Visit to Madeira 25th Sept – 9th Oct 1954
South Farm Road
18th May 1954
The British Consul
I should be most grateful if you could give me some advice and assistance. I am
most anxious to visit Madeira, and have planned to do so for many years, as my
forbears were the Phelps family who were well known in Madeira during the last
century, and I have heard so many stories of the island from the older members
of my family.
I have consulted all available brochures from travel agencies, but I have no
wish to travel by “luxury cruises” or to stay at expensive hotels. I have been
told that fruit and cargo boats carrying passengers call at Funchal, and I
should be most grateful if you would tell me which lines call there, and how I
get in touch with them.
I have also been told that the Carmo, which used to be the townhouse of the
Phelps family, has been converted into a hotel after they left Madeira. I should
like to stay there rather than anywhere else if it is at all suitable, but
failing that, I should like to get in to some small quiet pension, or with a
private family. Perhaps you would be kind enough to help me in this matter, or
tell me where I can obtain information.
Please forgive me for approaching you on this subject, but all the older
generation of my family have now passed away, and I am finding it extremely
difficult to obtain the information I want. The object for my visit is far more
for sentimental reasons than anything else, and I should be extremely grateful
for any assistance that you can give in helping it to materialise.
The British Consulate
24th May 1954
In reply to your letter of the 18th of May I enclose some “Notes for Travellers”
which should answer all of your queries.
The “Carmo” is no longer a hotel but a public building and no doubt it would be
possible for you to see over it should your visit to Madeira materialise.
I am, Madam,
Your obedient Servant
Signed C F Fladgate
H. M. Consul
Saturday 25th September 1954
Doc called me with early morning tea at 5.45 a.m. Breakfast at 6.45 a.m. and
he saw me off on the Victoria train at 8.00 a.m. At Paddington I left on the
special “Venus” boat train at 10.40. We did high speed non-stop via Reading,
Taunton, and Exeter to Newton Abbot where we stopped while a second engine was
put on at 14:10. We arrived at Plymouth about 15:20. Everything was very well
arranged and I did not have to open anything in the Customs. Went on board the
tender “Sir John Hawkins” and got yet another cup of tea and cake. I am a great
believer in stocking up at frequent intervals when travelling and had been doing
so on and off all day.
There was a long hold up before starting towards the M.S. Venus, but we
eventually got on board and I found my cabin at once, also booked my seat in the
dining saloon. We were scheduled to sail at 17:00 but did not actually get
moving until 18:00. Another cup of tea and cake! My cabin is comfortable but
quite minute. My cabin mate is very nice but absolutely colossal. She is very
much the Laura type, and being so, is of course a hotel manageress. The Venus is
a very nice looking vessel, masses of lounges and writing rooms and a small
orchestra. The passengers all seem a nice type too.
Our departure from Plymouth was still further delayed by having to put back
after we had started, in order to leave a galley boy ashore, who had developed
some throat infection. We also had to wait to pick up the officer who had gone
ashore with him. The result of all this delay was that they put on speed and
absolutely slammed in to a south westerly swell.
We had boat drill before sailing.
The cabins are so small that any unpacking, apart from necessities, is hopeless.
The Venus was built for the Bergen Run of one night only, and is quite unsuited
for anything else. The ventilation below decks is appalling and the vibration
worse than anything I have ever experienced. Her average speed is 15-16 knots,
tonnage about 7000. The famous stabilisers are worse than useless, as they
prevent her rolling easily, and bring every movement up with a jerk.
I felt perfectly all right during the first part of the evening, and had an
excellent dinner; all Norwegian cooking and staff. The food is superb. Later on
I went down to my cabin to do some unpacking, but was knocked out by the bad air
and vibration, and went to bed early feeling perfectly ghastly. It is not
seasickness, but simply vibration and airlessness. My cabin has no porthole and
is right aft over the propeller shaft, which makes things worse.
My cabin companion said she had never been seasick before, but was shockingly so
during the night. I was not actually sick, but laid myself out flat in my bunk,
and felt like Elijah under the Juniper Bush [1 Kings 19: 4]. Hardly any sleep
all night, but hoped I should be better by the morning.
Sunday 26th September 1954
Dragged myself up on deck feeling like death, and couldn't manage any breakfast.
Spent the morning roaming about seeking rest and finding none, and eventually
joined the army of miserables who were laid out on pontoons in long chairs on
the after deck, wrapped in brown rugs, looking for all the world like rows of
doleful caterpillars. Eventually the nice Norwegian doctor roused me from coma
and administered sympathy and dope. The weather all day was frightful, raining
and blowing hard, and during the afternoon our siren was going as it got really
The dope took effect and by 16:30 I was able to swallow a cup of tea, and by
dinnertime, 19:30, I was able to go in to dinner and toy with some soup and a
bit of fish. By the evening I was right on top of the world again.
Monday 27th September 1954
Slept well last night and woke to a glorious day, sunshine, blue sea and white
horses everywhere. The whole ship is much more cheerful.
Posted historic bottle and mug over the poop in the morning.
Treated myself to a manicure from the nice Norwegian hairdresser and
There was dancing and rather a lot of noisiness late at night as a
finale to the voyage. I can’t realise this is the last day on board. It seems
Tuesday 28th September 1954
Not much sleep last night what with the jollifications overhead till 03:00
and the cabin unbearably hot and airless. Got up on deck early and found a
heavenly day with a tropical feel in the air. We had to get packed and out of
our cabins by 10:30. Rather a bind. Spent the morning on deck. I have met a very
nice girl, Janet Smith who comes from Swanage and remembers the Unwins!
We sighted the islands of Porto Santo to starboard about lunch time and Madeira
shortly afterwards. It was marvellously clear and the approach to Funchal is
incredibly beautiful. A lot of us were busy taking photographs.
|The last time I saw Madeira was en route for South America in 1936. We then
passed to port and the whole island was dark and cloud covered.
This time everything was crystal clear and sparkling, right up to the summits of
the mountains with the white houses and their red roofs scattered up the slopes.
sea was a vivid blue, with dancing white horses.
It was the Isles of Enchantment materialised.
we neared Funchal I heard shouts and cries to starboard, and there were
dozens of ramshackle little rowing boats, each containing one older man at
the oars, and two or three younger men and boys, all shouting and yelling
for coins to be thrown for them to dive for.
of the boys were tiny fellows apparently not more than seven or eight years
old, but all of them could swim and dive like frogs. It was all very
picturesque and exciting, but if one studied the brown half naked figures,
one could see how thin and ill-nourished they are; and behind all the
shouting and clapping their faces were drawn, and there was an almost
wolfish look in their eyes as they watched for the coins.
A boat piled with wicker chairs and baskets came alongside too.
We arrived off Funchal at 15:00 B.S.T. but had to put our watches forward an
hour as Madeira sun-time is the same as B.S.T. and Madeira was on their summer
time. Their hour went back while we were there, and English time when back
before we got home, all of which led to a lot of jugglery with the hours.
Presently the launches came out. Each bearing a flag with the names of the
various hotels. The Savoy took about three launch loads (including the two
“dizzy blondes” and their escorts!) The New Avenue and Reids took a lot more,
and I was among the last sweepings for the Miramar and one or two other smaller
It was quite sad to see our close knit shipboard community breaking up.
Cars met us on the quay, and whisked us away to our various destinations. Most
of the hotels are on the far end of town, about a mile along a wide avenida.
|The MIRAMAR HOTEL is situated in the heart of the British residential district.
Three front entrances facing the main road overlooking the Bay. Side entrance
opposite the British Country Club, where residents and visitors meet.
Only a few minutes from the Casino and the Lido, Madeira’s best sea-bathing
pool, one of the Island’s greatest attractions.
From the MIRAMAR HOTEL terraces, there is a superb view of the entire range of
hills, town, bay and sea. Light, healthy, sunny. 350 feet above sea-level. All
bedrooms are sunny and airy, have hot and cold running water, the windows being
netted against flies. The better rooms have balconies.
The British Country Club is another attraction of Madeira. It has two hard
Tennis Courts, Squash Court and a Mashie Golf Course on turf. The Club House has
a spacious Lounge, Bar, Billiards and Bridge Rooms, Library, etc.
Special subscription rates of Esc: 30$00 for 15 days and of Esc: 50$00 for 30
days, etc: are made for short-stay visitors.
Attractive unique Madeira style bar-lounge in separate building. Log fire.
Dancing during the Seasons. Beautiful and extensive gardens and lawns, replete
with exotic flowers and fruits. Motor cars always in attendance. Constant bus
services pass the Hotel doors at frequent intervals going into the town, or to
the Lido bathing pool in a few minutes.
The Miramar is almost the furthest out and has a most magnificent view across
Funchal bay, also over the town and round the whole encircling range of
mountains. In fact the view from this hotel is far better than the more
expensive Savoy and Reids.
I am in the annex in a delightful corner room with a private balcony.
A long low building known as the “Cabin” with bar and small orchestra stands
between the annex and the main building.
We had a long wait at the Miramar before being allotted to our rooms, owing to
the delay in delivery of the passenger lists.
We had some tea, and then I got
chattering to a Miss Grey who was leaving in the Venus the same evening.
her I wanted to find the British Cemetery where my Grandfather and other
ancestors are buried, so she conducted me via the most amazing back alleys till
we found it. All the roads and pavements are made up of cobbles, mostly very
small rounded pebbles, absolutely agonising to walk on.
The British Cemetery is totally unlike the sketch of it we have at home, and we
couldn’t find any graves or family memorials. Later on I discovered that the
cemetery was altered a good many years ago, but since that sketch was made, and
many of the graves and tablets transferred, which explained it; as I should have
certainly have recognised it from the sketch I know so well.
Eventually we got back to the hotel. I was completely deadbeat, having had a
very long and exciting day, and the heat and cobbles just about finished me.
Dinner was late, and the luggage very late in arriving, however eventually I got
unpacked, had a bath, and tumbled into bed.
The cicadas simply scream all night,
and music and dancing went on till quite late in the Cabin just under my
windows. There are banana groves close under my windows and the subtropical
trees and flowers are really marvellous.
Wednesday 29th September 1954
From a letter:
|“It is just incredible, I am dazed and dizzy with loveliness. If a place in this
world can be as exquisite as Madeira is this morning, must the other side be
like? It makes me cry to think of. I am sitting out on my own little private
balcony in my dressing gown with a coat around my shoulders having my breakfast
all on my little own. Coffee, toast, rolls, and butter and marmalade.
“I specially ordered a “Breakfast Portugaise” though most of the others seemed
to be ordering eggs and bacon!
“On my right a banana grove in the hotel grounds slopes up almost level with the
balcony, with masses of bunches of fat little green bananas. I tried a banana at
dinner last night. You know how I loathe the big coarse bananas one gets in
England, well you and Aunt Janey were perfectly right: these short little green
fat bananas are as different as chalk from cheese and are perfectly delicious.
“I have a corner room in the annex, facing west and south. The banana grove
slopes up hill to the west ending yards away. There is some sort of small
building with a cascade of mauvey–pink morning glory all over it. To the south
immediately below my balcony is a vine covered walk leading to the main hotel
about 60 – 70 yards away with lawns to the left, and what will be a glimpse of
the sea when the mist has cleared. Also a huge candelabra cactus reminiscent of
that in the Pass of Angostura. The sun is just breaking through the mists; the
air is full of the scream of swifts, and the tap – tap – tap of workmen laying
cobbles. The car horns would take you back, back to wherever they always do – is
it Santiago? Last night the cicada were screaming themselves, and me, quite
silly; but I don’t mind them, it is all part of it.”
After breakfast I set off down the big avenida leading down to the town.
Near the Miramar it crosses a very deep ravine, filled with trees and
vegetation, which we are told is a favourite place for committing suicide. There
are several of these ravines, about four I believe, running through the town
from the mountains behind. The others are smaller than this one and at present
are dry, boulder filled water courses, but at certain times of the year the
water comes down in spate.
was intensely hot walking down, and I kept dodging from one patch of shade
old woman wrapped up in a black shawl begged from me as I passed, my first
experience of what was to become an all too familiar routine.
went first to the Tourismo in the square opposite the Governor’s Palace, and
booked up trips for Friday and Saturday.
on past the cathedral seeking for the Carmo,
the old ancestral townhouse of the Phelps family, of which Aunt Janey Phelps had
told me so much.
I found Largo do Phelps, a square named after Aunt Janey’s eldest sister, my
great aunt Elizabeth, who founded the embroidery industry here in 1858. At the
corner of the square is the Carmo Church, and just beyond is the great old
house. The glory is now sadly departed, as it is all made over into offices
etc. and an open-air cinema is being built in the patio.
Despite that, it was one of
the greatest moments of my life to see the actual house of which I have heard of
so much, and in which the furniture used to stand which I came to know so well
when living with Aunt Janey just after I left school.
English visitors can’t move anywhere in the town without being pestered by touts
and I had a lot of trouble to shake off several who firmly attached themselves
to me, clamouring to show me wine stores, embroidery shops, the market and
anything else they could think of. However I eventually got a taxi back to the
There are quite a lot of busses, but they are such frightful old bone shakers,
all apparently tied together with string, besides being appallingly crowded,
that I avoided them like the plague. I did go in one on about two occasions,
which was quite enough. I was very much struck by the youthfulness of the
conductors. They looked like boys of 14 or 15 and probably were, as education is
at a very low ebb in the island although efforts are being made to raise the
My table companion at meals was a most interesting girl, Diana Cragoe. She had
worked for many years in Madrid and spoke Spanish like a native. She had also
travelled a great deal, so we found plenty of interests in common.
rested during the afternoon as I was frightfully tired with the heat, and my
feet were already blistering from the cobbles.
on Janet Smith came round from the Savoy and invited me round there after
dinner. I introduced Diana, and we arranged to meet. After tea Diana and I
strolled out towards the Lido, but it was so hot that we didn’t get there.
The vegetation was fascinating, vines growing on trellises everywhere and
melons trailing over the roofs of cottages. There were also groves of sugar
cane and of course bananas everywhere.
In the evening Diana and I went round to the Savoy.
It is a far larger and more
dressy place than the Miramar, but looked very pretty in the dark with
illuminations along the terraces and spangling the trees.
about trees look garish and crude in Brighton, but in the warm exotic dark of
Madeira they fit with the atmosphere and are most attractive.
Thursday 30th September 1954
Yesterday evening a party of us joined up to hire a car and go for a day’s
outing over the mountains. The hotel arranged the car and provided a picnic
lunch. The party consisted of Diana, Mr Deeks, a married couple (George and
Doris – can’t remember their surname) and myself. We set off at 10:00 in blazing
heat. Having been warned, and also having experience of the Andes, I provided
myself with a coat. I wasn’t feeling too good, and was a bit hesitant about
going, but decided it would probably pass off.
We started climbing at once through the outskirts of Funchal up to a village
called Monte. At first the vegetation was purely subtropical, vines, melons,
bananas, palms etc. but by the time we got to Monte it had already began to
change. Monte is only 3.75 miles from Funchal but the altitude is 1804 feet and
the gradients were terrific. My ears were cracking as they had never done in
going over the Andes. There we got up to an altitude of 17000 feet but the
distances were far greater and none of the gradients anything like as fierce.
At Monte we stopped for about half an hour and the others went for a walk to the
church along a path from which I believe was a magnificent view. I was feeling
too ill to attempt it, the altitude was getting me down and I felt I couldn’t
get enough oxygen. I just walked about the plaza and took a couple of
photographs. There were men about with the hammocks in which one can be carried
up the mountains and it is from here that the running carros slide down the
cobbled road into Funchal.
Children run behind the car throwing in bunches of
the lovely pink and blue lilies that grow everywhere, and always with the cry,
“Escudo, Escudo monnai, monnai for bread.” It is fatal to give them anything,
poor little things, as one is immediately overwhelmed with a screaming fighting
mob. We threw coins over that back of the car while we were moving, or they
would have been in the car and fighting all over us; and on looking back there
was always a welter of grubby struggling urchins in a heap in the middle of the
An Escudo is about 1/- to them, though only 3d in our currency.
Leaving Monte we seemed to climb almost vertically, and I felt sicker and
sicker. I had experienced a certain amount of mountain sickness in the Andes,
but that was at a far greater altitude. I never want to experience mountain
sickness again; it made me feel absolutely like death.
The vegetation, and temperature, was changing rapidly. At our next stop,
Terreiro da Luta, there were cacti, sugar cane, pines, eucalyptus, bananas,
vines, oaks, palms and giant ferns, all within quite a short distance, and from
there on we were almost entirely among pines, oaks, and eucalyptus. Terreiro da
Luta is 5.5 miles from Funchal, at an altitude of 2876 feet so those few miles
feel as if they are vertical. At Terreiro da Luta is a huge statue of the Virgin
and Child, erected as a monument to Peace. This statue is floodlit at night, and
can be seen clearly from Funchal, where it appears to be only about half way up
the vast basin of mountains, whose topmost edges tower far above. The statue
stands on a small eminence on the mountainside, approached by a flight of steps.
I did not attempt to go up there, but sat on a low wall and wished that I might
die, while the others went up.
After leaving Terreiro da Luta we went on, up and up, the road being cut out of
the mountain side, with great wooden ravines below, and breath taking slopes
above. We were far above the cloud line, and everything below seemed shrouded in
mist. After a time we got above even the pines and eucalyptus line, and came out
on a bare, bleak area, reminiscent of the west coast of Scotland, or the
Falkland Islands, or Dartmoor, or anywhere utterly bare and treeless. It was
very much cooler by now, despite blazing brilliant sun. The highest point of the
road, the actual watershed, beyond which the descent to the north side of the
island began was at Poiso, 8.5 miles from Funchal and 4593 feet altitude. Here
we stopped for a few minutes and took photographs. I just managed to get out of
the car and walk across the road to get them.
Leaving Poiso we dropped down steadily till we entered the tree line again. This
north side of the island seemed much cooler than the south face of the
mountains. The great central ridge runs like a backbone east and west along the
length of the island, sending out vast spurs like ribs on either side. The roads
wind along the sides of these great spurs, with huge ravines between.
Our next stop was at Ribeiro Frio 2624 feet and 12.5 miles from Funchal. We
stopped for a long time here, while the rest of the party went for a walk round
the Balcões, (the Balconies) which I gather is a footpath round the side of a
ravine, with a wonderful view. I had to sit with my head more or less on my
knees, and have seldom felt so ill in my life. I thought the others were
never coming back and began to think that I should die before they did. They
must have been gone quite an hour and all seemed very tired when they got back
to the car. I felt better directly we began to move and I could get some air and
wind in my face, but the mere name Ribeiro Frio will give me qualms to the end
of my days.
The vegetation repeated itself in reverse as we dropped to sea level on the
north coast. We stopped at a charming roadside estaminet at Saõ Roque do Faial
at about 14:30. It is only 20.25 miles from Funchal and almost at sea level.
Here everyone got out the vast packets of sandwiches etc. provided by the hotel
before we left in the morning, and proceeded to consume them with much gusto. I
cautiously peeled a morsel of bread of one sandwich and nibbled about one
mouthful and then packed up.
We then went on to Porto da Cruz, a lovely fishing village under the shadow of a
colossal block of mountain standing out in the sea, “Penha d'Águia” (The rock of
the eagle). I believe I did actually see an eagle sailing about in the dizzy
abyss under the rock.
We then struck inland, climbing again, to Portela 2034 feet, the road clinging
in and out round the great sprawling mountain spurs.
It was about here we stopped again and the party got out and walked around a
cliff path for the view. The usual mob of clamouring children materialised and I
was told that some of those from the other cars thought it a great joke to throw
coins among the bushes which grew down the cliff face, in order to see the
children plunge down after them. Our own party was disgusted about it, as the
cliff was over 1000 feet high and the children were utterly reckless in their
eagerness for the coins. They had probably plunged down the cliff scores of
times before, but it struck us a very poor joke. I did not actually see it, as I
stayed in the car, but if I had, I am afraid I should have had some remarks to
make to those jokers.
Our next stop was at Machico,
17.25 miles along the coast east of Funchal, a perfectly lovely little village in a bay on the
south coast. We had crossed the island again at the narrow eastern end since
leaving Porto da Cruz. At Machico we had tea in a charming open air café, quite
the English style. It is a far more sophisticated place than any of the other
villages we had passed through, and is a popular residential area for the
I was beginning to feel better by this time and was able to swallow
a spot of tea.
We returned to Funchal along the coast road, with the sea on our left, and
everything looked perfectly exquisite. Via Santa Cruz, Gaula, Canico and S.
Goncalo, all of these being charming villages, with a great number of large and
wealthy houses and quintas everywhere.
We arrived back at the hotel at about 17:00. I fell into bed immediately, and
remained there, much to the consternation and sympathy of the nice little
photograph is not on the run I describe above, but it gives a very good
idea of how the mountain spurs run down from the central backbone, and of the
Scenery on the mountain roads.
Friday 1st October 1954
Slept well last night and felt much better, though my first move was to go
down to the Tourismo and cancel my bookings for mountainous drives today and
tomorrow! The man was extremely nice when I explained my mountain sickness
yesterday, and refunded my money at once.
Janet and I met up for coffee then I
went to the cathedral. It is an uninteresting building outside, but inside is
very different. It dates from the fifteenth century, and has a wonderful carved
cedar ceiling in what we would call Perpendicular panelling. The huge choir
stalls, with some rather crude Miserere seats, are all in cedar, and all the
candlesticks and candelabra are of solid silver. Down the length of the nave are
six vast shrines, three on the north wall, three on the south, reaching almost
to the roof. They are of the most fantastic flamboyantly Rococo style, very
overpowering and over-ornate. An old sacristan took me round, and we managed to
understand each other very well. He took me through into the Sacristy, which was
panelled in heavy teak. All round the walls were huge, built-in drawers, all of
them decorated with the small, very deep, panels which reminded me immediately
of some of the Madeira made chests of drawers that Aunt Janey had. Above these
were enormous canvasses of oil paintings of ecclesiastical subjects, too age
darkened to decipher. Between the paintings the carved panels rose to the
ceiling. The carvings were so deeply undercut that I could slide my arm up
inside. The drawers contained masses of church vestments and embroideries, all
worked by the nuns, some of which are over 300 years old; all heavily encrusted
I then made my way to the English Church. It is a strange looking building in a
very inconspicuous position in a side street, and was built by the efforts of
the British Community in the first half of the last century. It is pretty
certain that the Phelps family had a good deal to do with the building of it,
and they certainly worshipped here for very many years.
The reason for its odd circular shape and inconspicuous position is that the
powerful R.C. faction in Madeira refused for a long time to permit the Church of
England to erect any place of worship. When at length permission was obtained,
it was with the proviso that the church should not bear any architectural
resemblance whatever to a church.
Up to about the same period, circa 1840, no Protestant was even allowed burial
in the island. All Protestants dying in Madeira had to be taken out and buried
at sea. Such is Christian Charity.
The British Cemetery was granted at about the same time, though it has since
been cut through and the position altered.
A sort of cobbled alleyway leads from the street to the church, which has a
small open area around it, overlooked by the Chaplain’s house. The British
Chaplain appeared as I was looking at the outside of the Church and I introduced
myself, and said I wanted to find my grandfather’s grave, and any records of
forbears. He was most friendly and pleasant, and took me into the church. It is
circular with a dome roof, there is no proper Chancel, but the Altar is up a
couple of small steps at the east side, with a small pulpit and reading desk to
the north and south. There is quite a good little organ to the north. It is a
strange unpretentious little place, but I was strongly aware of the spirit of
courage and faithfulness which led that little Protestant community to build it
in the face of so much opposition.
In the portico is a list of all the incumbents, and among them I saw a Phelps,
somewhere about 1870.
The Padre directed me to the English Cemetery, but was not able to conduct me
personally, as he had hurt his foot and was very lame. I found my way there from
the opposite direction to that I had taken with Miss Grey the first day.
photograph to the left shows the outside of the wall of the English Cemetery on the right. This
area was in the original cemetery which was cut into when this road was made.
The small memorial to the left shows the original extent of the cemetery.
The animal which the lads are playing with was a small black pig.
The Cemetery is surrounded by a high wall, with solid iron and wood doors, which
are usually kept locked. They were open on this occasion, as Mrs Padre was there
with some other English visitors. When Miss Grey and I had gone before, we had
had to knock up the janitor, and entered through his own cottage garden.
The whole area of walls surrounding the oldest part of the cemetery was covered
almost edge to edge with memorial tablets which had been built in on their
removal from their original positions in the first cemetery. Many of the coffin
shaped grave stones were broken and nameless and the tablets in the walls were
overhung and shadowed by bushes and cascades of creepers. I spent a long, long
time going around the walls, picking my way behind bushes, and drawing aside the
curtains of climbing plants. I knew from the old sketch at home that there was a
mural tablet to my Grandfather and a Great uncle, so I knew what to look for.
Suddenly, from a dark corner, shadowed by trees, and almost hidden by shrubs,
that familiar name leapt out at me, the name that is now my eldest brother’s and
his eldest son’s. JOHN WADDINGTON HUBBARD.
This, outshining all relics of my far more noteworthy Phelps forbears, was what
I had come to Madeira to find.
Alongside the tablet to my Grandfather is a similar one to a young Great uncle,
who, as a medical student, also contracted lung trouble, and came out to Madeira
to stay with the Phelps family, and died there.
||Tablet to my Grandfather
In memory of John Waddington Hubbard of 16 Kensington Square London
Born July 10th 1823
Died at Funchal June 15th 1871
||Tablet to my Great uncle
In memory of George Evans of Market Bosworth Leicestershire, England
Died 25th January 1847
Little is known of my Grandfather in the family archives, the main thing being
that my beautiful and talented Grandmother was well-nigh ostracised by certain
of her relatives for choosing to marry a young doctor, who, though of good old
East Anglian descent, was not of the “country” class, as they were. It was an
ideally happy marriage, though all too short. In the early forties my
Grandfather developed a lung complaint, and was brought to stay with the Phelps
relations in Madeira, in the hopes that the climate would aid his recovery. It
did not, however, and he died at the age of 48, leaving my Grandmother with four
small children. Even my father, the eldest, had hardly any recollections of his
own father. The little that I have ever heard of my Grandfather’s short life,
has always appealed to me very deeply. In a crayon portrait of him by my
Grandmother, though admittedly not a flattering likeness, he is shown as being
fair, with thick curly red-gold hair, which I believe my Father inherited.
Coming fairly late in my father’s life, I never knew his curls except as silver.
It was exceedingly difficult to get photographs of the tablets, owing to the
deep shadow from overhanging trees, and to a shrub almost directly in front.
Besides which a mass of other shrubs and undergrowth made it almost impossible
to stand in any suitable position for focussing.
There must be other family graves here, but I had no time to look for them. The
most recent seems to be in 1904, [Philip Arthur Frank Phelps, Died 12th
July] and this is the only one in the church registers. The details of this were
given to me in a note by Mr Cole, the churchwarden.
After a rest in the afternoon, Diana and I went round to the English Club, which
is only a few minutes walk from the Miramar. It is a delightful place, with
lovely gardens and tennis courts, and visitors can join as temporary members,
and enjoy all the amenities, including the use of an excellent lending library,
at a very small charge. The club house, Quinta Magnolia, was formerly the
residence of a very wealthy man who took a great interest in botany. The
grounds contain quantities of rare trees and shrubs, all of them totally
strange to me, but most curious and some very beautiful.
The views of the mountains from the veranda, where teas are served, are
really breath taking.
I borrowed the book “Oriflamme” in which it is mentioned that a Duc de Brissac
was one of the last lovers of the du Barry, and was torn to pieces during the
French Revolution, and his head was rolled into the du Barry’s salon by the mob
who had murdered him. It was curious to think that he stood in much the same
relationship to the Phelps family, as they do to me. Aunt Janey, the youngest of
her family, bore the name of de Brissac.
In the evening Diana and I went round to the Savoy and spent another pleasant
session with Janet.
Saturday 2nd October 1954
Needless to say I didn’t bathe, but kept in the shade as much as possible. Diana
wailed at not having brought her swim suit. She is very dark, and quickly
acquired a lovely tan. I, who never tan at all, go about looking like a ghost
among all the beautiful brown skins. All our Venus crowd were turning a richer
colour every time I met them, whereas the heat, not to mention Madeira fever,
made me more pallid even than my usual.
On the way back from the Lido we stopped at an enchanting shop opposite Rieds
Hotel, and spent a long time looking at embroideries, baskets, hats etc.
Eventually I bought a really exquisite blouse for the equivalent of only 35/-
and a table runner, and Diana made several purchases as well.
I rested all the afternoon as the heat was terrific. Janet came round after
dinner and half a dozen of us hired a car and went out to the fishing village of
Camara de Lobos.
There we went to a little inn which was in the pure native
style; the only illumination was from candles on the tables stuck in holders
made from the jaw bones of cat fish. The little bar was made of part of a
fishing boat, and the walls were festooned with nets. There was a quaint little plunky-tunky orchestra, and a fisher boy sang and danced between the tables,
with a little girl of about twelve. The lad sang Portuguese songs in the same
queer rather raucous, but fascinating type of voice we had heard singing in La
Paloma, in Mollendo, Peru. It was packed out with English visitors, but the
atmosphere was so homely and free and easy that it was really delightful. They
passed round the most fantastic straw hat for everyone to wear, and the air got
thicker and thicker with cigarette smoke and candle fumes, and more and more
people kept crowding in, till there was barely a square yard for the boy and
girl to dance. They both danced barefoot, and eventually one of our honeymoon
brides kicked off her shoes and danced with the boy amid great applause. It was
good fun, as no one got tight, but everyone was absolutely full of joie de vivre
and bonhomie etc.!
It was very late before we got home.
Sunday 3rd October 1954
Madeira summer time ended in the early hours this morning, a fact of which I
was cheerfully unaware. I thought my nice little waiter had forgotten to bring
my breakfast up, and went across to the dining room feeling rather peeved. He
met me there with a stare of amazement, but I had by that time realised my
mistake and grinned and pointed to my wristwatch, with gestures indicative of
the fact that I had just seen my mistake. He grinned back at once, and we
understood each other perfectly.
I met Janet at the English Church for matins, and she introduced me to a Miss
Eileen Cole, to whom Janet’s sister had given her an introduction. Janet’s
sister had met Miss Cole and her father, who is churchwarden, when she was in
Madeira a year or so ago. There must have been 30 to 40 people there, and it was
an extremely nice service. No choir, of course, but the congregation singing was
very good. It was a real thrill to me to be there, where my ancestors used to go.
There was quite a sprinkling of visitors, and in the pews were little notices
saying that as the total number of English residents did not exceed about 100,
visitors were to support the church as generously as possible. I am glad to say
that the offertory bags appeared to be absolutely stuffed with notes.
Janet and I and about a dozen others stayed to H. C. As it was so near St
Michael and All Angels, the Padre gave an extremely good address about the
angels. The first hymn was “Praise the Lord ye Heavens Adore Him”, to the tune
of the Austrian National Anthem, and the Psalm was no: xci; the “air raid”
After the service we chatted to Miss Cole and her father, the churchwarden, a
charming old gentleman, and they invited us to tea with them on Tuesday, just
before we leave.
In the afternoon Diana, Janet and I met Miss Cole and an American lady for tea
at the English Club.
After dinner Diana and I walked down the long slope into the centre of the town.
The lights over the water and up the mountains at the back of Funchal were
absolutely wonderful. We had a coffee on the quayside, and it was really
The lights of Funchal by night.
Monday 4th October 1954
Our last full day here, as we sail at midnight tomorrow. I felt I had a lot
to do as I had had to waste so much valuable time in resting and keeping quiet
owing to the heat and Madeira fever.
The padre had told me that all the early records of English families, births,
marriages, deaths etc were not kept at the church as I had expected, but at the
British Consulate. I wanted to see all I could, so directly after breakfast I
made my way there. It is just next to the Tourismo in the Central Plaza.
The Consul, Mr Fladgate, was on leave in England, but I was shown to the office
of the Vice Consul, Mr Boileau. He was most kind and interested when I told him
of my Phelps relationship, and immediately opened the safes and dug out huge
leather bound tomes, in which the entries go back well over 150 years. He found
the entry of the birth of my Aunt Janey in 1842, amongst others, which was a
great thrill. She died in 1926, and I had lived with her during the last few
years of her life.
Mr Boileau smilingly warned me that he was obliged to make a charge of 2/- for
every register opened, but at the end of our most friendly chat, when I asked
the damage, he said he could not possibly think of charging anything to a
relative of the Phelpses. He then suggested that I should go and call on Mr Noël
Cossart, the head of the wine firm of Cossart, Gordon & Co., and told me that Mr
Crossart has a wonderful collection of early records of English families in
Madeira, and he would be able to tell me more about the early history of the
Phelps family and time than anyone else.
Mr Noël Crossart
Accordingly I made my way to the establishment, which was only a few yards away,
in the same block. It is entered under an archway which leads to a cobbled
courtyard, with very high cream washed buildings all around. There are a number
of wooden outside stair cases and balconies, all draped with creepers, and it
was very hot and most picturesque. A Madeiran employee in blue dungarees came
up, and I asked for Mr Noël Cossart. The man showed me up one of the staircases
into a huge dim cool room, smelling of wine, so dark after the glare outside
that I was almost blinded for a few minutes. There was a long bar across one
end, and tables and chairs, made of cut down barrels, grouped about. Everything
was old ancient dark wood, and impregnated with the fumes of wine.
In a moment or two Mr Cossart appeared. He was most charming, and seemed
genuinely excited to meet a Phelps descendant. He gave me a tiny glass of some
exquisisite wine, and went to get out some of his collections of old records. He
has apparently made a most careful study of the subject, and turned up the most
amazing items for me; old wine lists and invoices going back 150 years, letters
and notes etc. I could have spent hours browsing through them.
The name of Phelps appeared over and over again from 1786 onwards, and I made
quick notes as we turned over the pages. The Phelpses had been the leading
English family in Madeira for so many years that they became known as the
“Phelpses of Madeira". A Phelps (my father’s family) married a Vizard of Dursley
(my mother’s family) in the early years of the last century, and on a tablet in
the church at Dursley, Gloucestershire, he is mentioned as “… Phelps of
Madeira”. The Phelps family originally came from Dursley, and went to Madeira as
vine growers and wine merchants in the 18th century.
During Aunt Janey’s their position was such that they had the entertaining of
all foreign royalty etc. visiting the island, and Aunt Janey told me that as a
child she remembers being taken to the drawing room after dinner and sitting on
the knee of Emperor Napoleon! It was in order to help the women on their great
vineyard estates, that Aunt Janey’s eldest sister Elizabeth, started the little
embroidery school, from which has now grown the industry which is the greatest
source of revenue to the island; greater even than the wine trade. During the
time I lived with Aunt Janey, I remember her showing me the big folio of
original drawings made by Great Aunt Elizabeth. What became of these at Aunt
Janey’s death I do not know, alas.
In going through the old records with Mr Cossart I was able to tell him many
items which I had been told by Aunt Janey, and these he entered amongst his notes.
One of these early notes was to the effect that in the first half of the last
century the whole island was in a bad state from lack of trees, and that many
trees had brought in and planted by the activity of “an English Lady”. I was
able to tell Mr Cossart that this lady was Mrs Joseph Phelps (Aunt Janey’s
mother, nee Elizabeth Dickinson 1797- 1876.) I also told him that
Great-great-aunt Elizabeth used to procure seedlings of various trees, and when
the family and guests went out picnicking in the mountains each member of the
party was given a seedling tree, and asked to plant it at the picnic spot. For
many years after the resultant clumps of trees were known as “Mrs Phelps’s
When I told Mr Cossart this he thought a moment, then said, “Yes, of course, I
remember years ago hearing mention of Mrs Phelps’ picnic places, but never knew
what the name implied.”
I longed to spend hours going through all the folios of records, but had
promised to meet Janet at 11:30. Before I left, Mr Cossart took me round some of
the old buildings and wine stores. The main buildings were divided by a narrow
cobbled alleyway, only about 10 – 12 feet wide, open to the sky. Mr Cossart told
me that this used to be one of the main streets of Funchal in the early days.
The buildings used to be monastic, and the alleyway was spanned at one point by
a little building at first floor level, which used to be a chapel. It is now
only a store room and passage between the upper parts of the building.
We went through acres of vaults where the air almost made me drunk. I remarked
on this to Mr Cossart, who smiled and said he did not notice it as he was always
in it, “But if you really want to smell something, come in here,” and he unlocked
a smaller darker vault, roof high with casks in which the oldest wines of all
were stored. I took a couple of sniffs then exclaimed “Sorry, I’ve got to get
out of here, or you have to be carrying me out,” and retreated hastily into the
courtyard. The smell of the wine was marvellous, but completely overpowering. Mr
Cossart pointed out one smaller cask that had been originally laid down in1795!
It has been “topped up” at intervals since, I believe, but the original wine is
still there, and in superb condition.
Madeira wines are the only ones which never deteriorate with age, and this is
believed to be due to the fact that they are subjected to heat during the
maturing process. They are kept at a temperature of 100ºF for eight months; this
is now done artificially, but it originated in the early days when quantities of
Madeira wine were sent to the East Indies in sailing ships. The voyage took
eight months, and the average heat in the hold was 100ºF This was found to have
such a remarkable effect on their maturing qualities also giving them a
distinctive bouquet that this has become a regulation process with all Madeira
At the hotel I had asked the wine steward for a bottle of something really
special, and he produced a Malvoisie 1905. It was exquisite, almost a liqueur,
and only cost the equivalent of 10/-.
Most of the woodwork in the wine vaults were enormous old timbers from sailing
ships, and the huge storage vats, which must have been 12-15 feet in diameter
and towered, cone shaped, into the darkness overhead, were of satin wood, a rich
golden colour and silky to the touch.
In a corner sat a very old man at a small table. On the table were a number of
blocks of wood, about six inches long, tapering down from 3” at one end to about
2 “ or 1.5” at the other, Behind him hung a mass of what appeared to be narrow
strips of leather, which he was binding over and round the blocks of wood.
I asked what he was doing.
“He is making bungs for the big casks, “Mr Cossart explained, “and those strips
are not leather, but the outer fibre of banana trees.”
He went on to say that the old man was 86, and had been in the firm’s employ for
over 70 years. He was long past active work, but was so attached to the firm
that he would not take his dismissal with the pension offered, so had been given
this quiet, but highly skilled job, at which no one could equal him. These fibre
covered bungs are more efficient than any other type, on account of the slightly
compressible nature of the thick covering of banana fibre, which makes a perfect
Before leaving, Mr Cossart told me to call on Mrs Farra the head of the largest
embroidery firm in the island, assuring me that she would be delighted to meet a
descendant of the founders of the industry.
It was hard to tear myself away from this most interesting place, and from Mr
Cossart’s friendly and most interesting company, but time had flown and I knew
that Janet was waiting for me.
We met and had coffee, then went to the cathedral, which Janet seemed to find a
lot more interesting than she had anticipated. I told her I wanted to call on
Mrs Farra, so we made our way to the embroidery establishment.
[Aunt Frances subsequently sent Mr Cossart her
Notes on the Family of Phelps of Maderia. NGH]
Mrs Farra is English, young, attractive and a real enthusiast about her firm.
She seemed really thrilled when I introduced myself, and called her husband (who
I think is Portuguese) also another gentleman, a member of the firm, who was
writing a brochure on the history of the embroidery industry in Madeira. He
again I was able to give them some details of the Phelps’s history, which seemed
to please them very much.
Mrs Farra took Janet and I all over their huge establishment, where we saw every
process, from the draughtsmen who design the patterns, the pricking out of the
transfers, the gauge by which every stitch is recorded for pricing purposes, the
piles of work newly brought in from the women’s cottages, filthy dirty and
crumpled, the laundries where it is washed, the huge ironing rooms, where scores
of women work with electric irons plugged to overhead cables, the cutting girls
who snip out the open work at incredible speed, to the final racks on which the
exquisite finished articles are place ready for sale or export.
I told Mrs Farra of the folio of original designs which Aunt Janey had had, and
described one or two as nearly as I could remember after all these years. Mrs
Farra recognised my description at once, and said that is one of the old
original designs which is still in use, a vine leaf with grapes, and gave me a
charming table mat in that design, as a souvenir. I was really delighted with
[I was presented with a letter giving a
history of the Madeira Embroidery Industry.]
As it was lunch time by now Mrs Farra drove Janet back to the Savoy in her own
car, and Mr Farra took me to the Miramar in his. They are obviously extremely
wealthy, but a most unassuming and delightful couple. They seemed to be most
popular with all their employees, judging by the smiles that followed Mrs Farra
everywhere, and all the working conditions in their factory were excellent. The
great roofs were light and cool and everywhere was well ventilated and
spotlessly clean, and all the women and girls looked happy.
In the afternoon four of us, Diana, Gertrude O’Gorman, Mr Deeks, and I hired a
car and went out to Cabo Girão, the second highest sea cliff in the world.
We set off along the exquisite coast road westwards, over which we had gone in
the dark on Saturday night, to the village of Câmara de Lobos.
The village lies
in a little bay and is extremely picturesque.
Many artists, including Sir
Winston Churchill, come here for the sake of the beauty, and glorious colourings
of the sea, red roofed houses, and mountains.
||Diana Cragoe (L)
Gertrude O’Gorman (R)
||Diana Cragoe (L)
Gertrude O’Gorman (C)
Beyond Câmara de Lobos the road wound crazily in and out of huge ravines cutting
down from the mountains inland. At times we were quite a long way inland before
the ravines were narrow enough to bridge. The cultivation terraces, many of them
not containing more than a few square yards of soil, clung dizzily up the sides
of the mountains. How the people ever get to these tiny cultivation areas is a
mystery. On looking up at a huge mountainside almost overhead, the dry stone
retaining walls of the terraces look like the stone roves of the Cotswolds; like
stone tiles almost overlapping each other.
Swinging round a violent curve we saw ahead what appeared to be the road
shooting up almost vertically over a forest covered crag, the top of the road
appearing as a horizon line between the trees far up in the sky. We were fairly
well broken in to violent road conditions by this time, but I voiced the
feelings of the party when I observed firmly: “If that’s our road going up
there, this is where I get out and walk!”
Fortunately our road swung away to the left at the foot of that frightful
incline, and climbed at a rather more reasonable gradient round the foot of the
crag. We thought afterwards that that cutting though the forest might have been
a timber chute.
Eventually we came out on top of Cabo Girão. It is a stupendous cliff, 1804 feet
sheer down to the sea, with the most breath taking views along the coast, right
beyond Funchal and round the bay, and vast basin of mountains behind.
The usual crowd of urchins materialised, and one in particular was the most
devastatingly persistent little horror we had met anywhere. He was under our
feet at every step reiterating “Escudo, Escudo, Escudo,” in an utterly
expressionless voice, then coughed all over me as I was changing a film.
We passed groups of men like these carrying the crude wine in goatskins; we also
saw them carrying loads of grapes in huge tall baskets.
We could not spend very long at Cabo Girão as we also wanted to see Grande
Curral [Curral das Freiras], a village at the bottom of a crater. We retraced
our route as far as Câmara de Lobos, then cut up into the interior via S.
Martinho and Pico dos Barcelos, and S. Antonio. The road twisted madly up the
ravines, and the views were absolutely incredible. This road was far more
primitive and unfrequented than the one over which we had gone one the previous
run, though the surface and construction were in very good condition.
The mountains got higher and craggier, and the afternoon was getting late, till
at last we seemed to be clinging to the edge of a vast black pit with towering
bare rocks all around, behind which the sun was sinking.
Suddenly the car stopped, and the driver remarked” Finish here, no more road,”
and how right he was. The road stopped abruptly on a small open area of not than
a few square yards, and on getting out, we saw that we were on the very edge of
a huge dark abyss which yawned below. Creeping cautiously to the edge of the
little platform we looked over, and there, more than a thousand feet below, were
scattered houses and a church.
A terrifying footpath, hardly more than a goat track, led down from our
platform, and this is the only means of approach to the village. All produce,
food, commodities, building materials etc. have to be carried on men’s shoulders
up and down. A pile of planks and tiles were lying near the car, waiting to be
carried down. We asked in amazement why people should ever have chosen to live
in such a position, and were told that the bottom of the crater, and the
cultivation terraces up the sides, form the richest growing area in the whole
island. This is, of course, on account of the volcanic nature of the soil.
English man once walked down to the village and back again. He was a strong
walker, but it took him three hours, and he was utterly exhausted by the time he
got up again; yet the inhabitants of the village think nothing of it, even
carrying heavy loads.
We spent the evening at the Savoy with Janet, who is staying on another week.
We did not actually go over these roads
today, but they give a very good idea of the
scenery and the cultivation terraces.
Tuesday 5th October 1954
We had to get packed and out of our rooms by 10:30. It was most frightfully
hot, and the mere effort of packing nearly laid me out. I met Janet in town
later in the morning, and in the afternoon she, Diana and I went to tea with Mr
and Miss Cole.
and Miss Cole have a charming villa beyond the Miramar, with a most
glorious view from the balcony.
Miss Cole’s maternal uncle, Mr Martolini, lives
with them. He has spent most of his life in Egypt, and when he mentioned Port
Said, I said, by way of making conversation, “Did you know anyone of the name of
Broatch there?” The old gentleman absolutely gasped and replied ”Cyril Broatch
was my boss,” where upon he and I fell into each other’s arms and could talk of
nothing else the whole of tea time. (Cyril Broatch is the husband of Doc’s
sister.) I really thought he would have a heart attack with excitement. It
certainly was the most curious coincidence that we should have met under such
utterly fortuitous circumstances. Mr Martolini had been in Cyril’s firm since
1904, and of course knew Gen and their children well.
We sat on the balcony as dusk fell, and watched the moon rise over the banana
groves just below, and the sea beyond, while the myriad lights sprang up over
the mountain slopes. It was utterly lovely, and I hated to feel we should be
leaving so soon.
We had to get back to dinner at 19:00 and the cars came at 20:30 to take us to
the quay. Numbers of friends that were staying longer came to see us off,
including Janet. Once on board Mr Deeks, Diana and I hung over the bulwarks
watching all the launches bringing everyone from the other hotels. The “dizzy
blondes,” who were staying on, came to bid fond farewells to their devoted
escorts. They were both in extremely décolleté evening dresses, and posed with
much elegance in the most effective positions under the light. They tried to
look heartbroken as Jimmie and Charlie came on board, but didn’t succeed very
well. I should think they must have been thankful to see the back of them, as
they both drank like fish. We heard afterwards that Jimmie was a dipsomaniac and
had had several haemorrhages while at the Savoy.
the boats with diving boys and things for sale, came alongside. It was
really a wonderful picture, the lights along the water front and glittering
all up the huge black sides of the mountains behind Funchal, and under our
sides the little boats each carrying a flare. The boys dived for the coins
by the light of the flares, and the reflections on the dark water and on
their gleaming brown bodies were an unforgettable sight. The shouting,
yelling, and clapping went on non-stop until we drew out at midnight.
We stayed on deck for sometime afterwards until the lights of Funchal
were blotted out by a great black headland.
I shared a cabin with Mrs Powell, my cabin companion on the outbound voyage. The
cabin was next to the one we had before, and the airlessness and vibration were
as bad as ever, but this time I was forewarned and got some dope from the nurse
directly I began to feel bad; so managed better.
The home bound voyage was just the same as the outbound, but in reverse. I
missed Janet, but was quite happy with the companionship of Diana and Mr Deeks.
It was most amusing to see how the cliques had crystallised out, and to watch
the numberless mushroom romances which had developed. Most of the passengers
were the same, though there were a good many others taking the place of those
who were staying longer on Madeira.
Wednesday 6th October 1954
The only item of note was that I had my hair washed by the hairdresser –
He dealt with men and women alike in the same little cabin. Everything was
beautifully clean and professional, but it was rather a novelty to sit under the
drier and see men come in for hair cuts etc.
Thursday 7th October 1954
Turning perceptibly colder, and everyone is gradually reverting to warmer
I won 11/- on the horse racing in the saloon.
Friday 8th October 1954
Everyone looked very dull and ordinary in English cold weather clothes, and
quite different from what they had been looking in sun-tops and fantastic
We had to pack early and have our luggage out of the cabins by 10:30 which was
an awful nuisance as we were not disembarking till next morning. We put into
Falmouth for refuelling about 19:00.
There was a grand farewell dance and party
in the evening which went on till well after midnight, and I staggered into my
bunk well after 01:00.
Saturday 9th October 1954
Did not get much sleep as we had to be up in time for 6:15 breakfast!
There was a dock strike in London and they wanted to push us off as soon as
possible in case the strike spread to Plymouth. Quite a number of the other
ships queued up behind us, having been sent into Plymouth instead of London.
It was a glorious morning, and Plymouth sound looked really lovely. We
disembarked on the tender “Sir John Hawkins” at 07:30. There was a long wait at
the customs but I got through unexamined. Had a lot of goodbyes to all my
friends as almost everyone was going up to Paddington on the boat train, and a
bare half dozen, including myself, were going on the south coast route. Had a
long wait for the train at 11:09 and an extremely hot and tiring journey back to
Worthing where I arrived and was met by Doc at 17:00.
has been a truly wonderful experience.
I have planned to go to Madeira for so many years, ever since hearing so
much about it in my youth, and I can’t realise that I have really achieved
it at last.
F. A. Roper 1954