by Patricia Lane Evans, Nicki Lane Crauford and Kirk Brandon
Documenting the Craxford family has never been a straight forward exercise. As the ramifications of this family tree have been teased apart we have been beset with official mistakes, mis-spellings and voluntary variations in the presentation our surname. Although these vagaries have not by any means been fully clarified, we came to believe that we had at least a reasonable and common understanding of our heritage.
As we have looked at our cousins and other near ancestors, we have uncovered further examples that hint of historical confusion and obfuscation – and none more so than that of the family Pigott. In this article we are concentrating on Minnie Pigott who became the actress Mimi Crawford and subsequently the Countess of Suffolk.
The liaison between the Craxford and Pigott families began when Alfred Lane (senior) married Georgie at St Peter's Church, West Hackney on October 9th 1882 (1). We know from the certificate that she was 23 years of age when she married and that her father was John George Pigott. They had met when she had been employed as a singer and actress at the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton, London. It seems likely that her mother was named Louise who may have been born in Ireland and she may have been one of the witnesses at the wedding service. Curiosity was mildly piqued further by the subsequent registration of their son, Alfred Lane (junior) born the following year (2). Georgie is now formally declared to be 'Craxford, formerly Forde'.
Very little is known about the ancestry of the Pigott family. Entries for them in the usual internet sources (Ancestry.co.uk; findmypast.co.uk) tend to be sparse or non-existant. Indeed the entry in the marriage index noted above has Alfred Lane marrying a George Pigott! Simple mathematics show that she was born around 1859. Over the course of the next five years the family produced for her a brother (christened Alfred George Ford) in 1860 (3) and a sister (Maud Mary) in 1865 (4).
Robert Chalmers was born in August 1858. Nothing is known of the circumstances of their meeting, but he and Maud Pigott, Alfred Forde's sister, were married in 1888 (5). The 1891 census return for London finds them living at 31 Fitzroy Road with their two young children (Mabel and Ralph) and Robert was working for the Upper Division of the Civil Service as a clerk at the Treasury. (6)
From here his rise was meteoric. He became Permanent Secretary of the Treasury and Auditor of the Civil List between 1911 and 1913, was appointed Governor of Ceylon from 1913 to 1916 and Joint Secretary to the Treasury until 1919. He held an academic office at Cambridge University and wrote several books on oriental studies and aspects of British colonies. He was made a life peer and a Privy Counsellor.
They had three children, a daughter, Mabel (born 1890) and two sons, Ralph (1891) and Robert (1895). Ralph was a champion fencer and represented Great Britain in the individual epée event at the 1908 Summer Olympics. Both sons joined the Army in World War I. Ralph served as a captain with the 2nd batallion of the Suffolk Regiment. He was killed in action at the Second Battle of Ypres on May 8th 1915. He is commemorated at the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial. Robert also enlisted and served as alieutenant with the 15th batallion the London (Prince of Wales Own Service Reserve) Regiment. He too died in action, on the Somme barely three weeks after his older brother. He was buried at the Military Cemetery at Chocques, Pas de Calais, France.
Maud died in July 1923. She was buried in the East Sheen and Richmond Cemetery at Ricmond upon Thames. Robert remarried in 1935 to Iris, the daughter of Sir John Biles. He died in 1938.(8)
The hunt for Mimi has been tortuous to say the least. A definitive birth certificate in the name of Mimi was never found despite exhaustive searches. This is perhaps not surprising as Mimi is more likely to be a pet name (Italian derivation from Maria, Mary or Marion) rather than a given name and there are a dozen possible girl Pigotts with 'double M' (Maria Maud; Mercy Mary etc) christian names registered between 1897 and 1915; let alone alternative spellings of Piggott and Ford / Forde. There are no Forde-Pigotts listed.
The unlikely clue that has probably unlocked this puzzle was part of the 1901 census return from the Northern town of Middlesbrough. In residence at 8 Dunning Street, just doors away from the recently opened Empire Theatre, was Alfred G Forde, a theatre manager, with his wife Louisa and daughters Eileen (4 years) and Minnie (3 years) (9) .
Louisa Caroline Bryant had been born in London in 1876, one of eleven children and the eldest daughter of car man, James Bryant, and his wife, Mary Ann Mooney. In 1891, the family were living in Hanover Square in the Borough of Westminster. The teenage Louisa had aspirations for the stage and was training as a ballet dancer. Looking back at previous records showed that Alfred Forde had married Louisa Bryant in London in 1896 (10). Their daughter, Minnie Mabel, was born in Holloway, London on December 27th 1897 (11)
In the early years of the new century, the family moved back to London settling in a house in Torriano Avenue, Camden. Alfred died in early 1929.
With her looks and coming as she did from a background steeped in the stage, it was perhaps inevitable that she should follow a career in the theatre. Even though she was not actually a Crauford she used the name Crawford as her stage name as a tribute to the Craufords of the Britannia Theatre. (This is also an interesting comparison with Henry George Lupino who took the stage name 'Lupino Lane' because of his association with the same family and theatre).
It is known that Mimi appeared on stage as a child actor. There is a record of her performing in the musical play "Pinkie and The Fairies" by Frederick Norton and Walford Graham Robertson at His Majesty's Theatre in December 1909 and with Sir H Beerbohm Tree's Theatre Company in February 1910 (12). Stage plays and tours were the order of the day through the years of the First World War.
She played the title role of "Sally" at the Winter Gardens, London in September 1922. (13). She starred in a number of plays and reviews between 1925 and the early 1930s ('R.S.V.P.' and 'The Co-optimists') appearing at such theatres as the Vaudeville and the London Hippodrome. She appeared with Fred Astaire in 'Stop Flirting'.(14) She made a guest appearance in a performance of the Johann Strauss' opera, "Die Fledermaus", at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden before King George V and Queen Mary on May 29th 1931. She danced a specially choreographed interpretation of the Blue Danube Waltz which had been introduced into the opera (15). Her musical repetoire included songs from Richard Addinsell, George and Ira Gerswin and Lorenz Hart and Richard Rogers. She also starred and sang in a number of films towards the end of the 1920s including "In An Old World Garden", the title song for which was written and composed by Harry S. Pepper.
There are also a number of pieces in the archives including a recording of her performance of "And Now We Are Six ((a)Sneezes (b) The friend/ (a) The emperor's rhyme (b) Furry bear)" poems by A.A. Milne on the HMV label.
She was well known to the general public as a dancer and singer. She was photogenic and one correspondent recalls that her face was regularly seen on adverts on the sides of buses when he was young (16).
Such was her popularity that she featured in several sets of coloured insert cards issued with packets of cigarettes from the Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada (pictured here) and WD & HO Wills in the 1920s. (17) In the second Wills set
from 1926 she had two photographs - Nos 26 and 29.
Mimi met and fell in love with Charles Henry Howard. The Earl, who had significant interests in the United States and Australia as well as an ancestral home in England had seen her perform on stage. Their engagement was reported in the Queensland Press (17) and their wedding subsequently in The Times.
The following article appeared in the March 1934 edition of TIME magazine (19) which also announced their society engagement:
Engaged. Charles Henry George Howard, Earl of Suffolk, 28, grandson of the late Chicago Merchant Levi Leiter; and Dancer Mimi Crawford (Mimi Forde Pigott), niece of Robert Chalmers, First Baron of Northiam, one time Governor of Ceylon. They were married in London at St Luke's Church, Chelsea on March 7th 1934. They had kept the occasion low key and only 30 close friends were in attendance. Mimi wore a long yellow dress trimmed with sable and a yellow 'picture' hat. (20). Interestingly the marriage registration indexes note her as Mimi Forde-Pigott (21). The couple honeymooned in the west of England. She took the title Countess of Suffolk and they had three sons (Michael John – who became the 21st Earl, Maurice David and Patrick Greville).
Charles was born on March 6th 1906 and inherited the title 20th Earl of Suffolk and 13th Earl of Berkshire on the death of his father during the first World War in Mesopotamia in 1917. In his early career he entered Dartmouth College with the intention of becoming a naval officer but quit to join the crew of a Windjammer sailing ship. After a short period with the Scots Guards he moved out to Australia to become a "jackaroo" (an agricultural trainee).
After they were married, he and Mimi lived at Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Wiltshire where their children were born.
He had gained an honours degree in Chemistry from Edinburgh University. During the second World War Charles was in charge of a Scientific Research Experimental Unit whose primary work was to investigate and make trials of the methods required for dealing with new types of unexploded bombs. He was killed in London on May 12th 1941. On that day he and two assistants took an old and rusted bomb to the Erith Marshes to examine it. This seemingly harmless weapon exploded, killing Lord Suffolk and his assistants.
A citation published in The London Gazette of 18th July 1941 read: "The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to:- Charles Henry George Howard, Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire (deceased), Chief Field Research and Experimental Officer, Directorate of Scientific Research, Ministry of Supply. For conspicuous bravery in connection with bomb disposal." (22) Mimi attended an investitute at Buckingham Palace in October 1941 where she received the medal from the King.
Mimi died on February 22nd 1966.
Once again we have seen that accepted names and public personnas can be very deceptive and lead genealogists and amateur researchers into a series of wild goose chases and a tangle of paperwork. It does seem clear that the family name was Pigott from the start and that Mimi's father was given the name 'Ford' (note no ending 'E') as a third christian name. It is possible that this represents a maternal surname but this has not been confirmed. By the time of Mimi's birth, the 'E' had appeared and her father had dropped the name Pigott in favour of Forde. As noted above Minnie Mabel was soon contracted to Mimi. When and why Pigott resurfaced and the hyphen was added is not known. It is of note, though, that Minnie Mabel's sister, Eileen, was registered as Forde-Pigott when she married Clarence Birkett in the summer of 1929.
Perhaps the answer lies in a letter sent in 1947 by Louise (Alfred and Maud Mary's sister) to her niece, Eva, who had emigrated to Canada. She wrote: "You remarked on my using the name of Pigott. Well, it is my name - Forde-Pigott - but Forde was used only for both Uncle Alfred and Edwin (her younger brother) as stage names therefore professionally known by that name. When Uncle Alfred died and everything had to be settled in our full name it was then considered it better to use my full name."
Kirk Brandon is first cousin (once removed) of Mimi Crawford, the relationship is through Mimi's maternal aunt, Agnes Bryant. Patricia Evans and Nicki Lane Crauford are both first cousins (twice removed) of Mimi Crawford, through her paternal great aunt, Georgie Forde.
1. Alfred Lane Craxford to Georgie Pigott: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Marriages Dec 1882 Hackney 1b 786
2. Alfred Lane Craxford: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Births Sep 1883 Shoreditch 1c 109
3. Alfred George Ford Pigott: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Births June 1860 Shoreditch 1c 152
4. Maud Mary Pigott: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Births Dec 1865 Hackney 1b 385
5. Robert Chalmers to Maud M Pigott: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Marriages Sep 1888 Westminster 1a 937
6. 1891 Census (England and Wales): Pancras RG12/118 24 134 8: www.ancestry.co.uk
7. Robert, 1st Lord Chalmers: Portrait painted about 1920: wikipedia. From the Wikimedia Commons Gallery.
8. CHALMERS, Rt Hon Lord, PC, GCB, KCB, CB (18/08/1858-17/11/1938): British Academy Fellows Archive: http://www.britac.ac.uk/fellowship/archive.asp?fellowsID=1548
9. 1901 Census (England and Wales): Middlesbrough RG13/4576 19 49 16
10. Alfred George Forde to Louise Caroline Bryant: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Marriages Mar 1896 St George Hanover Square 1a 666
11. Minnie Mabel Forde: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Births Mar 1898 Islington 1b 206
12."Pinkie and The Fairies": University of Glasgow; Special Collections
13. Mimi Crawford, Actress: in "Who's Who In The Theatre" 556
14. 'Stop Flirting': http://www.fredastaire.net/music/stagemusic.htm
15. Opera Season: Their Majesties to attend: Hull Daily Mail Monday May 25th 1931: The British Newspaper Archive; © The British Library Board.
16. Peter Lane Crauford: Personal communication (2005)
17. Wills Stage and Film Stars: WD & HO Wills Ltd. http://www.moviecard.com/wills/wil-stagefilm4aces.html
18. Queensland's Earl to Wed: The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld: 1933-1954) Friday 23 February 1934 page 13. The National Library of Australia
19. TIME Magazine. March 5th 1934. http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,747123,00.html
20. "Earl weds dancer": The Montreal Gazette. March 8th 1934
21. Charles Henry George Howard to Mimi Forde-Pigott: England and Wales Civil Registration Index (1837-1984): Marriages March 1934 Chelsea 1a 700
22. The Right Honourable Charles Henry George Howard, Earl of SUFFOLK & BERKSHIRE, GC (Posthumously): http://www.gc-database.co.uk/recipients/SuffolkBerks.htm
23. The George Cross: image from Sarah Jane Framing and Medals
Added: June 6th 2005
Last updated: May 1st 2012