Barry De Morgan

Great, great grand-nephew of William De Morgan, Barry, shares his anedotes of Wilhemina Stirling, who founded the De Morgan collection.

In early June, I spent a wonderful afternoon with Barry De Morgan (whose great-grandfather was William De Morgan's uncle) whilst he kindly let me record his accounts of Mrs Stirling, Evelyn De Morgan's sister, who began the De Morgan Foundation, who he knew as a young man.

He affectionately called Mrs Wilhemina Stirling 'Willy' and recounted some lovely tales to me that really bring her to life. In managing a collection like the Foundation's, it is incredbly important to have a clear idea of the social history around the objects for researchers and visitors, it really helps to bring the collection alive. Our recorded conversation is just over an hour long and you can make an appointment with the Foundation at any time to hear it in full.

Here are some of the wonderful tales which Barry recounted to me.

"Willy was a member of Hurlingham for many years and at the beginning of the century, when walking along one of the pathways, dressed in the long-skirted attire of those days, the elastic in her under garments gave way and fell to the ground! Being somewhat embarrassed and determined not to acknowledge the incident she walked on leaving the said garment on the ground hoping no one would have noticed. Not so for a charming young gentleman picked it up handing it to her with just the comment "Madame I think this might be yours! Willy said to me "I am afraid I blushed a little for this was a terrible thing to have happened in those days!""

"Willy was once being driven back home from the South of the country when passing through one of the less salubrious areas of London her car suffered a puncture. Her chauffeur, Mr Peters, drew into the side of the road and stopped in order to repair the damage.  "Why have we stopped?" She exclaimed to Peters who replied, "we have a puncture Madame". Willy's immediate response was not one mindful of safety or one of concern for the car, but rather she said, "well we can't stop here, we might be seen by one of my passing friends, drive on!"

My favourite story that he recounted was the day she packed up a picnic with Peters and drove off in the sunshine. Not to pass the time, but rather to reward them after they had scrubbed clean her late husband Charle's gravestone. They all sat graveside with the fine China and silverware admiring their handiwork.

Barry, we are exceptionally grateful for your time and your stories. Our hour-long interview is a very welcome addition to the De Morgan archive and our first oral history recording in the archive. Did you or anyone you know meet Mrs Stirling or anyone else who knew of the De Morgans? Let us know if you would like to record anything for our oral history archive.