The Extraordinary Life of Rosamond Dixie Dilke
In March, 1947, an expensive car drew up outside my grandparents' small terraced house in Bradford, West Yorkshire. At a time when few working-class people owned cars this created quite a sensation. The couple were about to receive a totally unexpected visit from my grandmother's aunt, Amelia Edwards Dilke – known as Minnie – and her husband Harold. The Dilkes had lived in Bermuda for many years and Minnie's relatives in Bradford were meeting Harold for the first time.
The Dilkes were in their sixties and rather eccentric, so when in the course of their brief visit Harold casually remarked that his father had been a member of the House of Lords my grandparents took the information with a pinch, if not a pillar, of salt. The story of “rich Auntie Minnie from Bermuda” and her posh husband became a family legend, and when I became interested in my family history back in the early '80s I was naturally keen to find out if there was any truth in Harold Dilke's story. However, genealogy was still an expensive and time-consuming hobby and I was unable to progress very far. I was living in the Northamptonshire village of Brixworth, where I regularly went for walks in the local churchyard. A name on one of the gravestones, Beaumont Dixie Crampton Wood, took my fancy at the time and would turn up again many years later in a most surprising way.
When I began my research again a few years ago with the help of online records and the British Newspaper Archive I discovered that Amelia Edwards was born in Bradford on March 15th 1882, the daughter of Albert and Mary Jane Wray Edwards. In 1901, at the age of 19, she was employed as a “silk gasser”, probably at Lister's Mill. Four years later she was a witness at the wedding of her sister Clara, my great-grandmother. At this point she vanishes from the records until 1915, when she married Harold Heneage Dilke in Ontario, Canada. According to the marriage certificate Harold, who was born in Paris and employed as a “traveller”, was the son of Charles Dilke and Rosamond Dilke, maiden name Dixie. So far, so un-aristocratic...or so I thought.
Harold makes his first appearance in the Census of 1891 as ten-year-old Harold Barboux, born in France, the son of the widowed Rosamond Barboux – born in Bognor, Sussex, in 1846 – and the brother of two-year-old Henry Barboux, who was born in Richmond, where the family was then living. A decade later the trio were living on a farm in Maresfield, Sussex, and using the surname Dilke. By this time I had established that Rosamond was the daughter of Sir Alexander Dixie, 10th Baronet Dixie of Market Bosworth. Was it possible that Harold, not content with being a baronet's grandson, had falsely claimed to be the son of a peer? And who were Charles Dilke and Mr or Monsieur Barboux?
In 1866 Rosamond married Charles Featherstone Dilke of Maxstoke Castle in Warwickshire. It soon became clear that they were ill-suited – Rosamond loved horse-racing and the social whirl, Charles preferred a quiet life at home. She had far more in common with Joseph Heneage Finch, the 7th Earl of Ayslesford, a friend and neighbour of the Dixie family, and during a visit to Leamington Spa in 1872 her brother-in-law, Major George William Featherstone, insinuated that she and Lord Aylesford were having an affair. Nothing came of this allegation, and Rosamond and Charles continued to live together at Maxstoke Castle. There were no children. In 1877, having made two unsuccessful suicide attempts, Charles killed himself by cutting his throat whilst staying at an Ilfracombe hotel with his doctor and a servant.
In 1878 Rosamond was named as Lord Aylesford's mistress in the case of Aylesford v. Aylesford, one of Victorian England's biggest divorce scandals. Aylesford's wife Lady Edith had eloped with the Marquess of Blandford, Winston Churchill's uncle, but his petition for a divorce was refused on the grounds that there had been collusion with Blandford, and also because he was himself guilty of adultery with other women. Immediately after the verdict Rosamond brought a suit for libel against her former brother-in-law, who had provided the information used in court, but withdrew it when it became clear that former servants were prepared to give damaging evidence against her.
Could Lord Aylesford have been Harold Heneage Dilke's father? In 1881, the year in which Harold Dilke was born in Paris, Aylesford moved to a ranch in Texas, where he drank himself to death five years later at the age of only 35. On the night of the 1881 Census, April 3rd, Rosamond was staying alone at the Sackville Hotel in Westminster, described as a widow living on “income accruing from stocks”. Had she already given birth to Harold, and how much did her family know about his origins? I don't know if it's even possible to trace an illegitimate birth in Paris in 1881, but oddly enough the estranged Countess of Aylesford gave birth to Lord Blandford's illegitimate son Guy Bertrand in Paris in the same year!
In 1887 Rosamond married Marcel Phillipe Emile Barboux, a Belgian or French gentleman, in London. They spent some time in Brussels but their son Henry Wolstan Barboux was born in Richmond in 1888. Rosamond's second marriage was no more successful than her first, and shortly after their son was born Rosamond attempted, apparently unsuccessfully, to divorce Barboux. There is a bizarre postscript to this affair: in 1890 Rosamond accused her maid Winifred Morris of stealing two photographs from her house in Richmond. The case never came to court, but Morris hinted that her evidence had been instrumental in obtaining Rosamond's divorce in Belgium! Perhaps we shouldn't take too much notice of claims made by Miss Morris, who admitted that she made a living by sitting in a Regent Street shop window showing off her long hair as an advertisement for “Koko”, a hair tonic she didn't even use...
Two of Rosamond's siblings had by this time married into scandal-prone aristocratic families. Her brother Sir Alexander Beaumont Dixie, known as “Beau”, was the husband of the eccentric Lady Florence Douglas, sister of the notorious Marquis of Queensberry and aunt of Oscar Wilde's young lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. Fanny Julia Dixie married Lord Henry Edward Somerset, a younger son of the 8th Duke of Beaufort and brother of Lord Henry George Somerset, best remembered for his involvement in the Cleveland Street male brothel affair. Rosamond's brother-in-law was also present at the Tranby Croft house party at which allegations of cheating at cards by one of the guests led to the appearance of the Prince of Wales at the subsequent trial for slander.
In 1909 Harold and Henry sailed from Southampton to Ontario via New York – Rosamond stayed behind in Southampton and joined them later. Harold is described as a “railway labourer”, which must have been a humiliating job for a man with titled and/or wealthy relatives. His cousins, whom of course he is unlikely ever to have met, included Henry Somerset, who inherited a large fortune from his grandfather the Duke of Beaufort but died in 1913 at the age of 27. I have been unable to unearth much information about Rosamond, Harold, and Henry's lives in Canada other than Harold's marriage to Minnie in 1915 and Henry's marriage to Ethel Ruth Argent in the same year.
In 1920 Rosamond, now 74, accompanied Harold and Minnie to Bermuda, where they were to spend the rest of their lives. Harold was described as a grocer, with the intriguing distinguishing feature of “little finger on left hand off” – perhaps as the result of an injury sustained in his railway-labouring days. In 1935 he was employed as a watchman at the Furness Lines shipyard. Two years later Rosamond died at the age of 91, having outlived five of her seven siblings. In 1947, when they sailed to England on the Queen Mary, Harold was employed as a club steward and Minnie worked as a telephonist (they were clearly not rich, which begs the question of how they managed to afford a trip to England). During their visit they stayed with Minnie's sister Matilda Bunney and her husband in Bradford. By the late 1940s Minnie and Harold were living in a rented house, Adanac, on St. John's Road, Pembroke West, in Bermuda. Minnie died in 1951 at the age of 69.
On 29th April 1954 Harold died of a stroke at the age of 73. He did not leave a will and there was nothing of value in the house, but amongst his papers was an envelope addressed to Lord Norton (the 6th Baron Norton of Fillongley Hall, Warwickshire), his cousin once removed. No letter was discovered, but the Bermudian authorities wrote to Lord Norton and received a reply which casts an interesting light on how much the family knew about Rosamond and her unconventional family. All Lord Norton knew about Harold was that his mother was the sister of Caroline Dixie, the wife of Charles Adderley, the 2nd Lord Norton. “I suppose,” he wrote, “Mr Harold Dilke was interested in keeping some record of his mother's family and its connections.” If this was the case it's difficult to see why Harold was planning to write to such a comparatively distant relation when closer relatives were still alive. Lord Norton was a near neighbour of the Featherstone Dilkes at Maxstoke Castle, and he enclosed a letter from Alderman B.G. Featherstone Dilke:
“I did not personally know the deceased gentleman but I knew that such a person existed and that he lived in Bermuda. His mother, who has been dead for a good many years, was a Miss Rosamond Dixie, the second daughter of the late Sir Alexander Dixie, of Bosworth Park, and she married my uncle, the late Mr Charles Featherstone Dilke, in 1866...After his death the widow, Mrs Featherstone Dilke, had two sons of which Mr Harold Dilke was one. Who was his father is quite uncertain, I have been told that he was illegitimate, as he was born a long time after her husband's death, but that may not be the case as she is said to have subsequently married a Frenchman and to have had a son by him, but it seems doubtful if she actually married anybody. In any case both the sons used their mother's name.”
Almost eighty years after Charles' suicide his family evidently still had a low opinion of Rosamond!
And finally, to return to the grave of Beaumont Dixie Crampton Wood in the churchyard at Brixworth: when I identified Rosamond's parents I realised that Mr Wood must have been related to her. In 1847 her aunt and namesake Rosamond Mary Dixie married William Wayle Wood...and they
became the grandparents of B.D.C. Wood, making him Rosamond's first cousin once removed.
Miss Julia Atkinson
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