Henrietta Eliza Vaughan Stannard (née Palmer; 1856–1911) John Strange Winter [pseud.], was born in Yorkshire, the daughter of Henry Vaughan Palmer, a cavalry officer turned clergyman. She was a popular novelist who wrote approximately 112 books and contributed 42 short stories to the Family Herald under the pseudonym of 'Violet Whyte'.

Like Edith Katherine Spicer Jay, Stannard wrote tales of cavalry life under a male pseudonym. Her publisher had advised her that if her collection of stories about cavalry life was known to be the work of a woman, it would 'prejudice its success'.1 However, when she was invited to a fish dinner in Greenwich by the editor of the Cornhill Magazine, she revealed her gender by saying that as 'J.S.Winter' was of the sex requiring chaperones, she must decline the invitation'.2

After the success of her first novel, Henrietta continued to write military tales, including the popular novel Bootles Baby (1885) which sold two million copies within the first ten years of its publication and was adapted for stage. It was at around this time that she attracted the admiration of the writer and art critic, John Ruskin. Henrietta had written to Ruskin thanking him for a lecture which he had given which had inspired a 'thoroughness' in her writing. (She had rewritten Bootles Baby nine times before she was satisfied with it).3 On reading the letter, Ruskin invited Henrietta with her husband Arthur, to visit him in Sandgate where he was staying in 1887.

During the Stannards' visit, Ruskin, who was suffering from depression, became angry about British armaments and decided to write a letter about the topic to the Daily Telegraph. He asked Henrietta to supply him with figures on the number of 'bayonets that twisted, and the swords that snapped'. Henrietta said in an interview for The Young Woman magazine years later: 'I didn’t know what to do, and nearly had a fit; I didn’t know anything about statistics.'4 The following day, 'after a warm controversy', Ruskin decided not to write about armaments.5 He wrote instead about Henrietta describing her as 'the author to whom we owe the most finished and faithful rendering ever yet given of the character of the British soldier'.6 The two stuck up a friendship and Stannard, who was pregnant with twins at the time of her visit, asked Ruskin to be their godfather.

It was at this period that Stannard conceived the idea of editing her own journal and in 1891, she embarked on the 'treacherous and adventuresome' enterprise of establishing Golden Gates a penny weekly magazine. Its name was later changed to Winter's Weekly as some felt the former name too religious in tone.7 The magazine proved to be a financial burden on the family. Her husband Arthur said: 'we lost heavily over the weekly magazine which we started in 1891. We kept it going for four years, and it was just beginning to turn the corner and pay us when in 1895 my health broke down.'8 However, it was not only Arthur who was suffering from ill-health; in January 1893, Stannard revealed to her readers that she had rheumatic pains in her knees in an advertisement for an 'electropoise'.9. She wrote: 'since June I have suffered agony steadily getting worse and worse, so that I have to slide out of a carriage or railway compartment.'10 The “electropoise” also helped her 4 year old daughter Violet who: 'did not recover very well after diphtheria, and was nervous, irritable and fretful.'11

It is not certain whether her interest in product endorsement was financial or reflected her anxieties about her own health and that of her family. In March 1893, Stannard renewed her endorsement of the 'electropoise' telling her readers that her words were not an 'advertisement puff' as she would not promote any product in which she did not believe. She argued: 'A moment’s thought should convince anyone that it would be simply ruin to my reputation if any advertiser could truthfully say that my good word had been purchased! I am not yet a “John Strange How- Much”!'12

Nevertheless, family finances were unravelling at this period. Up until 1892, the Stannards had spent their summers at The White House, Wix, Manningtree, Essex, a sizable house with three sitting rooms, nine bedrooms, conservatory, garden, stabling and 200 acres of shooting. On March 7th 1893, Stannard wrote to Leonard Phillips telling him that 'she was very far from well' adding that she was 'not sure the future may see me worse before better' and saying that she was going to 'spend the summer by the sea in comparative idleness'.13 The place that the couple chose was Montague House, Birchington on Sea, a much smaller house (an advertisement for the house in 1888 describes it as having six bedrooms, three reception rooms and a bathroom and 'the usual domestic offices.')14 It is possible that the Stannards had to cut their cloth to suit their means and could no longer afford to lease the house at Wix due to the losses they incurred on Golden Gates.

The Stannards may also have been avoiding Essex for other reasons. Henrietta had been sued by an Ipswich tailor for £11 11s 'being £5 5s for a superfine grey montana jacket with silk sleeves, trimmed a la militaire and £6 6s for a superfine grey montana costume complete, braided in black'15 which she had refused to pay for. She claimed that that the clothes did not fit, but the judge ruled that she should have given the tailor the opportunity to make alterations. The report of the court case which appeared in the East Anglian Daily Times in February 1892, ran to three and a half columns and portrayed Henrietta as bad-tempered and difficult.16 Although the family still visited in the summer of 1892, this was possibly their last visit.

Mrs Charlotte Talbot Coke, a fellow Yorkshire woman, an army wife, and contributor to Winter’s Weekly may have recommended Birchington-on-Sea to Henrietta. Talbot Coke had visited Birchington in 189117 and this had inspired her to think about buying a seaside cottage where she might entertain guests and give 'change and rest (rent free) to friends unable to afford seaside jaunts'.18 Whether she did or not is uncertain, but she returns to this theme in later articles as she describes ideas for decorating a seaside home. What is known is that Stannard and Coke were working together on Hearth and Home magazine, which was launched in May 1891.

Expressing the hope that the bracing air would improve the health of her husband Arthur and eldest daughter Audrey (known as Beaufie), Stannard took her family to Birchington in the summer of 1893. The air at 'Bungalow Birchington' as it was nicknamed was said to be beneficial for those suffering with 'exhausted nerves' as it was more sheltered than places like Margate and Ramsgate which were 'charged with the southerly breezes that sweep round the head of Thanet.'19 The air was certainly bracing, but the stench of the seaweed 'was an objectionable drawback' which poisoned the air 'with a potency suggestive of typhoid fever or other miasma'20. Dante Gabriel Rossetti had stayed for a few months at Westcliff Bungalow in 1882 to convalesce, after a seizure, but had died whilst staying there.

It is possible that it was Henrietta whose nerves were frayed, rather than those of her family, as her relentless campaigns to attract new readers to Winter's Weekly were failing. In July 1893 she had offered to post out the magazine free of charge for three months for anyone who could attract two new subscribers.21 During that summer, Henrietta took a break from editing Winter’s Weekly, resuming the editorship in August. Later that year, she endorsed Bromo-Phosph, the new brain food. She reveals 'Had I been in town I should have gone to Dr Maitland King, who did so marvellously for my nerves a few months ago, but I was simply unable to spare the necessary time, being very much pressed with work'.22 She also fed it to her family, who 'felt better for it'.23 Mrs [Dr] Maitland King who later wrote The Hygeine of Womanhood was a specialist in obesity and nervous depression, using electricity, baths and diet in her treatment. She advocated that 'rest is most essential in middle life'.24 As the main bread-winner of the family (Arthur had given up engineering to manage his wife's literary career), Henrietta may have felt the additional burden of the failure of Winter's Weekly. The sea air of Birchington may have been the panacea she needed.

The stay in Birchington stretched into the autumn. In late September 1893, Henrietta was still enjoying the 'bracing air of Birchington' missing the Institute of Journalists’s conference week in London, Her husband Arthur attended, which seems at odds with the image that Stannard has portrayed to the public of her ailing husband.25 Against this backdrop of financial losses and illness, Henrietta was still working as hard as ever. Her 1894 novel A Blameless Woman was probably written this summer. In it, her heroine Margaret North spends time 'by the side of the sea' on her doctor’s orders where 'it was very quiet and very delightful. They had no trouble, no worry, no anxiety, nothing to do but rest and regain their strength'26 This seems very different from Henrietta’s own experience. A description of her stay at Birchington the following summer, reveals that the author still kept up her busy schedule even whilst at the seaside:

'Mrs Stannard does not think it wise to remain in the same house the year round, even though it be delightfully situated in the suburbs, so when Spring comes the family migrate to Montague House, Birchington Bay where they have the benefit of sea air. Still at the seashore, she keeps up her work, disappearing regularly with her shorthand writer in the morning and keeping closed doors until work is finished, when she gives herself up to romping with the children or entertaining guests for there is nearly always someone staying at the house.'27

She employed two governesses to help with the children.

Summers in Birchington enabled Stannard to take advantage of the regular train service to London, in order to keep up her social engagements. In May 1894, she chaired a meeting to discuss establishing a Women's Educational and Industrial Union in London and attended a house warming at the Pioneer Club.28 The following month, she was described as 'looking extremely well' at the Author's Club house warming. She also met Frances Hodgson Burnett at the invitation of Mrs Douglas Sladen29 accompanied by the American novelist William Nathaniel Harben and her husband Arthur.

By September 1894, Stannard had written a farewell to her Winter Weekly readers, pleading ill health and the editorship was handed over to Florence White. Nevertheless, despite her continuing health problems, Henrietta was still able to keep her name in the public eye during the winter of 1894 and gave an interview to reporters in Pwllheli promoting her latest book. In a newspaper article in October 1894 she is described as 'John Strange Winter only from the commencement of the day until three o’clock in the afternoon: the rest of her time is given to husband, children and friends. This rule has few exceptions, for she carries it out most faithfully throughout the entire summer in her country house at Wix, the cosiest little village in Essex.'30 Interestingly, Wix and not Birchington is described as her summer retreat - a journalistic error perhaps or maybe Stannard wanted to gloss over her slightly unfashionable seaside retreat.

In February 1895, Stannard was on top form, enjoying her life in London. She was described as an 'entertaining raconteuse” at a charity event at the Mansion House. 'For about twenty minutes she kept her hearers in continuous laughter'.31 Two months later, however it is reported in the newspapers that:

'The many admirers of Mrs Arthur Stannard may be interested in hearing that she is located at Montague House, Birchington on Sea, for the summer, having let her picturesque ivy-clad house at Merton Park. The severe strain of the popular novelist’s literary labours and the condition of her health render absolute quiet imperative, and by the doctor’s orders she will not appear at any social functions this season'.32

Henrietta was pregnant and may have been having a challenging first trimester. However despite 'doctor’s orders' she appeared at the Vagabond Club dinner 'just up from her house in Birchington-on-Sea' and looking 'remarkably well' two months later.33 The Vagabond dinner was attended by over 300 people including Sarah Grand and many other noted female authors.

In The Queen in November 1895, a reviewer praised Stannard for her novel I married a wife saying:

'I am told that this is the first work she did at Birchington this year, when she was full of exhilaration and buoyancy at the thought that she had seen the last of depressing and much hated Merton'34

The journalist and social reformer, Florence Fenwick Miller describes meeting Stannard in the summer of 1895:

'when I went to see her last summer, busy though she was, and herself in delicate health, she was preparing every day a rather elaborate infant’s food to send to keep the life in the wasting child of a poor woman in the village. The value of this food greatly depended on the trouble taken in blending the ingredients, and she would allow no other hands to prepare it, so long as the child’s life was in danger.'35

After the birth of Olive Nancy On the 22 September 1895, Stannard was keen to return to London. She had just completed The Strange Story of My Life which she had dedicated to Nancy "who was born on the day on which this story was finished".36

Stannard did not draw on the Kent landscape in her fiction. The Strange Story of My Life (1896) which was written at Birchington, is set on the continent. When the heroine Miss Massingham is asked 'You would like … to go over and see a little of the English coast?' she replies: 'I know nobody in England, I don’t feel in any way drawn towards it.'37 Furthermore, in The Truth-tellers (1896) the pleasures of the Kent coast are described as the sort of place where servants can enjoy themselves, hinting that they have no appeal for sophisticated society. Miss Mortimer’s manservant James's idea of enjoying the sea 'was to spend a fortnight in Margate when his mistress was safely taking a cure at Homburg or Schwalbach. Then the faithful James might have been seen by such as knew him, arrayed in a suit of light check dittoes, with a straw hat upon his respectable head, sunning himself along the arid front, or in more select fashion enjoying the delights of the health-giving breezes at the extreme end of the pier, —the part where you pay twopence'.38

The Stannards did not visit Birchington after this, spending the next few years in Dieppe, a popular beach resort for English writers and artists, including Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons. There would have been health as well as economic benefits to living in France and the Stannards, who were hit by the economic collapse of several publishers during the Boer War, diversified their business interests to include a toiletry range whilst living here. There is no evidence to suggest that they summered in Kent again. Henrietta died in 1911 and is described as "wife of Arthur Stannard" on her death certificate. His occupation is recorded as engineer, hers as novelist, journalist and business woman are not.

This article was published: 23 November 2022.


  1. Mrs Arthur Stannard at Home, Woman’s World, p.340. 

  2. Mrs Arthur Stannard at Home, Woman’s World, p.340. 

  3. 'A popular novelist', Penrith Observer - Tuesday 06 May 1890 p6. 

  4. Mr Ruskin and Mrs Stannard. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 07 July 1894 Also Percy L. Parker Young Woman - Friday 02 February 1894 p.162. 

  5. Mr Ruskin and Mrs Stannard. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 07 July 1894 Also Percy L. Parker Young Woman - Friday 02 February 1894 p.162. 

  6. Bainbridge, O. John Strange Winter: a volume of personal record 1916, p.80. 

  7. Black, Helen. Notable women authors of the day 

  8. Dorothy Thompson, Owen R. Ashton, Robert Fyson, Stephen Roberts. The Duty of Discontent: Essays for Dorothy Thompson. New York: Mansell, 1995. p.175. 

  9. Winters Weekly Jan 7th 1893. 

  10. Winter, John Strange Hearth and Home Vol. 5, Issue: 107 June 1, 1893. 

  11. Winter, John Strange Hearth and Home Vol. 5, Issue: 107 June 1, 1893. 

  12. Winter, John Strange Winter's Weekly March 1893. 

  13. Letter to Leonard Philipps, March 7th 1893, John Strange Winter Collection, Canterbury Christ Church University. 

  14. London Evening Standard - Thursday 17 May 1888. 

  15. Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 19 February 1892. 

  16. East Anglian Daily Times - Thursday 26 May 1892. 

  17. Talbot Coke. Myra's Journal of Dress and Fashion Vol. XX. 1 June 1894. 

  18. Talbot Coke. 'From castle to cottage', Hearth and Home Vol. XVI , Issue: 414. 20 April 1899. 

  19. Liverpool Mercury, 30 July 1886. 

  20. Eothen 'Flotsam and Jetsam' Bury and Norwich Post 29 August 1893. 

  21. Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal - Saturday 01 July 1893 

  22. 'The gifted authoress' Northampton Chronicle and Echo - Monday 25 September 1893. 

  23. 'The gifted authoress' Northampton Chronicle and Echo - Monday 25 September 1893. 

  24. Woman's Signal - Thursday 12 March 1896 

  25. 'Conference Week of the Institute of Journalists', Hearth and Home, Vol. 5, Issue: 126, 12 october 1893. 

  26. Winter, John Strange. A Blameless woman 1894, p.78. 

  27. 'The home of John Strange Winter', Newcastle Courant Issue: 11448, 16 June 1894. 

  28. South Wales Echo - Friday 25 May 1894. 

  29. The Queen - Saturday 09 June 1894. 

  30. Halifax Comet - Saturday 13 October 1894. 

  31. (Thursday, Feb. 7, 1895 Hearth and Home Vol. 8 , Issue: 195. 

  32. 'Multiple News Items', Hearth and Home Vol. 8, Issue: 206, 25 April 1895. 

  33. Marguerite 'The World of Women', The Penny Illustrated Paper 15 June 1895. 

  34. The Queen - Saturday 09 November 1895. 

  35. Fenwick Miller, Florence Jan. 30, 1896 Women's Penny Paper (London, England)Volume: V , Issue: 109 

  36. Winter, John Strange. The Strange Story of My Life 1896. 

  37. Winter, John Strange. The Strange Story of My Life 1896. 

  38. Winter, John Strange. The Truth-tellers 1896. p109-10.