Julia Pitt Byrne

Julia Pitt Byrne

A carte-de-visite portrait of Julia Clara Pitt Byrne (1819-1894), who penned several memoirs about the celebrities of her time, as well as producing more serious commentary on some of the worst social abuses of the period.

Born Julia Clara Busk in Marylebone in 1819, she was the second daughter of the Welsh poet Hans Busk. In 1842 she married the newspaper editor William Pitt Byrne – named after Pitt the Younger – who, like his father before him, was the owner of The Morning Post. The marriage produced one son and one daughter.

Mrs Pitt Byrne is best known for the work Flemish Interiors (1856), which was anecdotal, light and amusing. It was published anonymously and her subsequent works were often published under the name of ‘The Author of Flemish Interiors’ rather than her own name. Other books include Gossip of the Century (1892), later reprinted as Social Hours With Celebrities.

In a more serious vein, her Undercurrents Overlooked described abuses in British workhouses. It created a profound impression, and helped to bring about many much-needed reforms. In 1869 she published Gheel, the City of the Simple, which dealt with the Belgian mode of treating the insane.

She came under the influence of Cardinal Manning and in 1860 she converted to Catholicism. Her husband died the following year and she lived on at their home in Montague Street until her death on 24 March 1894. According to her DNB entry: ‘She was a woman of versatile talents; she knew dead and modern languages, illustrated many of her books with her own hand, understood music, and was a good talker and correspondent.’ She also designed the pretty drinking fountain at the south end of Bryanston Square, a memorial to her late husband that must bear one of the most fulsome plaques in London.

Photographed by James Charles Smallcombe of Baker Street, London.


Code: 126780
© Paul Frecker 2023