Stella Margetson lived at 15 Hamilton Terrace and died in St John’s Wood on 13 April 1992. Her career as a writer encompassed short stories, radio plays, novels and social histories. For many years she was a regular contributor to Country Life , and her articles on subjects as diverse as « Victorian Song Covers », « Puppets: ancient and modern », « the World of Pollock’s Toy Theatres « and“ Madame Vestris and the Olympic Revels “ are thoroughly researched, splendidly illustrated, and above all, witty and readable. In 1948 her first novel, Peter’s Wife , was published, and the critical response was so positive that another, more ambitious work followed in 1949. The Prisoner was partly based on the Van Meeregen scandal which rocked the art world after the Second World War. Even Dr Abraham Bredius, the leading Dutch art historian, was fooled by Van Meeregen’s ‘Vermeers’ and they were bought by leading art collectors, including Hermann Goering, and even by the Dutch government for the Rijksmuseum. Margetson used the affair and the themes of actual and spiritual imprisonment and wove a delicate morality tale.
However, it was as a social historian that Margetson made her name and during the Sixties she produced irresistible books like Journey by Stages (1967), a full history of coach travel from the first regular services in 1957 to the arrival of the railways, Leisure and Pleasure in the 18th Century (1970) , Leisure and Pleasure in the 19th Century (1969) and Regency London (1971). Her later books such as the The Long Party (1974, a study of society during the inter-war period of England ) and High Society (1980) added to her reputation. Her final published work , St. John’s Wood : an abode of love and the arts (1988), is a celebration of the part of London in which she had lived with her sister Coggie since 1947.
Born In Hampstead, and always proud to be a Londoner, Stella Margetson was the youngest of three, with an older brother and sister. Their father inherited one of the most successful hosieries in England, established at the end of the eighteenth century, and Stella, and her sister Coggie, would recount witty stories of his meetings with Coco Chanel ( for whom he wove the silk for her revolutionary jerseys, based on the vests of her aristocratic lover ) and the weaving of the silk stockings for the coronation of George V1. Their mother was Florence Collingbourne, one of George Edwardes’s leading ladies at Daly’s Theatre and the Gaiety. An exquisite creature with great lambert eyes, she created an aura of beauty and mystery, and encouraged the enthusiasm for the theatre, the arts, literature and landscape which her daughters never lost. Indeed, among the wonderful facets of Stella Margetson’s character was this enthusiastic response to beauty and freshness of vision which was paradoxically blended with an acute insight into human nature and a refusal to mask reality. These qualities, along with an innate elegance and style, she brought to every area of her life : her novels and social histories of Britain; her conservationist work ; her romantically beautiful garden in St John’s Wood, which seems to defy the encroaching “jungle” of the nearby Edgware Road; and the beauty of her own person, always immaculately groomed, with unforgettable blue eyes, wide with horror, or sparkling with mirth, or gazing with urbane equanimity at the nonsense of the world.
(taken from an article in the Independent written by Colin Deane)