Welcome to these Hubbard pages. They're a somewhat disorganised collection of photographs and stories I've published since this website started life in 1998. They've all Grown like Topsy, growing without supervision or prior planning.

That planning has now arrived in the form of hubbardplus.co.uk - my sister Judith's website. She is actively researching our Hubbard family history.

I do not intend to change these pages, as there are so many other websites linking back. Please visit hubbardplus.co.uk

Nick, January 2013


VICTORIAN HANGOVER

Chapter 14

Madeira 

In order to set the scene for my next move it is necessary to climb back three, if not four, generations up my family tree.

Father’s grandmother was Anne Dickinson (1791 - 1883) who married the Rev. Arthur Benoni Evans D.D. She had a younger sister Elizabeth (1797 - 1876) who married Joseph Phelps of Madeira in 1819. The mother of these two sisters, also of a number of other children, was Frances de Brissac, who married Captain Thomas Dickinson R.N. towards the end of the 18th century.

Joseph Phelps came of an old family which had been established for many years at Dursley, Gloucestershire, where a far back member of the family had married a Vizard, one of my mother’s people. Joseph Phelps’ father had emigrated to Madeira in 1784 and Joseph Phelps was born there. His father was the founder of the big vine-growing and wine-exporting firm which Joseph inherited. In 1821 Joseph Phelps became the first Treasurer and one of the Founder Members of the Funchal Association, which was formed for the promotion of education in the island. In 1822 he established , at his own expense, a school for boys which was known as the Escola Lancasteriana.

The Phelps family lived for very many years at the Carmo House, Funchal, which is still standing, though the glories have departed, and it is now used for apartments and offices. Their country house was the Quinta da Praza, and they owned extensive estates and vineyards in the island. The Phelpses must have been the leading English family in Madeira at that period, as it fell to them to house and entertain all the visiting Royalties and notabilities. During the last years of her life, the youngest child of Joseph and Elizabeth Phelps (Jane de Brissac Frederica - known throughout the family as Aunt Janey) who was then close on eighty years of age, told me that she remembered as a small child being brought down to the dining room after dinner, and sitting upon the knee of the Emperor Napoleon III, and being fed by him with fruit and nuts.

During the early part of the last century Madeira was almost entirely denuded of trees, owing to fire and the ravages of earlier occupiers. Elizabeth Phelps realised that trees were essential to the well being of the islanders, and frequently sent to England for suitable trees, seedlings and seeds, which were planted all over their estates, When she organised their customary enormous picnic parties each of the guests would be given a seedling tree, and required to plant it at the spot before leaving. In after years these clumps of trees grew and flourished, and to within living memory were always known as “Mrs. Phelps’ Picnic Places.”

Elizabeth Phelps

Joseph and Elizabeth Phelps had a large family of seven daughters and four sons. The eldest of the family, Elizabeth (1820 - 1893) was the originator of the now famous Madeira embroidery. The native workers on the Phelps estates were in a state of dire poverty, and Elizabeth (always known in the family as Bella) started a little school for the women and girls, where they were taught to work the embroideries from original designs, drawn by Bella herself. I have seen a large folio of these original drawings which was in Aunt Janey’s possession, though it unfortunately disappeared when her house and. possessions were dispersed after her death.

In the early days the embroideries were sold privately among personal friends of the family, and later, on becoming increasingly popular, they were entrusted to an agent in England; all proceeds going to the benefit of the native workers. A great quantity of this embroidery was in the possession of members of the family at the time I was born, and as, by then, most of the older generation had passed away, all this embroidery was sent to Mother for my use, I being by a long way the youngest female descendant. I well remember being told that the trimmings on my childish frocks and underwear were “real Madeira work”, though at the time it meant little more to me than the discomfort of starched and scratchy frills.

The embroidery industry has passed through many vicissitudes since Elizabeth Phelps started her modest little school in 1854, and it is now the major export industry of the island. A square near the Carmo has been named Largo do Phelps in her honour, and when I visited Madeira recently I found that the mere mention of my connection with the family ensured me a warm and truly wonderful welcome from the heads of embroidery and wine firms alike.

One of my grandmother’s brothers, George Evans, (1825 - 1847) became a medical student at Guy’s Hospital, but there contracted tuberculosis. In April 1846 he was invited by his aunt, Mrs. Phelps, to go and stay with them in Madeira, in the hopes that the climate would prove beneficial. By October of the same year he was so ill that it was decided that Mary Wade, who had been nurse to the whole family, should go out to look after him. The old lady sailed alone, a great adventure at that period, but George died in her arms on the 25th January 1847. He was buried in the English Cemetery, Funchal, where a tablet commemorates his short life. While in Madeira, Mary Wade had a watercolour sketch made of the corner of the cemetery, showing the tablet, and brought it home for his sister Emma Evans, who became my father’s mother.

On my recent visit to Madeira I found the tablet in the wall of the English Cemetery, but was puzzled by being unable to recognise the surroundings, as I fully expected to do, for the sketch hung in my parents’ bedroom for many more years than I can remember, and I know every line of it. I learned later that the cemetery had been altered at some time, and this corner cut away to make a road.

Emma Evans later (1855) married Dr. John Waddington Hubbard, and Father was their eldest son. In 1870 my grandfather contracted tuberculosis, and was invited by the Phelpses to and stay with them in Madeira, as in the case of his brother in law a quarter of a century earlier. However the same sad story repeated itself, and my grandfather is buried in the English Cemetery, Funchal, the tablet to his memory standing at the side that in memory of George Evans. He died on the 15th of June 1871, leaving my grandmother with four small children.

The Phelpses returned to settle in England towards the end of the last century, and made their home in one of the large houses facing on to Clapham Common, which was at that time one of the smartest and most exclusive residential areas. All the members of the family become very stout with advancing years, and it was a family joke that “a ton of Phelpses” went to Church every Sunday in the family coach.

Bella and the Bath

Elizabeth, the originator of the Madeira embroidery, died unmarried. Apart from her embroidery school the only thins I know about her is a story which has often been told to me with great gusto by Father and Uncle George. The story was always known as “Bella and the Bath”. 

After the return of the family to England, Bella, like all the others, became very stout. One evening she retired early to her room, for the purpose of taking a bath. At that time of course, baths were always taken in the bedroom in the small hipbath of the Victorian period. Shortly after Aunt Bella had gone upstairs the family below in the drawing room were alarmed to hear cries for help, accompanied by strange knockings and bumpings. Several of the sisters ran upstairs to see what was the matter, and found Aunt Bella sitting in the bath with her feet on the floor, which was swimming with water. The bath was firmly fixed round her, like the shell of a snail, and she was only liberated by the concerted efforts of the entire family. The standard sentence descriptive of this painful incident was - “When Bella got IN to the bath, the water got OUT”. 

This story was very popular round the large circle of cousins, but when once, with youthful temerity, I ventured to mention it to Aunt Janey, I was snubbed with the full weight of the old lady’s forceful personality.

Mary, the second daughter, also died unmarried. All that I have heard about her was the odd fact that she never wore corsets, but supported the voluminous nether garments of the period by means of masculine braces. In that much corsetted age, this speaks volumes for her share of the family characteristics of strong-mindedness and originality.

The eldest son, Joseph, was the father of Frank Phelps, who became at first Bishop of Grahamstown, and eventually Archbishop of South Africa.

Another brother, Willy, entered the Army. At that time the sight test consisted merely of describing the view from the window of the examiner’s room. Willy, like most of the family, was very short sighted, and he knew that this test would be far beyond his capacity and that he would certainly be rejected on that score. He therefore arranged with a friend who entering at the same time, that the friend should go to the examiner ahead of him, and retail to him the necessary features of the view. When Willy’s turn came he described the view, which to him was no more than a blur, with quite remarkable accuracy, passed triumphantly into the Army and ended his career as a General.

Jane de Brissac Frederica, the youngest of the family, never married, but she was all the mother they ever knew to hundreds of girls. As a young woman in her early twenties, she had left the comfort and luxury of her palatial home in Madeira, and had come to England and founded an Orphanage with her own private fortune. The children she had collected from the slums of London, which she visited alone and unattended, an unheard of thing for a young lady in the 1860’s. She would go down to the most appalling slums and alleys, where no policeman would venture alone, and in and out of tenements and yards of such poverty and squalor as are unknown in these days. She would find children starving and almost naked, and all those that were homeless or unwanted she would take into her care, In those days no provision was made by local authorities for children who had one parent living, or who simply were in bad homes, and it was on these that she concentrated. From small beginnings the Orphanage grew rapidly, till for many years she had over a hundred children, and a big establishment in Kilburn. At about the turn of the century, as public responsibility began to awaken, the numbers gradually lessened and she moved from Kilburn to a large house near Peckham Rye, where she lived till her death, housing on an average about forty children.

From the beginning Aunt Janey’s staff had always been recruited from gentlewomen with private means, who worked on a voluntary basis, and until the 1914 - 1918 war she had never had the least difficulty in finding plenty of able assistants of this type. Towards the end of the war however, changing conditions made it more and more difficult for her to get helpers, and it was during my third term at the London school that she wrote to my parents asking if I might go and help during a temporary difficulty over Christmas.

My parents had always had the greatest regard and admiration for Aunt Janey and her work, and they agreed at once, even to taking me away from school before the end of term, Miss Phillips was terribly upset, as she was just getting me on really well, and was most anxious for me to sit for the end of term exams. Personally I did not care one way or the other; as I was not to be allowed either to go to the University, or to train as a doctor, this plan did at least postpone the issue of my going to a missionary training college. I had been taken to the Orphanage once or twice in my youth, but hardly knew Aunt Janey, and was utterly ignorant of the conditions, or what work would be required of me. If I had had the slightest inkling of what lay before me, I should have refused point-blank, even though the skies had fallen.

Aunt Janey's Orphanage

It is going to be extremely difficult for me to give a fair picture of Aunt Janey and her Orphanage. For Aunt Janey herself I have nothing but the deepest affection and admiration, but she was even more deeply rooted in the Victorian period than Mother was, though with for more excuse, as she was of my grandmother’s generation. If Mother was anchored in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, the Orphanage was anchored in the ‘60’s. Conditions, which had been considered excellent when the Orphanage was founded, were continued absolutely unchanged for nearly sixty years. It is easy enough to read accounts and descriptions of life in the mid-Victorian period, but it falls to few people of the present century actually to have lived under those conditions, as I have done. The Orphanage was a complete anachronism, an oasis left untouched by the passing sands of time, a compact little entity unchanged for sixty years, and carrying on exactly the same living conditions and way of life right to the threshold of the hectic ‘twenties. Stepping into the building one could feel the curtains of the past descend around one, muffling and muting the sounds of the outer world, and shutting one off from any hint of the life and activity without. To me, who had just begun to feel the throb and excitement of life in the world, the atmosphere was stifling and annihilating; it crushed all my newly developing interests, and engulfed me in a grey round of dreary duties, in surroundings which appalled me by their drabness.

The Orphanage was conducted on strict Conventual lines, and was I believe, affiliated in some way to one of the Anglican Sisterhoods, Sundays, Saints' days, Feast Days and Fast Days were scrupulously observed, and all the children were far better versed in these observances than I was. Even the small ones knew all the Red Letter Saints Days and Black Letter Saints Days, chiefly because certain privileges were permitted on the Red Letter Days and smaller privileges on the Black Letter Days. On Sundays they all attended an extremely High Church in the vicinity, which was one their bright moments, being one of the rare occasions when they got outside the Orphanage precincts.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday were real high spots. On Good Friday no one, not even the tinies, was allowed to speak except for absolute necessities, until after the Three Hours Service. They all attended that, and loved it. Little things of five and six, would sit enthralled throughout the whole three hours, with never a whisper or a wriggle. It was a marvel to me to see them.

Talking at meals was never allowed, except at dinner on Sundays, but on Easter Sunday and Christmas Day, talking was permitted at all meals. These rules, harsh as they may seem from the present day point of view, certainly had the effect of impressing the Church doctrines upon their minds, and made the Festivals and Fasts a very real thing in their lives.

I soon came to like this Anglican regime, and began to go to confession, as did the older girls who had been confirmed. There is something very bracing and astringent in the strict observation of Church Ordinances, which has a most healthy reaction upon the spiritual life. I had been brought up very strictly on Christian lines, but Mother was not of the Anglican persuasion, and I came to love the Anglican Services, with their wealth of ritual, colour and music. It was probably this time at the Orphanage which gave me my strong leaning towards Anglo and even Roman Catholicism. Although I have always remained Church of England, I have made a point of attending services of every denomination, and the lovely ritual of both the Anglo and the Roman Catholic services appeals to me far more than the plainness and uninspiring surroundings of the non-conformist bodies. This is, of course, merely due to their appeal to the artistic temperament, and to such emotionalism as I possess. From the intellectual point of view I feel it is essential that everyone should think the matter for themselves, and refuse to be influenced by early teaching, or ecclesiastical dogma, or anything apart from their own personal findings.

I learned to take a delight in the exalted atmosphere of the Anglican ritual, and found a deep satisfaction in being able to express it by the actions of genuflexion and crossing. I took my first Confession with the deepest seriousness, and have never forgotten the sensation of spiritual asepsis, and the feeling of having been turned inside out and scrubbed clean, which followed. It was one of the most inspiring and stimulating experiences I have ever known.

Aunt Janey was nearing eighty when I went to the Orphanage. She was a most impressive figure, stout and heavily built, with the strong handsome features which are unmistakeably recognizable in my father’s family. Strong-minded, original, capable and autocratic, she ruled the Orphanage like a benevolent tyrant. She seldom had to assert her authority, for she was authority personified, and her tremendous personality permeated every thought and action of every person under her roof. At first I was frankly terrified of the stern old lady, and shook in my shoes when she spoke to me, as readily as the children did. But after a time I began to discover the wealth of kindliness and understanding behind the sternness of that handsome old face, and to catch the sparkle of humour in the wise old eyes, Like so many of the family, Aunt Janey had very pale, almost colourless eyes, without the dark band of colour round the iris which was such a striking and beautiful feature in the case of Auntie Dick. The owners of these pale eyes had the power of using them in a stony stare, completely annihilating to the victim on whom it was turned. This stare was known throughout the family as “the cold boiled eye”, and no brown eyed member could achieve it. Aunt Janey was the perfect exponent of the cold boiled eye, and it was a long time before I realised that there was almost invariably a twinkle behind it. As I came to know her better a deep affection developed between us which was quite remarkable in view of the tact that we were separated by two generations and nearly sixty years.

Aunt Janey had a deep feeling for the clan, and blood ties meant a great deal to her. She seemed to understand that I had inherited the same thing, and this link drew us very close. She seemed to take a real delight in discovering which of the family characteristics I had inherited, and she encouraged me in all that she found, I was given special time off my duties for practising on the magnificent concert grand which had come from the Carmo, and she delighted in the drawings and watercolour sketches I did of the children in their quaint, old-fashioned uniforms. She taught me to climb up and. down all the intricacies of the family tree with the unhesitating agility of a monkey, and would suddenly fire at me some searching question as to how so and so was related to somebody else, and expect the correct answer on the spot. But she never spared me, and any momentary stupidity on ray part, either over genealogies or anything else, would draw the sharp adjuration of “Think, child,” or  “God has given you very good brains - use them.”

Aunt Janey had of course, grown up to use Portuguese and Spanish as readily as English. On one dire occasion, soon after I went there and before I had got accustomed to her brusque manner of speech, I happened to mention Don Quixote, giving the name the hideous English pronunciation. Aunt Janey turned the cold boiled eye on me and snapped, “Don Quixote? I don’t know what you mean by Don Quixote,” giving it the same English pronunciation. I gazed at her in helpless bewilderment, for it was incredible to me that the omniscient Aunt Janey should never have heard of Don Quixote. Hypnotized by the basilisk stare, I stumblingly explained that he was a Spanish knight who tilted at windmills.

“I knew all about that before you were born or thought of, child,” was the tart reply, “but his name was not Don Quixote,” still with the English pronunciation. As I stood speechless with confusion, she suddenly shouted, “Don Quixote, child, Don Quixote,” giving it the beautiful Spanish pronunciation, “Never let me hear you speak of Don Quixote again.”

Aunt Janey did not often raise her voice, but when she did, the effect was most alarming. If ever she needed an assistant or a messenger she would shout the one word “Child” into the void, and immediately orphans of all ages would materialize and converge upon her at the run. Similarly if from her window or other unseen vantage point, she spied anyone, child or staff alike, doing any action of which she did not approve, she would bellow “NO”, whereupon everyone within earshot, and that covered a wide area, for Aunt Janey had a voice like a bull of Bashan when she cared to use it,  would freeze in their tracks, and remain immobile until the delinquent was identified.

Aunt Janey went in for a very original style of dress. She wore a coat and waistcoat of masculine cut, with a stiff collar, and a very long and voluminous skirt, all of which garments were an absolute rabbit warren of pockets. She could produce anything out of her pockets at a moment’s notice. They bulged with letters, hammers, screwdrivers, secateurs, pocket-knives, string, seed packets, garden pegs, nails and screws, and almost invariably a few squashed medlars. She had a great love of medlars and was most particular that they should not be eaten until fully “bletted”, which to the rest of the world meant rotten. The shelves in her bedroom usually held an array of shrivelled objects, which the children called, with great reason, “Miss Phelps’ rotten apples”, and these she would nibble at all odd moments. As well as the over-stuffed pockets, Aunt Janey had a number of canvas bags, which she wore tied round her waist, and which went everywhere with her. These contained a mass of papers, magazines, ancient account books, seed catalogues, skeins of bast, and all the medley of treasures that refused to go into her pockets. She had been slightly lame all her life, and therefore did not gup and down stairs more than was absolutely necessary, and despite having a houseful of orphans to run her errands, she preferred to carry all her possessions about with her as far as was possible. In order to assist her in climbing the stairs she had had a hand rail fixed on the wall and this was a contributing factor in one of the major sins which could be committed by the children. They loved to take one corner of their pinafores in each hand, and slide down the stairs with one hand on the banisters, and the other on the handrail. It was a delightful performance, but was, for some reason or other, severely frowned upon if seen.

Apart from the obvious use of the pinafores in keeping their frocks clean, and the illicit use in sliding down the stairs, these pinafores were utilised by Aunt Janey as a very original form of punishment for minor crimes. The delinquent would be made to sit cross—legged on the floor, in any convenient place, sometimes the corner of the dining room, sometimes on the bend of the staircase with her pinafore turned up These odd little figures would be found in all sorts of unexpected places, and there they had to sit until such time as Aunt Janey considered the crime to be sufficiently expiated. 0n one occasion about half a dozen of the tinies were missing at midday dinner. I had missed them from school in the morning, but had received the information that they had been sent to Miss Phelps. Dinner time arrived and still the tinies were missing. Inquiries elicited the Information that they had been sent to Miss Phelps directly after breakfast for some mass crime, and from that time onwards had never been seen again. 

Aunt Janey came down to breakfast, and the small sinners had been sent up to her bedroom, After a lot of anxious discussion, one bold member of the staff ventured to knock on Aunt Janey’s door, for as she had not appeared in the middle of the morning. In accordance with her usual custom, everyone thought that some very terrible session was taking place. However on entering room, Aunt Janey was found in bed, cosily asleep, while in a dark corner sat a row of Immobile little Images, all with their pinafores over their faces, having sat there motionless since breakfast time. She had dropped off to sleep again after sitting them down, and there they had stayed, not daring to move till given permission, was very sorry for the unfortunate little scraps, and we had to pick them up and carry them downstairs, as they were so cramped that they could not stand, but the vision of the old lady happily asleep and supremely unconscious of the plight of the row of hooded midgets, was really extremely funny. As a general rule the pinafore punishment did not last more than ten of fifteen minutes, and this contretemps made history in the annals of the Orphanage.


see also Notes on the Family of Phelps of Madeira

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