Jeanne Rathbone

Clare Sheridan

Posted in Clare Sheridan Author, Sculptor and Notable Galway Woman by sheelanagigcomedienne on August 16, 2018

Clare Consuela Sheridan ( 1885 -!970) has had the most varied, exotic and colourful life of these Notable Galway Women.  She came from a well-connected cosmopolitan family.  She was a sculptor, a writer, a restless nomad who wrote about her adventures, had relationships with intriguing men and she endured tragedy – with the death of her adored husband and two of her three children died before her. She had fascinating friends which reflected her cosmopolitan background of Anglo-Irish American parentage. Her godmother was Consuela Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough

Through her bust sculptures and journalistic assignments she was intimate with a variety of people including Irish Nationalists like Michael Collins, British politicians and aristocrats, the Mountbattens, Lady Diana Cooper, Vita Sackville-West and Vivien Leigh,  Charlie  Chaplin and the Russian revolutionaries. Through her cousin Winston Churchill she made useful connections as sculpture and writer and her biography Cousin Clare  was written by the fascinating Galway based biographer Anita Leslie of Oranmore Castle who was also a cousin and is probably  most definitive book on this remarkable life and she was a regular visitor there especially during her Galway years in the late forties.  She lived in many exotic places and her her life seemed to be in phases. She came to live in Galway in 1947-1954, converted to Catholicism and devoted her skills to religious carvings. We visited Oranmore Castle in August 2017 whilst staying in Oranmore with my sister Ida. We met Leonie King who takes guides people around her fabulous and atmospheric home which is her castle. Leonie is the daughter of Anita Leslie. This blog is by Olivia King https://www.the-pool.com/people/women-we-love/2017/37/olivia-king-my-gran-the-nazi-fighter

 

 

She was born Clare Frewen in 1885, the only daughter among the children of the talented and wealthy three Jerome sisters. She had two brothers Hugh and Oswald whom she called Peter in her memoirs.  The Jerome’s were a prominent New York family and her grandfather Leonard Jerome was nicknamed ‘the King of Wall Street’.  Her father, Moreton Frewen (1853-1924), of Innishannon House in Cork led a peripatetic life, moving from England to America, then to Ireland and finally back to England again. He was was apparently he was a  charming if financially incompetent adventurer known for reckless financial and political schemes and was briefly  MP for Cork as an Independent  ‘Home Ruler’.  Nevertheless their house was burnt down in 1921. Michael Collins apologised to her for this when she interviewed him! Her father’s restlessness  was echoed in Clare’s  own life, which was spent constantly on the move.

Even in 2017 the Mail on Sunday can splash headlines about her in their style  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4502608/Winston-Churchill-s-cousin-seductress-SOVIET-SPY.html

She bedded Trotsky, was molested by Mussolini, got spurned by Hitler and ran off with Charlie Chaplin: How Churchill’s cousin Clare Sheridan was a seductress… and Soviet spy

 

 

Clare was sent to the Convent of the Assumption in Auteuil, in Paris but when she announced to her family that she wished to convert to Catholicism she was removed and sent briefly to a finishing school in Darmstadt in Germany where she went to the opera twice a week and played ping-pong with German officers. A maid was sent to Darmstadt to fetch her home, and further attempts at conventional schooling were abandoned.

Clare went to balls at Dublin Castle and years later in her memoirs Naked Truth  she amusingly described her first season at Dublin Castle with Lord Dudley masquerading as the King. She was then brought to London and dressed at some expense when she attended balls and parties and fell in love with a young stockbroker named Wilfred Sheridan when she was 17.                                                                            http://spartacus-educational.com/Wilfred_Sheridan.htm     She told her cousin Anita: “in Wilfred’s company she felt herself utterly natural, sparkling and gay” But her father disapproved as they wanted her to marry someone richer. Wilfred lent her books, including the works of his great grandfather Richard Brinsley Sheridan. She returned to Cork and commenced her first attempts at writing with a play called l’Ingénue.

This article by Peter Murray in Irish Arts review recounts incidents from her memoir Nude Veritas. https://www.irishartsreview.com/restless-spirit/

On one occasion her and her mother left Malta where Peter’s ship was based and went to  Cannes penniless when she found a fiver that cousin Jack Churchill had given her for Christmas and then Clare was given fifty ponds by an old friend of her father’s which he stuffed into her shoe despite being told not to take money from men only books! Her mother cried but they kept the money. They went to Monte Carlo, Clare gambled, and won. The following year she relates her stay in Sweden with the Princess Margaret.  She also went to Capri, where she stayed in a house owned by Swedish psychiatrist Axel Munthe. She attributed to Munthe her initial introduction to Bolshevism.

Meanwhile, Clare’s family had moved from Cork to England, her mother buying Brede Place, a 14th-century ruin on Edward Frewen’s estate in Sussex. Henry James was just four miles away, at Rye. Clare became friends with James, and also with the novelist George Moore. She began to write articles and a novel, showing chapters to both James and Moore. Moore described it as ‘charming’ and a ‘dear little book.’ In response, Clare flung the manuscript across the room, danced on it, kicked it, and finally put a match to it.

Clare Brede Place

Brede Place

He advised her to gain independence from her mother through marriage, and so on her return to England in 1910 she and Wilfred became engaged. He was said to be the best-looking man in England. At the wedding she refused to say the word ‘obey’, and the Canon was shocked by the irreverence of bride and groom. Clare settled in Sussex with Wilfred, where they had two children, Margaret and Elizabeth. However in 1914 Elizabeth died in infancy. Clare became friendly with Mary Watts, widow of artist George Frederick Watts, who ran a nearby pottery and who encouraged her to sculpt a memorial to her deceased daughter. She enrolled in the modelling section of the Guildford Technical School, bringing the half completed clay memorial with her.

 

 

The following year, her son Richard was born, but a few days later her Wilfred was killed at the Battle of Loos. He was probably the love of her life. They had parted only a few weeks earlier when they were staying at Frampton Court, his parental home where they hoped Dick would be born as heir.          http://www.dorsetlife.co.uk/2011/11/the-curse-of-frampton/  ‘She stood there watching him walk away – so light of step, sunburned and handsome. Once he turned to wave. Then he was gone.” She was heart broken.. She was given the letter written by her beloved Wilfred which was found in his pocket. : “You will only read this if I am dead, and remember that as you read it I shall be by your side. Remember that all over England are broken hearts and ruined lives, remember that one splendid woman, such as you are, refusing to weep, and hugging her soul with pride at a soldier’s death, will consciously or unconsciously stiffen up and bring comfort to these… God keep you and help you and bring my little Margaret up happily. I can leave you nothing, darling, except the memory of years, and you know what our life together has been. Surely if perfection is attained we have attained it.”

Clare S Frampton1

Frampton Court Dorset the home of the Sheridans.

Stricken by this second loss, and the deaths of other close friends in WWI, Clare resolved to devote her life to sculpture. She produced various types of images, but it was her portrait heads that made her reputation. She became a successful society artist. Among her sitters were HG Wells, Arnold Bennett, Gladys Cooper and Diana Manners at this time as well as Churchill.

She had been pursued by suitors Lord Birkenhead,and Alexander Thynne, son of the Marquis of Bath who was also killed in the War and  Seymour Egerton who was the  6th Earl of Wilton, asked the widowed Clare to marry.

Then she decided to travel to Russia where she succeeded in getting Lenin and Trotsky to sit for her. She had become in onvolved with Lev Kaminev which is chronicled in Mayfair to Moscow  . https://archive.org/stream/mayfairtomoscowc00sher/mayfairtomoscowc00sher_djvu.txt

 

 

This infuriated Churchill who was very anti-Bolshevik and it caused the first of the ‘scandals’ that would keep her name buzzing on the world’s press wires for the next 30 years. Her life from this point on reads like the improbable plot to a novel – full of sex, tragedy and espionage, played out against a backcloth of bright young things and international power-brokers taking in America.

 

 

She set forth in search of dangerous adventures, interesting men and artistic fulfilment. She travelled most of the world and met people like Gandhi, Primo De Rivera, Gorky, H.G. Wells, Kemel Ataturk, Mussolini, Marconi, Rudyard Kipling etc. Clare had affairs with some of these while others sat for her while she worked on their portrait. She was a very good journalist and interviewed many world leaders including Michael Collins. She was the only journalist to get into the occupied Four Courts in Dublin and interview Rory O’Connor. She spent time in America and it was here she became entangled with Charlie Chaplain.

In 1925, she moved to Algeria  where it was noted by M15 that “she appeared to be comfortably off and debt-free for the first time in 10 years”. She built a house on the edge of the Sahara at Biskra. In 1937, her beloved son Dick died of appendicitis at Constantine in Algeria. Clare took a large oak tree from the family home, Brede Place, in Sussex and carved it into his memorial. Carving in wood seems to have given her a fresh artistic direction. She  went on a pilgrimage to Montana and Canada, staying with the Black Foot tribe on the Blood Reserve. Many of the objects she collected during her visit are kept at Hastings Museum. http://www.thekeep.info/clare-sheridan-a-woman-ahead-of-her-time/

 

 

The account of her dealings with Mussolini are chilling – his “nostrils flaring-head down like an angry bull.” Mussolini commented: “You will not leave till dawn, and then you will be broken in”. Anita Leslie continued: “He must seduce her. Sketch-book and clay flew to the ceiling, slaps, punches, wrestling, gasping cries of amazement (on both sides) filled the room. Clare couldn’t believe it true. Neither could Mussolini – she was taller than he, but he was stronger…. He blocked the way to the main door, but grabbing her handbag she made for the side exit. He got there before her and there was, according to her own account, a veritable hand-to-hand struggle for the key. Clare managed to snatch it and open the door. It took a long time, she said. But eventually she managed to wedge it open with her foot. Mussolini threw his whole heavy weight against the door to close it and caught her elbow in the process. Her screams of pain halted him. Purple in the face he stood back for a moment and she was able to wrench herself from his grasp.”

 

 

She made homes for herself in many strange and exotic places. She came to Galway in 1947 and lived in the house beside the Spanish Arch which later became the first museum of the city.  The Palace Arthouse Cinema behind it has only opened in 2018.

She was by now doing a lot of carving in wood as well as stone. She spent a lot of time working in the grounds of Oranmore Castle, the home of her cousin Anita Leslie and Anita’s husband, Bill King. She got the castle mason to rough out big blocks of stone, which she could then hew into form. Clare was a well-known figure in Galway ‘floating around in her violet shaded tweed cloaks of ecclesiastical design’. These cloaks were made by her good friend Cis O’Máille of O’Máille’s Shop in Dominick Street, who regularly entertained Clare to Sunday lunch.  Clare got on well with Claddagh fisherwomen who brought her baskets of fish when the boats came in. She was a regular visitor to the Poor Clares, and also to Kennys Bookshop.

 

 

Clare was still strong enough to carve, not only in wood but in stone, but she was very disappointed at the dearth of orders from the Church for her carvings. She had high hopes that the Bishop might buy the Madonna and Child for his new cathedral. She was not impressed when she saw the mosaics of JFK and Padraic Pearse, and she railed against the poor taste of those who had the power to spend. She offered the statue to a convent guest-house, but it was pointed out to her that as the Holy Child wore no trousers, some people might be offended. Her retort was “The renaissance did not consider underwear necessary, why should you”?

 

 

She has a crucifix in Salthill Church and a Madonna and Child on top of the Spanish Arch. By October 1st, 1952, she had sold Spanish Arch House and “so comes to an end another five year span on which the pattern of my life is so inadvertently composed ….. one five year span after another”.  She lived in a guest house run by the Franciscan Convent Hope Castle at Castleblayney before moving to  Allington Castle in Kent where she carved, from bog oak, a celebrated Madonna now at Brede.

The Spartacus piece on Clare is Interesting   http://spartacus-educational.com/Clare_Sheridan.htm

Clare Sheridan home in Hastings

Belmont it looks rather sumptuously renovated. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/buy/the-life-of-sex-scandal-and-tragedy-lived-by-winston-churchills/

From 1956 she lived at Belmont House, Hastings not far from the High Street from where she wrote To the Four Winds in 1957 which was updating her memories.  By this time, her scandalous days were a thing of the past and she lived here until her death in 1970. Clare Sheridan died in 1970 Parnham House Beaminster Dorset aged 84 years and is buried in the churchyard of St George’s, Brede.

Clare’s life is just so intriguing. She had the advantage of her class privilege and her  connections but she carved out her own life and was a liberated woman who did her own thing despite the tragedies of losing her beloved husband when she was so young and her two children Elizabeth and Dick. Her earlier life when she packed in travel, living in wonderful houses, her many lovers, relationships with friends and relatives like Churchill, writing memoirs, articles, interviews and travel chronicles, bringing up children, meeting fascinating people, making friends and all the while sculpting till her contemplative religious life in her latter years.  Her writings are so absorbing and easy to read and I love checking out photos and images.  I am so glad to be able to include her in this assembly of memorable Galway women.

  • Russian Portraits (Cape, 1921); published in the U.S as Mayfair to Moscow: Clare Sheridan’s Diary (1921)
  • My American Diary (New York, Boni and Liveright, 1922)
  • In Many Places (Cape, 1923)
  • West to East (1923)
  • Stella Defiant (Duckworth, 1923)
  • Across Europe with Satanella (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1925)
  • The Thirteenth (Duckworth, 1925)
  • A Turkish Kaleidoscope (Duckworth, 1926)
  • Nuda Veritas (Butterworth, 1927); published in the US as Naked Truth (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1928)
  • Green Amber (1929)
  • The Substitute Bride (1931)
  • Arab Interlude (1936)
  • Redskin Interlude (1938)
  • Without End (1939)
  • My Crowded Sanctuary (Methuen, 1945)
  • To the Four Winds (1957)

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