Dorothy (Smith-Barry) Bell is well known to all who are familiar with Fota House, as she lived here with her husband, Major William Bertram Bell. But her mother, Lady Barrymore, had another daughter from her first marriage in New York to Arthur Post. Her name was Helen Post, though she was known to the family as Nellie.
Lady Barrymore was a widow when she married another Arthur, in this case Arthur Smith-Barry in 1889 at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge in London. Baron Barrymore, as he was eventually titled, had two children from his first marriage to Lady Mary Frances Wyndham-Quinn. A daughter Geraldine Smith-Barry who died in 1975 and a son, James Hugh, who tragically died at the age of 7months, leaving Smith-Barry with no male heir.
Helen Post was born in January 1885, in the city of Pau, in the South of France. She was 4 years old when her mother, Elizabeth (Wadsworth) Post, married Lord Barrymore. And 8 when her half-sister Dorothy was born in London. The Smith-Barrys divided their time between London, Fota House and Marbury Hall, Cheshire.
Although Helen grew up mainly in the UK, she and her mother kept their American links alive. In the Autumn of 1903, newspaper clippings show that she travelled with her mother to New York where they would be “remaining all winter”.
Earlier that year she made her debut into London Society. The London Season generally ran from May until August. “Coming out” was a landmark in a young girl’s life and considered the beginning of adulthood. She was essentially being presented to high society as a potential wife for some eligible (suitable) young man. Debutante dresses followed a strict protocol, had to be white or pale pastel, usually with short sleeves, gloves and pearls and at this time, the most fashionable head-dress was one with three Prince-of-Wales style feathers.
In July 1906, Lady Barrymore gave a ball for Helen at The Ritz in London. Like many young society ladies of her time, Helen Post travelled extensively. An account in the Society Column of the Irish Independent, 1909 describes Ms Nellie Post as “one of the brightest and most popular American girls in English Society, who has been spending the last few months abroad, having been to America with her aunt, Mrs Adair, to pay a visit to the latter’s ranch in Texas, whence they went on together to Japan and China.”
Helen was also friendly with other Anglo-Americans, including Clare Frewen, (on the right in the photograph below) daughter of an American Clarita Jerome. Clare later married Wilfred Sheridan who was killed in 1915 at the battle of Loos. Clare was a writer and a sculptor and a cousin of Winston Churchill.
Helen became engaged to Mr Montague Charles Eliot, who lived in Chapter Square, London, at this time. The engagement was announced shortly before they got married, though the notice in the newspaper tells us that it was delayed, due to the fact that Lady Barrymore was abroad.
A family photograph of the Eliot family taken in 1906 in front of their grand house Port Eliot, in Cornwall, shows a dashing looking Charles sporting the distinctive moustache which he wore all his life.
The wedding took place on June 22nd, 1910. At the time of the marriage he was 40 and Helen Post was 25. The wedding certificate describes him as a “Groom in waiting to the King”, having been appointed by Edward VII.
In an interesting aside, an article in the New York Times and a book called “To Marry an English Lord: Tales of wealth and marriage, Sex and Snobbery” suggests that Montague Eliot’s position of “Groom in Waiting” was not renewed by the new King George V, after he married, “possibly because the Royal Couple did not like Americans”. However, he was appointed “Gentleman Usher2 to George V from 1910 to 1936, so he remained a courtier.
By all accounts this society wedding was a grand occasion, even though England was in mourning for Edward VII, who had died the previous month. Despite a statement from The Palace releasing those attending the wedding from the traditional forms of mourning, most of the guests wore black. The wedding ceremony took place in St George’s Church, Hanover Square, London. The reception followed at Lord and Lady Barrymore’s house in Hill Street, Berkeley Square.
Helen had six bridesmaids and two younger flower girls in the bridal procession included her step-sister Dorothy, 16 at this time, and Miss Nancy Cunard whose mother was also an American. The wedding was the third “Anglo-American” wedding celebrated in London that June.
The New York Times, in its report on the wedding, says “Miss Post was a charming bride in a simple dress and a train of chiffon and lace. She wore a diadem of orange buds, with a lace veil and round her neck a jewelled heart hung on a pearl chain. Lord Barrymore gave away his stepdaughter. The Rev. D. Anderson, the Rector, officiated. Lady Barrymore had a happy thought, having each guest presented with a floral bouquet on arriving at the church”. The account continues “All the bridesmaids looked charming in dresses of white chiffon and satin. Their tulle veils fell from little wreaths of silver leaves” Lady Barrymore “looked remarkably well in embroidered grey chiffon” while the “mother of the bridegroom, Mrs Charles Eliot, wore antique lace with a smoky grey velvet gown and a bonnet to match.”
At the following reception, around 400 wedding gifts were on show. Lady Barrymore gave Helen a diamond necklace, a gold-fitted dressing bag and a diamond ring. Lord Barrymore gave the couple a grand pianoforte. Helen’s aunt, Mrs Cornelia (Wadsworth) Adair of Glenveigh Castle, gave the bride a diamond tiara. Their Royal Highnesses, the Crown Prince and Princess of Sweden gave the couple a Swedish silver vase and The Duke and Duchess of Connaught gave them an inscribed silver bowl.
In among all these diamonds and precious metals, three more humble gifts stand out. One from the staff at Fota House who sent a clock, a silver frame from the children of Fota Schools, and a paper knife and pincushion from the postmistress at Belvelly.
Helen and her husband were married for 50 years. They had three children – Lady Germaine Olive Eliot (1911-1991), Nicholas Michael Eliot, 9th Earl of St Germans (1914-1988) and finally the Hon Robert Vere Eliot (1923-1994). Robert the youngest son, was a Captain in the Grenadier Guards and was wounded in World War II. He later entered local politics to become a Member of Westminster City Council for 9 years. Nicholas, who inherited his father’s title as 9th Earl of St Germans became Captain in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, also fighting in the Second World War. He married three times. Helen’s only daughter married firstly Major Thomas James in 1932 but they divorced after 8 years. She then married into the Scottish family of Captain Hon. Kenneth George Kinnaird, son of the 12th, Baron Kinnaird
Helen’s husband, Montague Charles Eliot became 8th Earl of St Germans in 1942 when his brother died without an heir. Helen became a Countess. Their ancestral home was a large house, Port Eliot and estate in Cornwall, now open to the public. Their website says the house claims to have “been lived in for over 1,000 years and believed to be the oldest continually inhabited dwelling in the UK”. It would appear that they lived here at some stage, as the wife of the 10th Earl of St. Germans said that her husband, Peregrine Eliot, was raised by his paternal grandparents at Port Eliot while his father, Nicholas lived in the South of France.
Montague Charles Eliot died in 1960 and is buried in the family tomb at St Germans. Helen is buried in Gibraltar Cemetery in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, where she died at the age of 77 in 1962.
Photograph of Helen Post and Clare Frewen: Fota Archives (Stephen Williams)
Photograph of Eliot family: www.eliotsofporteliot.com
Photograph of 8th Earl of St Germans, Montague Eliot: National Portrait Gallery, London.