UPDATE OCTOBER 2021
Thanks are due to a trustee of the Yarker Library for information on Florence Firth as a co-mason and all three sisters as members of the Rite of Memphis: a surprising addition to their lives in the occult world.
The Spink sisters were initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Horus Temple in Bradford; but none of them remained in the Order for very long. The first sister to join was Florence Margaret Firth (née Spink), initiated in September 1890 and using the Latin motto ‘Volantia’. Her husband Oliver Firth was a member already. They had married the month before her initiation. Catherine Elizabeth Spink (always called Kate) was initiated on 2 May 1892 and chose the Latin motto, ‘Viator’. On that evening, Emily Douglas and possibly Robert Elliott Steel and Charles Herbert Grason were also initiated in Bradford. All the sisters had probably known Robert Steel for several years - he was a friend of Oliver Firth. Gertrude Jane Spink was initiated in November 1892 and chose another Latin motto ‘Persevero’. However, by the time of Gertrude’s initiation, Oliver Firth was in trouble with the GD hierarchy for his rather negative attitude towards the Order’s rituals, seen by other members as disrespectful - see more about that in my biography of Oliver and Florence after her marriage. Oliver resigned from the GD, rather than be brought to heel, making the continuation of his wife and sisters-in-law in the Order rather difficult. Florence and Gertrude resigned as well; and Kate didn’t bother to pay her year’s subscription in 1893. None of the sisters had any chance to progress very far with the study of western esotericism that was expected of new GD initiates; in any case they were more interested in eastern philosophy.
THREE SISTERS CALLED SPINK and THE HORTON CONNECTION
Kate, Florence and Gertrude were daughters of John Spink and his wife Elizabeth. John Spink had been born in 1837 in York but had moved to Bradford by 1861, drawn by the continuing rapid expansion of the city, with its opportunities for work not only in the cloth industry but in all the enterprises that supplied the needs of the city’s inhabitants.
Not being based in Bradford, I haven’t been able to find much information on John Spink’s wine and spirit importing and selling business. On the day of the 1861 census, it was already doing well enough for him to be able to employ one young man to assist him. They were both living above their offices and store-rooms at the King’s Arms Inn in Great Horton, a coaching inn increasingly redundant in the railway age, which John Spink was renting from the Rudd family. Also living at the Inn were John’s uncle Thomas Banks and Thomas’ wife Martha who was probably housekeeping for everyone. Thomas and Martha had also moved to Bradford from York. Thomas was working as a plane-maker and may have known Joseph Clayton, who was later a senior member of the GD. Clayton was a plane-maker during the late 1840s and 1850s but was working as a teacher by 1861.
John Spink’s business continued to prosper - it would have been easier to find details of it if it had got into financial trouble! - and by 1901 he had turned it into a limited company, possibly with family members drawing income from it as shareholders. His early connection with Horton had ended - he had given up renting the King’s Arms Inn and must have taken larger premises somewhere in Bradford, although I haven’t been able to find out where; and from the earliest years of his marriage he and his wife chose to live, not in Horton but in other Bradford suburbs.
In 1866 John Spink married Elizabeth Bottomley, a member of an old-established West Riding family. I’ve found several references to men called Bottomley living in Horton in the early 19th century; I imagine they are all related to Elizabeth even if only distantly. In 1815 a John Bottomley, who worked as an accountant, was one of a group of men buying land to extend the local dissenters’ chapel. In 1847 a Samuel Bottomley was one of Bradford City Council’s first intake of councillors, being elected to represent Little Horton with five other men including a John Clayton. Elizabeth’s father Eli Bottomley owned a worsted stuff mill in Horton which in 1861 was big enough to employ 113 women, 24 men and three boys. Also in Horton was the Shear Bridge worsted mill run until the early 1870s by Oliver Firth’s father, Thomas Firth, and from then until the 1890s (probably), by his sons Alfred and Oliver. The Bottomley and Firth families both lived near their mills in Horton at this time and must have known each other from the 1850s if not earlier.
JOHN AND ELIZABETH SPINK’S FAMILY
Kate, Florence and Gertrude were the eldest of John and Elizabeth Spink’s children, born in 1867, 1868 and 1869 respectively. By the day of the 1871 census, the Spinks were living in Manningham, at 3 Walmer Place. Elizabeth’s unmarried sister Jane Bottomley was living with them and the household employed two live-in servants (probably a nurse and a maid-of-all-work but the census isn’t specific on this point). During the 1870s more children were born to John and Elizabeth: a son, Bernard Joseph Spink, in 1872; a fourth daughter, Maud Joan Harrower Spink in 1875 while the family was on holiday at Poulton-le-Sands in Lancashire; and Harold, probably in 1879. By 1881 John Spink’s business was doing well enough for him to move his family into 108 Whetley Hill, Manningham, a large building which had previously been the Rev Henry Heppinstall’s school. On census day 1881 another of Elizabeth’s sisters was living with them - Margaret Bottomley - and the Spinks had increased the number of their servants to employ a cook, as well as a nurse and a housemaid: they were getting to be very well-to-do. On that day Kate, Florence, Gertrude and Bernard were all described as “scholar” by the census official; it’s a ‘catch-all’ term of course. Another source I found showed that Jack was later sent to Giggleswick School, but I know nothing about where, or how, or how much education any of his siblings had. In an important sense, a significant part of the sisters’ education didn’t take place until the late 1880s and early 1890s, when they were in their twenties.
When searching freebmd for the Spink family, I couldn’t find a birth registration for Harold Spink; nor could I identify him at all after the 1881 census - at least, not for certain - so I assume that he died as a child and the death wasn’t registered, an oversight which often happened when parents were grieving for the death of an infant. Maud, the youngest Spink sister, definitely died young, in 1883; her death was registered. Two more sons were born to John and Elizabeth: John Harrower Gilmour Spink in 1884 and Geoffrey Gordon Spink in 1887; but the deaths of Harold and Maud meant that there was a gap in the middle of the family: there were 13 years between Bernard and John (known as Jack) and that large gap was reflected in what happened to the siblings later in life.
I wouldn’t expect the daughters of a middle-class 19th-century family to work in the family business; and none of John and Elizabeth’s daughters were ever described as employees. However, neither did any of their sons join the firm, although it was continuing to do well, diversifying into brewing, and into importing cigars as well as wines and spirits. By the day of the 1891 census, the Spinks had moved again, to Baildon Lodge in the village of Baildon. Florence had married the year before but Kate, Gertrude, Bernard, Jack and Geoffrey were all still living at home. Bernard was apprenticed to an iron founder - possibly to George Hodgson, machine maker and iron founder, who lived next door - and Jack and Geoffrey were still at school. Kate and Gertrude had, of course, left school and were living the life of unmarried women from the middle-classes while they waited (or so the ideology went) for some man to marry them. Except that neither Kate nor Gertrude ever married; and that during the 1890s and 1900s their time was occupied by something probably outside the range of the majority of young women they knew: theosophy. It was through theosophy that all the Spink sisters met men and women who were in the GD. Oliver Firth was one, but there were plenty of others because in Bradford the theosophists and GD initiates were all members of the same, relatively small, close-knit group.
I’ve suggested in my biography of Oliver Firth that unofficial groups of people interested in theosophy were probably getting together in Bradford, as elsewhere, in the late 1880s when the arrival of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky to live in England (in 1887) and even more the publication of her The Secret Doctrine (in 1888) led to a surge of interest in eastern philosophy as Blavatsky interpreted it. All three Spink sisters eventually felt committed enough to theosophy to join the Theosophical Society which Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott headed; none of their brothers did so. When they joined, all applicants for TS membership had to be sponsored by two members. All the sisters had the same two sponsors - Oliver Firth; and Thomas Henry Pattinson. Pattinson ran his own jewellery and watch-making business in Bradford and it’s likely that both the Spink and Firth families were amongst his customers. However, he was also a leading light of the TS in Bradford; a long-time acquaintance of William Wynn Westcott, sharing Westcott’s interest in alchemical texts; a prominent local freemason; and a founder - with his friend Bogdan Edwards - of the GD’s Horus Temple. Florence Spink was the first sister officially to join the TS, in February 1890; she and Oliver Firth were probably engaged by this time. Kate Spink joined the TS later that year; and Gertrude became a member in 1892.
The evidence shows that all three sisters were much more committed to the TS than to the GD and probably didn’t regret giving up their GD membership so soon after having gained it. Kate and Gertrude in particular were very active members of the TS; Florence rather less so as she had a husband and (by 1895) three children to occupy her. But all three stuck with the TS through some very difficult times in the mid-1890s and continued to be members until 1909. And through some very difficult - not to say obtuse - texts on theosophy, particularly The Secret Doctrine, whose content was the subject of many study groups set up to debate its trickier points, including one in Bradford.
In the early 1890s Oliver Firth was one of the most prominent members of the TS in Bradford, sponsoring a large number of new members; helping set up the Bradford Lodge and serving on its committee; and being a very active organiser and speaker at national and european level as well. The contribution of the Spink sisters is not so easy to spot from the records of the TS. For example, they were not great recruiters to the TS. In the 1890s Kate didn’t sponsor any new applicants at all, and Florence and Gertrude sponsored only a handful between them, all women who were probably friends of theirs.
Despite the prominent role played in it by Blavatsky, theosophy was largely a man’s world. The committees that ran the lodges into which the TS was organised on a local basis were dominated by men. Perhaps encouraged by her husband, Florence did serve on the committee of the newly-founded Bradford Lodge in 1892-93; but in the 1890s neither of her sisters was involved on the admin side. The majority of even the letter-writers to the main theosophical magazines were also men, and this too was something the Spink sisters didn’t attempt to challenge, perhaps suffering from a lack of confidence about their ability to put their thoughts into words, or to argue a case in the manner of men with a classical education. Kate and Gertrude didn’t write anything that was published in any of the major theosophical magazines. Florence wrote one article, on a subject that didn’t challenge the contemporary ideologies of male and female roles. Nevertheless, it was - I think - an important article, one of very few I’ve come across to look at what the choice of theosophy as a spiritual path might mean in daily life. Florence debated what theosophist parents should do in the way of giving their children a religious training. Should they explain theosophy to them at an early age and encourage them to follow its principles? Or should they leave the subject alone while the children were young, hoping that they would find their own way to it as adults? She concluded that the first option was preferable; and I suppose she was applying that belief to the religious upbringing of her own three children.
What the three Spink sisters did for theosophy in Bradford was organise and host lodge meetings: in the early 1890s Bradford Lodge was holding several of these each week, and to keep costs down, most were held in the houses of its members. During 1893 and 1894, for example, Florence, with the help of Sarah Midgley, organised the Lodge’s Sunday evening meetings. They were held in Baildon, probably in Florence’s house.
In the mid-1890s the TS was shaken, and eventually divided into two, by a struggle for power between William Quan Judge and Annie Besant in the wake of Blavatsky’s death. The dispute was resolved in 1895 by the assumption of power by Besant as Olcott’s chosen candidate; and the resignation of all American lodges from the TS worldwide to form a separate organisation. I’ve covered this dispute in more detail in my biography of Oliver Firth as he played an active part in it. Here I’ll just say that Kate, Florence and Gertrude played no part in the debate, but did stay loyal to the TS worldwide when many despaired and left, disturbed and embarrassed by the bitterness with which each faction fought its corner. The sisters remained members through the take-over by Besant; and through the rise to prominence of an American successor to Judge, Katherine Tingley, who toured Europe in 1896 looking for new recruits. However, all the sisters will have had to agree that theosophy in Bradford had suffered very badly, with splits between factions and a falling-off of Bradford Lodge’s membership and number of meetings.
Perhaps it was to occupy the time left vacant by the collapse of theosophy-based social life in Bradford that Kate and Gertrude spent more time in the mid-1890s on photography and developing prints from negatives. In 1895 and 1897 (but not in any other years between 1870 and 1915) an exhibitor named “K G Spink” showed several prints at the annual Royal Photographic Society exhibition; though this person was not, apparently, a member of the Society. K G Spink may be a a genuine person having nothing to do with my three Spink sisters; but I think she might also be someone at the Society’s confused reading of the fact that Kate and Gertrude were joint exhibitors, having both helped in the photography and in the printing. The prints were made using the popular gelatine + silver chloride method; probably on pre-prepared paper - it was widely available - though possibly by going back to basics and starting with sheets of gelatine and the chemicals. In 1895 the prints exhibited were ‘On the Cliff’; ‘Ironing - Study’ (so photographer not really likely to be a man, I think!); ‘Daughters of the Soil’; and ‘Weary go the feet when the heart is old’. In 1897 K G Spink showed just one exhibit - ‘Oh! If I’d as much money as I could tell’. Although some prints in both exhibitions were for sale, none of K G Spink’s prints were. The catalogues I found on the web did give pictures of some of the exhibits, but none of K G Spink’s prints were illustrated. The titles of the prints, though, reminded me of some of the paintings exhibited by the GD’s artist members: the sort of painting that gets described as a ‘genre’ work, often depicting domestic scenes or the picturesque poor.
It took the rise to prominence of the charismatic and energetic Katherine Tingley to rouse the TS in Britain from its post-split exhaustion. Mrs Tingley’s clarion call of ‘universal brotherhood’ was seen as a real threat and senior officials of the TS in London decided they must take action. In the autumn of 1897 Annie Besant went on a theosophical lecture tour of the north of England, her first for several years. Theosophists in Bradford made a big effort to overcome the issues that now divided them, and organised a visit by Annie Besant to Bradford. Time and a venue were booked for her to give a public lecture; a meeting of Bradford Lodge was arranged so that Annie Besant could meet those who were still its members; and the following afternoon a conversazione was held with her as its main guest. At the conversazione Annie Besant persuaded Kate, Florence and Gertrude to organise a study class, again the first that had been held in Bradford for several years. Although the sisters must have wondered how many people would attend it, they must also have hoped for some kind of return to the busy agenda of meetings they’d had in the early 1890s. And it was probably as a result of Annie Besant’s visit to Bradford that Florence began planning her one and only article on theosophy. Over the winter of 1897-98, two more “drawing-room” meetings were held, one in central Bradford and one in Baildon; perhaps the Spink sisters organised those too and it’s very likely that the one in Baildon took place at John Spink’s house. Things were not the same, though, and in 1900 the two factions of Bradford theosophy - Bradford Lodge and Athene Lodge - met together to admit that neither group was large and active enough to continue as they had been. Athene Lodge was wound up, though its excellent library was kept intact; and in 1902, Bradford Lodge was reconstituted. Florence was the revitalised Bradford Lodge’s new secretary and librarian; but by that time Gertrude at least, if not Kate as well, had moved on to greater things.
The late 1890s were a time of change in the Spink family. At some point during the 1890s Elizabeth Spink died; I am not certain of the exact date but the most likely death registration I found for her was from the end of the decade. In 1896, Bernard married Minnie Lease. And around 1900, Jack and Geoffrey emigrated to Canada. Even though Jack had not yet gone abroad, Geoffrey was not in England on census day 1901. Aged 64, John Spink was still working in his wine and spirit business. But only Kate, Gertrude and Jack were still living at home, at the house called Hawkswood in Baildon. Kate and Gertrude were running the household which included a cook and two housemaids; and Jack was training at an accountancy firm.
WERE KATE AND GERTRUDE CO-MASONS?
It was during this time of change in the family that co-masonry arrived in Bradford: the craft freemasonry that welcomes women. The first co-masonry lodge to be set up in England was founded in 1902 by Annie Besant and Ursula Bright. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky Lodge number 15 was set up in Bradford, probably by 1905. Oliver and Florence Firth were important members of it, at least during the next few years, so it would have been easy for Kate and Gertrude to be initiated if they had wanted it. However the trustee of the Yarker Library who sent me the information on Oliver and Florence as co-masons couldn’t find proof positive that either Kate or Gertrude were co-masons as well.
KATE AND GERTRUDE IN JOHN YARKER’S RITE OF MEMPHIS
While there’s uncertainty about Gertrude and Kate as co-masons, there’s none about their initiation into the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis. The iconoclastic freemason John Yarker was the head of this order in England. He admitted Gertrude, Kate and Florence into the Rite, and the TS’s Isabel Cooper Oakley as well, in a ceremony at Hawkswood House in July 1903. New initiates had to be sponsored into the Rite by a freemason; Oliver Firth sponsored all four women. I’m not sure how active the Rite was in terms of meetings and enacting rituals, but as members and as with all groups of this type, the Spink sisters will have been entitled to receive teachings and information not available to non-members.
John Spink, Kate and possibly Gertrude as well were still living at Hawkswood in 1904 though at some point between then and 1909 the family made one last move, to Bolton Grange in Yealdon, near the Harrogate Road. John Spink died there in August 1909; by which year Jack had probably gone to Canada and Kate and Gertrude were living in London at least part of the time.
KATE AND GERTRUDE IN LONDON
John Spink was a generous and a very un-Victorian father, allowing both his unmarried daughters to leave home. In the early 1900s they were both in their thirties - above the age when they were likely to marry - but that didn’t weigh much with contemporary society, which expected unmarried daughters to remain with ageing parents until the parents’ deaths. Not only did John Spink allow his daughters to follow their own star, he seems to have given them an income on which to do it; or perhaps they had inherited a little money from their mother.
The choice of London as the venue for the 1905 congress of the TS’s European Section was decisive for Kate and Gertrude. Although I can’t find direct proof, I think both sisters attended the 14th annual convention of the TS in Britain in July 1904, where the decision about where to hold the congress was made. Both sisters volunteered to help with the year-long process of organising the congress and as a result, very soon made London their home. If they were at the annual convention, they might have met Rudolf Steiner, who was attending it though not strictly a member of the TS in Britain.
Kate’s contribution to the European Section congress was to act as honorary secretary of its British Sub-committee. At least during 1904 she was able to do this while still living with her father, but the following year - presumably because of her good work on the congress sub-committee - she was offered a job with the TS that had to be done in London. Bernard Keightley resigned his post as General Secretary of the TS’s British Section in 1905, probably at the European Congress, and Kate was appointed to succeed him. The job - which was unpaid - was based in the TS’s offices at 28 Albemarle Street. It will have used a range of office and organisational skills that makes me wonder whether Kate had actually done more administration and record keeping than I’ve found any evidence of; perhaps for the Bradford TS Lodge in the 1890s, or possibly even for her father’s business. A large part of the work was preparing for publication two ‘transactions’ volumes, the detailed accounts of the first two congresses of the TS’s Federated European Sections. As well as editing both volumes Kate also oversaw the printing process and raised the funds to pay the printers. Finding the funding was wearisome, and she more or less ran out of money in the middle of June 1907. Theosophical Review had to issue a plea from her, suggesting that each TS lodge buy one copy of the transactions for its library; otherwise, printing of any copies would have to stop. She did get her money - the volume was published later that year.
The skills Kate honed in her post at the TS British Section stood her in good stead later on, and got her at least one subsequent job which was almost certainly paid, rather than honorary.
Kate started out her life in London living in Bayswater at 46 Moscow Court, a big block of flats on Moscow Road off Queensway. Gertrude was living with her there in 1908. However, by 1911 their rental agreement must have ended and Kate had moved to 188 Marylebone Road, above the treatment and training rooms of the National Institution for Massage by the Blind. I don’t know whether Gertrude lived with her there at any time, but the sisters were not living together on the day of the 1911 census. Filling in the census form as the head of her own household (a household of one) Kate said that she was working as a “publisher manager”. I wish I knew more about this! But all I can say is that her employer was not likely to have been the TS British Section, for reasons I give below. Perhaps it was a publishing company and if it was, I suppose she was earning a salary. Kate was still at the same address in November 1914 when her brother Geoffrey named her as his next of kin, when he signed up in Calgary to fight in the 31st Battalion, Canadian Infantry.
Kate Spink drops out of my sight in November 1917 at a point of dread in all the sisters’ lives: during that month Geoffrey Spink was wounded at Passchendaele, still giving Kate as his next-of-kin, at the Marylebone Road address. I can’t find any other information about her from then until the day of her death in May 1953, at 10 Marlborough Road Kingston-upon-Hull. Though the eldest, Kate was the last of the Spink sisters.
Gertrude’s voluntary work for the TS worldwide took her in a very different direction from the one Kate followed; but they did both end up doing work involving at least some managerial and organisational skills. Gertrude first made a name for herself with the TS hierarchy in London by doing a job of art work which would greatly enhance a book on theosophical interpretations of things seen in visions. Perhaps her experience making prints from photographic negatives had encouraged her to think that she could do the job well.
C W Leadbeater’s book Man Visible and Invisible was published by the Theosophical Publishing Society in 1902. The book had 22 coloured illustrations, painted by Count Maurice Prozor from Leadbeater’s descriptions of his visions. Each of Prozor’s paintings had then been copied by Gertrude with an air-brush, before being sent to be reproduced using the photochromogravure method - a new putting-together of the photogravure and chromo-lithography processes which resulted in very beautiful colour prints. In a short author’s note, Leadbeater thanked Gertrude for the “many days” she had spent doing this exacting but trying task. I’m sure she wasn’t paid for her work, but it had two useful results: she gained more knowledge of how printing was done; and she got her name better known, at least in theosophical circles. There’s no suggestion Gertrude contributed anything at all to the text of Leadbeater’s book.
Her work for Leadbeater led to Gertrude being thought of in the TS as someone with knowledge of and contacts in the art world. At the TS’s 14th annual convention in July 1904, she accepted the role of chief organiser of the art section of the 1905 TS’s European Section congress, her name having been put forward for the job by Bernard Keightley. Organising a congress in London was work that couldn’t be done properly by someone living all the time in Bradford, so I imagine Gertrude started to spend a lot of time in London in 1904. At meetings of the congress’s arts and crafts sub-committee, she will have been working with Annie Besant representing India (where she now largely lived), Beatrice Webb, and representatives of countries like Germany and Italy where theosophy was still popular and well-organised.
Another likely result of Gertrude’s work on Leadbeater’s book was her increasing involvement with the Artificers’ Guild. The Guild was a product of the arts and crafts movement. It was founded in 1901 by the designer and metalworker Nelson Dawson, but had to be rescued from financial chaos in 1903. Its rescuer was Montague Edward Fordham, owner of the gallery Montague Fordham Ltd whose display rooms at 9 Maddox Street showed works by jewellers, metalworkers and furniture-makers. Gertrude’s first contact with the Guild was probably through meeting Fordham and the other directors to arrange for exhibits by Guild members to be shown at the congress.
The changes made by Fordham to the way the Artificers’ Guild was run ensured that it was able to exist and prosper until World War 2. Investment in the Guild was desperately needed in 1903 and I presume Fordham organised a modest share issue; it’s clear from what happened in 1906 that Gertrude owned shares in the Guild, and 1904-05 is a likely time for her to have bought them, impressed by the Guild’s standard of work. Another important move by Fordham as he attempted to put the Guild on a secure footing was his appointment of Edward Napier Hitchcock Spencer as its senior designer. Spencer stayed in post until the 1930s. Under his guidance, and using the gallery at Maddox Street to display its products, the Guild built a reputation for high-quality stained glass panels; jewellery; and items made of steel, wrought iron and silver. One of the Guild’s most widely-publicised pieces was the Ariadne necklace of 1906; and a particular high point came in 1911, coronation year, when the Guild supplied jewelled gold and silver cigar boxes for the cars of George V and Queen Mary. The income from these successes meant that the Guild was able to expand its training programme for young metalworkers and employ more people: at the height of its popularity (which was probably the years before World War 1) 40 people worked for it, as administrators, designers and craftsmen and women.
Although Montague Fordham was a good businessman, what he was really interested in was rural crafts. By 1906 he was wanting to spend more time on them and on the social and economic problems of rural counties - he was already known as a writer and lecturer on these issues. This meant standing down from active involvement in the Artificers’ Guild and as part of a careful process of withdrawal, Fordham resigned as a director of the company in 1906. Henry Waring also stood down and Gertrude was elected to replace Waring. You can’t serve as the director of any limited company without owning shares in it. The earliest record of the Guild employing a secretary is from 1906 as well: Ernest Woolverdige was appointed to the post. Who did the secretarial work before Woolverdige isn’t clear from the accounts of the Guild that I’ve seen; but perhaps Gertrude was helping out with office tasks and that is why her name came up as a suitable successor to Waring.
Gertrude was still a director of the Guild after 1911 when Fordham’s involvement with it finally ceased and two new directors joined the board. She did a lot of letter-writing on behalf of the Guild, taking charge of the Guild’s communications with firms that displayed items in its gallery. A small group of such letters that have survived are from Gertrude to the architect and designer Sydney K Greenslade who was doing work for the Martin Brothers’ salt-glaze pottery business in Southall. I think Gertrude’s input and - by then - her experience in the Guild must have been vital during the war years. From 1916 comes the only other piece of art-work by Gertrude that I have found any evidence for; probably the only other one she ever did. That year the Guild produced a lacquered wood candle-holder suitable for a nursery; designed by Edward Spencer and painted by Gertrude. I get the impression that Gertrude never kidded herself that she had more than limited artistic skill: I don’t think she would have been helping with Spencer’s candle-holder if so many Guild employees hadn’t been away at the Front. But help she did, doing something she knew she could manage; at a time when the Guild needed all the help it could get in order to keep going as an organisation.
Though possibly not a director by this time, Gertrude still wielded influence with the Guild in 1928 when her niece Margaret Firth (Florence’s younger daughter) was appointed secretary. I imagine she continued to be a shareholder until the Guild was wound up, in 1942.
KATE, GERTRUDE AND 1909
In 1905, Kate and Gertrude were probably looking forward to many years of involvement in theosophy. Things didn’t turn out that way: beginning in 1906, the TS was shaken to its core again, this time by a scandal that reached into the heart of contemporary attitudes to sexuality. In 1906, C W Leadbeater was accused of encouraging young boys to masturbate to relieve their sexual tensions. This was a dreadful thing to be saying about him: the Victorian attitudes to masturbation that still prevailed viewed it as a religious sin and a danger to health. However, before long some far more serious suggestions were being made. As part of his voluntary work for the TS, Leadbeater had a lot of contact with the adolescent sons of TS members - I’m less clear whether he had any with their daughters. Rumours began to circulate that Leadbeater’s relationships with some of the boys he knew, were sexual; or that at the very least Leadbeater had homosexual feelings towards the boys entrusted by TS members to him for walking holidays and such. The accusations were the worse for going against a general principle of theosophy that the path to enlightenment was best served by celibacy. Leadbeater wasn’t married and many theosophists had assumed that he was celibate on theosophical principle: now that was being called into question in the most alarming way. An investigation into what was being said about Leadbeater never found any absolute proof, but he resigned from the TS in 1906 anyway.
I imagine all the Spink sisters, and Oliver Firth, knew what was being said about Leadbeater: after all, Kate Spink was working in a TS office and both she and Gertrude had many friends amongst the TS’s hierarchy in London. Gertrude, Oliver and Kate must all have come across Leadbeater at meetings and conferences - he was one of the TS’s most active members. Gertrude probably knew Leadbeater best, though the question does arise: how well did she know him? The work she had done for his 1902 book could have been done without the two ever meeting; although I would suppose that they were in regular contact. But relationships between the sexes even with people supposedly beyond the age of marriage were still very restricted in scope; I don’t think Gertrude and Leadbeater could ever have known each other well.
Who was the most shocked of Kate, Gertrude, Florence and Oliver? - two middle-aged spinsters or a couple with an adolescent son?
Leadbeater’s resignation looked as though it had solved the TS’s problem; but it hadn’t. Annie Besant, a close colleague of Leadbeater, had always believed he was innocent of the accusations that had been made. For three years she couldn’t do anything about it, but when Colonel Olcott died and she was elected his successor as the TS’s president-for-life, one of her first acts was to get Leadbeater reinstated as a TS member. This happened in February 1909 and resulted in another mass resignation from the TS. Members of the TS who had stuck it out through the Besant v Judge struggle and its aftermath decided that enough was enough; including Kate, Gertrude, Oliver and Florence, who had all resigned from the TS by the end of March 1909. Despite nothing being proved against Leadbeater, they had all agreed that they could not remain in the TS, now he had been allowed back. No smoke without fire? Or did they know that some of the gossip was true?
In practical terms Kate was the most badly and immediately affected: she could hardly have remained in her post at the TS, even if she had wanted to, and presumably lost her job. All four of them, though, must have felt very deeply the sour and shocking end to over 20 years of involvement with the TS. In their different ways all four of them had worked hard in theosophy’s cause. If they continued to follow the spiritual path laid out by theosophy, none of them regretted their resignation from the TS to the extent of deciding to be members again.
Whether or not this was for temporary, practical reasons, Kate and Gertrude were living apart on the day of the 1911 census; I think myself that there may not have been enough room for two to live in Kate’s room or rooms at 188 Marylebone Road. On census day 1911, Gertrude was living with the Artificers’ Guild’s chief designer Edward Spencer, at 12 Hammersmith Terrace. Spencer was married (to Maud) and had three small children so having Gertrude as a boarder helped with the family income; though this was still a modest household as regards servants - the basic maid-of-all-work was the only servant who lived in. When Edward Spencer filled in his census form as head of this household he generously made Gertrude out to be two or three years younger than she actually was (39 not 41 or 42). Probably having asked Gertrude how she would describe her current income, he wrote that she was a “director of metalwork business”. Whatever income Gertrude may or may not have had the in past, and whatever its sources, this was the first time anyone had declared any occupation and income for her on a census form.
I have found only a handful of references to Gertrude after the 1911 census: the piece of art work from 1916 and the appointment of her niece as Artificers’ Guild secretary hint at what was happening in her life but there are large gaps that I could fill if I had money and time to travel the country in search of more evidence.
At some point between 1911 and 1947 (36 years with virtually nothing known about her!) Gertrude moved out of London to the house her sister Florence Firth was probably already living in - Beenhams Cottage, Railway Lane Littlemore, on the outskirts of Oxford. It’s not clear who the householder was - if any one sister was - but Gertrude was still living at that address for several years after Florence died in 1939. However, ill health overcame her in the end and she became a permanent patient at Restholme, 230 Woodstock Road Oxford. This was a specialist, private hospital - fees were £500 per year in 1950 when C S Lewis had to make the decision to move his companion Jane Moore to be cared for there. Gertrude died at Restholme in April 1947.
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. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.
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.
Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.
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.
SOURCES FOR THE SPINK SISTERS
JOHN SPINK’S FIRM
The King’s Arms:
See www.clanbarker.com for information about it and its builder, Gilbert Brooksbank the fifth.
Rambles Round Horton by William Cudworth. Published by subscription 1886; printed in Bradford by Thomas Brear and Co Ltd: p168, p180
At archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com a posting from 2002 by Caroline Brand who was married to a descendent of John Spink. And Roy Stockdill’s reply.
Manningham, Heaton and Allerton (Townships of Bradford) again by William Cudworth. Published by subscription 1896; printed in Bradford: couldn’t see the page number as the book wouldn’t download to archive.org, but there was a reference to Rev Heppinstall’s school now lived in by John Spink.
JOHN SPINK AND FAMILY
A likely baptism record at familysearch England-ODM GS film number 990872: John Spink baptised 9 April 1837 at St Denis York; son of Joseph and Elizabeth.
BOTTOMLEY FAMILY OF HORTON AND ELSEWHERE IN YORKSHIRE
Malcolm Bull’s Calderdale Companion pages at freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com lists a large number of people called Bottomley; though no one called Eli. Some at least in the list are Methodists. Of course, all living in Calderdale not in Bradford.
Rambles Round Horton by William Cudworth, see just below for publication details; p22, p49, p228.
FIRTH MILL IN HORTON
Rambles Around Horton by William Cudworth. Published 1886 by subscription; printed in Bradford by Thomas Brear and Co Ltd 1886: p37, p149.
JOHN AND ELIZABETH SPINK
That Maud Spink was born in Poulton-le-Sands:
www.lan-opc.org.uk the online Lancashire births, marriages and deaths database: LDS film 1526062 Baptism Register 1861-95 p110 entry 879.
Baildon and the Baildons: A History of a Yorkshire Manor and Family Volume 1 by W Paley Baildon FSA. Privately printed at St Catherine Press: p56 a quote from Parson’s Yorkshire Directory of 1823; p432 about the purchase of the Baildon estate by Titus Salt.
The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronical volume 222 1867 p235 birth of a child of Titus Salt and his wife; they are living at Baildon Lodge which is rather curiously described as “near Leeds”.
National Art Collections Fund Review of 1997 p81 mentions that the Salt family left Baildon Lodge in 1872.
At saltairedailyphoto.blogspot.co.uk information that Titus Salt moved into the house called Milner Field in 1873.
Its approximate location: from entries in the 1901 census. Zoopla for its current address: Hollins Hill Baildon. Streetmap shows the road above Baildon village on the edge of Ilkley Moor.
A subsequent resident mentioned in The Economist volume 105 1927 p486 Sir Henry Whitehead knight, chairman of Saltaire Ltd; he also has a house in Surrey.
The house probably doesn’t exist any more though zoopla shows the short, dead-end Bolton Road still does.
A previous resident mentioned in The Annual Register of World Events editor Edmund Burke issue of 1853 p129: report on a break-in at the house, then the resident of Charles Clough, solicitor and clerk to the Bradford County Court.
Another previous resident mentioned at website www.bayanne.info the family history of the Shetland family. Ancestor John Horsfall Bankart 1823-92 and his family lived at Bolton Grange 1860s to his death. He was a “stuff merchant”. This website is using censuses and probate registrations as its sources.
Borough of Bradford: Bye-Laws issued by Bradford City Council 1867 p13.
JOHN (JACK) AND GEOFFREY SPINK GO TO CANADA
Giggleswick School Register 1499-1913 p190 J H G Spink left the school 1898.
See canadiangreatwarproject.com for the war records of both Jack and Geoffrey; though it’s not clear from the information on it whether Jack survived the fighting.
At www.abgensoc.ca are the Alberta Homesteads Records 1870-1930; there are files f John H G Spink and Geoffrey G Spink but I couldn’t tell what era they cover.
Using search.ancestry.com.au you can see Canada Voters’ Lists 1935-80. Geoffrey G Spink was registered to vote in British Columbia in 1935. I couldn’t find an entry for a John H Spink but there was one for a John Spink (who may not be the right person) also dated 1935, living in Wetaskiwin Alberta.
THE SISTERS IN THE GD
See my file on Oliver and Florence Firth for Florence’s book published 1904.
KATE AND GERTRUDE possibly as co-masons
Oliver and Florence Firth as co-masons; information sent to me in October 2021 by a trustee of the Yarker Library:
- two letters from Oliver Firth to radical freemason John Yarker, written on 29 November 1905 and 3 December 1905. Now in the archives of the John Yarker Library.
- summons to the consecration of Plato Lodge 31 co-masonry lodge; Saturday 16 May 1908, at which both Oliver and Florence Firth would play prominent roles. The consecration would be led by ex-GD member Frank D Harrison. Now in the Pilgrimage Collection.
KATE AND GERTRUDE definitely as members of the Rite of Memphis:
Date, names and venue listed on the Muster Roll of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Memphis, at the Library and Museum of the Grand Lodge of Iowa. Information sent me in October 2021 by a trustee of the John Yarker Library.
At erps.dmu.ac.uk the website of de Montfort University: reproductions of and indexes to the Exhibitions of the Royal Photographic Society from 1870 to 1915. You can read the original exhibition catalogues:
The Photographic Journal issue of 28 September 1895 p7, p12 and full list of K G Spink’s exhibits on p28.
The Photographic Journal 1898 though the exhibition was held in 1897: p24.
More on the printing methods:
Gelatino-Chloride see website www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary, run by Encyclopaedia Britannica for a neat description.
See Encyclopaedia of 19th-century Photography by John Hannavy. New York and London: Routledge 2008: p573 for information on the development of the technique.
On Kate: Theosophical Society Membership Register volume January 1889-September 1891
p192. She resigned 2 March 1909.
On Florence: Theosophical Society Membership Register volume January 1889-September 1891 p150. She resigned 1 March 1909. Florence’s sponsorship of new members:
Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1893 to March 1895 p193 October 1894 applications of Hannah Halliday of Shipley and Clara Moseley of Shipley. In both cases the other sponsor was John Midgley
Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1898-February 1901 p215 July 1900 application of Mrs Florence M Butterfield of Manningham. The other sponsor is Gertrude Spink.
A mention in Lucifer:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume X number 55 issue of 15 March 1892 p80 committee members at Bradford Lodge for 1892-93.
On Gertrude: Theosophical Society Membership Register September 1891-January 1893 p118. She resigned on 23 March 1909. Although a member from 1892 Gertrude didn’t sponsor anyone until 1899 Theosophical Society Membership Register June 1898-February 1901: p139 Ernest T Dexter, with co-sponsor Countess Wachtmeister; and p215 Florence Butterfield.
1901 census information indicates that Ernest T Dexter, aged 23 and as yet unmarried, worked in the offices of a railway company; he had been born in Bradford.
All the sisters mentioned in Lucifer:
Lucifer: A Theosophical Magazine volume XXI September 1897 to February 1898 p378; pp 466-469: Florence’s article Theosophy and Education; p572.
KATE AND GERTRUDE
At www.englishheritagearchives.org.uk there’s a picture of the elevation of this block of flats on the Moscow Court Place side of building. The postal address of the block is Moscow Road.
Royal Blue Book: Fashionable Directory and Parliamentary Guide issue of 1908 p1371 has an entry for “Spink, the Misses” both at 46 Moscow Court. With “Miss Kate” Spink listed as also at 28 Albemarle Street.
KATE SPINK AFTER 1900
Theosophical Review volume 33 1904 p486.
28 Albemarle Street is a TS address:
Who’s Who Year Book published by A and C Black Ltd, issues of 1905 and 1908 have Kate Spink at 28 Albemarle Street.
For Bertram Keightley see wikipedia.
The Theosophist volume 27 1906 pxxxvi Kate’s job title given as General Secretary of the British Section of the Federation of European Sections.
Theosl Rvw vol XL no 238 issue of June 1907 p292 in the editl, a ref to “Miss Kate Spink” working “untiringly” to prep f pubn the first 2 vols of the Trans papers of the first 2 congresses of the Federated Eur Sections of the TS. Kate had written to TR asking f m funds to compl the work, o’wise pubn of them wld have to cease. Spcfc she was sugg that ea TS lodge by a copy of them f its library. Some copies of them at least were printd:
Trans of the Federn of Eurn Sections of the TS 1907 p4 gives Kate at 28 Albemarle St as “Hon Sec” of the Bh Section of the Federn.
That the job was not paid:
Transactions of the Federation of European Sections of the TS 1907 p4.
At www.forgottenbooks.com a copy of Lilian Edger’s Elements of Theosophy published London: Theosophical Publishing Society 1907 pp202-03.
188 MARYLEBONE ROAD is on the north side near Marylebone station:
Journal of Commercial Education volume 9 1894 p12 refers to an S Hunter at the address though it’s not clear from the entry whether it’s a home or an office address.
The Yearbook of the Scientific and Learned Societies of GB and Ireland issue of 1901 p329 188 Marylebone Road is the current address of the Association of Registered Medical Women.
Some people do seem to live at the address: Notes and Queries 1909 p138 refs to a Perceval Lucas with address 188 Marylebone Road.
At rcnarchive.rcn.org.uk, The British Journal of Nursing issue of 5 September 1914 p192.
Man Visible and Invisible subtitled Examples of Different Types of Men as Seen by Means of Trained Clairvoyance. Charles W Leadbeater. London: Theosophical Publishing Society 1902. There’s a frontispiece, 3 diagrams and 22 coloured illustations. On an unnumbered page, a very short author’s note. Illustrations opposite p66 and opposite p138 both have at bottom right: “Photochromogravure, Lyons and London”. On p144 the book was printed by Neill and Co Ltd of Edinburgh.
See wikipedia for more information on the technique but most of it is in French or Japanese.
The Penrose Annual: Review of the Graphic Arts volume 17 1912 p16.
At www.forgottenbooks.com detailed information on how it works from Harmsworth’s Universal Encyclopaedia though I couldn’t see the date of publication: p81 photogravure and photo-lithography.
At www.Martin2001.com is the webpage of Martin2001 Antique Prints for further information see its comprehensive ‘methods’ section.
For more on Leadbeater see theosophical publications now in the library at Sheffield University.
TS European Congress:
Rudolf Steiner in Britain: A Documentation of his Ten Visits by Crispian Villeneuve. Forest Row: Temple Lodge 2004: in Chap 4 on his 4th Visit in 1904 p?84
Transactions of the Annual Congress of the Federation of European Sections of the TS. Published 1907 by the Federation. I couldn’t see the page number but there was a list of those who served on the Congress’s arts and crafts sub-committee.
Theosophical Review volume 37 1906 p149 Gertrude Spink is mentioned as the Secretary of the Artificers’ Guild, with address 9 Maddox Street London W. However, no other sources that I’ve found say she was the Guild’s secretary.
The Directory of Gold and Silversmiths Volume 1 The Biographies (which include companies as well as individuals). By John Culme using information from the London Assay Office Registers. Woodbridge Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club 1987: pxiv, p16. Other sources used by Culme for the article were pxiv of Charlotte Gere’s European and American Jewellery 1830-1914 London 1975 and contemporary issues of The Studio, volumes 32, 44, and 46. P16 note 8.
The Ariadne necklace, designed by Edward Spencer and John Bonner, was featured in The Art Journal 1906 pp55-56; last sold 1981.
The design archive, but not the office records, of the Artificers’ Guild Ltd is now held by the Goldsmiths’ Company: see it at www.thegoldsmiths.co.uk/library/archives:
At www.925-1000.com is the online Encyclopaedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Makers’ Marks. Information on the Artificers’ Guild’s personnel, on the website’s contributors’ notes forum, posted by ‘dognose’ 2014.
Gertrude’s painted nursery candle of 1916:
The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art issue of 1916 p76; and the same information in Decorative Art in Modern Interiors volume 11 1916 p76.
FORDHAM AND SPENCER
Montague Edward Fordham see wikipedia and Who Was Who volume IV 1941-50 p399.
Not much seems to be known about Edward Spencer but there’s a little information about him at
www.styles-silver.co.uk the website of Styles Silver of
MARTIN BROTHERS and GREENSLADE
Via apps.nationalarchives.gov.uk to GB 1158 55: papers held at Ealing Local History Centre at Southall. The papers of Sydney K Greenslade are held as part of the archive of Martin Brothers and the Martinware Salt-Glaze Pottery. On the catalogue’s p3 as part of its ‘C, Letters from Greenslade’s Friends and Principal Correspondents: a few letters from Gertrude Spink to Greenslade, written 1908-15, catalogue item numbers 1858-1863.
Ceramics - Mastering the Craft by Richard Zakin. A and C Black 1990. P209 for the four Martin brothers.
Prob the exchange of letters is n personal but part of Gertrude’s job at Artificers’ Guild.
On Sydney K Greenslade - very little information; here’s what I did find:
Website www.parksandgardens.org for dates 1867-1955.
Going Modern and Being British: Art, Architecture and Design in Devon c 1910-1960 editor Sam Smiles. Exeter: Intellect 1998 p27 Greenslade designed Exeter Public Library 1925. And the National Library of Wales, a “severe, neo-Classical” building.
No entry in Who Was Who and no obituary in the Times.
230 WOODSTOCK ROAD
Zoopla shows it in Summertown, now divided into at least 10 flats.
Jane Moore and 230 Woodstock Road:
C S Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath. Hodder and Stoughton 2013 p247.
For speculation on the exact nature of Lewis’ relationship with Jane Moore see wikipedia and biographies.
MORE POSSIBLE COVERAGE OF GERTRUDE AS A PRINT-DEVELOPER
It’s possible that the GD’s Gertrude Spink is mentioned in the American magazine The Photographic Times volume 27 1895 p105 and p115. HOWEVER, while searching the web I’ve come across several references to an American Gertrude Spink who was a temperance campaigner around 1920; so I assume that the article refers to the American woman.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
8 April 2015
7 October 2021
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Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: