Thanks to development funding from the National Film and Video Foundation, I am in the first phase of producing what I hope to be a highly significant documentary film, about one of the most extraordinary cross-cultural love stories ever. If you’ve landed here, you probably share a passion for culture, history, and amazing little-known tales like that of Harry and Martha which have quietly helped to shape nations such as ours, thereby creating a richer society. In a while, I hope to be able to report that my passion has proved infectious, attracting others who would like to share, and perhaps assist on a more material basis, in the telling of this tale.

By nature, a sense of common purpose implies that those who would be interested in investing in this project (via whatever means at their disposal) are also readers, and – as such – will not object to familiarising themselves with the subjects in question, namely Harry and Martha Grey (aka Lord and Lady Stamford.) Please read on …

February 26, 2010

Beginning in the late 1800’s, in the small Boland town of Wellington, and evolving in the old Cape Town suburb of Wynberg (against a backdrop of extreme class- and colour-consciousness both in the UK and the Cape), the well-documented tale of Harry and Martha’s extraordinary cross-cultural romance is a riveting one, which begs to be transformed into an audio- visual medium, and shared with audiences both in this country and abroad.

Had Martha and Harry’s children, John and Lady Mary Grey (in whose veins mingled the blood of both English aristocracy and African slaves) been afforded their rightful dignity and privilege as heirs to one of the most ancient and noble hereditary titles in England, the future of their now-scattered descendents may have been very different. Today, the venerable House of Stamford is no more. In, perhaps, a classic example of Karmic justice, the lineage died out with the last (childless) Earl in 1976, and today, the stately 17th Century Dunham Massey Manor near Manchester belongs to the British National Trust.

For South Africans, the most tangibly significant outcome of Martha’s status as Countess was her determination to create an equal educational opportunity for other ‘coloured’ children, and she donated property and funding for the construction of a modest little schoolhouse, “Martha’s Saal” in the early 1900’s. This living legacy later gave rise to the highly-reputable Battswood School and Teacher Training College - for many years the fertile breeding ground which spawned some of the country’s most illustrious non-white intellectuals and academics, including former principal Dr R.E.(Dicky) van der Ross, who later became rector of UWC and SA Ambassador to Spain. (He has dedicated the last 30 years to researching Harry and Martha’s life story, which is the subject of his biography; “The Black Countess”)

As a scriptwriter/producer of many years standing, it has long been my ambition to create a major international documentary work of substance, relevance, and lasting value that is, above all, a proudly South African product. In Martha Solomons, a simple, local woman who was scorned, reviled and humiliated by the British upper-classes because of her race and origins (and whose contribution to our country has been largely unrecognised), I have found the perfect subject matter. Through the audio-visual medium, I wish to give her, her husband and their children the honour they did not receive in their lifetime.

Few stories sum up the complex and often uncomfortable history of South Africa as a rainbow nation with more impact and emotional resonance than that of the world’s only “Black Countess”, Lady Martha Grey (neĆ© Solomons). Daughter of an ambitious freed slave, this humble ‘Cape Coloured’ woman became, by default through her marriage to British nobleman Harry Grey (a former Anglican parson, alcoholic drifter and colonial remittance man), the 8th Countess of Stamford, and 9th Baroness of Groby. In the UK, their union was regarded as one of the greatest scandals of its day – especially as tradition demanded that Queen Victoria place a customary kiss on the cheek of the wives of Peers of the Realm when presented to her!