Stella Mary Newton, nee Pearce.

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Stella Mary Pearce was born on April 17th 1901, 1 think in London but her parents moved to Manchester soon after. Her father owned a bookshop in Market Street where Manchester’s leftwing intellectuals used to meet and local Journalists. Her Mother, Georgiana Pearce, wrote for the Daily Herald, (?) as well as being a well-known concert pianist. She also used to accompany silent film on the piano. She was born a Hoby and was descended from the Hoby,s who once wins descended from the Hoby’s who once lived in Bisham Abbey in Berkshire. Stella attended Withington Girls’ School until, when she was in her teens, her mother returned to London taking Stella with her.

                        Stella began her stage career in Frank Benson’s Shakespearian Company. She then went on to theatre design, one of her first assignments being to work, as an assistant, in the legendry Othello in which Paul Robeson and Peggy Ashcroft starred. Later she designed the sets and costumes for T. S. Eliot’s  “The Rock” at Sadler’s Wells, in 1934, followed by the first production of his “Murder in the Cathedral” in Canterbury Cathedral in 1935 (and later in London). T. S. Eliot’s “Family Reunion” for two weeks before war broke out but was revived, at the Mercury Theatre in 1947.  During this time she also opened her own Dress Shop (Boutique) in Bond Street, designing the clothes thast she sold there. This knowledge of how clothes are actually made was of great use to her when she came to study the history of costume.

During The war she, and Eric Newton (the art critic and member of the Brains Trust whom she had married earlier) were both directed into extra mural lecturing. This involved much traveling, in difficult conditions, but gave her the opp­ortunity of studying the dress of the Italian Renaissance whilst waiting for trains.

After the war she worked, from 1952-61 at the National Gallery as an adviser on costume in paintings to the in art historians there who were cataloging the various European Schools. She also contributed an influential appendix to Eric Newton’s Tintoretto” which caused some paintings to be re dated.

In 1965 she was instrumental in founding the Department for the Study of the History of Press at the Courtauld1 Institute of Art and became the first head of the department. Many of her students have since gone on to have distinguished careers of their own. In 1987 the students and the Costume Society dedicated a festschrift to Stella with an appreciation by Roy Strong at the front who wrote, “The establishment of the history of dress as a serious academic discipline owes an incalculable debt to Stella Mary Newton”

A list of Stella’s publications is attached, she has lectured widely in both Europe and America and was awarded, the OBE in 1976 and made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1987 (88?)


Miss Elizabeth O’Kelly M.B.E.

More jottings by Miss Elizabeth O’Kelly M.B.E.

After Stella left Withington Girl’s School, but was still living in Manchester, she used to help at the Madge Atkinson’s Dance Academy, in Rusholme, Manchester. She appeared in ‘The Constant Nymph” playing Teresa Sanger. Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft were the stars She was a member of the Unnamed Society, the leading amateur dramatic group in Manchester, of which Sladen Smith was the director. I think it was there that she met Eric. Joan Littlewood was also a member and also playing at the Manchester repertory, but I think by then Stella was in London.

            Eric Newton was born in 1893 but changed his name from Oppenheimer to Newton, his mothers maiden name. His family owned a factory making mosaics and Eric himself designed mosaics for several churches but when he became a writer and the art critic for the Guardian. He married Stella in 1934. Stella was his second wife but remained on very good terms with his first wife. Eric had two sons by his first marrage, Ian who lived in Mayfield and another who lived out in Capetown. There was also a grand child out in Canada called Jo. He died in. 1965, when sitting at his desk in the Guardian Offices.

            During the war Eric and Stella were employed as lecturers to the forces. I first met her in 1948 when she came as a tutor on stage design to a Drama School at Whitby that

I was organising for the Yorkshire Rural Community Council (before I joined the Colonial Service)

            Angus Ackworth, founder of the Leach Trust funded the setting up of the Department for the History and Study of dress. The chief executor of the Trust, Barbara Gardiner did a great deal for Stella. (She was known in those days as Barbara Whatmore.)

Stella also had a lot to do with Karen Finch, who set up the Hampton Court Textile Conservation Centre

She had contacts in Hungary (1977), Sweden, Estonia (1979) and Romania (1973). She had many visits to Italy and the U.S.A.

The portrait of a Victorian woman, which used to hang in my room, was of Mrs. Hoby, her grandmother, who lived in Mecklenburg Square, in Bloomsbury.