Thursday, July 15, 2010

Solving the Mystery of Barbara Mills... by Telephone








After catching up with my incoming mail, it's time to go back to something I'd started before I left for Michigan: There's more to be gleaned from the British telephone directories.

A caveat would be that just because a person's name is on a telephone in a certain location at a certain time, it doesn't mean that the person in question is actually there. A case in point would be the fact that my mother never took her phone out of my father's name after he passed away in 1997. It stayed that way until she also left us in 2004. That telephone number stayed Dad's for an additional 7 years after his death.

We can assume, however, that it is in someone's interest to keep paying for a telephone number listed in a certain location. I think we can also assume that when a telephone listing moves, the person, persons, or that "interest" moves along with it.

That said, there's still much to be learned from the London listings that we've already looked at in terms of the nuclear family of Reverend Barton R. V. Mills through 1925, and then the listings for "G. R. A. Mills" after his wedding in that same year—listings that may or may not have been listings for the George Mills with which we're concerned.

In the April 1925 London directory [pictured, above left], the number of George's brother Captain Arthur H. Mills [Victoria 2285, listed at 91A Ebury st., S.W.1] is marked by handwriting on the page's margin: "R120 27/6."

The only other listing marked by hand is that of George's father, Rev. Barton R. V. Mills [Kensington 2397, listed at 38 Onslow Gardens S.W.7], designated by what appears to be: "Kx R 27/7."

Why those listings had been singled out to be marked by the telephone company is a mystery because one subsequently changed and the other did not. Could the notes it have to do with a change in billing? Barton Mills is ostensibly retired at this point, immersed in his research about St. Bernard. Arthur, on the other hand, has begun to make a name for himself as an author, having just published his sixth book in the past four years. His wife, Lady Dorothy Mills, had also published five books during that same span of time. Perhaps Arthur has taken on the cost of his father's telephone.

Regardless, Arthur's listing remains the same in the October 1925 London directory [right], but Barton's listing is changed to "Sloane ….. 3278 Mills Rev. Barton R. V. .. .. .. .. 24 Hans rd S.W.3."

That listing for Rev. Barton R. V. Mills stayed in place through 1931. Barton Mills passed away suddenly, however, on 21 January 1932 in London.

The 1932 London directory contains a new listing for that address and telephone number: Mrs. Barton Mills.

In 1933, the telephone number for Mrs. Barton Mills remains the same—SLOane 3278—but the address changes. The new address is 21 Cadogan Gardens, S.W.3.

That's an address we already know. It was associated with Agnes and Violet Mills at the time of the death of Major Reginald Ramsay Wingate, DCLI, in March 1938. He was a relative on their mother's side of the family, and had passed away in Cornwall. At Maj. Wingate's funeral, you may recall, flowers had been received from "Misses Barbara, Agnes, and Violet Mills (Cadogen Gardens S.W.)."

Cadogan Gardens is in Kensington, where Major Wingate's mother was living in 1938 at the age of 90, so a close connection between the two families at that time is easy to see.

The real impact of the juxtaposition of this telephone listing and the Major Wingate's obituary is that it apparently clarifies the mystery of who, exactly, Barbara Mills was!

We've experienced the fact that clerks like census enumerators, and even 21st century digitizers, often end up with things spelled incorrectly. Let's take a look at who would have ordered the flowers for the Wingate funeral in Cornwall.

The telephone listing at 21 Cadogan Gardens, S.W. [and we can see that somewhere between London and the publication of the newspaper obituary in Cornwall (left), "Cadogan" has changed in spelling to "Cadogen"], in 1938 was in the name of "Mrs. Barton Mills."

The flowers were sent from "Misses Barbara, Agnes, and Violet Mills."

Let's assume they were ordered by telephone, with a bill subsequently being sent from Cornwall to London. The person taking the message was told the flowers were from "Mrs. Barton, Agnes, and Violet Mills," but mistakenly heard "Misses Barbara, Agnes, and Violet Mills," and wrote the latter on the card. What difference an incorrectly transcribed syllable can make!

Until the existence of an actual relative named Barbara Mills comes to light, this is probably the best explanation for "Barbara's" kindness in sending flowers to that funeral—she was actually Edith [Mrs. Barton] Mills!

The combination of the card pinned on those flowers and that current telephone listing also tells us something else: Spinsters Agnes and Violet Mills still live with their mother in 1938. Married brother George [getting ready to publish his second book, King Willow], and his wife, Vera, obviously do not.

The listing for Mrs. Barton Mills [SLOane 3278; 21 Cadogan gdns, S.W.3] stays in place in the London directories until its last appearance in the 1947 book.

In an entry posted here yesterday, however, we discovered that Elizabeth Edith [Mrs. Barton] Mills passed away near the end of the calendar year 1945. We must assume that the phone at 21 Cadogan Gardens remained in her name afterwards, with the bill being paid by her "estate," in the persons of Agnes and Violet.

By 1947, Agnes would have been 52 years old, and Violet, 45. Being spinsters who were interested in the "Girl Guides," and with no mother [who'd been born, married, and died there in Kensington] to keep them in London, it would be no surprise to find that the girls might head out of town, into the countryside, to live out their Golden Years.

1947 also finds these additions to the British Library's Manuscripts Catalogue: "Ramsay (George Dalhousie) of the War Office; knt. 1900. Correspondence and papers 1835-1898," and "Papers of G. D. Ramsay rel. to the Royal Army Clothing Dept. 1855-1898,"
Add. 46446 – 46450.

The donors of those manuscripts? "Mills (Agnes Edith). Miss. grand-daughter of Sir G. D. Ramsay. Presented, jointly with Miss V. E. Mills 1947," and "Mills (Violet Eleanor). Miss. grand-daughter of Sir G. D. Ramsay. Presented, jointly with Miss A. E. Mills 1947."

It seems that the girls had been busy cleaning out 21 Cadogan Gardens following their mother's passing, and finally arranging a place for the papers of Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay, their maternal grandfather, to reside in perpetuity [right].

It's notable that, as in the case of the flowers sent to Major Wingate's funeral in Cornwall some dozen years before, the name of George Mills—in 1947, then five years a widower and four years past the relinquishing of his service commission in the Royal Army Pay Corps—is not one of the donors.

There's no reason to believe that George was not close to his sisters, but the evidence suggests that he was not living with them in 1938 or in 1947. The 1947 London directory alone has at least eight listings for a "George" or "G." Mills, all of whom could very well could be the George Mills of our interest.

Nevertheless, the "Misses Mills" appear to be heading out of town in 1947, and there's good reason to believe we know exactly where they went—and that location has been tied intimately to our George Ramsay Acland Mills as well.

But we'll examine that another time. For now, let's just be satisfied with solving the previously perplexing puzzle, "Who in the world was Barbara Mills?"


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