LADY WINIFRED FORTESCUE
Author, Actress, Fashion Designer &
pictured with her faithful companion 'The Blackness'.
Winifred Fortescue (nee Beech) was born in a
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
Click on any of the pictures
to see a larger version
Winifred Beech Postcard as 'Beauty'
Winifred Beech Postcard
Winifred - 1926
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 1940's
Winifred looking out of a window c1931
In later life with
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
read at the Funeral of Lady Fortescue
by Monsieur Michel Aime, Mayor of Opio,
11 April 1951
is my sad duty today, to address a final farewell to our distinguished
guest Lady Fortescue.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
the children, from the people, from all your friends' ..................................Adieu"
(Original kindly supplied by a niece of Lady Fortescue -
Translation by Vicki Riley)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Rev. Howard Beech MA Oxon, b.15.5.1855 Blackheath Park, Blackheath - d.31.3.1926
Kitchen Court, Petworth, Sussex.
Henrietta Mildred Godden, b.29.9.1857 d.18.9.1929 Hove, Sussex.
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.
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
[Winifred Beech Postcard]
[Winfred Postcard as 'Beauty']
[1935 Signed Edition of Perfume]
[Winifred's Birth Certificate]
[Winifred's Marriage Certificate]
[Winifred's Death Certificate]
Photographs - Blackwoods - A
niece of Lady Fortescue - P.
Riley - Kathy Routledge