“ Who am I ?”
Lawrence was born illegitimately in Tremadoc, North Wales, on the 16th of August 1888 (his birth certificate states the 15th, but his mother always claimed it was the 16th) in a small, grey stone, detached house that is today a hostel.
Lawrence’s father was Sir Thomas Chapman, an Anglo-Irish Baronet, and his mother, Sarah Junner (sometimes known as Maden) was the family housekeeper at the Chapman home at South Hill, in County Westmeath, Ireland.
Sarah was Sir Thomas Chapman’s mistress, and a young woman with an iron will (she was known as Miss Lawrence by the staff in the Chapman household, and someone to be obeyed), and was born (also illegitimately) of a Norwegian father, John Junner, and a Scottish mother, Elizabeth Junner, in Sunderland in 1861. The couple were cousins, and the sharing of a common surname helped prevent any local scandal. After the death of her alcoholic mother, Sarah, at the age of nine, was brought up by her strict Episcopalian grandparents in Perthshire, and at their death by an aunt who was married to a very dour Episcopalian minister. It was while the minister and his wife were based in Skye that Sarah, in 1879, began to work for the Chapman family.
Thomas Robert Chapman, Lawrence’s father, was born in 1846 and came from a family that had, through ‘trade’, become wealthy landowners in Tudor Leicestershire. With the Elizabethan colonisation of Ireland, the Chapman family — with a little help from Sir Walter Ralegh — were bequeathed a large estate to the west of Dublin. In 1873 Chapman married his cousin, Elizabeth Hamilton Boyd (the daughter of a neighbouring landowner) who, in nine years, bore Chapman four daughters, and between pregnancies went around the countryside preaching about the evils of sex and drink to anyone unlucky enough to encounter her. The local Catholic priest, who no doubt feared for his job, nicknamed her the ‘Holy Viper’.
When Sarah discovered she was again pregnant (she had given birth to a son by Chapman in 1885) Chapman took the opportunity to leave a wife whose manic religiosity was driving him to distraction, and the couple, now calling themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence, fled to North Wales. A couple of weeks after Lawrence’s birth the family moved to Kirkcudbright in Scotland, then to Dinard on the Normandy coast, then…