Daisy Greville, The Countess of Warwick
By Sylvia Alving
In her Autobiography published in 1929, Life's Ebb and Flow by Frances Evelyn Greville, Countess of Warwick. (Daisy to her family and friends) there is a small photograph of her with bicycle. She is fashionably dressed and wearing a large hat.
Intrigued, I got in touch with Cycling World, hoping to discover that, in their Archives, there might be a bigger and better photograph of the lady in cycling attire. But imagine my disappointment, when the photograph that arrived was of the Countess, with fan, seated and somewhat languid- looking. I did. however, discover that Harry Dacre's 1892 hit song. Daisy Bell, was indeed inspired by her legendary beauty.
Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do,
I'm half crazy all for the love of you,
It won't be a stylish marriage -
I can't afford a carriage
But you'd look sweet on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.
The reason for my curiosity about Lady Warwick (1861-1938) and the Socialist politics to which she
devoted much time and energy from the 1890s until her death in 1938, was because I had been asked to
write a book about her politics by the owner of the remnant of her Essex estate the Gardens of Hasten
Lodge. I then discovered that I would have to explain her journey from having been the richest heiress in England, lover of Bertie, Prince of Wales throughout the naughty nineties, to being the People's friend while remaining a monarchist.
Very much a maverick figure: class traitor to the aristocracy, class enemy to the proletariat, she began her married life in 1881 as a Lady Bountiful, stood as Labour candidate against Major Anthony Eden in 1923 , and finally was a supporter of Sylvia Pankhurst's anti-fascist struggle in 1937, appealing in a letter to the latter's newspaper. New Times and Ethiopia News, for donations towards an anti-aerial bombing monument in Woodford Green in Essex and appealing for an end to aerial warfare, which is where I first came across her name.
Lady Warwick credits her conversion from land-owning Tory to Socialist, becoming a platform speaker initially for the Social Democratic Federation, and later for the Labour party, to the editor of The Clarion, Robert Blatchford, On the front page of the Clarion of 16th February, 1895, he had printed an article criticising the extravagance of the great costume ball held in Warwick Castle to celebrate her husband's inheriting the title of Earl on his father's death, and she becoming the next chatelaine in line. Through gritted teeth, Blatchford named it a 'costly masquerade' an example of the aristocracy's conspicuous consumption: 'lavish luxury on lavish luxury, heap on heap, glitter on glitter, in a vulgar saturnalia of gaudy pride.' This obscenity he contrasted with 'other men, and women, and children the while huddling in their ragged hovels, their meagre shrunken flesh pierced by the winter's cruel sting; without food, without clothes, without fire, shuddering, shivering, suffering till dawn; and then again from dawn till night, from day to day, from week to week - their souls crashed between ever-grinding millstones'!
And he ended with the unkindest cut of all: 'I can frame no angry taunts upon this one; upon my life I deeply pity the poor, rich Countess of Warwick.'
So shocked was she at being represented in this manner that the Countess travelled at all possible speed to London and the Fleet Street offices of the Clarion, appearing in Blatchford's little room in a great rage, demanding an instant apology. None was forth-coming, however, instead she was given a lecture on the meaning of her (and his) particular brand of economics. Thus chastened, this was followed by her return to Warwick Castle and its many guests, where she compiled a reading list, arranged for a university professor to come and answer the many questions that were crowding into her mind. As she put it, ever after 'I joined the Union of Love in the service of those who suffer.'
Robert Blatchford's argument had a lasting impact on her, and she joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1904. She donated large amounts of money to the organisation and in particular supported its campaign for free meals for schoolchildren. As a patron of several parishes, she appointed socialist clergy such as Conrad Noel to their livings. She opposed World War I and supported the Soviet Revolution of 1917. After the war, she joined the Labour Party and her home was used for important meetings
The Countess of Warwick recalled
"There had been a grand ball at the Castle. Of course the ball was a great success, and the newspapers applauded with great enthusiasm, all except one obscure sheet, the Clarion. This paper only reached my attention on the second morning after the ball; and my attention was called to its special article about the ball by an ominous black line. I read with indignation and amazement a violent attack on myself for holding idle junketing in a time of general misery. This "impertinent rag" said scathingly that ours was a sham benevolence, a frivolous ignoring of real social conditions. I was so angry that the memory of that anger is vivid today. I said to myself that the write of this article was some crabbed, envious being, who grudged the chance of work to the poor people who had their share of the money spent on the festivities; someone who hated luxury because it was out of reach.
"In my bitter indignation, I forgot all about my duty to guests who still lingered. I got up at once, told my maid that I was going to London by the earliest train, and leaving the Castle without a word of explanation to anyone. I was in Fleet street by midday searching for the editorial office of the Clarion. I found this office at the top of a staircase in one of the older buildings in the street, with the editor's mane, Robert Blatchford, on the door.
I entered unannounced, and there at the writing-desk sat the man who dared to attack us for indulging in legitimate amusement that had at the time given honest work to so many unemployed. His coldly gazing eyes showed no surprise at the unexpected and abrupt vision in his dingy office of a young women dressed in the height of fashion. He made no movement of welcome. I remembered thinking that the garment he wore, which was some thing between a dressing gown and a lounge coat, was most undignified.
"Are you the editor of the Clarion" I demanded. He merely nodded. "I came about this", I went on., thrusting the marked page under his eyes. He made no reply, but his preoccupied eye seemed to hold a question and he waited for me to go on. "How could you be so unfair, so unjust" I asked. "Our ball has given work to half the county, and to dozens of dressmakers in London besides."
"Will you sit down" he replied, "while I explain to you how mistaken you are about real effect of luxury?"
"And then Robert Blatchford told me, as a socialist and a democrat, what he thought of charity bazaars and ladies bountiful. He made plain to me the differences between productive and unproductive labour. He said that labour used to produce finery was as much wasted as if it were used to dig holes in the ground and fill them up again.
"By this new standard I found that nine tenths of the money spent on the Warwick Ball had been wasted. Such elementary economics as that the only useful labour was labour that produced useful articles, which in turn helped labour to produce again, was all new to me
"My old ideas and ideals were brought to aought, and it was late in the afternoon before this plain man with the big ideas had ceased speaking"
"I was somewhat dazed when at last I left Fleet Street and got to the railway station, where I sat waiting for the train to take me back to Warwick. During the journey home I thought and thought about all that I had been hearing and learning. i knew my outlook on life could never be the same as before the incident"
"It was Robert Blatchford's honest talk on the memorable day that gave me vision of how it would be possible to change and modify the unjust conditions of our modern life".
The Countess of Warwick "I went to Paddington station (after their meeting) and sat on the platform for two hours thinking, I was not used to being talked to like that".
Blatchfords "most undignified" garment was according to Blatchford "a pilot jacket of the best Russian cloth, very warm and soft and comfortable, and I was really rather proud of it"