American writer appeals for information about late Axminster woman

AN American writer putting together a book about a former Axminster woman is appealing for information to complete her work.

AN American writer putting together a book about a former Axminster woman is appealing for information to complete her work.

Emily Benz, living in Switzerland, is writing a book about Gwen Hillman Thorne Gunn Whinney Croysdale - who lived in Axminster before spending her final years in Budleigh Salterton, dying on March 12, 1985.

Mrs Benz is appealing for help to piece together the late Gwen's tale and hopes people with information will pass it on to her researcher when she visits the town in October.

Mrs Benz, who has never visited Devon, began writing about Gwen's life after buying an archive of her papers on internet auction site ebay, three years ago.


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The writer said she knew the woman's second husband was Sir Herbert James Gunn, court painter to Queen Elizabeth - whom he painted in her coronation robes.

As Gwen spent her childhood in China, as the daughter of a gunboat captain, she had many Chinese artifacts in her home, Mrs Benz added.

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Mrs Benz said: "I have been told she had a priest named Father Ralph Gardner who lived with her and was, to all intents and purposes, her servant and companion.

"He had been resident curate at a convent of which she had been a benefactress and he devoted the rest of his existence to her.

"When she turned Buddhist in her 70th year, he had to turn Buddhist too.

"I am searching for anyone who can confirm or deny this story or help me with details, anecdotes of their personalities, style of living, obituaries, articles, even gossip about this from this time."

Gwen's marriage to Sir Herbert James Gunn, in the '20s ended in a bitter divorce, with her denying him access to their three daughters.

Mrs Benz hopes residents may remember Gwen from when she lived in Axminster - or recall her wealthy last husband, Percy Croysdale.

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