Scandalous romance revealed a century on

Pictures courtesy of  the National Trust

Pictures courtesy of the National Trust

A real life scandal involving a secret marriage between a Wakefield heir and a showgirl will be aired on radio.

Rowland George Winn, the son of Lord St Oswald and heir to Nostell Priory, tied the knot with chorus girl and actress Evie Carew in 1915 - without telling his friends and family.

His shocked parents only found out about the secret marriage months later when it was exposed by the Daily Mirror in a double page spread.

The scandal was uncovered by people who are conducting a Heritage Lottery Fund project which is helping to reveal how the First World War affected the family, their staff and the community.

Dr Sarah Burnage, who is leading the project, says as son and heir a lot was expected of Rowland - and the marriage rocked a family already saddled with mounting debt.

She said: “There was a lot of expectation on Rowland George Winn which makes his marriage to a chorus girl seem all the more dramatic and sensational and problematic for the family.

“We have done some digging here and her real name was not Evie Carew, it was Nellie Greene.

“We found out that her father was a restaurant manager, her sister married a miner and her brother worked on the stage. She was from a very different social class to Rowland Winn.”

The Daily Mirror story headlined ‘the peer and the chorus girl’ ran just after Christmas on December, 27.

And when the secret marriage became public Winn was forced to resign his commission with the Coldstream Guards - because it was a royal regiment and he had married a ‘commoner’.

Dr Burnage added: “It must have been devastating news and such a scandal. His marriage had quite significant consequences.

“The Coldstream Guards is associated with the royal household and a rule had been brought in that actresses could not be presented at court.

“So when he married Evie he had to resign his commission and instead join the Royal Flying Corps.”

Despite the shock it is believed his parents were eventually won round and Evie became Lady Winn when her husband inherited his title after the war.

Letters from Rowland to his father tried to persuade him of Evie’s “better qualities”.

He describes her as ‘anything but the average chorus girl’ and says she is ‘incredibly charming’.

Despite that, it appears that Evie was not wholly accepted as her name is not listed among the guests at family functions.

But a generation later the archives revealed that the actress-turned-Lady was immersed in the life of Nostell Priory and the community.

Their story will be told as part of World War One At Home - local stories from a global conflict on BBC Radio Leeds, BBC Radio Sheffield and BBC Radio York from 2 - 6 June.

The story of the Wakefield heir and the actress - and the marriage which rocked their families - will be on BBC Radio Leeds on Thursday June 5 at 8.15am.




Back to the top of the page