The Love That Never Was

Jug owned by Annie Thomas. Presented by Captain A. D. E. Pender-Cudlip, Royal Navy, Great-great-grandson of Annie Thomas.


Have you ever had a ‘What if’ moment in your love life? What if I’d not gone to that party? What if I’d caught a different train?’ Today we’re looking at an object that has a similar ‘Sliding Doors’ moment connected with it.

This jug, probably used for wine, is currently on display in Dickens’s study at the museum and was once owned by Charles Dickens who then gifted it to Albert Smith, a fellow writer and well-known entertainer of the day. Albert then gave the jug to Annie Thomas, who is the heroine of this story.

Annie was herself also a writer, publishing her first novel, The Cross of Honour in 1863 at the age of 24. She soon became part of the London literary scene and became close friends with Catherine Dickens. Her future son-in-law William Drury, a later recipient of the decanter, described her as follows:

"[she] was one of the most entertaining women I have met. Her keen sense of humour, ready wit and remarkable memory made her the best of good company, and, when she was in reminiscent mood, she was well worth listening to. For in earlier days in London she had known most of the great Victorians of the literary, dramatic and artistic worlds, many of them intimately, and in the drawing-room of the country vicarage I seemed to make their acquaintance too.

She had been a close friend of Mrs Charles Dickens, who held her undivided sympathy in the unhappy dissensions between that lady and her illustrious husband.”

Annie and Catherine were indeed close friends, and following her marriage to Pender Cudlip in 1867, Annie even asked Catherine to be God-mother to her eldest son, Gerald.

But Annie almost didn’t become Mrs Pender Cudlip at all….

In 1866 the famous librettist, W.S. Gilbert, of ‘Gilbert and Sullivan,’ had proposed to Annie but he was rebuffed by Annie’s widowed mother who heartily disapproved of his bohemian way of life and connection with the stage.

Despite this the young couple agreed to meet at the British Museum, William Pender again explains what happened, the lady kept the tryst, but the future creator of Pinafore failed to turn up and having no use for a laggard in love, as she assumed him to be, she drove home and broke off the engagement.”

On 9 June 1866 Gilbert published a piece in Fun magazine which implied that he hadn’t taken the rejection easily and later in the year when Annie wrote to Gilbert telling him of her forthcoming marriage to Pender Cudlip, he replied that she had found it easy to give her consent.

Many years later they met at a dinner party and both immediately asked ‘Why didn’t you turn up?!’ It transpired they had apparently been waiting for each other at the wrong entrance and, as neither of them were particularly patient people, they had not sought nor volunteered an explanation!

And so, with one misunderstanding of geography, Annie’s life took a different turn. Both Annie and Gilbert went on to be happily married to other people, so perhaps it worked out best for them after all. But it’s a lovely reminder that love and romance can come and go in strange ways; all we can do is enjoy the journey!

With many thanks to Lady Goodenough and the Pender-Cudlip family for the wonderful information behind this new acquisition into our collection.

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