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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Prudence O'Shea (Jasmine Chatterton)

Prudence O'Shea had a varied career under a number of names. She was an actress, model, designer, author and agent over the years, yet surprisingly little seems to be known about her.

She was born Victoria Jessamine Merchant on 12 March 1893, her birth registered in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, although census records state that she was born in nearly Aldershot. Her father, Victor Jabez Merchant, was born in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in 1864 [he was baptized John Victor Jaber (sic) Merchant] and married Fanny Sargent in 1885. Victoria was the last of four children. Victor Merchant was a soldier for many years, serving with the permanent staff of the 4th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment. He completed 25 years of exemplary service between June 1883 and his retirement in September 1908. He subsequently served during the First World War as a Captain with the Durham Light Infantry.

By 1901, Fanny Marchant (sic) is listed as head of the family home at 20 New Street, Sleaford, Lincolnshire. Her occupation is given as "monthly nurse" and she still has three of her children living with her. Victor has returned in the 1911 census, where he is working as a clerk in the corn trade and living with his wife and two of their children at Tower Road, Boston, Lincolnshire

Her mother died in 1914 and Victor married his second wife, Florence Mary Hewitt, in 1916. He died in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, in 1932, aged 68.

In 1913, she was one of the "Daily Express Ladies" who were given flights at Hendon over the Easter weekend. A report of the weekend notes that "Lewis Turner ... took up one, Miss Prudence O'Shea of the Gaiety." A later newspaper interview noted that she had "appeared in several shows, including some produced by George Edwardes in the hectic times of the Gaiety."

She performed in numerous plays, including Broadway performances in a variety of musical comedies, To-Night's the Night (ensemble, Shubert Theatre, 24 Dec 1914-27 Mar 1915), The Blue Paradise (chorus, Casino Theatre, 5 Aug 1916-[May 1916], Around the Map (Venus Lova, New Amsterdam Theatre, 1 Nov 1915-29 Jan 1916), Sybil (chorus, Liberty Theatre, 10 Jan-3 Jun 1916) and Betty (as Lady Paula Colquhoun, Globe Theatre, 3 Oct-25 Nov 1916).

Theatre life had many ups and downs, as the following interview notes:
While rehearsing, Miss O'Shea met a girl who was to play a large part in her life. She was Melisande, one of the most beautiful girls on the stage. The two became firm friends.
    In one of their hard-up periods, Miss O'Shea and Melisande met a young man named Carlos. He showered presents on them, and later revealed, when Melisande was going to America, that the money he had spent on them was obtained by forging his wife's name.
    Carlos saw Melisande off on the train. She would not kiss him. He committed suicide on the platform.
    When things were going well, the girls went out to parties with regular monotony. They reached home at four o'clock in the morning. "We seemed to be drunk every night," says Miss O'Shea.
    Came the war and the wonderful days of the stage seemed to disappear with its arrival.
    Miss O'Shea, after a while, took up war work. Melisande went to America. They never saw each other for some time. Then one day, Miss O'Shea saw a woman walking aimlessly through the London streets. It was her friend.
    Melisande said she was tired of life. It seemed that happiness would never come to Melisande. It did, however, in the same way—by marriage.
This brief interview (syndicated to various newspapers in June 1930) noted that Miss O'Shea had also found happiness in marriage and was living with her husband and "two romping children" in a little cottage by the Thames. Prudence—or, rather, Victoria Jasmine Merchant—had married Robert Ernest Chatterton (1897-1974) in 1929. Robert, born in 1897, was also known as Robert E. Seiffert, had previously married Olive A. Groves. One of the two romping children was probably Michael G. Groves born in 1924.

Prudence O'Shea had begun publishing fiction at least as early as 1923 and her stories and articles appeared throughout the 1920s in 20 Story Magazine, The Royal Magazine, Piccadilly and The Bystander.

Prudence also designed clothing and was described as a "director of one of London's exclusive designing firms. She was pictured in some of her creations, a two-piece sports suit and a black georgette frock.

Prudence also began writing novels in the latter half of the 1930s, averaging one a year between 1936 and 1940. However, her output was curtailed by the war and she made the transition to agenting other people's work when she set up Jasmine Chatterton Ltd., an author's agency, in 1944. The directors of the firm included her husband, Major Robert E. Chatterton, and accountant K. C. Lindsay. The firm's office was given as 28 Montpelier Street, London S.W.7. and an advert in the 1949 Author's and Writer's Who's Who claimed that the company represents "Books. Adult; Adolescent. Fiction and Non-fiction. No reading fee charged. All manuscripts submitted must be highest standard."

The marriage between Jamine and Robert had by then broken down and Robert E. Chatterton (or Seiffert) married Gertrude S. Blackman (nee Sarah Gertrude Newton, 1894-1963, previously married to Richard D. Blackman in 1924 and Reginald Hamilton-Brown in 1938) in 1947.

Jasmine Chatterton's business ran until 1962. A notice appeared in the London Gazette warning that the company would be struck off the register and dissolved, which it duly was in March 1963. Presumably the company had not been active for some years. Whether Jasmine Chatterton continued to work in literary circles or as a writer is unknown. 

Victoria Jasmine Chatterton died peacefully at St Mary Abbotts Hospital, Kensington, on 26 June 1982, aged 88. She was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium, London SW14, on 6 July.


Famine Alley. London, Albert E. Marriott, 1930.
Silver Mountain. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1936.
Warm Autumn. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1937.
Scandalous Interlude. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1938.
Free and Fortunate. London, Herbert Jenkins, 1938.
Paradise for the Porretts. London, Cassell & Co., 1940.
The Cygnets, with Meg Sheridan. London, Macdonald & Co., 1947.
Wine and Roses. London, Macdonald & Co., 1948.


hkassam2 said...

Thank you for the article. I had the good fortune to know her when I renta a room in her apartment in Knightsbridge in 1975 - 1977.

Steve kohn said...

I also rented a room in her house at 28 Montpelier Street in the summer of 1956 or 1957==I don't remember which====The rent was 3 pounds 11 shillinga and sixpence. It was the equivalent of 10 dollars a week. Jasmine took me to a party every night I was there. The last party was for b'hai and there was a man there who was lisping I JUST CAME BACK FROM SPAIN AFTER SPENDING 2 WEEKS WITH PAUL BOWLES.