Who Was Harriet Horlock? Part 2: The Skeleton in the Cupboard

In Part 1 of this story, I shared a genealogy journey that began years ago with a letter from my husband’s late grandfather, which included some very juicy stories about an elusive ancestor called Harriet … and finally led this year to the discovery of her place within the family tree. Harriet turned out to be the cousin of my husband’s great grandmother, Jennie Saword (nee Read), but she was also the step-daughter of Jennie’s half-sister!!

In this blog, we’ll look at Harriet’s life to discover if there is any truth behind these intriguing claims:

  • Harriet was a nurse who worked with Frederick Treves and for the royal family.
  • Harriet had an illegitimate daughter called Violet, and possibly another called Dorothy (Dolly) – and the father was Edward VII!
  • Harriet and Violet went to America, where Violet became a silent movie star called Violet Vale, married and had a baby, but died soon after.
  • Harriet returned to England, where she lived as a wealthy woman until her death.

I’ll also be investigating a mysterious letter connected to Harriet and Violet, which is in the collection of the British Library.

Don’t have enough time to read her life story? Skip to the end of the post to see the final Facts vs Fiction conclusions!


Harriet was born Harriet Eliza Knights in Bow, 1863, the illegitimate daughter of Eliza Knights — father unknown. Before Harriet, Eliza had three other illegitimate children. Sadly, one of them died when Harriet was only two. In 1871, Eliza, Harriet, and her older sister Emma lived together in Mile End in the same house as Harriet’s aunt Harriet, after who she must have been named. Eliza worked as a flower maker, and Emma a book folder. Harriet, aged 7, was a scholar. The Elementary Education Act had passed a few months before, so she would have been eligible for six more years of schooling, probably surpassing Eliza and Emma’s level of education.

In 1875, Eliza married widower PC William John Wilstead Horlock, a friend and colleague of her brother-in-law Detective George Read, and Harriet, aged about 12, took on her step-father’s name. She was now Harriet Horlock, the name she would use for the rest of her life. William and Eliza may have been in love (one of the things family historians almost never know) but they also needed each other; he was a widower with three young children to care for (aged about 9, 6 and 2), and Eliza was a self-employed unmarried mother, with two dependent daughters, all of whom would have benefited from greater financial security and a more socially acceptable family situation.

In spite of Eliza’s unconventional past, William appears to have embraced the responsibility of being a stepfather to 12-year old Harriet as well as her 20-year-old sister Emma, who witnessed their marriage. Nevertheless, the girls’ background must have been kept hush-hush, since the next generation were extremely confused about how these women – who they called ‘auntie’ or ‘cousin’ – fitted into the family tree.

Harriet was now part of a respectable family, but she had been raised by an independent and unorthodox woman, and she seems to have chosen a similar life for herself …

Nursing Career & Motherhood

Harriet’s sister Emma, aged 26, was living with her mother and step-father in 1881, still single and working as a bookfolder. Their household also included two of William’s children from his first marriage, and William and Eliza’s 2-year old daughter, Eliza. However, Harriet had left home to become an Assistant Nurse at the Poplar & Stepney Sick Asylum in Bow, where she was living and working.

1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 504; Folio: 89; Page: 3; GSU roll: 1341112, Ancestry.co.uk 30/6/20

The hospital had opened in 1871, with just one doctor and no trained nurses. However, in 1875, a school of nursing was established and nurses trained for three years in nursing care and sick cookery. As an Asst. Nurse, Harriet may well have been in training to become a certified nurse at the institution.

In 1882, Harriet was a ‘Nurse, Sick Asylum of Bow’ when she registered the birth of her illegitimate son, John William Horlock (John’s existence was a surprise to me and the key that finally unlocked Harriet’s identity). The identity of John’s father is unknown, though my imagination conjures up an affair with a doctor, possibly named John. I like to think that the name ‘William’ was chosen in honour of Harriet’s step-father. Presumably, Harriet would have been relieved of her duties at the asylum once her pregnancy was impossible to hide. John was born at Queen Charlotte’s hospital, a maternity or ‘lying in’ hospital founded in the 1700s. We may think of Victorian women giving birth at home, and so might assume (as I did) that hospital births were only for the middle class, but in fact it was the other way around. Lying-in-hospitals were used by poorer mothers and had a poor reputation for hygiene. Queen Charlotte’s was unusual in allowing unmarried mothers to use its facilities, though only once! Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital is still a maternity hospital today – one of the oldest in Europe.

After Harriet become a mother, I don’t know if she went back to work or stayed home to raise her son. William and Eliza may have been especially willing to help care for John, because their little daughter Eliza had died just two months earlier. If Harriet did return to work, she may have needed to leave her position again after a few years, as she probably had another illegitimate child in the mid 1880s (we’ll come back to this a bit later), and her mother, a potential carer for her children, died in 1889.

Nevertheless, by 1891, she was again working as a nurse, this time at the St Mary’s (Guardians) Workhouse in Islington. The workhouse, including its infirmary, had been rebuilt in 1891, and the hospital wards benefitted from improved lighting, ventilation and heating, with the aim of not only improving health but also ‘cheerfulness’. Each ward held 32 beds, and a nurse’s room with inspection window, as well as two stoves for heating, and a scullery. Nurses’ bedrooms were at the top of a central administration building.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891; Class: RG12; Piece: 150; Folio: 62; Page: 23; GSU roll: 6095260, via Ancestry.co.uk 30/6/20

Of course, nurses could not have children living with them on site, so John, aged 9, was living with his great grandparents (Eliza’s parents) James & Jane Knights in Bromley, which was also right next door to their son-in-law William Horlock. William had remarried a few months earlier to Emma Read, the daughter of his brother-in-law George Read (not a blood relation, but certainly unusual!). After Jane Knights died in 1892, John probably moved in with his step-grandparents William & Emma Horlock.

(Hang in there! We’re getting to the royal rumour really soon!)

In 1892, Harriet must have changed jobs again because she requested a testimonial (work reference) from the Islington Guardians Workhouse, which was granted.

Islington Gazette, 8 July 1892, britishnewspaperarchive.com

In 1900, Harriet had another illegitimate child, named Violet Horlock. The birth registration stated that Harriet was a Hospital Nurse, and gave her home address as 26, Perring Street, Bromley – the home address of William & Emma Horlock. However, she gave birth at a house on Lansdowne Place, Hove, Sussex. It was quite an upmarket street, with no indications that it may have been a discreet mother and baby home. The following year, the house was occupied by the family of George Deveson, a whiskey dealer, with their cook, housemaid and nurse. I’ve found no connections between Harriet, Hove, or the Devesons.

For the second or third time, Harriet must have had to leave her employment to have a baby, which surely would have threatened her financial independence. However, by 1901 Harriet had moved to Camberwell, where she was living with her sister Emma, and Emma’s husband Frederick Horlock – a nephew of William. Harriet was a Sick Nurse, single, and the youngest person in the home, and yet she was recorded as the Head of the household. Her position in the household is unusual, especially so soon after having a baby. However, she was now working on her ‘own account’. Private nursing, which she may have done since leaving the Islington Workhouse, may have given her increased income and the flexibility to combine a career and motherhood (how modern!). But wait! Where’s Violet? She would only have been a few months old, but she was not recorded on the census with her mother, nor have I been able to find her anywhere. Was she simply forgotten when the census was completed, was she hidden from the prying eye of the enumerator, or was she being cared for elsewhere?

1901 England Census, Class: RG13; Piece: 508; Folio: 60; Page: 4, via Ancestry.co.uk 30/6/20

Meanwhile, Harriet’s son John, now 18, was still living with William & Emma Horlock, who now also had their own young son. It’s testament to William’s commitment to his step-daughter Harriet that he gave a home to her illegitimate son so long after her mother had died.

We now come to the time when Harriet was supposedly working with Frederick Treves. According to family lore, “Harriet became a well qualified nurse working with Sir Frederick Treves, the foremost surgeon of his day in England. He operated on the king for appendicitis in 1902 and Harriet stayed with him during his convalescence and with the family for some years after. She travelled with the Royal family to their various castles and estates in England and Scotland, and when they entertained parties for pheasant or grouse shoots, their retinue would send unwanted birds to relatives and friends. I can remember a decorative display of pheasant tail feathers on the wall of our house at Southend-on-Sea which came from that source.

Sir Treves was indeed one of the most famous physicians and surgeons of his time, celebrated for his emergency appendectomy on King Edward VII two days before his coronation, which delayed the coronation for several months but saved the King’s life, and respected for his study and friendship of Joseph Merrick aka The Elephant Man.

Just who was Sir Frederick Treves? | Dorset Life - The Dorset Magazine
Sir Frederick Treves (c) Mary Evans Picture Library 2008

Unfortunately, I have no evidence to place Harriet with Sir Treves or in the royal household in or after 1902. I contacted the Royal Archives years ago regarding Harriet, and was told: ‘Our records relating to the King’s appendectomy in 1902, including Sir Frederick Treves’ own account of the operation and recuperation, show clearly that the nurses who attended the King were Nurses Haines, Fletcher and Tarr.’ Nurse Alice Tarr was Treves’ own assistant, who had been at the front with Treves in the Boer War, while the other nurses were chosen for their expertise with abdominal surgery. Treves retired in 1903.

However, Annie Fletcher’s conduct while caring for the King led to her becoming a resident nurse to the royal family for 20 years, even traveling with the family to Europe and staying on the royal yacht. ‘King Edward’s slight accident at Windsor brought out a fact not generally known, that for some time past there has been a trained hospital nurse in constant attendance on his Majesty’s family and Household. The lady selected for this enviable position is one of two nurses who attended the King in his “Coronation” illness after his operation, the other nurse, Miss Haine, an Irish lady, being now matron of the Convalescent Home for Officers of the King’s Services at Osborne. Miss Fletcher, who is on permanent Royal duty, travels with the Queen and Princess Victoria, the rather delicate health of the Princess being possibly the reason for this arrangement. In having a nurse always at hand in case of sudden illness or accident, the King and Queen are following the example of the late Queen Victoria, who, for some time before her death, was accompanied by a trained nurse, as a sudden summons to a hospital or home for such an attendant might have caused great anxiety to the nation.’ Annie’s story was featured in newspapers and could certainly have been the basis for the story about Harriet.

Nevertheless, Harriet certainly lived much nearer to the royal family during this period than she had before. From at least 1905, she was living at Scarsdale Terrace in Kensington, between Holland and Hyde Parks and less than a mile from Kensington Palace. It was right next door to the Kensington Workhouse, which might have given her employment. However, by 1905, Harriet was working as a masseuse. The London Post Office directory for that year lists ‘Miss Harriet Edith Horlock’ as one of 36 ‘Masseurs & Masseuses’. It’s yet another oddity that Harriet gave the middle name ‘Edith’ rather than Eliza. From 1906, she was registered at the same address in electoral Rolls as Miss or Mrs Horlock. And in the 1911 census, she was living with Violet and was a self-employed masseuse.

Post Office Trades Directory, 1905, London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London City Directories. Via Ancestry.co.uk.

If you look at the 1905 list of masseurs above, you’ll note that three entries below Harriet’s there is a listing for ‘Walter Wallace Keys’, who was a masseur ‘by appointment to his Majesty the King.’ Therefore, Harriet’s listing in the Post Office Directory placed her in the context of respectable professionals, including one who worked for the King himself.

Nevertheless, this occupation was tarnished with the same unprofessional connotations then as now, and in 1894, the BMA had investigated massage workers in London and found that many were involved in prostitution. In response to the ‘Massage Scandals of 1894’, four nurses set up the Society of Trained Masseuses in 1904 with an emphasis on high academic standards and a medical model for massage training.

Scarsdale Villas (Terrace) highlighted on a 1901 map of central London by Edward Stanford Ltd, David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

In 1911 in London, 145 people had the occupation of masseuse, and for those providing legitimate massages the work seems to have ranged from what we would recognise as physiotherapy or sports massage to beauty therapy. One surgeon had nurses and a masseuse in his property. A respectable-looking family included sisters who were a governess and a masseuse. Boarders at another property in Kensington included a ‘professional nurse’ and a ‘masseuse’. One woman was a ‘facial masseuse’, one a ‘certified gymnastics masseuse’ and another a ‘sick nurse masseuse’. Also in Kensington were two Anglo-Indian sisters – a ‘secretary to a private gentleman’ and a masseuse. Numerous newspaper ads promoted massage skills as a way for women to make more money, like these from the Daily Mirror (23/6/1916) and The Suffragette (21/3/1913) (via BritishNewspaperArchive.com).

Unfortunately, Harriet does not appear in the Masseuses registers, which begin 1895 and are searchable in Ancestry.com, so it seems she was not a member of the Society of Trained Masseuses. This is surprising given her Post Office directory listing. However, given her decades of nursing work, I’m inclined to believe she was providing some kind of medical care.

Could this be Harriet’s ad?
The Suffragette, 15 November 1912 via BritishNewspaperArchive.com

Harriet’s location makes it possible that she could have provided services to the King, helping him recover from his surgery — work which would be unlikely to be included in any official accounts of his recuperation. A royal client may help explain how she could afford to live in Kensington. It is also easy to imagine how rumours of an affair could spring from this intimate type of work, whether legitimate or not.

During this period, Harriet’s son John married and had three children, two of whom died in infancy. In 1911 he was living next door to/opposite William & Emma Horlock, working as a general labourer in the biscuit trade. His surviving son, John William Horlock, aged 5, was a patient in the Chest Hospital in Bethnal Green. A few months after the census, William Horlock, who had been like a father to John and to Harriet, passed away, leaving just £203 to his widow Emma. Sadly, little John, Harriet’s grandson, did not get better; he died in 1914, aged 8. 

Emigration to America

According to the original family story, “After Sir Frederick Treves retired Harriet emigrated to the U.S.A., married, and had one child (Violet) who grew up to be a film actress in the days of silent films. Her ‘stage name’ was Violet Vale. Violet died early from tuberculosis …”

We already know that Harriet wasn’t married when she had Violet. But she did go to the United States, taking her daughter with her. In 1915, Harriet and Violet traveled from Liverpool on the Philadelphia (second class), arriving in New York in August. Harriet, who states she had paid her own way and had $150 with her, was listed as a 48-year old married housewife. Violet was 14. They were both 5’3 with fair complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. Their last address was Westcliff, England (so they must have moved from Kensington to Southend), and closest relative in England was given as Emma Horlock, Bournemouth Park Rd, Southend, ‘sister in law’. (In Part 1, I explained that Harriet had two relations called Emma Horlock, the exact same age, who at this time lived just 1/2 mile apart from each other. One was her sister, so it’s surprising that she nominates the other Emma, widow of William Horlock; her choice of relation and use of ‘sister-in-law’ to describe the more complicated relationship show how closely-knit this blended family was.)

New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, Year: 1915; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 2; Page Number: 128 via Familysearch.org

What took them to the USA?

It was nearly a year into the war that people had said would be over by Christmas 1914. Harriet and Violet may have left London for greater safety in Southend, but both London and Southend were bombed by zeppelin raids starting in May 1915. They may have then wished, understandably, to escape the conflict altogether.

In 1912, a half-brother of Frederick Horlock (Harriet’s brother-in-law, with whom she had lived in 1901) called William Wilsted Horlock after his uncle, emigrated with his wife and daughters to Canada. One of William’s daughters (he had at least six) was called Violet Horlock, and she was born in Camberwell just two years after Harriet’s daughter Violet. These Horlocks stayed in Canada and have many descendants. Their existence was yet one more cause for confusion in my research, but their emigration could have inspired Harriet and Violet to go west as well.

However, Harriet had another very strong reason to move to the United States, as she already had another daughter living there!

Many years after I first heard Harriet and Violet’s story, I received another version:

” … Now there is a “Skeleton in the Cupboard”, Harriet was sent to America with two daughters Violet & Dorothy (Dolly) where she lived until mid-’20s returning to London & died during early war years. My father had to finalise her estate and contact Dorothy in Chicago who was now married. Violet had died in her early 20’s having married a Mr Katz in America. She was an actress in Silent Films & a very good swimmer. Her stage name was “Violet Vale”. She died of TB soon after childbirth (baby didn’t live as far as we know but may have been stillborn). You make what you like about her being sent to America. Who paid her passage etc? A nurse didn’t earn much in those days. The story is that she had the girls by the king who financed her & when she came back to London she was quite rich & was known as “Mrs Horlock” but as far as I know she never married! She had a flat in Cambridge Terrace Paddington & I remember going there with some of my family to watch the funeral cortege of King George V in 1936. We watched from her balcony. Edward VII had a penchant for lovely ladies (Lillie Langtrey!)”

Letter from Violet Read (daughter of Harriet’s cousin)

The plot now considerably thickens! Harriet and Violet’s immigration records show that they were headed to Chicago to stay with Harriet’s daughter, ‘Mrs O. H. Sampson’.

New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924 via familysearch.org

O.H. Sampson turned out to be Orville Herbert Sampson, an aircraft inspector. In 1918, Orville’s military record showed that his next of kin was Dora Sampson. In 1920, they lived together in Chicago, where ‘Dollie’ was a dance teacher. Clearly, this was the Dorothy/Dolly referred to in the family letter. However, her background is far from clear.

Hello, Dolly!

The earliest record I have for Dolly Horlock is in 1904, when she entered the United States on her own via Ellis Island, NY. Her age is given as 17, and she was an ‘artiste’ entering the country with $200. Her arrival contact was WF Keller (to whom she was discharged), of 235 E 12th St in the East Village (interesting trivia: 234 E 12th St was a boarding house in 1901, when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid stayed there!). However, she did not give the name Dorothy or Dolly; rather, she used the name Violet Horlock! This was certainly not Harriet’s daughter Violet b. 1900, as she was only 3 at the time. Nor was it the Violet who emigrated to Canada in 1912. The only reason I know that this was in fact Dolly is that she used the name in later records as well. To minimise confusion I will call her Dolly throughout.

New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924 via familysearch.org

The name Violet Horlock appears in the billing for the Fay Foster Burlesque in Pittsburgh (see ad below) in 1904. You can see that ‘England’s most charming misses’ are appearing in Capt. Keller’s Royal Zuave Girls – the same Keller who had met Dolly when she arrived in New York. It was a very athletic show, and Dolly must have had performing experience already. A researcher into the life of Lizzie Beckwith, another troupe member, says that all of the girls had come from the Alhambra Theatre in London.

Could one of these girls be Dolly?
The Minneapolis Journal – 3rd December 1904

In 1907, Dolly married Orville Herbert Sampson, an optician, in Philadelphia. Her marriage record has her name as Violet Horlock, so she was using it in a legal context. Thanks to a cousin who read this blog, I have this lovely picture of the young couple.

There’s no sign of Dolly and Orville in the 1910 US census, but from 1912, a chorus member called Violet Horlock appeared in the cast of The Lady of the Slipper; Or, A Modern Cinderella, which ran at the Globe Theatre: 28 Oct 1912- 17 May 1913 (232 performances). Listen to a song from the show. Top-billed stars in that production included dancer Vernon Castle, whom Fred Astaire portrayed in 1939, and singer Elsie Janis, who later became famous for entertaining WWI troops. I assume it would have been unusual for Dolly, a married woman, to work as a professional performer (and to continue using her maiden name).

Stills and portraits of unidentified performers in The Lady of the Slipper, Theatre Collection of the Museum of the City of New York

For the next four decades, records of Dolly, thankfully identifiable by her husband’s name, are extremely inconsistent. In 1920, she was ‘Dolly’ and gave her age as 36. In 1923, she was Dora when she travelled to England with her husband, arriving aged 26 and returning weeks later aged 34! (Their passport provided me with my first photograph of Dolly).

Orville and Dolly Sampson’s passport photograph, 1923

In 1930, Dolly and her husband still lived in Chicago and she was still a dance teacher. However, she had apparently only aged three years in the past decade! In 1940, she was Violet and was only five years older again. It’s possible that, as a performer, she was simply determined to stay forever young. Another interpretation is that she was doing her best to sabotage any official documents that might identify her. Assuming that Dolly would not give an older age than her real age as an adult, I think the earliest birth date she gives of about 1884 is most likely to be correct. As for her using the name ‘Violet’, like her sister, we’ll come back to this shortly …

Violet Vale

I have been unable to find Harriet or Violet in the States in 1920. However, in 1925 Harriet and Violet Horlock were living in New York, where Harriet claimed to be the ‘widow of William Horlock’ and Violet, 24, was a dancer, like Dolly. It’s quite possible that Harriet and Violet had come to the US with the goal of Violet following in Dolly’s dancing footsteps.

In 1927, Violet married Richard Katz, a chemical engineer (son of Israel Richard Katz, a German merchant) in Manhattan, New York. Violet named her father as William, but left the surname blank (whereas Richard gave his father’s full name). If she was referring to her stepfather, William Horlock, surely she would have provided his surname as well. Could this therefore be a clue that her biological father was a William too? Her mother’s maiden name was recorded as ‘Harriet Vale’. This is also odd – if Violet did not want to give the name Horlock for fear that it would reveal her illegitimacy, why did she not give the name Knights? Perhaps she had no idea that her mother had been born with that name. Anyway, this shows that the name ‘Vale’ clearly was connected to Violet and/or Harriet in some way.

So, was Violet an actress known as ‘Violet Vale’? Well, between 1921 and 1925, a Violet Vale appeared in five shows on Broadway. In two, she had a principal dancer or named role. If this woman was my Violet (and I think she was), she had a steady and successful career, which presumably would have enabled her to support herself and her mother.

Source: IBDB (Internet Broadway Database)

The Complete Book of 1920s Broadway Musicals by Dan Deitz tells us which numbers Violet performed in outside of the Ensemble. For example, in Poppy, she was featured in ‘The Girl I’ve Never Met’, ‘When Men Are Alone’, ‘The Dancing lesson’, ‘Whaddye Do Sundays, Whaddye Do Mondays, Mary?’ and ‘A Picnic Party With You.’ The show For Goodness’ Sake starred Fred & Adele Astaire and included music by George Gershwin, who also contributed numbers to the revue Snapshots of 1921.

Violet and Richard Katz had a son, Richard, in October 1927, but he died in December. Violet then died in New York in 1929. Her widower went on to remarry, fight in WW2 and change his name legally to Kotts. However, this was not the end of Violet’s story. In 1932, there was an anonymous donation to the British Museum of a 1904 letter from President Roosevelt to Edward Lauterbach ‘in memory of Violet Horlock Katz.’ Lauterbach (1844-1923) was the Chairman of the Republican County Committee in New York and the defense attorney for David Lamar, the “Wolf of Wall Street”. Who donated this letter and why? The letter (which I have viewed in the British Library but was not allowed to photograph) has no mention of Violet or Richard Katz, but mentions other prominent New York Jewish men, who perhaps were connected to the Katzes. The British Library unfortunately could not shed any more light on the acquisition. However, I found that Richard Katz, Jr. travelled to England in December 1931, and I believe he may have hand-delivered this letter to the British Museum.

The British Museum Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2 (1932)

Harriet’s Return to England

Harriet’s sister Emma died in 1933 (but disappointingly did not leave a will, which could have provided more clues). Harriet returned to England in time for George V’s funeral in 1936. Electoral registers for her also start that year, with an address at 28 Cambridge Terrace, Paddington (later renamed 28 Sussex Gardens). In 1938, Harriet’s son John died in Poplar, without probate. In 1939 Harriet, a retired nurse, lived at 6 Sussex Gardens (the same house, renumbered?). The house had nine residents and may have been a boarding house. One story had said she had lived in a hotel and died with few possessions, while the other said she was rich and ‘had a flat’. I’m not sure which was true.

Harriet Horlock died 13 June 1945 with registered age 86 (but actual age 82), recorded as the ‘Widow of — Horlock’. Her death was registered by Jennie Saword, Harriet’s cousin. However, there is no probate record, so to whom did she leave her estate? Was it indeed the case that she just left instructions to disperse a few possessions, including her daughter’s ashes? Harriet was cremated and interred in Kensington/Chelsea.

Who Was Dolly?

In 1947 ‘Dolly Violet Sampson’ died in Chicago. Her death record claimed she was the daughter of George Horlock and Harriet. It also gave an exact birth date for her in 1895, but other records suggest she was born about a decade earlier. I have not been able to find any birth record, or any sign of her childhood.

Although the family story stated that Dolly was Harriet’s daughter, which is supported by some records, it is odd, though not unheard of, to have two sisters both with the same name. However, Dolly may have only adopted the name Violet on the stage, initially, and then continued to use it. Unfortunately, Dolly’s identity remains a mystery for now.

Conclusions: Fact or Fiction

Q. Was Harriet a nurse who worked for Sir Treves & the royal family?

A. Harriet was a nurse, but there is no evidence that she worked with Frederick Treves or for the royal family. The royal archives confirmed that they had no record of her. It’s unlikely that Harriet could have been a regular or resident nurse to the royal family with a young daughter, and without leaving any records. Nevertheless, she was based in Kensington from at least 1905-1911 so it’s possible, purely based on her location, that she could have had royal clients.

Q. Did Harriet have an illegitimate daughter, or two, with a royal? And was she supported financially?

A. I don’t know the identities of the fathers of John, Violet, or Dolly and I have absolutely no evidence that any of them had a royal father. Rumours of royal parentage may have been a popular way to cover up a less romantic reality. Pheasant feathers on a wall could easily have been spun into a fairy tale story or thrilling rumour of a nurse who joined a royal hunt. In fact, since posting Part 1, I have heard from a descendant of William Horlock’s daughter Emma (Harriet’s step-sister). Emma married in Q4 1893, had a baby in Q1 1894, and her husband died the same quarter. She remarried in 1900 and her young son, William, was then raised to adulthood by his grandparents William & Emma Horlock (William truly was a generous man). I now know that William’s descendants believed for a long time that he was the result of his mother (Emma Horlock) having a royal affair! Was this another version of our family legend, due to so many Emma Horlocks? I’m curious to know how many families have these stories! (Please comment if you do!)

Nevertheless, Edward VII was a notorious womaniser. It’s also striking how extremely inconsistent, and often false, the official records are for Harriet, Violet and Dolly. And if there had been an affair and a child, records of her employment at the palace could have been concealed. Unfortunately, none of Harriet’s children had any surviving children, so a DNA test of a descendant is impossible.

Harriet was a self employed nurse and it’s perfectly plausible that she could afford to pay for her and her daughter’s passage to America. If her younger daughter was performing every night for many years on Broadway, they would not have needed additional support during their years in the States. When Harriet returned to London, she could have managed on money she had saved or received from her daughter(s). Her cousin’s daughter, who watched the king’s funeral from Harriet’s rooftop, had the impression that Harriet was wealthy, but she was a child at the time. It could simply have been a smart but moderately priced hotel. Harriet left no will, and so may have died penniless or simply settled her inheritance with family in other ways.

Family rumours are very strange things! Perhaps the feathers were indeed a gift to Harriet from the King. Unfortunately I can only speculate on the origins of this tall tale.

Q. Was Violet a silent movie star known as Violet Vale?

A. Dolly and Violet were both professional dancers, and there is evidence to suggest both worked in long-running shows on Broadway. If Dolly used the name Violet Horlock, this could explain why Violet had to choose a different stage name – Violet Vale. Further investigation (a trip to New York?!) might be needed to find out more. I have not found any evidence of Violet Horlock or Violet Vale starring in a movie. However, there was a silent movie actress called Vola Vale (real name: Violet Smith), who may have inspired the name Violet Vale. Still, I’m thrilled to have some Broadway performers in my family tree.

Q. What else do I still not know?

A. I don’t know when, where or to whom Dolly was born or where she grew up. I don’t know what took Harriet to Hove to have baby Violet, or where baby Violet was in the 1901 census. I don’t know how Dolly and Violet became dancers. And I don’t know why a letter to the President was donated to the British Museum in Violet’s memory. All I need is a few more years to solve these questions!! Or perhaps, I should just spin my own fictional tale around them …

But wait! There’s more! Six months after posting this blog, I received an extraordinary message via my website from someone who could finally reveal the identity of Violet’s father!

Read Part 3: Harriet’s secret is revealed


Blog updated 1 Sep 20 with addition of Violet Horlock & Richard Katz’s marriage certificate and associated interpretation, and on 4 Apr 2021 with photograph of Dolly and Orville Sampson. With thanks to Caitlin Hollander of Hollander-Waas Jewish Heritage Services in NYC for obtaining these images.

Blog updated 13 Apr 21 to remove a theory about Dolly’s birth.

Blog updated 5 Oct 21 to include Harriet’s listing in the 1905 Post Office directory.

Blog updated 5 June 22 with additional photograph of Dolly and Orville, pictures of The Lady of the Slipper and a link to Part 3.

5 thoughts on “Who Was Harriet Horlock? Part 2: The Skeleton in the Cupboard

  1. So interesting. My grandfather was the Wiiliam son of Emma Horlock who gave birth to him in Jan 1894 after marrying a Henry Fiveash in Nov 1893. Always rumours in our family about Riyal connections.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: