retains its name, although it was disposed of after Mabel’s father, to whom the sugar estate had been left, received his compensation for the emancipation of around 300 slaves after Abolition (worth the equivalent of several millions of pounds now).

Robert Westley Hall-Dare the first (1789-1836), the Member of Parliament for South Essex from 1832 until his death, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, not to mention London Society, but it was his son Robert Westley Hall-Dare the second (1817-1866) who actually married into (minor) aristocracy with his marriage to Frances, daughter of Gustavus Lambart of Beauparc, Co. Meath – Mabel (b. 1847) was one of their daughters.

Mabel was thus free to travel; her husband was the perfect fit; they were never slowed down by children. But if anyone should say to you, ‘Ah, but Mabel never worked’, then they don’t know what they are talking about: few women of her class would have sweated more, from Aksum to Great Zimbabwe.

References

Edward Tuck, A sketch of ancient Barking, its abbey, and Ilford (Barking, 1899?), pp.52-53.

The borough of Ilford (pp. 249-266): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The ancient parish of Barking: Manors (pp. 190-214): A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1966.

The Ilford Recorder, 22 April 2017: ‘Heritage: The fraudster who gave our streets their names’

https://www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/lifestyle/21197094.heritage-fraudster-gave-streets-names/

Ilford Historical Society Newsletter No.129, April 2019

https://ilfordhistoricalsociety.weebly.com/uploads/1/1/2/2/11222518/ihs_newsletter_129_draft_at_09.03.19.pdf

For a photograph of Mabel’s uncle Francis Marmaduke Hall-Dare (1830-1897), past owner of Ilford Lodge, click here.

If you have any photographs or memories of Ilford Lodge pre-1960 we would be delighted to hear from you!