Chris Lambert, Archivist
Surprise presents are the best. The Record Office recently welcomed an unexpected gift from the Friends of Hylands House, who had acquired this splendid wedding album.
It belonged originally to Dorothy Cadwell Taylor, heiress to an American leather goods fortune, who ended her life as the widow of an Italian count. In between, while living the life of a wealthy socialite, she had been married briefly to Claude Grahame-White, a pioneering British aviator whom she had met while crossing the Atlantic on the ‘Olympic’.
The marriage took place in May 1912 at Widford church, seemingly for no better reason than that both parties were friendly with Sir Daniel Gooch, a railway magnate who had bought Hylands House and offered it for the reception. The wedding was one of the social events of the year, receiving a huge build-up in the press – only somewhat dampened by the loss of the ‘Titanic’ in April. The Great Eastern ran a special train from Liverpool Street, although Grahame-White himself and several others – including the representative of the Daily Express – arrived by plane, taxi-ing on to the lawns at the back of the house. Public flying demonstrations were given during the day, and even the wedding cake bore the model of an aeroplane. The whole event was a confection of money, modernity, celebrity and speed, with a country house and its grounds used as an almost theatrical backdrop.
Fans of motor transport were not entirely left out: the wedding car, a present from groom to bride, was a Métallurgique, made in Belgium. Dorothy herself, however, seems to have had a liking for Rolls Royces. Tucked into the back of the album is a letter of 1951 from a now aging Claude, writing from his flat in London to his very much ex wife in New York. He tries to explain the difficulties he is having in getting her Rolls repaired: the garage is slow, they are blaming a shortage of steel (which he does not believe), and anyway there is no demand for second-hand cars, especially with petrol at 3s.7d. a gallon (about 4 pence a litre) … Elsewhere he commiserates on their mutual problems with osteopaths, mechanical and human frailty seemingly now going hand in hand. The glitz of Widford must have seemed far away.
If you are registered on Essex Archives Online, you can see full-size images of the complete album at document reference D/DU 3465/1. The wedding photographer, improbably enough, was our old friend Fred Spalding of Chelmsford, and you will find several photographs of his that seem to exist nowhere else.