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Monday, December 15, 2014

Doreen Smith

My mate John Herrington always sends me the most interesting mysteries. "You like a good story about an author," he said in a recent e-mail, "and this is a good one."

And indeed it is.

The 2 July 1937 edition of the Western Morning News carried a couple of paragraphs under the heading:

Spending Honeymoon In Cornwall

The attached story related how Count and Countess Barry de la Feld, were spending three months honeymooning at The Haven, Mount Hawke, in Cornwall. The Count, the story continued, was a descendant of an ancient German family and he was the son of H.S.H. Prince Bernard de la Feld of the Holy Roman Empire, Chamberlain to the late Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph. He was also the grandson of H.I.H. the Archduchess Elizabeth of Austria and a great-nephew of the late King of Norway.

The Count had recently married Miss Doreen Lucy Smith, a native of Bristol and the author of a number of books. And Doreen Lucy Smith, an author based at 14 Craven Street, Charing Cross, W.C.2, can be found in The Author's and Writer's Who's Who for 1935-36, to whom the following novels can be attributed:

Quest. London, Burns, Oates & Co., 1930.
East Wind. London, Burns, Oates & Co., 1931.
Lonely Traveller. London, Burns, Oates & Co., 1931
The Gates Are Open. London, Sands & Co., 1933.
May Be Tomorrow (as Clare Craven). London, John Long, 1936.
Four in Hand (as Michael Bairns). London, Stanley Smith, 1936.

The A&WWW notes her birth in Bristol, 1904 (sic), and her recreations as tennis and dancing. She is also listed as the managing director of Stanley Smith (Publishers) Ltd. This was a minor library hardcover publisher active in 1935/36, authors including Vere Hobart, T. R. Morden, G. H. Teed, E. M. Crawford, Paul Dornhorst, Geoffrey Ellinger, Richard E. Goddard, John Marsh, Eugene Thomas, Nigel Vane and Philip Wade. The authors are not especially notable, but include the prolific George Teed (best known for his Sexton Blake stories), John Marsh and "Nigel Vane", better known as Gerald Vernor, and playwrites Philip Wade and Paul Dornhorst, who had the misfortune of drowning shortly after the publication of his book trying to assist a friend in danger. Perhaps  the most memorable of all Smith's books was Richard E. Goddard's bizarre horror-thriller The Whistling Ancestors.

Stanley Smith (Publishers) Ltd. were struck off the register of companies in December 1938. Before then, Doreen, who in 1937 was boasting that she was the only female publisher in England, had been jailed. Twice.

Before we reach that part of the story, let's take a step back to the few earlier traces of Doreen's career.

In 1911, Doreen Lucie Smith was living with her father, Henry Stanley Mundy Smith (1869-1917), a 41-year old auctioneer, valuer and estate agent, and her brother, 15-year-old Reginald Stanley Smith, born in Clifton, Bristol, Gloucestershire, in 1895 and baptized at St Werburgh, Bristol, on 21 September 1895. In the 1930s, Reginald Smith was the manager of the television department at Alexandra Palace.

Stanley Smith, as her father called himself, had been married for 16 years to Clara Smith, nee Colmer (1866- ), the daughter of company chairman James Colmer, who was based in Bristol, and a niece of Cardinal Vaughan. Their second child, a daughter registered as Doreen Lucie Smith, was born in 2Q 1901, in Clifton, Bristol, Gloucestershire. [Not 1904 as her A&WWW entry would have us believe.]

Little is known about her upbringing. She later said that she had lived in Clifton until she was 17. However, the 1911, when Doreen was aged 9, gives their address as 17 Gardnor Mansions, Hampstead, London. Stanley Smith died on 30 April 1917, his probate record giving his address as 4 Connaught Place, Weston-super-Mare.  In 1929, Doreen was living with her mother at 11 Cheniston Gardens, Earls Court, and the following year on the first floor at 9 Hornton Street, Holland Park. I believe Clara Smith died in Kensington in 1932, aged 66.

Miss Doreen Lucy Smith, giving the address 22 Gloucester Walk, Kensington W.8, booked a 2nd class ticket to Genoa, Italy, on a Dutch passenger ship, Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, departing Southampton on 5 November 1932.

By 1935, she is to be found in the Electoral Roll living at 14 Craven Street, Westminster W.C.2. Her publishing company, named after her father, was active in 1935-36 before publications came to a grinding halt.

She married Barry de la Feld at Caxton Hall in Westminster on 2 June 1937 and within weeks both she and her husband were accused of numerous frauds.

Their activities began immediately as the two travelled around England (Cornwall, Somerset, Avon), Jersey and Ireland as Count and Countess de la Feld, obtaining goods from tradesmen on the strength of their title. In Jersey, Countess de la Feld obtained a passport in the name of Theodora Craster (uusually reported as Custa) and the Count shortly after . It was reported that the two were arrested on Friday, 20 August 1937 and appeared at Bristol Police Court the following day, appearing under the names Roger Beaumont (25) and Theodora Mary Craster (31), also known as the Count and Countess de la Feld, on warrants issued by the Metropolitan and Truro police.

The "Countess" appeared before Mr. Paul Bennett the following Monday charged with obtaining £6 by false pretences on 6 August. On the same day, Barry Shafto Jackson, alias Count Barry de la Feld, was charged in Truro with obtaining goods to the value of £7 17s. 8d. from Messrs. Timothy White and Taylors Ltd. by false pretences between 25 June and 1 July.

In June, the Count and Countess Barry de la Feld, were spending their honeymoon n Cornwall and granting a number of interviews with newspapers. The Count, a former Catholic priest, hoped to go the following month to either St Augustine's, Canterbury, or Wells Theological College, for six or eight months; he was considering subsequently working as a missionary in Africa. When interviewed. the Count wore clerical garb.

The Countess explained how she had met the Count—and the consequences of their marriage—in an interview with the Western Morning News (7 July 1937):
It was five years ago in the Church of San Silvestro in Rome, which is the church for English-speaking Catholics. He was a priest, and I was introduced to him, but did not see him again until six months ago. The Church of Rome does not allow married priests and we have had a lot of trouble in consequence.
    We have been literally hunted to death. There has been quite a scandal about him leaving the Church, and we have had insulting letters from priests and Archbishops.
    That is why, up to now, we have had only a civil marriage in Caxton Hall, London, but we are having a religious ceremony in Bristol Cathedral shortly. Because of this trouble my husband is becoming an Anglo-Catholic.
Giving the story an added twist was the revelation that the Countess was an ex-nun, and the story of the marriage of the ex-priest and the ex-nun travelled widely in local newspapers and even made it as far as the famous Life magazine, which recorded that "Father Leopold" had outraged the Church by marrying and a Papal bull was issued excommunicating both.

It wasn't long before accusations were made against the couple. The Bishop of Bristol declared that the Count was not a member of the Church of England. A London newspaper shortly after claimed that the Count de la Feld was, in fact, named Barry Shafto Jackson and he was the son of a London cook.

The Countess left Cornwall and took a single room at a hotel in Wells, Somerset, on 10 July, signing the register Countess Delafield of 77 Audley Street, London W.1. She chatted easily to the staff and claimed that she was expecting the Count to arrive in Wells by Wednesday. On Monday (12 July) she went to Bristol by bus to visit him. Returning to Wells, she transferred to another hotel.

When interviewed she protested vehemently against accusations published in newspapers. "The statements are libellous," she declared. "This persecution must stop. It is becoming a menace. This morning I seriously considered getting police protection." It was, she said, still the Count's intention to enter the Church of England, but she was not aware of his present whereabouts.

As to the notion that he was really Barry Shafto Jackson, the Countess stormed: "He's a Count. His name has never been Jackson and what's more he can't cook. He has papers to prove who he is."

As mentioned above, the couple were soon after arrested and the Count—under the names Barry Shafto Jackson (reported widely as Barry Shafto), alias Count Barry de la Feld, of no fixed abode—was charged in Truro on 23 August; he was remanded in custody for eight days and bail was refused. At the same time, in West London, the Countess was also remanded for eight days, magistrates accepting a surety in £25.

What happened next will be revealed tomorrow.

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