Fitton, May – (Mrs Hugh Fitton) of Island

Fitton, May – (Mrs Hugh Fitton) of Island

May Fitton (Mrs Hugh Fitton) of Island, Steep

Island House was given by Mrs Gemma Falconer to her son Capt Francis Hemery Le Breton M.C. in 1917. After WWI he left the army and went to Kenya make a life as a coffee planter, returning to England for occasional periods. From 1917, the Island house and estate was let.  Mrs May Fitton was the tenant with a 21 year lease and rent of £405 per year. By 1932 Francis Le Breton was married with a young son. He seemed to intend to live permanently on his estates in Kenya. He then sold the house, farm and grounds to Mrs Fitton.

Who was Mrs May Fitton?

In 1917 May Fitton was newly widowed, aged 51yrs. Her husband, Major General Sir Hugh Fitton, had been killed in that year in WWI. The couple had no children.

May Fitton’s Parents

She was the daughter of Sir Alfred Hickman who became a major Staffordshire industrialist. He was the son of a coalmaster and had been educated at King Edward VI Grammar School Birmingham. By the aged of 17 years he had been made a managing partner at the Moat Colliery, Tipton, Staffordshire. Aged 19 years, he had married Lucy Owen Smith, the daughter of Royal Naval Commander Robert Smith from St George’s Square, Portsea.  The 1851 census shows that he was aged 20 years, married, and an ‘ironmaster employing 30 labourers and brickmakers’. His industrial career went onwards and upwards from that point. He joined his father & brother in the business of which he later became chief. It became known as Alfred Hickman Ltd. The company owned steelworks & furnaces in South Staffordshire, ironstone mines in Oxfordshire and elsewhere and collieries in Warwickshire. Alfred Hickman became a great captain of industry in the Midlands, known as ‘The Iron King of South Staffordshire’. He was one of the largest employers in England. He believed passionately in the latest mechanical devices & appliances. He was Conservative  M.P. for Wolverhampton 1885-1906, was knighted in 1891 and made Baronet in 1903.

Sir Alfred Hickman in 1895


The Hickmans had at least 10 children. May, or Mary, was the third youngest and had been born at Sedgley on 6th May 1865.

The Hickman Family


The Hickman family lived at various locations in Staffordshire: Bilston, Perry Barr, Tipton near Dudley and at Goldthorn Hill, Sedgley. By 1901 they were at Wightwick Hall, Wrottesley in Wolverhampton. Aged 70+, Sir Alfred had a tennis court built at Wightwick & played regularly. By 1911 they also had a London abode at Kensington Palace Gardens.

Sir Alfred Hickman died in Wolverhampton aged 79 years in 1910.

Wightwick Hall 2019, now a School


Wightwick Hall, Wrottesley, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, the former home of the Hickman family is an Independent Special School today. At the time of the 1901 census Sir Alfred and his wife Lucy were in their 70s. They were living at Wightwick with two unmarried daughters with them: May aged 35 years and Lillian aged 28 years.

But May was not to remain unmarried, for on 5th Oct 1910, aged 45 years, she married 46 yrs old Col. Sir Hugh Gregory Fitton at St Mary Abbott’s, Kensington. Because of the death of her father Sir Alfred, earlier that year, it was not seen fitting to hold a grand wedding. A small reception was held afterwards at the home of the bride’s mother – 22 Kensington Palace Gardens, London. The honeymoon was in Paris. A Lady Airedale was one of the wedding guests. From some time after 1911 she came to live at Stoner House, Steep.

Who was Hugh Fitton?

He had been born on 15th November 1863 at Gloucester Crescent, Hyde Park, London. In the 1861 census his father was listed as Edward B Fitton – barrister not in practice, living at Delamere St., Paddington, Kensington. The family had recently returned from China where Hugh’s 10 month old sister Clare had been born in 1861. It is not known what Edward Fitton had been doing in China at that time. The Second Opium (Anglo Chinese) War had taken place around 1856-60. He may have been a British government official or part of a trade delegation. He certainly worked for the government as an inspector of factories after his return to England.

The Fitton Family


Around 1864 – 6 the Fitton family moved to Warwickshire. In the 1871 census Edward Fitton was listed as Inspector of Factories. The Fitton family were living at Fern Lea, Graham Road, Great Malvern Worcestershire. There were seven children in the Fitton family, two sons and five daughters. Hugh was the third eldest. The Fitton family continued to live at the same house in Great Malvern until at least 1911, but by 1891 Edward Fitton had retired as factory inspector. Edward Fitton had died by 1911. By that census, Hugh’s mother Harriet was a widow aged 76 years continuing to live at Fern Lea on private means, with two unmarried daughters: Ysobel 42 years and Hilda 40 years.

Fairlea, Graham Road, Great Malvern
The home of the Fitton family
from Angus and Rosemary’s Miscellany of Malvern – Local History


Hugh Fitton’s mother Harriet and her musical interests

Hugh’s mother Harriet was the daughter of Dr George Gregory, musician. She had studied music in Germany. She was the accompanist for the Worcester Musical Union and the Hereford Philharmonic Society. Harriet Fitton encouraged the development of choirs and small orchestras in the Great Malvern area. Edward Elgar and his parents were living 9 -10 miles away at Worcester when the Fittons first came to the Great Malvern area. Elgar’s father kept a music shop in Worcester. The Fittons met and became friendly with the Elgar family. Edward Elgar lived in Great Malvern between 1889 and 1899, with periods in London. He married his pupil Caroline Alice Roberts in 1889. Their daughter Carice was born in London in 1890 and educated at Malvern. Edward Elgar was frequently at Fernlea, the Fitton’s house. He played violin, Harriet accompanied him on piano. Chamber music parties were held at Fernlea. Harriet Fitton, became a close friend of  Elgar’s wife, Alice. From 1891 Edward & Alice Elgar lived at a house named Forli, in Alexandra Road, Great Malvern. This was not far from the Fitton’s house ‘Fernlea’.  In 1894 the Elgars were on holiday in Bavaria with others including Harriet Fitton & her daughters Isabel & Hilda.

Pictures from……


The two Fitton sons went into the army, although they may well have learned musical instruments before leaving home. All the Fitton girls were encouraged to be musical. Hilda played the violin. Monica played the cello. Isabel the piano and viola. She took viola lessons from Elgar, but ended the lessons with Elgar saying, “I value your friendship too much.”

Elgar wrote his famous Enigma Variations at his house Forli between October 1898 and February 1899. The Enigma Variation VI (Andantino): ‘Ysobel’ takes Hugh’s sister Isobel, as its subject. The opening bars contain a phrase which is an exercise in crossing the strings, a difficult technique for viola beginners. It was the Enigma Variations that first made Elgar’s name as a composer. Its premier was in London on 19th June 1899.

Isobel Fitton was described by Michael Kennedy as ‘a woman of grave statuesque beauty’.

Elgar’s Pastourelle for violin & piano, written in 1913, was dedicated to Hugh’s sister Hilda.

Isobel Fitton from Robert W. Pagett’s


Elgar at Little Langleys, Steep

In August 1912 Elgar stayed at a house named Little Langleys in Steep, It is said that he stayed there while recuperating from an illness. In 1911 Winifred Murray a widow born in 1865 in Italy was listed as the occupant of this house. Elgar completed his score of ‘The Music Makers’ between May & July 1912, while staying at Little Langleys. Its first performance was at the Birmingham Festival in October 1912. He later conducted a performance of it in Portsmouth.

David Pike (present owner of Little Langleys 2020) has a letter written by Elgar when he was staying there. In 1994 The Elgar Society visited Little Langleys and presented the Mr and Mrs Pike with a framed photo of the final page of the autograph score of The Music Makers, bearing the date and Elgar’s signature. This was before May Fitton came to Island. Did she know Winifred Murray or did she perhaps learn about Steep from the Elgars?

Little Langleys, Steep.
Elgar stayed here in 1912 & finished writing his score of The Music Makers while he was there.


Hugh Fitton attended Eton 1877 – 1883, where he was a King’s Scholar.


The Eton Wall Game
Hugh Fitton, tall teenager in back row

Hugh Fitton second from right back row

The Eton College Chronicle said of him:

“ No-one whoever met him could forget his gigantic figure and the piquant contrast of his gentle voice, could not fail to carry off the impression of a reserve of quiet strength about his own powers……he was the most modest of men. As a friend he was incomparable – chivalrous, loyal and lovable….”

Hugh Fitton’s Army Career

Hugh went to Sandhurst and then in February 1884 was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Berkshire Regiment. His army career was a prestigious one. By 1896 he was Deputy Assistant Adjutant for the General Infantry Division, with whom he saw service in Sudan. He was an interpreter in Arabic.

He was awarded the D.S.O. in 1896 and Mentioned in Dispatches, 1897. He saw service in Egypt. In 1898 he was again Mentioned in Dispatches and was Deputy Adjutant Assistant General in the Sudan. By November 1898 he was a Major. During the Boer War 1899 – 1902 he was Deputy Assistant Quarter-Master General for the 7th Division 3rd Army Corps. He was made Brevet Lt Colonel in August 1901. He saw service in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1902 and with Royal West Kent Regiment in 1904. He was in Hong Kong 1905 – 7. He was A.D.C. to King Edward VII in 1907 and A.D.C. to George V in 1910. In 1911 he was made C.B. Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath & D.A.A.G. Eastern Command. At the outbreak of WWI in 1914, he became Director of Recruiting at War Office and was then put in command of the Tyne Defences. In June 1915 he was in command of 101st Infantry Brigade 34th Division and in January 1916 went to France.

Hugh Fitton


After their marriage, Hugh and May Fitton were living in 1911 at 42 Albert Court, Prince Consort Road, London W. 5, employing a cook and three maids. There were thirteen rooms in their dwelling. While living in London they socialised with the Elgars. Lady Elgar’s Diary for 1912, contains the following entries:

•      February – A & C (Alice & Carice) to call on Mrs Hugh Fitton, very nice

•      May – Carice to lunch with the H. Fittons

•      July – Hampstead Church at 8 – lovely morning not so hot – Col. & Mrs Fitton to tea.

•      October – Mrs Fitton (i.e. Harriet Fitton) called & Mrs Hugh Fitton

Sir Edward & Lady Alice Elgar 1891


Brig Gen Sir Hugh and Lady Fitton at the start of WWI

On the day that Austria declared war on Serbia 28th July 1914,  May Fitton was either at, or gave a dinner party. It is known that she was living in London at this time. After her death the dinner party menu card was found in her possessions. Among the guests were several family members and friends. Isobel Fitton signed and dated the card. Also present was one Dorothy Murray. One wonders whether she was in any way connected to the Winifred Murray who had been the occupant in 1911 of the house named Little Langleys in Steep where Elgar had stayed.

Dinner Party Card 1914 – found amongst May Fitton’s possessions. Property of Wolverhampton City Archives


December 1914 saw the bombing of the northern coastal towns of Hartlepool, Scarborough & Whitby by German warships. Hugh, aged 50 years, was made Commander of Tyne Defences. Both he and May went to the North East of England in 1915. The Shields Daily News of 24th January 1916 wrote:

“The General was a remarkable for his great stature, being 6 foot 6 inches in height, and was therefore a very imposing figure…During his comparatively brief sojourn in Tynemouth both he and Mrs Fitton became well known and attained great popularity. The General and Mrs Fitton both took a great interest in the Priory Institute of the YMCA and other movements in Tynemouth. “

The Fittons supported sports promoted for the troops. Mrs Fitton presented the officers cup at North Shields event.

Death of Brig Gen Sir Hugh Fitton 1916

In January 1916 Hugh went to France as Commander of the 101st Infantry Brigade. He was visiting the 16th Infantry Brigade near Ypres. In the front line at night with two other officers they were forced to cross open ground in bright moonlight due to collapsed trench. His tall form was easy to spot and he was shot by a sniper. He died the following day at the casualty station on 19th January 1916. He was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium. His wife May received many letters of condolence including one from Lord Kitchener. His war medals were later sent to her at Island House, Steep.

Grave of Brig Gen Sir Hugh Fitton at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium


After June 1917 Mrs May Fitton, recently widowed, moved to Steep as the tenant of Island House, owned by Mrs T Wentworth Falconer.  She took a lease for 21 years with a rent £405 per year. She not only had the house, but also 22.8 acres of beautiful gardens and surrounding land and 47.5 acres of farm, copses, buildings and pasture (Island Farm). Perhaps she and Hugh had been planning to retire to the country together and she may have continued the plans in his memory. In 1919 Mrs Falconer transferred ownership of Island House to her youngest son Francis Le Breton. He continued to own the property while he was abroad, with May Fitton as his tenant.

Island house had been built in 1903-4. The house consisted of:

Drawing room, Dining room, Library, 10 Bedrooms, 2 Bathrooms, Front and back staircases, Kitchen, Servants’ Hall, Serving room, Gun room, Butler’s cupboard, Housemaids’ cupboard, Linen room, 2 Landings, Store room, 4 Maids’ rooms. There was a Lodge near the Alton Road entrance and a separate stables block with accommodation to the north of the house.

The architect was Harry Inigo Triggs of Messrs Unsworth & Triggs architects Petersfield. (Island History by P Baillon). Harry Inigo Triggs (1876-1923) Born had been born in Chiswick. His father was a carpet agent. Triggs was an English country house architect, designer of formal gardens and author of books on town planning. He had travelled around the Mediterranean & was influenced by Italianate garden design.  He was also keen to recapture elements of old medieval gardens. His books influenced the Italian mode of Arts and Crafts style in England. He died in Taormina, Sicily. He worked with William and later Gerald Unsworth in their Petersfield practice. His home was at Little Boarhunt at Liphook, previously Fry’s Farm. In Steep, he designed the gardens at Ashford Chace, Garden Hill, Little Langleys, Restalls, Stonerwood Park. Designed Steep & Petersfield war memorials.

Shortly after May Fitton arrived at Island, William Reed the younger son of John & Emma Reed of Island Farm died. At the end of WWI William Reed joined the Royal Navy. He died of influenza at Devonport on 18th Oct 1918 aged 18years.

The Hants and Sussex News reported William Reed’s death in late Oct 1918:

“The death under very sad circumstances of William J. Reed, of Island Farm, Steep, which took place at Devonport, on the 18th inst. has caused very wide and sincere sympathy in Steep. He passed away after a very short illness from pneumonia following influenza. He was a native of Steep, a scholar in the village school and a chorister at the parish church. Shortly after leaving school he went on the training ship Mercury and then transferred to the merchant service. Only about three weeks before his death he joined the Royal Navy. He came home on leave a fortnight previous to going to Devonport where he was seized by the illness which unhappily proved fatal. He was well known in Steep and very popular with the inhabitants generally. At the funeral which took place at Steep on Wednesday last, there was a notable demonstration of respect, sympathy and sorrow, a large number of people attending….Amongst others present was Miss Lomas, who had always evinced the greatest interest in the welfare of the deceased. “

Grave of William Reed, who died Oct 1918, in Steep churchyard


The Steep War Memorial at Mill Lane was one of the earliest in the country to be erected. It was unveiled on 20th December 1918. It contained the names of both Hugh Fitton and William Reed.

Steep WWI Memorial, Mill Lane. Brig Gen Sir Hugh Fitton and William Reed’s names are recorded on it.


What did May Fitton do when she became a resident of Steep?

May Fitton may have been moved by the death of William Reed and other deaths in WWI. Not long after she came to Steep, she became involved in the fundraising for the creation of Steep War Memorial Village Hall.

Muirhead Bone was an artist & promoter of young artists. He was a close neighbour of May Fitton’s at Byways. After WWI, Muirhead Bone was an advocate of erection of memorial halls. He tried to get locals to donate so that a hall could be built in Steep. He gave £108 towards it himself. Walter De La Mare gave one guinea. It eventually became Steep Village Hall. The eventual trustees of Steep War Memorial Village Hall were:

Walter William Waters corn merchant of Dunhill

Herbert Peto Betts clerk in holy orders of the Vicarage, Steep

George Ernest Woodman Esquire of Stonerwood Park, Steep

Muirhead Bone artist of Byways, Steep

Algernon Ughtred Shuttleworth, captain in H.M. Army of Collyers, Steep

Louisa Lomas spinster of Oakhurst Steep

May Fitton, widow of Island Steep

Thomas Smith, farm labourer of Dunhill Cottage, Steep

As May Fitton was chosen to be a trustee, it appears likely that she probably gave considerable funds towards the building of the Steep hall.


A list of Mrs Fitton’s participation in the life of Steep village & locality can be seen below

•      1922 July – entered carnations and vegetables at Second Annual Steep Show

•      1924 One of the four Vice Presidents of Steep Horticultural Show

•      1927 Seats given for Stoner Hill

•      1928 June 1st Steep Empire Day Celebration held at Island

•      1928 June Distributed prizes at Steep Midsummer Fete

•      1929 Donated the live pig prize for the skittles game at Midsummer Fete

•      1930 President of local British Legion

•      1932 School Manager

•      1937 Support for the Infant & local Child Welfare Committee, presents them with a 21st birthday cake

•      1940 – 45 one of vice-presidents of local YWCA

•      1949 – £50 donation for village hall repairs

Numerous wedding presents were sent at weddings of villagers, floral tributes were sent at their funerals.

Weddings at Island

In November 1924 Miss Beatrice Bishop of Monmouth, an employee of May Fitton for 7 – 8 years, was married at Steep to Mr William Smith.  He was the son of Mr & Mrs Walter Smith of North Road Petersfield, an old churchman, assistant master at Newport Grammar School, Isle of Wight. The wedding took place at Steep church with the bride departing from Island for the ceremony and the reception was held at Island afterwards.

A relative of May Fitton’s on her mother’s side of the family was married from Island on 16 March 1927. Miss Leila Lanyon Watling and Mr Ralph Joseph Moreton were married at Steep church with the reception held at Island. Leila was the granddaughter of the late Col. Lanyon Owen of Southsea. May Fitton’s mother had been Lucy Owen before her marriage.

A Hampshire Telegraph news report of 1st June 1928 gave details of the Empire Day event held at Island.  Steep schoolchildren celebrated Empire Day for the twenty first time in May 1928. On this occasion the celebration was a grand one, held at Island at the invitation of May Fitton. The children, teachers, vicar & friends gathered on the south lawn and were welcomed by Mrs Fitton. Everyone stood for the singing of ‘God Save The King’ followed by an address from Capt Graham Edwards R.N. Medals were presented to children who had written prize assays on ‘The British Empire’. Mr Giddins, their headteacher conducted them in the singing of patriotic songs. Mr Skillington announced that a telegram has been sent to Their Majesties the King & Queen:

“Steep schoolchildren celebrating Empire Day for 21st time desire respectfully to pledge their faithful allegiance and service to the throne and Empire, and to assure your most gracious majesties of their unfailing loyalty love and devotion.”

A bountiful tea followed, organised by Miss Lomas. There was a ventriloquist and conjuring performance by Mr Reed. Sports for the children took place with prizes provided by Mrs Fitton. The Victoria Brass Band played throughout the afternoon. Mr Powell (chairman of the parish council) and Mr Giddins gave a vote of thanks to Mrs Fitton. Ices and lemonade were distributed. Just as the Final ‘God Save the King’ is was being played a telegram arrived in reply:

“Please express to Steep schoolchildren celebrating Empire Day for 21st time, the sincere thanks of the King and Queen for their kind and loyal message.”

Final cheers were given for Mrs Fitton and the helpers. Each child was given sweets on leaving, with souvenirs for teachers & friends.

1932 May Fitton purchased Island

In 1932 Francis Le Breton went with his wife and son to live permanently on his coffee growing estates in Kenya. He gave up all interest in Island. The house and estate were sold to May Fitton, the tenant. Gemma Falconer (Francis Le Breton’s mother) witnessed the sale in her son’s absence.

A Mr and Mrs Rolfe celebrated their golden wedding in Steep in 1936. They were living at 2 Clifton Cottages, in what is now Ridge Common Lane. This couple had originally worked on the estate of Sir Alfred Hickman in Staffordshire. They had come with their family with May Fitton when she first came to Steep. Joseph, known as Robert Rolfe worked as her coachman.

In April 1937 May Fitton placed an advertisement in the Portsmouth Evening News: “Wanted donkey bath chair in good condition. Apply Mrs Hugh Fitton”  It is not known whether this was for her own use, or whether she was helping another. May Fitton was 71 years old.

Staff in at Island in the 1930s

An advertisement in the West Sussex Gazette of August 1937 for a parlourmaid and under butler, stated that eight staff were kept at Island.

WWII at Island

The 1939 Register taken at the beginning of WWII seems to indicate there were evacuee families at Island. Apart from May Fitton and her staff, the register lists four mothers with seven children between them, as living there.

WWII brought inevitable staff problems at Island which also continued after the war. In common with other large establishments it seemed to become increasingly difficult to obtain experienced indoor and outdoor staff. A series of advertisements appeared in the local press for staff at Island with various inducements such as the provision of a cottage and coal, the fact that there was a bus route nearby and that there was no objection to a live in cook bringing her own child with her. The applicant could state wages required.

May Fitton seems to have employed Florence Cox, wife of Arthur Cox of The Causeway Petersfield as her secretary. Florence Cox was appointed as one of the executors of her will.

Island Farm

Island Farm was leased to Henry Charles Clarke for 21 years at £70 10s per year rent in November 1950. Henry Clarke was probably the son of Frank and Matilda Clarke of 1 Pembridge Villas in Church Road, from where Frank ran a dairy & listed himself as ‘Dairy Farmer’ in 1939. Henry was born on 10 July 1896 and was listed as married and assisting his father in the 1939 Register. His father Frank died in February 1949. Following the death of May Fitton, Mr and Mrs Clarke bought Island Farm in September 1954.

Hays Cottages

The Island History booklet states land was sold to Petersfield Rural District for £715 in June 1946 & the Hays Cottages estate of council houses was later built on it. A compulsory purchase order was made for 2.44 acres in 1952 by Petersfield Rural District Council for housing in Steep. (Island History booklet by Baillon states this was 1954). This was Island Farm land. Mrs Fitton and Mr H. Clarke the tenant farmer appealed against this in 1952. Mrs Fitton’s comments were:  It was “a perfect scandal……They have taken good agricultural land from a farmer supplying milk the country needs so much.”

Death of May Fitton

May Fitton died on 1st March 1954 at Island aged 88 years. Her effects were £234,570, net £233, 715. She seemed to have outlived all of her siblings. She was buried at Steep churchyard on 3rd March 1954. Her grave bears the simple inscription: “In Loving Memory of May Fitton b. 6 May 1865 d. 1 Mar 1954”.

Grave of May Fitton (left) at the churchyard of All Saints’, Steep
Inscription on the grave of May Fitton at Steep churchyard


May Fitton’s will:

In the will, bequests were made to family members: her brother in law, sister in law, nephew, godchild etc. There were trust payments to two other family members. Shares were left to her doctor Geoffrey Panckridge of Sussex Road Petersfield. £500 was left to her solicitor Percival Leslie Burley for acting as trustee & executor.  £50 was left to her friend Olive Kingsley – daughter of Lady Laura Airedale of Stoner House. The majority of the estate and effects were left to the widowed Dame Dorothy Fox of Broadstairs, Kent. The Island staff were left provisions: £500 plus £4 per week for winding up of estate, to secretary Florence Cox, £200 to Mrs Canneaux (probably one of her servants), £50 to Nellie Reading if still in employment, 15 shillings per week for life to Robert Rolfe of Clifton Cottages – he died in 1955 aged 94 years.

Who was Dame Dorothy Fox?

She seems to have been May Fitton’s niece. May’s older sister Louisa had married a doctor, William Noott, in Wolverhampton in 1877. The couple had at least three children. A daughter, Dorothy Noott, had been born in Kensington on 9th May 1880. Dorothy Noott aged 25 yrs married  33 year old Harry Halton Fox at Kensington b. 1872 (She was his second wife) in 1905. He became a prominent civil servant. From 1905 – 18 he was British consul in Ichang, Cheng Tu, Hankow, China. He was in China for 22 years. In 1914 he was awarded C.M.G. (Companion of Order of St Michael and St George) and in 1930 he was made K.B.E. (Knight Commander of Most Excellent Order of British Empire). In 931 he was J.P. for the Cinque Ports. From 1929 the couple lived at Corlismore, 23 Western Esplanade, Broadstairs. Sir Harry died in October 1936 aged 64 years. His widow Dame Dorothy Fox was about 74 years old and still living at the same address in Broadstairs when May Fitton died in 1954. She already had a large house in a beautiful position on the clifftop at Broadstairs. She did not need Island. The house and its contents were therefore put up for auction in July 1954.  Island was advertised as a small country estate of about 64 acres with a Georgian style residence, cottage, farmery, and lodge extending to about 22 acres.  There was also tenanted Island Farm with farmhouse and buildings extending to about 34 acres plus about 7½ acres in land. The house by then had 8 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. There was a fine principle staircase with a double stair flight. There was a secondary staircase, lounge, drawing room, dining room, kitchen, scullery and staff sitting room. The house had central heating and electricity. There were gardens, lawns, shrubberies, ornamental & timber trees. It was bought by local builder Mr Ernest Trimming. For more of what happened to Island after 1954 see:

Advertisement in Country Life for Sale of Island by Auction 14th July 1954
Image courtesy of Jill Manson


May Fitton seems to have been a real presence in Steep village in the first half of the twentieth century. She had come from a titled family and had mixed in elegant circles before her move to Steep. Sadly, she had been widowed not long after her marriage to Brigadier General Sir Hugh Fitton, who also seems to have been a remarkable and much loved man. After her arrival here, May Fitton quite quickly threw herself into the life of Steep. For most of her life here, she participated in the life of the village. She demonstrated a care and concern for the local ordinary folk, becoming a benefactor to many. Like her contemporary, Louisa Lomas of Oakhurst, she seems to have been one of those remarkable single ladies of Steep village who have now largely been forgotten, yet to whom credit should be given by local history.

If you have more information about May Fitton or would like to get in touch about this article, we would love to hear from you. Please see the Contact Us section of this website

by Fran Box




Island History by P L F Baillon

Island Sale Catalogues 1954:

House, buildings and land auction booklet 1954 from Jill Manson

Island For Sale by Auction notice from Country Life from Jill Manson

Gardens for Small Country Houses by Gertrude Jekyll and Laurence Weaver

Buildings, Gardens and Monuments in Steep updated 2018 by Struthers, Box, Routh and Storey

Steep Roll of Honour 1914 – 1918 by David Erskine-Hill

Sir Alfred Hickman:

   Black and White Parliamentary Album 1895

  Newspaper obituaries – British Newspaper Archive – Wightwick Hall

The Fitton and Elgar families in Great Malvern:     North East War Memorials Project – 2016 Street Directory of Graham Road Great Malvern – picture of Fairlea

Fairlea: – Fairlea

Edward and Alice Elgar:

Hampshire Magazine 1996 Vol 10 – information on Sir Edward Elgar in Steep

Elgar Studies by Raymond Monk

Elgar the Cyclist by Kevin Allen – Elgar’s Enigma Variations – details of the writing of The Music Makers

Diaries of Lady Alice Elgar

The Elgar Society

Hugh Fitton:

  Eton College Chronicle Jan/Feb 1916

  Imperial War Museum – Lives of First World War

  Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Hampshire Record Office:

Hampshire Gardens Trust Report on the Gardens at Island by Wendy Bishop 2011

Steep War Memorial Village Hall Trust Document

Hampshire Magazine Vol 10

UK Government Wills and Probate Records

Church registers of All Saints’ church Steep

Find My Past:

Census Records: 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911

The 1939 Register

Electoral Registers

Birth, Marriage and Deaths Records

Army Service Records

The British Newspaper Archive