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Winifred Coombe Tennant

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Winifred Coombe Tennant

Mrs Winifred Margaret Coombe Tennant (1 November 1874 – 31 August 1956) was a British suffragist, Liberal politician, philanthropist, patron of the arts and spiritualist. She and her husband lived near Swansea in South Wales, where she became an enthusiastic proponent of Welsh cultural traditions. She was also known by the bardic name "Mam o'r Nedd".


Born Winifred Margaret Pearce-Serocold in Britain on 1 November 1874, at Rodborough Lodge, Rodborough, Gloucestershire,[1][page needed] the only child of Royal Navy Lieutenant George Edward Pearce-Serocold (1828-1912), of a landed gentry family of Cherry Hinton, Cambridgeshire, and his second wife, Mary Clarke, daughter of Jeremiah Clarke Richardson, J.P., of Derwen Fawr, near Swansea.[2][3][4] She was raised in France and Italy, where she was privately educated.

On 12 December 1895[5] she married Charles Coombe Tennant (1852–1928), who was 22 years older than she; they lived at his family's house, Cadoxton Lodge, Neath. He was son of the St Albans M.P. Charles Tennant.[6][7][8] They had three sons, Christopher, Alexander, and Henry, and a daughter Daphne, but Christopher and Daphne died young.

Her child Henry was the result of a deliberate affair with Gerald Balfour.[9][10]

Before the First World War, Mrs Coombe Tennant became a suffragist; She was a leading figure in the campaign for women's suffrage in south Wales and became president of Neath Women's Suffrage Society. In 1914 when war broke out she was appointed deputy chairman of the Women's Agricultural Committee for Glamorgan (in which capacity she served until 1918) as well as chairman of the local War Pensions Commission in 1917. She also served as director of national service for Wales. She was at pains to stress that women claimed the vote as of right and not as a reward for their war work, although she acknowledged the role the war had played in changing attitudes to women's enfranchisement. She was a leading campaigner for Lloyd George's Coalition Liberals at the general election of 1918. In 1920, she became the first woman to serve as a magistrate in Glamorgan. She was a member of the executive of the Welsh National Liberal Council and of the Committee for Self Government for Wales.[4] In 1922 she was nominated by David Lloyd George to be a representative at the League of Nations, becoming the first British woman to do so.[11]: 146  She was selected as the National Liberal candidate for the Forest of Dean constituency, but lost to the Labour candidate.

1922 General Election: Forest of Dean[12] Electorate 28,686
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour James Wignall 10,820 52.4 -10.4
Unionist Augustus Charles C. Dinnick 5,966 28.9 n/a
National Liberal Winifred Margaret Coombe Tennant 3,861 18.7
Majority 4,844 23.5
Turnout +15.9 72.0
Labour hold Swing

As a nationalist, she was heavily involved in the Eisteddfod movement, becoming Mistress of the Robes to Gorsedd Cymru and receiving an honorary Bardic degree in 1918.[11]: 146 

She collected works of art (including the Coombe Tennant collection of Modern French pictures);[11]: 146  and in 1931 she became official buyer for the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea, acquiring works by artists such as Gwen John, Kyffin Williams John Elwyn[13] and Evan Walters. She was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Swansea Art Gallery.[11]: 146 


Under the name "Mrs Willett" she practised as a medium, her clients including Sir Oliver Lodge. She was one of the mediums involved in the cross-correspondences, in which messages from the deceased Mary Catherine Lyttleton (who died on 21 March 1875) were supposedly transmitted by automatic writing to her lover Arthur Balfour.[14] She had a long association with the writer and spiritualist Geraldine Cummins. She died on 31 August 1956 at her home in Kensington, London. Her papers are held in the archive of the National Library of Wales[15] After her death Cummins published the book Swan on a Black Sea, containing their correspondence, along with messages received from the alleged spirit of "Mrs Willett" describing the afterlife. However, according to the psychical researcher Eric Dingwall information published in Cummins' scripts allegedly from Willet were discovered to be erroneous.[16]

The anthropologist and skeptic Edward Clodd wrote that the explanation for the cross-correspondences was the subconscious mind of the medium not spirits. According to Clodd many of the messages were "inconsequential rubbish". Margaret Verrall was a well-educated classicist who had studied Latin and Greek with her husband. Clodd suggested that Willet had communicated with Verrall and looked up references in classical lore.[17]


  1. ^ Lord, Peter (2007). Winifred Coombe Tennant: A Life through Art. National Library of Wales. ISBN 978-1-86225-065-9.
  2. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry 9th ed., Ashworth P. Burke, 1898, p. 1333, 1450
  3. ^ Visitation of England and Wales, vol. 12, ed. Frederick Arthur Crisp, 1904, p. 55
  4. ^ a b Beddoe, Deirdre. "Tennant, Winifred Margaret Coombe [née Winifred Margaret Pearce- Serocold; pseuds. Mam o Nedd, Mrs Willett]". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/70091. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry 9th ed., Ashworth P. Burke, 1898, p. 1333
  6. ^ Visitation of England and Wales, vol. 12, ed. Frederick Arthur Crisp, 1904, p. 56
  7. ^ Burke's Landed Gentry 9th ed., Ashworth P. Burke, 1898, p. 1450, 'Tennant of Cadoxton' [see also Burke's Landed Gentry 1952, 'Coombe Tennant of Cadoxton']
  8. ^ "TENNANT, Charles (1796-1873), of 62 Russell Square and 2 Gray's Inn Square, MDX. | History of Parliament Online".
  9. ^ "Secret life story of psychic MP Winifred Coombe Tennant". BBC News. 18 May 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
  10. ^ Prior, Neil (23 October 2021). "A real-life Welsh James Bond: The spy who became a monk". BBC News. Retrieved 24 October 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d Women, A Modern Political Dictionary, Cheryl Law, I. B. Tauris, 2000
  12. ^ F. W. S. Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918–1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow 1949
  13. ^ Meyrick, R. John Elwyn (2000) Aldershot: Scolar Press, 2000
  14. ^ Oppenheim, Janet (1988). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 132–133. ISBN 0-521-34767-X.
  15. ^ *Archives Network Wales
  16. ^ Eric Dingwall. (1985). The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology: My Sixty Years in Psychical Research. In Paul Kurtz. (1985). A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. pp. 161–174. Prometheus Books ISBN 0-87975-300-5 "An example of what is necessary can be seen in the recently published scripts of the late Miss Geraldine Cummins purporting to emanate from the famous SPR automatist Mrs. Willett. This book was supported by at least three ex-presidents of the SPR, one of whom wrote a long preface to it of over 70 pages. In the course of the communications two odd and startlingly evidential items of information, involving a word and a phrase, were given by the medium, and the editor of the book assured us both that these were actually in the diaries left by the deceased communicator. Fortunately, in this case the original diaries had been preserved. They were examined, and their owner stated that neither the word nor the phrase was to be found in them."
  17. ^ Clodd, Edward. (1917). The Question: A Brief History and Examination of Modern Spiritualism. Grant Richards, London. pp. 242–249

Further reading[edit]

  • W. Coombe Tennant, Between two worlds: the diary of Winifred Coombe Tennant 1909 – 1924 – edited by Peter Lord (2011)
  • P. Lord, Winifred Coombe Tennant: A Life through Art (2008)
  • Geraldine Cummins, Swan on a Black Sea (1970)

External links[edit]