Sunday, 10 November 2019

Can I find my Irish ancestor Jane? -- short answer, no

Image result for tracing your irish family history on the internet
Just out from Pen and Sword Family History -- could it solve my family history conundrum?

I was very kindly been given a review copy of Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet by Chris Paton (Pen & Sword Books, £14.99). I decided to review it by using it to see if it couldl help me solve the biggest mysteries in my own family tree: what was my 4x great grandmother's maiden name and where did she come from? All I know is that she was also called Jane (like me) and came from Ireland.

This document was written by my great grandmother, Julia Mattison -- she was only a Mattison by marriage but she was very keen on the Mattison family history. We were a family very much rooted in Richmond, North Yorkshire, where I also grew up. Earlier generations of the family lived up Swaledale, at Thoralby. We were not wealthy by any means but we were artisans for the most part (or the men were): stonemasons, iron workers, shoemakers, upholsterers. Great granny Mattison ran Mattison's Bazaar, a department store in Richmond marketplace, and her husband John, who was a tinsmith, made pans and kettles and so on which were sold in the shop alongside 78rpm records, toys, china, pens, you name it. She also ran a lending library from the premises.
This photo shows four generations of our family: Great granny Mattison on the right (writer of the document above), her daughter (also called Julia) in the middle, my mother on the left and me aged three.
     Anyway, to get back to the question in hand, I only know about my 4x great grandmother Jane from my great granny's document. Jane was born on June 6 1794. I've established (from several census returns) that she came from Ireland, but I don't know where in Ireland or what her maiden name was.
This is an extract from the 1841 census, which records Jonas and Jane living on Castle Hill in Richmond (Yorks) with six of their children (in total I believe they had twelve children, although one or two died in infancy). The 'I' in the right-hand column of Jane's entry stands for Ireland as the place of her birth. Jonas was a stonemason. The date of Jane's birth according to this census would be 1801, which doesn't tally with the 1794 on our family document. I'm more inclined to believe the latter -- on census returns people often rounded their age up or down to the nearest 5 and it looks as though both Jonas and Jane may have done that in this instance.
Jonas and Jane lived in this cottage on Castle Hill. According to the census, eight people were living here in 1841, half of them adults.
     To cut a very long story short, that's pretty much all I know about Irish Jane. Without her maiden name it's nigh on impossible to find her in Ireland. Chris Paton's book is an excellent resource which lists a vast number of Irish genealogy resources along with pointers on how best to use them, but no resources in the world can find an unknown 'Jane'. On Ancestry, I managed to draw down a list of 'Janes' born in Ireland at the end of the eighteenth century but, without other clues, it's impossible to know whether any of them is my Jane. There's no record (that I've found) of Jonas and Jane's marriage either in the UK or Ireland (UK more likely, I think, as Jane probably emigrated to England or Scotland as a young woman) and perhaps they never formalised their relationship. Who knows?
     Sometimes you just have to let these things go. Perhaps one day someone else on Ancestry will pin Jane down and I'll be able to borrow their findings. For now, I'm going to leave well alone.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Away BACK To Lamorna

A beautiful aquatint of Lamorna Cove by Geoffrey Sneyd Garnier (Penlee Museum & Gallery, Penzance)
We've just come back from a week in Cornwall and there's a little bit of a story to why we stayed where we did. It only seems like a couple of years since we were last there, but I see from my blogpost about it that it was April 2012! That first time, we stayed in the second house from the left in the terrace (above), but we saw that the next-door house was much nicer than the one we were in. Through the large bay windows we couldn't help but notice beautiful paintings on the walls, stacks of lovely china in the alcoves and attractive furniture. In fact we even found ourselves at an auction on the same day as next-door's tenants (at David Lay in Penzance -- very good) and later we saw all their beautiful purchases laid out in their window (this made a strong impression on me as success at an auction is something I value highly). It turned out to be possible to rent that next-door house for holidays and so this time it was us in the beautiful house, which we now know is called Cove House.
Cove House (on the left with two bay windows and extension)
In the comments book, someone had described the house as 'Kettles Yard by the sea' and it certainly has that flavour. There's enough modern stuff to enable life to be lived more or less as normal (hot water, big cooker, small TV and so on) but otherwise one feels one has passed through a membrane into the past.
I liked the old flags used as curtains in the bathroom and the stacks of chunky Portmerion mugs with Bewick prints on them in the kitchen.
There was a wonderful lamp with prints clipped to the shade -- too frail to use but splendid to look at:
Dora makes a determined stand for modernity
My favourite object in the house was this strange little figure:
There was a brand name on the back, or perhaps it was even a marketing slogan, but I forgot to make a note of it. If anyone knows anything about her mysterious ballbearing anatomy, please leave me a comment about it.
     The best thing about Cove House is really its location, right down by the sea in front of the little harbour (and, necessary evil, the car park) at Lamorna Cove. You can have your feet in the sea in half a minute, or you can be sitting in the little enclosed garden in even less time. The sea performed a full repertoire for us, from emerald calm to silvery seething to foamy waves -- always mesmerising.

The whole of the Cove is privately owned and changed hands recently, causing some anxiety. Parking is very strictly overseen, although a parking place comes with the house booking (plus another one in the tiny garage, if you should happen to drive a miniature car). I have very fond memories of having the crab and fish soup at the cafe decades ago when I spent two Christmases in St Ives with my mum -- they still serve the soup but the bowl of it that I had this week wasn't the splendid rich concoction of memory (and some reviewers on TripAdvisor seem to agree with me). But times change. As do I -- against my better judgment, here are a couple of photos of me from the first time I went to Cornwall, in the mid-Eighties. Note the legwarmers...

On one of the front windows of Cove House is a little notice, part of the advertising of it as a holiday rental:
This intrigued me greatly. I adore Arnold Bennett's Potteries novels and it was exciting to think that we were staying in a house he once stayed in -- although having tried to psych myself up to a pitch of 'resonance' with AB, I decided in the end that it's impossible to get a real sense of a person's presence from being in a place they once were. Still, he probably slept in the same bedroom and looked out at the very same view. I decided, as soon as I got home, to try to research his visit (or perhaps visits) in more detail. Stop here if you don't want to wade into a long episode of sleuthing...
     In the postcard on the window (above), which is dated 1908, Cove House is not actually there. To begin with there were only three houses in the terrace -- Cove House was built later. You can see that the building materials are a little different in the earlier photo of the house exterior. And the little extension was built later still. This is borne out by comparing this map, from the decade of 1900-1910...
The three houses in the terrace are just to the left of the footbridge. Although there's hard-standing for another house, there isn't actually a building there
...with this one from the 1960s:
Cove House has now been built and is named on the map
Alas, I haven't found a map for the decades in between so can't pinpoint exactly when the house was built. It was probably between about 1910 and 1920, I think.
     Here's an old photo of Cove House before the garage extension was built:

Now here's a postcard from the Sixties, with the garage now added:
The whole cove had been developed by this stage, with a car park, sea wall and slipway. The cafe has been created on the left as well. But I think that Cove House was perhaps also run as a tea room in the 1930s.
     In her biography of Arnold Bennett of 1974, Margaret Drabble says that Bennett came down to Cornwall for a six-week stay in July and August 1930, right at the end of his life (he would die of typhoid from drinking tap water in Paris the following March). He came with his partner, the actress Dorothy Cheston -- they don't seem to have brought their four-year-old daughter Virginia with them. He had just finished his last (full) novel, Imperial Palace, an epic contemporary story built around the running of the Savoy Hotel. Bennett was a celebrity and there was interest in where he had chosen to spend his holiday:
Birmingham Daily Gazette, 18 August 1930
Shortly after Bennett's death, this letter appeared in the Staffordshire Sentinel (27 April 1931):
It's this letter that makes me think that Cove House functioned as a tea room -- the 'unpretentious little cottage, one of a row, facing the water'. As a publisher myself, it's exciting to imagine Bennett sitting in our holiday cottage correcting his proofs!
     Although Imperial Palace was Bennett's last completed novel, when he returned to London in September (following a short cruise on a friend's yacht), he began another novel, Dream of Destiny, which he would not finish. In this, he has a character declare:
And in a letter from Cornwall to his nephew Richard, Bennett wrote, 'On the whole, this is certainly the best English holiday I have ever had, and one of the very cheapest.' He went on:

Later in the holiday, at the end of July 1930, the couple moved up to Trewoofe (pronounced 'Trove'), a comfortable house at the top of the lane that leads down to Lamorna Cove, owned by the Shaws. Their daughter was the excellent painter Dod Procter.
     Bennett's final verdict on his Cornwall staycation (which, as far as I know, was his only visit to the county) comes in a further letter to his nephew:
And I agree with every word of that.
'Green Sea, Lamorna Cove' by Dame Laura Knight -- the sea was even greener than this during our stay

The green sea, and Porthmeor Beach, seen through the window of one of the studios in the St Ives School of Painting, last week
If you'd like to stay in Cove House yourself, you'll find all the details here: (btw, none of the above is intended to 'advertise' the house, it's just written out of my interest in a lovely place!)

Friday, 7 December 2018

The War on Chastity -- and Vera Lynn's part in it

"When the lights go on again all over the world ...
Then we'll have time for things like wedding rings"
(from "When the Lights Go on Again" by Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus and Eddie Seiler, Warner/Chappell Music)

I'm still immersing myself daily (on my drive to work) in the wartime hits of Vera Lynn and absolutely loving my fantasy of giving a Stars in Their Eyes type performance one day. My 'set' is up to ten songs now, none of them the ones that Vera is most famous for, and some of them still have the power to reduce me to tears, which is tricky when driving. It used to be "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" that made me blub, but thoroughly learning a song, including the timing of the crisp consonants that Vera always includes at the ends of her words (she has such exquisite diction!), seems to neutralise the devastating power of the lyrics after a while. Currently it's "How Green Was My Valley" and the end of "That Lovely Week-end" that still have the pathos to draw my tears.
     Singing these marvellous songs over and over has made me focus on the lyrics and what the effect of them must have been when they were hits during World War II. Two in particular have made me think about the way the war speeded up changes in behaviour and hastened the dismantling of sexual restrictions that we more often associate with the Sixties.
     When I was writing my novel, Don't You Ever Cry, which is set in 1946, I watched as many Forties films as I could and a strong theme I noticed in several of them was a push-me-pull-you wavering of the morality around women's sexuality and agency (see, for example, My Reputation from 1946). The war effort needed women to step up into men's roles, to do the work that the men had done before they went off to fight which was liberating and empowering. There was also an accelerated social acceptance of the idea that Our Boys should enjoy the love (and sex) of a good woman when they were on leave, to fortify them for their return to the front. Both of those things represented rapid and disruptive changes to the social structures that were in place before the war (such as 'saving yourself' until you were married -- of course not everyone did by any means but that was the social standard). Yet at the same time women were still expected to be good wives and mothers, and once the war was over they had to be able to be corralled back into the home, so that the men could have their jobs back again. To put it crudely, they had to pull off the old Madonna/whore conundrum, an almost impossible challenge. However, some of Vera's songs offer a kind of primer in how to do it.
     I'm going to look closely at two song lyrics. I think they contained interesting messages to the women who first heard them. There are links to YouTube so you can hear Vera's recordings.

First up is "That Lovely Week-end", written by Moira and Ted Heath and recorded by Vera in 1942. It's a narrative song in which Vera takes the part of a woman who has just spent the eponymous weekend with her soldier boyfriend. She's writing him a letter to thank him for "Those two days of heaven you helped me spend". Make no mistake, the song is about the fact that she slept with him during his weekend leave:

"To mark the occasion we went out to dine
Remember the laughter, the music, the wine..."
     Note that the one thing she doesn't mention is the food, which was probably not terribly nice, given rationing. The song continues:
"That drive in the taxi when midnight had flown
Then breakfast next morning, just we two alone."
     The lyrics can't touch on the sex itself, but they symbolise it by referring to the heady anticipation of a taxi ride back to the hotel and then with a jump over the intimate night-time hours to breakfast in their room. This is rather racy stuff for the time.
     The song has already established that the woman's boyfriend is worth risking her reputation for. Not only is he sexy ("The thrill of your kiss as you stepped off the train"), he's also kind ("The smile in your eyes like the sun after rain"). The whole premise of sleeping with your man before marriage is that he has to be worth it and the woman has to trust his commitment to a shared future. She isn't fooling around.
     After the dreamy melody of the verse, there's a bridge with a much more urgent and anxious feel -- the tone changes, there's a kind of crisis in both the music and the lyrics:

"You had to go, the time was too short
We both had so much to say
Your kit to be packed, the train to be caught
Sorry I cried but I just felt that way."
     Emotions are running high, understandably. She has given herself to her man and now, at the point of greatest intimacy, they have to part almost immediately and the chap is heading into mortal danger. But then the melody of the verse returns to pour balm on their wounds:
"And now you have gone, dear, this letter I pen
My heart travels with you till we meet again
Keep smiling, my darling, and someday we'll spend
A lifetime as sweet as that lovely weekend."
     I like the echo of Vera's greatest hit, "We'll Meet Again", recorded three years earlier so already embedded in the national conscience. The song's great payoff is the promise that the "lovely weekend" is just a taster of the long and happy life the couple will spend together. It combines reassurance that one day the misery of the war will be over (though it would be another three long years before peace was declared) with justification of the decision to have sex before marriage -- don't worry, ladies, you're simply borrowing a little intimacy on credit from your expected lifetime with your man. No doubt in many cases this didn't turn out to be the case, but I think the lyric represents a pragmatic squaring of the circle of chastity vs sexual reward for Our Boys.

The other song that seems to speak to the same anxiety -- and even more intimately -- is the wonderful "Room Five Hundred and Four" (lyrics by Eric Maschwitz, music by George Posford). It was written for Maschwitz's 1940 revue New Faces, which also gave us "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square". The sheet music above shows Judy Campbell, who was in the original cast. Vera Lynn recorded it in 1942, with Jay Wilbur and His Band. It's another narrative song in which a woman tells of a night spent with her lover in an expensive hotel. Unlike "That Lovely Week-end", the lyrics don't refer explicitly to wartime, but this story of one night in a hotel certainly fits in to the theme of squaring the circle of chastity vs the "gift of sex".

The first verse establishes the scene:
"Such a big hotel, a very grand one,
Right upon the avenue.
We could not afford it
But, Sweet, I just adored it,
My very first and only rendezvous"
     The modest bank balances of the pair are important to declare, so as not to alienate anyone listening -- this is an ordinary couple, just like you and me. The word "sweet", together with "sweetest" and "dearest", set the tone of non-threatening loveliness: this night of sex is going to be presented in as unthreatening manner as possible and, let's get this absolutely straight, our lady has never done anything like this before and never will again: her "first and only rendezvous". So don't go thinking she's some sort of loose woman.
     Let's go on to the next verse:
"In room five hundred and four,
So sweet a room, so strange and new,
It was romance, a dream come true
That perfect honeymoon alone with you
In room five hundred and four."
     The song is calling this a "honeymoon" but I don't think it's what we conventionally think of as a honeymoon, which is taken immediately after marriage. Rather, it's a kind of symbolic honeymoon -- as good as, a marker for the marriage that will surely follow. In this, it's exactly the same as "That Lovely Weekend" which looks forward to a "lifetime" together. Women were "allowed" to sleep with their boyfriend before marriage as long as they were fully committed to each other and intended to marry. In fact this get-around was socially sanctioned much longer ago than this -- in the 19th century the same quiet blind eye was turned to sex out of wedlock, as long as a couple were betrothed, certainly among the working class. But it was not alluded to in popular songs, as far as I know.
     The couple, no doubt by now anticipating their fast-approaching intimacy, go into their hotel room:

"We turned the key in the door
We hadn't dared to ask the price
That kind of thrill can't happen twice
And who could bargain over paradise
In room five hundred and four?"
     I love the line about bargaining over paradise, and the mention of a "thrill" is the raciest moment of the whole song. Let's not get overwrought, now! 

     Here comes the bridge:
"The lovely night, the starlight above,
The sleeping town below.
And in the dark you said, my love,
The dearest things I know."
     This is it, the actual bit where they, you know, In the dark. But the song veers away from passion and substitutes words in its place, the rather tame "dearest things I know". I feel this is part of the song's mission not to frighten the horses. As before, the sexual act is like an empty space at the heart of the song, and the lyrics always look away from it rather than at it -- up at the stars, down at the town, at the room itself, which becomes a metaphor for what happens there. The subtext of the song is that a "nice" woman will understandably be nervous about going to a hotel with a man, even if it's the man she fully intends to spend the rest of her life with, and so she can take comfort in the pretty hotel room and the reassurance that her man will only talk to her, not do anything physical and alarming. There's a twofold blurring of reality here, firstly the song sells the idea that sex is "sweet" and "dear" (which of course it can be, but it's not just that). Secondly, it also reinforces the idea that women won't be just as excited and passionate as men when it comes to sex. Mid-century mores are deeply embedded in this song.

     The final verse takes us forward in time and the woman looks back fondly on that night in Room 504:
"We don't live there any more,
But still in memory I adore
The sweetest room I ever saw,
A seventh heaven on the old fifth floor,
Our room five hundred and four."
     What strikes me here is the idea that the couple "lived" in the room. And this is underlined still further by it becoming "our room" in the last line. There's a sleight of hand that makes a single night in an anonymous hotel be part of the couple's "life together", a home. It isn't, but that's all part of the reassuring story which overlays rule-breaking sex with a veneer of photo-album sanctity.
     I love this song -- but it amuses me to dissect the have-your-cake-and-eat-it lyrics that gave women permission to sleep with their boyfriends at a time when no one knew if there would be a happy ever after.

If you'd like to read other posts relating to Don't You Ever Cry, my novel about love, sex and murder in 1946, which is currently on submission to literary agents, read "Vera Lynn -- One of the Boys" and "Going Back to 1946".

Friday, 12 October 2018

Vera Lynn: One of the boys?

Vera Lynn, the Forces' Sweetheart
I decided to give my true-crime novel set in 1946 a Vera Lynn song as its title before I had ever actually heard the song in question. The tune, "Don't You Ever Cry", features in the story because it's sung at a talent competition in 1940 by a character whose funeral opens the narrative. It struck me that the four words of the song's title had an intriguing ambiguity (is it an instruction or a question?) which could be applied to the book's narrator, Jean. Jean goes through a great deal of intense emotional upheaval and distress in the course of the novel but is at pains to hide her emotions -- in particular, not to cry. In a sense, the deeper business of the book is to explore why that is. What has happened to her in the past that has, to a degree, locked up her heart?

When I was fully into the writing, though, and really trying to get in touch with the period, I decided I must hear the song I'd named the book after. "Don't You Ever Cry" is fairly obscure as Vera Lynn's recordings go, but I was able to buy it on a double CD, Sincerely Yours, Vera Lynn. The song turned out to be wonderful, with a fabulous big-band arrangement (from Ambrose and his Orchestra) and in fact the whole album was an absolute revelation to me. Previously I had not really known Dame Vera's music, although she recorded many glorious belters that I know anyway, such as "Jealousy", the gorgeously passionate 1925 song by Jacob Gade with its tango rhythm -- this is the song that my Granny would always be banging out on the piano when I arrived at her house with my Mum and Dad and a package of fish and chips on almost every Saturday lunchtime of my whole childhood. You could hear her crashing through the chords and singing at the top of her voice before we even opened the front door of her small house in Darlington.
     I'd always thought that Vera Lynn's music would be rather stiff and clipped but I actually love her versions of the great standards. Her recording of "A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square" is perfect: clear, innocent but beautifully lilting -- you believe absolutely that she has fallen in love on a romantic Mayfair evening. And her rendition of the Inkspots' classic, "If I Didn't Care" is the best version of all those I've been able to find online. I even prefer it to the original. Vera adds just the right amount of yearning to lines such as '"Why do I lie awake all night and dream all day long?" -- I love the way her voice falls away on the long drawn-out 'lie'.
     The upshot of this new love affair with Vera's music has been that I've listened obsessively to my favourite tracks as I've driven to and from work over the last few weeks and I've now learned a short 'set' of songs which I belt out as I wait in the nightly jam on the motorway (Oh lord, shades of Granny!). I've tried to perfect all of Vera's diction and the places where she 'swerves' the notes a little (oh yes, she does, you know!). My set consists of "Don't You Ever Cry",
"If I Didn't Care", "A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square" and "When You Wish Upon A Star" in which I also have to sing the male part of Vera's duet with Jack Cooper. I'm not going to lie, now that I've got these four songs off pat I've started to indulge in a highly seductive fantasy where my novel is being launched at some ritzy venue and I come sashaying in in a long frock and perform the book's 'title song' into an old-fashioned microphone. Don't worry, it's only a fantasy -- I know my limitations.
As I listened over and over again to all the songs on my CD, something occurred to me that also had a bearing on my novel: Vera doesn't exclusively sing lyrics from a woman's point of view. Sometimes there's a degree of ambiguity, where it could be a woman or a man expressing their feelings and sometimes she definitely sing's a man's part. Take "I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time", for instance:

“I’ll be with you in apple blossom time,
 I’ll be with you to change your name to mine.
 One day in May I’ll come and say,
 'Happy the bride the sun shines on today'.

 What a wonderful wedding there will be,
 What a wonderful day for you and me.
 Church bells will chime,
 You will be mine
 In apple blossom time”

There can be no doubt that the 'voice' of the lyrics is a man when he says he'll change his betrothed's name to his. 

And in "Don't You Ever Cry", the 'voice' of the song is clearly a soldier who has gone to war and who tells the girl he has left behind not to worry about him:

 "Don't you ever cry, don't ever shed a tear.   Don't you ever cry after I'm gone.  Promise me you'll smile, darling, all the while  We'll be back together later on.
  Don't you ever cry, don't ever worry, dear,  Soon each care will be a memory.  Tears are all in vain, we will love and laugh again  So don't you ever cry for me." 

Vera Lynn is and was so profoundly identified with the War effort that she was a highly effective propaganda weapon. Her radio broadcasts held the battered nation together and were a familiar voice from home for British troops overseas. Her lyrics repeat over and over again the longing for the war to be over, looking forward to the time when 'love and laughter' will start up again. She kept us going in a very real sense, I believe.
     I find it interesting that the role she plays in her songs' narratives could be relatively fluid and she could sing both to and as men and women. My gut feeling is that this may have been made more possible by the fact that she was a relatively plain, straightforward person who didn't go to great lengths to appear glamorous and ultra feminine. When Vera toured Burma to visit British troops in 1944, at no small risk to herself, the men were thrilled to see and meet her and treated her like a kind sister in whom they could confide their fears and hopes. She said they behaved towards her with great respect.

I've become more tuned in to fluidity between male and female roles since writing my novel. In it, the three main characters all find their gender identities under pressure for different reasons: in particular the two men's masculinity is undermined, one because of his sexual activity and the other because he can't conform to the rather rigid norms of masculinity expected by mid-twentieth-century British society for health reasons. Meanwhile Jean, the narrator, is forced to take on a role more usually played by men. It was very interesting to write. 
     I'm currently asking writers if they'll read my manuscript so that I can build up some endorsements with which to 'wow' prospective literary agents. I'm in this for the long haul so am taking all the time it takes to contact authors and beg them to read my manuscript. Understandably, a good few have declined, but I'm slowly amassing some precious positive comments. I want to find an agent who absolutely loves my novel and who will represent it with passion and I see this as part of the process.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Lady Pigott's album

Lady Pigott's album (in front) and sketchbook, August 2018
David and I love going to auctions and bidding on job lots of stuff, mainly ceramics and glass. We take our boxes of heaped-up objects home and then really enjoy sorting through it to see what's of interest. Cleaning dusty old things until they sparkle again is very gratifying.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a box of bits and pieces because I had spied two interesting-looking books in it. They are both heavy, leather-bound albums, tooled in gold leaf. The dark-brown one has silk panels on the inside of the covers and a bookseller's sticker (above) from Carl Lehmann's shop in Gertruderstrasse, Berlin.
     The red book is a sketchbook. Most of the pages have been torn out or the sketches taken out of their mounts and only two pencil sketches remain, neither of very much interest. But the other book, a scrapbook of prints which has also had many items removed from it, still has lots of lovely things in it. Both belonged to Georgina Pigott. Her name is written in both of them in her own hand (the sketchbook has her signature in it twice (once her maiden name and once her married name -- helpfully!) and the scrapbook has an inscription in the same handwriting):
Inscription in the front of the album
A gift, then, from a friend. Mrs George Pollen was born Elizabeth Primrose Hall in 1797 and married George Pollen Boileau-Pollen in 1824. She died in 1873. But, more importantly, who was Lady Pigott? She turns out to have a fascinating background.
     She was born Georgina Anne Brummell on 8 August 1802 at Donnington Grove house in Berkshire. Donnington Grove is the most exquisite 'Strawberry Hill Gothic' house built in 1763, now a hotel. I would love to go and see what it's like inside. The Brummells moved there in 1783.
Donnington Grove house
The Brummell family were clearly wealthy, but they had come by their money in a very unusual way. Georgina's great grandfather, William Brummell (1709–1770) was a very ordinary man, but he had the good luck to be employed as a valet by Charles Monson, the MP for Lincoln in the mid 18th century. Proving to be a very good servant, by 1746 he was able to marry Jane Garrett. They lived in Mayfair on the corner of Bury Street and Jermyn Street. They had two sons – William (known as ‘Billy’, Georgina's grandfather) and Benjamin – and a daughter Mary. Occupying only the ground floor of their house, they let the floor above to Charles Jenkinson (1729–1808), the MP for Cockermouth, and he gave William’s son Billy a job as a clerk in his office when he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then Lord North took over the post in 1767 but kept Billy on as his private secretary, even when he became Prime Minister in 1770. By such a chain of events the family gained prestige and in 1769 Billy married Jane Richardson, the youngest daughter of the Keeper of the Lottery Office.
Lord Frederick North
Billy’s position as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister came with a grace-and-favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace. He and Jane had three children, Maria, William (Georgina's father, born in 1777) and George Bryan (born at No 10 Downing Street in 1778). He moved in smart circles and was friends with the playwright Richard Sheridan (1751-1816) and Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds painted this portrait of Billy's sons, William and George, and it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1783:
Georgina's father William Brummell (behind) and younger brother George by Sir Joshua Reynolds
In 1783 Billy bought Donnington Grove, near Newbury, Berkshire, but within a decade both he and Jane died within a year of each other, in 1793 and 1794 -- Billy's legacy was divided equally between his three children and in 1800 his eldest son William married Anne Daniell, who had been born in Cuddalore, India in 1778. Meanwhile Billy's other son, George, Georgina's uncle, was becoming one of the notorious figures in Regency England -- had you already guessed? Having gone to Eton and then to Oxford, he became known as 'Beau' Brummell for his peerless dandyism.
Beau Brummell by Robert Dighton
He is credited with revolutionising men's fashion by dressing in full-length trousers rather than breeches and stockings, setting a trend for tight-fitting jackets and, above all, for making elaborate cravats all the rage. He used his personality to overcome snobbery at his 'vulgar' family roots, rising to the heights of London society -- before tumbling all the way down again after being ruined by gambling debts and syphilis.
     It may have been to distance themselves from Beau Brummell's notoriety that his brother moved his family to Wivenhoe House near Colchester, Essex in 1811. By that date William and Anne had two daughters, Frances Amelia (1801-1862) and Georgina Anne (1802-1886). Georgina Anne is the owner of the album and sketchbook. In the sketchbook there's a page entitled 'Wivenhoe House Feb 10, 1841' but sadly the picture itself is missing. The house itself is no longer standing -- it was dismantled in about 1861 and the land divided into plots for around 80 houses, which now make up the centre of Wivenhoe. It shouldn't be confused with the Wivenhoe House that stands in the grounds of the University of Essex and is run as a hotel. If anyone is interested, this is a very interesting article about the various big houses in Wivenhoe. And Pat Marsden's other articles on Wivenhoe history have also been very helpful for this blogpost.
St Michael's, Berechurch, by Jonathan Greig, 1823
The first print in the album is local to Wivenhoe, it's headed 'Bere Church', but what must have been a village is now subsumed by Colchester. Perhaps this is somewhere the family liked to walk to from their home -- it looks as though there would have been a nice riverside walk to get there.
     Georgina got married in 1831, when she was 29 (relatively old for those days). She married a baronet, Thomas Pigott, and they lived at Denston Hall in Suffolk.
Denston Hall, Suffolk
 I think she may have passed her timing sticking prints into her album before she got married and started having children, because I've been able to date most of the prints to the 1810s and 1820s. Such as this print of the actress Elizabeth Billington.
Mrs Elizabeth Billington as St Cecilia, by Anthony Cardon, from a painting by Joshua Reynolds, 1812
Or this little print of my hometown, Richmond in Yorkshire. I wonder whether she went there?

Georgina seems to have shared the period's interest in exotic expeditions as there are a number of prints of 'primitive' peoples such as these 'Tunguse' priestesses:
I'm not particularly interested in engravings as a rule, but looking at this album it's hard not to be charmed and impressed by the beautifully delicate detail. Here are a few more:
I especially like this page of tiny engravings, which remind me of the miniatures made by Thomas Medland (1765-1833) for Peacock's Polite Repository. I only know about these because I had to look through them for a recent book on Humphry Repton that we published at work.

Here's one closer up:

I'm hazarding a guess that this picture, in such lovely colour, was painted in by Georgina herself:
I feel that something of Georgina's personality comes through the images she so carefully curated in her album. I haven't been able to find a picture of Georgina herself nor very much about her life. Georgina and Thomas had two children, as far as I know -- Charles Robert, born in 1835, and Mary Elizabeth, born in 1837. Unfortunately Georgina's husband Thomas died at the age of 50, in 1847, leaving Georgina with the children to bring up alone. She probably had enough money to live in comfort, though. She remarried in 1855, a John Frederick Baillie, who had gained Ley's Castle in Invernessshire through his previous marriage. I don't know if she ever lived in the castle -- I think there may have been some unhappy circumstances because John died in Flemings Hotel in Half Moon Street, Piccadilly in 1865 and it doesn't seem as though Georgina inherited anything from him. (Flemings is still a hotel!) She lived on into considerable old age and when she died at the age of 84 in 1886 she was living in Richmond, Surrey with her spinster daughter Mary Elizabeth. Georgina only left £652 so had perhaps had to eke out her savings all through her widowhood. Interestingly, even though she had left the Pigott family when she remarried, she was buried at Dullingham near Newmarket, where her nephew Christopher Pigott lived in the big house.
     I've saved the most interesting thing about the album until last. There is a photograph between two of the pages. Georgina lived largely before photography was invented and the photo clearly dates from much later, after Georgina's death:
I should say that the original photo has been scribbled on by a naughty child, so above is my slightly cleaned up version (via Photoshop). The original looks like this:
I believe I've worked out who is in the photo. Georgina's son Charles Robert married and had two children, a boy and a girl. The boy was Charles Berkeley Pigott, born in 1859. He married Fanny Ada Pigott (incidentally his cousin) in 1886 and they had two children, Florence Ada Cecile Pigott, born in 1890 and Berkeley Pigott, born in 1894. Charles Berkeley Pigott died prematurely, aged 38, leaving Fanny a widow with fairly young children, just as Georgina had been. I think this photo shows the widow Fanny with Florence and Charles at their home, 'Broadlands' in Brockenhurst, Hampshire, probably around 1905-8, to judge by the children's apparent ages. It looks as though they're having breakfast. Charles Berkeley Pigott never became a baronet, because he died before his father and the title is passed on at death. But the boy in the photo became the fourth Baronet Pigott when his grandfather (Georgina's son) died in 1911.
     I think the album must have stayed in the family for generations but finally found itself in a box of nothing very much in a provincial auction sale -- at least now that I've got it, I will extend its life a little further.