Wednesday 9 September 2015

The Curious Case of the Silver Spoon

As you know, my new novel We Are Villains All will be thrust upon you in December, so brace yourselves.  As I have pretty much finished all my work on it, just tinkering with covers and doing final amendments, my thoughts turned to what comes next.  It has been on my mind quite a bit since I finished the final draft of Villains back in the summer, but I think today I can add a new tab to the top of the page.  My next publication will be a return to non-fiction, to biography and to the life of an artist's model.  My next book will be a biography of Mary Hillier, maid and model to Julia Margaret Cameron.

Call, I Follow, I Follow, Let Me Die! (1867) Julia Margaret Cameron
 In light of this announcement, I thought I would bring you an interesting little story I came across in my research.  It is the story of a casual waiter, a silver spoon, and the testamony of a maid...

Lymington, Hampshire - 19th century
 On Monday 17th March 1873, a young gentleman called Henry Church was arrested in Lymington for hawking without a license.  This means that he was selling goods on the street, often by calling out or bantering with passers-by.  Sergeant Rodaway of Lymington apprehended the miscrient, but it seems that he had been tipped off by a silversmith and watchmaker of the town, George Marriott.  Marriott had been sold a silver teaspoon, which weighed a mere 1/2 ounze, for a couple of shillings.  The silversmith had obviously felt something was amiss as he had alerted the police, possibly because the teaspoon was crested.  That crest was of Julia Margaret Cameron's family. The charge of hawking without a license was withdrawn and a more serious one of theft was placed upon Henry Church who was transported over to Yarmouth, to the tender care of Superintendent Stephenson of the Isle of Wight Constabulary...

Matters moved quickly and on 26th March, Church found himself at the County bench, on the Wight, in a session that covered theft of hay (one day's imprisonment), theft of sugar (6 weeks hard labour) and non-vacination of a child (£1 fine).  When it came to Henry Church and the theft of the teaspoon, the court called Mary Hillier, maid to the Cameron household at Dimbola Lodge, Freshwater, as their star witness...

Sappho (1865) Julia Margaret Cameron
Mary Hillier testafied that Church had sometimes worked at Dimbola as a waiter, presumably when Mrs Cameron had a house full of guests.  He had been at the house on 10th March and she had seen him go into the pantry where the spoons were kept, but it was not until 17th when she had noticed the spoon was missing.  It was one of 12, and when the police showed her the spoon that Church had sold to Marriott, she identified that as being Mrs Cameron's missing teaspoon.

Dimbola Lodge (1871) unknown photographer

Without any doubt, the court found him guilty and sentenced Church to two months hard labour.

I found this story facinating because it reveals a little of Victorian life behind the excitement and creativity of the photographs.  The Camerons ran a chaotic household, but one that was warm, friendly and welcoming.  It seems both unsurprising and disgusting that someone would take advantage of the trust that was placed in them to steal such a trifle.  It also struck me that Mary Hillier was in a difficult position herself as she was ultimately in charge of the silver spoons and had she not been trusted implictely by her mistress then she too might have fallen under suspicion.  She stood up and testified on behalf of Mrs Cameron (called the 'prosecutrix' in the newspaper reports, what a wonderful word) and got the spoon back, which is an interesting piece of back story for the Madonna of Freshwater.

Madonna and Two Children (1864) Julia Margaret Cameron

 For more information on my biography of Mary Hillier see the above tab and I will keep you posted as to my progress!


  1. Dear Kirsty
    A really interesting story, bringing Mary Hillier to our notice. I look forward to the new book, which sounds fascinating. Can't wait!
    Best wishes

  2. Thanks Ellie, I am delighted to be back in non-fiction for a bit!

  3. An ancestor of mine got into a bit of bother with a sheep, (he borrowed it I believe). He got a free holiday to Australia!

  4. Ha! I'm glad you clarified the bother your ancestor got into...


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