Lucy Eleanor Louisa Atcherley: Her life and loves in the spotlight

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Lucy Atcherley was part of a family whose men took centre stage. At the time of her birth around the beginning of 1899, her father Llewellyn was a Captain in the Army Service Corps, but his military service and his services to policing would see him elevated and decorated so that by the end of 1925 he was Major-General Sir Llewellyn William Atcherley, C.M.G., C.V.O. Her younger brothers, twins Richard and David, would rise to world-wide prominence through their exploits as pilots and as commanding officers in the RAF. But while Lucy did not grab the headlines like the men in her family, she outdid her bachelor brothers in the marriage department by grabbing no less than four husbands. And she did find a way to take centre stage – by becoming an accomplished actress.

Lucy Atcherley’s stage career is said to have begun when she was 18, with the Portsmouth Repertory Company. One of her earliest performances was a minor role in The Lady of Lyons, which was staged in 1919 at The Scala Theatre (situated on Charlotte Street, off Tottenham Court Road in London, but since demolished) by Frederick John “F. J.” Nettlefold. The principal roles of Claude Melnotte and Pauline Deschapelles were played by Frederick and his wife. The Nettlefolds’ performances were praised in a review in The Stage, which also described Lucy Atcherley’s assumption of her role as “commendable.” As we will see, it was not only the reviewer for The Stage who saw Lucy’s potential.

Knightstone Pavilion, Weston-super-Mare

The Summer of 1920 saw Lucy tour with the Martin Harvey Vacation Company (although the legendary Martin Harvey himself, it seems, was taking a vacation of his own at this time). The company presented The Corsican Brothers at The Grand Theatre in Derby to rave reviews. High praise was given to the principal actors, and Lucy’s contribution as Madame dei Savilia dei Franchi was described as “equally valuable”. Rosemary and The Robbery of the Lyons Mail were staged at the Knightstone Pavilion in Weston-super-Mare, with the former play then performed at The Palace Pier, St Leonards on Sea.

In January the following year Lucy joined another company for an extended tour of South Africa. She departed (on 21 January 1921, with fellow artistes Mr A Hawthorn, Mr L W Lane and Mr and Mrs T Maxwell) and returned (on 19 June 1922) aboard the Armadale Castle. After her return Lucy was soon reacquainted with Frederick Nettlefold, who was by then a widower following the death of his wife Ellen in March that year. He did not remain a widower for long – within a matter of weeks Lucy Eleanor Louisa Atcherley and Frederick John Nettlefold were married. Lucy was 23 and Frederick was 54, which was three years older than Lucy’s father.

Frederick Nettlefold’s first wife, incidentally, was born Ellen Maud Pratt, and before her marriage to Frederick she had been the first wife of an actor named George Elsworthy Redgrave – better known as Roy Redgrave. She had borne Roy three children, two of whom were enumerated on the 1911 census with Ellen and Frederick. By that time Roy had married another actress, Daisy Bertha Mary Scudamore (later known as Margaret Scudamore), and with her he had fathered another child, Michael, who would become the actor, director and writer Sir Michael Redgrave, father of Vanessa, Lynn and Corin. So by her marriage to Frederick Nettlefold, Lucy Atcherley became the second wife of Michael Redgrave’s father’s first wife’s second husband!

If you are thinking that Lucy’s wedding was rather hasty, and that Frederick Nettlefold was perhaps not an ideal match for her, you would not be alone. The knot they had tied was soon undone. On 29 December 1922, Frederick departed England aboard the Malwa, bound for Bombay. Lucy set off two months later (22 February 1923) on the Guildford Castle, contracted to land at Mombasa. The family story is that Frederick went to his shooting lodge in Ceylon and asked Lucy to join him there shortly after, but during her trip Lucy hooked up with a diplomat who was en route to a posting to Baghdad and “did a runner” with him. Lucy and Frederick’s marriage ended in divorce in 1924.

I have found no records relating to Lucy for the years immediately after her divorce, until 1928. On 8 February that year, she married Frederick Layard Reeves at York. Reeves, like Lucy, was a divorcee. But while this was his second marriage, it appears that it was Lucy’s third, as she wed under the name of Lucy Hope. Presumably Hope was the name of the aforementioned diplomat, but at present I have no records to confirm this.

Frederick Reeves and Lucy set up home in Sheffield and there Lucy joined the Sheffield Repertory Company. A local paper, describing Lucy’s career, reported that she had appeared in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and The Skin Game, had taken the lead in The Right to Strike, and had also “played in musical comedy and done film work.” This seems to answer the question of what Lucy had been doing in the years between 1924 and 1928! Her performance with the Sheffield Rep, under the name Lucie Atcherley, in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, is the last record of a stage performance I have found for her. The Stage reported that that she undertook the role of Mrs Helseth “most effectively”.

Sadly, Lucy’s marriage to Frederick Reeves was as ill-fated as her previous partnerships. On 16 April 1929 she was granted a decree nisi, with costs, on the grounds of “the adultery of her husband, Captain Frederick L. Reeves, a political agent, at an address in Sheffield.” The legal right of a women to divorce her husband purely on the grounds of his adultery was something which had come into being just six years earlier under the Matrimonial Clauses Act 1923.

Within months of the divorce, Frederick tied the knot again, with a woman named Lily Blackburn. Another four years were to pass however before Lucy remarried. Her fourth husband was another divorcee, New Zealander Alan (or Allan) James Levinge Whyte, a Captain in the Royal Engineers. With Alan, Lucy finally completed a trip to Ceylon: a 1935 passenger list for the Yorkshire shows the couple returning from that country, having spent at least a year there.

The marital connections of Lucy Atcherley – click to view in full (PDF).

In 1938 Lucy was mentioned fleetingly in newspaper reports relating to the misdeeds of her husband. In November that year Major Alan James Levinge Whyte, officer commanding the 4th fortress company, Royal Engineers, stationed at Fort Monckton, Gosport, was found guilty at a court martial of fraudulently misapplying to his own use £105 of public funds. He was sentenced, in December, to two years’ imprisonment (one year of which was remitted by the King) and dismissed from the army.

During the court martial a Major Cassels, speaking on Alan Whyte’s behalf, had stated that Whyte’s mess bills were enormous and that when in trouble he “fled to the bottle.” Cassels also said: “His wife is in a very terrible state of health, but there is a ray of hope. Plans have been made whereby Major Whyte and his wife can start again in a new sphere.” Did Lucy and her husband make that fresh start after Alan was released from prison? I like to think they did, although the only information I have found relating to either of them after this episode is that Lucy passed away in South Africa in 1985.

I am going to bring this story of Lucy’s life to a close not with her death, but with one of her brother Richard’s memories of her in her younger days, as quoted in John Pudney’s biography of the aeroplane-addicted Atcherley twins:

David and I quickly came to realise that the most effective visa for two importunate and scruffy schoolboys’ entry into the local aerodromes was to be sponsored—or better still accompanied by a really pretty girl. In this respect we came to look upon our sister in a completely new light—I mean in regards to her value to gain us the required entry. We found that she held quite exceptional influence over even our toughest obstacles.

Take your place in the spotlight, Lucy, and take a bow, for you were without doubt – to combine two of the adjectives used by your brother – a pretty exceptional member of the Atcherley family.


Picture credits: The Pavilion on Knightstone, Weston-super-Mare, 1928 – Britain from Above. RMS Armadale Castle – Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. Sir Michael Redgrave – Allan Warren. From Wikimedia Commons and used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence.


References

[1] Birth of Lucy Eleanor L Atcherley registered at York, March quarter 1899; volume 9d, page 18.
[2] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 16 Apr 1928, page 6: A Repertory Company Acquisition. Copy viewed at Find My Past.
[3] The Stage, 7 Aug 1919: The Scala. “The Lady of Lyons.”
[4] Wikipedia: Scala Theatre (web page, accessed 11 March 2014).
[5] Derby Daily Telegraph, 15 Jun 1920, page 2: Amusements in Derby. The Grand Theatre. Copy viewed at Find My Past.
[6] The Stage, 24 Jun 1920: Weston-Super-Mare—Knightstone Pavilion.
[7] Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 3 Jul 1920, page 1: The Martin Harvey Vacation Company Next Week. Copy viewed at Find My Past.
[8] Passenger list for the Armadale Castle, departing Southampton, England 21 Jan 1921 for South Africa. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960.
[9] Passenger list for the Armadale Castle, arriving Southampton, England 19 Jun 1922 from South Africa. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960.
[10] Marriage of Frederick J Nettleford and Lucy E L Atcherley registered at Pancras, September quarter 1922; volume 1b, page 16.
[11] Wikipedia: Roy Redgrave (web page, accessed 10 Mar 2014).
[12] Passenger list for the Malwa, departing London, England, 29 Dec 1922 for Bombay. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960.
[13] Passenger list for the Guildford Castle, departing London, England 22 Feb 1923 for Natal via Suez Canal. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960.
[14] Personal communication from Samuel Atcherley Key to Barbara Lang.
[15] Marriage of Frederick L Reeves and Lucy E L Hope or Nettleford or Atcherley registered at York, March quarter 1928; volume 9d, page 72.
[16] The Times, issue 44813, 10 Feb 1928, page 1: Reeves : Atcherley. [Announced the marriage of Capt. Frederick Layard Reeves and Lucy Hope.]
[17] The Stage, 19 Apr 1928: Sheffield Repertory.
[18] All About Henrik Ibsen (National Library of Norway website, accessed 8 Mar 2014): Sheffield Repertory Company; Rosmersholm.
[19] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 17 Apr 1929, page 6: North Country Cases. “The President granted a decree nisi with costs to Mrs. Lucy Eleanor Louisa Reeves …” Copy viewed at Find My Past.
[20] Gavin Thompson, Oliver Hawkins, Aliyah Dar, Mark Taylor et al (2012), Olympic Britain. Page 33.
[21] Marriage of Frederick L Reeves and Lily Blackburn registered at Eccleshall Bierlow, December quarter 1929; volume 9c, page 929.
[22] Marriage of Alan J Levinge-Whyte and Lucy E L Reeves or Atcherley registered at York, September quarter 1933; volume 9d, page 149.
[23] The Times, issue 46516, 7 Aug 1933, page 1: Levinge-Whyte: Reeves.
[24] National Archives item reference J 77/3016/3038 dated 1932 shows: Divorce Court File 3038. Appellant: Alan James Levinge Whyte. Respondent: Francel Van Dyke Whyte.
[25] Passenger list for the Yorkshire, arriving London, England 28/29 Sep 1935 from Rangoon, Burma. Copy viewed at Ancestry – UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960.
[26] Yorkshire Evening Post, 5 December 1938, page 12: Sentence on Major. Copy viewed at Find My Past.
[27] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 10 Dec 1938, page 5: The Army. “Major A. J. L. Whyte is cashiered by sentence of a general court martial. …” Copy viewed at Find My Past.
[28] Gloucester Citizen, 8 Nov 1938, page 1: Officer Guilty of Fraud.
[29] Key Family Tree at Ancestry (owner JulianKey1) shows: Lucy Atcherley. Birth 1899. Death 1985 South Africa. [Note: Julian Key is Lucy’s great nephew / grandnephew.]
[30] John Pudney (1960), A Pride of Unicorns: Richard and David Atcherley of the R.A.F. Pages 31-32.


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Kathleen Atcherley’s World War 2

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Kathleen Mary Atcherley was in her fortieth year when the Second World War broke out in September 1939. A daughter of Roger Atcherley, who left effects valued at nearly £4,000 when he passed away in 1936, Kathleen would have been reasonably well off, with plenty of leisure time to pursue her twin passions of gardening and golf. Kathleen was not afraid of hard work however. Called upon to “do her bit” for Britain in World War 2, she joined the ranks of the Home Grown Timber Production Department and helped to put the ‘tree’ into ‘victory’!

With her two younger siblings (Margaret Ellen Atcherley and Roger Philip Atcherley), Kathleen had spent her earliest years in the parish of Eccles, Lancashire, where she was born on 17 May 1898. By 1911 they were living at Southport, and in 1914 when Kathleen and her sister Margaret were Confirmed at Sefton Church the family was residing at Blundellsands.

Both Southport and Blundellsands are on the coast of Lancashire, a coast well known not only for its holiday resorts but also for its many golf courses (Royal Birkdale for example). These would doubtless have been an attraction for Roger Atcherley, who played regularly at the Worsley Club when living in Eccles. Evidently he passed his love of this sport on to Kathleen. She was almost certainly the “Miss Atcherley” who in 1931, when living at Huyton (most likely with her brother Roger), competed with a Mrs Forster in the Ladies Northern Foursomes Golf Tournament at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire (see photo below). Sadly this twosome did not progress beyond the third round.

War, of course, changed everything. With supplies from overseas much reduced, Britain needed to make the most of its own resources. Among those resources were the trees and shrubs of Britain’s farms and forests, hence the establishment of the Home Grown Timber Production Department by the Ministry of Supply. And with many of the nation’s young men away fighting, women were called upon to work in fields (and indeed woods) which would have been unfamiliar to many of them.

Among the many women who answered the call was Kathleen Atcherley. Many years after the war Kathleen wrote about her experiences, and briefly about her life before and after the conflict, in article published by the Royal Scottish Forestry Society in its journal Scottish Forestry in 1971. With the kind permission of the journal’s current editor Jenny Johnson, here are Kathleen’s  words in full:


Silviculture in Wartime

by Kathleen M. Atcherley

Seldom Seen. What an appropriate name for a house so hidden away!

It was brought back to my memory very clearly as I looked through my Lakeland calendar and saw the picture of the farm house in which a friend and I had stayed during the late war when we were working for “Home Grown Timber Production”.

Our instructions were always to try and get a billet as near to the wood as possible, in order to save petrol. In our search, we drove up a rough road and just caught a glimpse of the house in a hollow, as we looked over a field gate. Everything was covered with snow as it was winter and we had to leave our car in a shed at the end of a lane and stagger through drifted snow, carrying our suitcases and spare boots.

The farmer’s wife provided masses of food and, after a good sleep between blankets, as sheets were judged to be ” too cold in th’winter”, and a huge breakfast, we were off the next morning about 7.30 a.m., armed with thermos and sandwiches. We ploughed our way up hill, the wind blowing the top off the snow, down our necks and into our eyes, until we came to the wood which was a semi-circle of trees, in area about six acres, hanging on to quite a steep slope and consisting mostly of pines and a few larch — all much in demand for pit-props.

Too cold to rest, we started work right away, one measuring the trees with a timber tape while the other entered the resulting figures in a book — alternating the procedure about every fifteen minutes. When our fingers were too cold to do either job, we walked to the edge of the wood where the sun was by then shining on the snow, and enjoyed our first break for coffee and sandwiches. The warmth of the sun as it climbed higher brought down the pungent smell of the pines to where we worked and it was a rare occurence to catch a cold in spite of the wintry weather.

At the end of nine hours work we collected our impedimenta and started off for the billet where, after a clean up and a good hot meal, we settled down by the light of an oil lamp to transcribe the results of our labours into cubic feet of “good, bad or indifferent” timber, which would be bought by the government.

After several months of this sort of work all over the North, we received a  telegram, most unexpectedly delivered to us actually in a wood, recalling us to H.Q. Here we were informed that we had been chosen to start a new, small industry in the North of England.

We were sent down to the New Forest to learn the ropes from a Lancashire girl, who was in charge of the only other site in England. When we had learnt all she could teach us, we returned to the North, where our first job was to find a suitable site, as near to a railway as possible. We were lucky to find exactly what we needed, rent free, from a kindly landlord.

The next thing was to engage women workers to help us. They came from a variety of backgrounds; I remember one was a station-master’s wife. We also found a man to do the heaviest work and to act as a sort of overseer. Finally we were allocated six Land-Army girls, who worked in pairs.

My friend and I motored miles, looking for a shrub called Rhamnus frangula or Alder Buckthorn. We had to find out who owned the land on which it grew and then make an appointment with the owner, or his Agent, to get permission to cut down the shrub. Three of these sites had to be found, and three billets near to them for each pair of Land-Girls, whom we then had to transport to their various destinations. The girls sawed down the bushes and then cut them into pieces about 3-feet long and made these into bundles of approximately 30-lbs. in weight. When they had completely cleared the site, they would send a message and one of us would go to fetch them and their wood back to the factory, where the man kept two huge tanks of water boiling. Three or four bundles of wood were dropped into each tank and kept at simmering point for a couple of hours. After this, they were given over to the women workers who peeled off the bark with short, sharp knives while it was still hot. The man then rebundled the wood which was sent to South Wales to be made into percussion caps for Ack-Ack shells.

The bark was carried to our drying shed, where sheets of corrugated iron were heated over a flue from a wood fire. The bark was spread on these sheets to dry gradually and then cool off, before being bagged and sent to London to be made into cascara, which commodity could not be imported as usual from South America.

I enjoyed this wartime work enormously, but what a difference from the pre-war days when I ran my father’s home, superintending both indoor and outdoor servants; keeping the peace between gardener’s and chauffeur’s wives, both of whom helped at busy times in the kitchen with jam and jelly making, salting beans and drying herbs, etc. Gardening and golf were my main hobbies and the former remains so to this day.

For twenty years after the end of the war I lived with my brother in a 260-year-old cottage in Westmorland, sitting on the Local Bench for eighteen of them and doing a great deal of political work, with some fly-fishing for relaxation. During this time I compiled a cookery book, to be sold in aid of the Church funds. I received many recipes for this book from amongst the ninety-five landladies with whom I had stayed while doing my wartime job and to whom I dedicated the book in gratitude for their unfailing kindness.

Now we have come to live in Dorset where the climate is softer and better for my rheumaticy knees and where we find the people both warm and friendly. I still manage to garden a little; and in the summer I go down to the pier and fish, with the helpful tuition of the local lads — a very different business from fly-fishing. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy what I suppose is my old age, and even write those two words with a sense of disbelief.


Images: Mrs W Forster and Miss Atcherly waiting to compete in the ‘Eve’ Ladies Northern Foursomes — J. Gaiger/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images Editorial image # 3403736. Alder Buckthorn foliage and fruit — “MPF” at Wikimedia Commons, image used under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.


References

[1] Birth of Kathleen Mary Atcherley registered at Barton on Irwell, June quarter 1898; volume 8c, page 694.

[2] Death of Kathleen Mary Atcherley registered at Weymouth, September quarter 1978; volume 23, page 0852; date of birth given as 17 May 1898.

[3] National Probate Calendar (1936) shows: ATCHERLEY Roger of Howtown House Howtown Westmorland died 23 February 1936 Probate Liverpool 20 July to Roger Philip Atcherley fruit merchant and Kathleen Mary Atcherley and Margaret Ellen Atcherley spinsters. Effects £4823 11s. 8d. Copy viewed at Ancestry.

[4] 1901 census of England Wales. Piece 3658, folio 53, page 8. Didsbury House, Ellesmere Road, Eccles, Lancashire, England.

[5] 1911 census of England Wales. Piece 22872, Schedule 66. 78 Park Road, Southport, Lancashire, England.

[6] Roll of Persons Confirmed from the Parish of [Richmond] St Anne [Lancashire] shows, on 11 Apr 1914 at Sefton Church: Margaret Atcherley, 14, and Kathleen Atcherley, 16, both of Norwood B’Sands [= Blundellsands]. Copy viewed at Ancestry – Liverpool, England, Confirmations, 1887-1921.

[7] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 6 Mar 1900, page 9: Golf Notes. “Worsley Club. The last of the six monthly competitions for a prize presented by Mr. W. Eckersley was played on Saturday. … About 50 cards were taken out, and the following are the best returns … R Atcherley …”

[8] Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 11 Dec 1906, page 11: Golf. “Worsley Club.—Saturday was the day fixed for the foursome competition against bogey. There was a good entry, but owing to the wet weather the returns were on the heavy side. Playing with a handicap of 6 Messrs R. H. Berry and R. Atcherley were the winners of the prizes with 2 down. The same players won the sweepstake …” [Note: Many other reports show R Atcherley playing for Worsley between 1900 and 1906.]

[9] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 15 Apr 1931, page 17: Golf. “The Ladies Northern Foursomes Golf Tournament promoted by ‘Britannia and Eve’ began yesterday at Woodhall Spa. … The results included the following:—First Round. … Mrs. W. Forster and Miss Atcherley (Huyton) w.o.; Mrs. P. Schofield (Royal Lytham and St. Annes) and Mrs. A. Bradshaw (Lincoln), scr. …

[10] The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 16 Apr 1931, page 17: Golf. “Ladies’ Northern Foursomes. … The results included the following:— … Third Round. … Miss Rudgar and Mrs. Bradshaw beat Mrs. W. Forster and Miss Atcherley (Huyton), 9 and 7. …”

[11] London Gazette, issue 34387, page 2328, 9 Apr 1937: “NOTICE is hereby given that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us, the undersigned, Rennell Atcherley Pugh … and Roger Philip Atcherley formerly of “Barn Hey” Huyton in the said county but now of Lowther Newtown in the county of Westmorland …” Copy viewed at London Gazette website.

[12] Kathleen M Atcherley (1971), Silviculture in Wartime. In: Scottish Forestry (Royal Scottish Forestry Society), pages 46-48.


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