Peter Cotes and others point out the marked difference between Elvira’s 1928 wedding at Princes Row Register Office, to John Barney, and her younger sister’s far more spectacular affair, three years earlier, at St.Margaret’s, Westminster Abbey. For Cotes this shows the family’s disapproval of Elvira’s choice of partner and I’m sure this is correct. Princes Row was still a rather more fashionable venue than the comparison implies – it was popular with actors and shwbusiness types as well as for second marriages among the rich and titled – but it was no match for St.Margaret’s.
When you said “Society Wedding” in the 1920s or 1930s you meant a wedding at St.Margaret’s. The most written about and, in some ways, most representative occasion was probably Brian Guinness’ marriage to Diana Mitford in 1929. There was always great press and newsreel interest and the guest lists were carefully scrutinised by those interested in the highways and byways of Debrett’s. Who was there (and not there) was a cause of much conversation and kept the gossip-columnists in material for months.
Brian and Diana Guinness
Here is how the Times reported Avril’s great day
PRINCE GEORGE IMERETINSKY AND MISS A. J. MULLENS.
“The second marriage ceremony of Prince George Imeretinsky, eldest son of Prince and Princess Imeretinsky, and Miss Avril Joy Mullens, younger daughter of Sir John and Lady Mullens, of 6, Belgrave square, took place at St. Margaret’s, Westminster, yesterday. Prebendary Gough officiated, assisted by the Rev. H. J. F. Tringham and the Rev. H. E. Sexton. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of cloth of silver, embroidered with pearls, cabochon crystals, and diamante, with long, tapering sleeves, with gauntlets of old Charles II rose-point lace, the hem of the gown being flounced with a deep band of Arctic fox. She wore a diadem of pearls and diamonds, with clusters of orange- blossom, which was covered with a long veil of flesh-tinted d’Alençon tulle, bordered with seed pearls. The train, which was of silver gauze, suspended from the shoulders with pearl tassels, and embroidered with panels of old Spanish rose-point lace, was carried by Master John Henderson and Master Richard Paget- Cooke, who wore white satin breeches and waistcoats, edged with silver, and white and silver brocade coats. Miss Mullens carried a sheaf of Mary’s lilies, bound with silver ribbons. There were five child bridesmaids- Miss Patsy Chapman, Miss Jay Horne, Princess Tatiana Wiasemsky, Miss Tou Tou Chichester, and Miss Susan Perry. They wore dresses of white georgette, with silver lace coats and bonnets of silver lace and silver tissue, and carried branches of orange-blossom and oranges. The best man was Captain D. Eric Smith (late Grenadier Guards), and after the ceremony a reception was held at 6, Belgrave- square.”
6 Belgrave Square
“Among others present were : Lady Mullens, Miss Elvira Mullens. General R. Mullens., M. and Mme Lambert, Major and Mrs. W. H. Mullens, Mr. M. C. Adamson, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Adamson, Mr. Stewart Adamson, Colonel Rushton Adamson, Mrs. George Mullens, Miss Mary and Miss Gertude Mullens, Prince and Princess Blucher, Prince and Princess Wiesemsky, Princess Lowenstein-Wertheim, The Marchioness of Huntley, Mr and Lady Alice Mahon, Lady George Loftus, Lady Arthur Browne, Lady Ellen Hotough, Lady Montague of Beaulieu, Lord Wargrave, Lady Hawke with Mrs. William Lindsay, Lady Dunedin, Lord and Lady Aberconway, Lady Ashfield and the Hon. Marion Stanley, The Hon Mrs. Trevor Lewis, the Hon. Mrs. Gideon Murray, Captain and the Hon. Mrs. Dormer, Miss Cecilia Dormer, the Hon. Mrs. Patrick Macnaughton, Major and the Hon. Mrs. Sidebottom, The Hon. Mrs. Algernon Borthwick, The Hon. Mrs. Bailey, the Hon. Assheton and Mrs. Harbord, The Hon. Mrs. Edward Gully and Miss Gully, Sir Joseph and Lady White-Todd, Lady Kindersley, Lady Grayson and Mrs. Rupert Grayson, Lady (Alfred) Cooper, Lady McCallum and Miss McCallum, Baroness de Bush, Count Grixoni, Lady Alexander, Baroness Versen and Miss Versen, Sir John and the Hon. Lady-Hermiker-Henton, Sir John and Lady Rosa, Lady Glover, Sir Charles Stewart, Sir George and Lady Lewis, Sir Charles and Lady Walpole, Lady Watts, Sir Herbert Lush-Wilson, Sir John and Lady Pretyman-Newman, Sir Gerald and Lady Ryan, Brigadier-General Sir Henry and the Hon. Lady Croft, Lady Muir-Mackenzie, Field- Marshal Sir William and Lady Robertson and Miss Robertson, Lady Allen, Lady Harvey, Lady Gilbert, Sir Bindon and Lady Blood, Lady Smiley and Miss Smiley, Lady Aird, Lady North, Sir August Cayzer and Miss Cayzer, Sir Henry and Lady Buckingham, Lady Solomon, Sir Trevor and Lady Dawson, Mrs. Edgar Horne and Miss Horne, Mrs. Lionel Harris, Mrs. Reginald Chichester, Mrs. Seymour Hughes, Mrs. Ernest Deacon, Mr. Harold Deacon, Mrs. Probet. Mrs. Henry Harris, Mrs. Pragnell, Mrs. and Miss Eckstein, Mrs. Aylett Moore, Mrs. Graham, General and Mrs. Tuson, Mrs. J. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Tritton, Mrs. Roger Daniell, Mrs. Grinell-Milne, Mrs. Harry Higham, Mrs. Tixlall, Mrs. Hamilton-Wedderburn, Mrs. Alan Horne, Mrs. A. M. Carlisle, Mr. H. M. Carlisle, Mrs. and Miss Noble, Mrs. Ronald Henderson, Brigadier-General and Mrs. G. B. Stevens, Mrs. and the Misses Moyna, Canon Bowring, Mr. and Mrs. Bowring Hanbury, Mrs. Edward Huare, Miss Egerton Castle, Mrs. Wilfred Bowring, Mr. Ian Macpherson, Mrs. Aitken, Mrs. Henry Maine, Mr. and Mrs. Terence Eden, Mrs. and Miss Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Allen, Commander and Mrs. Louis Greig, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkings. Mrs. Simon Brand. Mrs Maia Brand. Mrs. Carnegie. Mrs. and Miss Stanton, Captain Mick Browne, Mme. Zerlie de Lusan, Mrs. Aidan Kirkwood, Mrs. Robert Webster, Mr. Ernest Garnett, Mr. Eveleigh Nash, Mrs. Guy Ridpath, Mrs. and Miss Cohen, Mrs. Claude Berkington, Mr. H. B. Hansell, The Misses Soames, Major and Mrs. Jepson Turner, Mrs. Lyne Sutyens, Captain and Mrs. Tudor Owen, Mr. and Mrs. George Perry, Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Baker, Mrs. Arthur Harter, Captain and Mrs. Schweder, Mr. and Mrs. Berkeley, Colonel and Mrs. Cross, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Harcourt Gold, Mrs. J. G. Dug, Mr. and Mrs. Montagu Price, Mrs. Jack Michell, Mrs. Roland Soames, Mrs. Hugh Rayner, Mrs. Paget-Cooke, Mr. and Mrs. W. 0. Bentley, Commander and Mrs. Polhill, Mr. and Mrs. Candsie, Colonel Nay de Crot, Mr and Mrs. Temple Twining, Mrs. Lockett Agnew, Mr. and Mrs. Worraw, Colonel Peel, Rear Admiral and Mr. Ernest Taylur, Mrs. Francis Kennedy, Mrs. Ricardo, Mrs. Bolton, Mrs. Archie Channing, Commander Henniker Heaton, Mrs. Ernest Radmel, Mr. and Mrs. Montrose Clorte, Mr. Frank Bullen, Mrs. Francis Brenton, Mrs. Sharman-Crawford, Mrs de Rimmer, Mrs. Francis Crompton, Miss Elizabeth Vesey, Mrs. Andrew Wylie, Mrs. Collingwood Thompson, Mr Hamilton Lamplugh, Mrs. Arthur Franks, Mrs. Cyril Cubitt, Commander Galpin, Mrs. Puttenham-Gibson, Major and Mrs. Davidson-Houston, Mr. R. Synon, Mrs. Walter Synon, Mr. and Mrs. Del Stanche, Mr. N. Gladstone and General and Mrs. Basil Buckley.
The bride and bridegroom left later for a honeymoon abroad, Princess Imeretinsky, wearing a dress of royal blue velvet with a coat to match, embroidered with pale gold, and a velvet hat.”
(Times Oct 30 1925)
Prince George Imeretinsky
Apart from the comforting knowledge that people with names like Tou Tou Chichester and Lady Blood actually existed outside the pages of Waugh or Wodehouse, this list is a powerful reminder of the world that Elvira initially inhabited, then rejected and was eventually expelled from.Because it is so hard to think of the 1920s without the Bright Young People, it is easy to forget that respectability and adherence to convention remained the norm for the overwhelming majority of the well-heeled.
Avril, we are told, followed the correct conventional path. But can we be sure about this? Her marriage to a White Russian prince had the right romantic ring ( in fact, some newspapers reported the Barney shooting with the headline “Princess’ Sister on Murder Charge”) but the marriage, the Prince’s second, was no more solid than Elvira’s and ended in divorce in 1932. Also, Avril was barely 16 on her wedding day which strikes me as a little less than “proper” – Imeretinskywas 28.
Avril and Hugh Leveson-Gower 1934
Avril next emerges into public view with her marriage to Hugh Leveson-Gower, part of an extensive military, aristocratic, Royalist and Tory dynasty, They had a daughter who featured in a Life Magazine spread which mentions Elvira.
It would be nice to know how Avril and Elvira got along in the intervening years. The only reference I can find is to a shared dinner with the photographer Broderick Haldane but he sheds no particular light on the matter, being primarily concerned with Elvira’s subsequent notoriety. In the absence of any other evidence of Avril, of the right age and looks, being part of the “fast crowd”, we must assume that she stayed within the bounds of “decent society”. I doubt they were close, either in tastes or temperament. Significantly, there is not one mention of her attending the trial.
After the War, Avril’s second marriage collapsed and she remarried once more. This time it was to Ernest Aldrich Simpson. If the name seems familiar it is because he had been the husband of Wallis Simpson, who famously left him for Edward, briefly King of England and then Duke of Windsor. As Prince of Wales he had been something of a hero to elements within the Bright Young Set and his habit of dining at the Cafe De Paris would not have gone unnoticed by Elvira. Ernest became (and remains) the forgotten man in a scandal which, unlike the Barney affair, really did unsettle the established order.
Simpson died in 1958. Twenty years later, Avril died in a car crash in Mexico. The smart money would have been on Elvira to suffer such a fate. Perhaps the sisters had something in common after all.