Violet Van der Elst

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Violet Van der Elst
Violet Anne Dodge

4 January 1882
Feltham, Middlesex, England
Died30 April 1966 (aged 84)
Ticehurst, Sussex, England
Known foractivities against the death penalty
Spouse(s)(1) Henry Arthur Nathan
(2) Jean Julien Romain Van der Elst

Violet Van der Elst (4 January 1882 – 30 April 1966)[1] is best remembered for her activities against the death penalty.

She was born Violet Anne Dodge, the daughter of a coal porter and a washerwoman, she herself worked as a scullery maid. In 1903, she married Henry Arthur Nathan, a civil engineer 13 years her senior.[2] She developed cosmetics including Shavex, the first brush-less shaving cream and became a successful businesswoman. After her first husband died on 15 November 1927, she married Jean Julien Romain Van der Elst, a Belgian who had been working for her as a manager but was also a painter.[3]

Having amassed a huge personal fortune she purchased Harlaxton Manor, in Lincolnshire, England in 1937.[4][5]

She gained publicity from her vocal campaigns against capital punishment, and stood three times, unsuccessfully, as a candidate to be a Member of Parliament. Firstly she fought for the Putney constituency at the 1935 General Election as an Independent, coming third. Then she stood for the Southwark Central constituency in the 1940 by-election as an independent candidate supporting the National Government, coming third. And lastly, she fought for the Hornchurch constituency at the 1945 General election as an Independent, coming fourth.

She wrote the book On the Gallows in 1937 as part of her efforts to eradicate the death penalty.[6] In the same year she published a collection of 13 ghost stories, The Torture Chamber and Other Stories.[7]

Her campaigning, her behaviour, and unsuccessful political career reduced her fortune, forcing her to sell her house and move to a flat in Knightsbridge, London, in 1959.

Largely forgotten, she died in a nursing home in Ticehurst, Sussex, on 30 April 1966, aged 84;[8][9] her wealth reduced to ₤15,528,[8] having seen the abolition of capital punishment for murder in Britain the previous year.

In the 2005 film Pierrepoint, she is played by Ann Bell.


  1. ^ Gattey 1972, pp. 10 and 232
  2. ^ Gattey 1972, p. 13
  3. ^ Gattey 1972, p. 20f
  4. ^ Harlaxton College. "The Manor - Residents and Owners". Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  5. ^ Harlaxton College. "About Us - History, Facts and Features". Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  6. ^ Van der Elst 1937a
  7. ^ Van der Elst 1937b
  8. ^ a b Probate Service. "Wills and Probate 1858–1996". Find a will. GOV.UK. Retrieved 3 June 2016. VAN DER ELST Violet of Ticehurst House Ticehurst Wadhurst Sussex died 30 April 1966 Probate London 15 May [1967] to Lilian Mabel Ruthen Phizackerley married woman and Francis George Ronald Jorden solicitor £15528.
  9. ^ General Register Office. "England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837–2007". FamilySearch. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved 29 May 2016. Violet A Van-Der-Elst, 1966, Battle, Sussex, England


  • Gattey, Charles Neilson (1972). The Incredible Mrs. Van der Elst. London: Leslie Frewin Ltd. ISBN 978-0856320156.
  • Van der Elst, Violet (1937a). On the Gallows. London: Doge Press. ASIN B00584QIPE.
  • Van der Elst, Violet (1937b). The Torture Chamber and Other Stories. London: Doge Press. ASIN B0018G2IOG.
  • Van der Elst, Violet (1945s). Death of the Vampire Baroness and other Thrilling Stories.

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