Woolf, ‘Sapper’, Edgar Wallace

Sometimes the census just tells you what you already knew. Here is the return submitted by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, from an address oddly transcribed as ‘Rodmell, Lewes, Southease & Rodmell, Sussex, England’:

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Living with the couple are Nellie and Lettie, brought to life so vividly in Alison Light’s book Mrs Woolf and the Servants.

It’s the presence of servants that makes 1921 households so different from modern ones. Even my maternal grandparents (He was a moderately successful tailor) had two live-in servants in their house on the Upper Richmond Road. And the number of servants was, I suppose, a good indicator of status. The eight crew members on Arnold Bennett’s yacht were a definite sign of his remarkable success and prosperity.

By this token, ‘Sapper’ (H.C. Mc Neile) was doing considerably better than the Woolfs. His Great War writings were still held in high regard, and in 1920 he had produced the phenomenal best-seller Bulldog Drummond. His census return (from Suncroft Sunninghill, Sunningdale, Berkshire, England) gives an indication of his prosperity:

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(Any idea who his visitors, the Baird-Douglases were? Any relation to Major and Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Baird-Douglas, who was killed in the Boer War?)

Some successful writers managed without live-in servants, though. Here is Edgar Wallace, the prolific and very successful thriller-writer, living with just his wife and daughter at 71 Clarence Gardens, Marylebone, St Marylebone, London & Middlesex, England.

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Perhaps they preferred to have help coming in from elsewhere, rather than having live-in servants. I could understand that. Or maybe it was a service apartment. Riffling through the census returns does bring out the nosey-parker in me…

3 Comments

  1. Jane Wickenden
    Posted February 9, 2022 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Sybil Baird-Douglas (1897-1967) crops up as a three-year-old staying in Margate in 1901 with siblings Kenneth (1896-1964) and Archibald (1894-1956) and mother Margaret, who was actually Lucy Margaret née Wilson (1863-1947), wife of Arthur Baird-Douglas.

    The connection is that Violet Mc Neile was, like Sybil, a daughter of Arthur and Lucy Margaret Baird-Douglas.

    • Posted February 9, 2022 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, as always, Jane. What would I do without you?

      • Jane Wickenden
        Posted February 11, 2022 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        You’d have to find another librarian with a passion for the Great War 🙂 .

        Technically I retired on December 31 but I can’t see myself abandoning puzzles like this. I might have to start charging you in chocolate …


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