She’s definitely not the soulful young woman on the card, kept in this old book, which is of a late Millais painting, The Disciple. The model here is thought to be Mary Lloyd, or an imaginary woman inspired by her classical looks.
Mary was born c. 1863, in Shropshire, the daughter of a once wealthy but later bankrupt country squire. Making the move to London, she took up modelling towards the end of an era for the Pre-Raphaelites and classically inspired historical painting.
Whistler and Sickert were already ‘flinging and pot of paint in the public’s face’ and making grunge look good.
Catching up with the seventy-year-old Mary in 1933, the Sunday Express described her as the model ‘who had the face of an angel but outlived her luck’.
But coming back to Sophia, my starting point is that she was presented with this copy of Cranford for regular attendance in the Senior Department of Greenside Council School, Pudsey, near Leeds.
A search on Ancestry.co.uk reveals that in 1904 Sophia would have been then ten years old and that her father was a platelayer on the Great Northern Railway.
Seven years later, in the 1911 census, she’s recorded as working as a worsted mender (worsted is a closely woven woollen cloth with no nap) but to judge by the clippings that she kept in her book, she had aspirations and dreams.
Sutro and Smiler
The book is a little time capsule as, in addition to the Millais print, Sophia (I assume it was Sophia) has folded a handful of magazine and newspaper cuttings between it’s pages.
Future generations won’t get that if they ever come across a copy digital book treasured by an ancestor!
There are Edwardian fashions, an elegant interior and an illustration from a children’s book, subjects that you might expect a young woman to take a passing interest in, but then there are the odd items, like this portrait of mayor of Chicago Adolph Sutro, famed for his tunnel building scheme.
How did he get in there?
And I wonder what especially tickled her about this single panel from an early comic strip which features a character called Smiler, who looks as if he’s stepped out of a music hall act or an early silent film.
Hoppy Chivers and the ‘Peace Crank’
We’re three years into the horrors of World War I and on the reverse of the Smiler cartoon is something altogether more disconcerting; the last few paragraphs of a ‘Hoppy Chivers yarn’, in which Hoppy and his chum chase a ‘peace crank’ who falls head-first into a lake, swallowing ‘two gallons of water and twenty-nine tiddlers’.
‘. . . we’ve got the Huns whacked!’ says Hoppy’s pal Archie. ‘It’s only really ignorant clods, like this chap we’ve come after, who don’t know the truth. They haven’t got the pluck of worms. Anyway, we’ll soon finish off this idiot.’
There’s a happy ending of sorts; the ‘peace crank’ runs to the nearest recruiting office and signs up immediately.
Sophia would then have been 21 years old. In the days before boys bands with their extravagant hair styles, perhaps she thought those goatee beards looked pretty cool! The leather jacket gives him a certain rock and roll credibility too.
In Search of Fairies
Children coming across fairies in the wood might seem a bit far-fetched to appeal to a young woman in the middle of the a world war but 1917 is when Elsie Wright, 16, and her cousin Frances Griffiths, 9, first photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden at Cottingley, just eight miles from Sophia’s home in Fartown, Pudsey.
The photographs were made public in 1919 and in an article in the Strand magazine for Christmas 1920 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle declared them genuine. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the cousins admitted that they were faked.
A Dream of Lamb’s
It would be a perfect setting for Margaret Dumont’s character in the Marx Brother’s films, the society lady who was the butt of so many of Groucho’s put-downs;
‘I could dance with you till the cows come home!
Better still, I’ll dance with cows and you come home.’
But in Sophia’s day, this interior wouldn’t be seen as so stuffy and elitist, not compared with the heavy Victorian styles that preceded it. It was the latest word in fashion and I’m not surprised, as she worked in a mill in Pudsey mending worsted cloth, that she seized upon these photographs in some American magazine she’d come across as a window on another, more elegant, world.