you ever forgive me? I have gone away, fled to London where I can be lost
amidst the crowds and their busyness. I know that it was the cowardly thing to
do, but I have caused you so much hurt, you who deserve so much better. I could
deal with the anger of my congregation at St Thomas, the ridicule and contempt
they felt when their vicar, somebody who they respected, proved to be as
fallible as they were. But I cannot bear the hurt in your eyes and
therefore I have decided to leave you and start anew where nobody knows who I
am or what I have done.
rented a room above a tailors shop in the east end of London, it is small
but more than sufficient for my needs and is almost warm, well at least when I
wrap a blanket around me. It smells of tallow and there are also the various
odours that drift in from street outside along with the noises from the myriad
people for whom this area is home. Like the majority of the populace in
Spitalfields, the tailor is Jewish, he is a Mr Nathan Shnaider and he lives and
works in this building, and he is perhaps my only friend at the moment,
although I suspect he would be surprised to be regarded as such. He has a
sparse beard and must be in his seventies, I assume that he is a widower as
there is no trace of a Mrs Shnaider, but there is a granddaughter, Rebecca who
is always hither and thither on one errand or another.
brother has found me a job in his insurance office; just copying ledgers and
doing simple arithmetic; for the most part it is mindless work but that suits
me at the moment and my wage gives me enough money to live and eat, which is
all I want. I assume that you are back with your father, but if you need
anything write to me care of my brother. Once again, Molly I am truly
so long to get a letter from you, although I quite understand that you might
well never want to hear from me again. Who knows perhaps you tore my last
missive up without reading it and will do the same with this poor
walked along the river last Sunday afternoon and there, walking towards me was
David Hailsham, my friend from Cambridge, who you met once when we were in
London. I was so embarrassed and nervous, but he just glanced at me and made no
sign of recognition; have I changed so much? Without a dog collar perhaps
I was just part of the London populace that he professed to care so much for.
So long as it was not a snub I suppose, but then there was always a little of
the snob about him.
tailors granddaughter is an interesting case. She is probably
in her early or mid-twenties, so only a little younger than me, and at first
she appears like a typical native from this part of the capital, albeit more
finely dressed, but when she talks you realise that she is a character.
She claims that she is the daughter of the late Prince Albert. Apparently her
mother fled when Rebecca was only little, leaving her in the care of her
grandfather, but before she did so she told her who her father was and swore
her to secrecy. She has not kept her vow and everyone hereabouts know her as
Alberts Daughter. She wears black as a sign of perpetual
mourning for her supposed father and professes sympathy for the Queens
loss. Other than this obsession with the late Queens Consort she talks a
great deal about Russia where her people are apparently suffering great
persecution at present. There is a meeting next week and she wants me to go,
but then there are always meetings about one atrocity or another, and hopefully
I can avoid going to this one.
hope that you are happy Molly, I think of your blonde hair and your curls that
I liked to run through my hair. Oh my love, what have I done to you?
no word, but then what can I expect? One cannot always choose who falls in love
with you, and I did little to encourage poor Elsie, and sometimes the flesh is
weak even when the brain is asking what one earth I think that I am doing. I
did hope that you might be more tolerant. Sometimes when you are with somebody
who is struggling, as Elsie was, then words are spoken that you do not mean and
gestures are misunderstood. I regret it all more than I can say, and I am so
glad my parents are no longer alive to witness my shame.
in bed two nights ago, exhausted after writing down endless numbers when there
was a peremptory knock on my door. Rebecca, dressed to go out in a long, fur
lined coat of doubtful provenance, stood in the doorway. I had completely
forgotten about the meeting regarding persecution of the Jews but my Rebecca
would brook no refusal so I put on my winter-coat and followed her.
meeting was held in a church hall and Rebecca was to be one of the speakers, so
she left me in the third row next to her grandfather and went off somewhere to
arrange something or other. That woman is never still, all that energy and
vigour, she is an important figure amongst the people of the East End, I am not
sure whether her neighbours believe in her supposed parentage but they
certainly respect her. The hall smelt of humanity and food, it was not
unpleasant but rather it made me realise my shared humanity with these people,
however different their backgrounds from mine.
meeting started I wondered if I was the only Gentile in the room, but this
thought faded as Nathan introduced me to a few people sitting close to us, and
I soon felt just a part of the audience. Rebecca stood on the podium and
introduced the two speakers; a rabbi who had fled Russia and had just arrived
in England and then a Mr Leader, a local businessman who is busy speaking to
various people in government and is trying to see Mr Gladstone hoping that our
government can intervene. He seemed confident, as if the highways and byways of
government are open to him.
Rebecca seemed dynamic on stage, as if
she needs an audience to be at her best, at least she is better doing such
humanitarian work rather than starting a religious cult or a revolutionary
cell. She talked about the murders and imprisonments of people faraway under a
despotic leader and it was as if they were people we knew; our neighbours being
dragged away to prisons or left for dead in the snow. It was a true
mitzvah to help such people she told us, and at the end I put my hand in
my pocket and gave something, and was pleased to notice that Rebecca watched me
do so. The similarity of church did not escape me, but for once I was part of
the congregation rather than on stage, and I preferred this.
weather is cold and damp, and I cough at night. Sometimes I wonder if this is
where it will end, me dead in a garret with only Rebecca and her grandfather to
mourn for me, whilst you pretend you were never married and tend your father,
socialise and are the lady of the manor once again.
you for your letter. I realise that you are angry, and no I am not
starting all that again with Rebecca, and no there is nobody else I
can socialise with. I am a stranger in a strange land and at least Nathan and
his granddaughter have taken pity on me. I spend most of my time feeling
solitary, when I am not working I go for walks and read. I did go and spend the
day with my brother soon after I arrived in London but it was awkward; I never
got on with my sister-in-law Isabelle as you know and there was so much
embarrassment, even more so than when I told them about my taking holy orders
all those years ago. I do talk to him at work, where he is more relaxed than at
home, but he laughs at my affair, thinking the whole thing a tremendous
ask if I go to church? I have been to St Bonifaces which is quite close
to where I live. Not quite the same congregation as in Shropshire; poorer, but
also less of them. The vicar appears to be a godly man; quite elderly and with
a wife rather younger than him who looks bored and dispirited. At times when I
am there I feel close to God, as a hymn is sung that I recognise, or a psalm
strikes a chord but mostly I feel as if I am in an empty cavernous building
that has nothing to do with God.
I am glad you are reading my letters and I am sorry you are angry. Take
might have heard about the trouble that has fallen on me. Last month I
saw you walking by the Thames with another gentleman; you looked right through
me, I hope it was because you did not recognise me rather than a snub. A brief
liaison with a kind-hearted woman may have been wrong but you and I got up to
worse in Cambridge or perhaps now that you are respectable you have forgotten
can see I am back in London, in a poor district and work with my brother doing
simple finances. Molly has fled back to her father and is very angry with me.
Do I miss her? I miss the comfortable lifestyle and the respect of the good
people of Shropshire, but being patronised by the gentry and the bishop? I was
bored and comfortable, at least here there is life and I am just a clerk so
dont feel as if I am playing a role. Even waking alone in a small room,
smaller than my set at Cambridge, is pleasant enough.
made a friend called Rebecca whose grandfather is a tailor in the same building
that I reside. She swears that she is the daughter of Prince Albert, and
perhaps she is, there is certainly something regal about her and she is
strikingly beautiful. At present she is running around trying to get help for
the Jews suffering pogroms and imprisonment under the tyrannical Tsar,
Alexander III. The stories that I have heard are truly atrocious. Rebecca talks
of going to see the Queen and pleading the cause, as all attempts of
interesting the government have fallen on deaf ears. I just pray that she does
not drag me with her on this escapade which can only end in embarrassment and
yet I do owe her something. Quite often Rebecca and her grandfather ask me to
join them for the start of sabbath and we eat together and sing hymns, and for
the first time I feel as if I am part of a family. Perhaps I should renounce my
faith and become a Jew; I suspect anything that I do would not shock Molly
anymore. In the evenings I often sit and talk with Nathan as he sews and cuts;
he talks of London and how it has changed and also about his father who fled
Poland at the beginning of this century and made his home here. But most of all
he talks of his granddaughter; not about her supposed father, but how kind she
is but also how restless and how he feels that she is only staying to look
that you are well, perhaps both of us have changed; not only did you fail to
recognise me, I almost failed to recognise you. But I hope at the bottom we are
both the same idealistic and tolerant people that we once were.
to wish you a happy Christmas. I realise that it will probably not be a happy
time for you, but you have your father with you and your friends. I hope
that you can take comfort in the birth of our saviour (see I can still be a
Vicar when I choose). I do think about you and pray for you. For many of the
people here Christmas is an alien festival and so there is not much in the way
of festivity, this does not upset me in the slightest. My brother has invited
me to stay for the day but I have pretended that I am staying with a friend, a
lie, but hopefully in the scheme of things a minor one.
8th January, 1882
you are surviving the snow in Shropshire and enjoyed the new year celebrations.
The snow is grey here and very slippery. I walk cautiously to my place of work
avoiding ice and street detritus, and yet it is rare for me to venture out
without slipping over at some point.
grows heavy on me. I have sent you a leaflet concerning the plight of the Jews
in Russia, I would be grateful if you could pass it amongst your family and
friends. Surely you must see that it is a worthy cause and whilst the people
here are eager to help they are poor.
you for your kind letter, and I quite understand the delay in writing. You
lawyers are a busy lot and now that you are engaged to be married your time is
not your own, congratulations of course, and I hope that you make each other
Yesterday I spent the morning at London
Zoo; Rebecca who I mentioned to you in my previous letter needed a day out, as
she is looking so wan and tired, this business with the Jews in Russia is
upsetting her. I paid a shilling each and we enjoyed a tramp around. No doubt
you must have visited perhaps with Ellen or one of your fellow lawyers. We were
both struck with sadness at the two leopards shivering in their cages. I long
to see such creatures roaming free, but I suppose that having them here on show
to the people of London is educational.
for my hope that Rebecca would at least temporarily forget about her people in
Russia, she continually returned to this subject and she has this maggot, this
idea in her head of going to see the Queen and talking to her about it. She
sees herself sitting down with our sovereign, woman to woman and then Victoria
sorting it out, speaking to the Tsar who she thinks is related to our monarch.
I hope she does not know who my
father is she mused, they were clearly such a happy couple and she
honestly mourns him.
I am sure she will not know
I reassured her, but I do think it will be impossible to speak to her,
she has soldiers and servants, and I am sure people are always trying to get
into see her without success. Perhaps you should write to her.
idea seemed to appeal to her, particularly when I offered to help her with the
letter. This seems to be more sensible than turning up at the palace and trying
to fight her way in.
occasionally hear from Molly but nobody else, which is why receiving your
letter was such a pleasant surprise.
you for your swift response. I thought of you last night. Do you remember those
musical evenings at Cambridge we used to share with Southern and Preston? It
was not quite the same, but I had noticed a piano in the Shnaider rooms and
last night after I had sat with Nathan at his bench he invited me up to have
dinner with them. Rebecca was already there cooking a stew of some sort, she is
a basic cook but food has never been of great importance to me.
Afterwards we sat around the piano, the
smell of our meal heavy about us, but not unpleasant by any means. Rebecca is a
wonderful pianist, she played music by Beethoven and Chopin interspersed by
various songs from the music hall and more traditional fare. They then asked if
I could play, and although I felt rather embarrassed as I am not as good as her
I played a couple of pieces I know by the divine Purcell. The room was warm and
I felt so happy sharing music with two people I have to come to love. Rebecca
is a caring woman, I noticed how often she checked on her grandfather, and when
she felt he was tired she politely suggested that I go.
write this letter to you I can still hear the music in my head and her
laughter, I never thought I would have such carefree evenings again. And yet it
is perhaps a brief moment before real life catches up with me.
Bushfield Street, Spitalfields.
thousand apologies for writing to you when I understand that you are busy. I
did try and see you but your servant told me that you were engaged all day and
thus it seemed easier to write.
writing to you out of desperation regarding a friend of mine Rebecca Shnaider
who has been most upset about the plight of her fellow Jews in Russia. It has
become something of a King Charles Head with her and she eventually
plucked up the courage to see our blessed Queen and tried to force her way in
with inevitable consequences and is now languishing in prison. I visited her
yesterday and she is in a wretched strait. She is not a wicked person and meant
no harm to our Queen. I know that you have influence with the Queen and the
government and would be grateful if you could help her and get her released. If
you need more detail of this sad case I earnestly beg you to contact me, but
she certainly means no harm to our sovereign.
20th February, 1882 The Vicarage, Clun,
sorry that I could not speak to you before I left for Shropshire, in fact truth
to tell I was a coward, and once I had made up my mind to return to my wife I
could not bear to see you. I am so pleased that you were released from prison
and I hope you can be more circumspect in your campaigns, it is good that you
are so determined and passionate but sometimes we have to be more tactful to
get what we want. I am glad Mr Southern was helpful.
realise that I have betrayed you, I did not lie when I told you that I loved
you and I hope that you dont think that I took advantage of you. My wife
Mary has been writing to me and is clearly heart-broken and I feel that my
calling is with her and with the people of Clun. They have forgiven me my
indiscretions and I have vowed to serve them all. I do miss you, but you must
realise that it would never have worked between us; we have so little in common
and we have different paths to follow.
try to forgive me as well. You will find a young man of your own race and
hopefully forget me. It breaks my heart to write this, but please if you ever
need my help contact me post haste.
June 12th, London
sorry, but I imagine that this will be the last missive that I will send you. I
realise that for the second time I have hurt and humiliated you, all I can say
in my defence is that I tried to do what is right, but sometimes that is not
easy and despite what I often preached, life is never clear cut. I often wish
that we could have two goes at life, so that we can learn from all of our
mistakes, but alas we only have one go and I am trying to make the best of
first I was happy being back with you in our vicarage. The Rev. Dennis did a
good job whilst I was away, a most eager young man, and now that I have truly
left I hope that he is offered the position permanently. It was lovely to be
with you again and for awhile I was busy getting to know my parish once again
and getting to know you. But soon my mind kept wandering back to my time in
London. I missed my room above the tailor, I missed the people with their
kindness and their strength, and most of all I missed Rebecca who needs a
friend and companion, but who I also need equally.
returned to Spitalfields two days ago and Nathan my friend the tailor is
letting me sleep on his settee for a few days, my old room having been let soon
after I escaped back to Shropshire. I enquired after Rebecca but to my utter
heartbreak she has left England and is heading towards Russia, she has money
and contacts and is going to help as many of her fellow Jews to flee the
carnage unleashed by the Tsar. Apparently she started making plans soon after I
left and but only finally set off less than a week ago. I am really not sure
what she intends to do, she seems to feel that just being there she can somehow
avert the killings. But if I follow her perhaps I can stop her doing anything
You broke her heart her
grandfather told me, she thought you would be with her always and would
stood shame-faced. I know her route and I am following her, I have my ticket
for the boat in two days time and I will track down Rebecca and with luck
will catch up with her. I am sorry but my destiny is with her and with her
people, please forgive me and please pray for me.
Greetings from Russia. I am not
sure how good the Russian postal service is; this letter seems such a fragile
thing to travel all the way from the East to your house in London, the miles it
will have to travel through snow and ice and the people who will handle it
before your maid hands it to you whilst you are eating your bacon and kidneys
with your new wife opposite you (congratulations on your marriage by the
now in Russia; after my abortive attempt to resume my vicaring and being a
husband to Molly I returned to London only to discover that Rebecca had left
for the East in an attempt to single-handedly stop the cruelty practiced upon
her people. I followed straight away, sending letters ahead of me so that
eventually in Berlin I found her and after a few days renewing our acquaintance
we carried on to Russia where we arrived a few days ago.
Fortunately Rebecca had organised
everything better than I gave her credit for. She had many contacts en route,
and we are now staying with friends in Russias Western capital. I assumed
that Rebeccas friends were all Jewish, but in fact I soon discovered that
all be one are gentiles, what unites them is a yearning for justice and for the
deposition of the Tsar. I am not sure how we can help them but they have
welcomed us, despite Rebecca already having mentioned who her father is (!).
There is not much money but there are plenty of factory jobs and once we are
settled and I have picked up a little of the language, I will start to earn my
do not worry about me and if you hear from Molly ask her not to do either. I
may only be playing at being a revolutionary, but I am having the time of my
life with the woman I love, and there is nowhere that I would rather
Extract from Her Loyal Consort; a
life of Prince Albert by D. E. Ward, Symons & Co.,1971
Alberts will contained a
bequest of £50 to one Ruth Shnaider of Spitalfields, London. Who this
lady was has long remained a mystery and given rise to all sorts of
speculation. Modern researchers have found little trace of her apart from a
birth record in the Central synagogue, there is no record of a marriage or a
death. Shnaider was a relatively common name in England amongst the
Jewish community at the time. What is known is that she did not collect the
money, at that time or thereafter.
Extract from My Extraordinary Life,
Lady Dulcie Graham, private edition, published 1923
Whilst in Moscow (in 1921)
I was invited to the Kremlin for a dinner party, my companions proved to be
full of vodka and good spirits. Most incongruously I came across an older
English couple who are friends with many in the Bolshevik regime. I was told
that they came to Russia in the 1880s and after many adventures they joined a
revolutionary cell in Moscow. Rebecca Shnaider must be in her sixties now but
is still strikingly beautiful; a Jewess from the East End of London and her
husband, a disgraced clergyman from Shropshire, in his long coat
and fur hat looks just like a Russian and even has a slight accent although we
conversed in English. Apparently Rebecca is related to the English royal family
although they have nothing to do with her, this I find rather hard to
Rebecca told me that they went out on
the streets in 1917 and then became involved with Mr Leon Trotsky in the civil
war. They are now firm allies of Mr Trotsky, and if, as seems likely he becomes
the next leader of Russia, they will no doubt become even more prominent in the
regime. It does make me optimistic about the future of Russia if people like
this couple have some influence in the regime
Touchingly whilst I was leaving the
Kremlin Ian took my arm and asked if I knew Shropshire, I mentioned that I had
an aunt who lives in Ludlow, and for a short while we talked about the
blue remembered hills and the man in front of me suddenly looked
terribly homesick and sad, and his face haunted me the following day as was
swept along to Leningrad.
Moscow, May (?) 1926
presume that this letter will be interfered with and burnt long before it
reaches you, but perhaps there is a slight chance that it will reach you and
you will read it.
believe me I forgive you for betraying me to the authorities, in this awful
time we all have to do the most wicked things to stay alive just for a little
bit longer. I hope that you are safe my love, but even those who betray
are not protected, or not for long so try to escape and if you cannot flee this
country please keep your head down, and certainly do not mention your father,
people have been executed for far less. I know that you are someone who always
draws attention to herself but at times like this being hidden is the best
this cold prison, betwixt bouts of torture I have had time to think. The
amazement that I am in a cell outside Moscow, me a doctors son from
Shropshire who studied Divinity at Cambridge is the same man who has spoken
with Lenin and Trotsky and even our present leader, although I understand that
this will be blanked out of history. I doubt many of my contemporaries will
have seen and done what I have done in my soon to be curtailed life; fighting
the Tsarist troops and for awhile at any rate being at the centre of this
disastrous experiment in love and equality.
remember the first time I saw you as you came into to see your grandfather, I
knew then that you were special and that our fates were intertwined. I fought
it, fought it so hard, but despite all my efforts I had to follow you to the
end of the world. Even when they drag me in front of the firing squad, my
broken body trailing in the snow, I will know that it has been worth it and
that I would go through this all again just to have been part of your life, to
have shared your adventures and to have made you happy. Be safe my