a trail of dull gold hairpins

Mabel “Nancy” Atherton was a striking divorcee who had sued a previous lover for breach of promise when, instead of marrying her, he ran off with a pretty young actress.

NOT this Nancy (Sinatra) found here

A year later, she in turn was named by Mrs Clara Stirling who sued her husband Jack, Laird of Kippendavie, on the grounds of adultery with Nancy.

NOT this Clara (Bow) found here

Jack counter-petitioned his wife for adultery with his friend Lord “Fatty” Northland, son of the Governor of New Zealand.

The judge Lord Guthrie could scarcely contain himself in the scorching glare of Nancy Atherton’s considerable charms. She was a lady, his Lordship drooled, ‘with gracious manners, the sort of fascination which captivates man indeed’

First to counter these judicial effusions was Nancy’s French maid who told the court she frequently saw her mistress with dashing Jack Stirling on the couch, and found one of his mongrammed handkerchiefs under her pillow. She also saw Nancy in a kimono wrap, her intentions betrayed by a trail of dull gold hairpins scattered in Jack’s bedroom.

French maids found here

Jack not only denied a romance with Nancy, he accused his wife Clara of throwing herself at Fatty Northland when the foursome swanned over to Paris together for the Grand Prix in 1908.

1908 Grand Prix found here

These four, punting by moonlight on the Thames during regatta week at Henley, flitting furtively in and out of restaurants while arranging nightly bedroom toings and froings, danced inevitably towards their own destruction. A divorce was granted to Jack, and Clara lost custody of her two year old son. I learned all this by reading Roger Wilke’s book “Scandal: A Scurrilous History of Gossip“.

But Roger omitted to tell me about the assault charge brought against Clara Stirling’s mother, Mrs Taylor. Because of Fatty Northland’s New Zealand connection, the Taranaki Times reported it in full

Taranaki found here

“Nancy Atherton was plaintiff in a case of alleged assault against 76 year old Mrs Taylor who took out a cross summons for assault. Counsel for plaintiff, Mr Freke Palmer, said the assault took place last Monday. In the past three weeks, Mrs Taylor had been constantly seen near Mrs Atherton’s house and servants had seen her looking in the dining room windows.

image by Bruce Mozert found here

Shortly after 1:00 pm, Mrs Taylor called upon Mrs Atherton and was shown into the drawing room where she asked Nancy a series of delicate questions. When Mrs Atherton refused to answer, Mrs Taylor allegedly jumped from her chair and put her fingers around Nancy’s throat, doing her best to choke her. 

Nancy managed to throw her off and Mrs Taylor rushed downstairs to the dining room when she found the front door was shut. Two servants prevented her from escaping out the window. 

Mrs Taylor alleges she was locked in the house but made no threats and contemplated no violence. After waiting some time, she was frightened by Mrs Atheron’s eyes which blazed like a tiger’s. She opened the window and called to her cabman that she was being held against her will. While trying to escape, two servants pulled and tore at her clothes until they were nearly off.

cat’s eye contact lenses found here

Mrs Taylor was fined two securities of £25.00 each and Mrs Atherton fined £10. They were both ordered to keep the peace for six months.

Another interesting article on the death of Nancy Atherton can be read here

ah Jack, we hardly knew ye

Before the invention of the rotisserie, a large roast required someone to sit by a fire, engulfed in smoke and heat, to keep the animal turning. So naturally, people devised ways to do this automatically

image of Jack Ruby found here

The least complex and most inexpensive way to turn a roast required little investment, depended on string alone, and involved a semi-manual method. The roast was suspended at the end of a long string attached by its other end above, perhaps from a wrought-iron dangle spit; hanging free it required only the flick of the cook’s hand to set it spinning.


If you were a wealthy soul living over 300 years ago, you had some kind of mechanical utensil to turn a large roast on a spit on the hearth of a large cooking fireplace. Perhaps the oldest and most impressive of these was the clock jack installed on the wall either above the lintel or off to one side-a devise that turned the spit through a system of belts or pulleys.

Clock Jack

The early English word jack referred to the name of a common man who did menial work, or to a contrivance that saved human labor. The jacks (like clocks) incorporated a series of gears and springs to do the work. They were activated by either a key and spring system or by hanging weights. The speed of the spit was regulated by the “governor,” a small weight or a series of fan blades on the jack that slowed the winding down; the weight of the meat on the spit worked the same way.

Governor found here

The source of power for these labor-savers is also interesting. While elaborate mechanical gadgetry had obvious advantages, people of more limited means or needs managed to get by with systems that were at least partially manual. Thus one learns of early dog jacks where the animal itself, running in place on a wide moving belt, set the pulley-gear assembly in motion.

dog power

An Italian version (1827) that turned “130 different roasts at once, and plays twenty-four tunes, and whatever it plays, corresponds to a certain degree of cooking, which is perfectly understood by the cook. Thus, a leg of mutton a la anglaise, will be excellent at the 12th air; a fowl a la Flamande, will be juicy at the 18th, and so on.” Needless to say, only the most opulent, wealthy, or ambitious of kitchens would need one of these.

Jack has long been a popular name for boys. Its meaning is given as “God is Gracious” which might explain what Jack Nicholson is aspiring to in this photograph of his First Communion found here

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 9:04 am  Comments (43)  
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