Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The not-so-good and the not-so-great, number 19: Kate Meyrick

Sometimes things creep up on one.
This one did; but, in a way, it follows from the piece about Eliza Gilbert, a.k.a Lola Montez. Of course, the sneerers and nay-sayers would suggest it's here because Malcolm cannot get on with the job over the Cromwellian settlement and its consequences. And ... sigh ... they
would be right.

Mrs Meyrick rose to the surface because of doings on Malcolm Redfellow's Home Service. Iain Dale had featured a 1929 Tory election poster. The poster was a mild fore-runner for Churchill's despicable "Gestapo" attack. As Malcolm suggests in his posting on the other channel, the irony is that the real repression in 1929 came from the reactionary Home Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks.

A naice Dublin protestant gel

Kate Evelyn Nason was born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in 1875. Within a year, her father (a doctor) was dead. Her mother re-married a Lancastrian cleric. At the age of seven, Kate was an orphan, living with her grand-mother. She briefly attended Alaexandra College, that academy for the best of protestant Dublin's rising misses. In the true Alex tradition, she found herself a respectable professional, another medic, to wed. The surname (Merrick) became gentrified to Meyrick, and he set up practice, first in Southsea, then in Basingstoke.

By 1909 Mrs Meyrick was ten years married, the mother of six (three of each) and bored, bored, bored. Briefly, she upped with the kids and left. Reconciled to the good nerve-doctor, she took lessons in hypno-therapy and (thanks to trench warfare) soon had plenty of neurasthenic subjects on which to practise. At the end of the War, the marriage had finally collapsed (Dr Meyrick was a spend-thrift).

The Clubland entrepreneur

The Mrs Meyrick, though, was enterprising. She promptly moved to London, took a share in and managed Dalton's Club in Leicester Square. The law said closing time was ten o'clock: Mrs Meyrick took no heed of such niceties. The club was raided and shut down, Mrs Meyrick was guilty of running "disorderly premises" and fined £25. Two premises later, Ma Meyrick (as London society knew her) had her own club at 43 Gerrard Street in Soho. There then began a repetitive cycle of police raids, in which the newly-appointed Tory Home Secretary, Joynson-Hicks, generally known as "Jix", took a personal interest, as part of his self-ordainedl morality campaign.

It was now clear that it was Ma Meyrick versus the blue-noses. In November 1924 she came up before the Bow Street magistrate, Sir Chartres Biron, who sent her down for six months. There is at least a hint of regret in his comment:
She was a lady, of good appearance and charming manners, and conducted her various clubs with more decorum than many, but with also a fine contempt for the law.
Note that "her various clubs", for Ma Meyrick now had the Manhattan in Denman Street, the Silver Slipper in Regent Street, and a substantial slice of the action at the Folies Bergères in Newman Street.

Into the peerage

Ma Meyrick came out of Holloway to general public acclaim. She was soon back in the celebrity gossip columns when her daughter, Dorothy Evelyn, married the nineteen-year-old Edward Southwell Russell (he falsified his age), 26th Baron de Clifford. As an aside, de Clifford (who frequently spoke in the Lords, urging that driving laws be tightened) was the last peer to be tried in the Lords -- for manslaughter caused by his driving on the wrong side of the road. He was also a Mosleyite. Two years later, another Meyrick daughter, Mary Ethel Isobel, was hitched to George Harley Hay-Drummond, 14th Earl of Kinnoull in the Scottish peerage.

Crime does not pay?

The police raids continued, and in 1928 Ma Meyrick did another six months in Holloway. Her compensation was to build herself a substantial fortune: the clubs were each making up to £1,000 a week (of which perhaps half was profit). Her investments were guided by Alfred Loewenstein -- who provides yet another story (to be dealt with as an annex) -- until Ma Meyrick was worth something in the region of half-a-million. In 1928 money.

Ma Meyrick's nemesis was Sergeant George Goddard of the Metropolitan Police. He had led the first raid on the 43 in February 1922. In November 1928 Goddard was found to have accrued over £12,000: an impossible sum on an honest copper's wage. Goddard had been taking £100 a week from Ma Meyrick in protection money, with other nice little earners on the side. This time Ma Meyrick was hit with fifteen months, with hard labour, for bribery and corruption. She was back inside for six months in late 1930 and again in mid-1931. By then her health was destroyed: she died of pneumonia at her Regent's Park home, aged 57.

Her funeral was at fashionable St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Ma Meyrick had an after-life

Evelyn Waugh recreated her in Brideshead Revisited, and the "43" became the "Old Hundredth". Try Chapter five:
Mulcaster said, "I say, let's slip away from this ghastly dance and go to Ma Mayfield's."
"Who is Ma Mayfield?"
"You know Ma Mayfield. Everyone knows Ma Mayfield of the Old Hundredth. I've got a regular there - a sweet little thing called Effie. There'd be the devil to pay if Effie heard I'd been to London and hadn't been in to see her. Come and meet Effie at Ma Mayfield's."
"All right," said Sebastian, "let's meet Effie at Ma Mayfield's" ...
"D'you know where this place is??
"Of course I do. A hundred Sink Street."

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