Wynnifred Ellis: albums of a young girl’

Wynnifred Ellis was born in Cheltenham in 1878, the youngest of seven children. Her parents had retired to Cheltenham six years earlier, living first in Wellington Square and then settling at Apsley Lodge in Pittville Circus. Her mother was in her late forties when Wynnifred was born and her father, Indian veteran Colonel Henry Disney Ellis, died a few months before her birth. (Photograph: Cheltenham Looker-On, 11  September 1911.)

Wynnifred therefore grew up without a father, and her childhood was also marked by the loss of three of her older brothers and sisters: Esther died at the age of 17 when Wynnifred was two, Richard at 26 when Wynnifred was five, and Norah died at 28 when Wynnifred was eleven.

Her remaining brothers and sisters were all considerably older than her (Henry was 24 years older, John – known as Jack – was 19 years older and Emily was eleven years older), so she must have grown up almost as an only child, the late baby of her family.

The albums – a chronicle of Wynnifred’s life 1897-1907

In 1897, on the day after her nineteenth birthday, Wynnifred started the first of two albums chronicling her social life and that of her friends and family. The albums cover a period of ten years and provide a fascinating insight into the life of a well-to-do young woman in Pittville at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth.

The albums open with a dance held at Apsley Lodge on 23 February 1897, presumably organised by Wynnifred’s mother to mark her youngest daughter’s launch into Cheltenham society. The dance card shows nineteen dances, including twelve waltzes and two polkas. Wynnifred’s partners included eligible young men from the Pittville area such as Mr Kettlewell, whose family lived at Pittville Lawn, and Mr Cuthbert Jones, whose family lived at East Approach Drive. At other dances, her partners included Tom Mellersh, presumably one of the Mellersh family who lived at the Gryphons in Pittville Circus Road; a Mr Brandt, presumably one of the Brandt family of North Hall, also in Pittville Circus Road; and a Mr Winterbotham, presumably one of the Winterbotham family of Wellington Square.

Dance card from Wynnifred’s coming-out party
Wynnifred’s social life over the next ten years followed a regular pattern. She attended dances, balls, concerts and plays, mainly in Cheltenham but sometimes in London. Dances and balls were typically held during the winter season, usually at the Rotunda, the New Club, or the Assembly Rooms. The refreshments at these events were often lavish; the elaborate menu for the Cotswold Ladies’ Ball in January 1898 at the Assembly Rooms in the High Street (a few years before its demolition) included caviar, lobster, foie gras and truffles.

In London, Wynnifred saw the latest plays by Gilbert & Sullivan, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde. These visits might include a pre-theatre dinner at a fashionable restaurant. A menu card for a seven-course dinner at the Trocadero in Piccadilly is included in the albums.

Wynnifred had frequent holidays both in the UK and abroad, including visits to popular destinations in Scotland, France, Switzerland and Italy.

The albums cover the end of Victoria’s reign and the beginning of the Edwardian age. Wynnifred included in her album an “In Memoriam” card for Queen Victoria, who died on 22 January 1901, and a newspaper cutting of the proclamation of the accession of King Edward VII being read out on the Promenade. It looks as if Wynnifred had been planning to go to London to celebrate the new king’s coronation, as she received an urgent telegram from a friend telling her that it had been postponed.

Wynnifred often gets her friends to sign the pages of her album, so it doubled as a kind of autograph book. Particularly in the early years, one of her older sisters signs her name with “chaperone” in brackets. It was still considered unsuitable for young unmarried women to be in mixed society without an older woman to keep an eye on them.

However, Wynnifred’s leisure occupations included cycling, tennis and amateur dramatics, all of which allowed certain freedoms that had not been available to girls of an earlier generation. The first lawn tennis club had been founded in 1872 and lawn tennis quickly became a popular sport amongst the middle and upper classes. It was considered a suitable activity for women (despite them having to play in some extremely restrictive clothing) and was an opportunity for young people of both sexes to socialise in an informal setting.

Amateur dramatics in private houses provided another opportunity for socialising. In February 1904 Wynnifred attended an amateur “show” at Askham House, Pittville Circus Road, where the performers included Mrs Deane (who lived at Askham House) and Miss Brandt (who lived at Kirkella). In July of that year she had a part in an amateur performance of a play called The Palace of Truth by W. S. Gilbert at The Cleevelands (Cleevelands Drive). In October, the play was performed in public as a charity performance in aid of the Eye, Ear, and Throat Free Hospital and the review stated that “Miss Disney Ellis caused much amusement by her spirited acting of the self-baffled coquette Azema”.

In the 1900s the average age for a woman to marry was 22. As the years pass, the albums contain many photographs of the weddings of friends and family members, but there appears to be no engagement in prospect for Wynnifred herself. However the albums stop in 1907, possibly because Wynnifred finally became engaged around this time and her social status and social life changed.

Wynnifred’s marriage and later life

In September 1909 Wynnifred married Ventry Guiscard Mellin, a Superintendent on the Egyptian Railways. She was 31 and he was 32. Despite his exotic name, the bridegroom was born in Lancashire. It is unclear how they met.

The wedding was a lavish affair, reported at length in the Cheltenham Looker-On. The ceremony took place at All Saints’ Church, with the reception at Apsley Lodge. The bride’s dress and going-away outfit, the bridesmaids’ dresses, and the bride’s mother’s dress were described in detail by the Cheltenham Looker-On, which also waxed lyrical about the decorations:

“The marquee, which had been erected on the lawn adjacent to the drive, had an interior that reflected much credit on the decorative tastes of Mr. Marfell, the Manager of the Oriental Café Company, assisted by floral ‘creations’ from Pates’ Nurseries. The buffet was choicely arranged with delectable dainties, and a very charming effect was secured with cream coloured baskets filled with beautiful specimens of Madame Abell Chatney roses of a delicate pink shade. These were in keeping with the decorative scheme which was tastefully carried out in pink and green valences looped around the marquee. Suspended from the canvas was a ‘bell’ composed of white flowers looped with white satin ribbon, under which the guests were received. Elegant palms in pots and dainty maidenhair fern and lilies of the valley were introduced and added largely to the effectiveness of the display. The whole of the catering was entrusted to the Oriental Café Co., and Mr. G. Pates, of the Imperial Nursery, St. George’s Road, supplied the bouquets and floral decorations at the church.”
Cheltenham Looker-On, 11 September 1909, page 9

A long list of the wedding presents (involving large amounts of silver) and their donors was also included in the Looker-On report. We can get an idea of what a wedding reception of the period would have looked like (including the display of gifts) from an album that Wynnifred kept of the wedding of Ada St. Clair-Ford in 1893.

A selection from Wynnifred’s extensive wedding-present list
(Cheltenham Looker-On, 11 September 1909)
The honeymoon was spent in Switzerland, after which the couple set up home in Cairo. They had no children, and travelled widely.

Wynnifred’s sister Emily died in 1917 aged fifty, and her mother, the redoubtable Mrs Disney Ellis, died in 1918 in her late eighties. Her brother Jack died in 1924, and her brother Henry in 1925.

The 1939 Register shows Wynnifred and her husband living at Church House, Amesbury, Wiltshire. Wynnifred died in 1942, aged 64. Her husband remarried and died in 1960, aged 83, in London.

Apsley Lodge, Pittville Circus, Wynnifred’s home
until her marriage in 1909
Hilary Simpson

Go to Wynnifred’s Album gallery (selections)
Go to Wynnifred’s First Album (1897-1902) (full)
Go to main Pittville Lives page

Images from the various albums are reproduced by permission of their owner, Wynnifred Ellis’s great-nephew Charlie Milward. To see a gallery of images from the albums click here.