The mystery of Charles Bancroft & Margaret Grimston

Although not directly connected to the main focus of the Old White Lodge web site, I found that it was worthwhile and quite interesting to take a deeper look as Ellie McMahon's first husband, Charles Edward Bancroft whose life seems to be full of mysteries. I also researched further because of contact I've had with living relatives of the two families discussed on this page.

I've found that undertaking this type of research has been very exciting and fulfilling, especially when, at the end of a particular research thread, the objective is reached with information or, even better, an actual photo located in a remote archive.

I was very pleased to locate this photograph of Charles, aged about 11 (?) and thus taken around 1874, in the Dame Madge Kendal's scrapbook held in the Grimsby Town Hall archive.

As can be seen further down this page, this photo provided conclusive evidence (for me anyway) as to Charles's paternity.

Published by permission of North East Lincolnshire Archives.

The curator can be contacted at:

Thanks to Ian Brooker for pointing out that the scrapbook contained a photo of Charles.

The name attribution in Madge's handwriting on page 370 of the scrapbook. It looks to me that the photo was pasted into the album late on in Madge's life as the writing is quite spidery. On the same page is a copy of Charles's death notice in the Times in 1906, so it quite likely that this is the date the picture was put in the scrapbook.

Madge Kendal's scrapbook in the North East Lincolnshire Archives.

I've recently met up with the granddaughter of Madge Kendal, who is the grand old age of 86. She kindly allowed me to copy a photograph of an older Charles - aged around 15?

The 'Parents'

The Bancrofts

The most important is Marie Effie Wilton who was born in 1840. She became was a well known Victorian actress in the early 1860s who married Squire Bancroft in 1868.

1861: Marie Wilton was the daughter of Robert Pleydell Wilton and she had five sisters: Georgiana, Augusta, Blanch and Emma and Ida who are not listed. Marie was living with her father and sisters in 1861 aged 22 according to the 1861 census. (Marie Bancroft in 1861. Picture credit: Wikipedia)

1841: Squire White Butterfield was born in May 14th 1841 and became a very well know Victorian actor and theatre owner. He was knighted in 1897. (Picture credit: Wikipedia)

1867: Squire White Butterfield changed his name by deed poll to Squire Bancroft Bancroft (Daily News, Saturday, December 14, 1867). Squire died in 1926.

1861: Marie Wilton was the daughter of Robert Pleydell Wilton and she had five sisters: Georgiana, Marie, Augusta and Blanch and Ida who is not listed. Marie was living with her father and sisters in 1861 aged 22 according to the 1861 census.

The 1861 Census

The revival of the play "Diplomacy" at the Garrick Theatre - Mr & Mrs Bancroft

1868: In 28 December 1867 Effie Marie Wilton married Squire Bancroft:

The Era, Sunday, January 5, 1868

1869: According to public records and acknowledged in the Bancroft's autobiographies, a son was born - George Louise Pleydell Bancroft.

1870: Another son was born in 1870, Arthur Hamilton, but he died in the same quarter as he was born.


The Kendals (Grimstons)

Like the Bancrofts, Dame Madge Kendal and her husband, William Hunter Kendal were well known Victorian actors. His real name was Grimston and he never changed it legally.

They did much to improve the respectability of the Victorian theatre, and according to the Theatre Museum website:

"Mrs Kendal was by all accounts a cold and judgmental character. She disapproved of people and practices that did not conform to her strict code, and she had a poor relationship with her own five children." This attitude could have caused some of the issues surrounding her daughter as we will see later.

William Hunter Kendal photo credit: Joan Shields (William and Madge's granddaughter).
1871: Their second daughter was born in 1871 - Margaret Catherine Grimston (Note: Madge's first child, Bruce William died as a baby).

The other children are: Hugh Dorington (known as "Dori) [b. 1872], Ethel Muriel [b. 1874], Harold Robertson [b. 1876] and Dorothy May [b. 1880].
William died on 7 November, 1917 and Madge died on 14 September, 1935.

Charles and Margaret

Charles Edward Bancroft (Wilton)

1863: Charles Edward Wilton was born on the 20th October 1863 and was the illegitimate son of Marie Effie Wilton. He was christened at an old age of three on 26th August 1866 prior to Charles changing his name to Bancroft upon the marriage of his mother to Squire Bancroft.

To this day, no one knows who the real father was and Charles is never mentioned in any of the 'official' material and autobiographies of Lady Marie and Sir Squire Bancroft.

Painting: Captain Charles Edward Bancroft of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
(Credit: Brenda Whitmore [nee Bancroft])

This was the last advert for a Marie Wilton appearance that took place on May 17th 1863.

The next appearance seems to be a re-appearance seems to be on December 15th 1863 for a Christmas burlesque indicating a break for Charles' maternity. Charles was born in Q4 1863. Interestingly, Augusta, Marie's sister debuts on the stage in mid-may and has several appearances until Marie returns. Augusta is not mentioned before or after the time that Marie is away from the stage with Charles.

1871: In the 1871 census, the following names were registered. Charles is not listed but we assume he was away at boarding school.

Squire Bancroft Bancroft aged 29
Wife, Marie E Bancroft 33
Son, George Louis [Pleydell] Bancroft aged 2

1880: The photo on the left is, we believe, of Charles Bancroft when he was in Mr Tarver's house at Eton College in 1880. (Copyright: Eton College. Thanks to Ian Brooker for locating the photo in Eton's archives).

We assume that by this time, Charles Edward Wilton had formally adopted the name, Charles Edward Bancroft. Charles later became a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

He was commissioned lieutenant, The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on 25 August 1883 but transferred to the Royal Welch Fusiliers on 24 October the same year. He is listed as captain 2 RWF on 21 January 1893 and was placed on half pay on 7 September 1896.
Charles returned to full pay RWF on 8 June 1898, and served with the 2nd Battalion in Hong Kong (where he met and married his second wife, Ellie). In March 1901 he went to Tientsin in command of D Company, as part of a four-company detachment in China. He was placed on retired pay on 6 December 1902. (Source: Royal Welch Fusiliers Forum)

A caricature of Charles dated 1892 by Marcel Pic entitled "Night Club King".
( Many thanks Lt Col R. J. M.Sinnett RWF (Retd) and the RWF museum)

Margaret Catherine Grimston

1871: Margaret Catherine Grimston was born as the first daughter of the Madge and William Kendal (Grimston) aged 31 (taken in 1902).

Photo: Margaret Catherine Grimston








Photo: Margaret aged 16 (frankly she seems older) taken from Madge Kendal's autobiography, Dame Madge Kendal by herself, published in 1933 (Credit: Caroline Blomfield)


Madge Kendal sitting, with Dorothy and Margaret standing in 1902
Photo credit: Joan Shields (William and Madge's granddaughter).

Charles and Margaret's Marriage

1895: In 1895, Charles Edward Bancroft first marriage took place to Margaret Catherine Grimston:

The Era, Saturday, September 15, 1895

'London Letters' Star (NZ) 21st November 1895
(added October 2011)


1895: Just after Charles' and Margaret's wedding, Charles is in Wrexham

The Times, Monday, Oct 21, 1895

The Marriage Annulment

1897: Unfortunately, the marriage between Charles and Margaret didn't last and was very quickly annulled for some reason.

According to the annulment papers, Charles and Margaret lived together from their marriage on 21st September 1895 to 2nd January 1896, a period of only around twelve weeks. They came together again from the 2nd to the 17th June 1896.

The prime reason sighted in the the annulment papers for cause was the impotence of Charles:

The Decree Absolute was issued on February 17th 1897.

Why an Annulment?

Extracts from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies provides some interesting background by indicating that Margaret's other four children (Hugh Dorington [b. 1892], Ethel Murial [b. 1874], Harold Robertson [b. 1876] and Dorothy May [b. 1880]) did not have good relations with their parents for the rest of their lives. Something really quite traumatic must have happened to cause such a lifetime rift. Moreover, the rift was not only within the family but also between families - i.e. the Kendals and their in-laws, the Bancrofts. This could only have been caused by the reasons for the annulled marriage.

Though they were such a devoted couple, the Kendals' family life was deeply troubled, and in her memoirs Madge recurrently refers to herself as ‘Mater Afflicta’. The Kendals - or the Grimstons as they were always known in family and social life - became estranged from their four surviving children; William observed at the grave of their first-born, Margaret: ‘All the children that loved us, Madge, lie under this stone’"

"Dame Madge Kendal died at her home, Dell Cottage, Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, on 14 September 1935. By her own wish only her doctor and a nurse were present at her bedside, and her funeral—at St Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley—was private. The obituary in The Times (16 September 1935) spoke of Dame Madge's ‘very unhistrionic coldness of temperament and … superficiality of thought’ as ‘the barriers between her acting and any form of greatness’. The actress and the woman are inseparable, and these characteristics also formed a barrier between Madge Kendal and her children, as a consequence of which, her closing years, her death, and her funeral were acted out in isolation from her family. Intentional or not, the ambiguity in the title of Madge Kendal's memoirs was sadly apt.

Source: Oxford DNB (Credit: Caroline Blomfield)

Madge Kendal's autobiography, Dame Madge Kendal by herself, released in 1933 just before her death, provided further depth and background to the annulment in that she say the "the marriage had to be annulled", "her daughter never recovered from the shock" and that "it is a subject on which we must always be silent".

Extract from Madge Kendal's memoirs
(Credit: Caroline Blomfield)

So why was it the marriage "had to be annulled" and why the "shock"? There could be several reasons

  • Real impotence: Unlikely, to me anyway, that if this was the case that two young people in love would move for an annulment so quickly after getting married. It doesn't sound right. Also, this would not cause a family bust up I would have thought. More interestingly, Charles later remarried and fathered a daughter.

  • Charles didn't consummate because he was gay: They would certainly not want this to be become public knowledge as it would destroy his career - hence an invented reason - a bit like getting a divorce in the 50s I suppose! However, this then immediately raises questions about his later marriage to Ellie and the birth of Primrose Bancroft in 1903. This could definitely cause a rift in the relations between the Bancrofts and the Kendals. But, it wouldn't cause a internal family rift I would have thought.

  • Margaret and Charles were blood related: It could be conjectured that the parents (or at least one of each pair) did not support the marriage for this reason and actively tried to stop them getting married i.e. Margaret did not have her father's permission. However, they would not tell the children the real reason for obvious reason. Charles and Margaret then slopped off to get married under special licence with her mother and brother who were ignorant of the problem. Mother was performing Hull and the Bancrofts on holiday so there was no one to stop it. Her mother had to travel over night to attend.

    The problem could have been that Charles' father was in reality William Kendal so that Charles and Margaret were half brother and sister. When this was admitted, the marriage "had to be annulled". There would be great distress with Margaret as she would still love Charles, there would be a total breakdown in the relations between the Bancrofts and the Kendals except in respect of their public face or persona (confirmed in the autobiography - "In spite of the severance of our relations through domestic tragedy, he and I always remained constant to our old regard to each other.". This would also cause a complete breakdown of relations between the other Grimston children and the parents that could last for a life time. Although only conjecture, the facts do fit with what we know.

So, who was Charles's father?

So, is William Kendal actually Charles's father? I believe he is. There are several points that confirm this to my mind:

Point #1: The annulment of the marriage between Margaret and Charles discussed above.

Point #2: A photograph of Charles, aged around aged 11 and thus taken around 1874, in the Dame Madge Kendal's scrapbook held in the North East Lincolnshire Archives. It is interesting to look at the three photos shown below. To my eyes, both Margaret and Charles have very, very, similar facial features - especially the 'droopy' shape of all their eyes. If the photos are placed on top of each other, then it can be clearly seen that all the facial features have similar spacing. Margaret and Charles look especially close.

Margaret Catherine Grimston William Hunter Kendal (Grimston) Charles Edward Bancroft (Wilton)

Point #3: Why would Madge and William Kendal (Grimston) have a photograph of Charles as a 11 year old boy in her scrapbook? Yes, the Kendals knew the Bancrofts from the middle of the 1860s but Charles didn't marry Margaret until 1895, about 20 years after the photo was taken. It strikes me as it being rather unusual unless there was a father / son relationship between William and Charles. Clearly, William would have photos of his son sent by his mother Marie Bancroft from time to time.

Another intriguing aspect that needs investigating is that the photograph of Charles is, I believe, at the back of the scrapbook. This indicates to me that the photograph was pasted into the scrapbook at a very late date by Madge by which time, William, Margaret and Charles had all died.

Point #4: In the description of the 1895 wedding of Margaret and Charles in The Era shown above, it is rather peculiar that Charles's mother, Marie Bancroft ,was not present as she was on holiday in Italy with her husband, Squire. William Kendal was not present either. However, Madge and her son George were present after "travelling over night from Hull", this seems to indicate that those who knew about Charles's parentage were not present, while Madge, who most likely did not know about William's illegitimate son, made the effort. Surely, if she knew about Charles's parentage she would not have condoned the marriage?

Point #5: This last point is the most specific. In 2008 a living granddaughter of Madge Kendal said that, according to a family story, Charles is the son of William Kendal.

Without written confirmation this is about as near as we can get to the truth. However, with power of the internet who knows what else will turn up given time.

1898: In June 1898, a small paragraph in The Era, explicitly links Charles Edward Bancroft to Lady (Marie) Bancroft.

The Era (London, England), Saturday, June 25, 1898


A 'secret' concerning Charles Edward Bancroft has been found 12month's
after posting this information in early 1998 - take a look!


Margaret's early death

1902: Maybe Margaret never did really recover from the annulment as she died on 31st October 1902 in Scarborough. Even though Catherine is spelt with a 'K' rather than a 'C' we assume this to be the same Margaret as married Charles Edward Bancroft in 1895. The following obituary confirms this assumption to be correct - however, her age is erroneously given as 26, when she was actually 31.

Nov 01, 1902

The Times, Wednesday, Nov 05, 1902

The house in Filey, North Yorkshire was South Crescent Lodge, which is now the White Lodge Hotel.

"It is our painful duty to record the death, at the Lodge, Filey, on October 31st, of Margaret, the dearly beloved daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Kendal Grimston, in the 31st year of her age, deeply regretted by every one who know her. Miss Grimston was interred at Finchley Cemetery, London, there being present at the funeral a large concourse of sorrowing relatives and friends. The numerous wreaths were very beautiful."

The Filey Post, November 1902
(Credit: Eric J Pinder, Archive Supervisor, Filey Crimlisk Fisher Archive)

Her first husband, Charles, travelled back from China (see below) in October / November 1901 with his new wife Ellie. It is interesting to conjecture whether he was amongst the "large concourse of sorrowing relatives and friends" at Margaret's funeral.

Margaret is buried in the East Finchley cemetery (Formally St Marylebone cemetery) together with her parents, William Hunter Kendal (Grimston) and Madge (Margaret Shafto) Kendal (Grimston, Nee Robertson). The location is in H4 next to the chapel.

The location of the Kendal-Grimston plot in East Finchley Cemetery

Margaret's grave in East Finchley cemetery, London
(Photo credit: Ian Brooker)

Margaret's grave in East Finchley cemetery, London May 2008

As mentioned above, Dame Madge Kendal seemed to have a very sad life as she was unreconciled with her children to the end of her life. To quote from Madge's autobiography:

On one occasion she [Margaret] went to stay with some friends at Besancon. When she returned, she brought, as a souvenir of her visit, a large photograph of Bouguereau's well-known picture, "Mater Afflicta". "Oh, Margaret," I said, "what a melancholy picture." "I think it is one of Bouguereau's best," she replied. "That's why I've brought it to you." By that time she knew many of the sad facts of my life and, though I said nothing to her about it, I wondered whether it was not a curious divination of the appeal it would make to me that made her select it. So impressed was I with its applicability that I had the words engraved on the tombstone which will, in time, be placed over my grave.

I was pleased to be able to tidy the grave and to replace the balustrades the best I could as they were in an untidy heap. Following this, I found the inscription on the fallen and upside-down balustrade of the family grave.

The 'Mater Afflicta' inscription on the family grave

Charles's second marriage

1900:  Charles Edward Bancroft marries for a second time to Ellie Maude Moses in Hong Kong on 1st August 1900. The Royal Welch Fusiliers participated in many colonial wars before going to South Africa in 1899 and to China to raise the siege of the legations in Peking by the Boxers in 1900.

Ellie was Australian and was born Ellie Maude Moses, daughter of Hon. Henry Moses MLC of New South Wales.

The signature of Hon. Henry Moses mlc and his wife, Annie of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Ellie Maude Bancroft, a few weeks after her marriage to Charles Edward Bancroft in Hong Kong
Credit: Brenda Whitmore

The Battalion in Hong Kong c1900
Capt. Charles Bancroft is up and to the right of the goat, Bt Major Sir Horace McMahon is behind him.
On the far left on the back row is Lieut. J A Higgon who married Ellie's sister Lurline.

Back Row, left to right: Lieut J A Higgon, Lieut G J P Geiger, Lieut H Hill, Lieut H M Richards, Lieut R B Johnson, Lieut C S Owen, Bt Major C M Dobell, 2nd Lieut G H Gwyther, Capt C H M Doughty-Wylie, Lieut and Qr Mr J Clieve, Bt Major Sir Horace McMahon Front row, left to right: 2nd Lieut C I Stockwell, Lieut O S Flower, Major S G Everitt, Liet-Col Hon R H Bertie, Cat and Adjt H O S Cadogan, Lieut A Hay, Capt J H Gwynne, Capt C Bancroft Sitting Left to right: 2nd Lieut M E Lloyd, Lieut F J Walwyn, 2nd Lieut J R Minshull-Ford

The signatures of many of the soldiers in the above photo
(From Ellie Bancroft (later McMahon autograph album

Many thanks Lt Col R. J. M.Sinnett RWF (Retd) and the RWF museum)

Charles and Ellie came back to the UK in October 1901 on the S S Ventura via San Francisco.

The SS Ventura, a picture from Ellie's scrapbook
Credit: Brenda Whitmore

Charles and Ellie on the SS Ventura passenger list via San Francisco

The following cartoons were taken from Ellie Bancroft (later McMahon) autograph book. These cartoons were created by Charles Collette a well know actor who played with Marie Bancroft at the Princes theatre and married Marie's sister Blanche. The subject matter is Charlie and Ellie's first flat after they had returned from China. The second is his second recall to his regiment in March 1902.

Charles Collette's cartoon about Charles and Ellie Bancroft
Credit: Brenda Whitmore

Charles Collette's cartoon about Charles and Ellie Bancroft
Credit: Brenda Whitmore


Interestingly, Ellie's sister was also in Hong Kong at the time and she got married as well. On the 27th June 1900, Lurline May Moses married John Arthur Higgon, also of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

The Times, Saturday, Oct 13, 1900

Lurline and John Higgon's signatures in Ellie's scrapbook

Q1 190: Primrose Marie H Bancroft was born on the 12th December 1902.

Primrose Bancroft aged 17
(Photo credit: Brenda Whitmore)

1906: Charles Edward Bancroft died in Marylebone in 1906 after a long illness. His funeral was held on 10th October 1906.

The Times, Monday, Oct 08, 1906

Charles's death as noted in Madge Kendal's scrapbook

Charles's final resting place

A visit to the office in Brompton Cemetery in West London elicited the fact that Charles was interned with four other people. The records are inaccurate as it is listed in the cemetery records as a 'common' or 'public' grave. This turned out to be inaccurate. However his location is not identified in any form of a memorial.

Charles Edward Bancroft in Brompton Cemetery (Click to see location)

In fact, he was put to rest in the mausoleum of William Frederick Hamilton Fletcher who died in 1879. William was the first husband of Ida Ann Wilton, Marie Bancroft's sister.

Other people in the mausoleum are John James Elmes who died in 1888 and is Ida's second husband. After this came Francis Aston Drake who died in 1901 and was Emma Marie Wilton's husband - another of Marie Bancroft's sisters.

Emma Drake is definitely interred in the Brompton cemetery but not in this mausoleum according to the Times dated October 25th 1921.

Charles Edward Bancroft was placed there in 1906. Ida Ann Elmes ( Wilton, then Fletcher, then Elmes) died on the 22nd June 1920 and is also located in the mausoleum.

Ida Fletcher's signature in Ellie McMahon's autograph book
Credit: Brenda Whitmore

Other than FWH Fletcher, whose name is over the door, none of the other occupants of the mausoleum are acknowledged in the form of an external  memorial. I have to say I consider this to be rather strange.

Charles Edward Bancroft in Brompton Cemetery

1911: Ellie Maude Bancroft marries Horace Westropp McMahon.

More on Ellie and her second marriage to General Horace McMahon can be found here.

1926: Squire Bancroft dies: He and Marie are buried in Brompton Cemetery (Click to see location using Google Earth).

Marie and Squire Bancroft's grave in Brompton cemetery (Click to see location)
Picture credit: Caroline Blomfield

Brenda Whitmore, Granddaughter of Charles Edward Bancroft looking at the
painting and photo of CEB in 2008