The peer and the showgirl - ‘scandalous’ romance recalled a century on

0
Have your say

HE was the wealthy aristocrat and Coldstream Guard, she the chorus girl whose sister was married to a miner.

When the secret marriage of Rowland George Winn (the future 3rd Baron of St Oswald) and Evie Carew became public in 1915 it was sensationally splashed across newspapers at home and abroad.

His shocked parents only learned of the match months later when it was exposed in the Daily Mirror. Winn was forced to resign his Army commission.

Almost 100 years later the ‘scandal’ is being recalled at Nostell Priory, near Wakefield, the aristocratic estate-turned National Trust property which, like many others, was profoundly affected by the First World War.

A Heritage Lottery Fund project is helping to uncover how the war affected the family, their staff and the community.

Using archives, the project has uncovered a family rocked by scandal and debt.

Dr Sarah Burnage, who is leading the project, says that, as son and heir, a lot was expected of Rowland.

“There is a lot of expectation placed on Rowland George Winn which makes his marriage to a chorus girl seem all the more dramatic and sensational and problematic for the family.

“We have done a little bit of digging here and her real name is not Evie Carew, it was Nellie Greene. We found out that her father was a restaurant manager, her sister married a miner and her brother worked on the stage, which we think is her route into acting and working on the stage; she was from a very different social class to Rowland Winn.”

At the time, Evie was working as a chorus girl at Daly’s Theatre, taking part in productions such as Gypsy Love and the Marriage Market.

She had to work long hours, six days a week for low wages, although there was a glamorous side to the profession.

Their marriage had significant consequences, says Dr Burnage.

The Daily Mirror story about ‘the peer and the chorus girl’ broken on December 27

“It must have been devastating news and such a scandal. His marriage had quite significant consequences. The Coldstream Guards is associated with the Royal household and a rule had been brought in that actresses could not be presented at court, so when he marries Evie he’s not able to present his wife at official functions and he’s an officer in the Guards so he actually has to resign his commission and instead joins the Royal Flying Corps.”

Though a shock for his parents, it is believed that they were eventually won round and Evie did become Lady Winn when her husband inherited his title after the war.

The couple went on to have two children and the archives reveal that Lady Oswald - their grandmother - was happy to buy expensive coats for the children.

Letters from Rowland to his father reveal that the latter may have had his doubts at first.

“Rowland is writing lots of letters to his father persuading him of Evie’s better qualities. He describes her as ‘anything but the average chorus girl’ and says she is incredibly charming.

Despite that, it appears that Evie was not wholly accepted as her name is not listed among the guests at family functions.

However, a generation later the archives reveal that the actress-turned-Lady was immersed in the life of Nostell Priory and the community.

* The story will be on BBC Radio Leeds on Thursday June 5 at 8.15am.

Go to www.bbc.co.uk/ww1