Halkett Books, 2015
In Jane Allen’s childhood home hung a picture of a young woman in a white dress with a blue sash, a small dog resting in her lap. It had arrived in a steamer trunk from England with other family memorabilia left to her father by his Godmother. The picture shows Allen’s great-grandmother, Emily Bradshaw, who had looked after him when he was sent to England in 1916 to boarding school.
There were also other portraits of Emily. She seemed an important figure in Allen’s large extended family, spread around the world. Beginning with the letters, pictures, wills and medical records of her forebears, she has written a fictionalised version of lives played out in the Victorian age, told through letters and journals. This is Great Britain in its imperial heyday: prosperous, adventurous and confident. She imagines how her forebears would have thought and behaved in many situations that have not been recorded, but are known to have happened.
At crucial moments in her story a mysterious white cat appears—only visible at first to Emily’s husband, Thomas. Other darker undercurrents flow below the daily life revealed here, beneath the births, marriages and deaths of Emily’s ever-expanding family.
Emily Bradshaw, Jane’s great-grandmother, charcoal and pencil portrait, c. 1885
Hampton Court Palace, where Emily began her married life in a Grace & Favour apartment
12 South Bailey, Durham, Emily’s family’s home
Jane’s grandmother, Linty, with her brothers, c. 1895, Selkirk, Scotland
Jane Allen, The Judge's Cat, extracts
'Letter from Lady Laetitia Halkett to James Halkett
Chelsea, Boxing Day 1860
My dear James
I know how fond you and Maggie are of dear Emily so I hasten to inform you of a calamitous event that befell her almost on the eve of her wedding. On Christmas Eve there was a gathering at my house. Thomas’s sister Katherine Daniell and her family attended, Lizzie of course, Caroline Craigie Halkett and my Frederick, who is visiting on his own since his wife is lying-in. Thomas Bradshaw joined us for supper and gave the bride his gift of a truly lovely necklace of brilliants and blue topaz. The stones are very fine indeed, and dear Emily wore it all evening and apparently returned it to the box when she went to bed.
In the morning it was gone and so was Caroline!
It was at once obvious what had happened and I went round to comfort Emily, while Frederick sent for John and Henry Daniell. There was much debate over where Caroline might be. Lizzie contributed she might be anywhere but that she hardly knew London at all; this was not helpful. John Daniell offered to post a Reward and went to the police station to do so, and Frederick was dispatched with all haste to search the nearby parks. Lizzie suggested sending for Thomas Bradshaw but Emily asked her mother to wait since even in her distress and longing for his comfort and advice, she knew that he and the four children would be at church. Such self-control on her part was indeed admirable. It was Lizzie, as usual, who was undone by this malicious theft and had to retire.
Frederick returned within a few hours having had no luck in locating the missing thief, but the police now had a good description. By dinner time Mr Bradshaw had been apprised of the theft and absconding, and he arrived with haste to lend his support. Because of his legal connections he was able to summon a very senior policeman to our aid.
Just before midnight Caroline was observed crossing Waterloo Bridge. A young lady alone at night wandering in the snow was enough to attract the attention of a keen young constable, and being a personable young man he had no difficulty in persuading the troublesome girl to accompany him to the nearest station, promising her a hot drink. (You may or may not be aware that Caroline shows an unseemly tendency to gravitate towards men. Emily tells me that she has thrown herself at Thomas Bradshaw on more than one occasion.)
From the description Mr Daniell had given to the police, Caroline was quickly identified and Thomas and Frederick set out to fetch her. When they returned to the house she was shivering horribly and behaved very belligerently—but at least she had the morocco box still with her. She clung to Mr Bradshaw in a most indecorous manner until I insisted she go upstairs and remove her wet clothing, whereupon Lizzie, who had reappeared when she heard the commotion, took one arm and the parlour maid the other, and they led her from the room. When they got her upstairs, however, she refused to undress, so they left her sulking by the fire.
Mr Bradshaw had taken the morocco box from her, but when opened it proved to be empty. This was too much for poor Emily and her composure gave way. At once Mr Bradshaw promised her a replacement jewel, like a true gentleman.
Later when Caroline changed her clothes and came downstairs, Lizzie and I took her into the library. In spite of her vigorous protests and tossing and turning, I managed to search her person. The minx was wearing the necklace under her chemise all the time—but of course the men had been far too circumspect to search her…’
(from Chapter 4, Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance)
‘From the Journal of Emily Bradshaw
Hampton Court Palace, May 1861
Now I have been married for six months I can say that every day brings new happiness with my dear Husband. But I still have not become used to this enormous Palace; it is so grand and daunting. I believe the stories of it being haunted by Queen Catherine Howard who, they say, can be heard screaming in the Long Corridor down which she was dragged by soldiers to the boat which carried her to the Tower and execution. Thomas has had some years to grow used to the place, with Frances and Lady Hereford, so he can find his way up and down the cold and seemingly endless staircases. He reassures me by saying that he has never heard anyone screaming.
Perhaps if I take time to find out more about the Palace’s history—I know only that it was built by Cardinal Wolsey and enlarged by Henry VIII—it may feel more welcoming. Usually I like old buildings—the chapel here is very beautiful—so when I have a little more time I shall ask my husband to find me a book about Hampton Court’s history.
I have already found out more about Frances’s family. Lady Hereford has been a widow for 20 years, for most of which she has lived with Thomas and Frances. The Devereux family (Hereford is their title) is an ancient and noble one, descended from the Kings of France. That is why they are entitled to a Grace & Favour apartment. Before her marriage, Frances was Maid-in-Waiting to the Queen, who is Victor’s Godmother.
The Lord Chamberlain allots these apartments to people who have served the Monarch or the country, and most of the residents are titled. Maybe only those with titles can move close enough to the Queen to be of service to her! My life on Jersey with Mama, by contrast, seems so simple and sheltered. We were just four in the house—or five when Caroline was with us—whereas now I have a family of ten (counting the servants) and I am expected to take charge of this enormous household.
Lady Hereford needs daily care. Since she lost her eye and injured her leg when her carriage overturned some years ago she has not been able to walk properly. I feel she is a Great Responsibility.
The children are lively and energetic and seem to like me, except for Muriel, who is a little difficult. At only four, she is the youngest and I am sure we will get used to one another. Mabel, who is very pretty, is vivacious and Constance is gentle and quiet. They are both engaging. Victor seems to delight in my company. They all love Spinner, who is thrilled to have so many new playmates to take him for walks.
Mama writes daily of how much she misses me and how lonely she is. She hints constantly at moving from St Helier to London to be closer to me. I do not know if this is a good idea, even though Lady Hereford has asked her to stay while she seeks a home of her own. This is kind of her, but I would like to find a tactful way to suggest that this is a temporary arrangement; otherwise I foresee there will be problems.’
(From Chapter 5, How sleep the brave, who sink to rest)
‘From the Journal of Baron James Halkett
The house called Great Fosters I have recently purchased is a most imposing residence. Built in the 1550s of warm red brick in the Tudor style, it is surrounded by a moat of Saxon origins and set in about 60 acres of parkland, with formal gardens edged with what must once have been fine examples of topiary, now much in need of attention. It is not certain how much land was included in the original title—and I shall make it my business to find out—but I have it on good authority it was divided and sold off in 1609 during the tenancy of Edward Owen, described as “an avaricious, devious and unpleasant brother-in-law” of Jeremy Bowtell, whose rightful inheritance it was.
The Royal connections are several. Henry VIII used the house as a hunting lodge and sent his daughter Elizabeth here; she too used it for hunting. Above the main porch is the royal crest of Queen Elizabeth 1, dated 1598, and Anne Boleyn’s personal crest is part of the ornate ceiling decorations. When the House became an Asylum in the possession of Dr Furnivall and his partner Sir John Chapman, it is believed—though not confirmed—that Great Fosters was where King George III was housed while he was being treated for his insanity. This last occupation makes my Dearest Maggie somewhat nervous, but I trust this will pass when she sees what possibilities the house yields. I admit it requires a deal of restoration but it will in time make a splendid and fitting home for my family. I intend to make it my remaining life’s work to see the necessary work completed.
(From Chapter 6, Be swift to love, make haste to be kind)