Meet the Neighbours.

When Martha married on Boxing Day 1876, she and her mother, Ann were no longer living at Park Cottages. They had moved to 5 Grove End Road in St. John's Wood. This was right in the middle of what became known as 'The St. John's Wood Clique,' a community of painters and other artists which centred around the area described as being 'picturesque and relatively free of pollution.'

In the 1871 Census Ann Oliver is the head of the household with Martha described as an artist and Clara Randall also from Salisbury, as their servant. Their neighbours at numbers 3 and 4 respectively were Baronness Elizabeth Cranstoun and her daughter Pauline with William Yeames the artist and his wife next door. Elizabeth Cranstoun's husband,the last Baron Cranstoun had died in 1869 in Scotland so she and her daughter had obviously moved to the burgeoning artistic community in St. John's Wood. Pauline Cranstoun apparently was a poet and became involved in a famous libel case in which a Mrs. Weldon, an opera star of the day was accused of libel and sent to Holloway. There were demonstrations in Hyde Park protesting her innocence and in 1885, it was the Hon. Pauline Cranstoun who collected Mrs. Weldon from Holloway in her carriage. That, even by today's standards, must have caused something of a stir in the area! The Cranstouns were not the only interesting neighbours in the vicinity; at number 35 resided Charles Landseer, the brother of Queen Victoria's favourite painter, Edwin Landseer, who died in 1879 and whose lengthy cortege wound its way down Grove End Road to his final resting place at noon on a day in late June of that year.

There were also several other painters living nearby, the most famous of whom was James Tissot who painted several scenes of his garden and rooms in his house at number 17. His paintings were inhabited often by Kathleen Newton, a divorcee who lived with him at Grove End Road and it is possible from these works to see how fashionable women such as Martha Oliver and Kate Hastings would have dressed - indeed it is possible to imagine that he may even have used them as subjects. in 1874 Edmond de Goncourt wrote sarcastically that Tissot had 'a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors'" Maybe Martha and Kate were lucky enough to have been offered a glass. Tissot sold the house to Lawrence Alma Tadema after Kathleen Newton's death in 1882 from consumption.


Summer in the Garden at Grove End Road by James Tissot

Alongside the painters, there were several members of the theatrical profession, including Squire Bancroft, a famous manager and lessee of several London theatres and at number 28 resided Walter Wardroper, a famous mimic who owned Wardroper's Music Hall in Yorkshire with his brother Henry and travelled the country doing shows featuring impersonations of famous people such as Gladstone!

This genteelly bohemian community was home to Martha untill her tragic death in 1880, just before her fourth wedding anniversary when she left William Charles Phillips the auctioneer whose family firm was at 73 New Bond Street, a grieving widower. This is one of her death notices placed in the last week of December 1880 in Reynold's Newspaper, "Miss Martha Oliver, the popular actress, expired through cancer on Monday December 20th. Although playgoers have for some years missed her from the stage, the memory of her talents will be too well preserved to cause the important position Miss Oliver held among the prominent dramatic favourites of the day to escape recollection. She was with Mme Vestris at Drury Lane, the Strand and was manageress of the Royalty." An interesting footnote to this story however, was found in a set of Marriage Bonds and Allegations for London which clearly shows that William and Martha obtained a special licence in October 1872 for the St. Marylebone Church. Whether or not they used it, I'm not sure - I think they probably didn't, given that they were married in 1876, but it does show that they were in a relationship for much longer than I initially thought. 

Up until two weeks before her death, she is listed as being a donor to a benevolent fund for one H.J. Turner. an actor who had fallen on hard times. However, it is sad to note that in the same column that lists Martha's donation to the fund, is the notice of her own sister's death at Hastings,

"We have to announce the death of Mrs. Frederick Hastings, once a very well-known provincial actress. Owing to ill health, an enforced retirement from the stage took place some years ago. She was the sister of Miss Martha Oliver, the highly esteemed actress and Manageress of the Royalty Theatre in the memorable days of the prolongued success of the burlesque of Black Eyed Susan. She died at Hastings on Wednesday  and was interred at Hastings Cemetery on Saturday last, (4th). Her age was 51. 

What a coincidence that the two sisters, both actresses, should die within three weeks of each other. They left a group of people who remained inextricably connected for the rest of their lives. These were W.C. Phillips, Martha's husband, Kate Hastings Bullen, Fanny's daughter and Martha's niece, Ann Oliver, mother of Frances and Martha, Geoffrey and the two servants at Grove End Road, Rosina Warren and Ann Farringdon.

William is a difficult figure to pin down for a man who must have been in the public gaze a great deal. He was the grandson of Harry Phillips who founded the auctioneering firm of Phillips and Son at 73 New Bond Street in 1796. Harry is described as 'a shadowy figure' who started out as clerk to James Christie  but resigned after being refused a pay rise. He then set up his awn auction firm 'who held some of the most anticipated, and most unique, auctions in the City.' He seems like a complex character; born in 1766 or thereabouts, he married Sarah Mitchell, daughter of a watchmaker in 1789 and they had 3 children: Charles Valentine born on Valentine's Day 1793, Sarah in 1797 and William Augustus in 1801.

He was obviously a gifted and talented entrepreneur. Despite not being able to acquire his own premises, he hosted twelve sales in his first two years and began revolutionising the auction world by introducing radical new practices such as having evening receptions before sales, where people could browse, take refreshments and socialise before the main event which is still current today. He managed to sell Marie Antoinette's paintings, Napoleon's furniture and remains the only auctioneer ever to have conducted a sale inside Buckingham Palace to this day.

Although evidently a brilliant businessman, I found a story in a newspaper of 1802 which told me a little bit more about him. By then installed in his Bond Street premises, he apparently noticed an elderly gentleman wandering through the saleroom. He watched the man for a while and noticed him pick up a pair of china candlesticks and leave the auction room. After giving chase with his chief clerk, they apprehended the man and called the constables, whereupon the man ended up in court with Harry giving evidence against him. Several character witnesses came forward who told the magistrate that the man had been a linen draper of good character before falling on hard times. He had gone abroad but had not been able to support his family and his friends had thus begged him to return to England. They had arranged accommodation for him but he had still not been able to find work and he and his wife were starving, hence the theft. The Magistrate said that he sympathised with the man but theft was theft and he was going to have to be punished. Harry then stood up and beggged that the man should be allowed to return home with his friends with a small donation. Eventually the Judge agreed and the man was permitted to leave. Harry was obviously a man of integrity and compassion.

His personal life however, is difficult to unravel. Living with Sarah and his children until well into the 1820s, he had acquired Brandenburgh Cottage in Fulham. In 1829, there was a robbery from the house committed by two boatmen from Hammersmith. Once again in court, Harry testified that he did not reside there, only using it in his words as a 'Sort of summerhouse.' However, someone did reside there - his mistress, Elizabeth Cauty and her children George Robert Phillips and Eliza Phillips who had been born in 1821 and 1829 respectively. On his death in 1839, an incredibly long and complex will andministered largely by William Augustus provided for his wife, his mistress and his assortment of children. It even names grandchildren but I'm not sure who they belong to as most of his grandchildren, such as our William Charles,were born in the 1840s. I have a strange feeling that there are other children yet to be discovered. The will also allows for his mistress's mother to remain in Brandenburgh cottage in perpetuity and she can be found living there in the 1841 Census aged 80.

His eldest son, Charles Valentine went to India as part of the Bengal Civil Service in which he did very well for himself. He married a Margaret C Vardy and his children either followed him into the military or married into the military. I was surprised to find how profitable a career in the Indian Civil Service was compared with that of  William, who took over the auctioneering business, expecting it to have been the other way round: Charles left £60,000 when he died in 1866, which would have made him a millionaire several times over, compared with £10,000 left by William in the early 1880s. An interesting if slightly tenuous common artistic link between the two branches of the family comes in the shape of Sylvia Phillips, William Charles' niece who became quite a well known painter in Ireland during the 20th Century. One of William's friends - indeed it would appear that he was his closest friend - was William Harcourt Hooper, the engraver who worked alongside William Morris and Edward Burne Jones. They wrote a book together which first appeared in 1876 entitled A Manual of Marks on Pottery and Porcelain which is still used as a reference today. William obviously had a penchant for how things were created as well as selling them! The long-standing friendship between the two men again, had repercussions for the remaining family after Martha's death.