BIOGRAPHY

[Click on any photograph to view larger version]

Julia was born Julia Maria Cristina Mildred Camoys Stonor in 1939, to the sound of Bow bells, at 27 Welbeck Street. Her birth came nine months after her parents’ (Sherman and Jeanne) high society wedding at the London Oratory (14th July, 1938). The nuptials were witnessed by prestigious grandees Sir Roderick Jones, owner of Reuters, and his Excellency Raul Regis d’Oliveira, Brazilian ambassador, doyen of the Diplomatic Corps to the Court of St James and a gold bullion millionaire. Jeanne and Sherman’s union was hastily dubbed ‘Wedding of the Year" by a media in thrall to Jeanne’s severe and icy glamour.

Jeanne and Sherman marry Young Jeanne Bridesmaids

Jeanne then took Sherman on a surprise honeymoon to Count Joachim von Ribbentrop’s splendid, sinister palace Schloss Sonenberg in East Germany. Despite attempting to flee the surroundings, Sherman – frightened and appalled – was recaptured. Julia, meanwhile, had already been conceived at Claridges Hotel, where the newlyweds stayed prior to their German sojourn. Jeanne would, for the rest of her life, make it clear to Julia that she was the "disappointing" result of this strictly one-off coupling, and would loudly lament Sherman’s lack of ‘prowess’ compared to her "darlin’ Joachim".

Jeanne ShermanCrista holds Julia at her christening

Julia was christened at the London Oratory in early May, 1939. Jeanne declined to attend, and instead spent the day back at Claridges enjoying the sensual charms of Raul, the afore-mentioned Brazilian Ambassador. Even the presence of the Infanta Maria Cristina (‘Crista’), daughter of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Julia’s Godmother, was not enough to persuade the glamorous mother to attend her own daughter’s christening, especially when fun and high jinks were to be had elsewhere. Sherman attended with his aunt, Julia Stonor, La Marquise d’Hautpoul. Also present was Jeanne’s acutely embarrassed mother, The Hon Mrs Herbert Stourton. Crista gave Julia a sapphire and diamond Madonna and Child, later to be sold to stave off abject poverty.

Stonor Park

Julia grew up at Assendon Lodge on the 6300 acre Stonor Estate, before the family moved back into Stonor Park itself, which Sherman’s American mother Mildred had given her only son in 1937, rescuing her English husband Ralph from humiliating bankruptcy. The years spent at Stonor Park were, for Julia, not unlike inhabiting a real life mix of Greek tragedy, soap opera, and Grand Guignol. You can enjoy a full and frank account of these years in Julia’s first book, Sherman’s Wife. Julia’s fondest memories of the time are mainly thanks to the kindnesses of Ruby Heath, housekeeper and surrogate mother, the German tutor Don Bradman,  and the governesses including Austrian-Jewish refugee and intellectual Mademoiselle Priess, Miss Stollery, Miss Lynes (also governess to the orphaned Phillimore cousins), and Madame Odette Laws. All the governesses were sacked by Jeanne.

Ruby Heath Julia and Sherman

There were two men in Julia’s early life whose emotional largesse remains locked in her heart, much like the indefatigable pilot light of a boiler – her father, Sherman, and her close cousin, Father Julian Stonor, a gentle Benedictine monk, keen genealogist and author of the original history of Stonor. He adored horses and was a chaplain with the Irish Guards at the time of the Normandy Landings.

At eighteen, Julia was crisply evicted by her mother. At the time, she was the cherished date of HRH Prince William of Gloucester, sunny of disposition and handsome of countenance. Julia had first met William, elder son of the Duke of Gloucester, while visiting Eton College. Quite unbeknownst to her, Jeanne was furious at her daughter’s growing friendship with such an eligible man, and regarded it as a form of upstaging. "She knows too much, and she’s nothing but a damn nuisance," Jeanne was heard to fume.

Julia with Prince William of Gloucester Julia

The bewildered Julia, timorous and totally alone, arrived in London with only £2 and a Revelation suitcase tied up with string. She was, by her own admission, a tongue-tied, convent-educated debutante, quite unprepared for her forcibly precipitated new life and intimidated by the cold vastness of 1950s London. Still ringing in her ears was her mother’s mantra: "I’ll put you out on the street like the Other Woman". She began eking out out a living as shop assistant on a salary of £6 (paying rent of £3 for a shared bedroom at 191 Queen’s Gate). She sold luggage and hairbrushes at the back of the shop, before being promoted with no commensurate rise in salary to Head of the ‘Holy Corner’, selling bound books and costly religious antiques.

Further employment including working as Assistant to the famous portrait painter Sir Gerald Kelly. Julia’s mother was, by now, redoubling her efforts to ensure that her daughter be ruined. Upon discovering that Julia was just about managing to support herself financially, Jeanne, who made no secret of her intention to crush her first child, got to work. She wrote a letter to her friend, Sir Harman Grisewood, head of BBC World Service and a Knight of Malta. Jeanne enlisted his help in her ongoing quest to ensure Julia’s demise and – as a consequence of their combined efforts – Julia was immediately sacked by Sir Gerald Kelly, and thrown out onto the pavement with nothing. Jeanne’s letter is to be found in the archives of Boston College, Massachusetts. Jeanne spent the rest of her life in a state of litigious mania, suing her daughter for reasons both spurious and sinister. "I loved her, " says Julia, "and I always, always forgave her, for my own peace of mind and emotional prosperity".

In the years that followed, Julia worked as a hospital ward orderly, an airport courier, a garden patio designer, ladies’ maid, butcher’s assistant, public relations and social worker. Today, she is the proud author of the poignant Sherman’s Wife, and its hotly-anticipated sequel, Sherman’s Daughter. For the last thirty-seven years, Julia has entertained both long and short-term guests at Stonor Lodge, to try to make a living.

dsc01149

“I am rich in friends,” says Julia, “although not in any other sense. Once I realised that I could withstand the enmity and unprovoked hatred of those I most turned to for loyalty and love, I realised that I could withstand most things. The vicious and inexplicable cruelty by which I have been confronted may hurt me, but it will never fell me. And most importantly, I have always lived according to my own family’s motto, ‘I know myself to be without fraud’.”


 
%d bloggers like this: