Muriel Mary Swinstead

The tale of a Chalgrove Vicar’s Daughter.

Muriel Mary Swinstead AKA Oriel Ross

Muriel Mary Swinstead was born on 10 June 1902 in Chalgrove, the daughter of Rev. John Howard Swinstead and Hannah Sclater (nee Humphrey).    She was baptised in St Mary’s Church, Chalgrove on 6 July 1902.  In the 1911 census she is living with her parents and sister (Joan) in the Vicarage, Chalgrove.  Around the early 1920’s she left Chalgrove to train at the Royal College of Music and at some point she changed her name to Oriel Ross.   Oriel made her debut on stage in Karel Capak’s “The Insect Play” in 1923.  In 1928 she appeared as “Nature” in Diaghilev’s “Ballet Ode” and then went to New York, where she appeared on Broadway and in revue and cabaret.  She returned to London in 1931 and was working in theatre throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s as a member of Lilian Baylis’s Old Vic Company.   Among her film acting credits are:

1931 – The Baroness in The Loves of Ariane 

1938  – Isolda in the BBC production of Tristan and Isolda.

1941 – Lady Willoughby in Pimpernel Smith, which starred Leslie Howard who also produced and directed it.  A copy the film can be found on Youtube Pimpernal Smith 1941 (youtube).

Oriel Ross was also an amateur artist, sketching various friends and theatrical colleagues and a number of these including a self-portrait are now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.  She spent some time living at part of Jacob Epstein’s bohemian household, which included his wife, mistress, children, models and some of his followers, this was situated in Guildford Street, London.  Epstein made three different busts of Oriel.  He also used her as the model for his depiction of Rima,  one of author W. H. Hudson‘s most famous characters.

In 1935 she married Lord George Amais Fitzwarrrie Poullett in a secret ceremony and became Lady Poulett.   The folowing account of the marriage is taken from The Mecury, Hobart, Tasmania dated 13 December 1935

Earl and Actress

A Secret Marriage

Father’s Example Followed

The secret romance of an earl and an actress which  began  less than six. months previously was revealed bytheir wedding in London recently.  George Amias Fitzwarrene, the 25 year-old eighth Earl Poulett, married at St. Paul’s Knightsbridge, Miss Oriel Ross, the tall and beautiful stage and screen star, whose age was given as 28. The ceremony lasted only 16 minutes.

Only two or three persons knew anything of the romance. To help in preserving the secret, there was no officialengagement “The marriage just happened without any engagement,” Lord
Poulett stated afterwards.  The licence was taken out only an hour before the ceremony. Twenty-seven years ago the earl’s father was secretly, married, also to an actress, Miss Sylvia Storey, a Gaiety girl. The Rev. Eric Hamilton performed the marriage and there were present only the bridegroom’s mother,

tho Countess Poulett, Lady Bridgett Poulett, his sister, Mrs. C. B. Cochran, Mr. Charles Birkin and- Mr. Walter Haden, best man.

Tall, blonde, and very charming, the new Lady Poulett chatted with an interviewer later. “Of course, I am tremendously happy,” she said. “We are going to Spain for our honeymoon. I hope we shall be away for a long time. I shall go on with my stage and screen work, and my husband will continue his hobbies, mainly , electrical engineering.

Ancestors of Muriel Mary Swinstead
Ancestors of Muriel Mary Swinstead (Click to see larger version)

For further details of Muriel’s genealogy see the RootsMagic page.


“I first met George in January at a stage party ,after the first, night of ‘Between Us Two.’  We became friends immediately, and finally decided on marriage, though we agreed that it would be as well to keep the whole matter a dead secret.”

Miss Ross, who was born In tho Oxfordshire village of Chalgrove, is not only a successtul actress. but an artist and musician as well. She sat as Epstein’s model for Rima.  The sculptor was much Impressed with her finelyshaped head and stately bearing. 

Lord Poulett, a leader of London society, is known for his original modes of dress. His striking black cloak with crimson lining always distinguishes him as he walks into a West End restaurant. Around his home at Hinton St. George, Somerset, he owns much land and has interested himself in forestry. It has been said that every time he met someone he particularly liked he planted a tree in their honour.

Earl Poulett’s father was killed in action in 1918. In July, 1932, a company was formed to tako over his estates, the Hinton St. George Estates Co. being registered. as an unlimited company having a share capital (private). Tho nominal capital was £125, 000; in £1 shares and Earl Poulett was the permanent governing; director.

Not surprisingly the marriage didn’t last and they divorced in 1941.   Murial, died on 20 October 1994 in Hoxne, Suffolk.  According to the probate calendar of 1994 Muriel left an estate worth £15 660.

Epsteins Rima in Hyde Park
Epsteins Rima in Hyde Park – the model was Murial Mary Swinstead (aka Oriel Ross)
Epsteins Rima in Hyde Park Close up
A close up look at Epsteins Rima in Hyde Park – the model was Murial Mary Swinstead (aka Oriel Ross)


For her IMBD entry see:

All Pictures and text copyright CLHG or its members.