Miss D.M. Birtwhistle Mystery

I.M. Birtwistle, 1943

The photograph above is of my aunt Iris Mary Birtwistle (aka Lilla and IM Birtwistle). She was a poet and gallery owner, who achieved notoriety – in part – for continuing to run her gallery after she had gone blind (see her wiki entry here).

I’ve shared the photograph because it is an example of how searching for one thing can yield another. And in this case that started by trying to find out more about a Miss Birtwistle mentioned in documentary about Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

For those of you that follow this blog, you may have gathered that I am helping Alan Birtwhistle share the Thirtyone Generations of the Birtwhistle Family: A Family History (2006) book he compiled… over on Ancestorium.com. My cousin Hamish has also been adding the tree that Alan has been collating of various branches that go back to Ralph de Bridtwisell, of Bridtwisell in Hapton  Abt 1160.

Well, we tried to see if there was a record for this Miss Birtwistle on the tree. We know that she was the headmistress of a school the Queen Mother attended for a short time as child in London. And the only one we could find in list of headmistresses of London Private schools was the Miss D.M. Birtwistle mentioned in the snippet below:

In 1902 only two preparatory schools were listed, both presumably for boys, at no. 103A Fulham Road and at no. 37 Sloane Street. (fn. 95) In 1924 there was a girls’ school at no. 131 Sloane Street and a boys’ at no. 134. (fn. 96) The first survived under Miss D.M. Birtwhistle in 1938; the second had opened by 1918 under Charles Herbert Gibbs, a ‘pioneer of pre-preparatory schools’, and was still at no. 134, under C.H. Taylor and W.W.M. Holding, in 1938. (fn. 97)

‘Social history: Education, private schools’, in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12, Chelsea, ed. Patricia E C Croot (London, 2004), pp. 190-195. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol12/pp190-195 [accessed 25 May 2021].

However, we haven’t been able to find out more. But while searching for Miss Birtwistle high and low on Google, this record of my aunt popped up:

10866BirtwistleI. M. MissPinkHoughton BankHoughtonPrestonLancsFriday, July 02, 1943Petty Officer WREN Birtwistle 6782 RN Air Station Hatston Orkney Scotland
Record from transcript of the alphabetical card index of sitters at the Ramsey and Muspratt photographic studio at Post Office Terrace, Cambridge – found on Fading Images site

Fading Images is an historical resource dedicated to Cambridgeshire photographs and photographers. As their webmaster Les Waters kindly explained, the record is on a transcript of the alphabetical card index of sitters at the Ramsey and Muspratt photographic studio at Post Office Terrace, Cambridge. The card index and the negatives of the photos from the studio are all preserved in the Cambridgeshire Collection at the Central Library, Lion Yard Cambridge.

Given the portraits of notables taken by Ramsey and Muspratt at the National Portrait Gallery, my aunt was in good company. It includes a portrait of Robert Graves, who alledgely was one of her most fervent admirers both professionally and personally having asked her to be his muse. The photograph below from the cover of her posthumously published book of her poems was taken on the doorstep of Robert Graves house in Mallorca when staying with him (you can read more about her book of poems here):

However, she also lived in in Jesus Lane, Cambridge for quite a while when she was stationed there, so probably nothing to do with Robert Graves.

Anyway, as it turns out the Cambridgeshire Collection had the negative of my aunt at the top of this post. Interestingly, the address in Orkney is where she wanted the photographs sent to, i.e. where she ws stationed during WW2 in 1943. Point being that she doesn’t seem like she was actually living in Cambridge or Cambridgeshire at the time, which means the Cambridgeshire Collection may have negatives of other people’s ancestors. Worth a look and, who knows, you might also be able to help the Fading Images site identify some of the mystery photographs from Cambridge/Cambridgeshire and beyond.

Not that any of this helps us find out more about Miss D.M. Birtwistle, but was great to find a photo of my aunt we hadn’t seen. Huge thanks to Les at Fading Images and Mary at Cambridgeshire Collection for their work in general and help with our enquiry.


One thought on “Miss D.M. Birtwhistle Mystery

  1. Justin. Thank you for sharing, and great sleuthing!

    David Birtwistle
    Wolfhound Cottage

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