On Friday 26 November 1886, shortly after ten in the morning, a tall, dark young woman arrived at the main entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. She wore a plum-coloured velvet dress and matching jacket, with a black bonnet and turquoise earrings. Together with a group of close friends and family, she made her way through a large crowd and entered the building. Inside, a similar scene awaited them; the corridors were teeming with people. A wooden barrier had been erected in front of Divorce Court No. 1 and court officials only admitted those involved with the case, newspaper reporters, and a small number of young barristers, eager to learn from the eminent legal minds in action. Members of the public pushed up a narrow spiral staircase, hoping to secure a place in the gallery. When the doors opened, around fifty got in, but men only, for the evidence to be presented was not considered fit for female ears.
George Lewis waited for his client in the Great Hall. Described by many as the greatest lawyer of his day, he appeared calm and relaxed. He led the woman and her party into the courtroom, to the front row of seats, reserved for the principals. Meanwhile her estranged husband arrived at the back entrance in Carey Street, wrapped up tightly against the cold November air. A man of medium height, with refined features, he had a moustache and wore his brown hair brushed back. He walked past his wife to sit the other side of her, separated by only a few seats. They avoided each other's eyes. He slowly took off his greatcoat and muffler, and sat down.
At half past ten the court rose, as the judge entered and took his place on the bench. To his left was the jury box with twelve male jurors, to his right, the reporters' box, full to capacity. Solicitors and parties to the case occupied the seats directly in front of the judge; behind them, in their traditional wigs and gowns, several rows of barristers, firstly the leading counsel for each of the parties and co-respondents, then the juniors. Finally, there were rows of witnesses, stretching back under the public gallery. Law students and other interested members of the bar leaned against panels or took some of the extra seats, which had been placed in the gangways to utilise all available space. Campbell v. Campbell could now begin.
The young woman stared ahead as her leading counsel opened proceedings. Now and then she used her fan, or spoke to George Lewis, who sat beside her, wearing his usual monocle. On that first day in court, they had no idea it would become one of the longest running divorce trials in English legal history; nor could they foresee that it would create such a media frenzy. The press dedicated pages every day to the story and the public rushed to read the latest revelations, one title doubling its circulation. Street hawkers did a brisk trade in bogus photos of the young woman at the centre of attention, as increasing numbers of people turned up to catch a glimpse of her arrival at the Courts. In later years she rarely mentioned
that horrible trial, but her name was to become associated with it for the rest of her life and beyond. Today, little is known of the beautiful, intelligent woman behind the headlines. This book aims to redress the balance and give her life a full and fair hearing.