Tuesday, 29 January 2013


(This is part IV - go to the tab for the full article)



(Always Faithful)

Lilian Philpott - born into Victorian England as Sarah Frances Constance Lilian Baldock -  was to die alone in her apartment at Sloane Square, Chelsea on the 21st April, 1931; she was not quite 50 years of age. The desperate and tragic circumstances that seem to have overtaken her at the time of her committing suicide by the self-administration of coal-gas are still not clear to me in any detail, only a newspaper report to the effect that she is alleged to have written anonymous letters to some person or persons. On her behalf, her lawyer was to surmise that it was feasible to suggest that as a result of her identity being discovered and the likely consequence of her subsequently receiving an appearance in Court, she was to make the ultimate personal sacrifice rather than be subjected to any public scrutiny or personal humiliation. I do not believe that the reasons offered at the Coroner's Inquest for her drastic act of self-destruction were necessarily the sole reason for her actions. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I believe that there was a hint of despair now present in her life, as, after the death of her second husband Cecil Philpott in 1929, she would have been without immediate family of any sort; was the young aristocrat ever forgiven for her rebellious first marriage to the 'proletarian commoner' Cyril Bishop all those long years ago? More than likely, a solitary future - especially socially - would have beckoned and when she died exactly two years to the day after the death of her beloved Cecil, I believe that there was an inkling of purpose and pre-planning afoot. I have obtained a copy of Lilian's will which is evidence indeed of the legal-writers art, a wieldy manuscript document of some 25 clauses and 4 codicils. Within are further clues as to her state of mind. With Probate signed off on the 6th June 1931, the bottom-line figures were to read;

   Gross value of Estate ...........................  £245,006 13s 3d
   Net value of Personal Estate ................ £141,913 19s 9d

I hope to be able to explain and maybe expound upon, the contents of her Will in some detail later, but I make the point at this time that it was drawn up and finally signed within a couple of years of Cecil's sad demise, almost as if she was preparing the way ahead.

A Diversion - Jubilee 2012

Jubilee - 2012

On Sunday 3 June 2012, as part of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Anniversary Year, over 1,000 vessels participated in a flotilla on the River Thames from Battersea to Tower Bridge. It was one of the largest flotillas ever assembled on the river, with rowed boats, working boats and pleasure vessels of all shapes and sizes beautifully dressed and turned out in their finest rigs. We will always remember that the day was terribly marred by extremely wet and cold, windy weather, but spirits were to stay high as millions around the world watched on TV. Of particular interest to me was the discovery of the fact that one of the 1000 vessels heading east that day was amongst other celebrated survivors of the iconic rescue of British troops across the Channel from the Dunkirk beaches of France during World War II to the safety of British ports. This boat's name was 'STENOA', but in an earlier life and for about thirty years she had served her time as the official lifeboat for the Sussex port of Newhaven with the registered name of, 'The Cecil and Lilian Philpott'. Built and later launched on the 8th July 1931, it was a benevolent gesture of Lilians to provide that county with a new lifeboat as it appears that she had always retained a soft spot for the RNLI as a charity. The date of its launching suggests that it was her wish for it to serve as a tangible memorial to Cecil who had recently died.

But an engaging fact emerges from Lilian's Will, in that she was to be belatedly desirous that there would be a reciprocal and similar donation in respect of her first love, Cyril Bishop. This time it was to be for the benefit of the people of Hastings and would carry the appellation: "The Cyril and Lilian Bishop". Being the home County of her family seat. was probably as much a donation to the people of Sussex, a codicil to the Will states:

' I desire the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as a condition of the benefits due to them by my Will to name one of their new lifeboats to be completed and launched as soon as reasonably can be after my death 'The Cyril and Lilian Bishop'  Provided always in case during my lifetime a lifeboat shall be constructed and completed bearing the name of 'The Cyril and Lilian Bishop'  by arrangement between the Institution and myself  then this Codicil will be void. Dated the 31st day of December One thousand nine hundred and twenty nine.'

RNLI - 'The Cyril and Lilian Bishop' and crew at Hastings, Sussex.



In the preamble to the many bequests and specific instructions of Lilian Philpott's final wishes, laid out on the first page of the document at paragraph 3 is the following rather bizarre direction:

'Before the Undertakers carry out their last offices I direct that my body shall be examined by a medical man who shall sever an artery or arteries or perform some other surgical operation upon my body to make sure that life is finally extinct and incapable of returning  I direct that my body shall be cremated and that my ashes be placed in the bronze urn which I already have and deposited in my vault in Clive Churchyard near Shrewsbury  And I particularly desire that my two wedding rings  my signet ring and the tiny dark blue enamel ring with "Semper Fidelis" in gold on it may be cremated with me and buried with my ashes  It is my wish that my friends will not send any flowers for my funeral and that they will not wear any mourning for me.'

Whatever was in her mind to assert the precise insertion of such a specific direction, had she some previous experience of a dubious death? It is also interesting that Lilian's wished her remains to be laid to rest at All Saint's Church in Clive, Shropshire, which is well known today as the location of the Bibby family vault. The majority of the Baldock Family's remains now lie in a vault at Pound Green, Buxted, in Sussex. This arrangement was probably as a result of her grandfather's Will in 1875 and through her mother, Agnes Bibby. Whether Cecil joined lilian at Clive I am not sure.

Recorded in the ensuing pages of the Will are recorded numerous detailed bequests by which means she was to share her treasured possessions mainly with her friends and many of her loyal staff who seemed to have remained faithful over the years. Some of these people were to become suddenly very rich overnight, not to mention the many thousands of pounds bequeathed to the medical and legal people who had served her through her life. It is not practical at this place to give a verbatim account of the contents, though a newspaper report of the time covered much space in only dealing with the basic philanthropic gifts. It is worth noting that, unlike her grandfather's very significant Will of 1875, Lilian was to give the bulk of her wealth to charitable causes; of course, by now she had no family to pass it on to and there was of course, a lot of it.

Also pertinent is the fact that all of this was occurring at the beginning of a terrible era, not only in the United Kingdom but across the world, great poverty was building up which would only end with the onset of yet another World War.


On Friday, 12th June, 1931, amongst the several newspapers papers itching to inform their readers of these breathtaking bequests,‘The Manchester Guardian’ ran a long column.


Over £90,000 for Charities.

Mrs. Sarah Frances Constance Lilian Philpott, of 11, Burton Court, Lower Sloane Street, London, S.W., who died on April 21 last, aged 49 years, widow of Richard Cecil Philpott, left estate in her own disposition of the gross value of £245,000, with net personality £141,913.  She left :- 
  £20,000 to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
  £10,000 to the Middlesex Hospital for research work in the discretion of the governing body.
  £10,000 to St. Dunstan’s Hospital for Blinded Sailors and Soldiers.
  £5,000 to the Hospital for Diseases of the Throat, Nose and Ear, Golden Square, London, W.
  £5,000 for the National Hospital for Diseases of the Heart.
  £5,000 to the British Home and Hospital for Incurables, Streatham, London, S.W.
  £5,000 to the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs, Victoria Park, London E.
  £5,000 to the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, CIty Road, London, E.C.
  £5,000 to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton.
  £5,000 to the Sussex Maternity and Women’s Hospital, Brighton.
  £5,000 to the New Sussex Hospital for Women and Children, Brighton.
  £5,000 to St Mary’s Convalescant Home for Children, Broadstairs, Kent.
  £1000 to the Blue Cross Fund.
  £300 to the Blackheath and Carlton Hospital, London, S.E.
  £300 for the Workshops for the Blind of Kent, Greenwich, London, S.E.
  £100 to the Boy Scouts Association, for the benefit of the North London First Islington Troop.
  £6,500 to Leonard A Swindon, late Master of Boy Scouts of Clissold Park, London, N.
  £5,000 each to Dr. David Malcolmson Barcroft, of Sloane Street, London, S.W. And Hugh Nethersole Fletcher, surgeon of Hove.
  £5,600 (in addition to professional charges), to Philip Murray Gardner, of Bucklersbury, London E. C. of her firm of solicitors.
  £5,000 to Charles Gardner, solicitor at that firm.
  To her former governess, Miss Annie Eleanor Morris, the bulk of her pictures and plate and the income for life from a trust fund of £5,000, with remainder to her [governess’s] niece Molly Morris, of Park Hill, Shrewsbury.
  To her late husband’s “valued chauffeur and friend” Louis Kirkland, £500, her motor-cars and everything in connection therewith, and £500 to his daughter Margaret Kirkland, and £6,000 upon trust for him and his wife and issue.
  To her maid Annie Ellen Green, whether still in her srvice of not,£1,000, her furs and wearing apparel, ornamental china and glass, ivories and curios, and certain furniture.
  To P. Carr, hall porter at 11, Barton Court, Lower Sloane Street, a life annuity of £100, to be continued to his wife, if she should survive him.
  £1,000 to nurse Jeanie Stoddart, of Rostrevor, Co. Down, with which to buy herself an annuity.
As the death duties(in the form of estate and legacy duties) will amount to nearly £80,000, a residuary bequest to the Royal National Lifeboat Association will be a comparatively small sum as compared with the large bequests above.

In a nutshell and reduced to its basic content, this was the kernel of the will of Lilian Philpott, but there are detailed and somewhat delicious descriptions of some of the properties handed on, such as: ' ... all my furs and other wearing apparel and all my ornamental china and glass and all my ivories and curios and objets d'art including particularly the glass house full of Miss Beatrice Hindley's models of flowers etcetera but not including pictures or plate ....

A sample of Beatrice Hindley's flowers.

Beatrice Hindley's model flowers are a product of the 1920s and are said to have been avidly collected among others by members of the Royal Family. They are said to be exquisite and it goes without saying that to day they fetch large amounts of money - see this site .  Or what about;  ... the oil painted pictures of caravan subjects by Munnings now in my dining room ... and all the rest of my pictures and all my engravings  prints  and photographs and all my plate and plated articles including any deposited at the bank for safe custody as well as such as may be in my residence ...

(Courtesy of the Alfred Munnings Art Museum)


Sir Alfred Munnings is today famous for his depictions of horses and caravan related scenes, the one pictured here which might well have once belonged to Lilian, is currently worth around £300,000. Goodness knows now what Lillian and Cecil must have mustered together over the years of their marriage.

To Her Staff

To her loyal chauffeur: ' ... I bequeath all my motor cars with their fittings and accessories and also all lathes and other machinery and tools and fittings in and about any garage which I may own or occupy at the time of my death and all stores of petrol and oil and other chattels used or intended for use in connection with my motor cars  to my late husband's valued chauffeur and friend Louis Kirkland ...'  then to her mother-in-law; ' ... to my Husband's mother Mrs Maria Philpott my leasehold house  No 48 Bishopsthorpe Road  Sydenham ...  also an annuity of £564 per annum during her life to be payable quarterly in advance ... to all servants who shall be in my employ at the date of my death  five years wages at the rate then payable to them in addition to all wages due to them up to the date when they shall leave the service of myself ... etcetera and much, much more.

Somehow, I felt that something had been missed in this massive outpouring of public goodwill and apparently genuine love of her domestic staff, in that there was no reference to Sarah’s lifetime connection with the Bibbys or the Baldocks. I have discovered no obituary or other official notice of her demise within the ‘better’ publications of the day and have wondered whether her marriages to Cyril Bishop and Richard Philpott were really to uncouple her from her assumed connections to the incestuous world of English High Society. When her mother's young brother Frank Bibby - who next headed the great Bibby enterprise - died in 1923, his memorial service was widely reported in the national press together with the attendees  but there is no mention of Lilian or Cecil. Frank's name is now inscribed on a plate at the entrance to the family vault in Shropshire, along with those of some of her favourite aunties from her childhood days, in particular, that of her maiden aunt Sarah Bibby who attended at her wedding and chaperoned her trips to Europe many years earlier; but I cannot see Lilian's name.

Peripheral Afterthoughts ...

I produce below the following chart which is the basic descendant tree of the Baldock family as it would have related to Lillian Philpott at the time of her death. It is not exhaustive, or up to date and deals purely with the names only.

... and My Last Word.

As I come to the end of this intriguing but sad little tale of the love, wealth and early death of a young woman, I do admit to feeling just a little remorse for my re-discovery and re-telling of her story. It was not my initial intention, but the facts just unfolded before me. As the only precious child of the Baldocks and thus being a certain Heiress and in a time when social precision and ethics were paramount, the agonising days of her teenage years must have been devastating for them. The idea of a commoner daring to advance into the insulated world of the aristocracy is far from a novel concept and many examples have been played out over the years. The truth is of course, that little has really changed socially since Sarah Baldock was a child; it is just that the considerable number of such landed families, especially since the great watershed of the last World War, has diminished significantly. Today as I glance out of my window to the newly manicured grounds of that lovely old house, I can still imagine that determined little girl with whom I have now become so familiar, growing into womanhood there. Perhaps it is also for the best that I have yet to see a photograph or other likeness of her. May she rest in peace.

© John McQuaid - 2013

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