In letters to his sister Ethel, Ireland often refers to Tony, her younger son and his nephew. This colourful and complex character was born Walter Anthony Velleman in Zuoz, Switzerland, in 1906, though changed his name more than once. In 1933 Tony married Mary Stella Henrietta, daughter of Canon William Alexander Carroll (at that time the Rector of Wicken) and Nora Jane Bruce Hamilton.
Always known simply as ‘Terry’, at the lavish Buckinghamshire wedding Tony’s wife wore a fitted gown of parchment satin, with Brussels lace wired to form a Medici collar. The flowers chosen to emphasise the whiteness of the event were orchids, lilies of the valley and white heather (Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 22 April, 1933, p.5). Two years later, now in the Old Vicarage, Church Street, Buckingham, the couple issued a statement that they were officially changing their name by deedpoll to Velleman von Simunich.
Tony worked at Eton, for the BBC and as a freelance playwright, often having money troubles. While at Eton he went by the name Baron von Simunich, made broadcasts in Swiss German on the BBC and was eventually sacked for wearing a scarlet cloak at chambers (Blond, 2004, p. 74). Like so many of this extended family, he was a skilled wordsmith with a number of publications. At first these were language textbooks, perhaps following in his linguist father’s footsteps. After the Second World War he produced two plays, Byron in Piccadilly (1945) and A Sea of Troubles (1947).
Ireland was both fond of and frustrated by Tony. He mentions meeting him in 1925, inviting him to tea in Chelsea, writing to his sister that he hoped ‘to be more in touch with him’. Clearly Ireland maintained a relationship with this wayward nephew for a long period, as over twenty years he seems to know Tony’s affairs well. By 1946 Ireland is writing to Ethel that Tony, now living in Hampstead, is heading for bankruptcy, and that as Terry was from the ‘gentry class’ may have encouraged Tony to think he had to live in a certain manner (letter to Ethel, 21 June 1946). Ireland was fond of him, often expressing this in writing: ‘I like Tony personally, & get on very well with him, for, like most people who are entirely devoid of principle and common honesty, he can make himself extremely pleasant, & is highly cultured’ (letter to Ethel, 6 July 1946). The composer’s letters give insight into his nephew’s character and indeed his own: ‘It needs considerable tact to get on with Tony – but that is true of all members of the Ireland family, who take offence extremely easily, and are very difficult to get on with. We all have that reputation’ (letter to Ethel, 28 October 1947).
In 1947 a rift between Tony and the composer developed, and by 1948 Ireland was writing: ‘I had to be excessively careful in talking to him to avoid a violent hysterical outburst on his part. He cannot be treated as a normal human being. He inherits not only the Nicholson nervous instability, but also the fantastic ego-mania and self-esteem of his father’ (letter to Ethel, 13 March 1948).
Tony was now in a state of poor mental health and his wife had taken over all financial
matters. The marriage eventually broke down and Terry remarried the renowned photographer John Somerset Murray (1904–92), seen right, who had for many years run a studio in Chelsea in Sloane Street, also exhibiting at one of Ireland’s favourite haunts, Chelsea Arts Club. Happily Tony did find a new path of his own, moving to Belfast and continuing to write to Uncle Jack. The last we know of their relationship is that Tony wrote in 1956 hoping to meet up with Ireland in London.
Sources: http://www.bartonshistorygroup.org.uk/; Northampton Mercury – Friday 09 December 1932, p.9; Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, 1 September 1934 p.8; British Library sound recordings (https://sounds.bl.uk/); British Library letters from John Ireland to Ethel Ireland; Anthony Blond (2004). Jew Made in England, London, Timewell Press.