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Sylvia Llewelyn Davies to Mary Hodgson - 1901


Letter from Sylvia to Mary Hodgson on Michael's 1st birthday, 16 June 1901. See the transcription for Peter's long thoughts and comments on the summer of the Boy Castaways ...


31, Kensington Park Gardens, W.
Michael’s birthday. [16 June 1901]

Dear Mary,
It was so nice of you to send the socks — Michael has them on and has caught hold of them many times. His 4th tooth is not through yet I am sorry to say. He is very well, but in the last few days he has had a sort of cold in his eyes which is a bother. It may be something to do with his teeth. They don't seem to trouble him at all but they have to be bathed with a lotion. I hope it won't last long.
I hope you are having a good time and that you are well. I shall be glad to see you and I suppose you will come back either Friday or Saturday – just as you like. I have settled not to have Nelly back as she doesn’t understand how to do the work in the least. I suppose Nancy wouldn't come to us? Anna is going to start doing the new work, but she will go when we leave London as she wishes to be in the nursery near her aunt at Herne Bay. Anyhow of course I shouldn't take more than 4 maids away to a cottage.
We have taken a charming cottage at Tilford, near Mr. Barrie's, instead of Burpham. When you come back I will go down and settle about rooms.
Do you think you could make a sort of plan for the new work – Bessie thinks you would do it best, and when you get back you can talk it over with her. You will both understand it better than I should. I am sure Anna had better do the nurseries once a week and anything else upstairs you think best. What about Monday's washing? You see it would be very nice for the new girl to have some time for sewing. The dining room and hall are to be taken away from the cook. If Nancy will not come (that is of course what I should like best) Bessie will take Nelly’s place till we go away, and Mrs. Vallander will stop on from then till we come back in September. Then I shall find a country housemaid for the time we are away.
If you can make plans and settle things comfortably between you all I shall be so much obliged. The new girl who seemed very nice is ready to come when we are ready.
Mama is giving Michael a lovely go-cart.
Yrs. sincerely,
Sylvia Ll. Davies.
(M. is having the meat juice once a day, but he doesn't like it much.)

Peter's comments:

“4 maids to Tilford”! It's uncanny. But the figure is clearly written and there is no doubt about it. Where did they sleep in that truly charming old cottagy farmhouse – or at 31, K.P.G. either, for that matter? All in one room, and two to a bed, I shouldn't wonder. Nancy was another sister of Mary's; and S's anxiety to recruit other members of the Hodgson family is the clearest possible indication of the value she placed on Mary herself, with whom, as all these letters show, she was by now on terms of great intimacy.

Mrs. Vallander is a new one to me, and may have been either a permanent member of the household or a sort of caretaker. Jack will probably know.

One has no notion of what A.Ll.D's average income from the Bar may have been at this stage, but it certainly can’t have been large. What made this enormous gang of servants possible was, I think, not only the almost non-existent taxation and the cheapness of the servants themselves and of things in general, but also the simplicity of the way the family lived: hardly any drink (an occasional bottle of claret from Hedges & Butler in Regent Street and a glass of beer or so for A.Ll.D.), no car or carriage, practically no restaurants to eat and drink expensively in, of course no wirelesses or refrigerators or other gadgets, and no serious school bills. I think A.Ll.D. always had lunch at an A.B.C. for about 6d., and I take it S. Made most of her own lovely clothes. This isn’t at all a clever or penetrating analysis, but what emerges is that they concentrated on essentials – and no doubt managed to save something every year – and evolved, on a small income, something as near perfection in the way of family life as could be wished. Impossible, unfortunately, to escape for a moment from the consciousness that such happiness must have made the subsequent miseries infinitely harder to bear.

Earlier and later letters, if they had survived, would very likely have revealed similar devotion, on the part of S., to others of her children besides Michael. Disproportionate emphasis is in fact inevitable in an incomplete record. But somehow I have a feeling, to which one or two later hints contribute, that Michael was truly the most loved.

No record survives of the well-remembered holiday at Tilford that summer; none, that is, except one or two photographs, and Jack’s copy of “The Boy Castaways” ...


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