Marie van Wilder

Photo:Marie van Wilder

Marie van Wilder

Photo:Joseph

Joseph

Photo:Ernestine and her daughter Denise

Ernestine and her daughter Denise

all three photos from Mrs Denise Herbert

A sad and romantic story that was long kept secret in the family ....

By Carolyn Sansbury

Marie Van Wilder was Flemish. She was the mistress of a man called Joseph who owned a jewellery and perfumery shop. They had met  in Brussels and had fallen in love -- but unfortunately he was a married man, and he was a catholic, and so could not divorce his wife and marry Marie.  Marie travelled with him first to Paris where they lived for a while, and then to London. 

In those days, life could be very tough for a mistress. She would face social ostracism, and perhaps her own family too would want nothing to do with her. Joseph obviously wanted to make sure that Marie and their daughter Ernestine would be all right if anything were to happen to him, and so he bought a house for her in Brighton -- 21 Powis Square – to provide her with some sort of financial security. In fact, when Joseph died of bronchitis at only 46 years old, she was able to let some of the rooms to tenants, and so have an income for herself and Ernestine.

Marie and Ernestine lived in Powis Square from about 1915, but sad to say, they had no friends in the square – Marie was foreign, and she had lived a “scandalous” life and her daughter was illegitimate. Their neighbours avoided them. The house was full of furniture and paintings, the windows draped with lacy curtains. 

On Marie’s death, Ernestine inherited 21 Powis Square. She was living in Portsmouth with her husband and daughter Denise, but she continued to rent out no.21. However, there were perpetual problems, because the roof needed fixing, and this cost more than the rent coming in. (Nothing changes!) She eventually sold the house in the 1930s for about £1000. (But some things do change!)

This story was told in 2000 to a current resident by Mrs Denise Herbert, when she came to visit her grandmother Marie van Wilder’s house. She was then 73, and she brought some photos with her.  Denise’s mother Ernestine  had never admitted that she was illegitimate. It was only after going through her mother’s papers that Denise pieced the story together and wanted to return to the house that she remembered visiting when she was a child.  

This page was added on 08/04/2010.

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