While gathering the data for use within this site I was led astray, on more than one occasion, by the interesting people who lived or visited the area.
I would often Google names and end up in various rabbit-holes on the web getting more and more information on people, finding out more and more interesting nuggets of info.
Various things caught my eye, from the visiting circus who camped out the night of the 1901 census in a field in Tower to the family of three living in a 25 room house to the lady who listed her occupation as a “Fairy Woman” in 1911!
So I decided to highlight some of the people whose history I managed to delve into and create a story for them, flesh out the bones so to speak.
The first person that I chose is, funnily enough, not a local but rather a guest in the Hydro hotel on the night of April 5th 1911.
Ethel Susan Lucena was a 32 year old female from New Zealand who was listed as a boarder in the hotel on the night of the census.
Ethel was born in Wairarapa, situated in the south-eastern corner of the north island of New Zealand, the second youngest of her family, in Oct 1873.
Her father was quite wealthy and owned vast tracts of land on the island.
The 1901 census has Ethel living in Fisherton Anger, Wiltshire where she was listed as a visitor; her occupation was recorded as “living on money” – not a bad occupation if you can get it!
What caught my eye was newspaper reports in March 1914 where it would appear she was the victim of a scam-artist who conned her out of nearly £500.
Ethel, now aged 36, had by this stage moved back to England and was living in Brighton. Here she was befriended at a bridge party by John Archibald Campbell Mason, a 45 year old American, who claimed to be great friends with Pierpont Morgan, a famous investment banker.
After a few weeks of friendship and bridge parties he asked her to marry him and persuaded her to give him £500 so that he could invest it for her by availing of the knowledge that Morgan had. Luckily for Ethel he had asked for £10,00 but she was unable to access that sum of money. He told her he was returning to America to settle affairs with a rich aunt that he had living in Virginia and that they would marry when he returned. In the meantime she should access her trousseau so that they could start their married life together with no further delays.
He even wrote a letter that he sent to America to a friend to ask them to send it to Ethel so that it would have a Baltimore stamp! Poor Ethel received a letter from the States from Mason where he complained about having a “bad attack of the flu” when in actual fact he was after opening an account in a bank in Knightsbridge with Ethel’s £500 and was merrily spending his way through the remaining sum!
Mason was prosecuted and found guilty of two counts of fraud where he was sentenced to three years in jail and was to be deported to America once his sentence was served.
It would appear that this wasn’t his first attempt to defraud wealthy young ladies as he had been previously prosecuted for the same crime in Exeter in 1907. He had been in Dublin in 1913 peddling the line that he was a millionaire and left a number of bookmakers and tradesmen with hefty losses.
At the trial in 1914 there were many accounts of unpaid fees for various clubs and societies; Mason had even managed to enter the Royal box at Ascot on an American embassy ticket, it turned out that he was actually well-connected back home in America where his grandfather was a Justice for the Supreme Court.
I am quite sure that Ethel was distraught and heartbroken at the betrayal – and making it so much worse for her was the publication in newspapers that are still available over a hundred years later.
Eventually Ethel married a widower, Francis W.R. Dewdeny, in London in 1926 when she was nearly 48. She and her husband lived in Hurlingham Court in Fulham until he died in 1942.
It would appear that some time after this Ethel moved back to Wellington New Zealand where she died in 1958 at the great age of 85.
What a fascinating story Ethel had and I am sure that there is so much to her that we have no access to; I can’t help but imagine her strolling the magnificent grounds of the Hydro in 1911, enjoying the glorious green fields and rolling hills that surrounded the hotel, wearing one of those beautiful high-necked lace blouses and long skirts that were in fashion at the time, with no idea of the drama that was ahead of her. There was never a truer word than the saying ignorance is bliss!
If there is a relative of yours that you have some history on which you would like to share then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will organise.