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Vashti de Montfort Wellborne (1869–1930)

Vashti de Montfort Wellborne lived in the village of Barton (now Barton Village Road), and she has an extraordinary stained-glass window in her memory in St Andrew's Church in Old Headington. Not only does it depict a pagan Queen of Persia, but there is this image of her home, Barton Manor, in the bottom right-hand corner:

Barton Manor

See photograph of the entire window at the foot of this page

When the window, designed by Archibald Nicholson, was installed in 1932 it caused some controversy because of its depiction of a pagan queen. George Day (Vicar of St. Andrew’s 1946–1956), in an interview with S.P.B. Mais about the window in the Oxford Mail of 14 January 1955, said, “I don’t suppose there is another window to Vashti in the country, and there was some difficulty in getting the Chancellor to allow this one. He at first refused, but when it was ingeniously pointed out to him that Queen Vashti was most virtuous and exemplary in her refusal to attend her husband in his cups the Chancellor allowed it to be put up.”

Wellborne Road

Vashti de Montfort Wellborne is remembered by one of the roads on the Barton Park estate (left)

Who was Vashti de Montfort Wellborne?

Vashti de Montfort Wellborne was born at Walworth Road, London at the beginning of 1869 and named after Vashti, Queen of Persia.

She was the daughter of Henry Kesterton Wellborne (a merchant's clerk and the son of the saddler Henry Pelling Wellborne) and Annie Pether Rogers (who was born in St Ebbe’s, Oxford in 1848, the daughter of the veterinary surgeon Timothy Rogers and Amelia Pether).

Vashti's parents were married at St Peter's Church in Walworth on 8 June 1867. At the time of the wedding her father Henry was a widower of 40 who was living in the Walworth Road, London and her mother Annie, who was only 21, was living in St Clement's, Oxford,

Vashti, their only child, was baptised at St Clement’s Church in Oxford on 28 March 1869, simply as Vashti Wellborne, and the “de Montfort” part of her name must have been added later by Vashti herself. The Wellborne family (also known as Wellesbourne) believed that they were descended from the thirteenth-century knight Simon de Montfort; but E. J. Payne soon put paid to that idea: “Some … members of the family of Wellesbourne … in the reign of Henry VIII claimed, without any ground whatever, to be descended from the Montforts” (“The Montforts, the Wellesbournes and the Hughenden Effigies”, Records of Bucks, 1896, Vol. VII, 362–412).

At the time of the 1871 census Vashti (2) was living with her parents and their servant at 3 High Road, Camberwell.

Vashti’s father Henry Wellborne died at 163 Camberwell Road in London on 29 November 1873 when Vashti was only four. His effects came to under £450.

James Hedges was born in St Clement's, Oxford in 1837, the son of John & Sarah Hedges, and at the time of the 1861 census he was a young butcher aged 24, living with his parents at their St Clement's shop. On 1 June 1865 at St Andrew's Church, Headington he married a woman with the same surname, Emma Susannah Hedges: she was only 20, and no father was named on the marriage certificate. Both were then living in Barton, possibly at Barton Manor in Barton Village Road. Certainly by the time of the 1871 census they were both living there with a thirteen-year-old butcher's assistant. They had no children, and Emma Susannah Hedges died in 1873 at the age of 28.

In February 1877 at St Matthew's Church, New Kent Road, Vashti's mother, Mrs Annie Pether Wellborne, née Rogers, married her second husband, James Hedges, who was now a prosperous butcher. Vashti, aged seven, thus came to live in Barton Manor with her mother and stepfather, and remained there for the rest of her life.

Barton Manor
Barton Manor is the tall building, with the Prince's Castle pub next door on the right

On 28 December 1878 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported that James Hedges of Barton showed various pigs at the Christmas Meat Show in Oxford, and that “Mr. Wellbourne, Barton Manor” had fed one of the hogs; similarly on 23 December 1882 it said that “Mr. J. Hedges had, as usual, a large and grand display of pigs, prominent among which were some animals of unusual proportions”, and that there were also bacon pigs which had been exhibited at the Smithfield Show, including some bred and fed by “Mr. C. Welborne [sic], of Barton Manor, Headington”. This may have been Vashti, although she was only aged nine and thirteen respectively on the two occasions.

Vashti's mother Annie had no more children with her second husband. At the time of the 1891 census she and Vashti (22) were alone in Barton Manor. In 1901 the census shows James Hedges (65) home with Annie (53) and Vashti, the latter described as an actress (with her age wrongly given).

Vashti acted with Sir Ben Greet’s Shakespearean company and founded the Barton Academy of Dramatic Art. She was also instrumental in the opening in November 1910 of Oxford’s first cinema, the Electric Theatre in Walton Street.

The 1911 census shows Vashti (42) once again described as an actress and still living at Barton Manor with her mother and stepfather, who was now retired.

Her stepfather James Hedges died at the age of 84 on 10 May 1925 at the Haven Nursing Home in Oxford, and was buried at Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry with his first wife the next day.

Vashti herself had cancer and only outlived her mother by five years: she died under a cherry tree in the garden of Barton Manor on 30 October 1930 at the age of 60. Her funeral was held at St Andrew’s Church (whose parish then included Barton) on 1 November 1930. She left an estate valued at £2,888 12s. 5d.

Her mother Annie Pether Hedges continued living at Barton Manor until her own death on 3 December 1933.

Queen Vashti of Persia

Queen Vashti is now popular with women’s rights groups for standing up for herself and not bowing to the wishes of her husband, King Ahasuerus (sometimes identified with Xerxes); but it did her no good, as he divorced her for this disobedience and married Esther, who later told the tale in her Old Testament book (Esther, chapter 1, verses  1–21):

Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, in those days when King Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the citadel, that in the third year of his reign he made a feast for all his officials and servants — the powers of Persia and Media, the nobles, and the princes of the provinces being before him — when he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendour of his excellent majesty for many days, one hundred and eighty days in all. And when these days were completed, the king made a feast lasting seven days for all the people who were present in Shushan the citadel, from great to small, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white and blue linen curtains fastened with cords of fine linen and purple on silver rods and marble pillars; and the couches were of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of alabaster, turquoise, and white and black marble. And they served drinks in golden vessels, each vessel being different from the other, with royal wine in abundance, according to the generosity of the king. In accordance with the law, the drinking was not compulsory; for so the king had ordered all the officers of his household, that they should do according to each man’s pleasure. Queen Vashti also made a feast for the women in the royal palace which belonged to King Ahasuerus. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, seven eunuchs who served in the presence of King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing her royal crown, in order to show her beauty to the people and the officials, for she was beautiful to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command brought by his eunuchs; therefore the king was furious, and his anger burned within him. Then the king said to the wise men who understood the times (for this was the king’s manner toward all who knew law and justice, those closest to him being Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, who had access to the king’s presence, and who ranked highest in the kingdom): “What shall we do to Queen Vashti, according to law, because she did not obey the command of King Ahasuerus brought to her by the eunuchs?” And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: “Queen Vashti has not only wronged the king, but also all the princes, and all the people who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For the queen’s behaviour will become known to all women, so that they will despise their husbands in their eyes, when they report, “King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought in before him, but she did not come.” This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media will say to all the king’s officials that they have heard of the behaviour of the queen. Thus there will be excessive contempt and wrath. If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Persians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered, that Vashti shall come no more before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. When the king’s decree which he will make is proclaimed throughout all his empire (for it is great), all wives will honour their husbands, both great and small.” And the reply pleased the king and the princes, and the king did according to the word of Memucan. Then he sent letters to all the king’s provinces, to each province in its own script, and to every people in their own language, that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.

Photograph of the entire Vashti window in St Andrew's Church after its restoration in 2008:

Window to Vashti

On the left, representing Miss Wellborne’s alleged ancestry, is Simon de Montfort on horseback, with the inscription “Founder of the English Parliament”, with the Chapter House at Westminster underneath. On the right, sitting with a panther at her feet, is the crowned Queen after whom Miss Wellborne was named, with the inscription “Vashti, Queen of Persia”, with Barton Manor below.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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