Discovering Ida Agnes Broenner | Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted

Discovering Ida Agnes Broenner

Discovering Ida Agnes Broenner

Burials connected with this article

1 burial in Rectory Lane Cemetery is linked with Discovering Ida Agnes Broenner — click on a burial below to find out more about the historical connections:

Research into the Broenner & Wilkinson families, conducted with the assistance of author Ernest Raymond OBE (1888–1974)

Franz Broenner 1856-1925  (Plot 782)
Ida Agnes Broenner 1851-1918  (Plot 782)
John.P.H. Wilkinson 6th April – 1st November 1916  (Plot 654)

It started when I was counting up the number of annual burials in the Cemetery – my eye randomly caught the name Franz Joseph BROENNER, who had died aged 69 at 16 Catherine Road Surbiton and was buried in Berkhamsted on the 30th December 1925 by the Rector of St Peters. The surname stood out from the strong Anglo-Saxon ones such as Davis, Batchelor, Clarke. I was intrigued to know why this Germanic sounding gentleman should have been buried in the Cemetery at Berkhamsted so soon after the First World War.

I did a quick check of the Newspaper Archive, thinking the unusual name might be easily searchable. There were two random references – one in 1877 to a Herr. F. Broenner being a member of staff at the French College, Blackrock[1] teaching Music; a later entry in the list of new arrivals in the Brighton Gazette of 1896 stated that Dr and Mrs Broenner were staying at Langley house.

I then checked the burial records for the Cemetery – these did not list Franz but they did list an Ida Broenner buried in plot 782. The grave is now overgrown but sits in a prominent position beside the main path. Checking the inscriptions, the kerbs had the words:

‘Ida Agnes Broenner, beloved wife of Dr F. Broenner and mother of Percy S. Wilkinson, born 27th November 1851, died 11th February 1918.’

So Franz’s wife Ida had died over 7 years before him; Franz was almost certainly buried in the same grave but not acknowledged on the headstone.

Franz Broenner

(Ida’s Second Husband)

A bit more ‘digging’ and a marriage certificate showed that the couple had married at St Stephens Church, Twickenham Middlesex on the 4th July 1895 – both described as age 39 (although Ida in fact was only 33), and both married previously. He was then a Doctor of Philosophy (or more correctly Doctor Philosophiae) living at Richmond. His father, who had died by that time, had been a Professor, so there was clearly a strong intellectual and educational streak in his family. Franz had been born in Biodern, Bavaria, Germany, and had married his previous wife, Katharina Christine Bihn, in Heidelberg, Baden in 1887, but it is unclear when in this period between 1887 and 1895 she had died.  Before the marriage in 1881 he had moved from Ireland and, aged 24, was boarding and working at Windlesham in Surrey as a Teacher of Music. But presumably he had then travelled back to Germany to marry her as he is not to be found in the 1891 Census, the inference being that he was still abroad at that time.

Ida Agnes’s surname is listed on the Marriage Certificate as WILKINSON, so as a widow this started to make sense of why her son’s name – Percy S. Wilkinson – should appear on the grave. A closer look at the Brighton Gazette also lists Master Wilkinson after Dr and Mrs Broenner.

Harry Brown Wilkinson

(Ida’s First Husband)

So we re-wind 15 years and find that Ida Agnes had married Harry Brown Wilkinson of Lambeth at St George, Hanover Square in 1880. Her maiden name was CALDER. Ida, aged 29, was marrying Harry who at 64 was 35 years her senior.

In 1881 they were installed in Harry’s house at 91 Vassall Road. Harry is stated to be Cashier G.P.O, Civil S. He was a British Subject but born in Malta in 1817, the oldest in the family with four younger brothers and a sister. A widower when he married Ida in 1880, his first wife Augusta Ethelreda Mark had died in April of the previous year. They had had at least six children together[2], three of whom died in childhood. Arthur Malcolm, his eldest son, had been born five years prior to Ida, and his youngest son Augustus James was only 6 years younger than her.  So Ida was moving into the family home in Vassall Road where presumably there were also reminders of Harry’s first daughter Caroline, who had died, aged 6, a year before Ida was born.

Harry’s seventh child, Percy Sinclair, as named on his mother’s grave, was born in 1885, by which time Harry was 68 and Ida 33. So Percy’s father was clearly Harry Brown Wilkinson…

The story, then, seemed fairly straightforward – Ida had married twice, both widows; she had no children by her second husband, Franz, and only one by her first husband, Harry. What is perhaps strange is that we know that within probably 3 years of Percy’s birth, Harry became estranged from Ida. In 1891 he was living as a Boarder in Hove, and died on the 28th August 1894, aged 77. He left £18,000 to his eldest son Arthur by his first marriage, but nothing to Ida or Percy.

Something was clearly not quite right. Fortunately, we can unravel more of it, because someone happened to write about Ida  – Ernest Raymond in his autobiography The Story of My Days’.[3] Ernest was a British novelist, best known for his first novel, Tell England (1922), set in World War I. His next biggest success was We, The Accused (1935). Raymond was a highly prolific writer, with an output of forty-six novels, two plays and ten non-fiction works.[4] His recollections of his childhood include visits by Ida to his house in Dunsany Road, Brook Green London. Ernest, born in 1888, was living there with his Auntie, Miss Emily Calder, Ida’s younger sister.

Ida’s Parents

Ernest helps to fill in some of the Calder family background. Ida and Emily’s mother, Sophia Kennicott was born probably in 1818 in Dartmouth – herself the daughter of post-Captain Gilbert Kennicott, who aged 15 had narrowly escaped death at the Battle of Trafalgar. Ida’s father was William Calder, an Army Colonel born in 1797 in Woolwich (so his father was probably serving in the Military too). He was already 54 when Ida was born.  According to Ernest, ‘Colonel William Calder was gazetted Ensign in the 8th Foot when he was seventeen, Lieutenant ten years later, and Captain in 1835. He served at various stations – Malta[5], Ionian Islands, Ireland, Sunderland – but I know of no active service on which he was engaged.  On a day in 1841 he was at Windsor Castle with the young Sophia Kennicott, probably because one of her uncles was a Military Knight of Windsor, having served with distinction in the Peninsular war. At this time Captain Calder was forty-four, Sophia Kennicott twenty-two, and together they climbed to the top of Windsor’s Round Tower. Up in that exalted solitude, she, no doubt gazing shyly across the timbered lawns and the silver, winding Thames towards the turrets of Eton, listened as he asked her to marry him.

Captain William Calder and Sophia Kennicott were married a few weeks later.’

Ida’s Siblings

Ida was their fifth child; she had two elder brothers, William Dutton, (1842-1909) born in Egham, Surrey and Edwin (1849-1921); Ida, along with her two elder sisters, Sophia Wilhelmina (1844-1921) and Clara (1847-1932) and her younger brother Augustus (1854-1896) were all born in Limerick, Ireland. Her two younger sisters – Emily Gertrude (1857-1939 and Ernest’s aunt) and Mary Elizabeth (1860-1940) were both born in Dover.[6]

Of the girls, Ernest mentions that ‘in my schoolboy humour I liked to call these handsome, well-rounded and redoubtable women the ‘Calder Girls’. …These four, Aunts Clara, Ida, Emily and Mary were certainly dynamic creatures, the exception being Aunt Sophie who lived placidly, within a figure of massive fatness, far away in Dover.  There were also ‘two Calder uncles, Uncle Gus who died early, and best, kindest, jolliest of all, Uncle Edwin’[7]

From the birth places of all the children, we can see that Ida spent the first four years or so of her life in Ireland, then a short time in Kent – the family were at 3 Winchelsea Crescent in Dover in 1861. In 1871 William was visiting his father-in-law on Broadmeades Road, Folkestone, but it appears the family had earlier moved to Boulogne, France, where William died in 1874, shortly after Ida’s twenty-third birthday. Her mother died in 1891 at Twickenham, aged 72, where she had been living as a boarder and living on a pension from the War Office.

Ida And Franz

Ernest’s earliest memories of Ida were when she was living ‘in Margravine Gardens at no great distance across the District Railway, with her second husband, a plump little German professor, Dr Franz Broenner, whom she loved and bullied and kept in subservience.’ Ernest recalled them together later: ‘Ida loved her Franz well, but rather like a dear and faithful dog on a leash. In the Paris villa, when they had no longer a ‘bonne’, he was made to do all the cooking (‘Nobody cooks like him’) and all the household jobs that might spoil her hands (‘Nobody cleans the silver like Franz’) and all the work in the little fir-tree’d garden (‘Nobody can keep a garden nicer than he’). All her possessions had to be perfect in their kind, whether it was her bosom, or her piano, or the backs of her unread books, or… her Franz. When he went into the unused drawing-room to play his heart out on the Bechstein piano, she would say, ‘He is a second Schumann’. …When she was dressing herself (throughout the morning and the early afternoon) and needed him to hook her up, she would call over the banisters to him at labour in the kitchen, or piano-playing in the drawing-room, ‘Sophie, Mary, Em’ly, Clara, Edwin, Mother, Percy, Ernest – oh, drat the man! – what’s his name? FRANZ!’ And …she would say ‘Never do I want that man but I see his coat-tails disappearing into the kitchen or the drawing-room. Franz!’

In Ernest’s early childhood, Ida appeared with regularity at Dunsany Road –  ‘when she embraced me I was embraced also, and all round, by the fragrance of her favourite scent; what it was I don’t know; parma violet perhaps, or patchouli, or attar of roses.’

‘Embrace me?’ he continues ‘Yes. Here was the remarkable fact of this aunt who appeared so frequently (later when I was a schoolboy ever ‘trying to be funny’, I used to call Aunt Emily ‘my permanent aunt’ and Aunt Ida ‘the intermittent one’.) Yes, there was no lack of caresses from Aunt Ida. She gushed over me as surely as Aunt Emily did not. She called me her ‘little sweetheart’ and somehow induced me to address her as ‘Sweetheart’; I was never clear why, but at five years old, accepting all the facts around me as normal and beyond question, I produced the behaviour that seemed required of me. Willing to oblige, I said my ‘Good-bye, sweetheart’ at the door or the gate. When she said, ‘You do love me, little sweetheart, don’t you?’ I provided the ‘Yes’ she wanted, and when she acknowledged this assurance with a long hug and kiss, I responded with as able a kiss as I could manage. But it all came from the head rather than the heart; it was a child’s willing performance in a play-script written by her.’

Ten years older than Emily, Ida was on the brink of fifty[8] and getting stout like Emily, but as neat-waisted a figure as the whalebones, hooks and eyes of her corsets could make her. Her great pride was her figure. I once heard her say angrily to Percy (who Ernest describes as ‘her hugely tall ten-year old son and is the Percy mentioned on his mother’s gravestone), ‘Few people have a figure like mine,’ after he had complained that it was ‘all in here and out there’. Ernest comments: ‘If Aunt Ida bullied her kindly German husband, her son, Percy, so tall, was soon to bully both her and this new German stepfather, whom he called ‘the Deutscher’. Aunt Emily used to say, he adds, ‘It’s dear Ida’s nature either to domineer or to be dominated. She lords it over Franz, and now Percy is lording it over her’. [9]

Percy S. Wilkinson  (Ida’s Son)

Ernest wanted to emulate Percy, three years his elder, his ambition ‘was to be as muscular and powerful as Percy’…’whom I then hero-worshipped’. ‘Now eighteen to my fourteen, he had reached his six-foot-five, was massive in chest and shoulders, and easily the commander-in-chief of that household, both his mother and stepfather, Uncle Franz, being a little afraid of him. I, so far, found nothing at fault in him; was he not taller than anyone else, adept at all field games, and a past-master with all tools? He could build in an afternoon, with me as his ‘mate’ entranced, a sun-house for the villa’s small garden, a new chest for his bedroom, or a kennel, gabled and weatherproof, for his hideous but charming bulldog, Punch.

Vain, and delighting in admiration, as was natural at eighteen, Percy was happy with me as an attendant squire, and many and unforgettable were the enterprises we shared together. Here Ernest describes their bathing and boating exploits; the balls they attended (‘Percy, at our invitation, came to one dressed as Mephistopheles, a truly Satanic figure. A figure in scarlet doublet, hose, and cloak, with a single scarlet feather rising from an evil hood and adding two feet to his six-foot five.’); and their discussions on sex (‘Percy at eighteen, for all his domineering masculinity, was still a virgin.’)


By this time (1901) Ernest used to go to Percy’s house every Monday for lunch ‘which (Ida) always ‘made pretty’ with green lettuce, scarlet tomatoes and dainty discs of egg. (It) was the cold joint left over from Sunday; and was always eaten in a narrow little room that opened off the drawing-room. About that drawing-room there is a surprising memory; it was full of pretty furnishings, for she dressed it as lovingly as her person, but I never once, in my long association with her, saw it used – except by the good ‘Deutscher’ (Franz Broenner, her husband) who was allowed to go into the sanctuary, sit at the Bechstein piano, and play his German dreams away. Doubtless it must have been used occasionally – for an At Home perhaps – but I suspect on such occasions she suffered lest her beautiful chairs were scratched, the white Indian carpet foot-marked, or a choice Dresden figure broken. She never sat in it herself; she always sat and sewed, or played Skat with Uncle Franz and Percy, in an ill-furnished work-room at the other end of the flat; her enjoyment of the drawing-room was in knowing that it was there, beautiful, swept, dusted, and unspoiled.’

Ida Broenner

Over the meal, his aunt Ida ‘made much of me. I doubt if she still called me, at thirteen, her sweetheart but her language about me was always abloom with affection. ‘Bloom’ seems a right word for Aunt Ida. Pink bloom. She was seldom fully dressed when I arrived for lunch, because, as I’ve told you, it took her from pre-breakfast till about three in the afternoon to caparison herself fully for the open road and the public gaze;  but her most shapely figure (‘Few people have a figure like mine’) was duly whale-boned and riveted into the best positions, and usually abloom with a pink and frilly tea-gown or peignoir of silk and lace; her beautiful auburn and silver hair (‘Few people have hair like mine’) was in its final array, and her soft-featured face, even for a boy of thirteen, was all that the skill of a lifetime could make it. The sleeves of tea-gown or house-coat seldom came lower than her elbows, and her bare arms were so round and soft that I would feel, as with no one else, a desire to touch them. Whether or not I exaggerate in calling this seductive appearance ‘pink as the petals of a rose,’ it was certainly enclosed, as a rule, in a fragrance like the scent of roses in June.’

Emily (Ida’s Younger Sister)

Ernest’s relationship with Ida’s sister, who raised him as a child, was entirely different.  He makes it clear that ‘from the earliest I had no love for Aunt Emily, but much fear. She had a violent temper and was quick with her slaps.’ He viewed her as ‘a woman of restless vitality (but) the Church of her time with its ingrained puritanism, its excessive niceties, its credal insistencies, and its Biblical infallibilities, shrivelled much that might have been richly creative thought in her.’ But, equally ‘she could tell … stories, comic or extremely sentimental, the latter her favourites; … she could be pleasant with me when her mood was calm; but I cannot recall, as I sit here, one caress from Aunt Emily…’ and he attributes ‘a nameless and irrational fear that can leap out and grip me for brief minutes’ to the ‘facile slappings from Aunt Emily’s hand.’ He describes being caned for lying: ‘In the dining-room she laid me breast-down on the table so that my legs hung over the edge, and applied the stick. Six times, and not gently. …I remember her saying once, the caning over, ‘There! ‘You’ll be grateful to me for that one day’, and Ernest asks poignantly ‘How is it that people forget that children will remember?’

Ernest calls Emily, who was a spinster, his aunt. But in the 1901 census he is listed as her ward, not her nephew. So the question inevitably arises – who were Ernest’s parents?  When he was about seven or eight, ‘I for the first time questioned Aunt about my unknown parents. …’It’s rather wonderful not knowing who your father and mother were,’ I said to Aunt. ‘It might turn out that I’m the son of a prince or a duke or someone.’

Did she pale? Maybe not, but she certainly answered sharply, ‘Never that. You’ll never hear that. So don’t imagine so. Don’t get any ideas like that in your head.’

‘Well, who were they?’ My first question and my last for many a year.

She angered and stuttered. ‘I don’t know… At least you must ask Dum. They …they died … when you were two.’

‘Did you ever see them?’

‘Did I?…? No….?

‘Did they both die together?’

Surprisingly her foot stamped. ‘Don’t worry me about it. Ask Dum if you want to know. He is your real guardian. I’m not really.’


Who, then, is this ‘Dum’?  ‘Dum’ was in fact, another occasional resident at 5 Dunsany Road – the ‘most imposing denizen of all, the General: Major-General George Frederic Blake, late of the Royal Marines Light Infantry.’  ‘Dum’ or ‘Dummy’ was our name for that dear figure. What a figure he was for a child’s admiration; erect as a Royal Marine should be… with pointed grey beard and long straight moustaches of a brown tint; and perhaps wearing his fur-lined coat with the deep astrakhan collar. You should have seen him in full-dress uniform …’.

Major-General George Frederic Blake had been born in Bath, Somerset in 1836, the only son of Mr. J. Blake, and joined the Royal Marines as 2nd Lieutenant in 1854, serving during the war with Russia in the expedition to the Baltic, and taking part in the blockade of the Russian ports in the Gulf of Finland. Promoted to Lieutenant, he married Eliza Gordon Sharpe in 1857. In 1867, he was called to the Bar and from 1868-1885 he served as Acting Deputy Advocate General. In 1877 he was promoted to Major and in 1881 to Lieutenant-Colonel. In 1886, being found ‘medically unfit for further service’, he retired as Acting Deputy Advocate with the honorary rank of Major-General. He became a director of the Army and Navy stores and was Chair of Ilford Ltd.

When his wife died in 1901, he married Lilian McKellar in London, and had two more children by her, before his death only a few years later in 1904.  Probate describes him as ‘of the United Service-club Pall Mall and 14 Cranley Gardens, South Kensington.’  His estate was valued at £11474 8s.

For Ernest, Dum played a key role in his life. ‘Because of my childhood love for Dum, and my boyish delight in him as a man of infinite odd jests,  he, or rather, a fictitious character flowering from my memories of him, persists in novel after novel of mine….The portraits that are truest to him are in a novel called Newtimber Lane where, as the central character, Sir Edmund Earlwin, he holds the stage for all of its five hundred pages, and in Gentle Greaves where in the figure of General Allan Mourne, he is apt, like a good general, to take command of all the battlefield around him. These two fictitious characters I like best because they are so nearly true portraits of him.’

To enlighten us about Dum’s role, Ernest recalls that ‘one late December afternoon he took us to Victoria and the Army and Navy Stores so that we could consider the Toys Department and choose our Christmas presents. On our way to the Toys through the China and Glass he recognised a small grey gentleman and stopped to talk with him. He introduced us… Mr Ernest here is the son of my old friend, William Raymond. William Bell Raymond, ‘ he emphasized. ‘Who died….in Switzerland a few years ago. One of my lifelong friends.’ And Ernest later saw the birth certificate to prove this:

Privately Baptized. 14 August 1889: Ernest Raymond, aged 7 months, Son of William and Florence Bell Raymond, of 62 Rue Pierre Charrons, Paris, Gentleman, By me at Argentieres, Chamonix, Savoy – T.C. Davies, Curate of St Marks, Sheffield.

With the baptism certificate was a letter from this priest:

‘Shrewsbury Hospital, Sheffield, March 5th 1912.’

‘Dear Sir,

‘It was curious and interesting to me to see a memento of my first visit to Switzerland more than 20 years ago – Yes, it is perfectly genuine and you may safely act upon it. I think the parents told me they had let their house in Paris and were living quietly in Switzerland. There was then no chaplaincy at Argentieres, and they did not know when they would come across a clergyman of their own church. We grew very friendly the few days I was there. So at their particular request I baptised their child as stated.’

Pinned onto the certificate was a note from the curate ‘to the Officiating English clergyman at Chamonix. Dear sir, Please enter in your Register of Baptisms (if you have one at the English Church) the name mentioned within of a child privately baptised by me at the Hotel Couronne, Argentieres this day, August 14th 1889.’

So Ernest was the son of William and Florence Bell Raymond, who had subsequently died in Switzerland, and had entrusted the care of their child to ’Dum’. Dum, it would seem, had come to an arrangement with Emily to raise Ernest.

Ernest considered that Dum played an effective role as his guardian in his childhood. ‘Would I not stand by the bay window of the dining-room, looking along Dunsany Road towards Brook Green in the hope of seeing him return home in his top-hat from Hammersmith station? And did he not always call me ‘Mr Koko’ or ‘Mr Koko-Man….and did he not say that he liked to have Mr Koko-man in that cot beside his big brass bed.’

Ernest stresses the difference his presence in the house made: ‘There was no slapping of me once Dummy was back home from his unknown occupations in town.’ ‘And because I had no love for Aunt Emily all my childhood love poured towards him….’

Dum reciprocated with kindness and generosity.  On Ernest’s ninth birthday, he wrote ‘I wish you, dear little man, a happy year and many more to follow. Try each year to get better in every way – health, learning, temper, manliness, and gratitude to your kind Auntie who is so good to you.’ And he recalls a memorable trip to Brighton, just the two of them, in 1900, when again they bump into an old military friend and Ernest is introduced as ‘his little ward’, son of William Bell Raymond’.

When Ernest was around the age of six, Dum had been made director of the Army and Navy Stores and went out to India to open a branch there. During his absence, Emily had been instructed to find a new home, and they moved to 22 Gledstanes Road, West Kensington. Dum ‘brought home wonderful Indian brasses and silvers to adorn our new bureaux, and an arsenal of Eastern weapons to hang along our entrance hall… On the ground floor was the long dining-room, all mahogany: sideboard as big as an altar with its reredos, dining table long enough for a city board-room, and a corpulent leather arm-chair by the fireplace for Dum’, and Ernest paints a picture of the typical evenings there when all clearly was not always well: ‘Often Aunt and Dum had these uproarious rows which might, towards their end, draw tears from both, since Dum wept easily ….’ ‘At the head of the table sits Aunt Emily, the lady of the house. In the midst of the table’s left side sits Dum… We children sit in the midst of the opposite side and swing our eyes from one seated Statue of speechless Heartache to the other.’[10]

Dorothy (‘Dots’)

We children? Yes, in addition to Aunt Emily, ‘Dum’ and Ernest, there was a fourth occupant of the house – ‘Dots’. ‘Dorothy Makepeace’ was the same age as Ernest. Ernest describes her as ‘my play-mate and fellow-ward of Aunt’s.’  But whilst Ernest received all the slappings, he says ‘I can see Dots caressed and hear her called ‘darling’. [11]

Why should Emily treat ‘Dots’ so differently?

There is a telling Diary, beginning with the Golden Jubilee of 1887. It records ‘scrappily, though delightedly, Emily’s visits abroad…But there is a mystery. Apart from her friends and her old mother in London and her older sister Ida …., no names are mentioned. We are never told, either by an initial, or hint, who are the ‘we’ who visited all the obligatory sights in Paris, and went to the Great Exhibition of 1888 over and over again. Slightly earlier, In August 1887 Emily is in Brittany, with Ida and Percy, Ida’s enormous three year-old baby, and Mary, the youngest Calder sister, and Tom, her husband. The diary entry reads:

Sunday August 14th 1887 Mary and Tom arrived yesterday. We took them for a stroll in the afternoon and showed them the views. This morning Ida and Mary went to mass and I went to bathe with Tom and D—- and tried to swim for the first time but never succeeded in keeping above water…

Friday, August 19th We bathe daily, sometimes from the rocks, sometimes from the cabines…We have great fun bathing, Tom and D—- helping us to float.

The following year, 1888, after the many visits to the Great Exhibition:

Monday July 9th. Left Paris. Train passed through pretty country. Took our dejeuner with us in a basket and enjoyed it very much. We had a carriage to ourselves. Arrived at hotel safely but find it exceedingly cold. We feel very seedy indeed. Suppose it is the cold.’

Thursday July 15th Day turned out very fine. I bathed at 4.30. Enjoyed it very much. The sun was shining very brightly and there were big waves over which the “baigneur” lifted me as he was helping me to float’

The mysterious ‘D—-’ who helps her float on both occasions is, of course, Dum. As Ernest records ‘The certain facts are these. General Blake and Aunt Emily were together in Paris in the spring of 1888. We have seen the birth certificate of a child born to them in Paris at that time under the name Dorothy Makepeace.[12]

Percy & Ernest

The other person around Emily and Dum during this time abroad, as the diaries make clear, was Ida – no longer with Harry Wilkinson but with her three-year old son Percy Wilkinson.

Ernest himself recalls a later scene in 1904 (he was 15) when he, Ida and Emily were sitting in the garden of Ida’s house. ‘Percy passed by, with Punch at his heels and a trowel in his hand, making his way to a cupboard in the house where he stored all his greatly loved tools. He was wearing an old brown Norfolk jacket, loosely open. Emily’s eyes followed that Norfolk jacket, with its belt about the waist and its pleat up the back. And as soon as possible…. (Emily) said to Ida. ‘Doesn’t he look like Someone Else?’

The impact of this sentence on me (says Ernest) was immediate, complete, and astonishing. …This ‘someone else’ was surely Dum. Doubtless Dum in Switzerland had often worn the ‘Duke of Norfolk’s hunting jacket’, which had lately become fashionable, with its waist belt and vertical pleat. Heavens above, how blind, how simple, I had been till this moment. Never till this moment had I imagined Percy to be other than ‘Old Wilkinson’s’ son. But now the truth was as clear, as perfectly in focus, as if a flood-light had been swung on to it. That height, that fine figure, the features, the dark hair, those old stories of Switzerland… Never in her life did Aunt Ida admit it to me, but Aunt Emily did at last, and why not, since in this matter she had nothing to hide? Wilkinson had separated from his wife because he refused to accept Percy as his son. It became a joke among us of the younger generation to say that Mr Wilkinson’s habit of noting in his diary the dates on which conception could have occurred was explained by his civil service training.’

Ernest goes on to say ‘Percy might be marvellously clever with his hands but all his life he remained mentally unoriginal and conventional, professing, not without exhibitionism, a stern Victorian morality, so it is likely that my silence over long years was quite as much a fear of stirring a furious indignation in him as a desire not to hurt him. When twenty years afterwards, maybe, we did speak together of this I learned that, for all his cocky superiority, he had been as innocent and simple-minded as I was, and it was not till his late thirties that the truth broke upon him, his mother never having breathed a word of it. Strange to report that, like us, Percy, the assertive, bossy, the unsparing, never in Ida’s lifetime charged her with it, choosing rather to live alone with what he now suspected – or knew, I think he did this to spare her from hurt as well as to spare himself.

He was primly shocked at my joke about the ‘civil service training’ but I perceived, none the less, that, if the truth had been a surprise, it was also a private pleasure. Because he had been born while Ida and Wilkinson were living together he was safely ‘Percy Wilkinson’ in the eyes of the Law, and had best remain so, but Percy was nothing if not class-conscious, even the perfect Victorian snob, and, in private, as I could very well see, he much preferred being the son of a distinguished Major-General.

So we now have one child born to Ida – Percy Wilkinson on the 8th April 1885, and one to Emily – Dorothy Makepeace – on 23rd April 1888, and in both cases the father is General Blake. Ernest, it will be recalled was reputedly the son of Blake’s friend William and Florence Bell Raymond -baptised in Chamonix in August 1889. Emily’s diary is silent from August 1888 and Jan 1st 1889 – when she is in London and records ‘Jan 1st 1889 Day of suffering – sick headache all day long. Begun the year badly. Nothing ever occurs worth recording. Ida away still.’

So where was Ida?  In May of 1889 she was certainly in Switzerland, where Emily joins her. They ‘made a lovely expedition by steamer to Tellsplatte where William Tell jumped from the boat in the storm’. But clearly the ‘we’ are not two sisters alone; there is another adult with them. ‘We lunched at the Hotel de la Tellsplatte from where there is a lovely view and then Ida, I and ___ walked by the Axenstrasse to Fluelen and back two and a half miles either way a lovely walk hewn in the rock on the mountain’s side’.

So who is the blank? It was clearly Dum. And, as Ernest eventually discovers, his parents are not the Raymonds, but of course Ida and Dum. Emily’s entry for 1st January comes a day after Ida (away still) was giving birth to him.

Ernest himself slowly worked this out in his childhood. By the age of fifteen, ‘I was pretty sure what the truth was of my parentage, and of Dorothy’s; but no one had spoken yet. Not Dum; not Aunt Emily; and, still less, Aunt Ida. Emily had dropped her careless remarks and told her careless tales, and I would have liked to have had my reading of them confirmed.’

But during active service in WW1 as a padre, Ernest returned home in 1917 ‘I went to stay with Aunt Ida in her new home at Surbiton that I might bid her good-bye before going farther away than I had ever been yet, and possibly for a time that must be measured in years.

My arrival at her door was a surprise – a postcard had not reached her – and she gasped in delight to see me on the step. ‘Oh, but if only I’d known you were coming!’ she bewailed as she kissed me in the hall. ‘I’ve no sheets ready.’

‘Sheets!’ I laughed, after my three years with the ‘Poor Bloody infantry’ in their uncomfortable lodgements either behind or in the Line. ‘I don’t want sheets. I haven’t seen a sheet for years.’

‘What? Don’t you have sheets?’ she asked. So little did a woman obsessed by her pretty home, and the pretty things in it, grasp what the three years of war had been, and were.

‘No, of course not. All I need is to roll up in a blanket.’

‘Oh, but you can’t do that. Dear, dear, what are we to do? Oh, why didn’t I know you were coming? The posts are wicked. And the laundry hasn’t been. You can’t imagine what life is like here in England’

‘I’m sure it’s ghastly,’ I said.

As always, during the three days I stayed with her, she and I and Uncle Franz lived and ate in an upper ‘work-room’, furnished with odd chairs and a table, while downstairs her beautiful drawing-room and handsomely equipped dining room were left tidy, polished, sheeted and closed. All was as it had been a dozen years before when, a boy of fourteen, I came to her pretty flat for lunch from St Paul’s. No-one entered the sheeted drawing-room except Uncle Franz who was allowed to visit the piano and play and play to himself for hours – her ‘second Schumann.’

On our last night, while he was down there playing gently, she and I were sitting together in this work-room upstairs while she sewed, and after a time she became very silent, gazing down at the needlework in her hands. Though she was seventy-one now, she looked as pretty and pink as ever in a frilly tea-gown, and I had no fears for health. To me she seemed one of my vigorous and vital ‘Calder Girls’, and the Calders lived long.

I did not know what she was hiding, nor did she divulge it. Courageously she hid it for my sake.

But after a long silence she spoke. ‘It’s thousands of miles you’re going, isn’t it, darling? When do you think you’ll get back?’

I shrugged, ‘Who can tell? The war will end one day, I suppose, but then there’ll probably be months of waiting for demobilization, and after that the long journey home. Could be years, I imagine.’

She looked down at the plying of her needle, and watched it. Then began, ‘Darling, I…’ but could not go on.

‘Yes?’ I encouraged.

More work with the needle. Then – it was our last night, and she strengthened herself to speak. ‘Darling, you know that I was your mother, don’t you?’

I answered with a smile, so that things might be easy for her. ‘Of course, my dear. I’ve known it for years.’

‘And that General Blake was your father?’

‘Who else?’ I covered this with a laugh. ‘And am I proud of him?’

To this she faintly objected. ‘He was not a good man. Not at all good.’

I shook my head, resisting this. ‘To me he seemed good. Never anything but good to me.’

‘Yes’, she conceded, ‘He loved children.’

‘And was wonderful with them.’

‘Yes…yes, I suppose so…’ ….

‘Children loved him, I added. ‘We all did’….

‘And you’ve known all these years,’ she continued, ‘without ever saying a word to me. Oh I think it’s been perfectly sweet of you.’

But it had not been ‘perfectly’ sweet. Certainly there had been in it a desire to spare her discomfort and pain, but perhaps an even larger and wholly selfish longing to keep adrift from the truth and so save myself from embarrassment.

‘Oh why,’ she sighed, needling on, ‘why haven’t I been able to see more of you all this time?’

(Why, my dear, why?)

‘General Blake always said I was not to be troubled.’

‘I see.’

‘You do know, Ernest darling, how terribly I would have liked to… but it was so difficult – more difficult all those years ago than you can imagine nowadays.’

‘I understand. I quite understand.’

And again, ‘You’re so sweet.’ And again my thought, ‘Not always. Far from it at times. Bitter at times,’ but never saying this aloud because it was no moment to give her pain.

‘We lived together in Paris and Switzerland as William and Florence Bell Raymond.’

‘I know. I gathered this from that old baptism certificate written on the hotel notepaper in Argentieres.’ …

And all the time Uncle Franz, downstairs, was playing his gentle incidental music to this first encounter with Truth. Ex umbris et imaginibus…

Ida died on the 11th February. It seems that Ernest did not get to hear about this until the 7th  May 1918, when the British army occupied Kirkuk:  ‘There was a letter from me in Aunt Ida’s hand. Her writing looked as firm and steady as ever., both on the envelope and in the letter as I opened it. Pleased to have a letter I stood in the searing Arabian sun to read it. And the first line stopped my heart.

‘Ernest darling, I have been trying to write but feared to pain you. I must brace myself to tell you the bad account the specialist gave three weeks ago of my condition, there is no hope of a recovery. I have got rapidly weaker and thinner since then and only milk is keeping me alive. I grieve that I shall not see you again, you are so far away. I know that this news will upset you but try to bear up bravely for the sake of all those you can minister to, and you can do so much good in the world. I have thought of our promised visit to Rome. You will think of me when you go there. I think of your happy visits to Paris, the old guide-book I have put your name in, and in my beautiful prayer-book. I bought a frame for your last lovely photograph, it was the last thing I did after leaving the specialist, it cost 11/6 which I wrote on your blank cheque. It was bought at the A. and N. Stores and is silver with a true lover’s ornament at the top in the style we liked in Paris, I thought you would like that and I told Uncle F. to give it to you. It stands on the linen cupboard in my room with face turned towards my bed so that I can see it always. Now that I have written this I fear to send it knowing the pain it will give you. There are many things I would like to say and I should have loved to see more of you. You will be in my thoughts to the last, and remember always how dear you were to me.

‘God bless and preserve you always and prosper your good work. Be fast friends with dear Percy always. He is so good now and writes beautiful letters of comfort to me. If it is possible I shall look down and bless you both. My darling, good-bye.’

No signature because there was no inch of room for it, but across the address, in vertical lines and in a hand still firm, there is a postscript. ‘P.S. I am trying to get your socks done. I fear to send them as the ship might go down, and you will like my last piece of work done for you. I will give them to Aunt Mary for you.’

If ever I have walked far away from the eyes of men to be alone, to sob a little and to think, it was then. Thinking, I told myself that there must be no bitterness any more, but only understanding, a resolve which I have tried to keep – with lapses – ever since.

I will interpose here that after I returned from the war, good Uncle Franz put into my hand…a sealed envelope, which he passed to me with the words, ‘ She wanted you to have this.’ It contained an ancient and staled sheet of paper with letters of the alphabet laboriously pencilled along ruled lines. In Ida’s hand, also pencilled were the words ‘Ernest Raymond Aged 4 and 10 months Oct 24th 1893.’ It was the outcome of a first writing lesson in the kindergarten at Brook Green. Folded within this sheet of paper were three small locks of hair, each neatly, prettily, tied with pink or blue baby-ribbon. They were my hair, her hair (auburn and silver as if lately cut) and Dum’s. In a separate fold of paper, secured by a now rusting pin, was another tiny lock of hair, prettily tied, with the same delicacy. Inside this paper she had pencilled, ‘G.F.B’s hair at the age of two.’

Later there came to me a large oil-painting of Ida, commissioned by Dum in the eighties, if one may judge from the dress. At a time when, perhaps, their love was at its brightest.

Percy Wilkinson and Ernest Raymond were therefore brothers and the product of this brightest love between Ida Calder (married to Harry Wilkinson) and General Blake (married to his first wife).

Ida And Dum

Ernest himself reconstructs how their relationship had come about. We saw how in the late 1860’s and early ‘70s the Calder girls had spent some time growing up in Boulogne, and often re-visited it later when Ernest was a child. In Newtimber Lane, he describes the town as ‘Ah, Boulogne, city of refuge, just under the walls of England. Dear sanctuary (what a word for Boulogne) creeping up close to the Folkestone Gate, so that we had only to cross the moat and we were in the safety of your generous welcome. The walls of England were white as we saw them from Boulogne on a clear day; and the streets of Boulogne were somewhat soiled; and this was a parable, because England (or the face of her) was very virtuous at the time of which we write; as virtuous as she had ever been, and much more virtuous than she can stand for any length of days….Not that the English colony in Boulogne were scapegraces all.’ He then describes the three sets of that English colony – those with money (‘the wealthy tourists’), those without money (the ‘old half-pay officers’) and those without morals (‘the outlaws’),

The officers were ‘so different from the others, so admirable in their probity. These were there because living was cheap and their families were large, and they were mostly good men, loving duty. They read their Bible and Dickens and kept themselves apart from the outlaws in the security of their narrow homes. But they did not always keep their daughters. The eyes of these pretty creatures strayed sometimes towards the sparkling life of the Etablissement des Bains (late the Casino), the Theatre Municipal, and the tall hotels. And quite often a drama sprang up and waxed warm between an ambassador from these brightly lit booths of gaiety and a daughter from the tents of righteousness….

Two long white jetties with lighthouses on their prows enclosed the channel of entry to the Avant Port of Boulogne, and it was a fashion for many of the citizens, especially the English, to line the rails of the southern jetty so as to see the Folkestone steam-packet come slowly towards the Quai des Paquebots, and to wave a welcome to all aboard.

On a day in 1866  if my estimate is right, three of the Calder sisters left their small apartment in the Rue Royale to take their part in this merry custom. Sophie was then twenty-four, Ida twenty [13] and Emily only ten. They walked from the Rue Royale along the Rue de l’Ecu … and so came to the quays. Here, round and about the quays, beat the real heart of Boulogne….On the jetty they stood together near the lighthouse at its end; and the Folkestone boat came in to be greeted by a hundred waving hands. The two younger sisters ran along the jetty abreast of the boat and then stood and watched while it berthed against the Quai de la Douane and the passengers disembarked. One who came ashore caught their eyes and held them, he was so tall and handsome, with black hair curling a little above the ears, black moustaches and neatly pointed black beard; Sophie, the placid sister and one never given to the exaggerated sentimentalities of Emily, was to call him to the end of her life ‘the handsomest man she had ever seen’.

He was a Captain Blake of the Royal Marines. He had served at their Woolwich Headquarters while studying to become a barrister of the Middle Temple and had been duly appointed a Deputy Judge Advocate. When he was nineteen he had played his part as a first Lieutenant in the blockade of the Russian ports in the Gulf of Finland, before Sebastopol fell and the Crimean War ended; he had served three years on H.M.S Cadmus in the Mediterranean, North American and West Indies stations. [14]

Having a love of Boulogne, where he had friends among the old English officers and their children, he came often there on holiday. It was always a pleasure to him, this sea approach to Boulogne with its Haute Ville on the heights, its dome and roofs rising into the pale sky, its fort and calvary looking out to sea, and its twin white jetties to embrace the Folkestone boat with a welcome of waving hands. He stepped ashore this day – to what? I have no reason to suppose he observed the three Calder girls who had observed him so closely. But thereafter – to what?

It would seem that the young and handsome Captain Blake was soon brought into touch with the Calder family, perhaps by some of his friends in the English colony. And that he quickly fell in love with Ida. Few and small are the scattered facts on which I build my guesses, but when we were grown up and Aunt spoke a little about it…she would say in her sentimental way, ‘He couldn’t keep away from beautiful women, but she was the real love of her life. That was his real love story’ – and her lips would begin to quiver.

I have said he fell ‘soon’ and ‘quickly’ in love with Ida because I have a fat old Paris guide-book, published in 1867 as a special edition for the great ‘Universal Exhibition’ of that year. It has ‘G.F.B.’ (George Frederic Blake) on its flyleaf, but it was in Ida’s possession till the day of her death….Difficult  to conceive of a strict old colonel, in a mid-Victorian year, allowing a handsome captain to take the most beautiful of his daughters to Paris – Paris of all sinful places – but it may be that others of the English colonists were of the party, and all seemed safe’[15] The Colonel and his wife did not know, I am sure, that this young Captain Blake was a man finally estranged from a wife who would not divorce him.’[16] … Certainly if I am right, that this ‘real love story’ began in 1866, it lasted – not without infidelities – for twenty-five years. He was with her alone in Argentieres, near Chamonix, in 1889… and with her again in Switzerland in 1891…

Then I have on my bookshelves a parade of elegant volumes, leather-bound and gold-tooled, but looking their age now; they are all the English poets, from Shakespeare and Milton to Moore and Mrs Hemans, and include, no less elaborately bound, such a lost poet as Henry Kirke White. Each volume has an inscription on its flyleaf, in Indian ink and black-letter script, ‘Ida Calder 1874’. … Whether Ida ever read much, or at all, in these volumes I doubt, but she loved their beautiful outsides and would polish them with beeswax so that they shone prettily on her shelves…

Ida never spoke of any relationship with Dum. ‘If his name came up in our talk over our meal, her voice went harsh. She never referred to him as other than ‘General Blake’ and when at sixty-six he married Lilian McKellar, twenty-seven, she called it ‘baby-snatching’ and ridiculed it, and when this new Mrs Blake produced for him a magnificent boy (all his children were huge) she scoffed, ‘A man of his age! Nearly seventy. It must be making people laugh’ [17]

Ernest had a different perception of Lillian. ‘Before the summer holiday of 1904 we saw much of Dum. The new and magnanimous Mrs Blake knowing all and accepting all, invited us often to dinner on Sundays that Dum might see much of us. So we, after church, would take a bus along the old Brompton Road to Cranley Gardens, and hurry along to No. 14 and to Dum… Dum and ‘Mrs Blake’ – we never called her by any other name – were now living in 14 Cranley Gardens, a large Victorian mansion in a white terrace of the stateliest stucco’ Here they have a full Sunday dinner, served by a German butler whom Dum always called Herr Lippy… then to billiards and tea in the huge drawing-room on the first floor, or the nursery to see the ‘champion baby’ Martin.

Then, in the same year, Ernest recalls, came the telegram of General Blake’s death caused by nephritis;  Mrs Blake writes to his two illegitimate children  ‘He loved you both so dearly, and I think you will always be proud to have been loved by so good a man.’

Ernest goes on ‘He Good? She had but two years of married life with him, a young wife nearly forty years younger than he; she knew all his sins, for he had not hidden them from her, but ‘good’ was her chosen word, and I think she wrote it after quiet thought and with sincerity.

Good? Well… yes, always so for me; always, whatever sins in the long years before I was born, or during my fifteen years of lie, were veiled from my eyes; always so, until this moment as I write.

Always so, for me; or must I, in this, accept that love is blind?’

They buried him in the old Brompton Cemetery near his home in Cranley Gardens. ‘But Percy and I decided to go the cemetery and see the last. We would stand well away from the invited mourners, as two outsiders might. None of the women attended ‘there were still traces in those days of the delicate feeling that women, unless they were principal mourners, should leave funerals to the sterner characters of men.

So we two boys, one very tall and one growing tall, arrived at the cemetery while the church service was still in progress. We entered through its great Doric archway in old Brompton Road and walked down its central avenue between the lime trees and the high monumental tombs. It is a very long straight avenue, more than a quarter-mile of it, between weeping stone angels and talk broken columns, between lofty crosses, proud altar tombs, and pompous mausoleums. It was as if the whole Victorian age lay buried there. One mausoleum especially attracted my notice because it bore the words Ex Umbris et Imaginibus in Veritatem. As a classical scholar at St Paul’s I translated this for Percy, who had little Latin: ‘From Shadows and Fancies to the Truth’.

We walked on, wondering where the open grave would be. No one was to be seen anywhere – on the many paths or among the tombs. The whole place, acres and broad acres of it, had the silence proper to death. You could just hear, beyond its grey enclosing walls, the sigh and hum of continuing life. We came to the sweeping colonnades that embrace a large area before the domed chapel, and are said to be an imitation (but a poor imitation) of the vast colonnaded parvis before the front of St Peter’s in Rome. Here, on the western side of the avenue, we saw some workmen around a newly dug grave. It was in the second row from the avenue, and Percy inquired of the men if this was for a funeral coming from St peter’s, Cranley Gardens. ‘You’ve got it, mate’, said one of the men, who was cutting with shears the tall autumn grass around the deep cavity, making a place for mourners to stand. ‘Here any minute now’. It’s for a general or something. A big funeral,’ he added proudly. ‘Some quite famous bloke, I believe’.

‘That’s what we’ve come for,’ said Percy. ‘We’ll … we’ll wait.’

Sixty years ago there were far fewer graves in this part of the cemetery, and he and I were able to place ourselves under a tree on green lawns, some thirty yards from the grave. That tree has long gone, and the lawns also, to make way for the dead of sixty years. The whole area is now a congregation of crosses and table tombs, row behind row, and it is not easy to descry at once the white cross which bears the name ‘George Frederic Blake, Major-General, Royal Marine light Infantry.’

We waited under the tree till we heard the slow steps of horses, coming unseen from the Fulham Road entrance to the cemetery. The cortege came slowly into view, and it was indeed a fine funeral, justifying the grass-cutters pride. On each side of the hearse marched a guard of honour from the royal Marines, eight men in the scarlet tunics and white helmets of full ‘Review Order.’ On the long coffin the union Jack lay spread among the flowers. Black carriage after carriage followed, and the people, top-hatted, frock-coated directors or brother officers, unknown ladies in long black silk dresses, descending from them crowded round the grave, while the horses tossed their heads or pawed the ground. Our dear Mrs Blake stood at the grave’s foot, on the arm of one of Dum’s elder sons, born of his first wife, a tall greying man whom I had never seen before or heard of.

Unobserved, unaddressed, Percy and I watched from beneath our trees, and the only strange thing which I have to recount is this: as the priest, lifting his voice, and his eyes to Heaven, for the great moment, said the words of the Committal, ‘we therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ and the undertaker’s men lowered the heavy coffin into the grave and out of our sight, Percy, six foot five, fourteen stone, burst into tears and long shaking sobs. It was an amazement to me, who was crying more quietly. I had never imagined that Percy could cry. And he had seen so little of Dum since those old days in Switzerland, after his mother and Dum had agreed together to bring their long love-story to an end.

A few days after the funeral, Ida and Emily were talking of the funeral – and Emily laid a hand on Ida’s knee and said ‘The one woman, my dear, who ought to have been at that graveside was not there.’

Ernest also reflected on his relationship with his father. ‘Never in his lifetime did I ask him, and never did answer come from his lips. In the early years my silence with him persisted because Aunt’s voice had frightened me; in the later years because I suspected many things and dreaded even a single moment that might embarrass both him and me. I did not want this discomfort for myself, but, more than this, loving him as I loved no one else, I did not want, even as a child, to let any displeasing moment spoil my memories of exultant happiness in his company’.

With my love for the Dum of my childhood and with my memories of him ever since, it is hard to write what seem the only possible deductions from all these facts. Once in my adolescence I remember arguing with Aunt Emily whether Dum was a good man or not, and declaring hotly that of course he was; and Aunt replying in her best tragico-sentimental manner, ‘Keep your dreams, Keep your dreams’ I did keep them, and I do still; I can do no other when I remember Dum. I deny that they were dreams pure and simple because I must always believe that in Dum there was a quality of goodness, deep and lovable, even if he was morally – and if you like, gravely – at fault with these two Calder sisters, and perhaps with other women.

Aunt should take a word of credit here too. In this that, though she went to her death without once admitting she had a child by Dum, she had certainly done so, and yet she would always allow generously that Ida was ‘the love of his life’, and so put herself into the secondary place.

Dum’s First Wife

It is easy to forget that in the background, throughout George Blake’s dalliances with Ida and Emily, was his wife, Eliza Gordon Sharpe. She filed for divorce on two occasions (1868 and 1887). Dum, it has already been seen, was an enigmatic figure, flitting in and out of Ernest’s life, but always, in his eyes, a hero. Some of Ida’s and Emily’s comments hint otherwise, so it is not altogether unexpected to discover that Dum had a cruel and violent side to him. In the first petition for divorce, Eliza starts that

‘on several days during the month of January 1858, George ‘behaved with great cruelty and indignity…and being then at Woolwich … on one occasion without just cause putting himself into a violent passion he threw a table knife at your Petitioner and on another occasion he threw a jug of beer over her and taking hold of her hand he twisted her arm round which caused her great pain and anguish and otherwise assaulted and abused your Petitioner.

That on or about the 5th day of February 1858 the said George Frederic Blake being then also at Woolwich assaulted ill-used and struck your Petitioner and used most violent language towards your Petitioner calling her a beast a hellhound and a brute and spat in her face.

That on a day happening in the early part of the said month of February and on other days during the said month, (he) assaulted beat and ill-used your Petitioner and on one occasion threw a Footstool at your Petitioner and therewith struck her a severe blow on the breast which caused a considerable lump which continued for some weeks after her confinement and has since terminated in a deep seated abscess and occasioned her great pain and anguish and from which your Petitioner is only now recovering: that (he) then struck your Petitioner on the side of the head which caused blood to come from her nose and ear and also violently shook and twisted her head and spat upon her.

That at the times aforesaid and on many other occasions (he) kicked your Petitioner, made use of violent language and threats towards her, called her a fiend a beast a curse and similar revolting names and by his violence and threats kept her in a state of terror and mental excitement and brought on dangerous attacks of suppressed hysteria which frequently recurred after such and similar treatment.

That the health of your Petitioner having suffered severely from such the cruel treatment and conduct … your Petitioner on the 8th day of April last quitted his house and sought the protection of her friends’.

In his defence, Blake claimed that his wife had fallen under the influence of her Uncle and Aunt who had been averse to the marriage, to the extent that they had carried her away on the 8th April when Dum was attending the funeral of their only Child’.  He requested her ‘to return to cohabitation and to treat (him) with conjugal affection and render to him conjugal rights’. This must have happened because their son John Granville Blake was born on 16th May the following year, and two further sons, Frederic and Howard were born in 1864 and 1865 respectively.

But by 1887/8 – around the time that Ernest was born, Eliza filed a second time for divorce.  This time she stated that George had deserted her ‘on or about the 11th August 1868’ and had left her destitute. George again denied this. While no violence was claimed this time, both cases provide a perspective on Blake’s cruel and uncaring side – a very different scenario clearly existed with Ida: ‘General Blake always insisted that I was never to be troubled’, she would say.

John P. Wilkinson (Ida’s Grandson)

What was still not quite clear, though, was why was Ida buried in Berkhamsted? She had connections with Ireland, France, Germany, Malta, Kent, London… but Berkhamsted?

I hadn’t properly checked whether there were other members of the family buried here, so it was a surprise to find John.P.H.Wilkinson (6th April – 1st November 1916), beloved child of Olive and Percy S. Wilkinson buried in Plot 654.

In 1911, Percy, aged 25, was described as School-master (assistant) and living in Holmer, Herefordshire with his wife Olive aged 23; they had married in London in 1909. Although it is clear they had already lost their first child, they had a daughter Ida Mary Hamilton Wilkinson (1910-1974), born the previous year. A son – Percy Francis Hamilton Wilkinson (1912-1999) – was born on Christmas Day in Herefordshire.

By 1914 they had moved to Berkhamsted and were living at Thornhill, Boxwell Road.[18] So they are in the town when their fourth child John P.H. dies when only 6 months old.

With Ernest away at war when Ida died in 1918, Percy effectively took charge of his mother’s funeral arrangements (as the nominated executor). Ida’s will placed the welfare of her husband Franz in the ‘tender care of my dear children Percy and Olive Wilkinson’[19];  so whilst Olive has acquired the status of being one of her children, Ernest does not receive a mention. Percy’s address is still recorded as Thornhill so this accounts for her burial in the Cemetery. As Ernest hinted, It would appear that Percy was still unaware of his paternity – he was admitted to the Freedom of the City of London on 17th November 1920 – declaring his place of birth to be 48, St George’s Road, Pimlico, Middx, and to be the son of ‘Harry Brown Wilkinson, late of Vassal Road, Clapham Common, Surrey. Chief Clerk at G.P.O St Martins le Grand’. By that time, he was occupying the premises “Springfield” Charles Street, Berkhamsted, Herts and would have been a regular commuter as he was Senior Modern Master at the City of London School.

Percy and Olive had one more son – Raymond Redmond Kennicot Wilkinson (1926-2004). By this time they had moved to Kingston[20] and they then moved to Surrey. Percy, died at Swarthmore Marsham Lane, Gerrards Cross on 5th April 1965. One of his sons, Percy Francis Hamilton was also an author.

But there is still a mystery connection with Berkhamsted, stretching back to 1904. Dum’s death on the 1st September 1904, occurred at “Beechcroft”, Berkhamsted (the house, now demolished and replaced by a development of the same name, was situated up Chesham Road). It is simply not clear why this was the case. Perhaps he died suddenly, visiting friends (the house appears to have been occupied by the Ball-Acton family at that time, with whom Blake may have had a military connection). Or more intriguingly had Ida and Dum enjoyed a longer association with the town – had it been a bolt hole for them? And did Dum’s connections with Berkhamsted ultimately influence Percy to move here?

Ida Broenner’s story is perhaps one of the most complex and interesting to be found in the Cemetery. Elusive certainly, because, at various times in her life, she used the surnames of Calder, Wilkinson, Raymond, Broenner, but not Blake![21]  She was mother of Percy S. Wilkinson but she was also, extraordinarily, the mother of Ernest Raymond, one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century. Ida had relinquished his care to her disciplinarian sister, Emily, who also had had a child by Ernest’s father. Ernest, inevitably, carried mixed feelings for Ida: ‘I must write simply that, while her fondness for me was genuine, it was not of the kind that could do anything at cost to herself…words were easy and free of cost; the cold post-Sunday meal was daintily prepared for me, but it was easy and cheap.’

[1] A Catholic school for boys aged 13-18 in Williamstown, Dublin founded in 1860 as a school and civil service training centre.

[2] Caroline (1844-1850); Arthur Malcom (1846-.1916); Algernon Montague, (1850); Kenneth Craig, (1853-1854); Alice Ethelreda  (1856-?); Augustus James (1857-1911.)

[3] This was the first of two books, this covering  his life 1888-1922, and the second Please You, Draw Near’, from 1922-1968.

[4] He was married to Dorothy Young (b.1916), herself also the author of 24 novels, a memoir, theatre criticism, a number of lyric poems and a play about one of her heroes, John Keats

[5] Perhaps where he met the Wilkinsons?

[6] Ernest states there were 10 children in all; so perhaps there were two more who had died young.

[7] Uncle William is not mentioned by Ernest – was he unaware he had a third uncle?

[8] Emily was in fact only 5 years younger than her sister – Ida born in November 1851, she in 1857. So she would have been about 42 when Ernest first met her.

[9]  Ernest also attributes this bullying aspect to the fact that the Calders…’were a recognized sept of the Clan Campbell of Cawdor, and whether this inheritance from so many unruly and bullying fellows (remember Macbeth) accounts for a domineering quality in four of these Calder sisters, is probably no more than an amusing query.’

[10] Ernest comes across a letter on Dum’s bed from Emily to Dum saying ‘I cannot bear these awful silences. If I have done something that has bitterly hurt you forgive me and let us be happy again. Emily’.

[11] Dorothy it was who came up with this very funny perception of Franz and Ida: ‘When we first saw this new ‘Uncle Franz’ and learned that Aunt Ida had now become ‘Mrs Broenner’, Dots offered to Aunt Emily the astonishing comment, whose genesis at her age I cannot hope to explain, ‘When I buy my babies I’m going to have them made in Germany.’

[12] The birth is recorded as 23rd April. Another mystery presents itself. Ernest mentions Edythe Blaine, one of aunt’s nieces, ‘being of an age with myself.’ Edythe was born on the 23rd April 1888, 8 months before Ernest.  Ernest himself clearly distinguishes her from Dorothy, and, according to Ernest, Aunt Emily in her diary recorded that ‘Dots, Edythe and Ernest are all at school now…’  Ernest says that Edythe ‘was much with us at Gledstanes Road.’. In fact in 1901 she is listed as being resident ‘in care of’ Emily Calder’ as is Ernest. Edythe’s place of birth is stated as Paris, while Ernest’s is listed as Switzerland, Montreux. Ten years later, Edythe and Emily are living together at 40 Norfolk Road, Brighton; Edythe is described as being Emily’s ward. However, strangely Dorothy Makepeace doesn’t appear in any census. Instead, Aunt Emily has a diary entry from April 24th 1893, which states ‘My sweet little Dots, I have been thinking that as you are now five years old it may interest you some day when you are grown up to read all that you said and did when you were a little child.’ The date of the entry is a day after Edith Blayne’s birthday. So Edythe is in fact Dorothy Makepeace (and Ernest was deliberately trying to shield her from disclosure of her real parentage).

[13] Ida in fact would only have only been 15 in 1866. It seems more likely from what follows that the year was 1867.

[14] He relinquished the post of Deputy Judge Advocate on attaining the rank of full colonel when he was forty-nine; He retired the following year with the rank of Honorary Major-General, his retired pay being £450 a year.

[15] This must surely have been the case, given that Ida was only 16 in 1867?

[16] Raymond gets this wrong. As we shall see, it was George who refused to divorce her, despite her filing for divorce on two occasions. On the second, she stated that ‘On or about the 11th August 1868, George Frederic deserted her ‘without cause and from thence hitherto without cause has left your Petitioner destitute’

[17] Apparently Ida was forgetting the circumstances of her first marriage! Ernest recalls ‘I stayed silent. I didn’t dare release my thoughts for fear of hurting her. I didn’t even spring to the defence of Dum though in my heart I longed to. I thought I could do it with laughter and gaiety, but I did not. I stayed silent.’

[18] Later in 1918, the occupants of Thornhill, 12 Boxwell Raod were recorded as Henry and Elizabeth Dawe.

[19] It is not clear whether Franz came to live with the Wilkinsons in Berkhamsted

[20] However, as Franz died in Kingston, it seems he was living with them by this time.

[21] See for details of the  wider family. A namesake Ida Agnes Calder,  Ida’s niece and daughter of William Calder –  is recorded as being admitted into the Harrow Road Workhouse aged 21 on 3rd April 1893 and discharged on the 23rd April – she married Frederick Poole in 1894 – so presumably it was a short stay to give birth.


Further reading