Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Wight Weekend: Scandal!

I have to admit that in my role of Gossip-Mongeress-in-chief, here at The Kissed Mouth, I am often party to some delicious rumours.  So-and-so used to lock his daughter in the cupboard when she became 'trying', So-and-so spent far too much time with little girls, and the suchlike, but usually it is not verifiable with plain, cold facts.  Imagine my delight when I was contacted with not only a scandalous tale, but with evidence...

I must thank Stephen Chambers for contacting me with this story because it has answered a little mystery for me - why would a young man with everything going for him suddenly up and leave the country?  Allow me to elaborate...

Time, Death and Judgement Cecil Edwin Schott
Born in January of 1868, Cecil Edwin Schott was the second son born to John Bernard Schott and his wife Maria.  He was born the same year his elder brother, Bernard, died aged 2, and was followed by siblings Frederick in 1870 and Amy in 1872.  Only he and Frederick survived infancy, and went to live with their father after his divorce and remarriage in 1879 (we'll draw a veil over what order that happened in and anyway his mother had bigamously married a publican by that point anyway.)

Fanny Cornforth (1874) D G Rossetti
The woman who was to be 11 year old Cecil's step-mother was Sarah Hughes, or the model formerly known as Fanny Cornforth. Told by Rossetti to make her own way in the world as he could no longer support her, Fanny used her savings to buy a public house called The Rose Inn with John Bernard Schott, who she then married.  John Bernard had experience in the hospitality industry as he had run a bar connected to a theatre, possibly where Fanny had met him.  He moved Cecil and Frederick in with him and his new bride and they set up home together.

Young Cecil showed some artistic promise.  Fostered by his step mother's former lover, Rossetti, he finally found an place in the studio of George Frederick Watts.

Hope (1886) G F Watts and Cecil Schott
Cecil went to work for Watts in the 1880s as a studio assistant, working on replicas of popular works such as Hope (above).  Cecil would start the copy and Watts would complete it, enabling the artist to carry out more work.  Cecil painted at least two portraits of Watts which were included in the 1905 biography of the artist by Emilie Barrington and was developing into a fine artist and depended upon by his employer.

The Briary, Bedbury Lane, Freshwater, Isle of Wight
Sadly, Watts' home burnt down mid 20th century, hence inset picture
G F Watts so enjoyed visiting his friends Alfred Tennyson and the Prinsep family, including Julia Margaret Cameron, on the Isle of Wight that he had The Briary built just down the lane from Tennyson's home, Farringford, in 1873.  The house became home to the painter, his wife Ellen Terry (during their short lived marriage) and various members of the Prinsep family, as they came and went from London.  When he started working for Watts, Cecil too travelled to the island, to continue his work and progress his career.

So far so good.  He was working for one of England's most respected artists in the company of the poet laureate and the influential, artistic Prinseps.  A member of the Prinsep family, Blanche Clogstoun, was taken under Watts' wing and he gave her the Briary on her marriage in the 1880s but it seems he still used the house with its three studios while he was on the Wight.  So, young Cecil was moving among the artistic elite, which makes the following revelation both surprising and rather saddening.

Pallance Road, Northwood, Isle of Wight
On the 30th September 1896, a 59 year old shipwright and his wife Mary were asleep in their home, Comfort Cottage, Pallance Road, Northwood on the north west side of the Isle of Wight, around thirteen miles away from the glittering social circle of Freshwater.  That night, a man broke into their cottage and stole £14, the equivalent of around £800 now.  Three days later, the police arrested Cecil.

The case came to trial on 21st October, when Cecil Edwin Schott, whose profession was listed as artist, pleaded guilty to housebreaking and larceny and received 3 months hard labour.  After being released from prison in early 1897, he made arrangements for emigration and left Southampton bound for South Africa on 27th March 1897.  Scandal and shame obviously made it unthinkable that he could return to the Briary, Watts and his circle.

Little is known of his movements after that.  The William Fehr collectionof the Iziko Museum in South Africa has one picture (which you can view here) of a fish market painted in 1898, but his career does not seem to have reached the heights it could have achieved if he had remained on the right side of the law under Watts.  It certainly answers the question as to why Cecil Schott suddenly left his brother and step mother for South Africa but there are so many questions his actions raise. Did he know that the shipwright had that much money in his cottage?  What did he need the money for?  His father had died in 1891 and left Fanny at the mercy of her sister-in-law Rosa Villiers who was notoriously tight with the purse strings.  Was Cecil stealing for Fanny or was he drunk and opportunistic?  Whatever the motivation, it seems such a pity that he threw away his opportunity with Watts on a single criminal act.

I'll be back tomorrow with the second part of my Wight Weekend, and my unladylike pursuit of Tennyson....


  1. Thanks for telling us what happened to Cecil. It is indeed a strange story. James Loving was of modest Means, judging from the probate records, so odd that he should have had so much cash lying around. I was born in Cowes and my Mum used to take me walking up Pallance Road some 60 years ago.

  2. Indeed, it does seem like a lot of money and maybe Cecil overheard something, leading to him breaking into the house. He had to travel, so it doesn't seem like he just broke into a neighbouring house on the off-chance. A mystery indeed and many thanks again to Stephen for bringing it to my attention.

  3. A fascinating story! I just looked up Watt in wikipedia. It says he moved to Compton in 1891 so it does sound as though the glittering years of the Freshwater set was over by the time of the crime? Perhaps it was struggling artist's perennial friend - poverty - which drove him to commit the crime. It must have been frustrating to have been an artist's assistant - never getting any credit, never advancing in your own reputation or career, never really part of the crowd. And if Watt discharged him when he moved away, he might have been in difficulties. Regarding the amount of money, many ordinary people didn't trust banks. It was probably this man's life savings that Schott stole.

  4. Just looked at the Fish market painting. He was certainly a very skilled artist. I hope he found success and happiness in South Africa


Many thanks for your comment. I shall post it up shortly! Kx