Sarah Mary 'May' Earle (1853-1927) is commemorated by an Art Nouveau metal plaque under the window dedicated by her brothers to their parents. She was the eldest daughter of the cement manufacturer George Foster Earle (a cousin of the sculptor Thomas Earle) and his wife Sarah Theodosia Hudson, and was baptised 11 July 1853 at All Saints, Sculcoates. By 1861, the family lived at Linnaeus House, Linnaeus Street, near the Botanic Gardens which gave the street its name. (The house, later a children’s and mother-and-baby home, still stands, but has lost its tower roof.)
The content of May’s work shows she was a well-read and cultivated woman, interested in Renaissance art and history, Classics, religion; it is less clear where she was educated – by governesses, or at a school.
Her father died after a fall from his horse on 18 February 1877. Her mother, Sarah Theodosia (née Hudson) died in 1890, so in 1891, May was living with her youngest surviving sister Harriet’s family. Harriet had married a solicitor, James Allan Jackson in 1884, and they lived at Tilworth Grange (now demolished) on Bilton Road, Sutton. Her other sister Ann (b. 1855), who also remained unmarried, lived with their brother John at Newgate House, Cottingham. George lived in Torquay. Both brothers had married in 1883, but were widowed young: John’s wife Alice died in 1892, and George’s Dutch wife Kitty (Suzanna Caterina Elizabeth, Baroness van Reede tot Rer Aa) in 1883.
In 1911 May was staying at a private hotel, 6-8 Lancaster Street, Paddington. She settled at 47 Holland Park Avenue, Kensington, where she died on 27 January 1927. She left an estate worth £28, 915 12 s 6 d. Probate was granted to her brothers George (d. 1936) and John (d. 1935). Ann had died in Nice in January 1921.
May’s early work appeared under the pen-name Maud Eldryth: Margaret, and other Poems (1882), All Souls’ Eve, and other Poems (1884) and two poems in William Andrews’ anthology Modern Yorkshire Poets (Browns: Hull,1885). She began publishing under her own name: Cosmo Venucci, Singer, and other Poems (1890), The Quest of Fire (1894), Juana of Castile (1911) – a poem-sequence based on the life of the tragic 16C Spanish queen, and Acte, a Love Sequence; and other verse (1920). Paolo Strozzi, Painter (1927) was published eight months after her death: “These poems now published, in accordance with her wishes, are not of a popular character, but will, it is hoped, be appreciated by the cultural.”
Her style is very late 19C, influenced by Swinburne and Pre-Raphaelitism, with themes of art, music, religion. A review of Acte in The Athenæum (14 May 1920, p. 653) says she “writes in a vigorous, highly-coloured, post-Swinburnian style, dashing along at a great pace through thick and thin, putting Pegasus at the highest gates, and not much caring if he knocks off the top two or three bars so long as he gets over somehow”. By the time Paolo Strozzi was reviewed in The Harvard Crimson, after her death, her work, with its historical and artistic themes and elaborate language, was regarded as dated.
The same is true of her memorial plaque: a mass-produced piece (other examples exist, from before the First World War). Like her work, it reflects an 1890s-1900s sensibility.
Hull poet Sarah Mary 'May' Earle (1853-1927) is remembered on a wall plaque under the window her brothers bought for their parents. From the 1880s, she wrote books of poems, some about stories from Italy and Spain. She lived at Linnaeus House until her mother died in 1890, then with her sister at Tilworth Grange. She later moved to London, where she died.