Annie and Merton Russell-Cotes Great Great Grandson visits the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth
On Tuesday 15th August 2023, the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum received visitors who are descendants of the founders of Bournemouth’s iconic museum. Son of Audrey Stanford, William Russell Spear visited the museum with his wife, son, and grandchildren to take in the delights of their ancestor’s home and collection.
In 1891 Merton and Annie Russell-Cotes youngest daughter, Clara, married Joseph Drew. The couple had one daughter, Gwendoline, born in 1893. Unfortunately Clara’s marriage didn’t last and the couple were divorced several years later. Gwendoline married a naturalised German Jew, Ronald Stanford (born Rudolf Albert Samelson), in 1915 and had two children, Geoffrey and Audrey who was William’s (Bill) mother, who went on to marry Robert Adrian Spear. Audrey and Robert had two sons Andrew and William (Bill) and it is Bill who visited the Russell-Cotes with his own family.
The family knew about Gwendoline marrying Ronald Stanford in 1915 and recalled that he changed his name to become more ‘acceptable’ to Merton Russell-Cotes so that he would support the marriage. They recalled that Gwendoline and Ronald had lost money in the Great Depression of the 1930s and were not so well off, subsequently.
Bill’s mother Audrey whose education included Cheltenham Ladies College and a Swiss finishing school, meant that she was fluent in both French and German and she spent time during the war with WAAF intercepting and translating German pilots’ messages for the English war efforts. Although mentions of the Russell-Cotes family and house were limited during his childhood, Bill remembers Gwendoline visiting the family in New Zealand when he was younger and mentioned that she became Merton’s ward in his final years.
We have a photo of the family within our records which shows Gwendoline standing next to Merton and he appears to be very protective over her which we assume represents his fondness of her.
Bill and his family lived in Pulborough area in Sussex and left England in 1949, arriving in New Zealand in 1950 before settling in Auckland. They decided to emigrate to New Zealand, because Audrey did not want to send her children to boarding school at an early age as she had been. William recalled that his family were considering moving to Canada or New Zealand but in the end, they chose New Zealand as the place to start their next chapter. Audrey came to live with Helen and Bill at the end of her life. They remembered that she was well-read and educated, still fluent in German. Bill remembered Gwendoline (1his Grandmother) visiting his family in New Zealand along with her companion May Keen, who he understood had been an opera singer. Gwendoline left an annuity to May in her will.
Bill gained New Zealand citizenship in 2006 and his son and daughter grew up there too. He met Helen at University and in a whirlwind romance they married six weeks later, before travelling to Europe together. It appears that an ambition to travel and explore the world is something which has been passed down through generations. They were both teachers and they have two children, Geoff now living in the UK with his wife, Nicola and twin daughters Mia and Amelia. Their other daughter Sarah lives on Gold Coast Australia, where Bill and Helen have now moved.
The only Russell-Cotes family heirloom in their possession is the ink stand presented to Gwendoline on her 21st Birthday by Merton Russell-Cotes.
It is amazing to think that after all these years Annie and Merton’s legacy still lives on and that the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth is centered around their love story and bringing people together from all over the world. It was fascinating to delve into their family history and uncover more stories about the Russell-Cotes family, against the backdrop of the historic home and collections.