Tuesday 22 March 2022

Frances Chesterton (1869 – 1938) – British writer, poet, lyricist and playwright

Wife of G.K. Chesterton

Frances Blogg
Born Frances Alice Blogg on 28th June 1869, her parents were George William Blogg, a merchant, and his wife, Blanche, nee Keymer.  Frances was the eldest of their seven children, however I have only been able to find five of Frances’s siblings: 

George Alfred Knollys Blogg, b. 10 April 1871

Ethel Laura Blogg, b. 2 May 1872

Helen Colborne Blogg, b. 22 Nov 1873

Gertrude Colborne Blogg, b. 14 May 1875

Rachel Margaret Blogg, b. 1878, d. 1881 

Blanche Blogg had advanced ideas about education and politics and sent the children to one of the first kindergartens in London – the Ladies' School in Fitzroy Square, London - which was run by Rosalie and Minna Praetorius. Frances went on to Notting Hill High School before becoming a pupil/teacher at St. Stephen's College, an Anglican convent, for two years, graduating in 1891. She then became a tutor, and began teaching at the Sunday school in her local Anglican church in Bedford Park.  

Blanche set up a debating society and held meetings in the family home. That is how Frances met G.K. Chesterton. 

Frances Blogg and Gilbert Keith Chesterton were married on 28th June 1901 in St Mary Abbots, Kensington.  Frances was passionate about her husband’s writing, encouraged him and acted as his personal assistant. In 1909 the couple moved to Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, where they lived until they died. 

Every Christmas, Frances would write a poem for their Christmas card, one of which - "How far is it to Bethlehem?" - was later published as the hymn "Is It Far To Bethlehem?"

Gilbert Keith and Frances Chesterton

Gilbert died on 14th June 1936, and Frances on 12th December 1938.

The following poem written by Frances was published in “Lest we Forget:  A War Anthology” edited by H.B. Elliott (Jarrolds, London 1915)

“Le Jour des Morts” by Frances Chesterton  (Tr of title - The Day of the Dead)

The day of the dead, the day of the dead,

Down on your knees and pray,

For the souls of the living, the souls of the dying

The souls that have passed away.

And the great bell tolls

For the treasure of souls

Delivered into his hand,

Gabriel, Michael, Uriel reap

Souls as a measure of sand,

Souls from the restless deep,

Souls from the blood-red land.

The day of the dead, the day of the dead,

Down on your knees and pray,

For the souls of the outcast, despised and rejected

The heroes and victors today.

And the great bell rings,

And the great bell swings, 

As death makes up the number

Of men’s lives as grains of sand.

From the decks their bodies cumber,

From the panting, shivering land,

From crash and shriek to slumber.

The day of the dead, the day of the dead,

Up on your feet and stand 

For the souls of the living, the fighting, the striving,

For the gun and the sword in hand.

And His Transfiguration 

Descends on a nation

And death is a little thing,

And lives as a grain of sand.

Michael, Gabriel, Uriel bring 

From the desolate blood-red land,

From the tall ships foundering

The day of the dead, the day of the dead,

Down on your knees and pray,

For the souls of the living, the souls of the dying,

The souls that have passed away.

From “Lest we Forget:  A War Anthology”, edited by H.B. Elliott (Jarrolds, London 1915) pp. 25 and 26.  This is available to read as a free download on Archive:https://archive.org/details/lestweforget00chesuoft/page/n29/mode/2up

NOTE: The Day of the Dead is traditionally celebrated annually on 1st and 2nd November, although other days, such as 31st October or 6th November, may be included depending on the locality.

Friday 11 March 2022

Cicely Mary Hamilton (1872 – 1952) – poet, actress, writer, playwright, journalist, suffragist

Cicely by Lena Connell
Cicely Mary Hammill was born on 15th June 1872, in Paddington, London, UK.  Her parents were Maude Mary Florence Hammill, nee Piers, and Denzil Hammill, a British Army Officer.   Cicely had three younger siblings, a sister - Evelyn Maud, b. 1873 - and two brothers – John Eustace, b. 1875 and Charles Raymond, b. 1879.

Educated initially at a boarding school in Malvern, Worcestershire, a cousin of her father’s then paid for Cicely to continue her education at a school in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, Germany, where she learnt German.  

Cicely became a teacher and taught at a school in the West Midland.  She then joined a touring theatrical company as an actress, taking the stage/pen name "Cicely Hamilton" out of consideration for her family. 

In 1908, Cicely and fellow actress Bessie Hatton founded the Women Writers' Suffrage League, which attracted around 400 members.  Among the members were Ivy Compton-Burnett, Sarah Grand, Violet Hunt, Marie Belloc Lowndes, Alice Meynell, Olive Schreiner, Evelyn Sharp, May Sinclair and Margaret L. Woods.  

The League produced campaigning literature, written by May Sinclair amongst others, and also recruited many prominent male supporters.

"The March of the Women" – the Suffragette’s song - was composed by Ethel Smyth in 1910 with words written by Cicely. 

During the First World War, Cicely joined a unit of the Scottish Women's Hospitals and worked in France.  She went on to join the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) and after training took command of a postal unit in France.   

Due to her acting experience, Cicely also joined a troupe entertaining the troops. The Women Writers Suffrage League helped establish a library at Endell Street Military Hospital, and helped organise recreation at the hospital, which was run and staffed entirely by women.  

Cicely’s brother, Charles Raymond Hammill, who went to live in Australia, joined the Australian Army, AIF and was wounded in May 1917 at the Battle of Bullecourt.  After recovering, he served under Monash with the 4th Battalion of the AIF during the advance on Hargicourt and was killed on 18th September 1918 – his 39th birthday. 

After a career in journalism and writing playes, Cicely died in Chelsea, London, UK on 6th December 1952.

One of Cicely’s most famous plays is “Diana of Dobson’s” about women who worked in a department store. 

Cicely had a poem published in five WW1 anthologies, of which this is one:

From “Lest we forget: A War Anthology” compiled by H.B. Elliott (Jarrold, London, 1915) with a Foreword by Baroness Orczy pp. 117 - 118

NOTE:  Ethel Smyth composed the music for "The March  of the Women" in 1910, as a unison song with optional piano accompaniment, with words by Cicely Hamilton. Ethel based the melody on a traditional tune she had heard in Abruzzo, Italy and dedicated the song to the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). In January 1911, the WSPU's newspaper, “Votes for Women”, described the song as "at once a hymn and a call to battle". Ethel did not agree with the support Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel gave to the war effort in 1914, but nevertheless, she trained as a radiographer in Paris. 

Ethel Smyth by John Singer

"The March of the Women" was first performed on 21st January 1911, by the Suffrage Choir, at a ceremony held on Pall Mall in London, UK, to celebrate the release of some activists from prison. 

Emmeline Pankhurst introduced the song as the WSPU's official anthem, replacing "The Women's Marseillaise", a setting of words by WSPU activist Florence Macaulay to the tune of La Marseillaise.

In 1922, Ethel became the first female composer to be appointed D.B.E. for services to music, becoming known as Dame Ethel Smyth.



Catherine W. Reilly.-   “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 155 



“Lest we forget: A War Anthology” compiled by H.B. Elliott (Jarrold, London, 1915)