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

Nancy’s ray guns

French physicist, Prosper-René Blondlot, was working at the University of Nancy, France, when he thought he’d discovered a new form of radiation.

image found here

He had perceived changes in the brightness of an electric spark in a spark gap placed in an X-ray beam which he photographed and attributed to the novel form of radiation, naming it the N-ray for the University of Nancy.

Cathedral, Nancy, France found here

The “discovery” excited international interest and many physicists worked to replicate the effects.

Dr J Stetson Hooker described his experiments on rays given off by humans thus: I have conducted during odd moments some 300 experiments to test this question of the human-ray spectrum and the extraordinary unanimity of the results is astounding…. rays emanating from a very passionate man have a deep red hue… the ambitious man emits orange rays;

Triumphant orange found here

the deep thinker, deep blue;

read about blue Paul here

the lover of art and refined surroundings, yellow; the anxious, depressed person, grey;

The Grey Man of the Merrick found here

and he who leads a low debased life throws off muddy-brown rays.”

American physicist Robert Wood was one who failed to replicate the experiments. Wood was a mischievious fellow – he’d gone on a joyride on the Trans-Siberian Railway while it was still being built, had swooped about in a glider before its design was remotely safe to life and limb, and had written a loony spoof of nature manuals titled How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers.

image found here

He had a reputation as a popular “debunker” in the period, and was prevailed upon by the journal Nature to travel to Blondlot’s laboratory in France to investigate further. In the darkened room, Wood secretly removed an essential prism from the experimental apparatus, yet the experimenters still said that they observed N-rays. He also secretly replaced a large file that was supposed to be giving off N-rays with an inert piece of wood, yet the N-rays were still “observed”. By 1905 no one outside Nancy believed in N-rays even as Blondlot himself is reported to have still been convinced of their existence in 1926.

image found here

A park in downtown Nancy is named after Blondlot. He left his house and garden to the city which transformed it into a public park. This can be seen as appropriate since he made significant contributions to physics before the N-ray debacle. James Randi reported that citizens of Nancy and members of the faculty at the university did not remember ever having heard about N-rays or Blondlot.