Sunday, March 08, 2009

Eirene Wigram

Eirene Wigram has a brief and unhelpful entry in Who's Who in Literature in 1922 listing four books and a home address that even the editors felt compelled to note "address doubtful". She wrote two novels in the early years of the last century which appear in Crime Fiction Bibliography, hence the interest.

Occasionally, researching these writers from 100 years ago turns up quite a few interesting stories, or at the very least anomalies in our accepted knowledge of these authors. Sometimes it doesn't—and that seems to be the case with Eirene Wigram. No bankruptcies or accusations of theft or piracy. Just a quiet life that left very few clues to the kind of woman she was. Perhaps all that can be said about her is that she came from a well-to-do family and dedicated herself to promoting Christian education, writing a number of books and papers on the subject, and was a member of the Guild of All Souls.

A single blot on her otherwise quiet life seems to have occurred in 1922: a Google Books search turns up a tiny snippet of text on page 670 of Chemist and Druggist: the news weekly for pharmacy which reads:
At West London Police Court, on May 17, Newman Howard Schollar, chemist and druggist, 29 Sussex Place, SW 7, was summoned for assaulting Eirene Wigram, the occupier of a flat at the same address. After hearing conflicting evidence the magistrate imposed a fine of £4.
I've not found any other reference to this event.

Robert Wigram (1833-1918) was a ship owner and banker, born in Marylebone. He married Mary Edith Solly (1843-1919) at St. Luke, Westminster on 29 June 1867 and the couple can be found living at 39 Courtfield Gardens, Chelsea, in 1881 with their children:

Mary (b. 14 August 1868) Ch. St. James, Westminster
Eleanor Dorothea (b. 27 August 1869) Ch. St. James, Westminster
Eirene (b. 1870)
Enid (b. 1872)
Beatrice (b. 31 January 1873) Ch. St. Andrew, St. Marylebone
Robert (b. 25 June 1874) Ch. St. Andrew, St. Marylebone
Hilda (b. 1876)
Percy Solly (b. 10 January 1878)
Francis (b. 1879)
Maude Fanny (b. 1880)

In 1901, she was living with her uncle and aunt, Percy and Charlotte Shelley and their children Wilfred, Edith and Lewis, at Willow Croft, Willow Grove, Chiselhurst, Kent. The census lists Eirene as the niece (which could also be niece-in-law) to the head of the house.

Given that Mary Edith Solly (1843-1919) was Eirene's mother, a check in the 1861 census fortunately gives us the information that Mary and Charlotte Ann were the daughters of Samuel and Jane Solly. Samuel Edwin Solly (d.1871) was a Fellow of the Royal Society and Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and was the house surgeon at St. Thomas's Hospital.

Eirene's father, Robert, moved to Longcroft House, Banstead, which must have been quite an extensive property as the family had 11 servants at the time of the 1891 census.

A review of Eirene's novel The Affair of the Envelope in The Manchester Guardian (6 July 1910) gives it a qualified thumbs up, although the reviewer would not qualify it as very remarkable: "It begins well with a diplomatic treaty between Great Britain and Turkey which is about to be signed by the Sultan—a treaty kept a secret from the foreign Powers. In the palace at Siesta is a beautiful Istarian lady, and to her charms a member of the British Embassy falls a victim. it is the old story of Delilah once more. Somehow the arrangements of the treaty are found out by the German Embassy, and then a keen battle of diplomacy begins. The scene shifts from the East to London, where the two guilty people are at work stifling their consciences with social successes. Books II and III are filled with the story of these endeavours, and are, to say the truth, very dull reading. Back in the East again things move more quickly, and we watch the net of fate closing around Delilah while the man atones for his error by furiously hard work."

Eirene can be found in the phone book, living at 23 Hill Street, Kensington, London S.W. (1914/16) and 29 Sussex Place, South Kensington, London S.W.7 (1922) and 26 Queensberry Place, South Kensington, London S.W.7 (1923/27).

She died on 16 April 1928.

I did find one other interesting literary connection: Hilda Wigram (1876-1959), Eirene's sister, was married in 1914 to Alfred Ollivant (1874-1927), who wrote juvenile and adult fiction, including a sentimental yarn about a sheepdog called Owd Bob (1898). Alfred, after briefly serving with the Royal Artillery in 1893-95, devoted himself to literature. Amongst his books were The Gentleman (an exciting plot to kidnap Nelson off Beachy Head just before Trafalgar), The Royal Road (in which he depicts with artistic restraint the hard life and pitiful death of a lovable little Cockney factory hand), One Woman (a long and elaborately-constructed drama of blackmail) and Old For-Ever (a tale of sheer adventure in India on the Afghan frontier after the Cavagnari murder).

The Affair of the Envelope. London, Methuen & Co., 1910.
Alan! Alan! A story of England's war-time. London, J. Murray, 1915.

Firm Foundations. A guide for parents and others to religion and religious education. London, John Murray, 1907; abridged as Theology for Parents, London & Oxford, A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1910.
Natural Development in Religious Education. London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908.
The Stumbling Block of Christianity. London, Women's Printing Society, 1926.

(* With thanks to Jamie Sturgeon for pointing out the very interesting snippet from Google Books.)


  1. My Great Aunt-My Grandparents were Alfred and Hida Ollivant(nee Wigram) and my mother was their daughter Rachel(born 1916) who married my father Thomas Sikes Hichens.

    Celia Foote nee Hichens

  2. Hi Celia, my great grandmother was a servant at the vicarage to Thomas s and Mary (your grandparents perhaps) her name was Johanna a Knyf, this appears on the 1871 census.
    I would love to get on touch with you for a chat



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