Mrs A.M.W. Stirling

 

Born in London in 1865, Anna Maria Diana Wilhelmina Pickering was the youngest daughter of Anna Maria Wilhelmina Spencer-Stanhope (1824-1901) and her husband, Percival Andree Pickering, Q.C. (1810-1876). She was the younger sister of Evelyn De Morgan née Pickering (1855-1919) and sister-in-law of William De Morgan (1839-1917). Over her lifetime Mrs Stirling assembled a substantial art collection that featured their work. When she died at the age of ninety-nine in 1965, she bequeathed her collection to be looked after in Trust for perpetuity.

Mrs Stirling was an accomplished and prolific writer. Her most well-known work is her biography William De Morgan and his Wife (1922) which is the starting point for all researchers interested in the De Morgans today. Her other books deal with various subjects such as spiritualism and the lives and reminiscences of the British landed gentry.

Mrs Stirling also shared the progressive political ideals of many members of the Arts and Crafts movement. A letter from Emmeline Pankhurst (in the archives of the De Morgan Foundation) to Mrs Stirling, written in May 1911, says

 

“We all feel very grateful to you for having unearthed and published such a valuable piece of evidence that women voted prior to the Reform Bill of 1832.  Your help and interest lead me to think that perhaps you may some day ere long find time to come here and see something of our great organization.  I am sure that you will be pleased to see what progress is being made not only in the getting of the vote but in the work of preparing women to use it wisely when it is won. I am very truly yours, E. Pankhurst”

 

In 1931 Wilhelmina and her husband Charles Goodbarne Stirling moved into Old Battersea House, which had been threatened with demolition by the local council. After a campaign to save the house, which was the finest example of seventeenth century domestic architecture in Battersea, the Stirlings were granted a life tenancy.  They used the house to display their collection of paintings and pottery by Wilhelmina’s sister Evelyn and her husband William De Morgan. Mrs Stirling loved giving tours of the house, during which she would talk for hours on the artwork she exhibited and tell anecdotal stories regarding the house itself.

In 1961, at the age of ninety-six, Mrs Stirling was featured in a short film made by the director Ken Russell for the BBC’s Monitor television series. In the 17-minute long black and white film Old Battersea House, Mrs Stirling takes the visitor on a tour of the house and talks passionately about her support of the ideals of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  While her manservant, Mr Peters, carries around a large lamp to illuminate the dark corners of the house, she tells stories about the alleged sightings of ghosts and a toad who modelled for the devil in one of her sister's paintings. The programme gives tantalizing glimpses of both Mrs Stirling’s eccentric character and the wonderful possessions with which she surrounded herself.

Mrs Stirling died in August 1965, just a few days before her one hundredth birthday.