Mabel Bent and the first First Lady…

Indulge us – we digress over a slice of wedding dress, the size of a large postage stamp.

Sulgrave Manor, Oxfordshire, UK (Wikipedia)

Sulgrave Manor is a modest Tudor house not far from Oxford (UK), built in 1539 for the wool merchant Lawrence Washington, a direct ancestor of George Washington, the future first President of the United States. The house was sold out of the family in 1659 and gradually substantial alterations were made as it became home to a succession of tenant farmers. The old manor was at last rescued from dereliction in 1914 after being purchased by the Anglo-American Peace Centenary Committee as part of the commemorations of the Treaty of Ghent, which established peace of sorts between Britain and the USA in 1814. The house and gardens were restored by arts and crafts architect Sir Reginald Blomfield and eventually opened to the public in 1921. In the same year, the Sulgrave Manor Board (now Sulgrave Manor Trust) was established to preserve the estate for the public and promote its historic and symbolic role in Anglo-American relations. It is open as a museum (with luck, reopening to the public from 20 July 2020).

Letter from Mabel Bent of 23 February 1925 to the Sulgrave Manor Board (rights: Sulgrave Manor Trust).

Meanwhile, by the mid 1920s, Mabel Bent, impressive widow of the explorer Theodore Bent (1852-1897), was nearing the end of her own travels and disposing of some of her most significant and prized possessions. Presumably knowing of the great Washington work at Sulgrave, Mabel sent the Board a packet with a letter (dated 23 February 1925 and addressed from her London home, 13 Great Cumberland Place, W1); it would have arrived out of the blue, containing an amazing object-the subject of this digression. The letter reads:

Dear Sir

This bit of Mrs. Washington’s wedding dress was given to me in Florence by Mrs. Elizabeth Dickenson Rice Bianciardi from Boston, in 1878. Mrs. Bianciardi was born Rice and her mother’s name was Dickenson. Mrs. Bianciardi told me that Mrs. Washington had given it to her mother. It was cut from a larger piece.   

Yours faithfully

Mabel V. A. Bent

Framed fragment of Martha Washington’s wedding dress presented to Sulgrave Manor in 1925 by Mabel Bent (rights: Sulgrave Manor)

And this ‘bit of Mrs. Washington’s wedding dress’, was thus wrapped up, together with a small unlabelled photo (see below) and two US half penny coins (now lost), and posted off to Sulgrave, where it remains – one of the star exhibits of the museum, neat in its frame, and protected from the light by its own small, theatrical curtain. (All the Sulgrave Manor information and images have been most kindly provided by Laura Waters, House & Collections Manager.) Presumably the fragment was mounted at Sulgrave, as the frame’s inset caption infers: “Fragment of Mrs George Washington’s wedding dress (1759), of a fabric woven in silk and silver. Given to Mrs Theodore Bent in Florence, in 1878, by Mrs Bianciardi, whose mother had it from Mrs Washington. Presented to Sulgrave Manor by Mrs Theodore Bent in 1925.”

Martha Washington (wikipedia)

Martha Custis (née Dandridge, 1731 (?) – 1802), famously married (age 27) George Washington (26) on 6 January 1759, at the White House plantation. According to the Mount Vernon website “Their attraction was mutual, powerful, and immediate. Martha was charming, accomplished, and, of course, wealthy. George had his own appeal. Over six foot two inches tall (compared with Martha, who was only five feet tall), George was an imposing figure whose reputation as a military leader preceded him. After his half-brother Lawrence and his widow died, Washington would inherit Mount Vernon, a beautiful 2000-acre estate located high above the Potomac River in Northern Virginia.”

Title-page to the US edition of H. Clifford Smith’s “Sulgrave Manor” (archive.org)

It seems that the first publication of Mabel Bent’s involvement as a footnote in American history is recorded in “Sulgrave Manor and the Washingtons. A History and Guide to the Tudor Home of George Washington’s ancestors” (Jonathan Cape: London, 1933), a fine and charmingly illustrated account of the manor by H. Clifford Smith F.S.A; on pages 135-6 we discover: “A relic of Mrs. Washington consists of a small fragment of her wedding-dress, presented in 1925 by Mrs. Theodore Bent. It was given to Mrs. Bent when in Florence, in 1878, by Mrs. Bianciardi, whose mother had received it from Mrs. Washington herself.”

Title-page from Theodore’s 1881 biography of Garibaldi (archive.org)

And Mabel in Florence in 1878? No riddle. Theodore and Mabel were married in southern Ireland in August 1877 and embarked on a (very) extended honeymoon to Italy thereafter. Theodore had read modern history at Oxford and felt inspired to begin a trio of monographs on aspects of the ‘Risorgimento’, including a biography of Garibaldi – not much consulted today if truth be told. The Bents, thus, and of independent means, made frequent Italian trips over a number of years in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Florence, of course, was on their itinerary, and, in 1878, Mabel must have become close enough to Mrs Elizabeth Bianciardi of Boston (more on her in a moment) such that the latter would give the former a special keepsake – a fragment of Martha Washington’s wedding dress, ‘woven in silk and silver’. (And seemingly no question of any sale, the Bents were great acquirers of costumes on their travels; Elizabeth must have retained a larger piece, as the last line of Mabel’s letter suggests.)

Caleb Rice (1792-1873) of Springfield, Massachusetts, the father of Elizabeth Bianciardi (archive.org)

Not ‘Dickenson’ as Mabel wrote, Elizabeth Dickerson Rice Bianciardi (1833–1886), was in the last few years of her shortish life (she died at 52 or 53) when she met Theodore and Mabel Bent in Florence in 1878. A quick search through a family history (“Conway, Mass., and the Rice Family” by Edwin Botts Rice (1909, New York) reveals a few details, including that she was the daughter of Caleb Rice (1792-1873) of Springfield, Massachusetts, and Marietta (Parsons) Stebbins (d. 1856). The equally arcane “Sketches of the old inhabitants and other citizens of old Springfield of the present century, and its historic mansions of ‘ye olden tyme’” by Charles Wells Chapin (1893, Springfield Press), provides us with a little extra,  in that  Caleb’s only surviving child was “Elizabeth D. Rice, who went abroad many years ago, and was married to Professor Carlo Bianciardi, [and] died at Vevay, Switzerland, January 2, 1886”.  And to instill pride and educate the younger generation, Charles H. Barrows wrote “The history of Springfield in Massachusetts, for the young; being also in some part the history of other towns and cities in the county of Hampden” (1921, The Connecticut Valley Historical Society); the entry for Caleb Rice tells children that “He had a daughter Elizabeth, who, when she grew to womanhood, went to Italy for study and married a citizen of that country. She wrote verses and, under her married name of Bianciardi, published a book called ‘At Home in Italy’” (page 133). A recent research paper by Joseph Carvalho III & Wayne E. Phaneuf – “Notable Women of Central and Western Massachusetts from the 1600s to today” – crosses the t’s and dots the i’s: “Elizabeth Dickerson Rice (b. 22 Apr 1835 in West Springfield, MA; d. January 2, 1886  in Vevey, District de la Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut, Switzerland; buried in Park Street Cemetery, West Springfield, MA)”.

Elizabeth moved in literary circles in and around Florence and was herself a busy writer; both she and Theodore were working on their biographies of Garibaldi at the time (Elizabeth’s (1882) entitled “The Personal History of Garibaldi”): Florentine society would surely have had them gravitate towards each other. And Mabel came away with a piece of Martha Washington’s wedding dress, the size of a large postage stamp. This fragment Mabel somehow kept safely (her London home was itself something of an ethnological museum, with curios from Africa, Arabia, the E Med, etc., etc.) for the next 50 years, and at the end of her life wanted to ensure its conservation – it was not to go to her acquisitive nieces – and where better in England than the home of Washington’s ancestors; and where you can see it still.

And of Mabel’s friend? The (controversial) Unz Review lists 15 articles by E.D.R. Bianciardi: ‘A Vintage Song’. The Century Magazine, October 1877, p. 852; ‘Siena – The City of the Winds’. The Harpers Monthly, April 1878, pp. 653-664; ‘The Village Church’. The Century Magazine, April 1880, p. 859; ‘Serenade’. The Century Magazine, September 1880, p. 732; ‘Luca Della Robbia and His School’. The Harpers Monthly, April 1880, pp. 692-698; ‘A Florentine Family in the Fifteenth Century’. The Atlantic Monthly, November 1881, pp. 672-681; ‘The Personal History of Garibaldi’. The Century Magazine, August 1882, pp. 495-502; ‘Life in Old Siena’. The Atlantic Monthly, June 1883, pp. 782-788; ‘Under the Olives’. The Century Magazine, August 1883, pp. 552-557; ‘Vallombrosa’. The Harpers Monthly, August 1883, pp. 347-353; ‘Dum Vivimus, Vivamus’. The Century Magazine, January 1884, p. 418; ‘The Haunts of Galileo’. The Atlantic Monthly, July 1884, pp. 91-98; ‘A Lovers’ Pilgrimage’. The Harpers Monthly, April 1884, pp. 659-670; ‘A Pisan Winter’. The Atlantic Monthly, March 1884, pp. 320-331; ‘The Warrior’s Quest’. The Harpers Monthly, September 1884, p. 584.

In addition there is a short series of books, including “At Home in Italy” (1885), and a collection of (sentimental) verse. Academic and enquiring  in nature, a fair example of her style can be found here: ‘A Florentine Family in the Fifteenth Century’.  Further research is required in terms of how she married and moved to Florence – the Bianciardi family is one of note.  As for ‘Professor Carlo Bianciardi’, we must keep looking; it would be romantic to learn that Elizabeth left America to marry the actor/dancer who pops up with that name. (Any photos would be most welcome – if you have any info to share, please contact us.)

West front of the Mansion at Mount Vernon (wikipedia)

Returning to the slice of wedding dress, the size of a large postage stamp, given by Bianciardi to Bent, and by Bent to Sulgrave, it seems appropriate to leave the last words to the Washingtons’ spiritual home, Mount Vernon, VA, and Amanda Isaac, Associate Curator (George Washington’s Mount Vernon/Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, personal communication, June 2020):

Fragment of Martha Washington’s wedding dress presented to Sulgrave Manor in 1925 by Mabel Bent (rights: Sulgrave Manor)

“The fragment appears to be of the same type as several in our collection, that is, a cream color ribbed silk woven with very flat think strips of metal plate (likely tarnished silver), of the type of fabric known as “silver tissue” in the eighteenth century. According to Martha Washington’s granddaughters (Eliza Parke Custis Law (1776-1831), Martha Custis Peter (1777-1854), and Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (1779-1852)), the fragments were cut from the petticoat of the gown she wore at her marriage to George Washington on January 6, 1759… We do not know what Mrs. Washington’s full wedding outfit looked like, though the grandchildren described it as a gown of yellow damask, with a silver petticoat, and purple silk and silver trimmed shoes. The purple and silver shoes do survive, and are quite rare in the American context… Likewise, the silver tissue fragments are extraordinary, and one of the few provenanced examples of this type of costly fabric being used by the British colonists. All together, Mrs. Washington’s wedding ensemble bespoke her position as a leading member of the colonial gentry.

“It is wonderful to know about this particular example and the exchange between Mrs. Bianciardi and Mrs. Bent… [We] do wish we could track down Mrs. Bianciardi’s mother, Mrs. Rice. It is most likely that the fragment was distributed by one of the grandchildren mentioned above, and that Mrs. Rice received it from one of them, or from an intermediary who had received it from the grandchildren.”

“A romanticized portrait of Mrs. Washington… published in the mid-nineteenth century” (rights: Sulgrave Manor)

And there is a postscript… Remember the little anonymous photo Mabel also sent to Sulgrave in 1925? Amanda informs us that it “is a romanticized portrait of Mrs. Washington that was published in the mid-nineteenth century”.

And with that, this digression ends.

In exalted company – Mabel Bent and other ‘Tatler’ travellers, 1910

Mabel Bent in exalted, not to say exhausted, company…

THIS is an age of plucky, strenuous women. They vie with men in the field of sport, they seek to invade his political kingdom, and they penetrate the remotest corners of the world in search of big game and fresh adventures in a manner which makes man stand amazed at their daring.’

The ‘Tatler’, 30 Nov. 1910, page 270. (c) ‘The Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library’, used with permission.

A little research the other day (May 2020) turned up a fascinating, pre-Great War  travel article in the Tatler for Wednesday, 30 November 1910 (no. 242, page 270) – and many thanks to the Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library, whose copyright it is, for allowing us to reproduce it here. It’s a tremendous, rare read. The author is one Joseph Heighton;  forgive its title – ‘Pioneers in Petticoats’.

Twenty years or so either side of 1900, the journeys of Western women travellers were headline news – emancipatory, they very much reflected the times these women voyaged in, times every bit as challenging and frustrating for women as the tough terrain and hardships they fought through.

Mabel Bent on her camel near Mohammad Gul, Sudan. From a photograph (February 1896) by Alfred Cholmley. Glass lantern slide, LS/217-10. © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

Mabel’s fortitude and abilities over the twenty years of explorations she undertook with Theodore Bent were indeed often written about, frequently on pages intended for women readers (some feature elsewhere in this archive).

The Tatler article is typical in its obvious admiration for Mabel, who has reached the age of 63, and has been travelling since she was a girl – most summers on the continent with her family, and then really taking metaphorical wing once she married (August 1877).

Here is what the Tatler has to say about Mabel:

“Asia Minor, Persia, Mashonaland, Abyssinia, Eastern Soudan, and South Arabia. These are some of the out-of-the-way corners of the globe which Mrs. Theodore Bent has penetrated when she accompanied her late husband on his archaeological expeditions. She has had several narrow escapes from death. In South Arabia she was nearly shot by bandits, while on another occasion she was ordered to dismount ‘in order that her throat might be cut’. Luckily better counsel prevailed with the would be murderers.”

Mabel would not be overshadowed by the company she keeps. And  what exalted company it is – very much the great and the good of Western, or adopted Western, women travellers. Of course on one small page there must be notable omissions, e.g. the ubiquitous Isabella Bird (1831-1904), the Nile travellers Amelia Edwards (1831-1892) and Florence Baker (1841-1916), or  fellow Egyptologists Marianne Brocklehurst and Mary Booth, both of whom Mabel knew. And the women featured are all English speakers: ‘Europeans’, such as Mabel’s nemesis, Jane Dieulafoy, are not included.

Also absent is the mysterious American Mabel refers to unkindly just as ‘Mrs. Phelps, a very fat American, in man’s attire’. The reference comes in Mabel’s diary entries for the couple’s amazing ride, south-north, the length of Persia in 1889: “They were all amazed indeed when they heard of our resolution to ride those 1300 miles or more ‘with a lady’, for not more than 3 ladies have done this before, and 2, Mme. Dieulafoy and Mrs. Phelps, a very fat American, in man’s attire. And as the days go on they are still more amazed at seeing me sitting serenely wondering what saddle I shall have.” (The Travel Chronicles of Mabel Bent, Vol 3, pages 27-8)

If anyone knows who this intrepid, if large, traveller is, then we would be fascinated to hear and give her recognition on this.

How well known to you are these ‘Pioneers in Petticoats’? Corona lockdown hours may well give you world enough and time to read up on them. A few notes are added here, courtesy of Wikipedia, to get you in the mood for travel…

Mary Eliza Bakewell Gaunt (Wikipedia)

The article begins with Mary Eliza Bakewell Gaunt (20 February 1861 – 19 January 1942), an Australian novelist with a taste for Africa.

Barbara Freire-Marreco (Facebook)

Next to arrive is Barbara Freire-Marreco (1879–1967), an English anthropologist and folklorist. She was a member of the first class of anthropology students to graduate from Oxford in 1908.

Agnes Smith Lewis (left) and Margaret Dunlop Gibson (Wikipedia)

Academically the most gifted, coming into focus now are Agnes Smith Lewis (1843–1926) and Margaret Dunlop Gibson (1843–1920), nées Agnes and Margaret Smith (sometimes referred to as the Westminster Sisters), were Semitic scholars. Born the twin daughters of John Smith of Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, they learned more than 12 languages between them, and became pioneers in their academic work, and benefactors to the Presbyterian Church of England, especially to Westminster College, Cambridge. Without our access to Wikipedia, Joseph Heighton gets it wrong in his line where he says Margaret Gibson is a friend, she is the twin sister; the girls were born four years or so before Mabel Bent.

Mary Henrietta Kingsley (Wikipedia)

Also high in academic esteem is Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900), English ethnographer, scientific writer, and explorer whose travels throughout West Africa and resulting work helped shape European perceptions of African cultures and British imperialism.

Charlotte Mansfield (Wikipedia)

Again,  it seems that Joseph Heighton was not quite right in saying that Charlotte Mansfield (1881-1936), English novelist, poet, and traveller, completed Rhodes’ dream tour of  the Cape to Cairo; she made it as far as Lake Tanganyika, good going nevertheless (see Mary Hall a little later).

Mary French Sheldon (Wikipedia)

Mary French Sheldon (May 10, 1847 – 1936), as author May French Sheldon, was an American author and explorer. Born the same year as Mabel Bent (and they, indeed, knew each other, see below), she was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, among the first fifteen women to receive this honour, in November 1892. (Mabel Bent was in line for the next group of women Fellows, but the privilege was shamefully withdrawn and women Fellows were not elected again until 1913.)

Mary Hall (frontispiece to her book ‘A Woman’s Trek from the Cape to Cairo’.

Mary Hall (1857-1912) really did make the trip from Cape to Cairo (see Charlotte Mansfield above). Her book A Woman’s Trek from the Cape to Cairo (1907) is available online. After Africa, Mary switched to Australia and the Far East; it seems her adventures there were published posthumously (A Woman in the Antipodes and in the Far East, c. 1914).

Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (Wikipedia)

Our caravan of great women travellers ends, after the heat of Australia, in the ice of the Arctic with Josephine Cecilia Diebitsch Peary (May 22, 1863 – December 19, 1955), an American author and Arctic explorer of renown.

‘…full of the most wonderful curios brought back by Mrs Bent’ Some of Mabel’s Turkish plates (private collection).

We know, at least, that Mabel and May French Sheldon (see above) were acquaintances, if not friends.  The Belfast Telegraph of Saturday, 27 June 1908 informs us that “Mrs Theodore Bent was ‘at home’ recently to some 200 of her friends, when a very enjoyable evening was spent in the beautiful suite of rooms in her house in Great Cumberland Place, that are much more interesting than many museums, as they are full of the most wonderful curios brought back by Mrs Bent from Persia, Russia, Norway, the Soudan, the Holy Land, and the many other parts of the world in which she has travelled and explored. The hostess, handsomely dressed in mauve, with white lace and many diamonds, received her guests at the entrance to the principal drawing-room, and near her stood her sister, Mrs Bagenal, dressed in black and silver, who had come over from her place in Co. Carlow for this and other functions of the season; and amongst other invited guests were …. Mrs French Seldon, etc., etc.”

Of course, there is a library of literature now available on women travellers. A workable summary is provided by Tracey Jean Boisseau for her contribution under the heading  ‘Explorers and Exploration’ in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, Volume 1, 2008, pages 227-231.

‘Few who see Mrs. Theodore Bent for the first time…’ says Vincent B. Weeks

Mabel Virginia Anna Bent (1847-1929), a portrait from page 61 of The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland; Being a Record of Excavation and Exploration in 1891 by J. Theodore Bent, 1892. Longmans, Green and Co.

‘Few who see Mrs. Theodore Bent for the first time would dream that a woman so apparently fragile and so essentially feminine could be one of the most daring of travellers and adventure-lovers. It is almost more easy to say where Mrs. Bent has not been than where she has travelled. She has explored Asia Minor in its wildest recesses, and is familiar with the remotest by-ways of Persia. She knows Arabia better than West London; and in fact has roamed almost everywhere from the Cyclades to Central Africa, while she has faced death in a hundred forms. And yet so adaptable is this charming lady that when you see her in her home in Great Cumberland Place you might pardonably think that she had never wandered more than a hundred miles from her drawing-room, so naturally does she fit her environment.’

Well, here is a find – this brief paean – the sort of thing to bring a smile to the face of the amateur archaeologist, the detectorist of  Bent references. There are only two such known, one in the Nuneaton Observer  of Friday, 9 October 1903, and ours, from none other than the Bromyard News & Record of Thursday, 8 October 1903.

The 1903 One Penny (Ebay).

It would, by the way, have to have been a Thursday – the BN & R only appearing on that day, Thursday, price 1d, a penny in old money, worth (and worth it), say,  1 GBP today – and published by one Vincent B. Weeks from his home at 37/38 Rowberry Street (now a listed building) Bromyard, launching in July 1897, and offering its readers a ‘full report of the local news, with the general intelligence and varieties, &c. The only local paper of the district.’ Bromyard, being something of a backwater (then as now one assumes) between Worcester and Leominster (south-west of Birmingham), and unlikely to support more than one ‘penny dreadful’.

Entry for the Bromyard News & Record, from ‘The Newspaper Press Directory and Advertisers’ Guide’, 73rd edn, 1918, C. Mitchell & Co Ltd, page 116.

All this is really to ask why on earth such a Mabel Bent cameo would appear in such a modest paper, and at that time? Searches turn up no significant newspapers or magazines it might have been taken from. Did Mabel arrange it herself, or via an acquaintance? The editor himself, perhaps? And why?

The Bents were, indeed, very much in the habit of generating their own ‘press releases’ prior to setting off on any of their annual expeditions overseas, and also regularly reporting on their progress to the English press, often with syndications to the US and elsewhere, on their doings in the E. Med, Africa, or Arabia. Mabel would have been very familiar with the process.  She may have been in need of some good PR too; at the time, late 1903, she had become embroiled in something of a scandal in Jerusalem and was rather in the public eye!

The protected 1903 home of the Bromyard News & Record, Bromyard, and Vincent B. Weeks (prop.) (source: Historic England Archive).

Hats off to Vincent B. Weeks and the Bromyard News & Record.  Whatever, the archaeological context, our find is a valuable one – those wanting a succinct recipe for Mabel, with a dash of hyperbole, could do worse than copy it down…

 

Mabel’s three grand Irish homes, still in good hands!

Very good to know that Mabel’s three grand Irish homes are still in good hands!

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

 

 

 

 

Home 1: Beauparc, Co. Meath – On 28 January 1847, Mabel Virginia Anna Hall-Dare (d. 1929) was born in Beauparc House to Mrs Frances Anna Catherine Hall-Dare (c. 1819-1862) and Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1817-1866). Frances was the daughter of Gustavus Lambart, of Beauparc, and his wife Anna (née Stevenson). Retaining all her life an affection for  the house, lording it over the Boyne, the mansion was built in the 1750s for the Lambart family, who retained it until the last Lambart, Sir Oliver, ‘a wonderful if somewhat retiring and eccentric individual’, died in 1986, leaving it, to the new owner’s ‘total and utter astonishment’, to Henry Conyngham, 8th Marquess Conyngham (born 25 May 1951) – dubbed (Wikipedia): ‘…. the rock and roll aristocrat or the rock and roll peer owing to the very successful series of rock concerts he has hosted since 1981, held in the natural amphitheatre in the grounds of Slane Castle [Slane falls within the estate, a few miles away across the river]… These concerts have included performances by The Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, Queen, U2, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Guns N’ Roses, Oasis and Madonna.’ Not too sure how Mabel would have taken to ‘Start me up’ rocking in over the Boyne, but who knows?

Temple House, Co. Sligo (image from the Temple House Hotel website, reproduced with permission)

Home 2: Temple House, Co. Sligo. You can’t stay with your in-laws forever, perhaps, and the Hall-Dares were soon looking for an estate of their own; Robert’s father being a very wealthy Essex landowner and Demerara sugar-plantation owner.  In the late 1850s, therefore, the growing family decamped from Beauparc, purchasing Temple House from the Percevals, at a discount, the latter in some financial discomfort. It was not to remain with the Hall-Dares for long, however: in 1861 Mabel’s father assaulted his gamekeeper’s wife and spent a month in Sligo gaol for his crime. Disgraced, he resold the house and lands to the Percevals – and delighted were one and all to see them back, for the Hall-Dares: ‘had a very different view on their duties and became notorious for evicting many families.’ Still magnificent and happily in Perceval hands, the fine house is now a luxury hotel – you can relax in grand style where Mabel spent her early childhood.

Newtownbarry House (from the website: Carlow Tourism, The Foresters’ Hall, College Street, Carlow)

Home 3: Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford. Robert, never down for long, moved his wife and several children across country to Co. Wexford, and the village of Newtownbarry (now Bunclody). ‘For its size,’ boasts the 1885 Wexford County Guide and Directory, ‘there is no town in the County Wexford to compare with Newtownbarry.’ Hall-Dare bought the rather modest house in the estate grounds from the Maxwells in 1861/2, and promptly set about enlarging it, although he died in 1866 (as an in-patient in the up-scale asylum for distressed gentry, Ticehurst House Hospital, East Sussex), never seeing its completion. Three other deaths must also have hit the young Mabel very hard – that of Frances, her mother in 1866, from what seems to have been ovarian cancer, the apparent suicide of her younger brother Charles, a single pistol-shot, just the other side of Worcester railway station, on 31 January 1876 (three days after Mabel’s birthday), and the death in Rome (from typhoid) of her elder brother Robert a few months later, on 18 March 1876. Despite these tragedies, Mabel remained at Newtownbarry until her marriage to Theodore Bent in 1877, and to them one might look for Mabel’s need to travel, to be somewhere else as soon as she possibly could, marriage her ticket. Solid-looking Newtownbarry House, in conversation ever with the trouty, brown Slaney just below it, was designed by the well-known Belfast architect Sir Charles Lanyon between 1863-69; it is still in family hands, Mabel’s great-niece being the current owner.

Click here for other stylish properties associated with the Bents.

 

Two unpublished letters from Theodore Bent to William Paton – 1890

Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland, the Paton Family estate (Google maps)

Following on from Alan King’s well-researched, recent piece (September 2019) on the Bents’ friends William (1857-1921) and Irini (1869/70-1908) Paton, it was a pleasant surprise to have access to two unpublished letters from the Paton great estate, Grandhome, just outside Aberdeen – Bent to Paton.  In their correspondence, the men refer to recent explorations and successes in Cilicia (notably Bent’s discovery of the site of Olba), and the second letter is of particular interest in terms of Bent’s almost immediate departure for Great Zimbabwe, perhaps his most notorious work. These two letters are published below for the first time and we are most grateful to the present William Paton, Bent’s friend’s great-grandson, for kindly allowing us this opportunity.

Laird William Paton was a fascinating man of complex nature – a great, perhaps maverick, classicist, traveller and philhellene – it’s not hard to see in him the early shades of later and similar great Brits, why not Leigh Fermor, Durrell, Pendelbury, Dunbabin….? One can make a fair list.

William Paton’s presumed route from Aberdeen to the Turkish coast by sea, some 4000 km (Google maps)

The only son, William becomes laird of Grandhome after the death of his father, John, in 1879, a JP in 1884, and Deputy-Lieutenant in 1893. But by the mid 1880s he has settled on Kalymnos, running his Scottish estates and managing his responsibilities from a great distance, obviously with a team at home to oversee things (his elderly widowed step-mother, Katherine, survived until 1919), and relying on regular trips back to north-east Scotland: and this trip home from the isles of Greece (then Turkish), by steamer, presumably via Marseilles (the same way the Bents travelled) and Dover and Edinburgh, to Aberdeenshire – a distance of some 4000 km each way; but the Scots are tough and he was young.

Of the two, Bent and Paton, the latter was five years older, and taller, but this didn’t prevent them apparently from being mistaken for bothers, as Mabel Bent was quick (even proud?) to note in her diary:

“We were very much amused on landing [on Kalymnos] to hear ‘William has returned’. ‘No, it is his brother.’ ‘He is exactly the same.’ ‘How very like he is.’ ‘No, it is not him.’ And these sentences never cease to be buzzed round wherever T[heodore] goes. At the British Museum they have been taken for one another and a gentleman came and shook hands with him and said ‘When did you come’ and then ‘Oh! Excuse me. I thought you were the son-in-law of Olympidis’.” (The Dodecanese; Further Life Among the Insular Greeks, Theodore and Mabel Bent, Oxford, 2015, page 159)

One of Paton’s finds from Kalymnos – a Mycenaean double-handled cup now in the British Museum (The British Museum).

Both young men went to Oxford and were intended for the Bar, but both were side-tracked by the lure of ancient Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean. Bent had studied history at Wadham and his early studies took him in search of Genoese adventurers on Chios and elsewhere. Paton, the young classicist of rigourous intellect, and self-confessed ‘Orientalist’, soon found himself after University College, hunting for pots and publishing inscriptions in Lycia and Cilicia, inter alia.

Surprisingly, promptly marrying the obviously beguiling and young Irini Olympiti, he settled on Kalymnos, nowadays a municipality in the southeastern Aegean, belonging to the Dodecanese, between the islands of Kos and Leros, and 20 km from the Turkish coast opposite. Soon, along with the even more erudite E.L. Hicks, later Bishop of Lincoln, and also a Bent collaborator (but, another story), Paton became a go-to-man for British academics wanting advice on the region.

William Paton in Greece, undated (The Kemény Archive).

Thus, although a truer scholar than Theodore Bent, it is quite natural that they should have met and become acquainted,  both lovers of ancient Greece, the new discipline of archaeology, and working on inscriptions in the Eastern Mediterranean in the 1880s; as Mabel noted above, they often bumped into each other at the British Museum, the offices of the Hellenic Society, and many academic events in London and elsewhere.

And we know that Bent at least once travelled up to Aberdeen to stay with Paton, the latter reminiscing in a letter, from Vathy on Samos, in the early 1920s: “I also had the privilege of meeting [E.L. Hicks] personally… at my own house in Scotland, where the late Mr. Theodore Bent and Professor W. M. Ramsay were present, and I had the full advantage of the conversation of these three distinguished people…”

Edward Lear on Greece

“It seems to me that I have to choose between two extremes of affection for nature – towards outward nature that is – English or southern – the former, oak, ash and beech, downs and cliffs, old associations, friends near at hand, and many comforts not to be got elsewhere. The latter olive – vine – flowers, the ancient life of Greece, warmth and light, better health, greater novelty, and less expense in life. On the other side are in England cold, damp and illness, constant hurry and bustle, cessation from all topographic interest, extreme expenses…” [Edward Lear, c. 1860, taken from a letter, in Edward Lear: A Biography by Peter Levi (1995, p. 192)]

Great travellers the pair, too, the Bents not limiting themselves to the Med (later famous in Africa and Arabia of course), and William living, for those days, an unorthodox double-life, divided between where his ‘head’ lay, i.e. serious responsibilities as a large landholder in northern Scotland (his descendants still run the estates), and his heart, the Kalymniotissa Irini – and soon several children. Perhaps he had Edward Lear’s lines in his head (substituting Scotland for England clearly).

By the mid 1880s, William’s reputation as an epigrapher (and archaeologist, in the terms of the day) was in the ascendancy; any of his published papers reveal a clarity, ingenuity and level of scholarship that soon marked him out. His first major work was at the site of Assarlik (Caria), on the Turkish mainland, on a steep mountain-top in the southern part of the Halicarnassus peninsula, the site offering a perfect view of the coast, both east and west.

W.R. Paton, ‘Excavations in Caria’ (JHS 8, page 74)

He is to publish his findings (1887) as ‘Excavations in Caria’ (JHS 8, 64-82), with, coincidentally, Theodore Bent having an article on inscriptions from Thasos in the same issue (pages 409-438). William had a further piece on ‘Vases from Calymnus and Carpathos’ in the same volume (pages 446-460).

In 1900, the University of Halle awarded him an honorary degree.

 

W.R. Paton: A select bibliography 

1891: The Inscriptions of Cos (With E.L. Hicks)

1893: Plutarchi Pythici Dialogoi tres.

1896: (with J.L. Myres) “Karian Sites and Inscriptions”, JHS 16: 188-271.

1898: Anthologiae Grecae Erotica, London, David Nutt.

1899: Inscriptiones insularum maris Aegaei praeter Delum, 2. Inscriptiones Lesbi, Nesi, Tenedi, Berlin.

1915-18: “Greek Anthology”, vols 1-5, Loeb Classical Library/Heinemann, London and New York.

The two previously unpublished letters (1890) from Theodore Bent to William Paton

Letter 1

Letter from Theodore Bent to William Paton, 27 May 1890 (The Paton Archive)

To W.R. Paton, Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland [no envelope] note 1 

13 Great Cumberland Place, W. note 2 
May 27 [1890]

Dear Mr Paton

I am much obliged for your congratulatory note.

From an epigraphical view we have been very successful this winter, having thoroughly solved the problem of Olba and placed one or two other doubtful Cilician towns. note 3 

Of course we regarded it as hopeless attempting to bring away any spoil or to do any digging beyond turning over a stone or so, for we were rigorously watched. note 4 

At Smyrna I was asked after the health and well being of my brother, which mythical personage I discovered after sundry questions to be you.

I hope Mrs Paton is well, please give our kindest remembrances to her. note 5  I hope as you pass through London next you will give us the pleasure of seeing you both at the above address.

Yours very sincerely

J Theodore Bent

Letter 2

Letter from Theodore Bent to William Paton, 15 October 1890 (The Paton Archive)

To W.R. Paton, Grandhome, Aberdeen, Scotland [no envelope; the Bent family crest has been torn from the top-left corner] note 6 

13 Great Cumberland Place, W. note 7 
Oct 15, 1890

My dear Paton  note 8 

I am writing to ask if you would have any objection to my using one of your admirable photos of Greek costume note 9  to illustrate a frivolous little paper I have written for the English Illustrated on a Greek marriage. note 10  Don’t hesitate to refuse if you have any other plans for your pictures.

I hope your Kos work is progressing favourably. note 11  I am still over head and ears in Olba and getting rather tired of it. note 12 

We talk of starting again about the middle of January to explore the adjoining district. note 13  At present we are enjoying the comforts of home and are not too anxious to resume our nomad life.

I hope we may see you in London before we start.

With our kind regards, believe me

Yours sincerely

J Theodore Bent

Postscript

As a PS, there are two addenda; one a granite obituary in the Aberdeen Daily Journal of 14 May 1921 that covers well the life-journey from Aberdeen to the Greek and Turkish isles:

W.R. Paton, in later life (The Paton Archive)

“The late Mr W. R. Paton of Persley, Eminent Greek Scholar. Greek scholarship has sustained a severe loss in the death of Mr William Roger Paton of Grandhome and Persley, Aberdeenshire, which took place at Vathy, Samos, New Greece [sic], on April 21, in his 65th year. The son of the late Colonel John Paton of Grandhome, the deceased, who was regarded as one of the finest classical scholars in Europe, belonged to a very old and highly respected family which had been in possession of the estate of Grandhome and mansion-house, situated between Parkhill and Stoneywood, for at least 200 years. A number of Mr Paton’s ancestors are buried in Oldmachar Churchyard, and the records of the family go back to 1700. Educated at [Eton] and at University College, Oxford, Mr Paton very early acquired a strong interest in everything connected with Greece, and particularly with Greek literature. He had already done a good deal of Greek study before he left in 1893 to take up his residence in France. For a number of years he had lived in the island of Samos, in the Aegean Sea, travelled in Asia Minor and among the Isles of Greece, and made a number of important contributions to Greek literature. In particular, he edited the works of Plutarch, and was preparing a large edition at the time of his death. He also collected many inscriptions found in the Aegean Islands; and his archaeological discoveries in Lesbos, Tenedos, and other isles of the Greek Archipelago were communicated to the Berlin Academy and form part of the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum. He published an edition with translations of the love-poems and epigrams in the Greek Anthology. Mr Paton was recognised as one of the greatest Greek authorities of his time. His scholarship was of a very finished character, and he had also a wide knowledge of modern Greek. No one really knew more about Greek life, thought, and literature in all periods, and he was man of remarkable accomplishments, who if he had not been a country laird would have adorned a University chair… In 1900 the University of Halle conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws on Mr Paton. Personally Mr Paton was a man of charming manners and a delightful companion of the most finished culture. A year or two ago he was expected to come home and spend the end of his days in Aberdeen, but he did not carry out his intention. Mr Paton was twice married to Greek ladies, and he leaves a widow and family. He died on 21 April 1921 in the town of Vathy, Samos.”

A final and quirky note goes to J.H. Fowler, who was in touch with Paton while compiling a memorial volume to E.L. Hicks (see above). He gives us this astonishing, perhaps envious, pen-portrait of Paton:

“At this time too [Hicks] became associated with another Greek scholar, Mr. W. R. Paton, who took up his abode in the Island of Cos and made a careful collection of the inscriptions to be found there. Hicks collaborated in the deciphering and interpretation of the inscriptions, and wrote the introduction for the Inscriptions of Cos (Clarendon Press, 1891). A friendship grew up between the two men, unlike as they were, the one equally at home in the practical and in the theoretical life, the other a dilettante scholar who became at last so completely ‘orientalized’ (to use his own expression) that he was reluctant to revisit England, and who never earned anything in his life till he was paid for his translations from the Greek Anthology in the Loeb Library.”

Notes to Letter 1

Note 1:  Grandhome or Grandholme. “(Location stated as NJ 8980 1170). Grandhome House. Site of manor/mansion house. Mansion on E-plan; harled, crow-stepped gables; N wing 17th century incorporating earlier work; S wing 17th century. The two wings are linked by the 18th century W range; forestair to door in centre of second floor. The estate belonged successively to the Keiths, Ogilvies, Buchanans, Gordons and Jaffrays until the late 17th century when it passed to the Patons of Farrochie, Fettercairn, who changed the earlier name for the property, Dilspro, to that presently used.” Return from Note 1

Note 2:  From the late 1870s until Mabel Bent’s death in 1929, the Bents lived in Great Cumberland Place, London, a Regency/Georgian sweep of properties, a stone’s throw from Marble Arch, and for nearly twenty years they would leave their comfortable London residence together every winter for the hardships and inconveniences of travel in the Eastern Mediterranean, Southern Arabia and Africa – greater contrasts it is difficult to imagine. Originally the couple leased Number 43 Great Cumberland Place, with its adjacent mews entrance passing underneath their drawing rooms, until the early 1880s, following which they moved closer to Marble Arch, again leasing, at Number 13: the latter was bombed, alas, but the latter still stands Return from Note 2

Note 3:  Paton was referring to Bent’s archaeological successes along the coast of western Turkey over the winter of 1889/90, chief among which was his discovery of the ancient Greek site of Olba. Bent published the results in a number of articles, the reader should refer to the years 1890 and 1891 in the Bent bibliography. Return from Note 3

Note 4:  Unlicenced in the main, Bent (and not for the first time) had always to be one step ahead of the authorities, at that time headed by polymath Osman Hamdi Bey, in charge of antiquities in Istanbul. By the end of April 1890, Bey, infuriated, complained to HM Ambassador in Istanbul. As well as digging where he shouldn’t, Bent was being accused of espionage. A consular official was tasked with writing to him: “Private – Adana, April 9, 1890. Dear Mr. Bent, The Governor General, having received information that you are revisiting the same places you had already visited some time ago on the road to Selefka, and that you are taking photos or plans of the various places, requests me to make you acquainted with the fact that the taking of photos or plans of the places is not allowed without the special permission of the government. His Excellency therefore requests me to invite you in a very polite manner to discontinue from taking photos, etc., as above mentioned. Complying with His Excellency’s request, I ask leave to add that it would be better if you came back to Mersina in order to avoid any possible troubles with subaltern officials. The best way to continue your scientific investigations unmolested is, in my opinion, to request His Excellency, Sir William White, to obtain for you from the ministry at Constantinople the required permission. N. J. Christmann” (The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent, vol 1, pages 320-1, Oxford, 2006) Return from Note 4

Note 5:  For the brotherly reference, see Mabel’s diary entry above. Smyrna (Izmir) was the important hub for regional steamer traffic: and one’s call before Constantinople. In 1885 Paton had married Irene Olympiti (1869/70-1908), daughter of the prodromos of Kalymnos, Emmanuel Olympiti. Return from Note 5

Notes to Letter 2

Note 6:  See note 1 above. Return from Note 6

Note 7:  See note 2 above. Return from Note 7

Note 8:  Note the change in familiarity compared to Letter 1. Return from Note 8

Note 9:  These illustrations are untraced. Return from Note 9

Note 10:  1891 ‘A Protracted Wedding’. English Illustrated Magazine, Vol. 93 (Jun), 672-7; a reworking of Bent’s 1888 article ‘A Protracted Wedding’. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 265 (Oct), 331-41. There are no illustrations. This bucolic Greek wedding, allegedly on Tilos (also in the Dodecanese, down the line en route for Rhodes), was unaccountably imagined by Bent – Mabel makes no reference to it in her diary. This explains why Theodore could not use Mabel’s photographs: there weren’t any. Return from Note 10

Note 11:  Paton was then busy publishing some material from Kos with E.L. Hicks. The work was published in 1891. For a brief bibliography, see the panel above. Return from Note 11

Note 12: Click for the Bents and Olba. Return from Note 12

Note 13: This is the most intriguing extract from either letter. It proves that in mid October 1890 the Bents were still planning to revisit the Turkish littoral the following year. However, it transpired that Cecil Rhodes’s agent, E.A. Maund gave a lecture on Mashonaland (Zimbabwe) at the Royal Geographical Society on 24 November (1890), at which Theodore was present. It changed his career. On 30 January 1891, husband and wife, and having miraculously organised everything in a couple of English winter months, were on the Castle Line Garth Castle for Cape Town. Ahead lay a year exploring the archaeological remains in and around Great Zimbabwe,  leading to his controversial book, The Ruined Cities of Mashonaland (1892): it transformed him into a celebrity archaeologist and explorer, opening the way for his famous treks over the next few years into Southern Arabia and the Wadi Hadramawt. It can also be said to have led indirectly to his early death from malarial complications in May 1897, subsequent to his last adventure, east of Aden. Return from Note 13

No “no rooz” for the Bents – well, maybe one

Nowruz (or “no rooz” for Mabel), a moveable feast, is the Persian New Year, and the Bents found themselves caught up in the celebrations for it in the Spring of 1899, during their amazing journey on horseback, south–north, through Persia that year. Theodore wrote a piece on it; Mabel makes several references to it in her ‘Chronicle’ – they were even introduced to the Shah, who takes an obvious shine to Theodore’s wife. Nowruz 2020, by the way, is March 20th.

Eight Western New Years out of fourteen saw the intrepid Bents on the road somewhere, or at sea, leaving freezing, foggy England (and their fine townhouse near Marble Arch) in their dust either for the Eastern Med, Africa, or wider Arabia, where they would spend three months or so exploring for antiquities, customs, costumes, folklore, and any other material Theodore could weave into a book, article or lantern-slide talk (based on Mabel’s photos).

Trekking, the Bents seem too preoccupied or tired to do too much in the way of celebrations, and they were moderate in their habits anyway. Perhaps the two occasions they were at sea on comfortable steamers might have been more jolly; but Mabel makes no mention.

If you have an idle few minutes you can follow the couple via these interactive maps on our site.

For those who enjoy lists, here is where the Bents celebrated, or slept through, New Year’s Eve away from London, between 1883–1896 (Theodore’s last New Year – health? It brought him none; he died of malarial complications in May 1897, at only 45).

New Year’s Eve 1883 – Naxos in the Cyclades

New Year’s Eve 1888 – On their way to Aden on the P&O Rosetta

New Year’s Eve 1891 – On the return journey from Cape Town to London on the Castle Line Doune Castle

New Year’s Eve 1892 – En route to Massawa in the Red Sea

New Year’s Eve 1893 – Trekking monotonously through the Wadi Hadramawt, Yemen “[Sunday, 31 December 1893] Our journey was utterly monotonous and again we camped near wells. Lunt’s tent [their botanist from Kew] put up the first thing for him to get to bed with orders not to leave till the sun was on us in the morning, and we all decided to stay at home till that time as again the camels could find food. I like camping near water because the camels can fetch it quietly from the wells instead of noisily from their own insides.”

New Year’s Eve 1894 – Dofar “New Year’s Eve. Did not get off till 10, though we breakfasted before sunrise. Every rope we had round our boxes is taken off and in use, and every bit of rawhide rope we possess is in use and great famine prevails in this respect. Theodore’s camel was a very horrid one and sat down occasionally and you first get a violent pitch forward, then an equally violent one back and a 2nd forward; this is not a pleasant thing to happen unexpectedly… We were all most dreadfully stiff and tired and again too late to do anything in the way of unpacking more than just enough for the night.”

New Year’s Eve 1895 – Kosseir (modern Quseir/Qoseir) in the Red Sea: “New Year’s Eve 1895. We went ashore in a bay guarded by savage reefs, and were glad to leave our rolling ship. There was a good deal of vegetation and Theodore seriously began his botanical collection with a good booty. Nothing was shot but 2 birds, which fell into the sea and were snapped up by a shark.”

New Year’s Eve 1896 – Socotra

If you want to read Mabel’s New Years, her ‘Chronicles’ (archived in London, under the care of the Joint Library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies) have been published by Archaeopress, Oxford.

‘Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest’ – The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston

The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, UK (Wikipedia)

In the Collections Development Policy statement (2011) of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery (Preston, UK) there is a fascinating, and, for the Bent Archive, startling reference on page 30:

‘In the long term, the following areas of the collection have been identified as under-researched areas, but these would only be tackled in the context of potential for use and visitor engagement … […] Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest.’

This casual aside makes the Harris Museum one of only three public collections in the world, to our knowledge, to hold a collection of textiles originally acquired by Theodore and Mabel Bent over the 20 years of their travels, the other two being the Benaki Museum, Athens, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. (We are not including here the few clothing and other items, some made of bark, that the Bents brought back from Great Zimbabwe that are now in the British Museum.)

‘Theodore Bent’s Turkish embroidery bequest’ at the Harris Museum consists of four items (we are assuming they represent the entire ‘bequest’), and, thanks to the kind assistance of curator Caroline Alexander, we believe that this is the first time they have been ‘published’.

Detail from PRSMG 1970.2 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

The museum’s Accession Book refers to the pieces as ‘Turkish Embroideries’. In the 1880s, the decade the Bents spent mainly in the Eastern Mediterranean, the islands off the Turkish west coast belonged to Turkey, taken and held by the Ottomans from early medieval times until the early 20th century. The  Dodecanese islands were only returned to Greece in the 1940s.  Thus the Bents’ acquisitions (some with the intention of selling on to British collectors and institutions) reflect a wide blend of styles and influences – the distinctions between ‘Greek’ and ‘Turkish’ being generally moot points. Beautiful things, made painstakingly, to be given, worn, or displayed, remain beautiful things irrespective.

Detail from PRSMG 1970.4 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

The four items (1970.1; 1970.2; 1970.3; 1970.4) in the Harris Museum were donated in May 1970, rather mysteriously, by someone who introduced herself as ‘the great-niece’ of Theodore Bent. There seems to be no mention of the gift in the museum’s Donation Book, an interesting fact, nor does any name appear in the museum’s accession records unfortunately. The museum’s Accession Book includes the following handwritten note stapled to the relevant entries: ‘Query re T. Bent’s niece [sic]. No details of this donation in the donation book. Contact V & A to whom T. Bent donated embroidery.’

Enquiries are under way (December 2019) to try and find out who the donor may have been, and why the Harris should have been chosen as the recipient.

Theodore Bent had no siblings, but several cousins, who in turn had issue. There is a chance that one of these might be our donor, and there is a local connection. Theodore Bent himself had property just outside Macclesfield , and his uncle John was Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1850.  The family were influential local brewers, and, indeed, Theodore was born in Liverpool (1852). Bent’s Brewery Co. Ltd remained in business until the 1970s, as part of Bass Charrington. The Bents can be traced back to the Liverpool region in the 1600/1700s, and were potters and brewers – one, a medical man, was the famous surgeon who amputated Josiah Wedgwood’s leg!

Detail from PRSMG 1970.3 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

Thus perhaps it was a member of this energetic and successful family who donated the embroideries in 1970; but somehow we doubt it. The Bents were great collectors (and dealers) in embroideries, etc., on their travels in the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey in the 1880s, the period, we assume, when the four pieces now in the Harris were acquired by the exploring couple. On Theodore’s death in 1897 all his estate went to his wife Mabel, and they had no children. Just over thirty years later, on Mabel’s death (1929) all her  belongings, including her textiles, went to her surviving nieces – they, in turn, had daughters, who would thus have been the ‘great nieces of Mrs Theodore Bent’. Of these, it seems only Kathleen Prudence Eirene Bagenal (1886-1974) was alive in 1970. (For the Anglo-Irish Hall-Dare family click here.)

We may, therefore, tentatively, and for now, propose Kathleen Bagenal (or her agent) as the donor of the Bent textile bequest to the Harris. The mystery remains why the Harris? Kathleen’s family home was in Scotland (Arbigland, on the Solway Firth), and we know that she was actively selling off her great-aunt’s textiles from the 1930s. We will, of course, update this theory if more information comes our way.

Detail from PRSMG c1970.1 (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

In her lifetime Mabel exhibited some of her fabric collection – we know of two events, but neither seem to have included any of the four items donated to the Harris in 1970.

  • A lecture Bent gave to the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in 1886, during which his Mabel displayed a range of their textiles. These are published in ‘Insular Greek Customs’. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 15 (1886), 391-403. [With an Appendix by ‘Mrs. Bent’].
  • At the 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London, Mabel Bent showed a good part of her collection (see later in this contribution).

The Bent textiles in the Harris Museum, Preston

PRSMG c1970.1. ‘Fine linen cloth embroidered at both ends’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: c1970.1 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry:  ‘Embroidered with silk and gold plate thread, at both ends. Repeating pattern of formal plant motifs. Pink, blue, gold and brown on natural linen.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘April May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Fine linen cloth [dimensions not provided] embroidered at both ends with intricate floral pattern of mainly peach and blue silk embellished with gold. Probably embroidered using a tambour. Possibly Turkish. Note: 2015, Asia from British Museum visited, said possibly Turkish with the use of flattened gold thread.’

PRSMG 1970.2. ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.2 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Short strip embroidered at ends with formal design of cyprus tress and flowers in urns. Embroidered patch appliquéd on.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel [dimensions not provided] of fine linen. Embroidered both ends with motifs of pinecones and eight-petalled flowers in pots worked in blue, dark brown beige and cream threads. Probably machine worked as no evidence of starting or finishing. Machine worked down two edges. Also central panel later addition in pale blue, beige and cream floral motifs.’

PRSMG 1970.3. ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.3 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Long strip embroidered with flower motif repeated seven times. Red, brown and blue silk embroidery with blue border on three sides.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970′.

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel of fine linen [dimensions not provided]. Embroidered with floral motifs along length. Motif of red and blue flowers in repeated and alternating pattern. Appears to have been the edge of a larger panel. Believed Turkish c 19th century.’

PRSMG 1970.4. ‘Embroidered panel of floral motifs on fine linen’ (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston)

PRSMG: 1970.4 [Headed ‘Turkish Embroidery’ in the museum’s Accession Book]

Accession Book entry: ‘Red silk cloth square extended at corners. Two  embroidered panels joined to form centre piece, with blue silk strips on two sides. Floral design.’ Acquired from: ‘The great-niece of Theodore Bent’. Acquisition dated: ‘May 1970’. [This entry in a different hand]

Digital catalogue entry: ‘Embroidered panel [dimensions not provided] of floral motifs on fine linen comprising two pieces joined in the centre. Primarily terracotta red, blue, green and mustard thread working arabesque floral design. Panel has terracotta coloured narrow lace edging. Panel has been mounted on dark red silk backing panel with sleeves top and bottom for hanging. Possibly Turkish. c 19th century.’

The 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, London

As mentioned above, Mabel Bent showed a good part of her collection at the 1914 embroidery exhibition at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in London. There is an an online catalogue. The prize exhibits were a collection of fine dresses from the Dodecanese, now in the Benaki Museum, Athens, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  The exhibition cabinets displayed a wide range of Mabel’s other textiles, but none of the four items now held in the Harris Museum seem to have been shown to the public in 1914, but more research is needed to confirm this (i.e. future access to the exclusive photographs of the exhibits). Readers may be able to identify the Harris pieces in the catalogue (search ‘Bent’ in the online catalogue search box that appears on the page), and if so we would be delighted to hear from them. Similarly, if any Preston readers can provide information on the four Harris pieces before they entered the collection in 1970, we would also be most interested.

Mabel Bent’s diaries are, occasionally, a useful primary source for information on the thousands of artefacts the couple returned with to London during the twenty years of their travels in the Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, and Arabia. There are hundreds of references to dress, costume, embroideries, fabrics, etc. Unfortunately, Mabel does not always give precise details of gifts and acquisitions and it has not been possible to identify the four textiles in the Harris bequest in her notebooks.

“This afternoon we have been to the doctor Venier, of a Venetian family. Dr. Venier showed us the hangings of a bed, in which King Otho slept when he visited Pholégandros. All gold lace, silver lace and the most beautiful silk embroidery on linen. The curtains were striped silk gauze with gold lace insertion. The pillows gold edged real silk. We were also shown lace-edged sheets and gold embroidery. It was a really splendid sight and fit for a museum.” (February 1884, Folégandhros in the Greek Cyclades; ‘The Travel Chronicles of Mrs J Theodore Bent’, vol 1, page 44, 2006, Oxford)

In conclusion, the four textile pieces discussed, once in the collection of Theodore and Mabel Bent and donated to the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, represent an important revelation, and are published, it is thought, for the first time here. If you have any comments on any aspect of this content, including the origins, or technical/stylistic features of the four textiles, do please write in.

Mabel Bent and Gertrude Bell – two B’s in a pod

Gertrude Bell – a still from the BBC’s publicity.

A fascinating profile of Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) in Baghdad the other night (December 2019)* on BBC 4 (a re-showing of a progamme from 2017) –unquestionably an important and extraordinary figure – Arabist, archaeologist, diplomat, agent provocatrice: and no match for Mabel Bent (1847-1929), the latter, it seems, giving her short shrift the few occasions they met in the early 1900s, in Palestine and around. Bell, in the bully spectrum, of course took an instant dislike to Mrs Theodore Bent – as much no-nonsense as she was herself.

Mabel Bent and Manthaios Simos, the Bents’ dragoman, on their camels near Mohammad Gul in the Sudan in 1896 (a detail from a rare lantern slide in the RGS, London).

Bell writes to her stepmother Dame Florence Bell, 6 February 1900: ‘I met Mrs. Theodore Bent, but having thrown the Salaam, as we say in my tongue, I rapidly fled, for I do not like her. She is the sort of woman the refrain of whose conversation is: “You see, I have seen things so much more interesting” or “I have seen so many of these, only bigger and older”… I wonder if Theodore Bent liked her.’ He did; very much.

* Randomly repeated it seems; a VPN may help outside the UK.

A bookplate without a book…

The Hall-Dare family bookplate (ungummed paper, 7.4 cm x 11.4 cm), circa 1830. © The Bent Archive

We all know that books attract to us like iron filings to a magnet, and that, mysteriously, over the decades, the poles reverse, and they fall away, mostly unmissed. Their residue? – more than likely some brown envelope stuffed with futureless bookplates.

Here is one, it came to the Bent Archive the  other day (late November 2019) after a casual search online. It is the bookplate of Robert Westley Hall-Dare (1789-1836), the 1st, the explorer Mabel Bent’s grandfather. (Tradition had it that the eldest boy would subsequently have the same name, thus RWHD II (1817-1866) was Mabel’s father; RWHD III, her brother (1840-1876); RWHD IV, her nephew (1866-1939); and RWHD V (fifth and last, 1899-1972) her great-nephew. Pedants will have spotted ‘Westly’ for ‘Westley’ – it’s no typo; early family members were flexible.)

Detail from a portrait believed to be of Mabel Bent’s great-grandfather – Robert Westley Hall (1752-1834). He was the son of the Rev. R. Westley Hall (brother-in-law of John Wesley). (c) Private Collection (artist unknown).

There was substantial wealth in the Hall-Dare family – rich estates in distant sugar-lands and not-so-distant Essex. Eton and Oxford boys, the Hall-Dares had lots of books, and bookplates for them. For their coat-of-arms, assembled from various matrimonial alliances (Dare, Hall, Westley/ Westly, Eaton, King, Grafton, Mildmay, et al.), we have only to turn to page 263 of Burke’s 1884 edition (London) of The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; comprising a registry of armorial bearings from the earliest to the present time.

No doubt there will be those now in candlelit studies, ticking grandfather clocks, cigars, brandy glasses on green-baize tables, who will be waiting for a description. Here it is in full:

“Dare (Hall-Dare, Newtownbarry, co. Wexford, and Theydon Bois, Co. Essex). Quarterly, 1st and 4th, az. a lion ramp. ar. betw. three lozenges or, each charged with an increscent gu. in chief a cross crosslet gold, for Dare; 2nd and 3rd, sa. on a chev. engr. betw. three battle-axes erect or, as many eagles displ. of the field, for Hall. Crests — For Dare: A demi lion ramp. az. bezantée, charged on the shoulder with a cross crosslet or, and holding betw. the paws a lozenge charged with an increscent as in the arms; for Hall: A horse’s head couped sa. semée of mullets or, armed ppr. bridled ar. on the head two ostrich feathers of the first and third, and holding in the mouth a battle-axe or. Motto — Loyauté sans tache.”

The motto is archaic French; nothing to do with troubling Victorian moustaches: Fairbairn (Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, 1905, part II, page 47) gives us “Loyalty without spot” – unblemished loyalty, large words to live up to, or not.

A bookplate without book… is still a book lost…