The mysterious Miss Stott: a history

I have previously mentioned the intriguingly brief account in the 1920/21 report of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society of a gift to the Society’s Museum:

‘By the late Miss F.L. Stott, per Mrs M. Smith, Headingley: several Greek polychrome Lekythi, two-handled Vase, two-handled Cup, one-handled Skyphos, an Aryballos from Cyprus and several Egyptian bronze Figures, three Greek terra-cotta lamps.’

It is now difficult to securely identify these items in the current Leeds City Museum collection, but the Greek lekythoi are still extant, and so is the aryballos from Cyprus. Dating from the 6th century BC, it is beautifully decorated with a frieze of warriors, a relatively common design. The warriors are barely visible behind their large, round shields, the shape of which mirrors the compact rotundity of the aryballos, which would probably have been used for expensive perfumed oil. It is of Corinthian ware, so made in Greece rather than on Cyprus, but Corinthian pottery was exported widely in the 7th and 6th centuries BC, including to Cyprus.

Corinthian aryballos donated by Miss Stott © Leeds Museums and Galleries

Corinthian aryballos donated by Miss Stott
© Leeds Museums and Galleries

This is the only item in the Cypriot collection in this era to have been given by a woman. Who was Miss Stott, and how did she come by her collection of antiquities? The answers will take us around the world, and reveal the surprising ability of one Victorian woman to choose her own path and shape her life as she pleased.

To study a life, it can be easiest to begin at its end. Frances Louisa Stott died on 3rd December 1919, at the age of 72. She had never married. Since the turn of the century, she had lived at 31 The Mansions, Richmond Road, Kensington; as the name suggests, this was a luxurious flat of seven rooms, where Frances lived alone as head of the household with two servants. Her will names as her executors the three sons of her sister Mary, among them Arnold Wycliffe Smith of Headingley, whose wife, Martha, is presumably the ‘Mrs M. Smith’ of the LP&LS report. Frances Stott left bequests to these nephews and to the offspring of her late brother, Samuel Storer Stott. The family came from Haslingden, Lancashire, where S.S. Stott was a successful ironfounder running a large business.

Advertisement for S.S. Stott & Co. Bryan Yorke,

Advertisement for S.S. Stott & Co.
 Bryan Yorke,

The details of the will sketch a picture of a wealthy, cultured family. Among the bequests to Mary are ‘the water colour pictures’ she painted, and engravings by Gustave Doré and the Hungarian artist Mihály Munkácsy. Some of this wealth came from Frances’ parents; ‘the furniture, carpets, linen, pictures, glass, china, silver, silver plate, and jewellery which belonged to our late mother’ and ‘the gold albert chain and seal which belonged to my late father Henry Haworth Stott’. Samuel Stott was also in a position to give his sister expensive presents; a niece is left ‘my gold watch, bracelet, diamond ring, and emerald and diamond ring, all of which were given to me by my brother Samuel Storer Stott’.

A certain degree of family pride is evident in Frances’ gift to a nephew of ‘the two oil paintings of my father and mother’ for his lifetime only, with detailed instructions of how they are to be passed down the family line. She was a supporter of the Methodist temperance movement, as witnessed by her gift to the Treasurer of the Haslingden Blue Ribbon Club of an oak chair previously presented to her by members of the club, and a legacy of £100.

So far, so good; a wealthy spinster, an upright Methodist, passing her possessions and residual assets (her will details various property interests) back into the family, from whom many of them came. But what of the antiquities? On this subject the will is intriguing:

‘I give and bequeath all the curios, old pottery, scaraboes, the old Egyptian hieroglyphic stone set as a brooch and the cylinder seal (given to me by my late friend Charles Louis Hollen) to the trustees of the British Museum as a gift to the English Nation and I desire and request that the same may be accepted by the said trustees as if the same had been directly given to them by my said late friend and that his name and not my name may in all records whatsoever appear and be attached to such gifts as the donor thereof.’

This determination to disassociate herself from the bequest is intriguing. Who was Charles Hollen, and what is his connection with the unmarried woman of independent means, Miss Frances Louisa Stott?

The will of Charles Louis Hoelen (to use the correct spelling) gives us one version of events. He died on 23rd July 1892, and his will names Frances Louisa Stott as his executrix and sole beneficiary,

‘in consideration and acknowledgement of her kindness in having advanced me from time to time moneys for the purpose of assisting me in the business of a stationer and album maker’.

So, a straightforward business arrangement. But how did this come about – and why is there no mention in his will of his family?

Born in Limbourg, Belgium in 1833, Charles Louis Hoelen, a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery, married Emily Vernall Mitchell in 1859 at the age of 26. By 1871 they had three children, and he was a silversmith’s commercial clerk; by 1881 he was working as an interpreter. In 1887 Emily filed for divorce against her husband. She was persuaded to drop the case on the promise of his future good behaviour, but in 1889 she resumed proceedings and this time carried them through. The suit was not defended, and she was awarded an initial sum of £50 and ongoing maintenance.

The divorce proceedings make explosive reading; Charles is accused of ‘habitual neglect and unkindness… insulting and threatening language… acts of personal violence’ and threats to kill her. Moreover,

‘‘since the year 1875 the said Charles Louis Hoelen has habitually committed adultery with F. L. Stott at divers places and whilst they have been travelling together to and from the Continent of Europe and on the said Continent and at the Grosvenor Hotel Victoria Station Pimlico in the County of Middlesex and in the year 1879 during a tour in Palestine and in the months of September October and November 1879 at divers places in America and in the year 1880 at Biarritz in the Republic of France and in September 1887 in the Kingdom of Belgium and since the 29th October 1887 at divers places in England… on numerous occasions since the month of January 1888 the said Charles Louis Hoelen has committed adultery with the said F. L. Stott at divers places and at Ostend in the Kingdom of Belgium… from about the 19th October 1888 until about the 21st October 1888 the said Charles Louis Hoelen committed adultery with the said F. L. Stott or with some other woman at Haxells Hotel Brighton in the county of Sussex.”

If this claim is to believed (and Charles Hoelen did not choose to contest it), the Hoelen-Stott connection was a love affair begun when she was 28 and he was 42, spanning at least thirteen years, and taking in half the globe. They stayed at the best hotels and the most luxurious resorts. In the 1870s the Grosvenor Hotel was the preferred residence of the (in)famous courtesan Cora Pearl (although they appear to have refused her entry).

Similarly, Biarritz and Ostend were fashionable resorts catering to the crowned heads of Europe. Frances’ engravings by Doré and Munkácsy may perhaps have been acquired on this tour.

The Casino and Hotels at Biarritz  John L. Stoddart, Lectures

The Casino and Hotels at Biarritz
 John L. Stoddard, Lectures

The Pier, Ostend The Library of Congress

The Pier, Ostend, circa 1890 – 1900
 The Library of Congress

The mention of Palestine raises the intriguing possibility that Frances and Charles may have collected antiquities together while touring the Levant. After the divorce they would have been free to marry, but chose not to; there is no reason to believe that their affair did not continue until the death of Charles Hoelen in 1892. Frances Stott’s will is dated a year later, perhaps revoking a previous version in his favour.

So why did the antiquities end up in Leeds? The British Museum has no record of a donation matching the relevant names and dates. It could have been refused as insufficiently interesting for the Museum’s collection, or perhaps Frances Stott’s relatives were not unaware of her true relationship with her ‘friend’, and chose not to fulfil this request. The donation made to the LP&LS is in her name, not Hoelen’s, in contravention of her wish; perhaps to avoid a local scandal, since most of the family were still living in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Flaxmoss House, Haslingden, the home of S.S. Stott and later of his sister, Mary Smith

Flaxmoss House, Haslingden, the home of S.S. Stott and later of his sister, Mary Smith.

In an era where women had limited autonomy, Miss Stott travelled the world in the company of the man of her choice, without compromising her independence, financial or otherwise; indeed, the financial favours were all on her side.  In an age of ‘the association of domestic virtue with passivity’, when ‘marriage remained the goal of most women in all classes’, but generally involved ‘labour of a different but no less exhausting kind: the treadmill of the yearly pregnancy’,¹ Miss Stott appears to have achieved a long and prosperous life outside the narrow trammels of domestic existence while maintaining social respectability (the gift to the ‘Blue Ribbon Club’ is hardly the act of a social outcast). It’s fascinating to think that some of the objects in the Leeds City Museum collection have such a colourful collection history.

¹ R. Gilmour, The Victorian Period (1993).