Stella Mary Newton OBE


Who's who
Biography by Elizabeth O'Kelly and later Steven Gregory


Stella Mary Newton, nee Pearce. Stella Mary Pearce was born on April 17th 1901, at 33 Romola Road, Herne Hill, London but her parents moved to Manchester soon after. Her father owned a bookshop in Market Street where Manchester’s leftwing intellectuals used to meet and local Journalists. Her Mother, Georgiana Pearce, wrote for the The Clarion, as well as being a well-known concert pianist. She also used to accompany silent film on the piano. She was born a Hoby and was descended from the Hoby,s who once lived in Bisham Abbey in Berkshire. Stella attended Withington Girls’ School until, when she was in her teens, her mother returned to London taking Stella with her. Stella began her stage career in Frank Benson’s Shakespearian Company. She then went on to theatre costume design, one of her first assignments being to work, as an assistant, on the legendry 'Othello' in which Paul Robeson and Peggy Ashcroft starred. Later she designed costumes for T. S. Eliot’s “The Rock” at Sadler’s Wells, in 1934, followed by the first production of his “Murder in the Cathedral” in Canterbury Cathedral in 1935 (and later in London). T. S. Eliot’s “Family Reunion” for two weeks before war broke out but was revived, at the Mercury Theatre in 1947. During this time she also opened her own Couture Dress Shop in Bond Street, designing all her own clothes that she sold there. This knowledge of how clothes are actually made was of great use to her when she came to study the history of costume. During The war she, and Eric Newton (the art critic and member of the Brains Trust whom she had married earlier) were both directed into extra mural lecturing. (It was during these lecture tours that Stella met Elizabeth O'Kelly) This involved much traveling, in difficult conditions, but gave her the opp­ortunity of studying the dress of the Italian Renaissance whilst waiting for trains. After the war she worked, from 1952-61 at the National Gallery as an adviser on costume in paintings to the in art historians there who were cataloging the various European Schools. She also contributed an influential appendix to Eric Newton’s “ Tintoretto” which caused some paintings to be re dated. In 1965 she was instrumental in founding a Department for the Study of the History of Dress at the Courtauld1 Institute of Art and became the first head of the department. Many of her students have since gone on to have distinguished careers of their own. In 1987 the students and the Costume Society dedicated a festschrift to Stella with an appreciation by Roy Strong at the front who wrote, “The establishment of the history of dress as a serious academic discipline owes an incalculable debt to Stella Mary Newton” A list of Stella’s publications is attached, she has lectured widely in both Europe and America and was awarded, the OBE in 1976 and made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1987; Honorary Fellow of the Courtauld Institute in 1991.

2001 Elizabeth O’Kelly M.B.E.

2006 Steven Gregory