I am the same age as the century, its senior by a mere three weeks, having been born at the beginning of December, 1899. I have always found this very convenient, as in combination with the landmarks of two world wars, it enables me to pin down the events of my life with considerable accuracy. There must be few people of my age who can claim that their grandparents were married in the reign of William IV as I can, and this fact may possibly have some bearing on the strong influence that the Victorian period has had on my life.
My mother was forty when I was born, and she was an “after thought" at the tail
end of a long Victorian family, the eldest member of which was twenty—two years
older than she was. My mother being born in 1859 means that the eldest sister
was born in 1837, so my grandparents most have been married in 1835 or 1836.
My mother belonged to a very old Cotswold family, the Vizards of Dursley, and her mother was a Foley, a cousin of Lord Foley whose name is perpetuated in the hotel of The Foley Arms at Malvern. The Vizards had belonged to the Cotswolds for hundreds of years, and one wall of Dursley Church is plastered almost to roof level with family memorials. The old Almshouses at Dursley were built and endowed by a Vizard, and the family mansion of Ferney Hill still stands, though it has passed out of the family. Legend has it that we can count John of Gaunt, time honoured Lancaster, among our Vizard forbears, though on which side of the blanket it is perhaps wiser not to inquire. The unusual name of Vizard originated with the vizard, or visor, which was worn over the face during the times when armour was the usual masculine attire.
After we were married, my husband and I made an amusing discovery. His family, the Ropers, came originally from Miserden a village in the Cotswolds not far from Dursley. In the grounds of Miserden Court is a very large mound covering the ruins of the old Norman castle of the family. The family name was originally Musard, but at the time of William Rufus the head of the family was a swashbuckling gentleman, who gained for himself the sobriquet of “de Rubra Spatha”, i.e. of the Red Sword. He must have been of great stature and strength, besides being of a violent temperament, as the “spatha” was the great double—handed sword, as distinct from the normal short sword, or “gladius”. From the name “de Rubra Spatha” is derived, the name Roper.
My husband likes to maintain that my peace-loving Vizard forbears were chased through the length and breadth of the Cotswolds by his belligerent ancestors, and went in such fear that they habitually kept their visors down, this accounting for the flat end to the nose, which is characteristic of all proper Vizard~ Certainly the family features are very well established, as they are in so many old families; the long straight nose with its flat tip, the thin oblong face with forehead, cheek—bones and jaw almost exactly the same width, all combining to produce the typical “lantern-jawed Vizards” of tradition. Mother had all these characteristics, and I have often notice her resemblance to an elegant and highly bred racehorse. My own features have followed the same pattern, and I have often been told that I resemble a goat which as far as lantern jaws are concerned, amounts to much the same thing as a horse. I should much have preferred to resemble my father’s family, as their beautiful arched noses, with deep septum and high cut nostrils, have always represented to me the epitome of what a nose should be.
But I must not sidetrack about father’s family just yet. In any case the history of that family has been recorded by my cousin Dr. Joan Evans, in her book “Time and Chance”, and all I can hope to do later on is to tell a few of the more intimate family stories which have been told to me.
Mother’s father was the middle one of three brothers, Henry, Edward and John. He died in 1888, a few months before Mother was married, and his dying wish was that the marriage should not be postponed on his account. This wish was obeyed, and Mother was married in half-mourning. Her wedding dress of beautiful grey silk, with bustle and train, and dainty bonnet to match, were carefully preserved, and shown to us on rare occasions as a great treat.
In Mother’s generation there must have been close on thirty cousins, as each of the three brothers had a large family. Edward, my grandfather, had eleven, and one of the others had ten, of whom nine were daughters, and one son. The father of this family apparently took a mathematical interest in the number of his female progeny, for the three youngest daughters, whom in my extreme youth I can just remember as very old ladies, were named Bertha Septirna, Norah Octavia, and Ada Nona. The third brother also had a image family, but of all that crowd of contemporary cousins there is in my generation only one surviving, descendant of the Vizard name. Ours is a striking example of the disappearance of so many of the fine old county families. My husband’s family is an even more remarkable case, as his grandfather was one of twenty two children, and in the younger generation there is now not one male survivor of the name.
The eldest brother, who as head of the family owned Ferney Hill, must have been a bit of a character. Like all the Vizards he was a sturdy God—fearing type, a great supporter of the Church, and with a fine sense of the responsibilities of his position.
I hope I am rightly attributing the following story to him, but I am relying on the memory of many years ago, and if I am in error I can only hope that his honest, kindly shade will forgive me. This is the story...
Late in life Great Uncle Henry became paralysed in one leg, and could only stump about the house with the aid of two sticks, for any expedition beyond that he had to rely on a wheeled chair, or the family coach. He and his household were unfailing In their attendance at Church, and Great—uncle Henry was quite determined that his disability should make no difference to their formal parade down the length of the Church to the family pew. The family coach could convey them to the Church door, but no power on earth would make the old gentleman submit to the indignity of being pushed down the nave in a wheeled chair. That would have savoured too much of sacrilege and failure in his duty towards God. He used, therefore, to have a rope attached to the ankle of his paralysed leg, and the verger, holding the end of the rope, had to walk backwards up the Church jerking the leg forwards at each step, while Great—uncle Henry, with the aid of his sticks, alternated the steps with his good leg. It must have been a surprising performance but was conducted with the utmost decorum and solemnity.
Great Uncle Henry also insisted upon standing up for the Creed, though he allowed himself the latitude of remaining seated for all the other standing parts of the service. To aid him to his tottering feet, he had another piece of rope fixed to the front of the pew and by hauling on this he would manage to heave himself upright. I gather that the plunging and shuffling in the Vizard pew for several minutes beforehand, came to be quite the recognised introduction to the commencement of the Creed.
Towards the end of his life Great-uncle Henry became very much of a recluse. Like so many of the family he suffered acutely from shyness, and came to dread the approach of strangers or even casual visitors. To safeguard himself from surprise attack he had a long covered corridor built, enclosing the front door of Ferney Hill, and extending for some distance down the drive, so that the front door could only be entered via the corridor. All visitors had perforce to alight at the far door, which meant that their entry was delayed for several minutes while the footman was making his way down the corridor, and subsequently ushering the visitors all the way up, and into the main hail. Great-uncle Henri had a series of hidden mirrors by which he could acquaint himself of the identity of the arrivals, and thus had time in which to decide whether he wished to be "in” or “out” and give his orders according.
I was taken to Ferney Hill once, as a very small child. The old gentleman was dead by then and I have only the vaguest recollections of various elderly ladies, probably his daughters, who lived there. I seem to have a faint remembrance of the covered passage way down the drive, but my chief recollection is of a petrifying spring in the grounds, which fascinated me very much. It gushed into a little rocky basin, and all the surrounding grass and stones were encrusted with a thick limestone deposit. In the basin someone had put a birds nest containing several eggs, which had set into a solid block.
Not long before the outbreak of the second World War, my husband and I, when motoring in the district, called at Ferney Hill to refresh my early memories. We found the house in the hands of builders and decorators, being reconstructed and modernized for the newest owners. The old corridor had gone, but the petrifying spring still gushed as it had done during the centuries that my people had owned the property, and far back to the days when William of the Red Sword had presumably chased the early Vizards all over the Cotswolds. My husband and I, scions of those two ancient families, gripped hands across the little spring. The age old feud was healed at last.
Unfortunately there are very few stories extant about my mother’s family, by
comparison with those about my father’s people.
The latter had an odd brilliance about them which lent itself to the perpetuation of stories, particularly by such a gifted and fascinating raconteur as Father was. Mother’s family were not particularly endowed with either brains or personality, but were sound, staunch gentlefolk of the true old school, honest and honourable to a degree that might be considered fantastic in these days. The only distinguished member of the family was a Vizard great uncle of Mother’s, who defended Queen Caroline in the action brought against her by George IV. A portrait engraving of him became one of my few Vizard possessions when our home was broken up after Father’s death. This was destroyed, together with almost all our possessions in 1944, by “enemy action”.
A certain General Foley, probably a cousin of my grandmother, was at one time equerry to Queen Victoria. Fairly recently I read a story about him which, apart from the name, proves that he must have been a relation, as it recorded a queer little family trait which I have been told was very strong in my grandmother, and which I know to be very strong in myself. The story was that on one occasion he was riding in her carriage with Queen Victoria, in the course of his duties. A wasp got into the carriage, and the Queen, quite casually, desired him to remove it. On receiving no response she looked sharply at the General, and found the unfortunate men sweating and shuddering, and quite incapable move towards complying with her order. He managed to explain to her, with the most profuse apologies, that the mere sight of a wasp reduced him to an uncontrollable state of nervous panic. The Queen, realizing that he obviously could not help himself, called a footman who removed the offending intruder. My grandmother, a Foley, could not endure wasps, and though a strong—willed person with plenty of self-control, became quite frantic if a wasp came anywhere near her, or even into the same room. Years before I had been told of my grandmother’s phobia, and many years before I read the story about General Foley, I had found I have an utter horror of wasps. I simply cannot endure them. If ever a wasp and I are in the same vicinity, one or the other, preferably the former, but more usually the latter, has to depart with the least possible delay. It was a great consolation to me when Mother told me about her mother’s horror of wasps, and a still greater consolation when I read about General Foley. It is obviously an inherited family trait for, though I am not particularly fond of any sort of insect, no other type fills me with the horror that a wasp does.
My grandfather ruled his numerous children with true Victorian severity, though in his case, as probably with many other stern Victorian fathers, the basis of his methods was a deep desire to save their souls, cost what it might, combined with a rigidly Puritanical devotion to Church and Duty. Mother, being the baby of the family, and the child of his old age, was always his pet and favourite, and escaped much of the rigorous discipline which was meted out to all the others. She was deeply attached to her father, but despite the relaxation of discipline which she had enjoyed, she had inherited a great deal of his Puritanical spirit and grim devotion to God, Church and Duty, as my brothers and I later knew to our cost. If ever any twentieth century children suffered from the hangover of Victorian methods of upbringing, we did. I especially.
All the daughters had the most beautiful hair, one of them in particular. This
aunt came exactly in the middle of the family, being eleven years younger than
the eldest, and eleven years older than Mother. She, poor dear, was afflicted
with the name of Maria Louisa shortened horribly by all her nephews and nieces
to to “Aunt Wese”, though that was perhaps slightly less dreadful than her own
family’s nickname of “Ler”. In her youth she had had enormous quantities of
curly golden hair, and her hair got her into endless trouble with her father.
All the sisters of course wore their hair in the usual Victorian style, parted
in the middle and brushed tightly back into a bun. Aunt Wese’s curls were quite
beyond her control, and were always escaping from the severe coiffure, fluffing
all over her head, and kinking round her neck and ears, Every time he noticed
this her father would sternly order her to go upstairs and tidy her hair. She
would dip the brush in water and sleek her hair down as flat as possible, only
to find a few minutes later that it had fluffed up more than ever, and she was
in trouble all over again. To her father curls savoured of vanity and the sinful
lusts of the flesh, which must be suppressed at all costs. One wonders what the
old gentleman would have thought of perms.
Aunt Wese never married. She was the maiden aunt par excellence, everyone’s friend and standby throughout the entire family. Whenever one of her married sisters or brothers was in any domestic trouble the cry invariably arose — “Send for Aunt Wese”. She had spent much of her younger life in taking charge of her eldest brother’s establishment, and was more of a mother to his children than their own mother was. Uncle Andrew had been in the Navy all his life, and while stationed in Jamaica, had been firmly annexed by the fifteen year old daughter of a wealthy plantation owner. This young lady had made a bet with a girl friend that she would marry the next man who proposed to her, and Uncle Andrew, in his innocence, was that misguided individual. Aunt Nina seemed to divide time between bearing children, all of whom died except five, and making Uncle Andrew’s life a misery. When I knew her as quite an old lady (Uncle Andrew was twenty years older than Mother, and his eldest son was almost the same age as she was) my main impression of my aunt was a thin querulous little creature, constantly whining and. complaining, the faint remnants of her early beauty almost entirely obliterated in a haze of damp handkerchiefs, for ever since she came to live in England she was a constant martyr to hay fever.
Aunt Wese’s many stories, for which I was, as a child, constantly clamouring, were largely based upon her experiences and adventures while in charge of Uncle Andrew’s household, He had been Harbour Master at various Naval Bases, and such fascinating names as Bermuda, Antigua, Halifax Nova Scotia, St. John’s Newfoundland, and Kingston Jamaica, flitted in and out of her stories, always conveying to me a sense of romance, though for many years was completely ignorant of their location.
She had an inexhaustible fund of games, stories and rhymes, most of her games being of the “talking” variety, which could be played on walks, in the bath, while going to bed, in fact anywhere. Such old favourites as
“How, When and Where?”
”I’m thinking of Something belonging to Somebody”.
”I love my love with a”- given letter of the alphabet,
together with her gifts for spontaneous invention of the most fascinating fairy and adventure stories, and her powers of stringing endless rhymes straight out of her head, all combined in making her the most beloved of companions for the young. In our extreme youth she would play “This little pig went to Market”, and “To Market goes the gentleman, jim,jim,jim,” the latter game involving the juvenile player being seated upon her swinging foot, as she sat with crossed knees. I have seen the attendant rhyme quoted in a book of childhood reminiscences, but the wording was rather different from Aunt Wese’s version, which ran as follows:—
To Market goes the gentleman, jini,jim,jim.
To Market goes the lady, nim,nim,nim.
And after them comes the country clown,
The first line was chanted in a strong, robust tone, the small rider being danced up and down with a steady rhythm. The second line was sung with great affectation, and much dainty holding of finger—tips, with the head well on one side. The third line was recited in a loud, gruff voice, accompanied by much bouncing of the rider, and the final “Hoppity—jees” were continued till the little rider rolled off on to the hearth rug with squealing delight.
Another of her games for our extreme youth was known as “Heat a Nail”. This was usually played after we were in bed, and I always viewed it with mixed feelings of delight, and squirming horror of anticipation. The extended forefinger was placed against the wall above the little victim’s cot, and turned to and fro with a screwing action, to the accompaniment of the ominous chant:
Heat a nail hot
Heat a nail hot
Heat a nail hot
At the final line, recited all in one rush, the forefinger was applied to the ribs of the squealing, wriggling little pig. I could not have been much more that eighteen months or two years old when Aunt Wese played these games with me, but I remember them with absolute clearness, also my own feelings of breathless excitement as the climax approached.
Aunt Wese never forgot a birthday among all her many nephews and nieces, nor was any one of them ever omitted at Christmas. Her parcels were wrapped in the sketchiest manner, and as, at Christmas, she always sent all our family’s presents in the one parcel, her faith in the G.P.O. must have been unbounded. I well remember seeing her parcels arrive usually minus the string, and with the paper half off, having been painstakingly put together again by the Post Office.
I was by many years the youngest of all her nieces, and on my devoted little head was poured an absolute avalanche of devotional works for the young, which I designated as “little good books”. Nearly all of them contained a portion of reading for every day, and as I was a most conscientious little soul, I felt it was my bounden duty never to miss out a single one. By the time I had reached my teens the little good books had become a perfect menace In my life, for I had at least six all going simultaneously every morning, and almost as many in the evenings.
Aunt Wese had a profoundly religious nature, with strong Anglican tendencies,
and a perfect passion for foreign Missions. Throughout my childhood,
adolescence, and young adulthood her one idea of a grand treat for me was a
Missionary Meeting or a Sale of Work, Mother shared her addiction to Missions to
an even more acute degree, in fact it seemed that her one idea in bringing her
children into the world was that we should all become missionaries. Perhaps it
is due to this ceaseless pressure towards becoming missionaries which was
brought to bear upon us during the whole of our younger lives, that both my
elder brothers eventually abandoned their respective professions, took Orders,
and did actually work as missionaries for a number of years. I however, despite
even stronger pressure than had been put upon my brothers, developed such a
horror of the mere idea, that I fought tooth and nail against Mother’s wishes,
and in fact rushed to the other extreme of frivolity and “worldliness” in my
determination not to be trapped into it. I have always been madly keen on
travelling and seeing the world, and it was only at last, during my twenties,
being finally driven to bay on the matter, that I turned on Mother and told her,
all right, I would be a missionary, but not from any Christian principles or
from any wish to obey her, but purely because of the opportunity it would give
me for travelling and getting about the world. This outburst, the culmination of
a lifetime of coercion on Mother’s part, and more or less passive resistance on
mine, so shocked and horrified poor Mother, that she at last realized how
utterly unfitted I was both by temperament and inclination, and after that the
subject was never mentioned again.
In my own defence I must say that I have the highest respect for missionaries, particularly Medical missionaries, but the subject was so thrust upon me in my youth that to this day the mere word “missionary” causes me an involuntary shudder. Our house was in a constant state of inundation by missionary magazines, commonly known as "mish mags”, and “mish meets” were the bane of my life. They represented to me everything that was sanctimonious, mealy mouthed, and drearily boring. Had Mother known, during all those years, the impression that she was giving me of this, her great desire and ideal for all her children, she would have been distressed beyond words.
Contents Foreword<< >> Chapter 2