Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Tuesday 4th December - Ruby Streatfeild

I would like to correct the statement I made yesterday when I said I loved it when I got to research someone with an unusual name as it made it easy to research.  What I should have said was I really love it when my subject is amazingly rich and privileged.  They are marvellously well recorded and make my life a breeze.  Hurrah for the aristocracy!  Anyway, on with today's subject...

The Captive (1882) John Everett Millais
Look at those sleeves! This gorgeous piece is a fancy portrait of Miss Ruby Streatfeild of Chiddingstone Castle, but not actually done for the family as it was sold in pretty short order to the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Australia.  In Life and Letters of John Everett Millais (1899) by the artist's son John Guille Millais, the model is identified as 'Miss Ruby Streatfeild now the Hon. Mrs Colville'. Thank you to Millais junior, that's all I need to do a bit of digging...

Chiddingstone Castle, Kent
The Streatfeild family are probably known to you because one member of this illustrious clan was the novelist Noel Streatfeild, author of Ballet Shoes.  Anyway, in this very lovely corner of Kent lived Henry Dorrien Streatfeild and his wife Henrietta and their enormous family. Ruby, born in 1866, was one of the couples last children and she had siblings who were 12 years older than her (plus two younger siblings, including her sister Ivy). Of Ruby's siblings, I first draw your attention to Henry, born 1857 and destined to become a colonel with a magnificent moustache...

I say!
 Henry married Florence Beatrice Anson in 1885, and just in case you were wondering why you knew Florence's name, it's because she is this young lady in the middle...

Days at Freshwater (1870) Julia Margaret Cameron

It's a small world, isn't it?  Florence appeared in a few of Julia Margaret Cameron's pictures, but I won't say anymore now in case I end up covering her later in the month.  Anyway, I will also mention Ruby's much older sister Violet, or Lady Henry Nevill, as she became in 1876. There actually was only three girls in the Streatfeild family - Violet, Ruby and Ivy - and so the sisters seem to have been close.  Indeed, before marriage and later in life, Ivy and Ruby seem to have attended social events together.  Anyway, when Ruby was only 14 years old, her elder sister died.  Violet had given birth to Geoffrey, her third child and second son on 6th April 1879 but he died only 8 days later.  Violet's health seems to have suffered over the following 18 months and she was advised to stay in the south of France, then in Bournemouth but she didn't recover.  On Christmas day, 1880, she died aged only 25 years old.

It might have been the loss of Violet that prompted the Streatfeilds to ask family friend, and frequent visitor to Chiddingstone, John Everett Millais to immortalise their daughter.  Whatever the reason, Millais did not limit himself to a traditional portrait (even though the painting is equally known as 'Ruby' to the contemporary audience) but shows an exotic slave girl, all dolled up in Eastern finery, at odds with her very English face.  The narrative presumably is, given the title 'The Captive', that Ruby is a victim of that accursed white slave trade we all know so well (see here for how you can get involved) which was very fashionable at the time but not the sort of aspirational portrait you might like for your daughter.  Anyway, it is also a notable painting for another reason.  According to the Art Journal of 1885, it was the 'first subject painted by [Millais] with the aid of spectacles; in consequence probably it is remarkable for the delicacy of its execution.'

Not long after the painting was exhibited, Ruby became engaged to, and subsequently married, Charles Colville, 2nd Viscount Colville, the only child of Lord Colville of Culross.  She wore a dress of white Bengoline ribbed silk and Brussels lace tuille veil, with a wreath of natural orange blossom.  She had six bridesmaids including her sister Ivy and her sister Violet's daughter, Joan.  The couple lived in London, where her first two children were born, but after the death of her father in 1889, the family, together with Ruby's brother Eric, set off for Canada to live in Ontario for a while, later home to Ruby's son John.  By the 1901 census, the family are back in the country.

Millhanger, Surrey
In a very rock and roll twist, in the 1911 census the family is living at Millhanger in Thursley, Surrey.  This wonderfully sprawling home was also the home of Roger Taylor from Queen (obviously not at the same time) and was built around 1907 by Arts and Craft architect Harold Falkner, possibly making the Colvilles the first owners.

The rest of Ruby's life was fairly uneventful.  She travelled to and from Canada a few more times with her husband, and then after the death of her husband, with her son John who lived there until his retirement.  She became the Dowager Viscountess Colville, and took to good works, which became War Works after 1939.  In the census of that year, she is listed as living in Danegate House, near Tunbridge Wells, where the family had moved in 1924, with son John and a vast staff.  She died, aged 77 in the gloriously named Baggy End in Devon while staying with John in his seaside home.  She left a whopping great legacy of £39,000 to her beloved son and was buried back at the family seat in Chiddingstone in Kent.

See you tomorrow.

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