Winifred Fortescue

  


 

Winifred & 'The Blackness' 1943

LADY WINIFRED FORTESCUE

Author, Actress, Fashion Designer & Interior Decorator
pictured with her faithful companion 'The Blackness'.

Winifred Fortescue (nee Beech) was born in a Suffolk rectory on 7th February 1888, the third child of a country rector and connected, on her mother's side, to the Fighting Battyes of India. When she was seventeen - in order to ease the strain on family finances, and at the suggestion of Consuelo, Duchess of Marlborough - she decided to try to earn her own living and went on the stage. Following training at F.R. Benson's Dramatic School she went on to perform in Sir Herbert Tree's company, and later in Jerome K. Jerome's The Passing of the Third Floor Back. Amongst numerous others plays in the West End and on tour she also appeared in Faust, Pinkie and Fairies and Arms and the Man.

In 1914 she married John Fortescue, the King's Librarian and Archivist and famous historian of the British Army. Life was split between London and Windsor Castle, where John's work was, and where he was required whenever the Court was present. The marriage, in spite of a huge disparity of age between them, (some 28yrs),was a uniquely happy one, and although Winifred Fortescue gave up her career on the stage, she later founded CINTRA, a successful interior decorating and court dress designing business. Illness forced her to close her business down but not until after she had held a fashion show at the famous Plaza Hotel in New York.  It was at that point that she began writing, for The Times, Punch, the Daily Chronicle, the Evening News, finally inaugurating and editing a Woman's Page for the Morning Post.

Click on any of the pictures to see a larger version

 

The actress Winifred Beech

The Actress

Press Cuttings

Press Cuttings

Press Reviews

Winifred Beech Postacrd

Winifred Beech Postcard as 'Beauty'

Winifred Beech Postcard

Winifred Beech Postcard

Winifred Fortescue in 1926

Winifred - 1926

Winifred & 'The Blackness ' 1943

Winifred & 'The Blackness' 1943

 

Click on the here to see the 3 photos of Winifred held in the NPG and taken by the photographer Bassano in 1920.

 

   

On a beach in the UK in the 1930's

On a beach in the UK in the 1940's

Winifred looking out of a window c1931

Winifred looking out of a window c1931

In later life with spaniel Gamine

In later life with spaniel Gamine

 

In the early 1930's, John and Winifred Fortescue, now Sir John and Lady Fortescue, moved to Provence and there she wrote her famous and best selling Perfume from Provence, and the sequel Sunset House. (Perfume from Provence became a bestseller once again when it was re-published by Black Swan in 1992.) Her autobiography, There's Rosemary, There's Rue, was first published in 1939.Trampled Lilies continues her story of Provence during World War Two. Her other books include Mountain Madness, Beauty for Ashes and Laughter in Provence. 

The couple renovated an old house and created a home and spectacular garden called 'The Domaine' in the hills near Grasse. Sadly after only 2 years in Provence, Sir John died and there followed a period that was not altogether happy. However, out on her rambles one day Winifred came across a tumbled down stone house perched on a hill and surrounded by olive groves. After a long and somewhat difficult struggle she managed to secure its purchase. Her second best selling book Sunset House, published in 1937, documents this adventure. Under the house in the rock was an old sanctuary used a pigsty, amongst other things. Winifred converted this into a chapel which pleased her neighbours. Her writing continued, they had not been a wealthy couple and the move to Provence had been partially for financial and partially for health reasons and money was needed for work on the new house and its garden. Although known in her writings as 'Sunset House' Winifred decided to call it 'Domaine de Fort Escu'.

When war was declared in 1939 and there followed the Mobilisation Générale, Winifred opened her home to the often poorly equipped and bewildered soldiers. She went on to organise shelters all over the Alpes-Maritimes where they could rest and recover. With the entry of Italy into the war, being so close to the border, Winifred was forced to leave her house and village in a hurry before being detained as an alien. There followed a frantic car journey across the entire length of France, often dangerous, ending at St. Malo in Brittany where she only just managed to board the last boat for England before it fell to the Germans.

Back in England Winifred divided her time, initially at a cottage she named 'Many Waters' on an estate near East Grinstead in Sussex. She also spent time in John's home county of Devon and for some of the time lived in a small touring caravan she had managed to acquire. All the time though she raised and collected funds for 'Amis des Volontaires Francais', (Friends of French Volunteers). In 1945 she returned to her beloved 'Sunset House', turning it into something of a distribution centre, and devoted herself entirely to obtaining and distributing medicines, provisions and clothing to the people who were literally starving and ruined by years of war. She wrote about their terrible plight in her books and the people of Great Britain were extremely generous sending her package after package. It is important to record that she went to great lengths to inform the recipients that these gifts were from the British people and not from her. She became known as 'Maman Noel' and could often be seen visiting the homes of the needy on foot or in her small car. Life in France slowly returned to something like normality and she remained in Provence for the rest of her life.

The Last Years

Winifred suffered with an ailment she always called 'the poison' which was a form of blood poisoning she picked up when she was nursing wounded soldiers from WWI. She never managed to rid herself of it despite many various and expensive treatments in a variety of clinics including London and Paris. It caused her many problems in later life including a skin disorder and she took many hours using make up to disguise this disfigurement and would not go out until the make up was complete. Modern anti-biotics would probably have helped the condition but at the time even the famous institutes could offer little help. She never actually names the condition possibly because nobody was really certain exactly what it was. This alone put a strain on her body but she also had an enlarged heart.  

Following two operations in 1947 and her exhausting lifestyle over the years, by the 1950's the toll on her body was enormous and she found it increasingly hard to cope. The slightest cold blew up into a fever, then bronchitis and it would recur irrespective of the season. Penicillin inhalations in Grasse became the prescription if not the cure. She became anaemic and more and more fragile. She always rallied and never missed a new birth in the village but after another bronchial attack her over-strained heart was now deemed to be enormous. She was forbidden to climb staircases or hills and prescribed rest. Obliged to vacate her home for tenants in early summer, she travelled to Luchon in the Pyrenees for a cure from their natural sulphurous springs. She had been there once before with her brother but this time was alone. On the journey she caught a chill and immediately fell ill on arrival.  

Over Christmas 1950 she was very ill again but she had already wrapped the presents for the village children and placed them under her tree in the dining room-hallway. In the Spring of 1951 she had visitors from the Castello, (Elisabeth Starr's old home), and on March 4th, Palm Sunday she wrote a farewell to them as they left.  

Several weeks later, on the 9th April 1951, while preparing herself for the day in her bathroom she suddenly collapsed and died aged only 63 yrs. A rather lonely and certainly sad end to an amazing life, by this time most of her friends had either moved away or died and their houses had been sold off. Winifred was one of the last of the English living on the hill above Opio. Sadly, she never received the national decoration in recognition of her services that France had planned to award her.

Eulogy read at the Funeral of Lady Fortescue 
by Monsieur Michel Aime, Mayor of Opio,
11 April 1951

"It is my sad duty today, to address a final farewell to our distinguished guest Lady Fortescue. 

Arriving to live in Opio more than twenty years ago, Lady Fortescue is known to have endeared herself to the entire population and local children's charities soon discovered her to be a devoted and generous patron. 

Born in England, Lady Fortescue returned to her native land during the Occupation. During this time, as a great friend of France, she suffered terribly at the news of the terrible hardships inflicted upon her adopted country. 

Upon her return here amongst us, we were shown her generosity of spirit as she endeavoured to aid those in need. We watched her go from door to door, bringing a little comfort to all. Our children benefited from the generosity of Lady Fortescue and this generosity wasn't just limited to her own village. We watched her drive off, her car crammed full of clothes and food which she would distribute to the children of the county, for some she was their "Godmother" and for others "Mother Christmas". 

Fate has not allowed us the opportunity to honour her as she so deserved, having shown us such kindness. Just as the Government of the Republic was preparing to honour her with a thoroughly deserved award, our well loved and loving friend was taken from us. 

'Madame Fortescue, as you were known in Opio, sleep in peace in the little graveyard you chose, opposite the house you loved so much. Your memory will remain for us, a model of generosity and devotion. These words of sympathy from a grief-stricken population, may help to ease the pain of those who grieve. 

From the children, from the people, from all your friends' ..................................Adieu"

(Original kindly supplied by a niece of Lady Fortescue - Translation by Vicki Riley)

 

Born
Winifred Beech, 7th February 1888, The Rectory, Great Bealings, Suffolk. Daughter of The Rev. Howard Beech M.A., by his wife Henrietta Mildred. She was the fourth daughter of the Rev. William Worcester Godden, M.A., by Emma Whitbread Juliana, née Battye, his wife.

Educated
Mainly at home until age about 9 years and then with one of her brothers at the boys school, St. Augustine's, Cliftonville. She attended, at 16 years of age, Old Cedar House School, Slough, which later transferred to London and became Wentworth Hall, Mill Hill. She also attended F.R. Benson's Dramatic School to train for the stage.

Married
30th April 1914 in Holy Trinity, Sloane St, Kensington. Sir John William Fortescue K.C.V.O., LL.D Edinburgh, D.Litt. (Oxford), Hon. Fellow Trinity College (Cambridge), Historian of the British Army, Librarian & Archivist, Windsor Castle.

Publications
1935    Perfume from Provence
1937    Sunset House
1939    There's Rosemary, There's Rue
1941    Trampled Lilies
1943    Mountain Madness
1948    Beauty for Ashes
1950    Laughter in Provence

Died
9th April 1951, Opio, Provence, France. Click here to see death certificate. Probate was granted in London on the 8th August 1951 to her brother The Rev. Canon Guy Beech and Charles Humphrey Woolrych, Solicitor. She left £7587-13-2d, English.

Father
Rev. Howard Beech MA Oxon, b.15.5.1855 Blackheath Park, Blackheath - d.31.3.1926 Kitchen Court, Petworth, Sussex.

Mother
Henrietta Mildred Godden, b.29.9.1857 d.18.9.1929 Hove, Sussex.

Brothers
Mervyn Worcester Howard, Beech MA Oxon, b.11.4.1881 Sandown, Isle of Wight - d.24.1.1923 Lamu, East Africa.

Rev. Canon Guy Beech MA Oxon, b.13.9.1886 Gt. Bealings, Woodbridge, Suffolk - d.26.11.1958 Kitchen Court, Petworth, Sussex.

Sisters
Mildred Alice Beech, b.16.6.1882 Gt. Bealings, Woodbridge, Suffolk - d.27.1.1886 Gt. Bealings, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

Marjory Beech, b.3.10.1891 Gt. Bealings, Woodbridge, Suffolk - d.13.9.1975.

Douglas Dashwood-Howard has carried out considerable research into Winifred Fortescue's family history. His findings to date are published on their own page and are extremely interesting. Follow the link at the bottom of this page.

Use the links below to more pages, pictures & documents

[Family History]
[The Actress]
[Winifred Beech Postcard]
[Winfred Postcard as 'Beauty']
[Winifred 1926]
[1935 Letter]
[1935 Signed Edition of Perfume]
[1938 Letter]
[Winifred 1943]
[Winifred's Birth Certificate]
[Winifred's Marriage Certificate]
[Winifred's Death Certificate]

Photographs - Blackwoods - A niece of Lady Fortescue - P. Riley - Kathy Routledge


     Cypress tress at the entrance to The Domaine, by E H Shepard    

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