Queer Places:
7 Chelsea Embankment, Chelsea, London SW3 4LF, UK

Lady Monkswell c.1929 on leftMary Josephine Collier, Lady Monkswell (November 2, 1849 – May 14, 1930), diarist, never formally participated in politics except as the wife of a man who held several government positions, but in 1890 she recorded her pride that a woman had attained the highest score on the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos: “Every woman feels 2 inches taller for this success of Miss Fawcett.”

Mary Josephine Hardcastle was born at Hintlesham Hall, Suffolk, on 2 November 1849, the third surviving daughter and fourth of five children of Joseph Alfred Hardcastle (1815–1899), Liberal MP, and his first wife, Frances Lambirth. In 1873 she married Robert Collier. Robert Collier, 2nd Lord Monkswell (1845-1909), elder son of Sir Robert Collier, 1st Lord Monkswell, Liberal and Progressive party politician, had three sons with Lady Monkswell: Robert, Gerard and Eric.

Lady Monkswell crowed about having “supplanted” one woman as the “great friend” of Mrs. Edith Bland, and the relative who edited her published letters and diaries included many other instances in which she bragged of similar successes. In an 1874 journal entry penned a few months after her marriage, the twenty-five-year-old Lady Monkswell mentioned a “very nice dinner” attended by “beautiful Mrs. Julian Goldsmid (Virginia Philipson Goldsmid) with whom I am in love . . . a fair Italian about 26, with lovely blue eyes, a sweet smile and a sweet voice”. After Lady Goldsmid’s death in 1892, Monkswell recalled a relish she had felt almost in spite of herself: “She was not the least the sort of woman that I like, but she was kind and nice to us and so very attractive that I feel almost an affection for her”. As confirmation that she liked Goldsmid for her looks alone, Monkswell provided an elaborate inventory of Goldsmid’s bodily charms, praising her skin, eyes, hair, and teeth, “darling, clever little hands, lovely arms and wrists . . . well shaped legs and feet”. In 1877, after meeting a “most beautiful girl . . . a Miss Graham of Netherby . . . magnificent dark red-brown hair, dark drooping blue eyes, the most beautiful full, red, finely cut lips (and in the words of Rossetti, ‘I saw her smile’),” Lady Monkswell exhorted, “Let us have a few more girls of this style”.

A Victorian Diarist: Later Extracts From the Journals of Mary, Lady Monkswell. 1895 -1909, edited by Eric Cecil Frederick Collier, was published in London by John Murray (1946). Her diary contains her observations populated with luminary acquaintances of the time including authors, statesmen and peers. Some of the guests in their house in Chelsea were Benjamin Disraeli, the young Churchill, Huxley, Millais, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Mark Twain.

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