This is Mary Stewarts’s father, Frederick Albert Rainbow.

He was born in Hanslope, Buckinghamshire, on 9 December 1886 and baptised on 6 February 1887. His family included a younger brother called George – the uncle George Rainbow to whom Mary Stewart’s book Touch Not the Cat is dedicated. Frederick described his parents, Mary’s grandparents, in  a 1919 parish magazine: his father ‘was up and about before 5 a.m. … for 45 years without break he was present at and superintended the Sunday Schools twice during the day… Both walked with God and when He called them Home within a few weeks of each other they answered the call with joy.’

As a young man Frederick sailed to New Zealand where he joined the freemasons, worked as a teacher and met Mary Edith Matthews. They married there in 1909.

The 1911 census shows that Frederick was back in England, at the Church of England missionary college of  St Augustine’s College in Canterbury. Mary Edith seems to have remained in New Zealand at this time; it may be that the couple’s original intention was to live in New Zealand after Fredrick completed missionary training. Yet in 1912 Frederick began serving as a curate at St Helen Auckland, Co Durham, and his entire ecclesiastical career was carried out within a small area of north-east England.

When the vicar of St Helen’s, George Wilson Froggatt, moved to St Thomas Bishopwearmouth in 1914, Frederick moved with him and remained curate at St Thomas’s until 1917.

These war years were eventful. Frederick and Mary Edith had Gerald Anton Hayward, their first child, on 6 April 1915. Then Mary Florence Elinor was born on 17 September 1916 and baptised by her father on 22 October.

In 1917, when Mary was about 14 months old, the Rainbows moved to Trimdon (also known as Old Trimdon or Trimdon Village, as opposed to nearby Trimdon Grange and Trimdon Station). Rev Rainbow was now vicar of St Mary Magdalene’s, on the village green, and the family lived there until 1924.

During this time Frederick taught Gerald and Mary to read and write: see this ‘Off the Page’ interview of Mary Stewart to learn how she ‘cried and cried and cried’ until she was included in lessons with her older brother.

Frederick’s youngest child,  Fredith Emily, was born on 20 February 1922. Here she is – and as with Frederick’s photo, I can’t help but notice a very strong family resemblance between Mary, Frederick and Fredith.

Fredith “Fred” Emily Rainbow. Photo courtesy of Cliff Thornton

Two and a half years later, the family made their next move, to Shotton Colliery. Frederick had been appointed vicar of St Saviour’s. Frederick’s household would have become ever quieter as Gerald then Mary then in her turn Fredith were sent off to boarding school.

Frederick’s next change of job and home was in 1940, when he became vicar of St Helen’s in Kelloe. From 1945 he was also Chaplain of Durham Co Mental Hospital.

Fredith in 1942 and Mary in 1945 were married to their husbands by Frederick in St Helen’s Church. Gerald, a vicar himself by this time, was married in 1940 in Durham.

Frederick retired in 1961. His wife Mary Edith died in 1963 and he died at home on 12 November 1967.

Mary Stewart dedicated Madam, Will You Talk? to her parents, Thornyhold to their memory, Airs Above the Ground to her father, and The Hollow Hills to his memory.

The character of the vicar Mr Bryanston in Touch Not the Cat is based on Frederick.


I came across the above photograph of Frederick Rainbow on a wonderful website called the Trimdon Times. When I contacted the site, its creator/maintainer/powerhouse for the past 14 years, a gentleman called Ken, got in touch with me immediately, and promptly put me in contact with Cliff who had originally shared Rev Rainbow’s photograph.

Cliff gave me permission to use Frederick’s photo on this blog, and followed this up with Fredith’s photo too! He has these photos through Grace Gamble, a relation of his through marriage who looked after the Rainbow children when they were small (and she not that much older). You can read about his interview of Grace here. Cliff was also really helpful with information about Trimdon. And he told me that Grace said of young Mary Rainbow that ‘she was a real tom-boy’ – a piece of info about which I am hugely thrilled. I have really enjoyed our series of emails. So: thank you Cliff and Ken!