Mary Ansell Actress, her Family, her Life

Update 7 Jan 2020. This collection is going home, to descendants of the Ansell Family, a large parcel is on its way across to California right now, with all the photos, and my research into their family history! See my update Blog for 7 Jan 2020.

I came across a wonderful box of allsorts at an Antique Fair in Devon at the end of February, I picked through it and rescued all the old photos, mostly CDV’s, plus there was a newspaper cutting creased up at the bottom, so I had that too. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised what I had found, a fabulous family collection of CDV’s that were actually all one family, many of them named, and all connected to the lady on this newspaper cutting below.

I have taken my time researching the family, compiling a Public family tree on Ancestry, so that I could better work out who the people on the photos were. I’ve also been reading books and many articles associated with the family. It has been a fascinating journey.

Primarily this is the story of a Victorian Lady. Most of you will, I’m sure, have heard of J.M.Barrie, James Matthew Barrie of Peter Pan fame, but how many of you have heard of his wife Mary Ansell.

Beautiful photo of Mary Ansell as a very young woman.

This blog is mostly about Mary Ansell, because the old photos I found were her family, but of course as she went on to marry two well known men, James Matthew Barrie the Scottish author and dramatist, and Gilbert Eric Cannan, another well known novelist and dramatist, it’s impossible to not include some of their history here too.

Mary Ansell and her two husbands have had much written about them by lots of people, but hopefully you will find that I have taken the most interesting snippets to include here along with Mary’s family history, to be able to tell her story, and of course most importantly, share with you the wonderful collection of family photos that I found to go with it. I have searched extensively and have not seen these photos published anywhere previously. Certainly there are no photos that I can find of her as young as my finds, which is quite exciting.

Mary Ansell was born on 01 Mar 1861 at the Kings Head Pub, 71 Moscow Road, Paddington.

She was the third child of George and Mary Ansell, who had married, both of full age on 22 Oct 1857 in Marylebone, Middlesex. See Below.

Mary Kitchen and George Ansell Marriage. Bootmaker..jpg

Her Father was George Ansell, when he got married his occupation was described as a Bootmaker, just like his father, but after a couple of years he had become a Licensed Victualler, he and his wife Mary (Kitchen) and their family lived above the Pub.

Kings Head 71 Moscow Road, Paddington where Mary Ansell born & 1861C abt 1900
Kings Head 71 Moscow Road, Paddington where Mary Ansell was born & family lived 1861 census. Photo taken about 1900.

Mary Ansell’s Birth was registered in Kensington, London, England (ANSELL, MARY KITCHEN GRO Reference: 1861 J Quarter in KENSINGTON Volume 01A Page 38)

Mary Ansell birth certificate.USE
Certificate from a Public tree on Ancestry

The Ansell family were still living at the Kings Head Pub, 71 Moscow Road, Paddington, Middlesex on 7 Apr 1861 census night, Mary was just one month old, her Mother Mary was actually 40 but on the census it states she was 36.  Just a little fib. Then in early 1862 Dad George took over the license of the ‘British Oak’ Pub, 137 Westbourne Park Road, Paddington from Thomas Lindfield.

British Oak, now The Oak at 137 Westbourne Park Road, Paddington 1871
British Oak, now The Oak at 137 Westbourne Park Road, Paddington 1871 census.

Mary and her family were still living at the British Oak (now The Oak) on 2 April 1871 at the time of the census, and once again Mary’s Mother had shaved a bit off her age here, stating she was 47 but in fact was 50 now.

Mary’s Father George Ansell, a Licensed Victualler.

It seems the family didn’t move until after her father’s death on 2 May 1875. He actually died at home, which by then was 120 Elgin Road, St Peter’s Park, Paddington, which as far as I can find out was a private dwelling but less than a mile away from the British Oak, so maybe with four children they had invested or rented a separate home rather than living above a pub. Mary was just 14 years of age when her Dad died.

Some Ansell Family History.

George Pain ANSELL (Mary’s Paternal Grandfather) was born in Jan 1791 in Watford, Hertfordshire, as the first child of Daniel ANSELL and Jane PAIN. He was baptized on 19 Jan 1791 in St Marys, Watford, Hertfordshire.

George Ansell was the eldest son born to George Pain/Payne ANSELL Jan 1791-25 Mar 1837 (Bootmaker)and Ann HEDGES 1794-Jan 1824 (Ann was Buried on 7 Jan, most probably as a result of childbirth after having Jane, born 1 Jan 1824) they had two children: 1. George ANSELL was born on 03 Aug 1819 in Marylebone, Middlesex (Mary’s Father)Baptised on 19 Jan 1819 at St Mary’s Watford, Hertfordshire.  In the 1851 census he was a Servant living in Tottenham, Middlesex.
2. Jane ANSELL was born on 01 Jan 1824 in St Marylebone, Middlesex, England. She died in Apr 1907 in Hendon, Middlesex. She had married Thomas KIFF on 22 Feb 1846 in Watford, Hertfordshire (At the Parish Church in Watford, witnesses Thomas Ansell and Eliza Kiff. Son of Joseph Kiff also a Maltster & Jane daughter of George Pain Ansell (Dead) a Bootmaker. More on this couple below.

UPDATE 12 Jun 2020. See super comment at the end of this blog from Peter Wilde, huge thanks to him for this wonderful information! I have now also updated the family tree on Ancestry. “George Pain Ansell and Ann Hedges had 3 children, not two as stated, the first being Ann (born 12 May 1817, baptized 7 Sep 1817 at St Mary, Marylebone). My interest is that she married James Hanna (Bombardier, Royal Artillery) on 25 May 1846 at Woolwich Parish Church. She is my great great grandmother. The Parish record of the wedding confirms her father as George Pain Ansell (a bootmaker), and interestingly a witness is Mary Ann Hedges. Ann Hanna, as she became, was, therefore, an Aunt to Mary Ansell, and of course a sister to George.

George Pain/Payne ANSELL then married Ann Sheward on 05 Apr 1826 in St George’s, Hanover Square, Middlesex, London. Here they are below:

They also had two children:

1. Elizabeth Phebe Ansell was born on 01 Feb 1828 in Middlesex, England. She died in Jul 1853 in Marylebone, London aged just 25, she never married or had any children that I have found.
2. Millicent ANSELL was born in 1835 in Marylebone, Middlesex, England. She died on 12 May 1910 in Worcester, Worcestershire (Died at 4 Oldbury Villas, Croydon Road. Just 4 days after her husband George.). She had married George Soule on 16 Nov 1859 in St James, Paddington. More of this couple below.

George Pain Ansell died on 25 Mar 1837 in Middlesex, England. He was buried on 29 Mar 1837 in St Mary, Paddington Green.

George PAIN Ansell WILL 1866
George his son administrated his Fathers will in 1866, as his second wife Ann (Sheward) hadn’t, I wonder why?

The four Ansell children had quite a few cousins as their Father George had two living sisters, Jane (Full sister)1824-1907 had married Thomas KIFF and they had 9 children, sister Millicent (Half sister) 1835-1910 had married George Soule and they had 6 children. The name of Kiff and Ansell, but mostly Soule I found on the backs of the  CDV’s I found.

Amy Jane Kiff Jul 1857-Dec 1916. Never married or had children.

Amy Jane Kiff (Above) Her Mother Jane, after her husband Thomas Kiff had died of Typhoid at aged 40, in 1864, earnt her living as a Dressmaker, with her youngest daughter Emily, then sometime between 1881 and 1891 she became Caretaker of the Bernays Memorial Institute, Great Stanmore, Middlesex. Daughter Amy Jane above, was Assistant Caretaker. After Amy’s Mother Jane died in 1907, she took over the job as Caretaker. More here: Bernays Memorial Institute

Obviously the families had kept in touch with each other to exchange photos. I have gone through all the clues and I believe the person responsible for writing on the backs was Millicent Soule b.1861 Battle, Sussex, who was the daughter of George Soule and Millicent (Ansell)so all these photos were obviously passed down through her line of descendants. I have some that are not named and I believe probably one could be her, but which one I don’t know?


This is the Kiff family above and the Soule family below:


Here are four of the children from above, some I have more than one photo of, firstly George Robert 1860-1915.

Then below Amy Soule 1870-1953, as a young woman then as a married woman to Henry Josiah Thurston, a Carpenter on the right.

Next below is Edward Soule 15 Apr 1872-22 Jun 1893. Never married, sadly died with 357 others on board HMS Victoria after being hit by HMS Camperdown in the Mediterranean near Tripoli.

Edward Soule Jet

Below is Arthur Soule 1 Aug 1868 Battle, Sussex-31 May 1946 Colchester, Essex. He was in service and was for a time (1901 census) one of 31 staff at Eaton Hall, Nr Eccleston, Cheshire. The home of the Duke & Duchess of Westminster, and still is, although Eaton Hall, the building was totally replaced, it is still magnificent! See before and after photos below.

I feel sure that this Cabinet Card below is also one of the brothers, they all look so similar don’t they, most likely Harry b 1866 Battle, Sussex-died sometime after 1930 in America I think (not confirmed) he went to America in 1889, and is on one census there as being a Butler later in life. He came back to England several times, I’ve found on passenger lists.

Could this be a Footman’s uniform?

Next below is ‘Mother’ to all these children above, Millicent Ansell 1835-12 May 1910 Worcester, Worcestershire. (Sister to George Ansell, Mary’s Father, so an Aunt to Mary) Married to George Soule. This CDV was taken in the mid 1860’s, isn’t it beautiful.

Millicent would be about 30 here

This below is ‘Grandfather Soule’ Robert Soule (Father of George Soule who married Millicent Ansell in 1859) born about 1794 Hutton Cranswick, Yorkshire, d 4 Nov 1873 Hull, Yorkshire. Robert had married Susanna Gray in 1816 in Sculcoates, Yorkshire.


Another of Robert’s sons John 1827-1913 married Eliza Jane Barratt in 1853 in Hull, Yorkshire and here are two of their children below: Beatrice 1864-1896 and Frank Edwin 1868-1954.

The family as a whole had connections to London, Surrey, Hastings, Brighton, Hull, Worcester and Gloucestershire

Mary looks a very precocious child in this wonderful family portrait below, taken just after her father death, she and the family are obviously used to dressing well, as you can see. This is my favourite photo from the collection I found, Mary and her brother look used to a good life. Mary’s outfit especially is amazing. Even at this young age she was aware of being fashionable and her looks. Her hair has been done in ringlets, she’s wearing jewellery too, and look at that gorgeous hat!

Mary Ansell (Kitchen) with her two youngest children Thomas and of course Mary Ansell, aged just 14. That look from Mary, just makes me smile.

Because I realised that this photo above was such an important one, I needed to consult my friend Jayne Shrimpton in a professional capacity about it. Thankfully her analysis confirmed my thoughts, she says: “As you can see, this is a formal studio portrait by Robert Fisher, a photographer recorded on the London website as operating from 108 Westbourne Grove for a few years: 1872-76: Photo London Website
I always use the evidence of dress and the appearance of this family suggests to me a date range of c.1871-76. The key dating details are the style of mother and daughter’s flounced gowns, typical of the 1870s, especially the first half, although the mother’s tall bonnet pushes the year towards mid-decade, or later.
This family are, as you suggest, in mourning, as demonstrated by the dull black clothes, including what look like bands of crape fabric. The son may also have a crape band around his hat. Therefore I agree that this photo was probably taken in 1875 following Mr Ansell’s death. The plausible date also means that the girl is likely to be Mary Ansell, born in 1861″.

You can contact Jayne directly from her Website here:  Jayne Shrimpton WEBSITE if you need help with any old photos, you will find a full list of the services she offers. It might help you solve a long held mystery!

By the 3 April 1881 census night, Mary was the only child living with her widowed Mum at 113 Mount Pleasant Road, Hastings, Sussex. So her three brothers George, William and Thomas have left home (More on them later) Mother Mary is described as being 50 years old, but she was actually 60! More fibbing! Her occupation is described ‘Income derived from Houses’ So maybe she had invested her money from the house at Elgin Road to produce herself an income, but of course this is only supposition. Daughter Mary at 20 years old (Correct age) has no occupation listed. I wonder if she was acting, perhaps on an amateur level at this time. (See interview 27 Dec 1890 below)

Mary’s first professional acting performance. Easter 1890. The Era.

Miss Ansell’s first professional appearance was in London, in a small part in ‘Harbour Lights’. She afterwards went on a provincial tour of her own with Pierre Leclereq’s play ‘The Love Story’ As the heroine Madeline Borth Miss Ansell created a profound impression on her audiences with her natural, sympathetic and powerful presentation. At the conclusion of the tour Mary accepted an engagement with Mr Hermann Vezin, and is at present playing in that gentleman’s cvompasny, intelligently interpreting the characters allotted to her. She is a devoted student, and refuses to recognise obstacles. We look forward to seeing her in London early next year in a play which is being specially written for her (Reids London Entertainment Guide Dec 1890)

27 Dec 1890.The Era. Miss Mary Ansell is a young lady with a future. Youth, Beauty, and Talent are hers. She is a mine of undeveloped histrionic possibilities, we look forward to her career with great interest. Like most of the prominent theatrical people of today, she first discovered her dramatic feet as an amateur.”

Mary 1890.JPG
A glowing review of Mary’s talents in December 1890.

1891 Census. Frustratingly like lots of other people, I too am unable to find Mary on this census. There are reports of her acting in newspaper clippings during 1891, see above, so potentially she could have been anywhere in the UK, but likely London.

1891. There seem to be two slightly different versions as to how Mary met JM Barrie, this is one written by Mary Ansell herself to Peter Davies, on 14 April 1941, that I found on the JMBarrie Website “Moreover I never met J.M.B. until “Walker, London” was being cast. Mr Addison Bright, a mutual friend, was the means of bringing us together. After seeing me play in “Brighton” at the Criterion Theatre, J.M.B. arranged a meeting to ask me whether I would accept the part of Nanny. This was the beginning of our friendship

This is another version found in various places including Newspaper reports: Mary Ansell became acquainted with J. M. Barrie in 1891 when he asked his cricketing friend Jerome K. Jerome for a pretty actress to play a role in his play Walker, London.

Mary Kitch, Ansell 1891 census, as a Boarder in a lodging house, of own means. Use
1891 Census Mary’s Mum living in a very respectable Boarding house run by Alice Gibson, in Hove, Sussex.

1891 Census, see above, there are other Widows at the Boarding house and even a Vicar and his wife. But No SIGN OF MARY on this 1891 census.

Mary had been on the stage for several years playing small parts, obviously on an amateur level. She had used some family money to fund a touring company, she hadn’t made much money from it, but she was being seen, and as a result was offered parts in London, which is exactly what she wanted. Her roles were small but individual, as well as a part in Harbour Lights, she played a part in Hamlet, another in Saratoga (or Brighton) She was also a member of Norman Forbes’s company at the Globe Theatre for a while. So a leading role in a JM Barrie’s play meant a great deal to her. JMB was often at the Theatre, both at rehearsals and during the run. He escorted Mary to her lodgings. They dined out at fashionable restaurants. JMB liked being seen with a pretty girl and many actresses wanted to be seen with him, but Mary liked him for himself. He was a good listener, she confided in him her hopes and dreams of becoming a really good actress one day, and making a name for herself. Their suppers became regular engagements, and at weekends they would drive out to Richmond Park, or visit Shere in Surrey, or stroll in Kensington Gardens, which they both loved. Mary enjoyed countryside and gardens.

1892. ‘The fact that JM Barrie was not much over five foot didn’t concern Mary as she was barely five foot herself’. Mary was no scintillating conversationalist, she was intelligent. Albeit rather provincial, and had a keen perception of Barrie’s dour sense of humourBarrie’s notebooks for the spring and summer of 1892 are crammed with observations about himself and Mary Ansell, ostensibly for a novel under the working title of ‘The SentimentalistHere are some of his Notes: a.This sentimentalist wants to make girl love him, yet doesn’t want to marry. b.First her independence, hates herself as feeling it go. c.She pretends she doesn’t want to marry him, she can’t be sure he loves her. d.Her way of peering over her fur collar. e.Her ordering clothes for him etc, motherly feelings.

Mary Ansell, later Barrie's wife, May 1893 -
This is the famous photo of Mary peering over her collar, I’ve borrowed from the fabulous Website

Much of this information in Mary’s Story, and notes, I found on the amazing Website  Andrew Birkin has an enormous collection of JMB related letters, documents and photographs, and they also have a wonderful informative forum. Andrew says on the introduction page:this website is primarily a means of sharing the vast amount of research material I seem to have gathered over the past 30-odd yearsI have also been reading Andrew Birkin’s book ‘JM Barrie & The Lost Boys’ so some information is from there too.

Further information I found in the Janet Dunbar book ‘J.M. Barrie The Man Behind the Image

1893. The Sketch. 5 July 1893.

Shared here by kind permission of Celine
Shared here by kind permission of Céline-Albin Faivre,

Céline-Albin Faivre is a French expert of all of JM Barrie’s  works, and has translated many of them, she set up this super website: (French).

1894. By now Mary and James had become very close friends, there was lots of talk at the time of an engagement between them. (I have found some reports that she had refused to marry him several times). Mary was in love with him, but he knew that he was unsuited to married life, although he loved her as best he could. But despite his better judgement he proposed to Mary. He wrote “Morning after engagement, a startling thing to waken up & remember you’re tied for lifeJames travelled up to Kirriemuir, Scotland to inform his Mother, but soon after arriving he was taken dangerously ill with pneumonia and pleurisy. Mary quit the cast of the play and travelled to Scotland to him, his mother Margaret and the family it seems were impressed with her love and devotion. Next there was a notice in the newspapers ‘Mary Ansell engaged 1894’

On 1 July 1894 James wrote to his friend in Fowey, Cornwall, Arthur Quiller-Couch: “My lungs are quite right again…..We have worked hard to get married unbeknown to the lady journalists but vainly…….In about a week it will be, up here (Scotland) so that we can go off together straight away, she to take charge….we fully mean to come your way after”.

8 Jul 1894. Marriage Banns. The Banns of the Marriage of Mr Barrie and Miss Ansell were declared in the South Parish Church, Kirriemuir.

9 Jul 1894. When Mary was 33, she married James Matthew BARRIE, son of David BARRIE and Margaret S OGILVY, on 09 Jul 1894 in Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland (The ceremony was a simple affair performed by a local minister at his parents home, according to local custom, with his sister Sarah & his sister Isabella’s husband William as witnesses.

Marriage CERT Ansell & Barrie
Mary Ansell and James Matthew Barrie Marriage certificate, from Public tree on Ancestry

She was 33 years old but it states 27 on their marriage certificate. James Matthew BARRIE Sir and Mary Ansell had no children during their marriage. JMB was almost 10 months older than Mary in reality, but Mary has shaved 6 years off her age, did he know I wonder?

9 Jul 1894. Marriage. Newspaper Report the following day of the Marriage: At 12 O’clock a small company of about twelve people, consisting of the relatives of Mr Barrie and Miss Ansell assembled in the drawing room of Strathview House to witness the marriage ceremony, which took place in the greatest privacy, so we are unable to give a list of Guests. The Rev David Ogilvy, minister of Motherwell Free Church, uncle of the Bridegroom assisted by Rev William Livingstone, South Free Church, which is the Church the family attend, tied the Wedding knot”.

There was neither a Bridesmaid nor a Groomsman, and the certificate was signed by Rev Ogilvie, Mr Winter, the bridegrooms brother in law, and Miss Barrie his sister. After the Bridal party had partaken of light refreshment Mr and Mrs Barrie with Miss Barrie and Mr Winter were driven in an open carriage and pair to Forfar, where they joined the train leaving at 2.57pm for Edinburgh. The young wife (Mary) wore a light coloured dress, and a beautiful Boa of white feathers”. Above details of Marriage and newspaper report: 10 Jul 1894. All information about the Wedding above taken from the news reports of the local Courier.

Mary later in the same letter in 1941 to Peter Davies mentions this time of JMB’s illness and their Marriage “The first time I went to Kirriemuir was when J.M. was dangerously ill. His sister Maggie, whom I had previously met, sent me an urgent telegram to come, and I started for Scotland the same night. I arrived at the house the next morning and was taken at once to his room where I found two trained nurses in attendance. He was only half conscious, but managed to smile feebly as he said, “So you’ve got to Thrums.” (Thrums was Kirriemuir) When he was well enough, we were married by his uncle, Dr Ogilvy, and left for a London hotel at once. Again he was taken ill, and it was Lady Jeune, afterwards Lady St. Helier, in the great tenderness of her heart, for which we could never be sufficiently grateful, who carried us to her home in Harley Street, where we stayed for a week before going to Switzerland(Lady Jeune was Susan Elizabeth Mary Stewart-Mackenzie 1845-1931, the daughter of Keith William Stewart-Mackenzie, of Brahan Castle, Scotland, and his wife, Hannah Charlotte (née Hope-Vere). She became Lady Jeune on her second marriage to Francis Jeune, later Baron St Helier. She is described as ‘an indefatigable London hostess, she was a friend of many of the celebrities of her day’)

Jul 1894 Honeymoon in Switzerland. They then went on their month long Honeymoon to Switzerland. JMB was still not strong, so there were no tiring walks, but the weather was perfect and they were able to visit many beautiful places. At Lucerne Mary saw a litter of St Bernard puppies in a pet shop & JMB bought her one as a Wedding gift, they arranged for the puppy to be sent to them when he was a little older. At the end of the Summer the ‘puppy’ had arrived, first known as Glen, then Porthos. She adored him, and so began her lifelong love of dogs. Porthos their St Bernard dog was named after the St Bernard in ‘Peter Ibbetson(George du Maurier’s 1891 novel, later a film)

Mary wrote: “I have never really been happy with people, they seem so unwilling to reveal their real selves. But with animals it is different, An animal is so helpless itself. I become one with them. I, too, become helpless myself….when dogs loved me it was without forethought or afterthought. But men didn’t love me unless they wanted to, unless I fitted in with their idea of me. Dogs just loved with passion and warmth, without thinking about it”. Speaking of men Mary said:”I only loved clever men, and clever men are made up of reserves. It is out of their reserves they bring their clever things…..Men are complicated “ meaning in relation to Dogs, who are not complicated.

December 1894 JMB descended on the Quiller-Couches in Fowey, Cornwall, with wife, dog, his notebooks and his camera, bought in Switzerland. He took many photos of Porthos with the QC’s son Bevil.

PORTHOS & BEVIL Q C Isn’t Porthos gorgeous! My photo taken from my copy of  ‘JM Barrie & The Lost Boys’

After living since their return from honeymoon in various lodgings, and a stay at a residential Hotel, finally Mary found a home for them at no 133 Gloucester Road, in South Kensington.

Early March 1895. The Barries came back to London to move into their new home in Gloucester Road, presumably after alterations were carried out (They were still at this address in the 1901 census). They would take daily walks in nearby Kensington Gardens with their dog. Mary said of Porthos Porthos loved his master, more than he did me. I gave him medicine, kept him clean & generally looked after him, but his master played with him & was a genius at gamesThe Barries & Porthos became familiar figures in the Gardens, the gardens were wild in those days, JMB a small man in his bowler hat & oversized raincoat & Mary also very small with their huge dog, who when standing on his hind legs dwarfed them both. Some smaller children were frightened of the big dog which horrified Mary, who loved all children, she was sadly never to have any of her own to love, so lavished her love on her animals.

July 1895. Mary & her husband spent their first wedding anniversary back in Switzerland, staying at the Maloja Hotel in the Engadine region, but before they left they visited Kirriemuir, Scotland and JMB’s family. His mother wasn’t in good health. While in Switzerland they had the tragic news that one of his sisters had died suddenly & while travelling back, it took three days, sadly his mother died too. Mary was an amazing support to JMB. After the funerals they came back to London in late September 1895.

February 1896. Mary dealt with all their money affairs, she paid cheques into the bank, paid the bills and it didn’t matter if she was extravagant as there was plenty coming in. Their friend Thomas Lennox Gilmour, now a Barrister invested surplus money for them. But Barrie hadn’t paid any income tax, not intentionally, but he received a demand, and sought help from Gilmour, so thereafter Gilmour took on JMB’s complicated financial affairs, and he was happy to leave it all to Mary and Gilmour, who was turning his money into more money with his investments.

1896 JMB had just completed a biography of his late Mother Margaret Ogilvy, so the couple went off to Paris for two weeks, they had visited several times, mostly with friends and both enjoyed Paris.

September 1896. Mary & her husband made their first trip to America. They sailed from Liverpool on the ‘Campania’, arriving on 3 October. Mary had bought a new wardrobe of the most fashionable clothes, and looked forward to being received as the wife of a famous writer. JMB had a new theatrical agent, Addison Bright & JMB was looking for a young actress to play ‘Babbie’ in his half completed stage play ‘The Little Minister’ in turn Charles Frohman, a Broadway producer wanted an outlet for his new discovery, a young actress called Maude Adams. When JMB saw her he thought she was perfect for the part & he also became very close to Charles Frohman stating “We were the two shyest men in the world, we got on so well & understood each other perfectlyit was to be a lasting friendship for the two men. (Charles Froham died on 7 May 1915, going down with the ‘Lucitaniaship, that was torpedoed and sunk by the Germans, while travelling to England to help his friend JMB with a new production) The Barries had had a wonderful time in America, meeting lots of new friends, and visiting Boston, Washington, New Orleans and New York, including spending a weekend at George Washington Cable’s home in Massachusetts (He was an American Novelist) The couple returned to London.

JMB always wrote all his thoughts and feelings down on paper, either in his famous notebooks or in one of his works. One such was deleted on the page of one of his manuscripts “She lived so long after Tommy that she was almost a middle aged woman when she died. What God will find hardest to forgive in him, I think, is that Grizel never had a child”. From his novel ‘Tommy and Grizelthat was a reflection of his life with Mary, he wrote as he felt. I think he probably realised that like many women, Mary hated getting older & I think he knew she lied about her age, vanity, & that she was especially sad at being childless. Much has been written about their marriage not being consummated, it seems he was a boy who could not grow up and love in the physical sense. But he loved and adored her as best he could. JMB had lots of friends with children, who he told stories too & invented games with, but Mary’s animals became her ‘children’ especially Porthos.

Spring 1897. Mary and her husband learnt to ride bicycles, the latest craze, and went on a bicycle trip to Court Farm, Broadway in the Cotswolds (probably from Stanway, 6 miles away, where they were known to visit) visiting friends the de Navarros. This was when the idea of a cricket team the Allahakbarries was born, their first match was in the summer, JMB’s team included Conan Doyle, Gilmour, Bernard Partridge and Madame de Navarros set up the opposing side (Mary Antoinette (Anderson) de Navarros, an American actress) The Broadway team won, they all had a wonderful dinner that evening and after dancing, where JMB danced with his wife Mary. Mary didn’t feel quite so at home here as in London, it was said she worried about her pedigree being the daughter of a Publican, and was happier surrounded by mutual friends.

1897. Mary came out of retirement briefly to play ‘Babbie’ a gypsy, in a copyright performance (to protect an authors dramatic rights) of her husband play ‘The Little Minister

1897. Barrie first met the two oldest Llewelyn Davies boys when George was about five & Jack a year younger, as they played in Kensington Gardens, close to their parents’ house. (Arthur Llewelyn Davies & Sylvia, who was celebrated as one of the great beauties of the day. The couple had five sons: George born on 20 July 1893. Jack, born on 11 September 1894 Peter, born on 25 February 1897, Michael, born on 16 June 1900; and Nico, born on 24 November 1903) JMB later became their Guardians after their parents deaths.

December 1897. JMB first met Sylvia (he called her Jocelyn, her middle name) the Llewelyn Davies’s mother, I think he was rather bowled over by her, besotted even, she was a very beautiful woman. He was well known for flirting with pretty young women, Mary was used to turning a blind eye, knowing that it became no more than that. Mary tried to become friends with Sylvia, they shared a love of clothes and interior design, but apparently Mary’s tastes were much more flamboyant. It was written that Mary would offer introductions to her famous husband, boast about his wealth, have initialled writing paper, and be often rude to shopkeepers and servants and that her frustrations at this time were turning her into a snob!

Mary needed a distraction, so she had started looking for a second home for them in the country. She was on many estate agents books and spent days taking the train to Counties surrounding London, visiting houses. Mary and her husband didn’t speak of happiness, they didn’t discuss anything much, he was mostly working, so, often she felt like an outsider in the life, she was lonely and dissatisfied, and although she had many friends, none it seems were close enough to confide in totally, her Mother was friendly and pleased to see that her daughter was rich and leading what she called ‘an interesting life with the best in the land’

March 1898. JMB was given an honorary degree by St Andrew’s University, so he and Mary stayed a few days in Edinburgh, visiting his ageing father while close by.

11 June 1898. Back to Broadway in the Cotswolds for their annual cricket match, followed by supper and dancing.

Summer 1898. Mary and her husband spent the summer in Scotland, at a house on the River Tay, so that JMB could go fishing. Friends also visited.

1899. Charles Frohman visited London and entertained the Barries at the best London Restaurants, he also visited their home in Gloucester Road, Mary enjoyed having guests.

April 1900. Mary discovered Black Lake Cottage in Farnham, Surrey, it had a neglected garden and was surrounded by a pine forest, she bought the lease in her own name. Then she began transforming the house with builders and gardeners to how she wanted it. Her husband wasn’t so keen on the cottage until the Allahakbarrie Cricket Team, one of his passions, gathered their for their annual match in the following July, that changed his mind. JMB was the Captain, the team was a group of authors and artists, they usually played against village teams, when he stayed at Shere and Broadway, and he loved the matches and supper parties that followed. Mary had made one of the larger upstairs rooms into a private study for him, and the south lawn was large enough for games of Cricket and Golf Croquet. Charles Frohman was an early visitor to their new country retreat, and loved his time playing croquet on the lawn. Around this time the Barries bought their first car, driven by steam and employed a chauffeur, Alfred. But it wasn’t a reliable vehicle, and Alfred wasn’t mechanically minded, so they bought a Lanchester car, and also employed a new chauffeur called Frederick. Mary enjoyed being able to travel in style.

Christmas 1900 the couple were back in their home in Gloucester Road, JMB had written a private pantomime that they were going to perform at home with their guests, in a letter he said ‘Mary is at present trying on her Fairy Costume’ it was called ‘The Greedy Dwarf’ (and was performed just the once on 7 Jan 1901) many friends took part, one visitor wrote “We were dressed in our party frocks and drove to the house ion Gloucester Road, we went into a room near the front door that was crammed with children. We were so excited Mr Gerald du Maurier was the Dwarf, Mr Barrie was a schoolboy and Mrs Barrie looked like a little girl, and happyBarrie’s future Biographer Denis Mackail who was 9, and present at the event, wrote “Many of the children had never seen a play before, and would never forget their afternoon… was richness, amazement and silent joy

InkedMary Kitchen, Ansell 1901 census_LI.jpg
1901: Census, Mary’s Mum living in Brighton, Sussex. One of three people living in house, three floors, so must have been flats as each resident says Head of Household. Mary’s Mum also states her age as being 64, but in fact she is now 80!
InkedMary Ansell Barrie 1901 censusUSE_LI.jpg
Mary and James Barrie 1901 census as husband and wife. Mary has said her age is 34, but it is in fact 40 now!

Summer 1901. The couple were at Black Lake Cottage with the Llewelyn Davies family holidaying nearby. Mary’s husband was besotted with the Llewelyn Boys but they kept him happy, so Mary was happy that he wasn’t getting into his depressive moods. With them in his life he was ‘warm and witty’ so all was good, as his Biographer says.

JMB had become a big success in America as well as the UK by now. Public success was overshadowed late in 1901 by the Barries having to have their much loved Porthos put to sleep. Mary wrote “Buried with him were my first seven years of married life

1902. The couple moved to 100 Bayswater Road, a house on the corner with Leinster Terrace. Mary had wanted something with a bit more character, and this was a Regency house with views over Kensington Gardens.

26 June 1902. Mary and her husband travelled up to Kirriemuir after learning of his father David’s death, they invited some of his family to come back to Black Lake Cottage afterwards, but it seems they didn’t stay long, they were uncomfortable not being used to the luxury. Mary loved interior design and had transformed the house at Leinster Corner to their tastes. creating two large reception rooms downstairs with painted panelling and adding fashionable features, such as a conservatory. Her husband’s new study was the converted old stable at the end of the garden. Here below is a super description of what is still left in the home they shared.

May 2015. The Evening Standard. The house where J M Barrie wrote Peter Pan has gone on the market for £6.95 million.The Victorian semi in Bayswater Road is next to Kensington Gardens, which inspired the playwright when he wrote about the boy who never grew up, and where the famous statue of Peter Pan was erected in 1912.The house was built in 1820 and first inhabited by a gardener before Barrie and his wife, Mary Ansell, moved in in 1900 (Incorrect) It was refurbished by Mary Ansell, who knocked down walls to create two large reception rooms with painted panelling and added one of London’s first conservatories. She reflected Barrie’s Scottish roots with a Glaswegian gas fireplace and the door handles are adorned with decorative thistles. After the Barrie’s divorced in 1909, the house was sold to sculptress Kathleen Bruce, the widow of Barrie’s friend and Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Scott. She moved in with her second husband, the writer and Liberal politician Hilton Young and their two-year-old son, and the property has remained in the family since”. The house sold in September 2015.

100 Bayswater road

On the English Heritage website it says: JM Barrie had “a study fitted out above a stable-cum-garage building at the bottom of the back garden (now demolished), that Barrie wrote Peter Pan in 1904. The gardens, which lie opposite, were a place of inspiration and retreat for him, 100 Bayswater Road is one of a pair of villas dating from 1824, which have been threatened with demolition several times. The plaque to Barrie was cited in the most recent campaign for their preservation”. Photo below.

barrie-plaque-new. 100 bayswater road

Black Lake Cottage. Robert Greenham clarifies the location of it here on the forum on This particular building was, in Barrie’s time, a pair of attached cottages known as ‘Black Lake’, and one of them housed the Lamport family, of which two young sisters worked as domestic servants at the original Black Lake Cottage before the Barrie’s took it over.  One of them, Alice, continued to work there, as an assistant to my grandmother who was Barrie’s housekeeper there. To find Barrie’s Black Lake Cottage you need to go down Tilford Road (ie. towards Tilford) a few hundred metres on the same side of the road.  Long before Barrie’s time there it, too, had originally been two attached cottages.  When Mary Barrie bought the lease it was already one large-ish dwelling, and over the eighteen or so years that she lived there (nine years intermittently with James, and nine years continuously with Gilbert Cannan) she had it modified and enlarged. It was further enlarged, modified and subdivided over the intervening years and the present whole structure comprises three dwellings. You can forget about the third of these – the part farthest from the road (which was built over part of the garden) – but the other two are roughly two halves of what was the Barries’ dwelling. Their present names are: ‘Barrie House’ (essentially the front portion of the Barries’ cottage), and ‘Lobswood House’ (the rear portion), and they are approached via a shared access and parking area.” They are private homes now.

BLACK LAKE cottage plaque

Summer 1902. The Barries held a cricket week, playing against Shackleford and Frensham. Mary’s garden was looking a picture now and she was an excellent hostess, those that couldn’t stay in the house were found rooms in Farnham, with the Lanchester transporting them. The friends went for walks, played croquet, tea on the lawn and a good week was had by all. Thanks to the Robert Greenham Book we know that between 1903 and 1906 they had many famous guests there at BLC, including Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Robert Falcon Scott (Scott of the Antarctic). Other visitors included their friends the Llewelyn Davies family.

It was during 1902 that JMB wrote what was to become Peter Pan (The Little White Bird) here at BLC and in his study at his London home.

Christmas 1902 The Barries went to Paris as a celebratory trip after the success of JMB’s new plays & finishing his book ‘The Little White Bird’ Occumpanied by another novelist & friend Alfred E.W.Mason, Sylvia and a couple of her boys went too, leaving her husband Arthur in England. Apparently they ‘lived in great splendour while there & enjoyed themselves immensely

1903. Mary had decided on a new dog for company early in 1903, a black and white Newfoundland named Luath. ‘I became a child with him’ she wrote in her 1924 book ‘Dogs and Men

1903: Mabel Llewellyn became the Barrie’s new Housekeeper at the cottage. Her Grandson Robert Greenham, mentioned previously, has written about her time there in a biographical book, ‘It Might Have Been Raining: The Remarkable Story of J. M. Barrie’s Housekeeper at Black Lake Cottage

Friday 21 Aug 1903.The Barries, Sylvia and children went in a Motor Car from Farnham to tea at Shulbrede Priory, Hampshire (Approx 12 miles). The home of Sylvia’s friend Dolly Ponsonby and her husband. They also came on return visits to BLC.

1 Nov 1903. JMB’s sister Sara died suddenly, Mary went to Kirriemuir to the funeral with him.

23 November 1903. JMB began work on the play that became Peter Pan.

1 March 1904. JMB finished the first draft of the play. Referred to in his notebook at ‘Peter & Wendy’ It was his friend Charles Frohman who suggested it should simply be ‘Peter PanCharles produced it & instructed his London Manager to proceed with a West End production in time for Christmas 1904.

July 1904. Mary’s husband went to Paris with a friend and came back to join Mary at Black Lake Cottage just before their Tenth Wedding Anniversary on the 9 July. He had forgotten it and it seems they had an enormous row, he wrote the next day ‘To late to talk of love & his giving it to her, she no longer wants it. Her own love for him has gone from her, spilt, ended etc. Would like to go on pretending to people happy….she tells him that love has gone for a year & he hasn’t even seen it gone….I’m no grand figure of tragedy…..I’m just a woman who made a mistake (12 years ago) (Mary about us) He says can’t we pick up pieces & she says no..contents spilled..can’t pick that up

1904. Rehearsals for Peter Pan were going well, security guards had to prevent journalists from sneaking into the Theatre, only very close friends were allowed & Mary made a few visits, her husband rarely seeking her opinion now. Actor Arthur Lupino played the Barries dog in Peter Pan (Nana, the dog) he had studied Luath’s movements very carefully. Mary had also taken their dog Luath with Lupino to see specialists in Drury Lane where they were making a costume for him, they took a sample of Luath’s thick furry coat and made a costume exactly like the original for Lupino.

December 1904. The Barries went with many friends to the first Matinee, Mary and her husband barely communicated by now, but she obviously supported him in public still.

Aunt Ansell, Worcester, Jet
This is Mary’s Mum, Mary as an older lady.

8 Jan 1905. Mary Ansell Snr, Death at 45 Cornwallis Garden in Hastings. She had died from exhaustion and cardiac failure 11 days after contracting acute bronchitis.

Mary Kitchen Death Cert 1905
Mary Ansell (Kitchen) Death certificate, found on Ancestry Public tree

UPDATE: Robert Greenham, the author of ‘It Might Have Been Raining’ has very kindly shared his own personal photographs of Mrs Mary Ansell’s grave in Hastings with me:

6.RobertGPic.MaryAnsells(Barriesmother-in-law)grave2 c
Mary Ansell’s mother’s gravestone in Hastings Borough Cemetery in 2005 taken by Robert Greenham
7.RobertGPic.MaryAnsells(Barriesmother-in-law)grave3 c_LI
Mary Ansell’s mother’s gravestone in Hastings Borough Cemetery in 2005 taken by Robert Greenham. I have put tiny pink dots under the name MARY, it says ” Sacred in the memory of Mary the widow of George Ansell

Mrs Mary Ansell had contracted acute bronchitis on 28 December 1904, just one day after the opening of the first performance of Peter Pan at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Peter Pan had first appeared in JMB’s novel The Little White Bird, published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1902, and serialised in the US. Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, then had its first stage performance on 27 December 1904.

The First Appearance of Peter Pan
December 1904

So perhaps the death was not especially noted, by Barrie or anyone else except his wife, because of the excitement at the immediate success of Peter Pan, and all that that must have meant for Barrie and those around him. Clearly, for Mary Barrie that time must have been one of great and mixed emotions”. We do know that Mary Barrie was present at her Mothers death according to the certificate (above) and the local Newspaper reported on 19 Jan 1905 that JMB was staying in Hastings at that time too. Mary had registered her Mothers death the day after she died on the 9 Jan 1905 in Hastings. Apparently “JM Barrie had rode with his wife, in their chauffeur-driven car, to his wife’s mother’s funeral, by the time of the funeral, JM Barrie rarely travelled in the car (it was essentially his wife’s form of transport)”

Again Mary Ansell had written about her Mother in a letter to Peter Davies 14 April 1941, “My mother was always in a position to have a house of her own, and to give her children a good education, two of her sons being put into professions, and she always allowed me a small income until well after my marriage; also she was very much against my taking up a career, especially the stage. From my grandfather I inherited £1,000, which enabled me to gain experience on the stage by taking my own Company on tour. When I married JMB, I gave up a profession very dear to me, and in which I was making great headway” Was this inheritance from her Maternal Grandfather I wonder?

Mary Kitchen, Mary's Mum comparison.
Comparison photos of Mary Ansell (Kitchen)Mary’s Mum

Easter 1905. The Barries went on a trip to Normandy, France and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and two of her sons went with them.

1905. Mary had found something to occupy herself other than interior design and gardening. After taking some training in fine hand crafts, she had rented a studio in Kensington and was doing some artistic enamel work. This gave Mary something to do, she didn’t need the money, she spent a lot of her spare time at the studio when she wasn’t travelling or visiting Black Lake Cottage.

Between June and August 1905. Mary went on a motoring trip with her friend Molly Muir to France. Her husband spent the time at Black Lake Cottage, inviting Sylvia and the boys to stay.

1905/1906. Sylvia’s husband Arthur was terminally ill with cancer and Mary and her husband were both a huge support, JMB especially.

April 1907. Sylvia’s husband Arthur died, and that summer early June to mid September JMB rented a house, Dhivach Lodge, set high in the hills above Loch Ness, Scotland. It was to help Sylvia and the family recover from his death. Mary went too, but left the party come September to go on another of her motoring trips through France.

1907. A young law student, aged 24, Gilbert Eric Cannan was courting a young sculptress, Kathleen Bruce. While courting Gilbert, Kathleen attended a luncheon party, spotting a handsome naval officer Captain Robert Falcon Scott. She managed to string both men along for about a year, they were all known to Mary and her husband. Then Captain Scott proposed to Kathleen, leaving Gilbert Cannan heartbroken.

October 1907. Mary first met Gilbert Cannan. It seems that the Barries consoled him, he went to work with JMB on censorship, and he wanted to be a writer too and admired JM Barrie greatly. Gilbert wrote of Mary ‘Mrs Barrie came and had tea…She began to talk to me like a mother. She really is a dear thing, she seems to need a good deal of me…..I feel the need to give…gladly

4 November 1907. JMB wrote in a letter from London ‘Mary writes that she is to be back on Sunday (she was at Black Lake Cottage), she seems to have influenza and have grand rides daily (in their chauffeur driven car)’

February 1908. Mary and her husband went to Flint Cottage, Box Hill for George Meredith’s eightieth Birthday celebrations, he was a novelist and poet, he was very fond of both Mary and her husband.

On 2 September 1908 Captain Scott married Kathleen Bruce at Hampton Court Palace, Gilbert accepted defeat and turned to Mary Barrie for comfort.

November 1908. Mary stayed with Gilbert at BLC alone.

December 1908. Mary came up to London from BLC for their annual visit to see Peter Pan.

Christmas 1908. JM Barrie booked the Grand Hotel, Caux, Switzerland for a three week skiing holiday, Sylvia and her boys were invited, Mary was also included in the group, so was Gilbert Cannan. JMB or Jimmy or Jim as he was known to many friends didn’t notice the growing affection between Mary and Gilbert, she was still looking a very attractive woman especially to a young Gilbert, she still had a slender figure and of course dressed beautifully in the latest fashions.

During 1908 Gilbert was helping JMB as Secretary to the committee seeking the abolition of the Censor, he was staying at Black Lake Cottage with the Barries. Mary had learnt to use a typewriter and was helping both men with their writing. They had many weekend parties too at BLC, Mary always made them a huge success, she was an excellent hostess.

28 July 1909. JMB had been working at Black Lake Cottage, while Mary was in London. Mr Hunt their gardener at BLC decided to spill the beans about Mary and Gilbert to him, after Mary had critisised him, the staff there had known about the affair since the previous November, when Mary and Gilbert had stayed there alone. JMB collected his things and took the next train back to their home in London to confront Mary, and when she returned from her studio that afternoon, he told her and she admitted it, she said she wished she had had the courage to tell him before, she wanted a divorce. They went together to see their friend and solicitor Sir George Lewis. She said that she was in love with Gilbert, her husband offered her a legal separation if she gave up Gilbert, but she refused. Mary was determined to marry Gilbert. It was a huge step to take, Divorce, social scandal for Mary, but she had many friends, H G Wells being one of them, who would support her. It was written ‘Mrs B is a woman, with a woman’s desires, which for many years she has controlled’…..’I hardly know how Barrie will fare, left to himself without some woman’s care for him

29 July 1909 JMB filed for divorce on the grounds of infidelity.

August 1909. In a letter Mary wrote ‘He (JMB) says he knows I would be happier with GC and that we ought to marry, one moment, and the next clamours for me. Anyhow I am to have money and that will help things somewhat, but I have no fear for my happiness, none at all’. Gilbert was also very much in love with Mary.

1909. During the divorce hearing Mary also stated that ‘it is seven years since we separated* and that does not spell happiness until 18 months ago**’ (*Although to outsiders they were still a couple & **when she met Gilbert Cannan)

13 October 1909 in London. In the course of the divorce proceedings, Mary said that their marriage had not been consummated. A Decree Nisi granted as a result of Mary’s adultery with Gilbert Cannan. It was a very painful time for Barrie and some of his friends wrote to a number of newspaper editors asking them not to publish the story, as a result only three newspapers did.

During this time Mary wrote to H.G.Wells ‘The horror is over and I am living a lonely life down here(at BLC) G and I are to be separated until we marry in April. We are playing the game for the look of the thing but it is very dull. I dig in my garden and write letters. This has damaged us a lot with the public, but our friends, well they know better’ Her dog Luath was her constant companion during these lonely times. She later acquired another dog ‘Sammy’ too.

The bitterness of these days and her first marriage were revealed in parts of her three books she wrote in later years ‘Happy Houses’ and ‘The Happy Garden’, 1912 and in 1924 ‘Men and Dogs

Ansell Divorce 1Ansell divorce 2

25 April 1910. Decree absolute was granted.

There was some talk after the divorce case that Mary had other lovers during her marriage to JMB but no proof has been found and it does seem unlikely.

28 Apr 1910 • Register Office, Holborn, London. Mary Barrie married Gilbert Cannan at the Register Office at Holborn, London. Just three days after her Final decree to JM Barrie. Mary was 49 (although once again her age was incorrect as it says on the marriage certificate that she was 41, so she has lost another two years!) Gilbert Eric Cannan, was the son of Henry Angus Cannan and violet Grace Wright. There is speculation that Gilbert may have wanted children and Mary deceived him concerning her age when they married, but we shall never know for sure.

JMB was devastated to lose her, but he apparently “continued to support Mary financially even after she married Cannan, by giving her an annual allowance, which was handed over at a private dinner held on her and Barrie’s wedding anniversary.” Was this true?

1911 Census. She was living in Farnham, Surrey at Black Lake Cottage on 02 Apr 1911 (Marital Status: Married; Relation to Head of House: Wife). Mary’s age stated as 40. Her real age is 50, so 10 years difference now. I wonder what the 1921 census will show!

Mary Ansell Cannan 1911 census.jpg

Although Mary was no longer an Actress professionally, many Actresses it seems tried to stay in their twenties or as young as possible to be able to get more work, the Theatre wanted young pretty women to play parts and these gained audiences. So it seems that once this deception had been started it was hard to stop, just like her Mother who had fibbed about her age all through her life, Mary was doing just the same.

1912. Mary at the time of writing her two books in, The Happy Garden and Happy Houses. Sarah Green writes: “1912 found Ansell in the midst of beginning the world anew, and her publications of this year express this sense of self-regeneration “ Sarah Green’s review on her website: Happy Houses

Spring 1913. Mary and her husband Gilbert moved to ‘Hawridge Windmill which is also known as Cholesbury Windmill, a disused tower mill in Hawridge, Buckinghamshire. It became a private residence in 1913 when the first occupier, the writer Gilbert Cannan used it as a studio. The Cannans immediately set about decorating the mill house property in an avantgarde style and the mill tower into an impromptu studio. Land was acquired at the rear of the property to create a garden. They invited their many friends and acquaintances, many of whom were associated with two artists’ groups, the Bloomsbury Group and the lesser well-known London Group which were both prominent around the time of the First World War. The couple frequently invited so many of their friends to stay that it necessitated renting out neighbouring cottages, including Dora Carrington, Ottoline Morrell, Duncan Grant, Dorothy Brett, Edward Marsh, David Garnett and Compton Mackenzie. D. H. Lawrence and his new wife Freda rented a cottage in nearby Bellingdon and Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry who were having an affair at the time lodged, next door to the Cannans, at The Gables before renting a cottage three miles away at The Lee. In December 1914 the group were joined by Ukrainian writer S. S. Koteliansky and the painter Mark Gertler and all spent a raucous Christmas partying in each other’s houses. These, and related events at Cholesbury were depicted in pictures or formed the basis of several subsequent accounts in letters, memoirs and novels’. from Wikipedia & Spartacus Educational.

Gilbert_Cannan_at_his_Mill. By Mark Gertler - httpwww.artfund.orgartwork8480gilbert-cannan-at-his-mill, PD-US, httpsen.wikipedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=15746914
A Mark Getler image of the Mill, Gilbert outside with Luath & Sammy their dogs.

1913. James Matthew Barrie was made a Baronet by George V.

1914. Gilbert Cannan was a pacifist and during the First World War he was a conscientious objector, and he was involved in the National Council Against Conscription

In January 1917 her husband Gilbert informed her that a woman they employed was about to have a child. Soon afterwards he became ill, broke down and entered a nursing home, and in his absence “a love letter and a love poem” arrived initialled “G.W.” Petitioner (Mary) took them to her husband, who admitted they were from a Miss Gwen Wilson, whom he loved. From that time she ceased to live with her husband. Mary was in straightened circumstances now, it was wartime and there was no call for her decorative enamel work, that had started as a hobby and grew to become a good source of income for her. She had used her savings and money that JMB had given her, she had had to sell BLC and was working rolling bandages and packing medical supplies for the war effort. JMB had heard and wanted to give her some financial help.

5 March 1917. He wrote to Mary

My Dear Mary,

It would be silly of us not to meet, and indeed I wanted to go to you all day yesterday. I thought perhaps you would rather come here, and of course which ever you prefer I prefer, but that is your only option as I mean to see you whether the idea scares you or not. Painful in a way the first time but surely it need not be so afterwards. How about coming here on Wednesday to lunch at 1.30? If you are feeling well enough I wish you were doing war work. There must be posts you are so particularly fitted for. We could have some talk about that. All personal troubles outside the war seem so small nowadays. But just one thing I would like to say, because no one can know it so well as I, that never in this world could a young literary man have started with better chances than Mr Cannan when he had you at the helm.

Yours affectionately,     J.M.B.

On 9 Apr 1917 Mary had written to Gilbert asking him to return “Will you not come back and live with me again” she asked. He replied “I have searched our problem from end to end, and it has become more and more clear to me that you and I cannot find together the sustenance without which no marriage can exist

20 October last (20 Oct 1917) she obtained an order for restitution of conjugal rights. The court ordered Gilbert to return to his wife within 14 days. Then the respondent wrote: “The law apparently does not allow human beings to be human, and I propose therefore to bother the law by complying with it and returning to youEvidence was given of respondent living with Miss Wilson at Elmtree Road, St John’s Wood at the time.

11 Apr 1918. Mary was granted a decree of judicial separation on the grounds of the misconduct of her husband Mr Gilbert Cannan, the author. There was no defence.

USE Divorce of Cannans.jpg
I haven’t as yet found any record of the actual Divorce being completed online.

1918. Gwen Wilson later married Henry Mond in 1920 while Gilbert Cannan was lecturing in the United States. Unconventionally, Gilbert went to live with Gwen and her new husband in a ménage à trois in their home, Mulberry House, in Smith Square, Westminster.

Reported: “a few years after Mary’s divorce from Cannan, D H Lawrence appealed to her to cease her gambling, saying that he feared it might become a habit”. We have no proof of this, but it was stated in a biography about JM Barrie.

1922. JM Barrie was made a member of the Order Of Merit.

1923-1924 JMB paid for a villa to be built for Mary in Biarritz, France called Villa La Esquina, Rue Constantine. She died here in 1950.

April 1929 Barrie gave the copyright of the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a leading children’s hospital in London.

1934. JM Barrie’s passport stated he was 5ft 31/2 inches.

14 Dec 1936. “When Sir James’s special play for Elizabeth Bergner “The Boy David” was produced in London Mrs Cannan travelled from Biarritz to see it. Lately she had become anxious about the state of Sir James’s health, she had realised from his letters there was something wrong and a telegram with the news summoned her to London. An elderly lady now, few people realised she was the inspiration of many of Barrie’s characters. He repeatedly introduced the name Mary into his plays in recognition of his devotion for Mary Ansell, one time actress, former wife and finally, true friend”.

1937. When Mary arrived at the nursing home as JMB was dying the youngest Llewelyn Davies boy Nico said in a later interview ‘She was devoted to all of us five boys and we were devoted to her. When he was dying and not conscious. She was quite enchanting, exquisite to look at, very nice and very kind

19 Jun 1937. James Matthew Barrie, aged 77, died of pneumonia at a nursing home in the West End of London. Mary was now 76. She must have missed him, he had been a huge part of her life for 45 years.

21 Jun 1937. Evening Telegraph. ‘The passing of Sir James Barrie recalled his marriage many years ago. Few people remembered that he was married and that he had lived with his wife for 15 years before they separated and the marriage was dissolved. His former wife is now Mrs Cannan, and she came to London when she was notified that Sir James was lying seriously ill. Their romance and lifelong friendship has that piquant touch that one would expect from a man of the loving nature of Barrie. Even after their separation he kept in touch with her and they corresponded regularly. At the time of their divorce he surprised the court by declaring he was still in love with his wife. Since then the public have known him as a solitary figure. During their years of estrangement Sir James helped his former wife in many ways. He built for her the Villa she occupies in Biarritz, France (Villa La Esquina, Rue Constantine, Biarritz, France) and from which she made a hurried departure when she learned of his illness. He never forgot her Birthday, and gifts always arrived from him at Christmas. This friendship was one of the prized things in Barrie’s life. His letters told her of his work, and plans, and ideas, and her replies were couched in the same spirit of friendship with help and advice.

17 Sep 1937. Sir James Barrie’s Will. He made a bequest of £1,000 and an annuity of £600 to “my dear Mary Cannon, with my affectionate regards” (Cannan was misspelt on the will) There were also many other bequests in his will, one that most of us already know about I’m sure is: “The gift of ‘Peter Pan’ to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, already must remain my chief charitable legacy” He left the bulk of his estate to his secretary Cynthia Asquith, but excluding the rights to all Peter Pan works (which included The Little White Bird, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up and the novel Peter and Wendy), whose copyright he had previously given to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The surviving Llewelyn Davies boys received legacies, and he made provisions for his former wife Mary Ansell to receive an annuity during her lifetime. In his will he also left £500 to the Bower Free Church in Caithness to mark the memory of Rev James Winter who was to have married his sister in June 1892 but was killed in a fall from his horse in May 1892. Barrie had several connections to the Free Church of Scotland, including his maternal uncle Rev David Ogilvy (1822-1904), who was minister of Dalziel Church in Motherwell.[43] James and his brother William Winter (also a Free Church minister) were both born in Cortachy the sons of Rev William Winter. Cortachy is just west of Kirriemuir and the Winters seem closely connected to the Ogilvy family.

June 1937. JM Barrie was buried at Kirriemuir next to his parents and two of his siblings. His birthplace at 4 Brechin Road is maintained as a museum by the National Trust for Scotland.


Letter written to Peter Davies found on jmbarrie forum in response to Denis Mackail’s 1941 biography ‘The Story of JMB

24 Sandlands Road, Walton-on-Hill, Surrey. April 14th, 1941.

My dear Peter,

My attention has been drawn to a statement by Mr Mackail in his book “The Story of J.M.B.” It will be found at the top of p. 186. The whole of this statement is a gross fabrication. My mother never kept seaside lodgings. So Barrie never stayed there, or was ill there, and the “pretty daughter” could never have helped to look after him. Moreover I never met J.M.B. until “Walker, London” was being cast. Mr Addison Bright, a mutual friend, was the means of bringing us together. After seeing me play in “Brighton” at the Criterion Theatre, J.M.B. arranged a meeting to ask me whether I would accept the part of Nanny. This was the beginning of our friendship, and entirely rules out Mr Mackail’s sordid Hollywood romance, which is an absolute lie from beginning to end. My mother was always in a position to have a house of her own, and to give her children a good education, two of her sons being put into professions, and she always allowed me a small income until well after my marriage; also she was very much against my taking up a career, especially the stage. From my grandfather I inherited £1,000, which enabled me to gain experience on the stage by taking my own Company on tour. When I married J.M., I gave up a profession very dear to me, and in which I was making great headway. There is another statement entirely incorrect. The first time I went to Kirriemuir was when J.M. was dangerously ill. His sister Maggie, whom I had previously met, sent me an urgent telegram to come, and I started for Scotland the same night. I arrived at the house the next morning and was taken at once to his room where I found two trained nurses in attendance. He was only half conscious, but managed to smile feebly as he said, “So you’ve got to Thrums” When he was well enough, we were married by his uncle, Dr Ogilvy, and left for a London hotel at once. Again he was taken ill, and it was Lady Jeune, afterwards Lady St. Helier, in the great tenderness of her heart, for which we could never be sufficiently grateful, who carried us to her home in Harley Street, where we stayed for a week before going to Switzerland. These are the true facts of the case. I want now to know what you and Mr Mackail propose to do to put the matter right. I ask that a correction be put into the four leading London daily papers and that the offending text be deleted from the book. It is not for me to criticize this work. It is certainly not the J.M. that I knew for sixteen years. Mr Mackail has cloaked him so heavily with petty meannesses and snobbery that very little of the real man is seen. But he had a fine spirit and great dignity. His tragedy was that he knew that as a man he was a failure and that love in its fullest sense could never be felt by him or experienced, and it was this knowledge that led to his sentimental philanderings. One could almost hear him, like Peter Pan, crowing triumphantly, but his heart was sick all the time. There was so much tragedy in his life that Mr Mackail has ignored – tragedy not to be treated humourously or lightly. Mr Mackail has a passion for the word “little”, and after a time it becomes boring. I would suggest that it should be placed on the title page and left there.”

Mary obviously still had an admiration and fondness for James at the time she wrote this letter in 1941.

In responding to this letter (to F. G. Howe, Peter’s legal man at Peter Davies Ltd), Denis Mackail pointed out that Mary Cannan had refused to cooperate with the writing of the biography in any way, on the grounds that “Barrie would not have wished any biography to be written at all.” In the absence of Mary’s first-hand information, he had been obliged to gather details of her background from other contemporaries, namely Irene Vanburgh, C. M. Lowne, Sir Seymour Hicks, and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. “I might add,” wrote Mackail, “that all these witnesses disliked Mrs Cannan very much indeed.” He concluded, “She isn’t nearly as loyal to J.M.B. as she now pretends. She was bitter and appallingly outspoken at one time. And a number of people who knew her have told me that I have treated her, in the book, with great mercy and kindness…. I should have thought that Mrs Cannan would have preferred me not to dwell on the physical side of Barrie’s marriage, and anyhow, Lady Cynthia wouldn’t let me mention it…. As for my treatment of J.M.B., I just don’t agree with her.”Mr Howe visited Mary Cannan on several occasions, and, in the end, she withdrew her demands for an apology. No correction was made to the biography in either British or American edition”

The address that Mary wrote the above letter from, was the home of Alfred F B Knight and family (record four persons still closed) b1892, a Civil Servant, Inland Revenue in the 1939 register. If he was still there in 1941, could he have been her accountant maybe?

One of the books I have read during this research, as I said previously, is Andrew Birkin’s ‘J M Barrie and the Lost Boys’. In 1979 Andrew won the Royal Television Society’s award for The Lost Boys, his trilogy of films which preceded his book. I enjoyed the book tremendously, it’s an outstanding read.

I haven’t as yet read Robert Greenham’s book (description below) but Andrew Birkin has written the forward and it also sounds a brilliant read, and hopefully with more information about Mary, so am looking forward to reading that in the future.

Robert Greenham Book, description: It Might Have Been Raining’ ‘is the story of what happened to 24-year-old Mabel Llewellyn when, for the first time in her life, she answered an advertisement for a housekeeper and, halfway through the interview with the advertiser, discovered that the other man present was none other than the writer and dramatist J. M. Barrie, and that it was he, and not the advertiser, who required the services of a housekeeper.

Since his death in 1937 there have been several biographies of J. M. Barrie. This book complements those by introducing an employee’s close-up view of life at the Barries’ summer home at Black Lake Cottage, Tilford, Surrey, between 1903 and 1906. During this period, many famous people were guests, including Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Robert Falcon Scott (Scott of the Antarctic). Other visitors included the Davies family whom Barrie befriended after meeting the eldest boys in Kensington Gardens. It was also during this period that Barrie started writing Peter Pan. Through his grandmother’s story, Robert Greenham reveals some morsels of new information about J. M. Barrie, his wife Mary Ansell and their deteriorating marriage, and he provides some food for thought for students and devotees of Barrie and his works. I hope her story will bring as much pleasure to others as it has to me’. Andrew Birkin. Wales, May 2005

On 30 Jun 1950 Mary Ansell (Barrie, Cannan) aged 89, died at her home in Biarritz, France.

Mary’s death certificate, shared here by kind permission of Céline-Albin Faivre,

I’m hopeless at languages but I’ve managed to translate this Death Cert above word by word: Death: June thirty. twenty three. thirty minutes. in her home, rue Constantine, Villa la Esquina. Mary Ansell. without profession, born in London, England, on the first day of March one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, daughter of George Ansell and Mary Kitchen, his wife, all of them deceased, widow of Gilbert Cannan.

Death Certificate issued: First of July, nineteen hundred and fifty, eight hours, thirty minutes. Jacques Cajarre twenty seven years, employee, living in Biarritz. Camille Grenade, Assistant to Mary, deligated by Mary. For the duties of civil status officer.

My translation tells us several things of interest, firstly Mary died at 11.30pm on 30 June 1950. Next she managed to get away with being a bit younger, as it’s written she was born in 1869 not 1861, so 81 not 89. Then stating that she was the Widow of Gilbert Cannan, which was what I had suspected that their Divorce hadn’t been finalised, so they did remain married. (Gilbert died in 1955, five years later) Also interesting is the fact that Jacques had been in her employ for 27 years, meaning Mary had moved to Biarritz in about 1923. Certificates are so full of interesting information.

UPDATE: Christine, who is the moderator/administrator on Andrew Birkin’s website has very kindly given me a perfect translation of Mary Barrie’s death certificate, so this is it:   “…sur la déclaration de Jacques Cazarré, vingt sept ans, employé, domicilié à Biarritz, qui, lecture faite, a signé avec nous. Camille Grenade, Adjoint au Maire, délégué par le Maire, de la ville de Biarritz, pour les fonctions d’officier de l’Etat Civil.”

which translate as:  “.. upon the declaration of Jacques Cazarré, aged 27 years, employee, residing in Biarritz, which, after the reading [of the declaration], was signed by us. Camille Grenade, Deputy Mayor, delegated by the Mayor of the town of Biarritz to perform the duties of the Registrar”.

The French cursive script of the time is confusing, which is why you misread the ‘z’ in Jacques Cazarré’s name for a ‘j’. If you look at the initial capital letter of his surname, it’s the same as the first name of Camille Grenade (not Danielle) – Camille can be a male name in French. Camille was the deputy mayor (‘Maire’, not Marie)”

Not only this, but she has also kindly shared some of her own personal photos of Mary’s Home in Biarritz, and her grave with me, and allowed me to share them with you all. Huge thanks Christine x

Christine says “The name inscribed on the tombstone is ‘Mary Cannan’ but it is very difficult to read as it has eroded – you can just about make it out above the name of Marie Antoine. As you will see, the grave has since been used by her housekeeper/companion’s family and they haven’t evidently bothered to ensure Mary’s name is visible. I’ve just come back from a short holiday in Biarritz, and checked the grave, but I’m afraid the name is now entirely indecipherable. It’s very sad.

The house is still there and I assume Marie Antoine’s descendants still live there, as she inherited Mary Ansell’s estate“. See 3rd photo below for this year’s image.

1.JMBSITEaMaryAnsellgrave2012 c
Photo taken in 2012 by Christineof
2.JMBSITEaMaryAnsellgrave20121 c_LI
Photo taken in 2012 by Christine of , I have put tiny pink dots underneath each letter of MARY CANNAN, just visible.
JMBSITEaMaryAnsellgrave20192 c
Photo taken JULY 2019 by Christine of

So my story of Mary comes to an end, I would love to have met her, she was quite a lady I think, I have become quite fond of her during this research, she had an interesting life, that was not always a happy one. I do hope she found peace and happiness in her later years.

This is the direct link to the family tree I have compiled on Ancestry, free to register and view, there are lots of notes also and the photos linked to the family members as their profile photos: Ansell Family Lynns Waffles

Mary had three brothers.
The first George ANSELL was born on 04 Oct 1858 in Kensington, London, England (ANSELL, GEORGE KITCHEN GRO Reference: 1858 D Quarter in KENSINGTON Volume 01A Page 39 as the first child of George ANSELL and Mary KITCHEN).
1861. George lived in Paddington, Middlesex (Relationship: Son).
1871. He lived in Paddington, London (Relationship: Son).
1881. He lived in Leyton, Essex, England in 1901 (Relation to Head of House: Boarder.
He was a Boarder at the home of Jane Jennings and her daughter Frances Jennings, so that’s how he met his wife AKA Fanny (Frances).
When he was 44, in January 1903, in West Ham, Essex he married Frances JENNINGS, daughter of Charles JENNINGS and Jane.
1911. He lived in Low Leyton, Essex(Marital Status: Married; Relation to Head of House: Head).
1939 Register. George and Fanny lived at 22 St Albans Crescent, Wanstead, Essex (Marital Status: Married. Occupation: Shipping & Exp Representative, Retired.
I haven’t found a definite death date for George yet.
George ANSELL and Frances JENNINGS had just one son:
1.George Thomas ANSELL was born on 17 Oct 1904 in West Ham, Essex (ANSELL, GEORGE THOMAS JENNINGS GRO Reference: 1904 D Quarter in WEST HAM Volume 04A Page 381 ). He married Muriel TREDINNICK in Jul 1932 in West Ham, Essex, England (I have found no children from this marriage.) He died in Sep 1988 in Chelmsford, Essex, England.

Her second brother, just a year older than her, was William ANSELL he was born in Jan 1860 in Kensington, London, England (ANSELL, WILLIAM KITCHEN GRO Reference: 1860 M Quarter in KENSINGTON Volume 01A Page 54 as the second child of George Ansell and Mary KITCHEN ).
1861. William Ansell lived in Paddington, Middlesex(Relationship: Son).
1871. He lived in Paddington, London (Relationship: Son).
Frustratingly I haven’t found in any census after this date? So what happened to him?
(No marriage found yet, definitely NOT the one in 1882 marrying Emma Louise Elms or 1897 Bessie Tarr).
He died in Jun 1922 in Poplar, London, England?
This is the most likely, would need to send for a Death Cert to be sure.

Lastly a younger brother Thomas ANSELL was born in 1862 in Kensington, London, England (ANSELL, THOMAS KITCHEN GRO Reference: 1862 as the fourth child of George Ansell and Mary KITCHEN D Quarter in KENSINGTON Volume 01A Page 33 ).
1871. Thomas ANSELL lived in Paddington, London (Relationship: Son).
1881. He lived in Weedon Beck, Northamptonshire, England in 1881 (Relationship to Head: Boarder)
Again I’ve not found this brother after this date in census records?
He may have died in Oct 1887 in St Olave Southwark, London? (Possible?)
No definite marriage for him either?
I am puzzled by the lack of records for William and Thomas, did they emigrate maybe, there are a few possibilities on the passenger records, I think this might have to be a future project to try to trace them.

UPDATE: Thomas Ansell, I have confirmed his death now for the last quarter of 1887, due to searching the cemetery records of Deceased Online, it cost me £3.50 to see. Interment Details: Authority Kensal Green Cemetery, Grave reference /Con/17342 for Ann Ansell (Sheward) 1862. George Ansell 1875. Thomas Ansell November 1887. So because of confirming this death I just have the whereabouts of William after 1871 to find out now.

These are the photos that I can’t identify: Two ladies taken in London.

These three photos above are taken at Worcester. Next two from Hull, below:

One from Hasting, Sussex. Below:


Lastly four from areas not directly connected with the family and two blank:

“The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.” Lucille Ball

‘All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust’ from Disney

UPDATE BLOG: Mary Ansell’s Family Wills, 15 December 2019.

Direct Link here: Mary Ansell’s Family Wills.

Till next time then…………………..


  1. Absolutely FASCINATING! Amazing! Incredible! I love the old photos you discovered. Thank you for the most interesting post. I’m addicted to Ancestry myself for family history, however I find that I also enjoy creating trees for other people I discover in my local area here in Vancouver BC.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fascinating article, Lynn. Congratulations for preserving this collection and recognising its historical value. I’m especially interested because it relates to the women’s side of history.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was delighted to discover this page. But I would be pleased if you were kind enough to mention to your readers the website (mine!) where you “borrowed” the death certificate and the two pictures from The Sketch, for instance…
    Many thanks, in advance.
    By the way, I have some information about her life and death in Biarritz…
    Céline-Albin Faivre (

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Celine, Thanks so much for getting in touch. Yes I certainly will do on my update at the weekend Celine. I found them on a public tree on Ancestry and didn’t realise they originated from you, until Christine let me know. Sincere apologies, it wasn’t intentional.
    Visiting family this week but hoping to update Friday or Saturday, shall email you then, kind regards Lynn


  5. Lynn, only just found your amazing record of the Ansells. Brilliant work. However, can I add one addition/correction. George Pain Ansell and Ann Hedges had 3 children, not two as stated, the first being Ann (born 12 May 1817, baptized 7 Sep 1817 at St Mary, Marylebone). My interest is that she married James Hanna (Bombardier, Royal Artillery) on 25 May 1846 at Woolwich Parish Church. She is my great great grandmother. The Parish record of the wedding confirms her father as George Pain Ansell (a bootmaker), and interestingly a witness is Mary Ann Hedges. Ann Hanna, as she became, was therefore an Aunt to Mary Ansell, and of course a sister to George.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Peter. Oh wow! Huge thanks top you for all this extra information, I’m thrilled to find out more, that’s really kind of you to share all this with me. I have updated the Blog, added a small paragraph and also added Ann to the family tree plus more information about her family. I’m really grateful Peter and so pleased you got in touch! Kind Regards Lynn x


  6. Cor, what diligence, what perseverance! We owe you a great debt of gratitude for all this info on Mary Ansell and her family, some of which I would have included in my Barrie book had I but known — although having said that, Constables – the original publishers – made me cut the original ms by around 20% so I fear her extra JMB-marital life would probably have wound up on the cutting-room floor.
    Did you ever see Maureen O’Brien playing Mary in my BBC triology? I thought she came pretty close to the truth, as did Nico. (btw, the whole 5 hours is up on YouTube). We’ve been lately updating the Barrie site, and many of the photos are now free of the dread watermark if you want to use any, including Mary “peering over her fur collar”. I’m also gradually transcribing the whole of Peter’s “Morgue” …
    Thanks so much again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Andrew
      Thank you so much for the compliments, I am thrilled that you enjoyed my blog and really appreciate your comments.
      I was totally fascinated by Mary and it was definitely a bittersweet moment when I sent her and her family photos off to America. I felt through researching that I had got to know their faces so well. I would love to have met Mary, I also felt a little sorry for her that her life seemed always to be not enough for her.
      I proudly have your book that I bought for research and also the DVDs that I bought after I had finished the blog, I really enjoyed watching.
      Will look forward to reading more from you and thank you again, best wishes Lynn


      • Dear Lynn,
        Would it be possible to call you as I am hoping you might be able to help me find a picture os a very illusive man. His name is James Mackie 1821-1867 M.P for Kirkcudbrightshire. my number is 07885 -643000.
        Nicholas Shaw

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Nicholas. Thanks for getting in touch with me. I’m not familiar with Scottish records at all, my advice would be to contact someone with good knowledge and experience in Scotland. Lorna is a lovely lady & a genealogist, do make contact with her & hopefully she’ll be able to advise you:


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