Florence May

Florence May was my maternal grandmother, the bright young girl who eventually metamorphosed into the dreaded Mrs Kipper.  Around the turn of the 19th century, her older brother, my great-uncle Charlie, worked in service at 62 Montague [sic] Square , London (number 34 was once leased by Ringo Starr).  From the days when a postcard was the equivalent of an SMS text message, these are some of May’s words written around the time of the Longparish school photograph:

Dear Charlie – I thought you would like a postcard instead of a letter because you can put it in your album.  Barton played against Wherwell.  Wherwell got two goals and Barton never got one. Mr Atkins and two more chaps that played for Wherwell nearly got up to fighting. Longparish played against Laverstock.  Longparish got one and Laverstoke got five.
With love from your loving sister May xxxxxxxx

Longparish postcard

Another card sent around the same time:

My Dear Brother Charlie thank you ever so much for the chocolates and bannas [sic] you sent me they are so  nice and beautiful. I got them quite safe and sound the other morning. I am so pleased with them that I do not know how to thank you for them. I will write a letter on Sunday so you must expect one on Monday morning. I think I must close now hoping you are quite well with love from your ever loving sister May. I have got a lot of news to tell you on Sunday.

Florence May is stood to the far left of this raggedy bunch and highlighted top right and bottom left.  ‘Look stern for the camera’ seems to be the order of the day for most of them – maybe it was consequence of long exposure times but I can’t see why a smile would be so difficult to hold – at least one of them proves me right 🙂

Florence May Taylor

(click on the image to enlarge)

Bertie and Charlie

Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley has been recently published to favourable reviews – A. N. Wilson in the Spectator describes it as profoundly learned and a cracking good read.  Bertie was a man with outsized appetites and an “elephantine” waistline, 48 inches by the time he came to the throne, aged 59;  by modern standards, quite a trim figure.  He succeeded Queen Victoria in 1901 and showed an “instinctive knack” for modern kingship, founding hospitals for the poor, reviving ancient ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament and establishing new honours for the arts and sciences.  When he died in 1910 the Royal Family was “glamorous and relevant again” and judging by the words on this postcard, popular with his subjects.

This is another from my great uncle Charlie’s postcard collection and unusually it contains a topical reference.   Edward VII suffered a series of heart attacks which culminated in his death at Sandringham on May 6th, 1910.  As mentioned in the postcard, he lay in state at Westminster Hall until his funeral on May 20th.

Margate JettyMargate Jetty postcard - the textD.C. Many thanks for pretty P.P.Card and glad you arrived home safe and hope you are well & quite settled again.  Bob & Ship was at Margate so I went for the day last Sun weekend and had a good time.  Miss A & I saw the Lying in State of the poor King at Westminster Hall and Miss M gave us a lovely seat & saw the funeral procession.  It was a lovely day & such a sight I shall never forget .  I was sorry you could not stop and see it.  Louie as left couldent do without you Lou.  I hope D is alright & had a letter from E & is getting on fine.
With Kind Regards from A H & all the rest.

The card is addressed to Charlie at the family home in Longparish, near Andover.  Gavelacre was a farm with a mansion house where his father, William, was employed as a gamekeeper.  I guess “A H & all the rest” are the other servants at Montague Square and it would seem that Charlie has temporarily returned home thus missing the state occasion.  In an earlier post I made the assumption that Charlie moved with the family from Montague Square to Phillimore Gardens but a simpler and more likely explanation is that he took up a new post with Sir Robert Finlay.  The reference to ‘Louie’ is pretty much indecipherable but assuming Charlie moved on, then doing without him must have become a necessity.  Judging by the comments on the cards he was obviously liked below stairs so what did he do to so upset the family.  I suspect I will never know.

To see what A H saw on May 20th 1910, go to British Pathe News.

Tale of the unexpected

I know something of my maternal grandmother’s life, Florence May, but nothing of her brothers Albert, Charles and Frederick.  Albert and Frederick were never mentioned but whenever Charlie came up there was always much heaving of bosoms and silent mouthing.  I saw him but once; a Chaplinesque figure appeared at my grandparent’s backdoor, there was a brief conversation and he went.  He was not invited in.

Last week I was clearing out some drawers and came across a stack of postcards I had altogether forgotten.  There are about sixty, all dating from before the Great War and the majority are addressed to Charlie; it is his postcard collection.  Most messages are shorter than a tweet and convey little about the sender or recipient; in a cramped space and a scrawling hand the majority can be summarised as Thanks for the postcard, hope you are well, I am fine, weather is awful, write again soon.  This one is from May, postmarked Micheldever Station 12:15PM April 28th 1907:

May to Charlie

Dear B send us a postcard and let us know what train you are coming by so we can come and meet you at the station I hope you got may letter quite safely With love from your ever loving sister May xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

On a similar card sent five years later, the multitude of kisses on the bottom have altogether disappeared.

The cards are addressed to Charlie at three different addresses:
62 Montague Square, London;
Newton House, Nairn Scotland;
31 Phillimore Gardens, South Kensington, London.

And then there is this one from the unknown ‘Mabel’, which in one small c/o explains a life:

Dear Charles
I am away for my holidays in Norfolk. This is the waterfall belonging to the lake on the gentlemans estate where I am staying. We often go fishing. I hope you are having a nice time
Love from Mabel
Stradsett Hall Gardens
Nt Downham Mkt
Norfolk

A quick search on Google revealed that Charlie, in a real life version of Downton Abbey, must have worked below stairs for Sir Robert Finlay (11 July 1842–9 March 1929), a British lawyer, doctor and politician who became Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.  The 62 Montague Square address is where Charlie first worked before following Sir Robert and his family to Phillimore GardensNewton House is the summer residence and Sir Robert’s constituency.

David Thomson (1914 -1988) was a writer and BBC radio producer and by fortunate coincidence I read his autobiography last year – Nairn in Darkness and Light.  Given the title of the book, I took it down from the shelf and scanned the first few pages for any possible references to Newton House.  Then the penny dropped, David’s mother was a Finlay, so when he writes The Great Panjandrum was my name for our great-uncle Robert, whom I feared and loved, he is writing of Sir Robert Finlay.  When he writes of life below stairs he is writing of a world very familiar to Charlie:

…the crowd of ladies’ maids, housemaids, tablemaids, kitchen and scullery maids, were always marched out by Mrs Waddell before breakfast began.  The butlers, valets and under-butlers, the gardener, the under-gardener and lesser outdoor men marched after them to breakfast in the servants’ hall which, though darkly lit in the basement, was a more homely room to us and as spacious as the dining room in which we had breakfast after prayers.  We spent every summer holiday at Newton from babyhood until 1929 when Uncle Robert died.

Twenty or thirty people waiting for prayers stood by the walls and windows underneath the huge portraits of relatives and guests of the past, waiting for Uncle Robert.  No one dared to touch a morsel before prayers.  When he was ushered in by Gulliver, ‘that English butler’, he stood for a moment near the door, glancing around the room to make sure, I suppose, that none of us was missing, said, ‘Good morning’ in a loud clear voice, walked over to the lectern and stood before it in silence, his back to the windows, until all the servants had quietly filed into the room and assembled near the great sideboard.

After prayers and the departure of the servants, we remained standing by the walls until Uncle Robert had reached his place at the end of the table, where he stood his hands resting on the back of his chair, until we had reached ours.  We remained standing while he said grace, a lengthy grace in Latin, perfectly enunciated.

A vanished world, Charlie’s world.