The Strange Affair At Glyn House,
43 Burgh Heath Road
I was toiling through old newspaper reports of proceedings at Epsom Magistrates' Court, researching for a separate article, when I chanced upon an item, dated 1949, reporting that Henry Victor George Newell, a 25 year old haulage contractor of Southall, Middlesex, had been charged with receiving a motor-cycle at Epsom Station approach between 15 October 1947 and 8 February 1949. Apart from thinking that the evidence must be fairly vague if no one could narrow down the date better than that, I was not interested, but the second paragraph intrigued me: it said that Mr Newell was the widower of Phyllis Newell, whose inquest had been held a fortnight previously following her death at the house of Nusli Whaddia, a wealthy Indian.
If you have read the story of Phyllis Dixey
you will have heard of Mr Whaddia before as her 'Uncle Norman': their relationship is in itself an odd tale and there were previous odd tales.
I should mention that in official records and reports Mr Whaddia is sometimes called Wadia. I believe his proper name was Nusserwanji Pestonji Ardesir Whaddia. These considerable differences with names have hampered me in bridging some gaps in the story, and, for example, I cannot find a record of a marriage to Phyllis Dixey's aunt, but no matter.
Mr Whaddia was allegedly from a wealthy textile family in Bombay, born in about 1879. I have some doubts about this. Certainly there was and is a wealthy textile family of that name, but I can find no evidence that our man was part of the mainstream branch. Rather, I suspect that he was the son of a Bombay merchant called Mr P A Haramji. In around 1911 Mr Whaddia was a commercial traveller in textiles and I think it rather more likely that he then built up his own fortune. Anyway, suffice it to say that he does seem to have become wealthy in his own right.
Marriage to 'Poppy' Hammond
In August 1911 he married a woman called Eleonora Hammond: this was a disaster. After a trip to Bombay the couple arrived back in London on 19 February 1912 and Mr Whaddia left her at Victoria Station. She travelled to Bombay and made a court application for restitution of conjugal rights. The Indian Court decided that it did not have jurisdiction and dismissed the matter; he then divorced her in London in 1914 on the grounds of her adultery with a man named Mark Anton.
These bare facts mask a rather tawdry tale. Eleonora Hammond was in fact Eleanor Mary Hammond, born in Fulham in 1886. In 1911 she was living in Fulham with her widowed mother and one of her two brothers, the latter being a gas fitter. At that point she had no listed occupation, but it seems that she was actually a 'Gaiety Girl' in the London theatre. According to Wikipedia the Gaiety Theatre was a place that attracted 'Stage Door Johnnies', well-heeled and otherwise.
Apparently Eleonora was known as 'Poppy' and met Mr Whaddia in London. She claimed that he represented himself as a wealthy Bombay Parsi of independent means, which he later denied. After the marriage he had taken her to India and it seems that his family disapproved, which she alleged was one of the reasons for the desertion. However, Mr Whaddia said that she had an uncontrollable temper, used foul language and behaved in an insulting manner; she threw crockery, racially abused him and insulted his family. He alleged that she had been in a private mental asylum, received cheques from other men in the name of Eleonora Stanley, had lived with a man named Gosschalk, had had an abortion and was incontinent.1
Marriage to Lucy Strange
Mr Whaddia obviously had a penchant for women in showbusiness and in 1928 in Brighton he married a woman variously surnamed Cohen/Strange-Weintraub, which is somewhat suggestive of a chequered past. She was actually Lucy Gertrude Strange, born 1901 Paddington, daughter of farrier William John Strange and his wife Ada Eliza (nee Hawkins). I have no idea where the Cohen and Weintraub came from, but in various newspaper reports after her marriage Lucy (often known as Gertrude) was described as a film actress. She had more publicity as Mrs Whaddia than as an actress and the headlines began in 1929, when the couple were living at Gloucester Square, Paddington.
In July 1929 Lucy Gertrude appeared in court on a charge of assaulting her cook, Elsie Stonall. Mrs Stonall had had what she described as 'a little accident with a saucepan' (she had burned the dinner) and Lucy Gertrude had remonstrated with her, allegedly hitting her with a book. The latter denied the charge and said that she had been irritated by the attitude of Mrs Stonall who, after burning two saucepans, had gone out and not returned until midnight'; she had then come across the woman reading 'David Copperfield' in the kitchen. The summons was dismissed.
Further staff problems arose when the Whaddias engaged an Austrian maid called Rosa Lins. The girl had been working for only two days when there was a robbery, with money and jewellery stolen to the value of £2,500. The thief was an artist called Frank Senger, who was Rosa's boyfriend, and he had apparently got the keys from her and looted the premises. The couple subsequently married and were arrested whilst on honeymoon in Blackpool. Rosa was acquitted, since the court felt that she had been coerced by Senger, but he was sentenced to six months' hard labour, plus a fine. There was a sequel to this when Lucy Gertrude took out a summons against the police for the sum of £72.50, which had been found on Senger and was said to be Rosa's marriage dowry. Eventually Lucy Gertrude agreed to take £42.50.
In 1937 the Whaddias legally separated and this looks to be when Nusli took Glyn House at 43 Burgh Heath Road, Epsom. We will leave him there for the moment, as we have not yet finished with Lucy Gertrude who, it seems, became strapped for cash.
43 Burgh Heath Road
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
In 1939 there was another robbery and three men were charged with entering her bedroom (she was in it at the time) to steal jewellery. She claimed that the loot was worth £10,000; the defence alleged that she had faked the crime and was perpetrating an insurance fraud. Subsequently, the value of the jewellery came down to about £1,400. The main perpetrator of the raid said that he accepted she had not arranged the robbery herself and all three men were imprisoned.
We have still not finished with her. In 1941 she was made bankrupt on the petition of a dressmaking firm. She said that when they were together she and her husband had lived at the rate of £30,000-£40,000 a year. After the separation Mr Whaddia originally allowed her £1,000 a year, which was later reduced to £684; she had also been promised a lump sum of £50,000 which never materialised. At some stage she sold furniture which she had not yet paid for and then accounted for the proceeds by saying she had lost it at a chemin de fer party. Bow Street Magistrates jailed her for bankruptcy offences.
Make of it what you will. We do not hear of Lucy Gertrude again until her death in Westminster district in 1978, by which time she had acquired the title of 'Lady'. There are some documents in the National Archives, originally from the India Office, concerning her use of the title and I believe it may have emanated from the system of honorary knighthoods in the Indian States. In any event, Mr Whaddia did not use a title.
You may wonder why Mr and Mrs Whaddia apparently remained married for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately I have no answer to that, but it does seem quite odd.
We shall now have a complete change of personnel and venue.
Elsie Phyllis May Britton
Elsie Phyllis May Britton c1939
Elsie, who used the forename of Phyllis, was born in 1920 and came from Blaina in Monmouthshire. Somehow she gravitated to Epsom and was taken on as a parlourmaid at Glyn House, by now the country home of Mr Whaddia. The job lasted until August 1937, at which point she stopped being the parlourmaid and became Mr Whaddia's 'guest' with a maid of her own. At some time she became engaged to Alexander Powell, a young miner in her home town.
This already seems rather bizarre and it becomes much more so. Apparently Miss Britton, who also used the surname of Wilson, went home to Blaina at Christmas 1938. She was due to marry Mr Powell at Tredegar Register Office in the following January. Miss Britton, still aged only 18, did not turn up for the wedding and did a bunk back to Epsom in the company of her 15 year old maid, Olga Bailey. Mr Powell then said that he had been offered £10,000 to break off the engagement, had actually received the cheque but had destroyed it. The implication is that the money had emanated from Mr Whaddia, who was attempting to keep Miss Britton at his house. On hearing of the situation with the aborted marriage Mr Whaddia returned to England from overseas to sort things out and it seems that he did, temporarily. In February 1939 Miss Britton gave her version of the story to The Daily Express, making it sound as if Mr Whaddia had merely offered her interim shelter when she told him she had cold feet about marrying Mr Powell (who, upon being jilted, joined the Army). During the press interview she said that Mr Whaddia was the most wonderful man she had ever known.
Alexander Powell and Olga Bailey
On 23 September 1939 Miss Britton gave birth to a son called Ardesir Whaddia. On 20 November 1939 she changed her name by deed poll to Phyllis May Whaddia. Another child, Norman Nusli Whaddia, was born in early 1944.
The situation now becomes even odder. In 1943 Henry Victor George Newell, the man who started off this story, who was then a soldier, was billeted at Glyn House. One day Mr Whaddia heard him talking to Phyllis in endearing terms, reported him to his Commanding Officer and Newell was posted overseas. Then, in April 1944 in Uxbridge district, Middlesex Phyllis married Newell, although it was said afterwards that she was not sure she was doing the right thing. Presumably Mr Whaddia was abroad at the time - in any event he claimed later that he had not known about the marriage until after Phyllis's death. At some point just before or after the marriage Phyllis brought Newell to the house: he was using the name of Michael Drayton and Mr Whaddia did not recognise him from the previous year. Newell/Drayton was given a job at Glyn House and from then on Phyllis treated him as a servant, in public at least.
Henry Victor George Newell
Britton and Newell
Phyllis Britton with her children
Mr Whaddia also knew a woman called Mrs Neal or Neil and in August 1948 decided that it would be good for Phyllis's health if she went to see her sister in the United States, accompanied by Mrs Neal/Neil as nurse/companion. Mrs Neal/Neil was in fact Newell's mother. Newell said that he was also going to America and suggested he should travel with them but Mr Whaddia obviously did not think much of the idea and asked Newell to ascertain the cost of just two tickets, which the latter then priced at £350: this was actually the price of three tickets. In the event Mrs Neal/Neil/Newell did not go on the trip, but Phyllis and her husband did, he being detained on arrival for immigration irregularities (and later prosecuted for fraudulent conversion of the cheque).
Mr Whaddia said at the inquest that Phyllis had become a drinker and spent time in a nursing home. She had checked into the home periodically thereafter and he now knew that she had been in Southall with Newell. On the morning of 12 January 1949 Mr Whaddia took a cup of tea to Phyllis (she was sleeping with her sister, who had accompanied her home from America) and found her dead in bed. It was eventually determined that she had died of acute heart failure - natural causes. She was just 28 years old. Newell was not released from detention in America until after the event.
As mentioned in the article on Phyllis Dixey, she later went to live at Mr Whaddia's house. He died in 1971 in Sutton district, with a stated age of 92, the death being recorded with the forename of Nicoli.
1. The case was known as Wadia v Wadia and was important in the field of jurisdiction: the source of information about this case is a paper called 'The Marital Patchwork of Colonial South Asia: Forum Shopping from Britain to Baroda', written by Mitra Sharafi
Since writing the above I have received further information about some of the characters.
Phyllis Britton's maid, young Olga Bailey, gave an interview to a local newspaper in Wales, having been fetched back from Epsom by her mother. Olga was evidently very loyal to Phyllis and reluctant to leave her. She spoke of how Phyllis had been torn between marrying Alexander Powell and returning to Mr Whaddia, saying that they had stood on Newport station, waiting for a train to Epsom, and Phyllis had tossed a penny many times: if it came down heads she would go to Epsom, but if it was tails then she would return to Alec. Apparently Phyllis believed that Mr Whaddia was dying but said that she would always love Alec. The coin came down heads several times, and then tails, but she was still undecided. Her mind was eventually made up by the fact that the Epsom train arrived and there was no further train back to Blaina that night.
As mentioned, Alec Powell joined the Army (the South Wales Borderers): this was in January 1939, within a few days of being jilted by Phyllis. His battalion was sent to the north of Norway in April 1940, after the Germans had invaded Norway and Denmark, but at the end of May they were posted to Northern Ireland. Unfortunately Alec, by now a Corporal, died of tuberculosis on 31 August 1943 in a hospital near Newport.
Alec had a younger brother, George, who joined the South Wales Borderers in April 1939, but he was in a different battalion. George was posted to India and then Iraq. In June 1942 his battalion was sent to Tobruk, Libya to reinforce the garrison. He was one of 33,000 soldiers taken prisoner by Rommel's troops and was a prisoner of war in Austria for the duration of hostilities.
George arrived home on 22 May 1945 and married Olga Bailey at Cardiff Register Office on 16 June. Terry ap Hywel, who kindly provided the information and photos for this postscript, is their son. George died in 1980 and Olga in 1997.
George and Olga on their wedding day
Image courtesy of Terry ap Hywel
Left: Photo of Phyllis Britton, which she sent to Olga.
Right: Note written by Phyllis on back of photo.
Images courtesy of Terry ap Hywel
Thanks to a reader, it is now possible to shed light on Whaddia's relationship with Phyllis Dixey's aunt. All images below are the copyright of that reader.
The aunt in question was Ellen Frances Horsecroft (sometimes Haycroft and known as Eileen), sister of Phyllis Dixey's mother, Phyllis Selena, who was known as Lena. Ellen had two children, namely Robert Lloyd George Dewey and Norman Walter Dewey, born 1912 and 1915 respectively. It is not known who their father was or how they came by the surname of Dewey.
Whaddia and a lady believed to be Eileen, centre.
At some point between the birth of Norman and 1918 Eileen began a relationship with Whaddia (he had been divorced from his first wife, Poppy Hammond, in 1914 and there is no evidence that he ever married Eileen) and she and her sons moved in with him; they lived for at least part of the time at Brentwood, Essex. Whaddia acted as a father towards the boys and paid for their grammar school education etc.
Robert Dewey left and Norman Dewey right, 1923/4.
What is clear from correspondence I have seen is that Whaddia spent a lot of time away from home on business, principally in India, with Eileen being left to run the household, although she did have a domestic help and a gardener. I imagine that the long absences contributed to the breakdown of the relationship and by 1926 Eileen had been asked to leave the Brentwood house (called Paglesham), as the following letter shows.
c/o 49 Idlecombe Road
In reply to your letter of recent date I may state that I am prepared to quit Mr Whaddia's premises at Paglesham which he made me a home for nearly three years and promised it to be mine for always, also I have been introduced everywhere as Mrs Whaddia by Mr Whaddia and it makes it difficult for me on account of giving references to get a suitable place. I have great difficulty in finding accommodation by the 10th of this month with my two sons, also I have not yet been informed exactly what furniture I am to be allowed to take. I understand that Mr Whaddia is making a list of what I may have and what he wants and then I can act accordingly. If you care to have an interview with me I should be very pleased.
We do not actually know if this is a copy of a letter that was sent or if it was not sent at all but in any event the situation seems clear. Similarly, we also have an undated letter (either a copy or unsent) from Eileen's sister, Lena (mother of Phyllis Dixey), indicating ill feeling between Lena and Whaddia.
In reply to your letter of the 10th advising me to be on my guard, I may say that I have nothing to guard myself against as far as I know.
Eileen was advised to ring you up by Mr Wilson and as she is deaf and ill she asked me to do this for her.
I asked for you and a stranger told me to mind my own business, which was uncalled for, to say the least of it.
The deliberate aggression came from your end of the phone not mine as I have a witness.
I am naturally as you state anxious to help Eileen and seeing that she is my sister I can hardly view myself as an outsider.
As regards pluck?? You seem to be sadly lacking in this most estimable quality.
I am not dying to hear your voice and as regards opinions, if anything to my detriment it will be more profitable to you to keep same to yourself.
I am Yours Faithfully
(Mrs) Lena Dixey
PS. Why bother Scotland Yard, why not write to the King.
We have no evidence of what, if any, contact there was between Eileen herself and Whaddia after 1926 and, as mentioned in the main article, he married someone else in 1928. In 1934 Eileen married Thomas Quick, who predeceased her - she died in Bristol in 1956.
However, as we know, Phyllis Dixey remained close to Whaddia and went to live with him for the last few years of her life. We also have various items showing that he corresponded with Norman Dewey in the 1950s and 1960s. And, indeed, Whaddia's son, Norman, by Phyllis Britton, was godfather to a Dewey baby in 1965.
Norman Whaddia in 1965 on the right.
Whaddia must have had a very soft spot for Norman Dewey, since very shortly before his death he wrote a letter bequeathing a ring to him and referred to him as his 'eldest son' (see below).
Letter of Whaddia bequeathing ring to Norman Dewey.