two kippers and a bottle of gin

If I were a real nurse and if the Gimcrack were a real hospital, I would have liked Marion Wrottesley as a patient….

“At the age of seven Marion was shipped off to England, but her education at a girls’ school in the Cotswolds was swiftly terminated when an aunt heard another pupil say “Pardon”. She was transferred to the more exclusive Felixstowe Ladies’ College, where she learnt to dance and play the piano.

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Back in Shanghai in 1940, aged only 17, she married Sean Rainey, an Irishman then serving as a private in the Seaforth Highlanders. This was partly a strategic move to get out of China: the Raineys duly moved to Bangalore. Here two children were born, and young Mrs Rainey served briefly as recruiting officer for the Black Watch while learning about “the sins of gin” and how to mix dry martinis.

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Such skills made her welcome when she arrived as a young divorced woman in austere post-war London and fell in with upper-class rebels such as the Labour minister’s daughter Lydia Noel-Burton, who always carried on her person two kippers and a bottle of gin.

Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

In 1949 Marion met an Old Harrovian, Dick Wrottesley, in the Bag of Nails nightclub. The heir to Lord Wrottesley reputedly locked her in the lavatory until she had agreed to marry him.

In spite of blissful summers at Wrottesley, near Wolverhampton, where the family had lived for 900 years, and the birth of their son Mark, the marriage broke down quickly. Dick Wrottesley had already told his wife: “I only married you for your tarty qualities.”

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In the early 1960s Marion returned penniless to “Swinging London” where, in 1964, her son Michael would open the fashionable outfitters Hung on You in Chelsea Green. At the reception following Michael Rainey’s marriage to Jane Ormsby-Gore, Marion was assured by the bride’s father, Lord Harlech, that his own family was “full of pisspots”. On learning that Brian Jones and Keith Richards were also present, she declared: “I must find myself a Rolling Stone.”

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During this era Marion also formed a close bond with her playboy stepson Richard Wrottesley, who first hit the headlines in 1966 when his Bentley was found upside down in the snow outside the Palace Hotel at St Moritz. At his regency-style flat in St James’s Street, young “Wrotters” introduced his stepmother to his less respectable friends, such as the East End gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray.

Reggie Kray with Shirley Bassey

For the remainder of her life, Marion Wrottesley lived mainly in bedsitters in Chelsea, Kensington, Earl’s Court and further afield. Though a gifted story-teller she never gave in to pressure to write her memoirs. Instead she flourished on National Assistance (her card was crudely marked “Alcoholism”) and became a character in London pubs where she began the day with Fernet Branca or Carlsberg Special.

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 8:52 am  Comments (42)  
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42 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I love your tales of charachters and ne’er do wells . This is another gem

    As for a bottle of gin and two kippers, is that not the breakfast of champions?

    • I usually start the day with a bowl of All-Bran

  2. my life always seems pale in comparison to that of those you write about 😦

    • Just remember the old Chinese curse “May you have an interesting life”… then be grateful for the pale

  3. Hhmm, if she always carried about her person two kippers, I’m guessing that Lydia Noel-Burton did not have too many suitors ?

    • But she was very popular with felines

      • I’m sure I’ve smelled her on the bus.

  4. Most of us who were “out and about” in London in those days at least knew of, if not “knew,” the Krays.
    Me? Nah! Never knew vem. (And would hardly say if I did!)
    Love your research, Nurse!

    • They were pretty scary. Ron suffered head injuries in a fight and they were both boxers so maybe there was some brain damage involved. Ronnie was definitely insane.

  5. Gin and tonic cupcakes!!! You must whip some of those up if I ever come to visit ……

    • Of course daddyp. Any other requests?

      • I’ll think about that …….

  6. I have to say that my life pales in comparison to the people you write about. It’s so dull around here, I never have the opportunity to say things like “I must find myself a Rolling Stone.”

    • Ha! Your garden is full of rolling stones

  7. Hmm… must try this whole locking tarty women in the bathroom thing. I think that’s got promise.

    • you wouldn’t need to lock me in anywhere RF

      • that sounds like a dare.

  8. The Krays were a lovely combo, what? And if she tied up with Keith Richards, she was already gathering moss. But she was definitely a woman before, during and in her time. Quite a character, and many thanks for the quicky on her.

    • Oh Keith Richards… now there’s man with an interesting life

  9. “I were a real nurse and if the Gimcrack were a real hospital”

    What?? It’s all been a lie. Damn. I had everything planned out for an emergency when I finally visit Australia and now this.

    (ok…I knew)

    • Don’t let my lack of formal qualifications put you off bearman. I’m sure I could perform a tracheotomy if the need arose

  10. i’m adding the GnT cupcakes to the list of “cooking with booze” foods in my arsenal… they sound yummy! or perhaps it’s their tarty properties i’m drawn to?

    • The cupcake itself only has the tonic part. You could dispense with that and just whip up the gin icing instead

  11. “whaaat? you’re not a real nurse and there isn’t a gimcrack hospital? you’re a char-char-charl…”
    “charlatan,” she answered. “what about it?”
    “i thought everything you ever said was true. i believed you.”
    “you only loved me for my tarty qualities.”
    “that’s not true. i love you for everything: your addiction to gin, cupcakes and corsets.”

    • Maybe that’s what I’ll call my next book: nursemyra’s addiction to gin, cupcakes and corsets

  12. Denny will bring the liquor.

    • Can you make margaritas?

  13. I must find out how he managed to get her into the bathroom and then proceed to lock her in until she promised to marry him.

    • He lured her with gin and cupcakes

  14. I would so like to have all my couture designed and fitted by the tailors at Hung on You …

  15. Tart, now that’s a word that should be used more often

  16. She sounds like my kind of girl; we would have gotten along famously. We would have had the same crudely stamped dole cards after all.

  17. i do like the way you structure your post.
    This is great

  18. “….exclusive Felixstowe…” is now a great big ugly container port. The Cotswolds are still quite nice.

    She must’ve got out of Shanghai just in time as the Japanese occupied it after Pearl Harbour. The writer J G Ballard grew up as an internee in Shanghai.

    • Yes I’ve read Empire of the Sun. Great book.

  19. “The Colonel needs you?” Now I know why all the counter staff at KFC is so short! Dwarves and Gnomes indeed!

  20. I have to agree with most of your commenters (commentors?)….my life really pales in comparison….*sigh*…..i either need to move country or u need to come over and inject some flavour and excitement into my life!

  21. Wasn’t Lord Harlech linked with Jackie O before Ari came along?

    • Really? I didn’t know that.

  22. I usually start my day with my home made muesli. It contains bran. Very regular!!
    I used to enjoy the odd kipper but never with gin. Stout washes it down just fine.
    Woof x

  23. Mmmmm……this is likely the kind of woman I’ll end up with for better or worse.

  24. In my search for a spouse, I shall next try the lock-woman-in-lavatory technique.


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