Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Tragic Deaths of ‘Treasure’ Muffett and Mair Williams

On 3 September 1939 the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced on the radio that Britain was now at war with Germany. People expected air raids, but nothing happened until the Blitz began in September 1940. This was the period that came to be known as the ‘phoney war’, but while Britain waited there was considerable public concern and rumours about German spies.

A German Spy Ring
On the 30 Sept 1939, 27 year old Wilfred Ronald Ward who lived with his parents at 187 Heathfield Road, Handsworth, appeared at the Birmingham Police Court. He was charged with demanding £500 from a man, never named but referred to as ‘Mr X’ throughout the proceedings. Unless the money was paid, Wilfred had threatened to expose Mr X as a German spy. Mr X had received a letter on 5 September signed by ‘Jim Rickards’ and had gone to the police. They had listened in when Ward, using the name Rickards, telephoned and repeated the threat but Mr X had lost his temper and the call was ended.

Three days later on the 8 September the Chief Constable was sent an anonymous letter which named Mr X and four other people as spies. The police spoke to Ward who admitted writing the letters. He said he just wanted to frighten Mr X. He explained that for the past few months, both he and Mr X had been seeing a woman with the wonderful name of Treasure Muffett. It was Treasure who had told Ward that she and the other people were part of a German spy ring. The police investigated and decided Mr X and the others were definitely not spies. Ward said: ‘Blimey, I did it all in the interests of the country. I became infatuated with her and believed every word she told me to be true’. He was held on remand pending trial.

On 26 October Ward re-appeared in court on a charge of demanding money with menaces. The letter he sent to the Chief Constable had contained a drawing of a badge with the letters S.H.V.K. which he said was the emblem of the spy group. Ward alleged Mr X had entered factories at night and copied aircraft plans. Other people named in the letter as German spies were Miss B, Mr C, Dr A, and Mr D, who all strenuously denied the allegations.

Giving evidence 31 year old Mr X said the only time he met Ward was when he had introduced him to Mrs Treasure Muffett at her flat in Acocks Green Birmingham on 26 August. Mr X had formed a liaison with Treasure Muffett who was a very attractive brunette with a vivid personality. She told him she was a German married to an Englishman. But he now realised that she was leading a fantasy life of make-believe.

Treasure Muffett

Treasure Muffett
Treasure Muffett was then called to give evidence. Her real name was far less glamorous, Mabel Nellie Muffett. She said she and her friend Mair Williams were nurses and lived at 34 Alexandra Road in Kilburn. Far from being German, Treasure’s parents were English and she’d never been out of the country. But she admitted she sometimes pretended to be German and spoke broken English as a joke.

In fact, neither Marie nor Treasure had finished their medical training. They met in July when working at a nursing home in Birmingham and shared the flat in Acocks Green, loaned to them by a patient in the home, for three weeks. They had held all-night parties there and then left for London the day before War was declared.

When the defence barrister pointed out that Ward had said the S.H.V.K. drawing was an emblem of the German spy ring, Treasure said this was tripe. She explained that the letters stood for ‘Sacred Heart, Virtuous Knowledge’, which was the badge of her old school, the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Harrow on the Hill. She admitted to having affairs with both Ward and Mr X. When asked if she was something of a liar, she said, ‘Yes I am. I have told thousands of lies to the prisoner and Mr X’.
The case was remanded for a week.

Suicide in Alexandra Road
On Wednesday 1 November, landlady Lily Abbott and other tenants heard the noise of constant running water coming from the upstairs flat at 34 Alexandra Road. When she looked through the glass door she was horrified to see 25 years old Treasure Muffett and 22 years old Mair Williams were lying motionless on the floor. When the police forced their way into the flat they found that the girls had died from gas poisoning sometime over the weekend.  They were both due to give further evidence in Birmingham on Thursday 2 November.

The trial went ahead and it was agreed that the dispositions which the girls had signed could be used as evidence.

Mair Williams

In court Mrs Abbott said the girls had rented the Alexandra Road flat for about five weeks. They told her they’d had come down from Birmingham ‘to get away from a man’, and paid their first two weeks rent but nothing further. Mrs Abbott said she lent them money and even got shoes for them. They had signed up for work with a nursing agency in Kings Cross but were desperately short of money and only had six pence halfpenny between them when they died.

Mrs Abbott said when they had returned from the trial in Birmingham on Thursday night they were very depressed because so much of Treasure’s past had been brought up in court. An aunt had advised Mair that she should go home to Treforest in South Wales, but she had said to Mrs Abbott, ‘What kind of pal should I be to leave Treasure on her own now. I could not do it.’

One of the witnesses, Mr D said he had first known Treasure in 1935 when she worked as a nurse in the County Mental Hospital in Gloucester. She was then known as Treasure Street.

The Inquest
At the St Pancras inquest on 3 November, Treasure’s husband, Alan John Muffett of Grant Avenue Bournemouth, said he married Treasure Mabel Street on 12 July 1938, but she left him after 11 weeks. He had not seen her since and the only contact had been a letter she sent last Christmas containing a pawn ticket for a ring she had pledged to recover.

Treasure’s mother Mrs Gertrude Street, said the girls had visited her in Wimborne, Dorset for one day in early in October. She’d ignored a letter from the police asking her to send money to her daughter as the girls hadn’t eaten for three days. Mrs Street said, ‘I took no notice of that. I had helped her so much in the past’. She told the court that when they visited her she’d loaned them coats.

Mrs Winifred Pugh said she had not seen her daughter Mair Williams for over a year. She had no idea she’d gone to London until she had a letter saying she was there. Mair had told her mother she was planning to go to France with Treasure, to work as a nurse. Mrs Pugh had sent her daughter £3 in September.

Detective Inspector Culliss of the Birmingham police said the girls had nothing to fear from them. When the Metropolitan police saw the girls on 3 October they were staving and the policeman sent out for some food for them and lent them a pound. The famous pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury who conducted the autopsies, said Treasure and Mair had died from gas poisoning and that Miss Williams showed signs of early pregnancy.

The coroner concluded that the girls had returned from the trial very upset, depressed and virtually penniless. They couldn’t bear the thought of returning to Birmingham to face further questioning and decided to commit suicide. They had left notes saying they were going to die. The jury brought in a verdict that they had taken their lives while of unsound mind.

Wilfred Ronald Ward
On 8 November 1939 at Manchester Assizes, Wilfred Ronald Ward was sentenced to three years in prison. After serving his sentence he married Jillian Shirlaw in Bromsgrove in 1947. He died in Birmingham in 1973 aged 61. Jillian died in 2002.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

A Famous Victorian Photographer

From 1890 to 1896 Joe Parkin Mayall had a photographic studio at 209 Kilburn High Road. Today this is Hillman’s butchers shop near the corner with Willesden Lane. The Hillman family has had a shop here since 1922.

Hillman's, 209 Kilburn High Road,2015

John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1813 to 1901)
Joe was the second son of famous photographer, John Jabez Edwin Mayall, mistakenly referred to as an American in some books. But he was actually born in the UK, in Oldham, as Jabez Meal. After a move to West Yorkshire where his father worked as a dyer, the family emigrated to the States.

In 1842 Jabez Meal traveled to Philadelphia where he changed his name to Mayall and became an early daguerreotype photographer. With a partner he set up a successful studio at 140 Chestnut Street and their photographs were awarded prizes. 

Self portrait by John Jabez Mayall, Daguerrotype, Philadelphia 1842

In 1846 Mayall sold up and returned to England where he established a studio in London in 1847 at 433 West Strand. The painter Turner was a regular visitor from 1847 to 1849, as he was fascinated by the effects of light captured by the camera. Mayall took portraits of many famous people including the poet Tennyson and the astronomer Herschel (both are now in the National Portrait Gallery).

Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1864 (NPG)

In May 1851, The Great Exhibition opened at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park London. It attracted over six million visitors during the six months it remained open. Mayall produced a series of large plates of the Crystal Palace and the Exhibition. Thirty-one of his daguerreotype views of the Great Exhibition were copied and engraved for publication in John Tallis’s History and Description of the Crystal Palace and the Exhibition of the World's Industry.

In 1852 Mayall opened a second studio in a prime location at 224 Regent Street. He became the most successful photographer in London and made a lot of money. In 1861 his carte de visites earned him £12,000 a year and the royalties from his portraits of the Royal family, including the Queen, exceeded an astonishing £35,000 (today equivalent to almost £3 million).

Victoria and Albert, 1861

In 1864, leaving his eldest son Edwin to run his London studios, Mayall moved to fashionable Brighton with his wife and two younger sons. He opened his new photographic portrait studio at 90-91 Kings Road, close to the recently built Grand Hotel.

Joe Parkin Mayall
His second son, Joseph Parkin Mayall was born in Winchcombe Glouchestershire in 1839.  He didn’t immediately follow in his father’s footsteps. On 15 April 1861 he married Ann Toye at St Pancras Church, when the register describes him as an artist, living at Bolton Terrace. Ann is shown at the same address.

By 1870 they had moved to Australia and in 1872 their daughter Amy was born in Melbourne. The family returned to England and from 1877 to 1880 Joe ran a photographic studio at 6 North Street Quadrant, Brighton, located at the bottom of Queens Road, and near his father’s studio. On the 1881 census Joe was working as accounts clerk in Brighton and the family was sharing a house on West Hill.

But he reverted to photography and from 1883 to 1889, had a studio at 548 Oxford Street in London. Then in January 1890 he moved to Kilburn as this advert in 10 January Middlesex Courier shows:

Park Lane Studio, High Road, Kilburn. Mr. J. P. Mayall begs to announce that he has removed from 548, Oxford Street, Marble Arch, and opened a new studio at 209, High Road, Kilburn (One door from Willesden Lane).
High-class Portraiture at moderate prices. Rembrandt Portraits and Permanent Enamels a Speciality.

Artists at Home
In 1884 Joe Mayall was commissioned to undertake a series of photographs of 24 eminent artists in their studios. This was an important piece of work and was published in six monthly installments with four artists in each at a cost of 5 shillings. 

The last installment also included a portrait of W.E. Gladstone who was the Prime Minister and also the Professor of Ancient History at the Royal Academy.

WE Gladstone at Harwarden Castle, North Wales

Subscribers were particularly interested in seeing inside the studios of the artists. But reviews of the photographs thought they were highly posed and this clearly seems to have been the case as can be seen below.

GA Storey, 19 St John’s Wood Road, 1884. The following year Storey moved to ‘Hougoumont’ Broadhurst Gardens.
On 25 February 1891, both the Daily Mail and Pall Mall Gazette reported that,
J.P. Mayall, photographer, Kilburn, has submitted to the Queen and the Prince of Wales, two enlarged photographs of the late Sir Edgar Boehm in his studio. This was part of series of photographs ‘Artists at Home’ (Sampson Low, Marston and Co).

In the 1891 census Joe Parkin Mayall, photographer, is shown at 209 High Road, Kilburn. His two daughters, Marian and Amy, are listed as photographic assistants.
Amy Margaret Mayall was baptized on 25 March 1895, at Christ Church Brondesbury but she was born twenty three years earlier, on 29 Nov 1872. Her parents are shown as Ann and Joe Parkin Mayall, photographer, High Road, Kilburn. Presumably Amy was baptized so that she could marry Aroldo Valentini Christiani later that same year. Their son John was born about 1897, in West Hampstead. A second son Harold was born in 1900.

In December 1895 and April 1896 Joe Parkin Mayall was renting and living in part of 67 Gascony Avenue when he deposited six of his artist photographs with the National Archive, these included Millais, GF Watts and Alma Tadema.

67 Gascony Ave, 2015

The family left Kilburn for south London and were living at 10 Rye Hill Park Camberwell by 1899. The 1901 census shows that his two daughters were still working in the business. Amy and her two young children were sharing the house with her parents.

By the 1911 census, Ann and Joe had moved to 109 Underhill Road, East Dulwich. They occupied three rooms on the lower part of the premises. Aged 71, he gave his occupation as ‘photographic operator’. They said they had been married for 48 years with three children all living. Joe Parkin Mayall died there in 1922, aged 83. His wife Ann died seven years later, aged 96.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Mr Goebbels of South Kilburn

Joseph Goebbels joined the German Nazi Party in 1924. He was part of Hitler’s inner circle and was Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945. When Hitler committed suicide in the Berlin bunker as the Russians were advancing, he named Goebbels as his successor. But he was only Chancellor of Germany for a day: he committed suicide with his wife and six children on 1 May 1945.

What was little known, until it appeared in the Daily Express in March 1938, is that Kilburn had its own Goebbels. The article said:

Pronouncements of Mr Goebbels of Cambridge Road Kilburn, have nothing to do with international affairs; they concern the price of prime pork and best English lamb. Sometimes customers in his butcher’s shop tease him about a recent speech of the German Minister of Propaganda, but Mr Goebbels of Kilburn, unperturbed, goes on slicing a nice piece of undercut. He has no interest in politics.

Newspaper picture of Cornelius Goebbels in 1938

Cornelius Goebbels, who was no relation of his more infamous namesake, came to England as a seventeen year old in 1901. He met Maria Leingruber at the German Catholic Church young people’s club and they were married in 1911 in Mile End. They moved to Holborn where Cornelius worked as a butcher before moving to south Kilburn in 1925, taking over an existing butcher’s shop at 94 Cambridge Road, near Carlton Vale.

In April 1936 he and his family became naturalized British citizens. He told the Daily Express reporter that as anti-German feeling had increased he considered changing his name. But as he was well-known in Smithfield and the meat trade as Mr Goebbels, he decided not to do it. However, a few years later as the pressure grew, he became Cornelius Bradley in 1940. He was still trading as a butcher in Cambridge Road when he died in Elstree in 1972. The shop has since gone.

1937 Map of South Kilburn. 
94 Cambridge Road was the second building down after Carlton Vale

South Kilburn
There has been a large amount of redevelopment in south Kilburn. In 1938, bug infested stables and houses in Percy Mews and Canterbury Road were burned to the ground by the Council, this drastic procedure was seen as the only way to get rid of the infestation prior to redevelopment. Around 60 costermongers (market traders with barrows), led a large protest march to Willesden Town Hall. Their livelihoods were at risk, as destroying the stables meant they had nowhere to keep their horses.

Pathe News has a short film of the houses being set on fire in 1938, watched by a large crowd of children, the commentator jokes; ‘you can’t beat a fire for a flea show’.

In 1961 Willesden Council conducted a survey of the streets bounded by Malvern Road, Kilburn Park Road and Carlton Vale. The two public health inspectors reported that many of the properties were unfit for human habitation. The Council decided to demolish the whole area and applied for the compulsory purchase of a 22 acre site including 450 houses, of which 260 were condemned. Not surprisingly, many owners objected. A government inquiry was set up and finally confirmed the purchase order on 9 December 1966. Willesden Council began the process of purchasing and demolishing the houses. Today’s streets cover the existing Victorian houses in the area.

There is a YouTube video showing pictures of this part of Kilburn before it was demolished in the late 1960s.