Back to source page ...The Anstruther Guest Book 1901-1952
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The Decade of War (1936-1946)
The Search for Renée ...
September 2004

Click on the image for source page ...

Renée Baldwin Raper and her daughter, Corinne, were visitors at the Anstruther's house, Greyfriars, at Redbourn in Hertfordshire for the weekend Friday 12th - Monday 15th January, 1940 and then again (probably for the weekend) Friday 22nd March, in late Winter, early Spring - when this photograph seems to have been taken.

The picture was taken by Marjorie Freeman who was staying at the house for the period October 2nd, 1939 to June 10th 1940. Marjorie Freeman, who died in the 1980s, became Godmother to Jean Anstruther's daughter.

By stretching the imagination just a fraction, it is possible to see the reflection of the photographer in the pane of glass just above Babs Anstruther's head. Babs Anstruther is seated behind and between Renée and Corinne. Jean Anstruther, daughter and only child (twelve years old at this time) of Douglas and Babs Anstruther, is seated to the right, holding one of the Jack Russell puppies.

The story begins ...

The name "renee baldwin raper" did not appear via the magic of a Google search; Renée Baldwin Raper - with the French acute accent, did, however - and so did a result for "Baldwin Raper" Corinne. A pleasant surprise - but odd.

The very English family surname stood out incongruously on a French Genealogy site. There was Corinne - and there, too, her mother - Renée. Game set and match. So that's who they were. Corinne Baldwin Raper and her mother, Renée Benoit - married to ... M. Baldwin Raper; Mr. Baldwin Raper; no first name, no dates - just a statement.

The immediate reaction was to consider sending a message to the site manager, explain the approach and enquire whether further details were known; but was this worth the journey? So many e-mails these days arrive at "lapsed" destinations and bounce back; besides, at least this person, Renée, now had an identifiable background - which is more than could be said for the majority of the 1936-1946 names in the Anstruther Guest Book. Leave it at that and provide a link.

Not so. Impossible.

Those who chase this dragon will know how compelling is that urge to find out more - ancestor or not - because even the slightest snippet of information with a family connection can nudge some other jigsaw fragment into place - besides, another question was forming in the margin. There was another name, Magnus Geddes, linked to each visit by Renée and her daughter. Who was he? He stayed when they stayed - as well as visiting several times in his own right. Douglas Anstruther seems to have followed the custom - begun by his father in the Guest Book - of placing two small circles adjacent to the names of people whom he identified as having some form of romantic association. Renée Baldwin Raper and Magnus Geddes received this attention. There was, clearly, a story here. So, nothing for it but to take a deep breath, dig down into the rusty French, send the message and hope for the best. Might be worth asking if the name Geddes "rang any bells" too. How do you say that in French?

The message went. Time passed.

When dealing with history - and especially with family history - it is just as well to be prepared for the unexpected. Occasionally, as the small hours of morning fight against any valiant attempt to sleep, something niggles; something insinuates itself into that tiny patch of grey behind the eyes and continues to tease. It won't let go; you know you are in a state of sleep of some kind and yet you are thinking as cogently as ever - and even watching yourself thinking, disconnected but as if from some mirror site somewhere close by.

On this occasion, the process was accompanied by an equally disconnected voice; a string of words - "Go back and look at the photographs." It was a semi-conscious voice and not my own thinking voice at all - an indistinct, androgynous echo - insistent and set to a default speed of several megabytes per second. I wrestled with this for - probably far too long, and eventually had to give up any pretence to sleep. Thus it was that I spent two more hours of that early Saturday morning going through photographs.

The voice had provided 'sound' advice ... because, contained in an album which had been compiled by Marjorie Freeman at the time when she was staying at the house, I discovered the above picture - quite clearly labelled.

It was like clicking on the "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google and getting the exact page you want; only better - besides, the spine doesn't tingle in quite the same way with Google, does it? Here were two faces, two real people who had materialised into the present through a sixty four year old photograph. They were no longer just names written in a Guest Book - albeit names with a genealogical link to mark their lives. These people had interacted with members of the immediate family and could clearly be seen in a very domestic setting ... mending a jacket, wearing school clothes, sitting in the weak, Spring sunshine of an England at war.

The Story begins to fall into place ...

Persistent searches on the internet revealed that there could be only one such Monsieur Baldwin Raper who fitted into this jigsaw gap - Alfred. Alfred Baldwin Raper was a British Member of Parliament – possibly associated with the East Islington area of London. It is not known whether he had any brothers or sisters but his father was Walter Raper "of Gerrards Cross" in Buckinghamshire. The Anstruther home at Redbourn in Hertfordshire and Gerrards Cross in the county of Buckinghamshire are in comparative close proximity, to the north and not far from London. The name of Walter Raper’s wife is unknown but it may reasonably be suggested that her family name was Baldwin.

Alfred Baldwin Raper was born on the 8th May in 1889. His birth was registered in the June quarter of that year at Hackney, (Middlesex) London.This would make him a fraction older than Douglas Anstruther and some 12 years older than Babs (née Wormald) Anstruther who was born in September, 1901. Indeed, at the time of the 1901 census, Alfred B. Raper was recorded as being at boarding school - Highbury House School in Hastings, Sussex. His age is listed as 11. The Hastings school address was 20, Church Road.

The family – Raper, it seems, had close ties with Yorkshire, as did the Wormald family of Sir John Wormald whose youngest daughter, Babs, is pictured with Renée and Corinne. John Wormald died in 1933. Douglas’ father was an MP – Harry Anstruther, who died in 1926. The connection with the Wormald family will be expanded later in the page.

Alfred Baldwin Raper married, on 7th June, 1922, when he was about 32, Bessie (Elizabeth) Alice Tobin, whose father was William Andrew Tobin “of Australia” where Bessie herself was born. It is not known if Alfred Baldwin Raper had been married previously. Bessie Alice Tobin, however, had previously been married to Frederick William Burton Conyngham, who was the 6th Marquess Conyngham (in the Irish Peerage). That marriage took place in 1914. The couple divorced (she divorced him) in 1921. Bessie Alice Tobin married Alfred Baldwin Raper the following year (1922) and her former husband (died 1974) married Antoinette Winifred Thompson on the 8th November of that same year.

Bessie Alice Tobin (as Bessie Alice [Baldwin] Raper) was photographed by Bassano and a record of this photograph may be found at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Renée Benoit

The following information is provided by Stéphane Benoit and is adapted here with gratitude.

The Benoit family lost track of Renée and Corinne many years ago. Renée was the daughter of Hector Benoit (Stéphane's great uncle) and Melle. Delebois. Renée had two brothers, Hector (Jnr.) and Pierre. Their father died young (aged 36) and the children were left in the care of their mother. Family anecdote recalls that their mother sent them off, as soon as she was able, to make their own ways in the world. Hector was sent to Vietnam to work in the rubber plantations and Pierre to Senegal to work in coffee. Renée was sent to England - "probably to work as an "au pair" or similar". Hector suffered from depression throughout his life; he was married but not happily. Pierre (born at Roubaix in 1910) tried to re-establish his life in France after the war but eventually decided to return to Senegal until he retired. At this point, he did return to France and settled himself in a small boarding house, which he left each morning and to which he returned at night. He never married.

Of Hector (Jnr.), Stéphane writes: "J'ai bien connu Hector, un monsieur charmant ..." and of Pierre, "Mon père allait le voir quand il était dans le coin. Je suis allé, il y a deux ou trois ans, à la mairie de Roubaix où il est né voir si son décès était noté sur les registres: Il ne l'était pas." Of Renée, Stéphane writes: "Quant à Renée, j'ai entendu parler d'elle mais sans plus. ... Quant au nom Geddes, it "rings a bell" mais je ne sais pas si c'est parmi mes relations ou celles de la famille. Ceci dit, je dois ajouter que les Benoit's, d'origine normande, se sont installé à Roubaix, ville de la laine ... "

The mystery deepens ... and resolves a fraction ...

One of the sister sites developed with this "Family Vault" follows the illustrious history of the British engineering firm Mather & Platt Ltd. - a firm in which Sir John Wormald - father of Babs Anstruther - was a Managing Director. He was also the first Chairman of the French company Mather & Platt, set up in 1921. The engineering works (Park Works) for Mather & Platt, in France was at Roubaix.

Mather & Platt concentrated heavily upon Fire Protection and the production of sprinkler systems for factories and mills – and Roubaix was important in this respect in France. Roubaix equated to Yorkshire in Britain as far as wool mills and textile factories were concerned. The British company was taken over by Wormald International (Australia) in 1978. In France, the company survives today and goes from strength to strength. It is, perhaps, by the linking of Mather & Platt (France) - the city of Roubaix - and Sir John Wormald that the key to Renée's arrival in England is provided.

The final word? -

Not the final word ... some primary source echoes seem to answer a few questions - and, based on the known fact that in January and March 1940, Renée styles herself as "Renée Baldwin Raper" (which may be evidenced by this link) the following is part of the solution ...

Primary Source Material courtesy of Stéphane Benoit

"Je viens de retrouver le carnet d'adresses de mon père. "

(addresses edited in this page)
Alf. Baldwyn Raper - Benoist (Voir Geddes)
... Floragatan, Stockholm
421-424 Australia House London WC2
... Palace Court, London W2
... Knightsbridge, London EC4
Mrs Magnus Geddes (Renée Benoist) -> morte en 1978
... Sloane Street, London SW1
... Osborne Villas, Hove
Osborne Villas, Hove - a typical view.
Address Notes

The house in Stockholm's Floragatan still exists. Research, with thanks to A.G., reveals that current memory (dating back to the 1960s/70s) does not recall the name, Alfred Baldwin Raper, nor any British former M.P. being associated with that address.

"However ... Greta Garbo lived there occasionally (she had a male friend in the house) long before she became famous in Holywood."

Greta Garbo was born, Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, in 1905 and began her Holywood career when she went to America in 1925.

Guest Book Annotation - Conclusion

Douglas Anstruther's annotations in the Guest Book were significant, after all ... and a question pending an answer - was Magnus Geddes born Magnus Mackay Geddes - in 1908, in Yorkshire?

The Wormald Connection

As a result of initial conjecture about the reason why the family Benoit and Alfred Baldwin Raper may have become associated, it is pleasing to see this piece of conjecture lifted out of the "possible" box and placed into the realms of the "probable". The coincidence is too great for there not to be a connection of some sort. Roubaix and Mather & Platt in France plus the fact that Sir John Wormald was the first Chairman of the French Company in 1921 - add up to a most "unusual" incidence of connectivity ...

The conjecture ...

For the following confirmation of detail, gratitude is expressed to both Stéphane Benoit and Marcel Boschi.

In correspondence between this site and Stéphane Benoit it was suggested as follows:-

"If Renée went to England from Roubaix as an au pair or similar, the question to be answered is - why England? Further, how is it that she met Alfred Baldwin Raper, London-based Member of Parliament? I sense that the city of Roubaix holds the key.

As seen, Babs Anstruther's family was Wormald.

Roubaix became the centre for the engineering arm of Mather & Platt in France (Park Works). Mather & Platt in Britain was a celebrated engineering firm which pioneered the concept of Fire Protection and the production of sprinkler systems for (inter alia) factories and mills – and Roubaix was important in this respect in France. Roubaix equated to Yorkshire in Britain as far as wool was concerned. The French company of Mather & Platt, which still exists today, was founded in 1921 and Sir John Wormald was its first Chairman – he was a Director of the "parent" English company and was both based in London and very well connected. He died in 1933, just seven years before the above photograph was taken.Renée Benoit (Baldwin Raper) Geddes

Click on the small image (right) for a further photograph of the group. From this second picture, it seems that Jean and Corinne attended the same school.

Babs Anstruther was the youngest daughter of Sir John Wormald. Mather & Platt’s main works in France centred on Roubaix and it seems to me that perhaps via some Wormald (Mather & Platt) connection, Renée may have obtained a position in England which led her to meet M. Baldwin Raper.

As life is curiously punctuated by “serendipity” – you may want to look at a comprehensive web site about Mather & Platt - - that my colleague, Marcel Boschi, instigated in 2001. There is much there about Roubaix – and Marcel knows Roubaix well - as you will see. ... "

Writing subsequently and independently, Marcel Boschi - who was born and brought up in Roubaix - and who began his working life there at Mather & Platt - states as follows: (edited in this page)

" ... I knew Mr. Robert Benoist very well. He was a Mather & Platt representative and he worked at M+P with my father, Ernest Boschi. When I was young, I knew the sons of Robert Benoist ... I went to their home with my parents. One son - like his father - entered M+P and was also a rep.

I can say, too. that their relative, Albert Dubocage was one of my father's suppliers, providing him with the pipes and connections which were used to carry out the intallation of Grinnell Sprinklers. I knew Mr. Albert Dubocage when I was young. Albert Dubocage had a son who was also called Albert; both worked at the Limited Company, Albert Dubocage & Co. - rue de Tourcoing - in Roubaix ... "

There can be little doubt now that the "connectivity" theory stands up to the test. Stéphane Benoit has been kind enough to confirm that "Ets Mather & Platt étaient des clients privilégiés des Ets Dubocage et ceci dès leur création, vers 1921. Ils le sont toujours." He adds, "Avant même la constitution des Ets M&P Roubaix, Albert Dubocage devait connaitre quelqu'un en proche relation avec Sir John Wormald."

The family Dubocage were immediate kin to Renée and her brothers - and it would be fair to state that the influence of this trading relationship between the companies of Dubocage and Mather & Platt - or their agency in France prior to the formation of the company - would have provided the human link between Roubaix and London - where Renée eventually found herself working "as an "au pair" or similar".

A member of the Benoist/Benoit or Dubocage families would have experienced the support of a Mather & Platt executive - someone who was sufficiently well positioned and who had connections in both countries - and who was able to see to it that Renée was well placed in London. Family Dubocage memory suggests the name of "Richardson".

In the picture adjacent (original courtesy of Marcel Boschi) may be seen the "team" photograph taken of the first Directors of the French company, Mather & Platt in March 1922. Sir John Wormald (the first Chairman) is seated front row centre. The names of the Directors and the story behind this picture may be seen by clicking on the image itself. The name of Richardson is not listed but this does not necessarily mean that one by that name was not involved in Britain and France in a senior capacity. Perhaps time and research will reveal this link. As to how her marriage to Alfred Baldwin Raper ended - with Renée as a widow or divorcée - is not known. She obviously married Magnus Geddes sometime after these visits to Redbourn in 1940.

Subsequent Research

During the post-war years leading up to his marriage to Elizabeth (Bessie Tobin) and whilst he was still a member of Parliament - Alfred Baldwin Raper was a frequent contributor to the Letters Page of The Times newspaper.

The Marriage and divorce of Elizabeth Alice Tobin and Alfred Baldwin Raper
(details extracted from the contemporary legal archives of The Times Newspaper, London)

The couple had first met some two and a half years before they were married; however, the marriage between Alfred Baldwin Raper and Bessie Alice (Elizabeth Alice) Tobin ended in divorce in 1925. It was an acrimonious process of suit and counter-suit - with one Dan(iel) Metz cited as co-respondent. Alfred Baldwin Raper is described as a Timber Merchant, living at the Royal Air Force Club, Piccadilly and is later mentioned as being "at one time member of Parliament for East Islington".

Apparently, even as Alfred Baldwin Raper was preparing to marry Elizabeth, he had doubts about the wisdom of the match. He had known for some time that the effects of her previous marriage had left her unstable. As the Marchioness Conyngham, Elizabeth had divorced her first husband (suit heard in the House of Lords) "on the grounds of his drunkenness and adultery" and now it seemed that she, too, was using alcohol as a stimulant ...

"He had discovered before his marriage that Mrs. Raper had a violent temper and was sometimes very eccentric and strange in her manner, but at that time he had no reason to suspect the cause. She was also extravagant. Four days before the wedding she had a breakdown and was advised to go into a nursing home. Mr. Raper, by that time had discovered that the trouble was due to drink, but on her promise never to touch alcohol again he consented to the marriage ..."

It is mentioned that they honeymooned in Italy (Lake Como) and then returned via Paris where they stayed for a short while. More importantly, it is stated that there was one child of the marriage, a son, John, born on March 5th 1923.

The child appears to have been used as a pawn - being lodged first of all with Alfred's mother at Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire when divorce proceedings began and then spirited away from there by Elizabeth. No mention is given in the published Judgement, however, as to which party was given custody - but, since the Decree Nisi was granted on the grounds of the mother's adultery and since the Judgement for Costs brought down in 1926 - presumably after the Decree Nisi had become absolute - mentions that despite some expectations from Australia and England, Elizabeth had debts and was unlikely to be able to meet her costs, it may be assumed that custody of the son had been granted to the father.

Bessie (Elizabeth) Alice (Tobin) Raper - formerly Marchioness Conyngham, died in 1933 - but, from 1925/26 onwards, it is most probable that Alfred Baldwin Raper would have employed someone to look after his young son. This person was, clearly, Renée Benoit and it is likely that they formed an attachment during this time as they were subsequently married. Corinne would have been born in about 1930. Corinne (née Baldwin Raper) would have known Jean Anstruther - and, if still living, or with descendants still living - she is, or members of her descendant family are, warmly invited to make contact with this site.

Post Script

The two facts - that

  • Alfred Baldwin Raper is described at the time of these divorce proceedings as a "Timber Merchant" and as a former M.P. and that
  • he is stated as living (in London) with his Club as his address

suggest that he would usually be based at his parental home in rural Buckinghamshire to where he took his young son at the outset of the breakdown in marriage and where the infant might be cared for by his mother, the child's grandmother. As only the child's grandmother is mentioned, perhaps Walter Raper was dead by the year 1925.

Trading as a Timber Merchant in Buckinghamshire would seem to be more likely than his trading in London. Thus, it may well have been to this house in Gerrards Cross that Renée first came to help with the baby John Raper. As Renée Baldwin Raper during the years that followed, it would have been (even in those days) just a short drive for her to visit Redbourn and the Anstruther home - and to meet up with her future second husband, Magnus Geddes ...

Magnus ...

October 2004

Robert Maxtone Graham - younger son of Joyce Anstruther (Jan Struther) - and Douglas Anstruther's nephew - offers the following conclusion to this story ...

" ... Magnus Mackay Geddes ... was the younger son of Rt Hon Eric Campbell Geddes (who died 1937: see Who Was Who). Magnus was born 1908, educated at Rugby and Caius College, Cambridge, married in 1941 (they were divorced) Renée Angele Rosalie, widow of Alfred Baldwin Raper MP, and daughter of Hector Benoist of Lille, France. He died without issue, 20 Feb 1953. Source: Burke's Peerage, under Lord Geddes. ... "

So, the story is ended ... unless ...

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