Mrs Ida BENNETT was initiated into the Golden Dawn in December 1900 and took the Latin motto ‘Bene tenax’, a play on her own surname.
By 1900 the adminstrators at the GD were not noting down the addresses of new initiates. However, in 1896 Ida Bennett had joined the Theosophical Society (TS) and the address she gave them was The Grange, Pulham St Mary, Harleston in Norfolk, so I did have somewhere to start when looking for her. All new applicants to the TS had to have two sponsors and I learned at the outset WHO SHE KNEW IN THE GOLDEN DAWN because both her sponsors were members of the GD already: Louisa Florence ffoulkes and Hugh Elliot (full name John Hugh Armstrong Elliot).
Ida Bennett was born in Birmingham during 1849 into a newly wealthy family. She was a daughter of Wright Turner whose firm, Wright Turner and Sons owned Kingsford Mill at Brindle Heath in Salford where by 1861 250 people were employed to make rope, twine and cotton bands. Wright Turner seems to have been the typical self-made Victorian man: starting out with a small enterprise making twine only, in his home-town of Hayfield in Derbyshire and ending with two seasons as mayor of Salford, 1864/65 and 1865/66 before dying in 1880 with a personal fortune of around £140,000 (which would of course have gone a lot further in 1880 than it does now).
Wright Turner and his wife Anna (or possibly Anne, the censuses are not consistent) had a large family - four girls (Ida was the third) and three boys but there was money enough coming in for them all to live in some luxury: in 1861 a cook, a nurse and a housemaid were employed by them; and Ida was one of only a handful of members of the GD to have grown up in a house that had a butler - this was serious money. However, it may not have gained Ida any better an education than a girl from a less rich background. The family did not employ a governess in 1861, so I suppose the daughters were going to a local school, probably one which didn’t provide much in the way of intellectual challenge to its pupils. Certainly her subsequent career gives the impression of a woman for whom marriage and family were all the focus she wanted - more or less.
The sons, of course, were destined to join the family business, although like many newly-rich manufacturers, Wright Turner did encourage at least his eldest boy, William Alfred, to have interests that stretched beyond the mill. William Alfred became the firm’s junior partner and took over when Wright Turner died in 1880 but he was also one of the first collectors of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He started out modestly by buying a watercolour drawing in the early 1870s but later bought several large works including Joli Coeur (painted 1867 and now in the Manchester City Art Gallery) Proserpine (painted 1877); and commissioned A Vision of Fiammetta (painted 1878 and now owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber). William Alfred Turner and Rossetti corresponded from 1873 and finally met in 1877 during negotiations for the purchase of a chalk drawing called Water Willow. It may have been William Alfred’s interest in the use of new inventions which prompted Wright Turner’s mill to become the first factory in the Manchester area to install electric lighting. William Alfred was a director of the Edison Electric Lighting Company for a time.
Throughout my research on the members of the Golden Dawn it has always been easier to find out about the men in their lives than about the GD’s women members. In the case of Ida Turner, however, I’m not sure that there’s very much more to find. Her life seems to have been very ordinary!
I hope that Ida saw and appreciated William Alfred’s pre-Raphaelite paintings but by the time he had bought the first one, she had left Salford. In the summer of 1869 she had married Adrian Bennett, a captain in the 7th Regiment of Foot. He was considerably older than Ida and had seen a lot of tough service, in the Crimean War at the battles of Alma and Inkerman and the siege of Sebastopol; and then on the Indian North-West frontier in the 1860s in the continuing (and they continue until this day) struggles to pacify the hill-tribes. I think these hard years’ work may have damaged his health because although he was promoted to major in 1871 and then to lieutenant-colonel, Bennett seems to have been given two relatively undemanding postings in the early years of his marriage and then gone into semi-retirement. Ida began her marriage following her husband’s postings in Weymouth, where her son Lacy Walter Bennett was born in 1870; Portsea (part of Portsmouth); and possibly Colchester for a while; before settling in Norfolk. She and Adrian had two more children, Ethel in 1875 and Ida Gwynedd in 1876.
By the day of the 1881 census and again in 1891 Ida, Adrian and their children were living at a house called The Grange, in the small village of Pulham St Mary Virgin in Norfolk. Do I get the impression Ida was trying to have the quiet, traditional rural life that was as far from the way she had grown up as she could get? Even her household was more modest than the one she had been used to as a child. The only servants to live in were a cook and a couple of housemaids. The only things she did that were not entirely what might be expected of her by her neighbours were joining the TS and the GD; and she can’t have been an active member of either, living in a remote part of Norfolk.
Ida’s daughter Ethel married the Rev William Cleaver in 1894 and produced Ida’s first grandchild, Denis. Her son Lacy married Maude Sutherland in 1900. And her younger daughter Ida (possibly called Gwynedd rather than Ida) married Frederic Doggett in 1908. Despite being so much younger than her husband Ida Bennett died first, aged only 62, in 1910. Adrian Bennett lived on through the world war, dying at the end of 1918.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
FOR IDA TURNER BENNETT
The Wright Turner and Son Ltd company: lists of archives at Bolton Archive and Local Studies Service and Greater Manchester Records Office both accessed via the web. Also History, Topography and Directory of Derbyshire published by T Bulmer and C0 1895 p184. Transactions of the Manchester Association of Engineers issue of 1887 p255. Probate Registry records accessed via Ancestry.
Connection with Rossetti: Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: the Last Decade edited by William Evan Fredeman 2006 p42-43. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk
For the Theosophical Society (TS): Members’ Registers 1888-1900 held at the TS headquarters in Gloucester Place London W1.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
2 May 2012