Readers of my most recent post will recall Lottie Chettle, who worked in Louisa Gross’s barber’s shop in Chancery Lane in the late Victorian era. She was born Charlotte Chettle in Huntingdonshire in 1873, but later lived in Swansea, and when she turned nineteen she came up to London, where she became entangled with a young man by the name of Arthur Wicks. What follows is the full and remarkable story.
UP TO LONDON
Arthur first saw Lottie when he walked into Mrs Gross’s establishment on a mild and showery Saturday in the spring of 1893. He was twenty-two years old, with blue eyes and brown hair, and he introduced himself as a barrister. On the following Tuesday he took Lottie to a show at Tivoli’s and supper at Gatti’s. Thereafter he dropped in on her frequently, paying her employer five shillings an hour to let her leave work early. He took her to Hyde Park and to the Crystal Palace, and it was there in Sydenham, one Thursday in June, that he asked her to marry him. Fireworks were fizzing and sputtering, and the trees were tipped with silver in the light of the moon, as Romeo might have said. Lottie could be forgiven for taking young Arthur’s words straight into the depths of her soul.
In fact she demurred. With downcast eyes she confessed her strong attachment, but also a sense that she was not good enough for him. Gallantly Arthur brushed the objection aside. He had a wealthy father—or so he said—and an income of £900 a year. He did not care if she had money or not. And he won her over. After a trifling disagreement over the best date for a wedding—he being in more of a rush than she—they decided to tie the knot on the 2nd of August.
AFTER THE FIREWORKS
Matters went smoothly enough. After their evenings out Arthur would get Lottie back to her lodgings in Maida Vale in time to meet the eleven o’clock curfew imposed by her landlady. He wrote ghastly romantic poetry, and bought a diamond and ruby engagement ring. As became him as the dominant party, he dictated terms, insisting that she ditch the fawn-coloured dress she had already bought in favour of crushed strawberry silk, and bringing forward the day of the wedding even earlier to the 17th of July. He organised a trip up the river, which meant that he could now nag Lottie about two outfits—the wedding dress and what he called her “river rig”—and he arranged to have photographs of him as a little boy printed by the London Stereoscopic Company.
For her part Lottie wrote to her family in Wales, and two days before the wedding her father and mother, Robert and Charlotte, arrived in London with the oldest of her three sisters, Mary Ann. Not unnaturally Arthur came to meet Lottie’s family. And then, having spun a line or two about the life of a young barrister, he did something very odd indeed. Leaving a letter with Mary Ann, he arranged to meet Lottie later that day at Holborn Viaduct Station, where, struggling to make himself heard above the clatter of wheels and the shrieking of steam-whistles, he told her that he was not well, and that he was off to Margate. Relaxing in the bracing south coast air would do him the world of good.
On Sunday he informed her in a letter sent from the Hotel Metropole in Margate that he was a little better, but on Monday, which was the day of the wedding, he warned her by a telegram sent from London that he was very ill again, and that the wedding was off. Twenty-four hours passed, and Lottie heard not a word. She was worried, and so on Wednesday, having shaved her last customer, she travelled up to the address given in the telegram—Worsley Road in Hampstead—to look for the ailing Arthur.
Alighting from the train she walked the short distance from the station to Worsley Road. Ahead of her lay the heath, and, as the late afternoon began to fade into early evening, she must have found that her hopes of married happiness, of an eternity of silver-tipped trees and rowing trips up the river, were beginning to disappear along with the light. When she reached her destination, a lodging house called Maurice Villa, she asked the landlady, Charlotte Neish, if she knew Arthur. She did, and was angry that he had given Lottie her address. She also had news for Lottie, news that made Lottie go quite literally weak at the knees. Arthur was already married. He also had three children, and had left Maurice Villa with his family five months ago. And Mrs Neish was able to tell Lottie that the Wickses had been down by the sea at Margate.
Returning to her lodgings in Maida Vale, Lottie locked the door. She tore the engagement ring off her finger, and flung it down on the mantelpiece. Everything was horribly clear. She recalled hearing Arthur talking about a woman in Margate, whom she had assumed was a relative. She recalled Arthur promising to take her—his wife—to America. She recalled the dud cheque he had cashed one day at Mrs Gross’s. She stayed in her room for hours, feeling utterly miserable.
When eventually Arthur turned up in Maida Vale, she pushed him away, saying a married man had no right to kiss her. He then told her a remarkable story, the gist of which was that he had married a woman in South Africa two years previously, and that he had had a child by her. Her name was Selina Darton, née Selina McLoughlin, and he had met her in New Zealand. Now, she had married a Frederick James Darton who had left her to look for work, and, having reason to believe that he had subsequently died, she had told Arthur that she was a widow. But she was wrong, and her husband had been alive all the time. And this meant that Arthur was not truly married to Selina, and that when he had promised to marry Lottie he had done so in good faith. He added that Lottie would break his heart if she left him now.
Having listened to this extraordinary narrative, Lottie demanded proof, and together they went up to Hampstead. Arthur was now living just behind Worsley Road in a smartly furnished residence called Transvaal House on Downshire Hill. There he showed Lottie a photograph of Selina with what he claimed was her husband’s name written on it. When on the next day Arthur demonstrated with the help of documents that he was single, Lottie accepted his story, and agreed to a new date for the wedding in the first week of August. In the days before the rescheduled wedding the couple went to a show at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square and supper at the Holborn Restaurant, and Arthur produced a draft marriage settlement under which Lottie would benefit to the tune of sixteen thousand pounds. They went back to Transvaal House, where Lottie, plied with drink, stayed the night.
If in spite of Mrs Neish’s alarming news Lottie saw herself as caught up in some sort of whirlwind romance with the eligible young bachelor, then Arthur certainly fed the fantasy. Coaxing her to quit her job, he whisked her off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight for two or three days, where they styled themselves “Mr and Mrs Wicks” in anticipation of their nuptials. And yet the sea breezes cooled their ardour, and on their return Lottie went off to stay with her uncle and aunt, Isaac and Harriet Copson, in Atherstone in Warwickshire. In due course Arthur was invited to join her, and he so charmed the company—he took a lawyer’s wig and gown as well as a wedding ring—that he was able to put off the wedding nemine contradicente to the 19th of August. On the 21st of August, with the wedding still not having taken place, Arthur told Lottie that nothing would happen until he had put his house in order, which in practice meant that Lottie had to go with him to Hampstead to give back to their rightful owner the tokens of affection he had filched from Selina’s jewel case. While all this was going on, and as if by chance, a friend of Arthur’s marched into Transvaal House, saw how things stood, and roundly declared that Lottie must return to her proper station in life, as Arthur was not a free man. Naturally it was a put-up job.
Lottie now wrote to Arthur to advise him that the price of her silence was payment of all the expenses—beginning with her trousseau—and loss of earnings she had incurred. Arthur first prevaricated, and then, when Lottie issued a writ though a solicitor—a Chancery Lane customer?—he tricked her into meeting him in Hampstead for the grand finale. With Mrs Neish the middleman, the setting was Maurice Villa. Arthur flung himself on his knees, crawled around the floor, and tearfully begged Lottie not to press her action. Dear, sweet Lottie did indeed hold fire. But her uncle, who had a harder heart, told her not to be a fool. If Arthur had been able to afford boxes at the theatre, and rings on his fingers and on hers, then the way to hurt him was through his pocket.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
Lottie’s action against Wicks, who has now forfeited the right to be called Arthur, came to trial at the Royal Courts of Justice as a case of damages to be recovered for breach of promise on Friday the 2nd of March in the following year, namely 1894. Naturally Arthur’s defence team put Lottie’s character in the dock, bringing up the matter of previous male acquaintances, and suggesting that she was not completely innocent of the ways of the world. In his summing up the judge saw the essential question as whether she chose to be a mistress and not a fiancée.
However, the jury needed only half an hour to decided in favour of the plaintiff, and Lottie came away with three hundred pounds of damages. Whether she felt that her reputation had been dented is hard to say. Professionally, though, she came out of it well, and before long she was the owner of the business in Chancery Lane, which she ran until her death in the summer of 1929. By then she was referring to herself as Mrs Charlotte Dalley, and the story of that liaison is itself quite curious.
The man in question, Alfred John Dalley, had married a Marion Maud Matthews in 1877, but eight years later she died. Alfred, who for some reason had started calling himself Douglas, embarked on two further relationships, with a Helen Meyers in 1885, and with Lottie Chettle in 1897. He was already in his forties when Lottie was still in her twenties, and the arrangement was mysterious, to say the least. They had been “married” for fourteen years at the time of the 1911 census, but there is no unambiguous evidence that they had joined forces legally.
Not that there is reason to suppose that Lottie and Douglas were anything other than happy. They had two daughters, Violet and Winifred, born in 1898 and 1903 respectively, and at the time of Winifred’s birth they were living in Ilford in Essex. Douglas described himself as an accountant—he had started out as a butcher—and he and Lottie earned enough to keep a servant. Lottie would have travelled up to Liverpool Street on the train, and one may well wonder if in the course of her journey she ever thought about Arthur Wicks. Certainly, if she had had even an inkling of what now follows, she would have said that hers had been a very narrow escape.
THE OTHER ARTHUR WICKS
Three weeks after the trial for breach of promise Wicks was in court again. The story of his second brush with the law goes like this. No sooner had he moved into Worsley Road with Selena than it emerged that Darton, her first husband, had recently died. Without delay they married again—this time legitimately, as Selina was truly a widow—at St Stephen’s Church on nearby Rosslyn Hill. Before long they had moved from Maurice Villa to Transvaal House. But Wicks was in debt—he was earning only a miserable salary as a clerk—and he borrowed a hundred and fifty pounds from a money-lender by the name of Charles Hunter Wheatley. He secured the loan against the furnishings in Transvaal House, which he assured Wheatley were his, even though they belonged to Selina. However, his plan to defraud Wheatley caught up with him, and he was sent to Pentonville for six months with hard labour. There, rather surprisingly, he proved to be musical, and was employed to play the organ in the prison chapel. He would even claim later that in the days before the talkies he could earn a tenner a week as a cinema organist.
Be that as it may, on his release in October Wicks went straight from Pentonville to Queer Street. He had been sacked by his employers—ironically a firm of solicitors—and he had court costs and liabilities hanging over him. And so eighteen months later, in the spring of 1896, he enlisted as a gunner in the Royal Artillery at Woolwich. The name he gave the recruiting officer was not Wicks but Langton. No doubt “Langton” hoped in this way to expunge his past, but his future in the army promised to be every bit as dismal, and after spells in hospital with a variety of complaints he was caught deserting while on leave. Apparently he bought civilian clothes at a shop in Stratford, which got the shopkeeper into a lot of trouble, and a fellow soldier also found himself in a tight spot for aiding and abetting. A court martial at Aldershot sentenced “Langton” to one hundred and twelve days’ imprisonment with hard labour, following which he was unceremoniously discharged.
All this time Wicks had been living with Selina, no longer in Hampstead but in Forest Gate in Essex. By now Selina had a daughter by Darton and a son and a daughter by Wicks, but she was shown no more loyalty than the Royal Artillery, and in the autumn of 1898 the wretched Wicks sailed off to New Zealand. Almost as soon as he arrived in Wellington he married a Frances Frederika de La Roche, and they had two daughters, Frances Kate and Ethel Martha, born in 1900 and 1902 respectively. Possibly he thought that an ocean or two nullified a marriage, but he was still Selina’s husband, and technically and morally a bigamist. Nothing daunted he exploited his artistic streak to establish himself as a music teacher and a leading light in the New Zealand branch of the Trinity College of Music in London.
Wicks now divided his time between his twin loves of music and dishonesty, and, when he was not singing “Foresters, Sound the Cheerful Horn” at a Liedertafel concert, he was writing rubber cheques. In 1908 he fled to Sydney by steamer but was brought back by a posse of Wellington detectives, and for his pains he was sent to prison yet again. Even then not all depths had been plumbed, and in 1912 he was found guilty of indecent assault on a pupil, a fourteen-year-old girl he was teaching in his own home. He absconded from bail but was arrested in Dunedin, and tried and found guilty in Wellington.
A MISSED CHANCE FOR REDEMPTION
By the time Wicks came out of prison the Great War had broken out, and in 1915 he joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The reader must not hope for some act of redemption—a moment of extraordinary valour or heroic self-sacrifice—for Wicks probably intended to escape his unsavoury recent past and get back to England. He did indeed spend time at Sling, the bleak New Zealand training camp on Salisbury Plain, but his was not what we would call a glorious war. He served as a bandsman, languished for long periods in hospital with varicose veins, and had run-ins with the authorities. Although he received a British War medal, it is not clear what he had done to earn it.
Life, as they say, goes on, and Wicks certainly did not let the war interrupt his “other” activities. In 1917, in Willesden, he married a Phyllis Rosemary Dodson, who brought his tally of wives up to three, with Lottie Chettle almost making it four. Then in 1920 he discovered that Selina had moved on from Forest Gate and was living in Leigh-on-Sea. Years before he had settled money on her, but it had almost run out, and she was trying to survive on ten shillings a week.
Had Wicks gone to Essex because, finally, he was hoping to come to terms with his past? Not impossible. As age crept up on him he twice admitted to the courts that he was guilty of bigamy. Sadly the circumstances of these confessions—in 1925 and 1930—are not known. What we do know, though, is that the sentence handed down to Arthur William Joseph Wicks in 1930 had a depressingly familiar ring. Eighteen months in prison. With hard labour, of course.
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