My grandmother had three maids whose total years of service amounted to a century. Of these, Annie, the parlour maid, was the junior and always looked upon as a newcomer, having been with my grandmother a mere twenty years or so. Kitty, the cook, a dear, gentle old soul, with all the traditional family recipes at her fingertips, could boast of between thirty and forts years, but old Agnes could put them both in the shade. She had entered the service of my great-grandmother, Mrs. Arthur Benoni Evans, as a “tweeny—maid’ at the age of fourteen, When my grandmother married she had gone with her as her personal maid, and had remained in her service ever since.
This seems a good opportunity to quote the excellent advice on the management of a Victorian husband, which was given by I believe my great-grandmother to my grandmother on the occasion of the latter’s impending marriage. It may even have been given my great-great-grandmother to my great-grandmother, for I know that it was a legacy from very far back. It ran as follows:
"My dear, never argue with your husband, no dutiful wife should ever do such a thing. If ever you have a difference of opinion on any matter, let him stamp round the house and shout the loud thunder, and then you do as you please.”
Those dutiful, Victorian wives certainly knew all about there was to know the management of overbearing husbands.
My grandmother had left provision for her three old servants, and Father and Uncle George
saw to it that their life-long service and devotion to the family was never forgotten. After Kitty and Agnes were dead Annie’s husband lost his job, owing
the closing of the club, and Father and Uncle George then set Annie and her husband up in a private hotel of their own, where they remained to the end of their lives.
Unfortunately I never saw my great-uncle John Evans, though his name was a household word, neither did I ever see his son Arthur, much to my regret. While travelling in the Balkans with Arthur, Father had become as severely bitten with the bug of archaeology as Arthur was, though not being a man of wealth and leisure as was his cousin, Father was unable to devote his life to the study as Arthur did. The archaeological germ has always been very virulent in our family, and at the moment I am the youngest victim, though I look forward to seeing the symptoms develop in my nephews. [NOT YET!] Strangely enough, after we were married, my husband and I discovered that our respective great uncles, Sir John Evans, and Charles Roach Smith, had been lifelong friends, their friendship being founded upon a mutual love of archaeology. Small wonder that with the love of the subject so deeply inborn in each of us, we should devote most of our spare time to working at excavations on the South Downs and elsewhere. We are both Past Presidents of the Worthing Archaeo1ogical Society, and in the Report for 1954, referring to my Presidency, it states:
“by the holding of which, the Society has enjoyed the rather unusual experience of a husband and wife both occupying the Presidential Chair, Major Roper having been President In 1939
My life's span
The span of my life, coinciding so closely with the first half of the century, looks in retrospect like a bridge, the far side of which just impinges on those wealthy and spacious days of which so much has been told to me by my elders and betters. My seniors in the family ranked high among the “haves” of their period, and all their reminiscences bore the strong imprint of the days when rank and birth were more highly prized than mere wealth. For those fortunate ones who possessed all these blessings, as they did, life must have been pleasant indeed.
The bridge of my life has spanned the eclipse of an era in social life, as well as in world history, and the survivors of the old
families which reached their zenith in the Victorian period, are now few in number and rapidly submerging under the rising tide of democracy. In the modern world birth and breeding are liabilities rather than assets, and those who have inherited the instincts of centuries of good blood, find themselves ill equipped to cope with the crudities of present-day
conditions. It is a sad and lonely thing to be an anachronism, and perhaps it is just as well that there are
so few of us surviving.
One of my favourite stories was this, that Father loved to tell of his uncle, Sebastian Evans, the same who, in his old age, amused me by spinning
tee-to-turns all over my grandmother’s dining table.
Another story of Bosworth days does not, strictly speaking, concern the family, but is too good to lose. There was a certain field in the neighbourhood, across which was a right of way. The owner tried in every way he could to close this right of way, and war raged long and loud between him and the local inhabitants. Eventually he decided to discourage people from crossing his meadow by putting a savage bull to graze there. Needless to say, the local authorities of that day did not exercise the powers that they do now. Putting the bull in the field was the last straw, and the village got together and held an indignation meeting, but no one could think of a solution. At last the blacksmith, a huge and powerful man, and a great friend of Father’s during the latter’s boyhood, undertook to settle the matter in his own way. Very early the next morning he went alone to the field, armed only with a heavy club. As soon as the bull caught sight of the blacksmith, he let out a bellow and charged him with lowered head. The blacksmith stood his ground till the bull was almost upon him, then he gave it such a blow on the head with his cudgel, that it stopped short, dazed and bewildered. Thereupon the blacksmith seized it by the tail, and off they went round and round the field, the blacksmith belabouring the bull with his club, till eventually man and beast were exhausted. But the blacksmith won, for the bull stopped first, and the blacksmith employed the remainder of his strength by giving the now docile bull a few final blows, just for good measure. Never again did that bull attack a human being. Ever afterwards it was the meekest bull in the county. What the reactions of its owner were, have not been recorded.
The last story from Bosworth, this time about a patient of my grandfather’s, Dr. John Waddington Hubbard, the husband of Emma Evans.
Two of Father’s cousins, brothers of about his own age, living in Hemel Hempstead, were the subject of some stories which I always enjoyed hearing, They were John and Thomas Dickinson, commonly known as Johnny and Tommy. Their father died when they were in their teens, and they became an unceasing source of anxiety to their guardian, From their grandfather, John Dickinson, the founder of the firm, they had inherited a large fortune, but this seems to have been entailed upon the elder son, Johnny. Tommy, who was of a far more explosive and imaginative disposition than his elder brother, bitterly resented this, and took a fiendish delight in tormenting Johnny in every ingenious manner which his brilliant wits and mordant sense of humour could devise. The riots between them were endless, Johnny trying to assert his senior position, and Tommy retaliating with the most inspired devilries.
When Johnny was out of the house one day, Tommy harnessed two donkeys into the donkey cart, and proceeded to drive them up the main staircase arid into the drawing room. Here the donkeys, unimpressed by their sumptuous surroundings, proceeded to use the priceless carpet as if it were their own stable litter. The infuriated Johnny, on his return, found Tommy on his knees before the impassive donkeys, with clasped hands fervently praying for more.
Another time Johnny “got religion”. The Salvation Army was developing strongly and Johnny arranged that a large party of Salvationists, complete with banners and band, should come at his expense, and hold a mass meeting in the town. Tommy got wind of this, and decided to do his utmost to make the occasion a memorable one. He went down to the roughest purlieus of the East End, and got together a skeleton army of the toughest types he could find. He chartered a special train, and having given his army their instructions, likewise plenty of beer, he marched them down the main street just as Johnny, with his Salvationists, was advancing from the opposite end. The skeleton army fell upon the Salvationists, who after a momentary shock, retaliated full-bloodedly. Instruments and banners were used indiscriminately as weapons, windows were broken and shutters torn down, and, as the battle raged up and down the street Tommy, having possessed himself of the big drum, marched to and fro in the thick of the fight banging impartially upon the big drum and all the heads in his vicinity. Father, who was in practice in the town at the time, said he had never before had so many broken heads, black eyes and injured limbs to deal with, as appeared in his surgery that evening.
On another occasion Johnny fell ill. Tommy, his heir, was deeply concerned over his brother’s health, and showed the most assiduous interest in his well-being. As Johnny got worse, so Tommy’s concern increased. At length he sent a telegram to his cousin, Norman Evans, who was one of his boon companions, and chief partner in crime. The telegram ran “Johnny very ill, funeral fixed for Thursday. Come and help tread him in.” Unfortunately for Tommy, Johnny recovered, and found out about the telegram. The ensuing fraternal riot made all previous differences look like a curates’ teaparty by comparison.
Norman was outstanding even in that uninhibited generation. His name was a
byword, and though I have never been told a fraction of his escapades the tone of voice and grins of amusement which always accompanied the mere mention of him, revealed more than was considered fit for my young ears. He was the third son of Sir John Evans, and was very attractive, utterly wild and irresponsible, and of great physical strength. Uncle George, Norman’s cousin, has told me that Norman could bend a poker round his neck, and straighten a
horseshoe with his bare hands. Agnes, in common with all the servants in all the
establishments of the clan, adored him, though they were unceasingly victimised by his ingenious methods of torment. Agnes used to tell me of some of his pet tricks. In the servants’ hail in one of the family houses was a shelf high up on the wall. When all the maids were assembled just before a
meal was to be served, Norman would burst in, and seizing them one after the other, sling them all up on to this shelf, which was far too high for
them to get down from. There they would all sit, balancing precariously, in a screaming, fluttering row. Bells would ring all over the house, as the family awaited their dinner, while Norman stood there, “killing himself with laughter” as Agnes
said, watching the frantic plight of his victims. Their only passport for release was a kiss all round for Master Norman.