Dolf Wyllarde—crazy name, crazy gal

The actress Annie Schletter had a number of enthusiastic correspondents not all of whom were necessarily connected with the theatre. One of these was Dolf Wyllarde (1871 – 1950), whose real name was Dorothy Margarette Selby Lowndes . A prolific author of adventure and romance novels, she was  popular in her day, but is largely forgotten now, though her books turn up regularly in secondhand bookshops and online at Abebooks. Wyllarde appears to have done well through her writing and at least one of her novels was filmed. By 1927 she was living in some splendour at the seventeenth century Oldmixon Manor, near Weston-Super-Mare. Why Lowndes chose her particular pseudonym will probably never be known. Perhaps she thought a masculine name might attract more readers. However, she could well have been interested in the ramifications of sexual identity. In The Lavender Lad (1922) a talented actress disguises herself as a ‘ragged urchin’ in order to work on a lavender farm.

We should remember that this was the period when female impersonators were a common sight on the English Music Hall stage. Interestingly, she doesn’t appear to have used her real female name when creating   her ‘ romance’ stories. She even uses her pen name when writing to friends, as in this chatty epistle to Schletter, which is dated 12 December 1927. In it she describes domestic life at Oldmixon, which seems idyllic and very far from some of her swashbuckling fiction. She begins by announcing that she plans to send her friend a turkey through the post for Christmas —a practice, incidentally, performed by middle class country folk from at least the eighteenth century onwards—but warns her friend that this might be the last she receives from them.

‘…I am afraid we shall have none to send next year as we are thinking of giving them up. They are so difficult to rear, and my gardener’s wife has to get up at five o’clock in the spring to feed the chicks…We are very busy and very domestic ! I have an energetic little cook who positively likes using my grandmother’s recipes and I find myself involved in old-fashioned jams (crab apple is really delicious) and hams pickled with things that remind me of the White Knight’s pudding in “ Alice through the looking glass “. I am not sure that gunpowder and blotting-paper are not among the ingredients. We are all supposed to rub the ham in turn. I went and looked at it in its pickle, but the treacle and juniper berries, the old beer and the black pepper, were so awful that I fled !...’  

Wyllarde features in a few reference works on popular Edwardian fiction, but little or anything is known about her personal life. She died in 1950, aged 79. Her former home, Oldmixon Manor, has survived, but is now divided into apartments. [R.H]

8 thoughts on “Dolf Wyllarde—crazy name, crazy gal

  1. Joe Simpson Walker

    Was "Dolf" a female name? I've seen a serial called "Dolf Runs Away", published in the 1920s, in which the title character was the heroine.

  2. R.M.Healey

    Thanks for these contributions.If you Google Dolf/Dolph you'll find that most, if not all, of the real-life people with this name are male. The matter is complicated by such anomalies as the fact that the spelling of some names ( ie Robin, Evelyn)is the same for a male as for a female. It should be possible to come to a conclusion on all this. Meanwhile keeping Jotting. I am presently adding to my knowledge of Ms Lowndes' domestic arrangements at Oldmixon.

  3. Philip de Jersey

    Fascinating stuff. I imagine you've come across Selby Lowndes, solicitors in Oxfordshire ( in the course of research. I know of the surname(s) in my own specialist niche because of William Selby Lowndes, owner of Whaddon Hall in Buckinghamshire in the mid-nineteenth century, and owner of the land at Whaddon Chase on which the largest ever hoard of Iron Age coins was found in 1849. I assume that Dorothy was a descendant of this family, and I wonder if William Selby Lowndes at the lawyers mentioned above has more information about her?

  4. John Baxter

    I lived in The Oldmixon Manor House 1993-1995 and was so happy to have been there and to share much of her past via remains of her existence there. Eg. The Dolphin in a stained glass window. The stables and Coach house where I kept my car. The tack room and stable and a plaque that was in the window of the tack room in memory of her favourite horse ‘Sappho’. The old scullery down the stairs then unused but where I had my workshop, then further down more steps was the cellar where I stored the logs I had cut from the dead trees in the Manor’s woods above on the hillside. The old fireplaces at that time were from her time and were of lovely design. The ceilings in the main bedroom and other rooms too were 10 feet high. Most chimneys had been blocked off except one in the kitchen where we spent our Winters. It was a relatively cold place in Winter but the Summers were glorious there.
    Over time, the Manor had deteriorated and was going to cost a small fortune to carry out all the maintenance needed. I was a tenant and was not allowed to do very much for my landlord as the Manor was to be sold. It was on the market for some years but was purchased by a person who had plans to renovate the Manor House. I believe that the lovely fireplaces were removed and sold but the interior has been changed by a large degree and was divided up into flats. The outer buildings have been replaced by new buildings as accommodation and sold off separately. Basically the outer and main structure of the magnificent house remains much the same as in 1993 and many, many years before. Just as it was when Dolph Wyllarde lived there in her luxurious style after her many successes on Stage and writing her books. In her front lawn on the upper level were several graves where she had buried her pets some of whom had featured in her books. Rest in Peace Dolph Wyllarde. Thank you xx


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