Kelsall, Miss Lilian

Kelsall, Miss Lilian, Youngaton, Westward Ho!

Lilian Beatrice Kelsall[1], later Gubbins (1878 – 1934) was born in St Servan, Brittany, France, the daughter of Theophilus Moultrie Kendall and Marie Anna Kelsall. Theophilus was a member of a naval family and had served in the Royal Navy, reaching the rank of Commander and being awarded the honorary status of Captain on his retirement.[2] Marie, who was almost fifteen years younger than her husband, was the daughter of Professor H.W. Brutzer, and had been born in Stuttgart.

The Kelsalls moved to Youngaton, Westward Ho! on Theophilus’s retirement and were there at the time of the census in 1881. It is therefore unlikely that Lilian, who was only two at that date would have remembered her Breton past, unlike the other members of the large family. Theophilus and Marie had nine children in all, two boys and seven girls, and Lilian was the youngest but two.

The Kelsalls became involved in the community life of Westward Ho! and Northam. Captain Kelsall supported the work of the local Seamen’s Mission Fund, the temperance movement and the British Seamen’s Orphan Boys’ Home.[3] Marie Kelsall became an ally of Anne Thrupp (q.v.) in promoting the establishment of University Extension lectures locally. These opened up new educational horizons for girls: Ellen, one of Lilian’s elder sisters, attended the first courses on ‘Growth of our Colonial Empire’ and ‘Poetry of the Victorian Age’ in 1892-3 and passed the associated examinations.[4] When Northam District Council was asked to set up a Technical Instruction Committee, both Mrs Thrupp and Mrs Kelsall were appointed members.[5] They were both also nominated for the new arrangements put in place after the passing of the Education Act 1902.[6]

The Kelsall family were musical: the girls played the violin or the viola frequently at concerts, especially those of the Northam Choral Society of which Marie was treasurer,[7] but it is not always possible to tell which Miss Kelsalls were involved. Lilian and her younger sisters, Jessie and Kathleen, were also keen tennis players at the Torridge Vale Club, and their successes are featured in the North Devon Gazette during the period 1906-1908, when Lilian was at the end of her teens.[8]

Theophilus Kelsall died at Youngaton on 8 May 1910. By this time the family had started to disperse and at the time of the 1911 census Ida, Isabel and Lilian were the only three daughters left at home. Marie described herself as living on private means, but all three of the Misses Kelsall are described as ‘school mistress’, ‘working on own account’ and working ‘at home’. The extent of this ‘school’ is unknown: it may have been no more than education for the daughters of their local friends.

It is not clear how Lilian Kelsall first became involved in the cause of women’s suffrage. There had been branches of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in both Bideford and Appledore since mid 1911. By 1912 the secretary to the Bideford branch was a ‘Mrs Gibbings’, who should probably be identified with one of Kelsall’s tennis partners.[9] Gibbings gave up the position at the end of 1912 and in March 1913 Common Cause reported that the Bideford branch was being reorganised. A ‘Miss Helsall’ was reported to have taken on the role of secretary, but as the paragraph goes on to describe an ‘At Home’ given for the society by Mrs and the Misses ‘Kelsall’ in the Station Hall, Westward Ho!, it is probable that this was an typing error.[10] Miss Kelsall is subsequently referred to in the branch secretaries’ list and as attending the Provincial Council of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies meeting in Exeter in May.[11]  The question of which Miss Kelsall it was is finally settled by a reference to Miss L.B. Kelsall that October.[12]

Lilian’s tenure of the post of Bideford WSS secretary was a brief one, however. In the autumn of 1913 she married John Gubbings, son of a local family, in Bideford, and the couple emigrated to Canada where John planned to set up as a fruit farmer. This venture was not apparently successful and the Kelsalls, with two young sons, John and Martin, returned to England at the end of 1919, giving their destination as Youngaton, Westward Ho!  Gubbings is described on the passenger list as a chicken rancher, so he had probably diversified from his original plan.

Kelsall was succeeded as Bideford WSS branch secretary by Mrs Lightbody, another member of the Torridge Vale Lawn Tennis Club.

Kelsall died in September 1934 in East Preston, Sussex.



Entry created by Julia Neville, December 2018

[1] Census and family references from

[2] London Gazette, 19 April 1881.

[3] North Devon Gazette (NDG), 14 Dec 1886; 24 Apr 1888; & 7 Dec 1897.

[4] NDG, 10 May 1892; 14 Feb 1893.

[5] NDG, 25 Jun 1895.

[6] NDG, 18 Aug 1903.

[7] NDG, 21 Oct 1902.

[8] NDG, 14 Aug 1906, 13 Aug 1907. She won the Ladies Doubles with A Bazeley in 1906.

[9] Common Cause (CC) 28 Mar 1912, 875; NDG, 13 Aug 1907.

[10] CC 28 Mar 1913, 874.

[11] CC, 4 Jul 1913; 220; Western Times, 23 May 1913.

[12] CC, 10 Oct 1913, 468.


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