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Victorian bracelet belonging to a Suffolk family linked to a famous Wilkie Collins novel and a family scandal

The scandalous story of a bracelet of 19th century portrait miniatures of children from a wealthy Wixoe family has been revealed after it was consigned for auction.

Following research into the early Victorian bracelet, it emerged that one of the children depicted had been incarcerated in a lunatic asylum by her own mother and that the subsequent public outcry caused by a court case had inspired Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White.

Louisa Nottidge grew up in Wixoe with her ten surviving siblings. She and four of her sisters remained unmarried into their 30s and were vulnerable to the attentions of the infamous Reverend Henry Prince when he got to know the family in 1843.

The Nottidge family bracelet of portraits that came up for auction. Atlas Photography
The Nottidge family bracelet of portraits that came up for auction. Atlas Photography

After their father died the following year, each daughter inherited £6,000 – a sum which Prince persuaded three of them to invest in his new Agapemone religious community in Somerset.

The women were married on the same day in 1845 to three of Prince’s closest disciples, and the following year Louisa made plans to join her sisters.

Their mother, Emily Nottidge, got her eldest surviving son, nephew and son-in-law to travel to Somerset and rescue Louisa who was kidnapped and incarcerated in the Moorcroft House Asylum.

In 1848 she managed to escape but was recaptured at Paddington Station just two days later and returned to the asylum.

One of Louisa’s brother-in-law from the Agapemone intervened on Louisa’s behalf, leading to her eventual release four months later.

Louisa then sued her brother, nephew and brother-in-law for abduction and false imprisonment – a court case which she won.

She returned to Somerset and remained with the Agapemone until her death ten years later in 1858 at the age of just 56.

The court case was reported on daily in The Times and drew great national interest, with Charles Dickens reporting on it in 1850, and Wilkie Collins using it as one of the inspirations for The Woman in White, which was published the year after Louisa died.

Emily Nottidge, for whom the bracelet has been made, passed away in 1863 at the age of 90.

The fate of her bracelet since that time is uncertain, but the current owner purchased it in London some ten years ago.

Now, almost two centuries after it was gifted to Emily, the true story of the Nottidge family has been rediscovered and the bracelet’s real significance revealed.

It is due to be sold at auction today as part of the Fine Jewellery sale at Woolley and Wallis, where it carries a pre-auction estimate of £8,000-£12,000.