Mr R - actor, writer and playwright; Mrs R(1) - novelist; Mrs R (2) - actress.

A magazine spread advertising a film of 'The White Heather'
A magazine spread advertising a film of 'The White Heather',
originally a play written by Mr Rowlands/Raleigh and one of his
collaborators, Henry Hamilton.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons.


Abraham Cecil Francis Fothergill Rowlands, born c.1856 in Aberystruth Monmouthshire, adopted the name of Cecil Raleigh (unsurprising really, given the length of his birth name) so we shall call him Cecil throughout. His parents were John Fothergill Rowlands, sometime surgeon and owner of iron mines, and Cecilia Anne Riley (born 1813, nee Daniel - she was the widow of a Henry Riley); they married in 1852. In 1851 Cecilia was living in Hanwell, Middlesex, described as a landed proprietor, fundholder and annuitant.

The Rowlands family were tenants at Pitt Place, Epsom from 1867 until Mrs Rowlands surrendered the lease in 1881. Mr Rowlands was born in Nantyglo, in about 1823 and initially practised as a surgeon there. Cecilia was from Bristol and by the 1861 census her husband had become a proprietor of iron mines, living in Aberystruth, Monmouthshire; she had two daughters by her first marriage - Maria Cecilia (c.1837-1922, unmarried, described as an imbecile in one census) and Madeline (c.1838-1929, unmarried), both born in Bristol. There was also a son, Henry Whewell Daniel Riley, born 1840 Bristol: he became a career Army officer and died in 1917. Mr Rowlands died on 21 April 1878, after which Mrs Rowlands and her daughters moved to Bromley Hurst at 33 Church Street (demolished 1934). By 1891 they had relocated to Chiswick, where they all remained until their respective deaths. Cecilia died on 25 April 1911. Further information about John Fothergill Rowlands appears in the Pitt Place article.

Whatever career Mrs and Mrs Rowlands might have had in mind for Cecil, I doubt very much that it was the theatre, but after his father died in 1878 he became involved with the Royalty Theatre in Dean Street, Soho, performing in 'comediettas' and working as the General Business Manager for the manageress, Miss Kate Lawler. By 1882 he was trying to organise a school of acting.

On 19 December 1882 at Christ Church, Epsom he married Australian-born Effie Henderson and they went to live in central London. Fortunately I do not need to research the background of Miss Effie Adelaide Henderson and the very colourful life of her father, as someone has already done so, and without further ado I refer you to the Bear Alley blogspot. Steve, the blogger, speculates that the lady with whom Effie was living at 1 Hawthorn Place, Epsom at the time of her marriage might have been her mother (rather than her aunt, as the 1881 census says), but let's get on with the plot.

Life and career

On 12 March 1890, Cecil left Effie and did not return. Consequently, in 1892 she applied to the court for restitution of conjugal rights, putting into evidence a letter she had written to Cecil and his reply. It seems from Effie's letter that they had been struggling for some time but she hoped that, now he had become successful (more about that later), there could be a reconciliation and they would be happier. She also spoke of how she had been ill for the past year and was living alone in lodgings as a virtual invalid. Anyway, it was a very reasonable and affectionate letter, dated 30 November 1892. On 11 December Cecil replied as follows:- 'I have been too busy to answer your letter of Nov. 30th before. It will save correspondence however if I tell you at once that I absolutely refuse to consider the question of our living together again under any circumstances. It is my intention to leave this country shortly for America where most probably I shall make myself a home altogether. It is useless your calling here as I have given my servant orders not to admit you. Cecil Raleigh'. Naturally, we have no way of knowing what had gone on between them during the marriage (although one newspaper reported that in the early days she had been supporting him, since he earned no money), but the tone of Effie's letter did not seem to warrant such a curt response. The petition was granted and Cecil was ordered to return to her within fourteen days, which he didn't. In 1893 she was granted a decree nisi on the grounds of his adultery and desertion. We shall return to Effie soon but let's now catch up with Cecil's career.

Cecil wrote quite a number of melodramas, either alone or in collaboration with others; several of these were made into silent films. The image below depicts an American STAGE production of Sporting Life (written with Sir Seymour Hicks) and I know what you will ask as soon as you see it - how did they do that on a stage?

American poster for Sporting Life, c.1898,
American poster for Sporting Life, c.1898,
by Strobridge Lithographic Company, New York.
Image source: Library of Congress.

To answer our question, here is an extract from the Northampton Mercury of 4 March 1898, describing a production of the play at the Northampton Opera House.
'The enthusiastic approval with which the play was received by a large audience on Monday showed that the excellence of the production has by no means been exaggerated. It contains all the elements of a great play and one that is likely to live long in the affections of playgoers, especially those of a sporting turn of mind, for, as the title of the play indicates, it deals largely with sporting incidents and realistic representations of phases of London life, as well as several leading features of the world of sport. There are, for instance, representations of the training stables at Newmarket, the meet of the hounds, a boxing match at the National Sporting Club between two skilful exponents of the art of self-defence, scenes of Epsom racecourse among the crowd and in the paddock, and many other interesting views. The scenery is as elaborate and picturesque as any yet seen at our Opera House and the introduction of racehorses in the racecourse scene gives it a touch of realism that is highly effective. The drama has progressed since the days of Dion Boucicault and his contemporaries, who in depicting a horse race adopted the rudimentary expedient of jerking cardboard horses across the middle of the scene. Now, however, real racehorses are brought galloping by the winning post in full view of the audience.'
The Era of 23 October 1897 described the Epsom proceedings as follows.
'In the last act Epsom Downs both by day and night are graphically illustrated, the last scene revealing the Grand Stand, alive with humanity. My Lady Love wins the great race and the heroine is in due course reconciled to the man of her choice, after he has narrowly escaped being done to death on Epsom Downs, where he, bound and gagged, is imprisoned for some time in a gipsy van.'
And, in this next play, co-written with Henry Hamilton, they not only managed to stage a representation of Lord's Cricket Ground but also a fight in a hot-air balloon above Hampstead Heath.

American poster for The Great Ruby, c.1899
American poster for The Great Ruby, c.1899
by Strobridge Lithographic Company, New York.
Image source: Library of Congress.

And here is one more, featuring the Botanical Gardens of Regent's Park and a cast of more than 300.

American poster for Hearts are Trumps, c.1900
American poster for Hearts are Trumps, c.1900
by Strobridge Lithographic Company, New York.
Image source: Library of Congress.

Well, you get the gist. There was no pretence to great literature but you would have a thoroughly entertaining evening at one of Cecil Raleigh's plays and they were very successful. The newspapers record that he wrote all four acts of Hearts are Trumps with the same pen nib - he normally used four -, which his wife then had gilded and mounted in diamonds as a scarf pin for him (this sounds very tacky indeed but they were theatricals).

On 31 March 1894 Cecil had married actress Isabel Pauline Ellissen (born 1862 and known as Saba Raleigh after her marriage). Saba seems to have had a fairly good career on the stage and in a small handful of silent films, but in 1907 she went to court for restitution of conjugal rights - stop me if you've heard this one before. In December 1906 Cecil had left her and she wrote him a nice letter asking him to come back. His reply was slightly less curt on this occasion, but he was using the same template and said it would be an act of hypocrisy for him to live with her again, he would not reply to any further letters and he hoped she would not try to visit him or he would be obliged to order the servants not to admit her. Once again he was given fourteen days to return and didn't, so that Saba divorced him on the grounds of his adultery and desertion (some internet sources have claimed that she was still married to Cecil when he died, but the divorce was made final in 1907, although she continued to use the surname of Raleigh for professional purposes).

In the 1911 census Cecil had a boarder, 24 year old shorthand typist Ada Gow, and she was granted probate when he died on 10 November 1914. Saba died in 1923.


Newspaper photo of Effie in the Saint Paul Globe of 27 December 1903.
Newspaper photo of Effie in the Saint Paul Globe of 27 December 1903.
Image source: Library of Congress (Chronicling America).

We shall now return to Effie, having parked her in the Divorce Court back in 1893/4. She was already an author in the romantic genre and continued to write novels for the rest of her life under the names of Effie A Rowlands or Effie Adelaide Rowlands or Effie Maria Albanesi or any combination thereof (see the Bear Alley blogspot link mentioned earlier for pictures of some of her books); she was almost as prolific as Barbara Cartland. On your behalf I have read a few extracts from her novels, many of which were serialised in the American newspapers, my verdict being that they are what you would expect from an author who sometimes published over 20 titles a year (1911 for example). Here's a small sample of her prose from Capricious Caroline.
'Rupert Haverford sat down in the other seat and looked at her with the sincerest pleasure; she was so delightful to look at. The tone of her garb was a rich brown; she had on a long coat of some rough fur, but round her throat and shoulders she wore a stole of the softest sables; there was a small cap of sables on her brown hair, and she had tied the brown gauze veil she wore in a cunning bow under her chin. A knot of white flowers that Rupert Haverford had given her at luncheon was tucked in among the fur at her breast, and was the only break in the harmonious whole. She turned to him as she spoke lightly; she had a bird-like trick of moving her small head that was very characteristic and very pretty.'
The Albanesi name came from Effie's second husband, Italian violinist Carlo Maria Albanesi, who died in 1926. There were two daughters, Eva Olimpia Maria (1897) and Margherita Cecilia Brigida (1899), known as Meggie. Meggie took up a stage career and by all accounts was a rare and shining talent, but like many she indulged in a highly promiscuous lifestyle, which ended tragically when she was just 24 years old, allegedly from a bungled abortion. There are accounts of her short life and career at and

Meggie Albanesi, from The Ogden Standard, 25 January 1917.
Meggie Albanesi, from The Ogden Standard, 25 January 1917.
Image source: Library of Congress (Chronicling America).

Effie died in 1936 and was cremated at Golders Green. She might have been gratified to know that her Times obituary was longer than the one written for Cecil.

Linda Jackson © 2014

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