For the last three years, John and Jeannette Simpson have been hot on the trail of Lydia Yavorska, Princess Bariatinsky.
The princess, who lived from 1871 until 1921, was a world famous actress in her day, but is little known today. After marrying a prince, she enjoyed great success on the stage in Russia and Europe, before taking the English stage by storm. She became a fashion icon and a suffragette, and worked tirelessly raising funds for refugees at the outbreak of WWI.
After returning to Russia, Lydia suffered a divorce engineered by Rasputin, and a warrant was issued for her arrest after she chose to support the resistance to the Bolsheviks. Escaping moments before the warrant could be executed, she fled back to England where she later passed away. Her grave can be found in the St Nicolas churchyard in Old Shoreham.
John and Jeannette, who have been married for 48 years, have worked together to create an archive of pictures and documents about the Russian princess.
This year, John and Jeanette have been searching for details of Lydia’s first professional stage appearance, which took place in 1893 in the city of Revel, then part of the Russian Empire.
This is now the city of Tallin in Estonia, which the couple travelled to in order to continue their research.
Jeannette said: “The research has brough us into contact with some delightful people, who have been most helpful to us.
“Last year we made friends in St Petersburg who are continung to help us with information.
“This year in Tallin the staff of the Theatre Museum and National Library of Estonia helped us find the clues to build up a detailed picture of Lydia’s time there.
“We were able to discover the site of the long lost theatre in which she first performed, a detailed timetable of the plays and her roles, and even what the weather was like in the summer of 1893.”
John sadly suffered an injury while visiting a tower built into the ancient city walls at Tallin, and was treated at Worthing Hospital. Although there are weekes of limited mobility and physiotherapy to come, John sees this as a good opportunity to get on with writing the book.
He said: “The nursing staff at Worthing Hospital were amazing. In spite of the pressure they have to work under they were always cheerful and there was a great atmosphere in the ward.
“Any proceeds from the book will be divided between a fund to maintain the grave of the Princess and the Friends of St Nicolas who maintain the ancient church in whose shadow she lies.
“The plan is to publish it at the beginning of September, which is the 95th anniversary of Lydia’s death.
“There will be events at St Nicholas Church associated with the book launch and English Heritage Open Day which falls around the same time.
“We are hoping to have a concert by a Russian choir and our own choir will sing a Russian Kontakion at a special Evensong to commemorate the Princess.”
For more details about the princess, the upcoming book, and the events, visit www.aprincessinshoreham.org or visit the church website at www.saintnicolas.org.uk/events.
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