Letter from Sylvia to Mary Hodgson, 12 April 1901. See the transcription for Peter's long comments about the Isle of Wight holiday, Mary Hodgson, and "beingbewildered by the enormous array of servants" ...
[No original available]
Friday. [12 April 1901]
Thank you for your letter. Jack was delighted to get one too and I think Peter wishes for one.
I have told Anna to get things ready in the nursery for Monday in case you return that day.
I daresay you will prefer Monday – do just as you like. We shall most likely get back about tea-time Tuesday. If you do, send Nelly a postcard at Brambridge, Craven Terrace, Lancaster Gate.
We have lovely weather at last and the boys are having a good time and are very well – I am afraid their shoes etc. are worn out but that cannot be helped and I must order in many new prs.
I am longing to see my Michael; it seems months since I had him in my arms. I hope you have been well and that the nights haven't been bad. Kiss my little boy for me.
Sylvia Llewelyn Davies.
These four letters recall an Easter holiday in the Isle of Wight which J. probably remembers quite well but which has almost entirely passed out of my own recollection. I can just remember rapturously watching a large piece of cork being tossed about in a rough sea in the cove, and coveting it for a "boat", and, less clearly, a drive to neighbouring Alum Bay where treasures were bestowed on us in the form of little bottles containing the multi-coloured sand from the cliffs arranged in neat and fascinating layers. All else, including "Hazlehurst" is a blank.
Hard to say whether one is glad or sorry that these which, with the ones immediately following, form so large a proportion of the few of S's letters which have survived, should be so very domestic.
Mary Hodgson had been nurse to Roland Ll.D. and had come to us shortly before my own appearance on the scene: at first, I think, as understudy to Nurse Woodward, a (to me) mythical figure said to have been in the habit of beating G. and J. on the behind with a hairbrush – I never knew which side of it, the wooden or the bristly. About the time of my birth Mary became exclusive nurse to the family; though to call her nurse was to incur her instant wrath. ‘Mary’ was her sole designation, except when we wanted to annoy her, and then of course we called her Nurse. Of her goodness and devotion to us all for twenty years and more, and of the absolute trust placed in her by S.Ll.D. despite certain occasionally awkward idiosyncrasies in her character – perhaps inseparable from and traditional to her calling - there will be better opportunities to speak further on, as and when she is mentioned.
Michael, 10 months old, had been left behind with Mary at 31 K.P.G. when the rest of us went to Freshwater, and May [Sylvia’s sister] and Coley had evidently invited them down for a few nights to the house at Chorley Wood, in Buckinghamshire, where they were then living.
I confess to being bewildered by the enormous array of servants who figure in these letters. Jenny, who was not to be lured into joining the household, was a sister of Mary's. (In the “Will” which S.L1.D. wrote nine years later, on her deathbed, we shall find her reverting to the idea of Jenny coming to join Mary, in order to help her to run 23 C.H.S.) Bessie (Harper) who accompanied us to "Hazlehurst" I vaguely remember – I can just see her cleaning out fires and washing floors, in a white-spotted blue print dress, red-faced and cheerful. But Nelly, who was she? And Goodman – a cook? How they swarmed in those golden days, probably each getting about £10 a year, and one day off every other month. Anna, unless I am mistaken, was French, and had been engaged as nursemaid to help Mary after the advent of Michael. She it was who taught one to bellow "J'ai fi – ni!" as one squatted on the popo, big try successfully performed, waiting to be wiped. At first I thought Grumbridge must be still another minister to our modest middle class needs, but on consideration I think he may have been a dairyman to whom Mary was to write, telling him to resume milk deliveries at the end of the holidays. Mrs Hunt was the name, and still is, of a “domestic employment agency"; Maunder presumably a local builder or odd job man.
31 K.P.G. was evidently being given a new coat of paint during the holidays – dark green, as I remember.
Curious to reflect that our (P's and my) Mildred Smith has now (1959) been with us only three years less than Mary Hodgson stayed with the elder generation. But she is our only servant. Our three boys get through their shoes in the holidays just as quickly, no doubt, but as for "ordering in many new prs." – My God, they cost about £l to repair, and have to be worn till invisible soles and split uppers have parted company for good and all.
Who – except the class that then automatically provided servants – can doubt that those were the days?
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