DEATH KATE EVELYN NASON
A lot of money passed through Kate’s hands in her lifetime. I saw one figure of £500,000 somewhere, as the money she made out of the nightclubs. According to the National Archives, historical currency conversion table, this is about £15 million in today’s terms. That’s a serious amount of money. Then she also had her inheritance, which she implies was substantial, not to mention the money she made on investments here and there. And yet, she died virtually penniless. (She left £771 8s 1d (around £28,500 in today’s terms)) Where did it all go?
Most of it went on living the good life, and educating her children at England’s most expensive private schools. Then there were the costs of running the nightclubs, including, perhaps, bribes to the police. She also talks about the ‘hidden’ costs of having to have lots of expensive clothes. She seems to have regularly shopped in Paris for example. But I suspect, that for all her insistence on her skills as a businesswoman and the apparent success of the ventures, she was nevertheless not that astute. One example from her book, is that just prior to the 1929 crash she had been advised by a friend to buy some stocks which made a huge amount of money for her. He, being a canny investor, advised her to sell, but she ignored his advice, and, of course, lost the lot. Then, of course the spells in prison must have taken their toll on her reputation, although she also says that people came to the clubs out of curiosity.
Whatever the causes she died virtually penniless, during the influenza pandemic of 1933, though I am not sure whether it was of influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia as I have yet to get her birth certificate. No doubt her spells in prison had weakened her. She certainly doesn’t look well in the photo at top right. She died in the home of her oldest daughter May, now married to the Earl of Kinoull. She was only 57.
So a life of extremes. Born into privilege, she found herself orphaned at an early age. Married for love, she found it all ended badly, although she seems to have remained married to Ferdinand all her life, in spite of the brief attempts at divorce and a couple of marriage proposals along the way. Maybe she preferred the single life and remaining married facilitated this. And we have recently found that he did visit her on her deathbed and claimed that there had been no need for her to provide for the children. And then a glittering career which produced some of the most famous nightclubs of the age - the age itself being a high point in the history of such institutions. Surrounded by nobility, the rich and the famous, as well as the odd gangster or two it must have been an exciting life, and she revelled in it. But that too had its disasters - it’s a long way from mixing with the smart set, shopping in Paris and holidaying in the south of France, to a prison cell in Holloway prison. And yet, even there, it seemed to be the food, the discomfort and the boredom that got to her - not the people. Even there she seemed to be fascinated by the stories of her fellow prisoners and describes many of them as ‘sweet’ or ‘lovely’ and ‘poor thing’.
And a life lived to the full. Her memoirs were written shortly before her death and in them she rebuffs the notion of her life having been a failure. “Maybe I have lost the shadow which we all pursue, but against that let me set the fact that I have gained the thing which has meant all to me. I have kept the vow I would make good men and women of my children, economically secure, and that none of them should ever be justified in questioning my stewardship. And for the fulfilment of that pledge I have my reward in their respect and love. They were my staunchest and most loyal friends through all my troubles. ... What does the future hold in store? It may hold disappointment, perhaps. But one thing I know it never, never can take away from me, and that thing is the love of Life real Life, brilliant and pulsating.” Unrepentant and fun loving to the last, she must have been a truly remarkable, though probably irritating, woman.
In her latter years she lived in Park Square West in London’s Regent Park Area - in one of the beautiful terrace houses shown in the photograph above right. Her unmarried children lived with her as well as nieces and nephews and friends from time to time. And, indeed, I believe she died here, although the newspapers said that she died at her daughter’s home. Maybe her daughter (May, Dorothy?) owned it.
And fortunately for her she died before the tragic early death of two of her beloved children.
Her children were not the only ones to have loved her it seems. She seems to have inspired a huge amount of loyalty amongst her customers, her staff and friends. The picture at the top is of Kate returning to her loyal fans after one of her periods of imprisonment - her son Gordon stands behind her. I am not sure where I saw it now, but at some appropriate point - the death announcement, the funeral? the dance bands of London observed a two minutes silence in honour of her memory.
Thanks to Signe Hoffos of the Kensal Green Cemetery group of Friends I now know that Kate is buried in the Kensal Green Cemetery with her son Gordon. Signe sent me photographs of the grave and I plan to visit next time I am in England. Also thanks to Signe I have the following from the New York Times of January 24, 1933 - the New York Times take note - this is from across the Atlantic:
Mrs. Kate Meyrick Buried. “Taxi Drivers of London” Send Wreath for Night Club Hostess.
LONDON, Jan 23 - A large wreath with a card “from the taxi drivers of London” was among the floral offerings in front of the altar of the Church of St. Martin’s in the Fields at the funeral service of Mrs. Kate Meyrick, well-known London night club hostess, who died last Thursday.
Traffic in Trafalgar Square was delayed for a long time by the line of cars drawn up outside the church while the Rev. Pat McCormick conducted a simple service.
Mrs. Meyrick was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery beside her little grandson, child of her daughter, Lady Kinnoull.”
Thus do we learn other sad little fragments of this story.