Continued from “The Most Successful Book-Huntress in the World”, posted on 12th October 2016.
The longest of the interviews with Clara Millard I have traced appeared (ten pages, eleven illustrations) in the society magazine “The Woman at Home” in 1896. It does not add a great deal to what we already know, but what it does add is interesting. More used to interviewing aristocratic hostesses, Norman Hurst travelled down to Mulberry House in Teddington to meet the woman of whom he had heard so much, a woman “who has made her way in the world by downright hard work and perseverance”. Like others, he was astonished by her youth – “I could scarcely credit that this youthful-looking woman, who certainly cannot be more than twenty-five or twenty-six years of age, can have established as she has done the world-wide reputation she has gained in her particular line of business”. Asked for her secret, she simply puts it down in the main to plain and straightforward dealing with both buyers and sellers.
The story of her having to find a way of earning a living at the age of sixteen is repeated, but with the added information that her mother had always been a collector of china and curiosities, and she had learnt and inherited a great deal. “The Ceramic Gazette” initially showcased the portion of her mother’s collection which her mother wished to sell – and so it all began. She has been much helped – Lady Charlotte Schreiber, Lady Currie and Baron Rothschild are all mentioned again. She has had well-known customers from the outset – the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk was her very first and every collector of note among the aristocracy soon followed. Her connection is worldwide and she has “clients for everything conceivable and inconceivable”. She is able to employ “agents in every corner of Europe”. She has a natural aptitude for spotting a fake and her suppliers from among the ancient families can provide all the provenance in the world. Mr Hurst insists – surely you get “taken in” sometimes. Miss Millard responds – a little flirtatiously – “‘You have my full permission’, replied Miss Millard, laughing, ‘to try and take me in’”.
There is a guided tour – a bugle from Waterloo, a map sampler, lacework and altar cloths, lamps and fans, the dress in which Emma Hamilton sat for Romney, Dresden china, and much else. “Hunting up rare books is one of my pursuits too. Here is a letter received this morning – an order to the amount of four hundred pounds; but if it were four thousand pounds or four hundred pence, all receive the same attention”. Her latest triumph – the third known copy of Ruskin’s “Queen’s Gardens”, just sold to Mrs Rylands “to add to the famous Althorpe library purchased for £250,000 from Earl Spencer”. I note in passing that the £400 order received that morning in 1896, so casually introduced, equates to £41,740 in today’s terms, using the Retail Price Index, or to £162,000 in terms of today’s average earnings.
The interview ends with a question about other women perhaps earning a living this way. Miss Millard points out that she has had the distinct advantage of having lived all her life “among people who thoroughly understood curios”, but confesses she would open more shops but for her “inability to get competent people to manage them. What I have been trying to get hold of for some time past are two ladies, preferably sisters – they must not be too young nor too old, say between twenty-five and thirty – who have a certain amount of business instinct and tact. Could I get two ladies of this description, I would take a house for them and stock the shop, putting them in to manage it upon a salary and a commission”. Surely this should not be too difficult, suggests the interviewer, but apparently it is – “I have been trying for a long time and up to the present have been most unsuccessful”. Norman Hurst departs “with a feeling of admiration for a woman who has fought her way in the world and is prepared to help others to do likewise”.
His questions were perhaps sufficiently answered, but by now mine are now really starting to stack up. A business of this size clearly could not be carried on by a single person, but she is apparently unable to find competent staff. There remains the nagging question as to why, with a plainly well-to-do mother with a fine collection of china, she was required to earn her own living from the age of sixteen. She again refers to being brought up among “people” rather than her family. And not only am I unable to find a birth, marriage, death, or a census return for a real Clara Millard in Teddington, I can’t find her mother either. Things just do not add up.
It took much luck, a great deal of stabbing in the dark, and some blind guesswork, but I think I now have at least some of the answers. The clues begin in Mulberry House on the night of the census on 5th April 1891 – the house where the interviews took place and which Clara Millard advertised as her “permanent residential address”. No sign of her, but present in the house on that night was a man calling himself Ellis H. Ellis – the H. standing for Heyman or sometime Heymans – a Liverpudlian of fifty years of age, described as a dealer in fine arts. With him, as well as a cook and a housemaid, both in their teens, were his wife, Clara Ellis, also aged fifty and originally from the remote village of Hutton in Somerset, and a twenty-nine year old daughter, Elizabeth Ellis, apparently born in Chelsea and described, with utter vagueness, as a “traveller’s clerk”. So we have both a dealer and a Clara in the house, but not ones of the right age or gender.
Ten years earlier, this same Ellis family had been living more modestly nearby, at The Cottage, Middle Lane, Teddington, with Ellis Ellis at that time described as a retired auctioneer. His wife was not present on census night, away visiting a younger sister in Somerset, but – and here’s the luck – her mother was. And her mother was a Millard – Elizabeth Millard – the Betsey Millard who as a young woman had given birth to Ellis’s wife, Clara Bartholomew Ellis, née Millard, at Hutton in 1840 – apparently out of wedlock. Betsey Millard was then an agricultural labourer living in abject rural poverty with her extended family, her grandmother described on the 1841 census as a pauper. And it was this grandmother, Clara Bartholomew Millard’s great-grandmother, who seems to have brought the child up – they are recorded together and alone, a widowed pauper of eighty-four and a girl of eleven, on the 1851 census.
So we do have a real Clara Millard – but this is plainly not the Clara Millard of the interviews and the international fame – the wrong age, brought up in rural pauperdom, and almost certainly quite unschooled. But also present in Teddington on census night in 1881 was her daughter, here called Georgie rather than Elizabeth, but certainly the same young woman, and described on the return as an “editress” – that word again – and this precisely at the time that “The Ceramic Gazette”, soon to become the “The Amateur Trader” – editress Clara Millard – was launched.
I now have no doubt at all that Georgie or Georgetta Ellis, to give her the name she later favoured, is the young woman who, using her mother’s maiden name, was actually the face and the driving force behind the whole “Clara Millard” persona and operation so beloved of the press. As to her father, I couldn’t initially find any trace of Ellis Ellis prior to 1871 – probably because he was known under his real name of Ellis Heyman up until that time. Why he altered his name I am not sure – it may have had to do with his earlier career in Liverpool and his father’s money troubles in the 1860s. It may have been a matter of distancing himself from his Jewish roots, or it may indeed have been a way of shielding or reinventing his poverty-born wife and, as it turns out, her almost certainly illegitimate daughter. He was in fact the son of Lewis Heyman, of Liverpool, who married Sara Elias in London at her wealthy brother’s house in Woburn Square in 1839. The ceremony was performed by no less a personage than Solomon Herschel, the first formally recognised Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. By birth, Ellis Heyman was first cousin to the society landscape painters Alfred and Annette Elias.
His father, Lewis Heyman, originally from Prussia, was a pawnbroker seemingly in a substantial way of business in Liverpool. His banked-up advertisements of luxury goods in the Liverpool press are clearly the original model for the “Clara Millard” operation and the original connection with “people who liked nice things”. By the age of nineteen, his son Ellis, working under a full barrel of names as Ellis Lewis Elias Heyman, had opened his own “commission office for the sale of miscellaneous forfeited valuables”.
A few weeks later he was “severely” burned in a gas explosion, having “incautiously” taken a light to investigate a gas leak on opening his shop (Liverpool Mercury, 28th November 1859), but the advertisements continued to flow. Initially stereoscopic slides and spectacles were heavily featured, but soon there was everything else – clocks, watches, oil paintings, some enticing sounding watercolours, bracelets, jewellery, guns, cameras, instruments – all grist to the mill.
Over 100 separate advertisements hit the Liverpool press in 1860, some issued in tandem with his father. Then, in the summer of 1861, he began to advertise for books. He wanted lots of them – 100,000 volumes to be precise. He had a commission to purchase an unlimited quantity of books for shipment overseas and would pay 50% over regular booksellers’ prices. His advertisements then suddenly stop more or less altogether, only to re-emerge in 1863 with an offer now to pay “double the price usually offered by booksellers”. That, as far as I can tell, was the last advertisement he ever issued under his own name, or even as Ellis H. Ellis. Perhaps things went horribly wrong – it’s easy to see how they might – buying 100,000 books at twice the going rate is not the most obvious recipe for success. And certainly his father fell into financial difficulties about this time. Or perhaps he simply made a fortune and was content just to dabble thereafter.
By 1871, or Ellis Heyman, or now most often Ellis Ellis, was described simply as a commission agent. He was living in lodgings at Lewisham in south east London, ostensibly with his wife and daughter, although Clara Bartholomew Millard did not actually become his wife until later in 1871 when he married her at Lewisham, under his original name of Ellis Lewis Elias Heyman. (It was as Mrs Heyman that Clara was visiting her sister in Somerset). Her daughter, called Georgia on the census return earlier that year, was already nine years old. There were perhaps things that “Clara Millard” did not know even about herself. She was baptised at the age of eleven at St. Mary’s, Lewisham, on 15th June 1873, her date of birth given as 8th March 1862 and her name as Elizabeth Georgetta Millard Heyman – although there was clearly some doubt and hesitation up until the last minute over whose name to bestow on her: Millard has very clearly been scrubbed out in the surname column and Heyman substituted. Her parents are given as “George” and Clara, and her birth father described simply as a gentleman, deceased.
What life must have been like for the mother and daughter before Ellis Heyman happened along is difficult to imagine. They must have fought their way in the world in ways in which Norman Hurst could have had no conception. The transition of a pauper girl from the country with an illegitimate daughter to a collector of fine china – the daughter becoming the best-known antique dealer in the country – was an extraordinary one.
The only further clue to the origins of the young woman who became “Clara Millard” to the world came when she married – Miss Millard was no longer a Miss. She married, under a panoply of possible variants of her name, as Elizabeth Georgetta Holland Heyman Ellis, on 11th September 1893 at St. Mary’s Teddington. Her husband was a twenty-four year-old man called Nathaniel Charles Dance (1869-1952) – the son of an East End stationer. Her own age is given, perhaps diplomatically, as twenty-seven. Her real father’s name is here given as George Holland Ellis, actor. I can find no trace of George Holland Ellis, as an actor or anything else, but if we assume that the Ellis surname is as fictional as it was for the rest of the family – there are several George Hollands to choose from. The Anglo-American George Holland was one of the most famous comic actors of his day, although he appears to have lived entirely in America in the latter part of his life. His son of the same name also trod the boards, and may or may not have been the George Holland who starred in a farce called “A Regular Fix” at the Gaiety in 1878 (The Era, 23 June 1878). I can trace neither of these George Hollands as being in England at the relevant time, but there was another theatrical George Holland – a man who belonged to a popular acrobatic troupe known as the Rocky Mountain Wonders, who were certainly performing in London in the summer of 1861 – at Astley’s Amphitheatre. He died suddenly while on tour in Spain in 1863. That is my best guess, but who her real father was and where precisely she was born remain a mystery.
That Georgetta was indeed “Clara Millard” is proved beyond doubt by her later appearing on official records as Georgetta Dance at the Millard addresses in later life. Her new husband joined the business – he is described as being employed as a “fine art clerk”, presumably working for his wife, on the 1901 census, and both Georgetta and her husband are described as dealers in antiques when they turn up, still trading as “Clara Millard”, at Beach Warren, Milford-on-Sea, on the 1911 census. By then they had two children – a daughter, inevitably named Clara, aged twelve, and Nathaniel Ellis Dance, aged nine. They returned to Teddington at an address in Waldegrave Road – just across the road from where Noël Coward was born – for a few years in 1916-1919, but then went back to the Hampshire coast. Georgetta Elizabeth Dance (1862-1926), a.k.a. “Clara Millard”, at one time celebrated as “the most successful book-huntress in the world”, ended her days at a shop or a house called The Miscellany, at Highcliffe-on-Sea. She died at the age of sixty-four on 20th August 1926 and probate was granted to her husband, described as a retired fine art dealer, on 16th November, her effects stated at £6,541.8s.10d.
As to the business, we plainly have to see the hand of her adopted family in its original development. The young Georgetta must at the very least have learned a great deal from her step-father and quite possibly her step-grandfather, Lewis Heyman, who lived on until 1886. We can see now why she spoke of “people who liked nice things” rather than her family – and also why, as no blood relative of theirs, she was apparently required to earn her keep from the age sixteen (although she would in fact appear to have been eighteen when she began). No doubt Ellis Ellis was involved in the business to a greater or a lesser extent: he was living in Mulberry House in 1891 and still turns up on census returns in 1901 and 1911 as an art dealer. Although he was by then living in Acton with his second wife, he remained on the electoral register in Teddington at addresses associated with the business until 1909 and was buried there in 1911. A gravestone in Teddington Cemetery commemorates him alongside his first wife and his mother-in-law. The gravestone is worn and no longer really legible, but a transcription taken a few years ago records that it once read something like, “Elizabeth Bartholomew Millard who passed away in her sleep on the morning of 2 Sep 1890 in her 74th year. Also Clara, darling wife of Ellis Heyman Ellis and daughter of the above who went to rest on the morning of 7 Sep 1895 in her 54th year. Also Ellis Heyman Ellis husband of the above died … Oct 1911, aged 71, also known as Ellis Lewis Heyman, dealer in fine arts, buried 17 Oct 1911, aged 71”.
Thomas J. Wise, book-collector and forger, in fact regarded Ellis Ellis himself as the real Clara Millard. In a singularly unpleasant letter to his crony John Henry Wrenn (11th March 1902) he boasted of how some years earlier he came to acquire his copy of Defoe’s “Due Preparations for the Plague” (1722): “My own copy (now bound in morocco) was a real gift from the gods. I bought it for 50/-, bound up with one of Mrs. Aphra Behn’s novels. I bought the Behn, this Defoe being considered by the vendor as of little or no value, and was not charged anything. And the vendor, of all persons, was the fat black Jew who trades under the name of ‘Miss Clara Millard’! And this is the fellow who brags that he knows everything! Would he not tear every hair from his head did he but know that he had parted with a twenty pound book for nothing at all!” – “black” here being used in the sense of dark-complexioned, although I have a notion that Ellis may have been disfigured in the gas explosion. Hence perhaps a reticence to put himself or his name before the public. A Svengali to her Trilby? (a novel published in 1894) – well, just perhaps, but Wise, I suspect, was the just the type of man who would ignore a woman completely in matters of business if there was a man to speak to anywhere in the vicinity – and the weight of all the other evidence is against him. All those journalists traipsing down to Teddington were certainly not interviewing a man, but a very impressive young woman. There was an open invitation to the public, repeated weekly in the press, to come and meet Miss Millard any day between ten and four. The business continued after Ellis Ellis left Teddington and after his death. There is no suggestion anywhere else, so far as I can trace, that the business was run by anyone other than the woman the world knew as “Clara Millard”.
That said, there is a distinct tinge of theatre and illusion about the whole affair – the style of the advertising and publicity certainly; the love of old theatre costumes which comes across in the advertisements – Clara Millard is fingering a white silken gown once worn by Sarah Siddons in the “Sketch” interview; her missing father, the “actor”; her step-father Ellis Ellis’s second wife – Rachel de Solla, the well-known actress, whom he married in 1898 – someone else whose names and life story would take some unpicking – but who lived on to take leading parts in some of the early English silent feature films – “East Lynne” (1913), “Jane Shore” (1915) and “The Ticket-of-Leave Man” (1918); the friend and perhaps helper who was visiting the nineteen-year-old “editress” on census night in 1881 – a twenty-year-old actress named Laura Delamotte, daughter of the tolerably well-known artist and wood-engraver Freeman Gage Delamotte and his wife Caroline Westlake, who ran Delamotte’s Hotel, just off the Strand.
There were other members of the family at Georgetta’s wedding – Ellis Ellis’s niece, Sara Louise Heyman, was one of the witnesses. Her father, Henry Heyman, Ellis’s younger brother (who confuses matters by calling himself Henry Ellis-Heyman when he had premises on Bond Street in the 1890s), was living in Streatham, only ten miles from Teddington, and described as a fine art dealer in 1901, as was his son, Arthur Ellis Heyman, a fine art dealer’s assistant. I think that we are essentially looking at a family business and a broad network of connections – but there is no doubt who was the star – Clara Millard, Elizabeth Heyman, Georgetta Holland, Georgie Ellis, Georgina or Georgetta Dance – by whichever name she may wish to be remembered – the most successful book-huntress in the world. “Aut Millard, aut nulla”.