Margaret Griffin’s story

Margaret played a vital role in search and rescue during the Second World War, saving the lives of 21 people when she and her working dogs managed to locate them in the rubble of the doodlebug blitz. Training dogs to find buried people was an incredibly new (and incredibly dangerous) thing in the 1940s, and Margaret was at the forefront of this practice – and even was awarded a gong for bravery.

Margaret, in about 1913

Co-incidentally, a house she spent some of her early life living in later played an important part in saving people’s lives too, although long after she left. Rowden Hill House, just beneath Chippenham’s Hospital, was accommodation for nursing staff in the 1960s and 1970s, and is now in need of some tender loving care itself. Margaret lived there with her family from before 1909 until late 1913, but also lived in the USA, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

She wasn’t born in Chippenham, however. She was born down the Great Western Road in Marlborough in 1889, the second of three daughters of Robert (Bob) Chaloner Critchley Long and Maud Johnson. Her father Bob, sometimes given as a gentleman and at other times given as a brewer and wine merchant, was a younger son of a Welsh MP, albeit one with a long family heritage of landowning in Wiltshire, and thus had no title and few expectations than his elder brother, but went into the army as well as running a brewing business.

Margaret’s older sister Muriel was born in Berkshire, while her younger sister Joan came along while the family were in Devon, so it sounds like the family were quite mobile. By 1901, they were in a large house, Ludford Park, in Shropshire. This was a timbered property, dating from around the early 17th century, and sat on a river bank just south of Ludlow. Here the household had ten servants, including a governess to educate Margaret and her sisters.

Two views of Ludford House in Shropshire

While Margaret’s uncle Walter became an MP like her grandfather, held seven different constituencies over 41 years and spent 16 years as a cabinet minister, her father Bob also had some political ambitions. To that end, he bought Rowden Hill House in Chippenham at some point before 1909, and campaigned to be the Conservative and Unionist Party MP for West Wiltshire (at that time you did not need to live in your constituency) for the first 1910 general election, held in January.

This meant that Margaret and her sister Joan moved into Rowden Hill House (elder sister Muriel had married a few years earlier), and became involved in campaigning for their father’s victory. In Margaret’s case, that meant becoming part of the local branch of the Women’s Unionist and Tariff Reform Association.

Rowden Hill House in Chippenham, now in a state of disrepair

This group, from the days before women could vote, were a way some women could get involved in politics and have an influence on the way men voted. The Tariff Reform League, of which they were an offshoot, formed in 1903, was effectively a pressure group promoting British empire industry and products over those imported from elsewhere. The Unionist part of their name meant that they opposed home rule in Ireland. These values were extremely popular and aligned with the Conservative party, who at the time were known as the Conservative and Unionist party. One of the key tenets of the Women’s Unionist and Tariff Reform Association was that women’s engagement in political life was vital, both as citizens and as consumers of goods. This was part of a wider evolving of thought which was part of the process of women gaining a vote.

Despite Margaret’s involvement, her father did not win the West Wiltshire seat in January 1910, and did not stand again in the subsequent general election in December 1910, which was called to attempt to pass a mandate.

The family stayed at Rowden Hill House despite the end of her father’s political career, though it appears that he and his wife moved around in subsequent years. Margaret, aged 22, and her sister Joan were living at Rowden Hill on the 1911 census, with a houseful of servants. Neither of them has any profession given, and their parents aren’t at home.

From a 1900 advert offering the property to let, the house at that time had four reception rooms, servants’ accommodation, thirteen bed and dressing rooms, stables, a coach house, a gardener’s cottage and even two orchards.

This would seem slightly excessive for a family of four at the time, but a large house would have projected their monied status within the community, and room for entertaining and house parties was an essential part of life for people who moved in their circles.

An announcement of Margaret’s impending marriage was made in the society papers in March 1911 when she was 22. Her intended was Andrew Reynold Uvedale Corbett, of Crabwell Hall in Cheshire.

For whatever reason, this marriage did not take place. Andrew never married, and instead became an antique dealer in Hampshire. The end of the engagement got a quiet mention in The Gentlewoman in March 1912.

Margaret’s family remained at Rowden Hill until late 1913, when Robert and Maud moved them to Northcliffe House, just outside Bradford on Avon. It was from this house that Margaret actually did get married, in January 1914. Her new husband was Jack Giffard, a member of a prestigious family from Lockeridge, near Marlborough.

Margaret at the time of her wedding announcement in 1914

Jack was serving with the Royal Horse Artillery at the time, and as such might have expected to see action when the First World War began later that year. He was promoted to Captain that October, and does appear to have been involved in the early part of the conflict, even winning the Légion d’Honneur, as part of the British Expeditionary Force – but after his twin brother was killed in action in the first autumn of the war he seems to have stepped back a little from active duty.

Instead, he was specially employed by the war office from 1915. Margaret had their first daughter, Violet, in 1915, when they were living at Long Ashton just south of Bristol. She was pregnant with their next daughter – Sybelle – when Jack was sent to the USA on war business of the Anglo-Russian sub-committee in the Autumn of 1915, without her. Sybelle entered the world in Charlton in Kent in April 1916, presumably close to where Jack had been garrisoned before he left the country. She was then baptised near Marlborough, as Margaret had presumably brought her daughters back to Jack’s family in Wiltshire for support caring for them while her husband was away.

In June 1916, around two months after giving birth to Sybelle, Margaret arrived in New York to reunite with Jack. Neither baby Sybelle nor toddler Violet went with her, so they were cared for elsewhere. She spent two years in New York with Jack, and they arrived back after the war was over, in December 1918, with a third baby – Jacqueline – in tow.

Her mother died near Melksham in the early months of 1919, which may have been the reason Margaret and Jack hastened back to England. Later that year, Margaret and Jack purchased Shurnhold House at Melksham, perhaps intending it to be their family home.

In reality though, it appears Jack spent very little time there as he’s given as going back and forth to New York on ships over the next couple of years, and by the time the 1921 census was taken Margaret and Jack’s daughters were at the house being cared for by staff while Jack was on war business in London. Margaret was also not at home on the 1921 census, as she was visiting her younger sister Joan in Westminster. Joan had been married and divorced by this time, and was working as a dressmaker’s model.

After this, Margaret and the children (and Jack, when he was in the country), lived first in Amersham in Buckinghamshire, and then in Putney. Another daughter, Eleanor, joined them in 1923, and they rented out Shurnhold House.

It’s while they were in Putney that a glimpse of Margaret’s life to come starts to shine through. There’s a newspaper reference to a Mrs Giffard being involved in demonstrating the skills of working dogs, alongside a police dogs demonstration, in January of 1924 at Crystal Palace. The article radiates some excitement at the potential for the use of working dogs, since this was a particularly new idea anywhere other than the North East transport police forces who had been using dogs since around 1906. She was also an honorary secretary of the Alsatian Sheep, Police and Army Dog Society around this time.

However, there’s no further mention of her connected with dog training after this, and Jack seems to have decided to become a farmer in the newly formed British colony of Southern Rhodesia, so left for Africa in September 1925. Margaret’s father appears to have gone out there slightly earlier, so the plan may have been for the rest of the family to come and join him and become prosperous out there. At some point after that Margaret and her daughters followed him, and both her sisters ended up there too. Jack went back and forth between various African ports and England several times over the next few years, but Margaret never seemed to be with him.

Mrs Giffard has one last mention at a Catholic wedding in Harare in 1927, where her two younger daughters were bridesmaids, and then there is no more mention of Margaret under that name.

Two of Margaret’s daughters as bridesmaids in Rhodesia in 1927

Jack remarried in Penhalonga, Southern Rhodesia, in 1933, so their relationship had come to an end. Her father died in 1938, in Wraxall, Southern Rhodesia, and – alongside leaving his housekeeper £200 for looking after his grandchildren – his will refers to Margaret as Margaret Bruce Griffin, so it appears that she had remarried too.

This marriage took place in New Zealand in 1930, to Harold Desmond Griffin. They returned to Britain in 1935 and settled in Sussex, where Harold worked as a farm manager and Margaret started her own boarding kennels. This marriage does not appear to have lasted either, as by the beginning of the Second World War Margaret was in Surrey, living on her own. She kept goats and poultry, and was training dogs for both war and the police.

Margaret was, by this stage, a renowned breeder and trainer of German Shepherd dogs, or Alsatians as they were known at the time. She attended various dog shows with her charges, and was becoming well known for the breed. German Shepherds had been favoured as police and working dogs since the Hull force – the first in the country to employ dogs – had decided to use them in 1923. Forces elsewhere in the country gradually became interested, and the Home Office had set up a committee to evaluated the use of dogs in policing in 1934, with a couple of labradors added to the Metropolitan force in 1935.

There were two schools training dogs for war work. The Army’s War Dogs Training School was initially based at Aldershot, then at Ickenham and then in Hertfordshire. It started with just a few dogs but by 1944 had capacity for 750 canines. Margaret became part of the staff at the other school, the Ministry of Aircraft Production Guard Dog School (MAPGDS), which was based at Woodfold near Gloucester. This school had been founded in November 1941 by Lieutenant Colonel Baldwin, and started with just 15 dogs. Two years later there were 665 dogs either training or working at Ministry of Aircraft Production sites throughout the UK. The MAPGDS was absorbed into the RAF Police and retitled the RAF Police Dog Training School in 1944.

While working with training police dogs was important in terms of developing that relationship and the skills involved in policing, Margaret and a couple of other trainers actually played a far more important part in war work. She was involved in the instigation of training and using dogs to locate and find people needing rescuing from disasters – bombs, gas explosions and building collapses. The concept of Search and Rescue Dogs was an entirely new idea at the time.

The dogs used for rescuing, however, while trained at these schools, weren’t those used by the military or police but instead tended to be the personal dogs of these trainers.

The story of how dogs came to be used for rescuing trapped people from under rubble is rumoured to have come from Colonel Baldwin having watched The Siege of Stalingrad at Cheltenham cinema which gave rise to the idea that dogs – with their enhanced sense of smell – could be trained to locate buried casualties. Indeed, the first documented rescue of an avalanche victim located by an untrained dog occurred in 1937. Margaret lit on the idea and started working on it with dogs from her kennels, and recalled a couple of dogs that had previously been through the MAP school to see if they could be retrained. One dog she retrieved from New Zealand.

They began working on commands and tells, and eventually gave a demonstration to the Minister of Home Security where volunteers hid themselves on bombed sites amid burning rags. The dogs had located their targets within two minutes. The first dog to go into service was Jet, who had been trained by Margaret. The dog started working on a site that had been bombed by a V-1 attack in north London in October 1944, and was distracted by onlookers, but soon after that located three deceased casualties after another attack at Purley.

After this, Margaret formed a team with two of her dogs – Irma and Psyche – from her renowned Crumstone Kennel, and worked alongside rescue teams throughout the doodlebug blitz, where V-1 flying bombs fell on London, to locate casualties buried under collapsed buildings. Between them, Margaret and her dogs managed to locate 233 victims in the rubble, 21 of whom were still alive. They also located buried pets alongside the humans.

Crumstone Irma, one of Margaret’s top dogs

Irma was particularly good at locating. She would change the sound of her bark when she felt that a victim was still alive, and would often not leave the site until the casualty was found. On one occasion it took two days to unearth two girls, and Irma refused to leave. Another tell from the dogs that indicated that someone was to be found was for Psyche and Irma’s ears to suddenly lie flat on their neck, and they would also excitedly scratch at the remains of the houses if they believed someone was alive.

Margaret, who attended the sites with the dogs in a blue-serge civil defence great coat and a beret with a German Shepherd badge on it, would also put her own safety at risk while working with her team to rescue people. She appears to have been incredibly brave and stoical about the work in hand. Extracts from her diary, which is believed to be held by the Dogs’ Trust, read:

11 and 12.11.1944. Rocket at Shooter’s Hill. 20.05 hrs. Public House, Ambulance Depot and 2 offices. Put Irma on right away. Frightful mess. Most of the casualties known to be in bar and billiard room of Pub but a few “unknowns” had to be located. Irma gave strong indication to right of debris… Digging proceeded here and after 2 hours the bodies of 2 women were recovered in the exact position, under approximately 7 feet of debris below the dog’s indication.”

21.11.1944 – Rocket on Walthamstowe (sic), 12.30 hrs. Arrived on site 13.30 hrs. Four houses completely demolished, about twelve badly knocked about. Things were made no easier by water pipes burst in all directions and a bad gas leak under the debris. A smashed meter was pouring gas into the rubble. Worked Irma. In spite of the stench of gas, she indicated at a point at the back of the debris. From the front of the building, she and I went right under the floors crawling on our stomachs in water. She lay down here when we reached a point approximately dead below the spot where she had indicated. Below this the bodies of a woman and two children were buried 4ft under fine rubble and dust.

20.1.1945 – Call to Osborne Road, Tottenham at 21:00 hrs. In house No.1 Irma found two live casualties. In No.2 Irma again gave good indication just to one side of a fairly large and fierce fire burning through collapsed house debris. Thick smoke rising here. Family of five found. In No.3 a strong indication from Irma over the debris. Rescue found a live cat.

Margaret and her dogs working

Once the war came to an end in the spring of 1945, the direct services of Psyche and Irma, and therefore Margaret, were no longer needed with such urgency. However, their courage and wartime roles did not go unrewarded. Irma had been awarded the Dicken Medal (a bravery award for working animals during wartime) in January of 1945, and she and Margaret took part in the victory celebrations on Pall Mall in June 1946, alongside the first rescue dog Jet. They were the only two dogs to take part.

Margaret herself received the British Empire Medal in the 1946 New Year Honours, for her work training and working alongside the dogs.

Away from her war work, both her sisters had died in Harare (then known as Salisbury) during the war – Joan in 1941 and Muriel in 1943. The rest of the family also seem to have continued living in either Southern Rhodesia or South Africa. Margaret’s eldest daughter Violet, had married, then divorced, a wildlife expert. She then married again. Her third daughter Jacqueline married in India during the war, and eventually moved to Australia. And fourth daughter Eleanor became a nun in South Africa. However, there is no indication whether Margaret ever went back to Southern Rhodesia to see them. Her ex-husband Jack died in 1956, also in Southern Rhodesia.

Once the war was over, Margaret and her dogs returned to the dog school at Gloucester, where Irma and Psyche demonstrated their skills alongside another dog called Storm, who was also from Margaret’s Crumstone kennel. The trainers, including Margaret, also began to investigate teaching their dogs to search for victims in terrains other than rubble. Lieutenant Colonel Baldwin arranged for three of the dogs to search a mine in Cumbria after an explosion in 1947. The groundwork put in by Margaret and other trainers during the war built the foundations for modern search and rescue operations.

Later on, Margaret is known to have exhibited dogs from her Crumstone kennel at Crufts Dog Show. There are pictures of her with Irma and Psyche meeting children that she had rescued from rubble in 1945, at Crufts in 1950. Eventually Irma died, and was buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery in Ilford.

Margaret meets children she saved, c1950

As for Margaret, after 1950 she disappears from public view. Presumably she continued to breed German Shepherds and train them when necessary for different purposes. She is known to have lived at Wallingford in Oxfordshire in the early 1950s, and have lived alone.

She died in Henley on Thames, in May 1972, aged 83. Her death went unremarked upon in the newspapers. In a case of life following art, the house where she spent some of her formative years – Rowden Hill House in Chippenham – is now in disrepair and used for the training of police dogs.

Ethel and Minnie’s stories

One of the best known and loved volunteers at the Chippenham Red Cross hospital during the First World War wasn’t a nurse. Ethel Williams was the hospital’s head cook, a role she shared with Minnie Shipp, and is remembered fondly in the surviving documents from the hospital.

Ethel’s actual first name was Gertrude – a relatively popular girls’ name in the 1870s, when she was born – but by the time she was 12 she was known to everyone as Ethel.

Ethel, in her VAD uniform

She was born in Chippenham, to an ex-soldier turned landlord and a mother who was particularly good at running pubs. She had a half-brother and half-sister from her mother’s first marriage, and at the age of five gained another sister – Elsie.

When she was small, the family lived at the Bear Hotel, but her parents gave that up and moved to St Mary Street. When she was 9 her father died, and her mother went back into the pub trade – running several establishments in the town with the help of her children and step-children. Ethel would have grown up helping out in her mother’s pubs – she had at least two at one point – and serving customers.

Aged 21, in 1900, she married a vet – George Williams – who was ten years her senior. She was living in Chippenham’s market place, while he was resident up near St Paul’s Church. The 1901 census finds them together, at the rather innocuously named 2 Langley Road. In fact, 2 Langley Road was The Clift House, a rather grand property with grounds and a fountain in the garden, which was finally demolished in the early 1980s and replaced with sheltered accommodation flats for the elderly.

Former Clift House on Langley Road in Chippenham, taken in 1906, while Ethel lived there

They had two daughters, Margery in 1901 and Caryl in 1905. In 1908 Ethel gave birth to her third child, a son, who sadly did not survive. This boy was not given a name. Their household appears comfortable, with a sizeable property and several domestic servants to help with the chores.

When the First World War hit, in August 1914, Ethel’s daughters were 13 and 9 and at school, and the shortage of male workers meant that women were encouraged to work and volunteer outside the home. While many women took roles making munitions at places like Saxby and Farmer (later Westinghouse), going out to work wasn’t quite right for women of Ethel’s social standing. Instead, they volunteered with the Red Cross. Ethel was part of the committee who worked to provide Belgian refugees arriving in Chippenham in 1914 with food and accommodation. They had escaped the early horrors of the war during that autumn, and were housed in various places in Britain, supported by the local Red Cross.

The next big Red Cross project locally was the hospital that was set up at Chippenham’s Town Hall in 1915. Ethel was engaged here from the outset, alongside other women of her social standing – for example, one daughters of the Clutterbuck family from Hardenhuish House also served, as did the daughter of Lady Coventry of Monkton Park, many of the wives of prominent town businessmen, and even the wife of Ivy Lane School’s headteacher.

The Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) provided nursing care for the wounded from the war, and were an important part of the war effort at home. Chippenham’s Town Hall initially had 40 beds, and received its first patients in early November 1915. Demand became higher, and the hospital expanded to include the Neeld Hall and the Corn Exchange, and by November 1916 there were 100 beds available.

Volunteer staff at Chippenham temporary hospital

Many of the VADs were nurses to the wounded, and – given Ethel’s sister Elsie was at this point nursing in London – it might be expected that Ethel took this role too. However, there were lots of other volunteer jobs needed in the hospital, such as cleaning the wards, attending in the mess room, and washing up.

Ethel became the hospital’s head cook, which she shared alongside Mrs Minnie Shipp from Foxham. Other women also cooked, and she had several volunteers helped prepare vegetables, but Ethel and Minnie were in charge. This meant that they served both patients and staff.

Minnie, who was born Minnie Hatton and originally came from the Bournemouth area, was the wife of a farmer and butcher in Foxham. She came from a food background – her father was a baker, alongside her husband being a butcher – so would seem to have been an obvious choice for the shared role of head cook.

Minnie Shipp, as a VAD

She and her husband Edgar had four children, three girls and a boy. Their son, Frederick, was old enough to serve during the war, so was sent away to the front while Minnie’s daughters stayed at home. They seem to have been a fairly wealthy family. Before setting up as a farmer in Foxham, her husband Edgar ran a butcher’s shop in Bath’s Northgate Street, and the family had several servants – including a “mother’s help” for Minnie. In addition to Minnie volunteering at the hospital during the war, two of her daughters joined her.

Records show that Ethel volunteered for many hours in alternate weeks during her time at the VAD hospital. Presumably, the weeks that Ethel didn’t work were the ones where Minnie was in charge. It’s Ethel’s food at the hospital that is well remembered, however, although Minnie’s fare was probably equally as good, perhaps because she remained in the town after the war where Minnie did not.

Ethel’s cookbook contains recipes for macaroons, nut loaf, pancakes, dried apricot jam and others to the delight of the recovering soldiers. Alongside her duties as a cook she was also in charge of entertainment, arranging visits to local homes and days out for the patients. One of her favourite activities was taking the men for picnics, especially to Cherhill (near Calne).

One picnic in particular would stay with Ethel forever. On 12th July 1918, whilst picnicking with the soldiers, nurse and their families, a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) plane crashed in a nearby field. Piloted by Captain Douglas Ridley Clunes Gabell, the plane was described as an R.E.8 C2236 (140 R et F or RAF WD/21146). He was only 20. Lieutenant George Frederick Delmar-Williamson (aged 19), of Black Watch Regiment, was the passenger on board. The aeroplane was a new machine, and it caught fire after it fell. The accident report recorded ‘both pilot and passenger died of fractured skulls’. The Court of Enquiry said the accident was caused ‘due to the wings collapsing in the air’. This incident affected Ethel greatly and she wrote to the father of Lieutenant Delmar-Williamson in Cheltenham to pass on her condolences.

Ethel served at the hospital until it closed in September 1917, and stayed with the Red Cross after the war ended. She was much loved by the patients, and one (Pte J. C. Dempsey) even wrote a poem about her. She was awarded a certificate of honourable service after the war.

After the war, Ethel returned to life as the vet’s wife, but still volunteered with the Red Cross. Her mother died in 1921, and her half-brother Joe Buckle ran a popular shop on Chippenham’s High Street.

By 1939 George had retired, and they’d left Clift House for a newer house on Malmesbury Road. Ethel was still in the Red Cross reserves during the Second World War. One of their daughters married, but the younger one still lived at home.

George died just after the end of the war, but left Ethel and other relatives a considerable amount of money.

Fellow cook Minnie did not stay in Chippenham. She and husband Edgar had moved to Dorset by the early 1930s, where one of her daughters ran a hotel. They were in West Parley by 1939. Edgar died in 1941, while Minnie lived on until 1946. When she died she left over £14,000.

Ethel lived on at Chippenham’s Malmesbury Road as a widow until the mid-1960s, when she died aged 87 leaving money to a solicitor.

She’s buried at St Paul’s church in Malmesbury Road, next to where her house once stood.


A book, Unity and Loyalty: The Story of Chippenham’s Red Cross Hospital, by Ray Adler, explores the full story of the town’s VADs. It is available at Chippenham museum and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre.

Charlotte C W’s story

One of the ways a gently-born Victorian woman who’d fallen on hard times could make an income respectably was to teach creative skills. In a society where women were expected to be decorative and provide entertainment, there was always a demand for those skills – from peers and for those who aspired to climb the social ladder.

That’s the route Charlotte took when her merchant husband returned to India without her, leaving her to bring up her small son alone. She claimed widowhood, taught piano and singing in fashionable circles, and gave recitals – in London, Chippenham, and Bristol. Except the qualifications she traded upon were actually later proved to be fake. And there is a question mark over whether she actually married her husband at all.

She was the daughter of Edward Peagam, a lawyer who occasionally called himself a gentleman, and his wife Mary. She was their eldest child, born about five years after they married (in London in 1846, with Edward calling himself a gentleman), in Sandbach in Cheshire – a pretty market town to the north-east of Crewe.

However respectable and middle class her background was, it does not appear to have been financially stable. Her father spent as much time becoming bankrupt as he did defending those with debt issues, and his name was often splashed all over the newspapers as owing money to creditors.

It was during one of those periods of bankruptcy that Charlotte was removed from the family home, and sent to Devon to be brought up by her grandmother and aunt Ann.

Her widowed grandmother, Mary Peagam, had been making a living as a hosier – someone who made legwear, so socks and stockings – but had acquired enough of a cushion to live off if wisely invested. Ann was her eldest unmarried daughter. Together they brought up Charlotte in Plymouth, and even when her parents’ financial situation was more stable she wasn’t returned to them.

By 1861 Charlotte’s parents had moved to Bicester in Oxfordshire, where her father was working as a solicitor. They had had two further daughters – Julia and Laura – so Charlotte had younger sisters, but she did not grow up alongside them.

At some point in the 1860s Charlotte’s mother had had enough of the constant financial fluctuations, and left her father. She returned to the Plymouth area with her two younger daughters, and they lived apart thereafter, and she may have seen Charlotte more regularly.

After her grandmother’s death in 1864, Charlotte’s aunt Ann moved into the supporting role for her. They boarded in Plymouth with another family, living off the interest of money, and at some point before 1879 moved to London.

Somewhere around this point, Charlotte met Cowasjee Wookerjee or Wookergee. He gave himself in trade directories as an East India Company merchant, but since that company had ceased to operate by 1874 it is likely that he was using the name and trading by association.

He had some sort of merchant business, importing products from India – possibly textiles – which was based in Leadenhall Market in the City of London. This was likely appealing to exclusive clients. However, since he was only there in the 1880 trade directory, he probably wasn’t there for long.

Leadenhall Market in London, where Cowasjee Wookerjee had a business in 1880

There’s no marriage record for Charlotte and Cowasjee in the British Isles, but it’s always possible that they did marry elsewhere. They certainly regarded themselves as married. Their first son, Pheeroze, was born in Paddington in 1879. They had a second son, Khoosow, in London in the summer of 1880, but later on that year Pheeroze died at just over a year old. The family do not appear on the 1881 census, taken that April, possibly due to poor transcription, but if they were in the country they were most likely in London.

There is a slim possibility that Charlotte had travelled to India with Mr Cowasjee Wookerjee and Khoosow, however. An article from an Indian newspaper in June 1881 says that he had selected and brought out machinery from Europe to start Scindia’s Paper Mill.

This, probably established by the Scindia family in modern-day Madhya Pradesh, made paper from rags and karbi (exactly what that was isn’t clear).

The article said:

“Great praise is due to Mr Wookerjee for the untiring zeal and energy he has show in connection with this scheme from which considerable results may be expected. The mill, indeed, promises to be a great success, especially as skilled European engineers and workmen have been employed to carry on the work.”

Whether or not Charlotte and Khoosow went to India, Charlotte’s marriage fell apart and they separated. She gave herself as a widow, but there’s another mention of Cowasjee Wookerjee in the Indian press in 1896, so that probably wasn’t the truth. She and her son were definitely in the UK by 1885, as the first evidence of Charlotte’s new career is reported upon then.

Giving herself as Mrs Cowasjee Wookerjee, Charlotte is reported as having sung at a Cricket Club concert in Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire. This means that she and Khoosow were probably living nearby.

By February 1886 though, Charlotte had moved to Ealing and was starting to become more established as a teacher of music. She also had a stage name, Madame Elcho, which she used for performing and teaching purposes.

Her main qualification for teaching – she called herself a professor of music – was as a Fellow of the Society of Science, Letters and Art.

This society, which allowed Charlotte to put the letters F.S.Sc. after her name, was run by Dr Edward Albert Sturman from his house in Kensington. It allowed its members to wear academic dress and take exams that were not even marked, resulting in bought diplomas. Charlotte was thus duped, and traded on these qualifications for many years. The society was eventual exposed as bogus in 1892.

After only a couple of years in Ealing, she moved to Southall, where she further promoted herself as Madame Elcho and taught piano, organ, singing and music theory. She also performed once a week at Mr Adler’s Music Repository, in Uxbridge. George Louis Adler was a pianist, music dealer and composer, and used to run entertainments from his shop on St Andrew’s. Charlotte would have been part of a community of musicians and performers who worked out of here, and this would have enabled her to bring in new pupils.

After a year or two in Southall, Charlotte decided to move again. She chose Chippenham in Wiltshire for her new base, and set up home with her son Khoosow, who was then around 9. Her aunt Ann still lived with them, and would have helped her out with childcare and house duties.

In Chippenham she seems to have dispensed with the Madame Elcho name, and instead traded as Mrs Cowasjee Wookergee – a name that might have sounded quite exotic to the locals. She was initially based in Patterdown, from where she briefly advertised herself as a piano and artistic singing teacher, and said that she could travel to Corsham and Melksham for lessons. After that she moved to a house on Cook Street called East View, in the historic part of the town. Cook Street is now part of Chippenham’s St Mary Street, and is part of a particularly beautiful stretch of houses off the town’s market place.

From here she and Khoosow and her aunt Ann appear on the 1891 census together, on which Charlotte gave herself as a professor of music, and Khoosow would probably have attended the local elementary school by the church.

She had days of the week when she would teach in Trowbridge and Melksham, but seems to have been mostly based teaching Chippenham citizens to sing and play the piano. She also gave regular public performances. There is a report from 1890 of her singing as part of a concert at the Congregational Church, alongside other local performers. She also ran a series of piano concerts in the town hall, and tutored a choir of children to perform too.

When advertising her teaching services, Charlotte would occasionally submit testimonials to tempt potential pupils.

According to her, Musical World said of her: “In all she does a true and artistic feeling is made manifest.” Similarly, The Era apparently said that she had “grace and elegance” in her method. And the Court Circular said: “Can sing from D on the bass staff to B flat above the treble line, and she has been well trained in the Italian School of Art. Three recalls at the end of the evening rewarded her efforts to please.”

She was in Chippenham until at least 1892, but by 1895 her services are being advertised from Keynsham, to the west of Bath. Here she was directing concerts, and also performing throughout the 1890s at the Hamilton Rooms, which were on Bristol’s Park Street. There are also newspaper reports of concerts in Bristol’s Staple Hill, and one where she and others were entertaining inmates of Bristol’s workhouse infirmary.

It’s therefore no surprise to find her living in Bristol on the 1901 census. She and her son Khoosow and aunt Ann had set up home in Cumberland Street, in the city’s St Paul’s district. This would have been a relatively fashionable address for the time, even if the houses were in multiple occupation. Charlotte continued to give herself as a professor of music, while Khoosow, now aged 20, was a clerk at the post office. Ann still had no profession given, but would have been occupied with home duties.

After this point, Charlotte seems to have been starting to live a quieter life. There are no reports of concerts in the press, but she probably still taught.

Khoosow married in 1907, and went to live in the St Philips area of Bristol, where he worked as a packer for a printer. His wedding certificate gave his father as Cowasgee Wookergee, a general merchant. He and his wife Laura had several children who grew into quite a dynasty.

The following year, Charlotte’s aunt Ann died. She was quite elderly, and it’s likely that Charlotte may have had to do some considerable nursing in her twilight years. In 1909 Charlotte’s father died at Lutterworth. His financial situation does not appear to have settled entirely – he’d operated out of Southampton, Torquay, north Wales, and Rugby. His death was remarked upon in the press, and it sounds like he was well respected despite his monetary failings.

Charlotte herself is illusive on the 1911 census, but we know from an advert in the newspapers of that year that she had moved to Frampton Cotterell, in South Gloucestershire. She appears to have run some sort of market garden, offering baskets of produce for delivery. This is considerably different from teaching music, and perhaps reflects a more settled way of life.

Charlotte died in 1914, not long after the outbreak of the First World War. She was 62 and still living in Frampton Cotterell, though she was buried at a church in nearby Coalpit Heath.

Eugenie R’s story

Escaping the Russian Revolution by the skin of her teeth may have been a defining event for Eugenie, but she also lived a truly international life that was shaped by the twists and turns of the 20th century. Add in several love affairs (at least one of which that went wrong), a search for various missing family members, the ability to speak and conduct business in several languages, and a knack of always falling on her feet, and you have a woman able to call many places home.

Eugenie was born at the tail end of the 19th century in Naples, one of four known children of an Italian/Polish couple. However, she identified as Russian. Her father was the harbour master of the Black Sea port of Odessa, now in modern Ukraine but at that time emphatically part of the Russian Empire, and the family were based there for her whole childhood and beyond.

The harbour at Odessa during Eugenie’s childhood

Odessa, at that time, had a sizeable population that was historically Italian, even if by this stage they identified as Russian. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, had founded the city with a large number of Italian immigrants in 1794, having taken the area from the Ottoman Empire, and their descendants and relatives had remained. At this time, nationality and loyalties were often taken historically in the eyes of the authorities, and groups of people with similar backgrounds were lumped together.

Odessa was also, in addition to being an important port, quite cosmopolitan. As well as the historical Italian-descended population, there were Swiss, Greeks, and about a third of the population of the city in Eugenie’s time was Jewish. There were cafes, coffee shops, bakeries, merchants and artisans throughout the city, which at this time was the 4th largest city in the Russian Empire. Jews, while Eugenie was small at least, had fewer restrictions and discrimination in Odessa than elsewhere in Russia, leading to a vibrant city in which to grow up.

As the daughter of the harbour master, Eugenie and her family would have lived close to the busy port and could see boats and cargo arriving and departing every day. Her father’s job was probably relatively well paid, meaning they could experience some of the culture around them, but they would not have been in the higher or richer echelons of local society.

Events and strains in wider Russia did reach Odessa, however. When Eugenie was around nine, in 1905, a pogrom against the Jewish population took place in the city. Over 400 Jews were killed, and many more injured. Although it was unlikely Eugenie was directly involved in these events, as she was a child, this would have dramatically altered the atmosphere of the city.

Eugenie, second from left, in Odessa during her youth

In her early adulthood, she worked in Odessa as a school teacher. She spoke Russian, French, English, and some Polish and Italian. She could play the piano, so must have been taught in childhood, and was known as an expert seamstress. Religiously, she was a devout Russian Orthodox believer, and kept their festivals.

The Russian Revolution, which began in 1917, was the next big event to affect Odessa – and also changed life completely for Eugenie. Although the unrest had started in February 1917, and continued in the October of that year, but reached Odessa in mid-January 1918, when Eugenie was around 22.

The city’s revolutionary committees were elected on 17th and 18th January, and the uprising began in earnest on the 27th. For Eugenie and her family, whose sympathies were with the empire (indeed, her older brother Paolo was even in the Tsarist army), this meant they had to leave and fast. Battleships arrived in her father’s port, and the family fled. Eugenie remembered being pulled aboard a leaving ship by a sailor, and in the resulting confusion she completely lost her family.

Bolsheviks entering Odessa, during the revolution

The climate for Jews and citizens not of Russian origin changed in Odessa as a result of the revolution, so returning was not an option. In the aftermath, she found herself in Baghdad, at that point in Mesopotamia but modernly the capital of Iraq. The area had been part of the Ottoman Empire until the year before, but had been put under British rule as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. Here Eugenie met and married another misplaced Russian, whose first name has been lost to history. His surname, Filaratoff, indicates that he was probably Russian-born, and was likely also misplaced due to the Revolution. Baghdad, at this time, had a large Jewish community – Jews made up a quarter to a third of the city’s population – and others with the surname Filaratoff have followed the Jewish faith, so this could be an indication of his background, but his religion was never discussed in later life. After the unrest of the flight from Odessa, this may have seemed like a safe haven for Eugenie and her new husband.

There was a revolt against British rule in 1920, but this was supressed. Not long afterwards, Eugenie’s first child – a son, Volek – was born in Baghdad.

Revolution in Baghdad in 1920

Sadly, Eugenie’s marriage was marked by domestic violence, and did not last. She took infant Volek and left, forming another relationship with a British man, George. Volek’s father later found his way to Palestine, and died there during the second world war.

George was a British engineer likely in Mesopotamia as part of either the British forces, or as someone who had served in the country during the First World War and had decided to come back and settle. He worked in communications, linking up desert areas. Their daughter Diana was born in 1924.

Baghdad in the 1920s

George died of natural causes, while undertaking his work in the desert. His spinster sisters in the UK asked to take care of Diana, but Eugenie refused and instead brought up Volek and Diana alone for a time.

Eventually Eugenie got together with the widower of her friend Xenia. Xenia, someone else of Russian background, had died after childbirth in 1922, leaving her husband Thomas to care for their newborn son Peter. Therefore, Peter became part of the family alongside Volek and Diana, and Thomas and Eugenie brought their family up close to Baghdad.

Thomas ran a dairy and farming business in the Baghdad area. He had come from a farming background in Worcestershire, and had been posted to Mesopotamia during the First World War. After the war, he had discovered that his first wife had possibly had another relationship while he was away, so returned to the Middle East to make a new life for himself. It was there in Baghdad that he had met and married Xenia, Eugenie’s friend. Given his background, dairy farming would have been an obvious choice for a business to begin with. They supplied the British Forces with dairy products, alongside anyone else local who wanted them.

His first farm was in Alwiya, just outside Baghdad. There he kept horses alongside his dairy cattle. Eugenie had visited him there, while he was married to Xenia, and had initially thought of him as rude and angry, as he’d walked past her and ignored her while she was there as a guest. Later, after they had got together, she lived with him at this farm, and assisted him in the business.

Eugenie and Thomas with Diana and Volek, and a farm hand, on the farm at Alwiya

Iraq achieved independence from British rule in 1932, but Eugenie and Thomas decided to stay put. Despite him being married to Xenia in the Presbyterian Church in Baghdad, and officially a widower, they did not marry straight away. Under British law, the marriage between Thomas and his previous wife could have been dissolved. Either party could have proved adultery. However, this did not happen. This may have been a refusal to accept the societal stigma of divorce on her part, or a complication with Thomas not being resident in the UK.

In Iraq, Eugenie had friends in a wider Russian community, and kept the Orthodox festivals – like Easter – with them. She would bake for the occasion, cooking different large cakes, beautiful pastries and tarts. Her son John says: “Every year she would buy different multi coloured cheap floral material pieces and use these to sew onto raw eggs very carefully and tightly. She would take hours doing this and when completed hard boil the eggs. When dry, remove the material and the dye from the coloured patterns were imprinted on each egg beautifully. All these lovely looking eggs were displayed in a large bowl and looked so attractive. On Easter Sunday, Eugenie would invite all her Russian friends to a party to celebrate the occasion. Each visitor would take an egg and crack it against another visitor’s egg, saying in Russian “Christ has Risen” and eat the egg.”

Eugenie had two more children with Thomas, George and Gladys, who didn’t live. Family tales say they both died of tuberculosis. Then her final child, son John, arrived in 1934. Later on, they moved to a second farm, just outside Fallujah, between Baghdad and RAF Habbaniya (a British military base, built in the 1930s), close to the River Euphrates.

Peter, and later Volek, were sent to Worcestershire to be looked after by Thomas’s sister, and educated in a British school, at some point in the 1930s, but Diana and John stayed with their parents. Their lives included trips to the cinema, and to hotels for dinner twice a week. Eugenie also had fur coats – a mark of wealth at that time, when the ethics of creating those garments were not called into question. At one point their house had five members of staff.

They held card playing parties for government ministers, and moved in exclusive circles. They were members of the Alwiyah Club, an exclusive institution which had opened in 1921. This had regular social events, a ballroom, swimming pool, and tennis courts. Baghdad had various clubs at the time, one for each established profession, plus those for different religions represented in the city. The Alwiyah was the most exclusive, and was known for having prominent citizens in its ranks.

A modern view inside the Alwiyah Club

Then, out of the blue, in 1937 Eugenie discovered that her family had survived the Russian Revolution, and had settled in Naples. She took her son John with her, and went to reunite with them. Her father had passed on, and one of her sisters had married and was living in France, but she was able to reconnect with her mother, other sister and brother.

Eugenie with her son John, reconnecting with family in Naples
Eugenie with daughter Diana and husband Thomas, in the 1930s

During the Second World War, both her son Volek and step-son Peter served for the British forces. Peter went into the army, while Volek was a radio operator in the air force.

A coup d’etat in Iraq in April 1941, in favour of the German and Italian forces, meant they had to move in a hurry. The story goes that the family were having breakfast when a soldier on a motorcycle arrived, who was in favour of the coup, and held the family at gunpoint. Eugenie attempted to reason with the soldier, crying as her husband was being held against an outside wall.

In the nick of time, a police officer arrived and ordered the soldier to leave. He was a family friend, so filled them in on the new political situation. Later that day, on his advice, they left their house and joined other British families in a barbed-wire surrounded ex-military camp on the outskirts of Baghdad. Eugenie and Diana were segregated from Thomas and John. The children made friends immediately, and John in particular treated the month-long experience as a grand adventure. Eugenie and Thomas, however, were worried about their farm and their business, as well as their long-term future.

An image from the coup d’etat in 1941

When released, it was discovered that their house had been bombed by the RAF, as the rebels involved in the coup had used it as headquarters from which to attack RAF Habbaniya. The furniture and carpets had been destroyed, and then anything that was left had been looted by the rebels and some inhabitants of the nearby town.

The success of the previous business enabled Eugenie and Thomas to rebuild their life, however. They moved the family to a hotel on the banks of the River Tigris for a few months, then rented a new large, detached house in an upmarket district called Karadah. Thomas began a new farm across the river, and travelled over every day on a small round boat.

Elsewhere during the war, Eugenie’s brother Paolo was placed in the concentration camp system by the Nazi-allied Italian forces, as he had previously been part of the Russian army and retained political sympathies. He survived the experience.

Her son Volek was not so lucky. He did not return from a mission on a Lancaster bomber near Leipzig in February 1945, and was declared missing and then dead by the British forces. Three members of crew from this mission remained unaccounted for, however, but as far as the official record was concerned, Eugenie’s first son was dead.

Volek, c1940/1941

After the war, her daughter Diana – who had fallen in love with a British man stationed in Iraq – married him in Baghdad, then moved with him to Chippenham in Wiltshire. Youngest son John went to England with her, to be educated. This left Eugenie and Thomas in Iraq to run their business, with no children around them. They remained in their rented house, and Thomas gave up the farm in favour of an import/export business with a couple of partners. This did not do as well as the farm had.

In 1947, Thomas’s first wife died in England. This meant that any barrier to their marrying had ended, and they formalised their union as soon as possible. This took place at St George’s Church in Baghdad, according to the rites of the Church of England. This is the only Anglican church in Iraq, and was built in 1936. Eugenie used the surname Dmitrieff at her marriage, but it is unknown where she took this name from.

However, there was a further twist in the tale of her eldest son Volek. In around 1948, a Russian woman – the friend of a friend – approached Eugenie and Thomas saying that she had a message from Volek, who was apparently alive. The woman had come to Iraq from Turkey, heading for the USA, and said that she had received a message from Volek at the border of Turkey with Russia. Though Russia does not modernly share a border with Turkey, the USSR and Turkey disputed territory in the area at this time.

Volek reputedly had said to tell his mother that he was alive, but captive, but not to make enquiries as it would cause problems. Eugenie and Thomas attempted to find out more, but found nothing, and as far as the British record is concerned the story is as presented to them when Volek was declared dead.

One tale is that the Russians at that time would consider releasing German Prisoners of War, but not captured British or Americans, so if the story Eugenie’s visitor told them is true it may mean that Volek was held in a prison camp for the rest of his days. To this day, the family do not know whether this account was truthful or not.

Eugenie with son John in Iraq in 1953
Dining with Thomas in Iraq in the late 1950s

By 1960, Thomas had a medical problem, so he and Eugenie returned to the UK. He had a severe foot wound, exacerbated by diabetes, which required treatment. He believed that an English doctor would not amputate his limb, as the doctor he had consulted in Iraq had wanted. However, this wasn’t the case. He received treatment in Kent, where his leg was removed, and sadly died a few days later after suffering complications.

This meant that Eugenie had been widowed again, for either the second or third time depending on the eyes of the law. She returned to Iraq to wind up the farming business, gathering what funds she could from what remained. Furniture and Persian carpets were sold. She then came back to the UK. She settled in Chippenham, close to her children, and became part of the local community. She lived in Eastern Avenue, on the Monkton Park estate, in a semi-detached bungalow, and in later life her siblings came over from Italy to visit her.

Eugenie, right, with brother Paulo and daughter Diana, in at home in Chippenham’s Monkton Park.

She missed her husband dreadfully. She made friends with the woman next door, still baked (a layered chocolate sponge cake is remembered by family), and regularly attended bingo with her daughter. Her son John, who also settled in Chippenham, bought her a Persian kitten whom she doted upon.

She died in Chippenham in 1978, and is buried next to Thomas at the town’s St Paul’s Church.

Ada W’s story

Former dairy worker Ada became the victim of an age-old idea that a husband could control his wife’s finances, when her bankrupt husband ran her name into the mud too.

The daughter of a butcher and farmer, she was born in the late 1880s and grew up on the farm on the east outskirts of Bristol. She was the sixth of eight children, and she and all of her siblings had their own jobs working on aspects of the farm.

The farm appears to have specialised in cattle products, both beef and dairy produce, and was of a reasonable size.

In 1911, at the age of 20, she was working in the farm dairy alongside her younger sister Elsie, producing milk and probably butter and cheese too. Yoghurt would not have been on their produce list, however, as it was not introduced into the UK until the 1960s.

Milking cows in the first decade of the 20th century was unlikely to have be mechanised, at least not to any great extent. Milking machines had been invented in the 1860s and 1870s, but were often flawed in design which caused pain and damage to the cows’ udders, and many producers would have stuck with more traditional methods until the surge milker was invented in the early 1920s. Similarly, the pasteurisation process had been invented in the 1860s, but was not mandatory or commonplace in a dairy at that time – most people, if they were aware of milk-borne diseases, would boil the fresh milk at home rather than relying on the dairy to do it.

The reality for Ada and Elsie would therefore probably have been milking the cows by hand from a stool, a tiresome and hard job, and then placing the milk they collected into churns for sale. At this time, fresh milk was often delivered on carts around the district, and households would buy what they needed directly from the seller.

It’s likely that Ada and Elsie would also have made butter to sell alongside the milk – churning it in a barrel churn, over and over. This would have been made into pats, and sold wrapped in greaseproof paper. Again, with the lack of cooling facilities available in houses, households would only purchase the amount they would need for that day and buy more the following day from the cart when it next did its rounds. It may have been that Ada and Elsie made the rounds with the cart, but this job could also have fallen to other siblings.

Cheese, which kept slightly better in a larder, may also have been made in the farm dairy. This would have involved heating the milk, and adding a form of acid to separate the curds and whey, then straining and curing.

In the autumn of 1914, right at the beginning of the first world war, Ada married Tom. He was also from a farming family, which had initially been based at Jacksoms Lane on the edge of Chippenham, and then had moved to the Wiltshire village of Christian Malford.

Tom’s family were cattle dealers, which probably explains how Ada met him. Ada was 25, whereas he was five years younger – but on all official documents thereafter she pretended she was three years younger than she was. This would have meant a touch more respectability in terms of the match, as society approved of wives being younger than their husbands.

Ada and Tom had no children together.

Tom was of prime age, since he was in his early 20s, to fight in the First World War. He does not appear to have gone, however. Farming was a reserved occupation during that conflict, so he was not drafted to go. Therefore, he stayed at home with Ada and ran his cattle dealing business.

Within a few months of the marriage, Tom was in trouble with the law. He was accused of assault in March 1915, and had to attend court (he didn’t bother, and sent a solicitor instead), after an altercation with a clerk at Chippenham railway station where he had become extremely cross, threatened and swore at him and thrown a pen at him which scratched his face. He was fined, and imprisoned for a month.

This display of temper was not an isolated incident, as he was fined by the Gloucester and West Gloucestershire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (a precursor to the RSPCA) for viciously striking a heifer in his care in May 1917. For this he received a fine of £1 (a considerable amount of money in 1917), or imprisonment for seven days.

Somewhere along the line – whether his temper extended to his treatment of Ada, or as a result of the societal embarrassment at her husband being charged and imprisoned – Ada stopped living with him.

She moved in with one of her sisters in Shirehampton. Two of them lived there, so it was either with Rosa – who had lost her husband in the war and needed help with her two tiny children – or with Birdie that Ada made her home.

In 1917, whether she was living with him or not at the time, Tom’s cattle dealing business was declared bankrupt. He then proceeded to continue buying and selling cows, but running the business through Ada’s name. She later claimed that she knew nothing about this as they were not living together at the time.

Tom, using Ada’s name, moved into a large three storey house in Chippenham, which was close to the Three Crowns pub and on the direct market route for many people bringing their animals into town. Early electoral registers do not show Ada living there with him.

He eventually bankrupted Ada too. The case came to court in November of 1921, where Ada was said to owe over £2,300 but only had assets of £16 5s. Neither Ada nor Tom attended the court – both were said to be unwell – but Tom was said to have been in the pink of health at the previous market day.

When the case came back to court a month or so later, Ada said that she had opened a bank account in 1917 with the help of her sister, and she had allowed Tom access to continue trading – but he had bled it completely dry and she was not aware that the account was short to the extent that it now was. The court also questioned her about her household expenses, perhaps implying that she would spend money on fripperies. However, she said that Tom paid them all, they were not extravagant, and that she often wore an outfit for three or four years – which was fairly thrifty living.

There is then nothing about Tom or Ada in the newspapers until the 1930s, in respect to missed bill payments in May 1935. There is no sign of them having their bankruptcy revoked. However, in trade directories of the town they appear to have still been operating as cattle dealers so would have found some way to keep the business afloat.

After these court cases, Ada returned to live with Tom at the big house in Chippenham. Whether they had resolved their dispute or the court case against her meant that they were both as disreputable as each other, there seems to have been some sort of reconciliation.

Her parents both died in the 1920s, and significantly Ada was not named as executor on either of their wills, with finance being left to her other siblings.

She then lost three of her siblings in the 1930s.

By 1935, she and Tom decided to leave Chippenham and moved to Keynsham, which was relatively close to where she’d grown up. 1939 sees Tom still operating as a cattle salesman, albeit from a property that did not have land attached. Ada is tersely credited with unpaid domestic duties on that document, and they have a boarder living with them, a mechanic from a local garage.

One of Ada’s brothers, who had operated her family’s farm after her father’s death, died in 1938 but Tom and Ada did not go into partnership on that property. It’s possible that the bankruptcy had soured some family relationships.

Tom died in Keynsham in 1954, and was buried locally. Ada survived him by more than 20 years, and was buried alongside her parents and siblings at her family’s local church.

Esmé S’s story

Following the stars and taking spiritual guidance from the universe around us has been part of human existence from time immemorable. But in the 1920s, with several generations having moved into the industrial cities, many people were starting to feel a disconnect from the natural world.

One of Esmé’s illustrations

The time was ripe for the early beginnings of popular astrology, reading fortunes from the stars – which could still mostly be seen in city sky scapes. Of the back of this growing interest, the 1920s saw horoscopes included in daily newspapers for the first time. Those with less conventional religious views, and an interest in esoteric matters started to grow with the changed and slightly more open society created after the first world war, and one woman who was particularly active in those circles was Esmé.

“Esmé Swainson” was really a stage name, initially, and rather than any sort of mystical or occult background she came from quite traditional British roots. She was born Emilie Alice in the early 1880s at Headington in Oxfordshire. Her father was Charles, a warehouseman who sometimes called himself a merchant, and her mother was named Sarah. She was the eldest of three kids. Her family background was wealthy – their household in 1891 had three servants.

The family had moved to Lewisham in London by 1901, and Esmé said she was a student artist at the age of 19. This probably meant that she was studying various creative arts, which included music. There are also a couple of references to her performing in concerts, as Esmé Swainson, around this time. She is known to have been a singer, and to have played piano.

One of Esmé’s illustrations

In the autumn of 1908, Esmé married Harold at West Bromwich, and went to live in Birmingham with him. He worked in advertising. Although she was now in “the provinces”, as theatreland outside London was known, she kept her music up, and worked as a music teacher. They originally lived in the Spark Hill area of the city. She advertised her services as a music teacher in a trade directory of Birmingham in 1908, and appeared on the 1911 census as a professional musician. She and Harold had no children.

Harold signed up for the Royal Air Force in 1917. At that stage he was working as a stage manager. He gave his next of kin as his wife Emilie, at a Birmingham address. However, he noted that they had separated on his sign up form.

Divorce at this time was still fairly difficult for a woman to achieve. She had to prove that her husband had been adulterous, and also that he had been cruel/violent or deserted her, or committed rape/incest/bigamy. In contrast, the husband only had to prove that his wife had committed adultery. Therefore, if Esmé and Harold’s marriage had broken down with no-one else involved, or as a result of his adultery, they had no grounds for a divorce, and Esmé would have remained tied to Harold financially, even though they were separated.

Given Howard was a stage manager, and Esmé a performer, it is likely that the circles they moved in were slightly more bohemian than general society at that time, and separation and divorce would have carried less stigma.

Round about this time, Esmé began a new relationship with William, an electrical engineer. He was a few years older than her, and due to him nearing 40 at the outbreak of World War 1 he probably didn’t serve in the forces.

William was also technically married, however, though it appears that he’d also separated from his wife. They’d married in Yorkshire, and had had two sons, but appear to have split by 1915.

They moved away from Birmingham at some point between 1917 and 1923, and set up house in a sizable villa just outside Bath, in Somerset.

If Esmé’s marriage breakdown was merely due to Howard’s adultery, or he had had a relationship with someone else since their split, 1923 was the first possible year that Esmé could have gained a divorce. The private members bill introduced in this year meant that women no longer had to include additional causes, which was brought into law as the Matrimonial Causes Act. The move to Somerset may be a direct consequence of this.

Esmé, by 1923, called herself Mrs Swainson on this document. Divorced women would still often call themselves by their married title at this time, but the fact that she is using her middle/stage name as an official name indicates that there has been some shift in her status.

In Somerset, Esmé appears to have stopped working as a music teacher, and gained an interest in writing and lecturing. Her subjects were usually more fringe religious matters, and astrology. She was quite involved in the Theosophical Society, and gave various different lectures, including one in 1925 in Melksham which looked at destiny and free will in the context of astrology and reincarnation.

Today, we see astrology as something quite separate from Christianity, as it would seem to be quite different from the belief system in the Christian church. However, Esmé’s beliefs seem to mention God and Christ as part of her practice. Certainly, at this time when most people in the UK were still nominally Christian, even though church-going was starting to change, the ideas offered by astrology and the occult carried more traction with the public if they were linked to wider accepted beliefs. So, even if Esmé was not nominally Christian, she linked much of her work to that belief system, at least in a general sense.

She also advertised her services in more esoteric publications of the age, like “The Occult Review”, from which this advert is taken in 1926.

At this time, the monthly publication offered various insight into esoteric matters and ideas present in psychology. A sample contents list for one of the 1926 editions included Magic of the Mantra, Some Evidential Clairvoyance, Sorcery in France and Africa, Reincarnation in English Poetry, and The Influence of Personality on Leadership. All are subjects that would not feature in mainstream newspapers, but are clearly of interest to the clientele that Esmé was appealing to with her work.

In around 1933, Esmé wrote and published a book on the basics of astrology. This was aimed at children, but also provided an introduction to the subject for a general readership. A review said that it “serves a two-fold purpose; it can be read merely as a fairy tale for children, yet its narrative contains many facts of occult life (on which the authoress is an expert) in its fairy tale guise, and is true in its Zodiacal symbolism”.

The text of the book, alongside some of Esmé’s illustrations, can be found here: https://rosanista.tripod.com/courses/razeng01.htm

The 1939 register has Esmé still living at her villa. On this document, she says that she is divorced, and working as a market gardener, writer and lecturer. This would indicate that she drew some living from the agricultural land around the house, and this probably subsidised her other work. William is living with her too, but says that he is still married. This indicates that he has not legally separated himself from his former wife, who in fact was living nearby with one of their sons at the time.

She continued to lecture on various occult and esoteric subjects for the next few years, taking in venues around Bath and in Bath itself.

A report on Esme from 1944.

William died in the summer of 1956, and left a considerable amount to both Esmé and his son Joseph, who was working as an accountant. Esmé was referred to as a widow on the probate document – meaning that her former husband Howard had died. Being a widow was considerably more respectable than being a divorcee, and many divorced women would change their status to widow as soon as they could.

Three years after his death, at the very end of the 1950s Esmé left the UK for India. She sailed from Southampton, heading for Mumbai. She said that she was an author, and that she intended to live in India. This may just have been for travel, or for furthering her knowledge of eastern philosophy matters.

A 1959 travel brochure on Mumbai, of the type that may have attracted Esme.

Whether that worked out or not, she returned to the UK at some point after 1960. Esmé died in the early summer of 1966 back in Somerset, aged 84.

Katherine A’s story

In terms of Wiltshire and women’s suffrage, the awesome figure of Edith New – Swindon-born but London-based – overshadows much of the grassroots activism in the early 20th century. The town of Corsham is known to have been very supportive of the Great Pilgrimage that came through the county in June 1913, but there are no local names of women that stand out as activists and speakers, and though the pilgrimage also came through Chippenham the populace here are thought to have been largely indifferent and instead responded better to the antis coming through around the same time. Trowbridge had a branch of the WSPU, with Bessie Gramlick as joint secretary alongside Lillian Dove-Willcox (who famously evaded the 1911 census by camping out in a caravan on Salisbury Plain), but not a great deal about their activities has been recorded. In contrast, the Devizes branch of the WSPU, with secretary Katherine Abraham, appear to have been much more active.

Katherine was a grocer’s daughter, born at Upavon on the edge of Salisbury Plain at the beginning of 1888. She was the younger of two children – her brother Edward was two years her senior – and her parents had married quite late on for the time, which perhaps explains her lack of other siblings. Her father had run a grocer’s shop on Estcourt Street in Devizes, but by the time Katherine and Edward were around he’d taken retirement. The family lived in Upavon for a while, but by the turn of the 20th century they were back at Estcourt Street where the shop was no longer a going concern for the family – it appears to have been next door, in a premises now occupied by Roses’ Hardware – but their smart town house was of a good size and they were financially solvent enough to be able to employ a servant.

Katherine’s level of education is unknown. She definitely would have attended elementary school – probably at the National School for Girls – and she may have gone further, likely to the Devizes College and High School, as the town’s private grammar school was only for boys.

Her father died in 1902, when she was around 14. The family continued living in the Estcourt Street house, and her brother began to train as a doctor. Katherine was well positioned – unmarried, comfortably off, and probably educated to a good standard – to become involved in the movement for women’s suffrage. She became the secretary for the Devizes branch of the WSPU on its establishment in 1911, but had probably been involved in the work of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies which had been active in Devizes since around 1909.

One of the first acts of the Devizes WSPU was to attempt to boycott the 1911 census, in line with other branches nationally. Katherine’s mother wrote her name on their family census form, but this was crossed out later as she did not spend the night of 2nd April 1911 at their house. Instead, Katherine and three other WSPU members – Flora Sainsbury, a domestic science teacher; Evangeline Cross, head teacher of the girls’ national school; Kate Allen, head teacher of the national infants’ school – hid at an empty house in Victoria Street, Devizes, to evade the census. The enumerators found out, and on 20th April their details were recorded (with various errors – Evangeline was recorded as Eveline) alongside those of Emily Hale, an art teacher who was also away from her lodgings that night to evade the census. Another known WSPU member, teacher Norah Ussher, may also have been with them on census night, but her father recorded her presence at the family home in Potterne Road regardless. There may well have been others in the Devizes WSPU, who either successfully evaded the census or were recorded by their families even though they were not present.

The house where Katherine and others hid on the night of the 1911 census.

Katherine, with Norah and Flora, attended the Women’s Coronation Procession through London on 11th June 1911. This was a mass suffragette march, held just before the coronation of King George V, aimed to demand women’s suffrage in the new era. Katherine, Norah and Flora – dressed in suffrage colours white, mauve and green – carried the Moonraker banner on behalf of the Devizes WSPU and joined 40,000 others on the route from Westminster to the Albert Hall. Many women dressed as well-known female historical figures, and there were representatives from various different groups and societies in the movement.

Norah Ussher, one of Katherine’s companions in the Devizes WSPU
WSPU items belonging to Norah Ussher, displayed by the National Trust

It’s likely that Katherine stayed involved in the WSPU until their cessation of activities at the outbreak of the First World War. Her friend and colleague Norah had a boyfriend who was killed during the war. Katherine married her young man, Jessie – a coal miner from South Wales who had somehow found his way to Devizes – in the autumn of 1915. Their son Thomas was born in the October of 1916. At some point that can’t quite be pinpointed, Jessie went into the army to fight, and was sent to India. He died out there at Poona, in September 1918, having contracted influenza that mutated into pneumonia, and was probably a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic. This left Katherine as a widow with a son aged not quite two. She was probably supported by her WSPU friends, none of whom had married, and they encouraged her to take her next steps.

In the spring of 1919, after the war was over, Katherine applied to the war office for funds for a period of training as part of her widow’s pension. She got this grant, and moved to the Golders Green area of London with Thomas to train as a Montessori teacher. This child-centred system of education had been popularised in the UK by its founder Maria Montessori a few years earlier, and allowed Katherine to train for a profession alongside caring for her son in the same setting.

After four months of training, Katherine was qualified and able to take up a position. She found one in Sheffield, at a Montessori school headed by Hilda Doncaster – a Quaker and wife of a steel manufacturer. Whether this was her first position or a later one is unclear, but she was definitely working there from the late 1920s onwards, and living close to the Sheffield Botanical Gardens.

The Montessori school where she worked was located on Psalter Lane (the building it occupied now houses the city’s Interfaith Centre), and in 1931 an advert for the school detailed that they could explain the educational methods at an open day. The same advert also promised a demonstration of Margaret Morris dancing, a method that encouraged grace and good posture, given by Mrs Doncaster’s daughter Margaret. Mrs Doncaster had four children, including Christopher who went on to be a celebrated theatre designer. Katherine’s own son Thomas, who came through the same Montessori system, trained as an architect and was practicing by the beginning of the Second World War. Architecture was one of the reserved professions, so he did not have to fight in that conflict.

Maria Montessori with children in her educational system

Thomas, who lived at home with his mother even as a young adult, married during the war years and eventually gave his mother four grandchildren. Katherine appears to have moved back to the London area during the tail end of the war, living in Bermondsey. At this point she would have been in her mid-to-late 50s, and like many of her generation she had not married a second time. She probably continued to work as a Montessori teacher until taking retirement.

Katherine died in London, at the tail end of 1974. She was 87.

Dodo’s story

Dorothy, known to family as Dodo, was clearly not someone to be trifled with. She was once a suffragette, then a nurse in World War 1 Russia who was awarded a medal for bravery, founded one of the first anti-natal clinics in London in the early 1920s before more nursing in the Baltic states, and then was a formidable magistrate at home in Cambridgeshire. This eventful life, which pegged out when she was 95, was both lived to the full (her family remembers her being both formidable but also great fun as a person) and reflected the full scope of the 20th century.

Dodo with younger brother Guy in 1923

Dodo came from a bright and slightly eccentric middle-class family, and was born in the mid-1880s, the third of five children. Her father was a doctor, serving in St Osyth, a village in north Essex at the time of her birth, but when she was two they moved with her new baby brother to Fulbourn just outside Cambridge. They named their house after the Essex village, and attached the new surgery and a village hall too. Her youngest brother joined the family around three years later. Though comfortably off, the family had no title and no influence, and were known for working with all sectors of society and being extraordinarily kind – her father Lucius often would not take payment for his work. Although initially he worked on horseback, Lucius was also one of the first doctors to make his rounds by motor car, at the turn of the 20th century. In the early years her family had several servants to help with the household, including a groom.

She was from an era where education was compulsory, so probably began her learning at the village elementary school. At around 11 she transferred to the independent Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, which is separate from The Perse School, which at the time only educated boys. Her brothers probably attended the boys’ school, while her older sister Marjorie would have gone to the same school as Dodo.

It’s there that the equality in education ended, however. Dodo’s brothers were allowed to attend the University of Cambridge – Lucius became a doctor like their father, Douglas a teacher, and Guy a civil engineer – but Dodo was not allowed to go. Women were not admitted to degrees at Cambridge until 1948, although there was a women’s college at this stage, and attending a university that did admit women does not appear to have been an option. Instead, Dodo undertook a diploma for dispensing medicines after finishing school, possibly based at Charing Cross Hospital in London, and then went on to work at the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton, where she continued training to be a nurse.

Charing Cross Hospital, at the time Dodo was training.
The Royal Alexandra Hospital in Brighton in Dodo’s time.

The disparity in how her brothers were allowed to continue their education and she was not was a factor in her decision to join in the activities of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was angry. Family stories say that she chained herself to property, but not where and when. Since suffragette chainings were actually rarer than popularly thought, and it is known who was involved in most, it’s possible to pinpoint the likely action that Dodo took. Muriel Matters and Helen Fox chained themselves in the House of Commons Ladies Gallery, and Edith New and Olivia Smith chained themselves to the 10 Downing Street railings, both in 1908; and an unnamed group of women to the statues in St Stephen’s Hall in the Palace of Westminster in April 1909. The St Stephen’s Hall action is therefore likely to be the protest that Dodo made, unless it was a smaller piece of action outside London. She reported being arrested, although newspaper accounts say that arrests didn’t happen at St Stephen’s Hall and they were merely escorted off the site by police, and the experience changed her mind. She reportedly thought that “I’d made a bloody fool of myself” and decided to get on with what she could do instead of concerning herself with what she couldn’t.

She was round about 22 at this time, which was prime marriage age in this era. Whether she did not have the opportunity, or was not inclined to marry (she’d have had to give up work, under the conventions of the day), she did not take this path and instead went on to work in St George’s Hospital, at Hyde Park Corner. Family remember this nurse training brought her directly into contact with the poverty, deprivation and hardship involved in multiple motherhood in certain areas of the city at that time. The 1911 census finds her as a 24-year-old sick nurse at St George’s Hospital, in the company of around 40 others, living at a nurses’ home in Knightsbridge.

St George’s Hospital in Dodo’s day

Dodo remained at St George’s until 1913, and then took a position at a women’s hospital in Brighton (there were two at the time – Brighton and Hove Hospital for Women and Children, and Lady Chichester Hospital for Women and Children – and which she was based at was unclear), to train as a midwife, where she remained until the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914.

Amid the patriotic fervour and recruitment drive, Dodo joined up with the British Red Cross to help nurse the inevitable casualties. She was sent with a unit to Boulogne on the north coast of France, embarking at the end of October in 1914. She was stationed at the 13th Stationary Hospital, which was on Boulogne docks, and began work at the beginning of November. This hospital became the main specialist unit for the treatment of eye, face and jaw injuries for the soldiers on the nearby Western Front, but this specialism may not have been Dodo’s as she only remained there for three months.

In January 1915 Dodo’s unit moved to the refugee hospital at Malassises, part of a monastery (the monks still had the other bit) at St Omer, a bit in from the coast heading towards the Belgian border. This was set up for the use of Belgian refugees who had been in the way of troops heading towards the front, who were suffering from enteric complaints (noroviruses, stomach bugs, and so on), and was partly under canvas. In late April 1915 she returned to the UK.

While she was home, she became involved in the efforts of Lady Muriel Paget (not to be confused with Dorothy Paget the horse-woman, or Viscountess Dorothy Gladstone nee Paget who set up hospitals in South Africa, or Lady Louise Paget, who provided war relief in First World War Serbia) and Lady Sybil Grey who were setting up a hospital in Petrograd (St Petersburg) to treat soldiers on the Eastern Front.

The initial party set out from the British coast at the end of October in 1915, carrying supplies and nurses. They took the long way round due to the war. They sailed through UK waters as far as possible, as it was safer to avoid German boats, and went up the west coast of Norway, around the top of Sweden and into the White Sea, arriving at the port of Arkhangelsk on the 6th of November. Dodo remembered the journey as extremely cold, with many women huddling together in one bed to keep warm, and dangers from the sound of the cracking ice on the sails of the boat possibly alerting the Germans to their presence.

The SS Calypso, which took Dodo to Russia

They left Arkhangelsk on the train a couple of days later, traveling via the striking city of Yaroslavl, and arrived in Petrograd on the 14th of November. The Dimitri Palace had been offered by the Russians to be the base hospital, a grand building which had been empty since 1909. Dodo and her colleagues worked alongside Lady Muriel and Lady Sybil to convert the building for their use, setting up 200 beds for wounded soldiers and associated other facilities – including a bacteriological laboratory and x-ray department. It was referred to as “The (British) Empire’s Gift to Our Russian Allies”, and nurses like Dodo were paid £4-5 per week and provided with uniform.

The Dmitri Palace, where the hospital was based

Although ready by the end of the year, and offering treatment, the hospital was officially opened in the new year by the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, the cousin of Tsar Nicholas II. The ceremony was also attended by Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna, her elder daughters Tatiana and Olga, and the British Ambassador to Russia George Buchanan and his wife Georgina. The entire staff, including Dodo, posed with the visitors on one of the staircases.

THE ANGLO-RUSSIAN HOSPITAL DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR (HU 129098) Medical staff and patrons of the Anglo-Russian Hospital in Petrograd (the latter including l to r: Grand Duchesses Kyril and Maria Pavlova, the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Matron Miss Irvine Robertson and Lady Sybil Grey. Behind Grand Duchess Kyril is the British Ambassador, Sir George Buchanan and his wife Lady Georgina). Photograph taken at the official ope… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205378679
Staff and patients at the hospital

The Tsaritsa was a major funder of the project, alongside donations from fundraising in the UK, and regularly visited the hospital with her daughters. Sometimes they even volunteered as nurses. Dodo apparently talked to them on many occasions, and got along well with them. The Buchanan’s daughter Meriel was also involved in nursing at the hospital, which was based at her residence.

Meriel Buchanan, as a nurse in the Anglo-Russian Hospital

While Ladies Paget and Grey also set up hospitals in other Russian places – mostly in Ukraine – and raised more donations in the UK, Dodo remained in Petrograd. Georgina Buchanan, the ambassador’s wife, took charge of the hospital while Paget and Grey were absent. More than 6,000 patients were treated by October 1916, and it was policy to not release soldiers until their wounds were completely healed. Often the men were no more than boys, and had suffered horrific injuries that made them cry out for their mothers. Dodo found this extremely distressing.

She was reportedly involved in helping to treat Prince Felix Yusupov when he had a fish bone lodged in his throat, a few hours after he had helped assassinate Grigori Rasputin in December 1916. Yusupov was placed under house arrest in the Dmitri Palace, where the Anglo-Russian hospital (and the British Embassy) were located, which probably accounts for his treatment in their facilities. She was reportedly very kind to him.

Patients and nurses at the hospital

Dodo was awarded the Russian Medal of St George, 4th Class, at some point in 1917 (it was reported in the British Red Cross Journal that July). This was usually given for bravery, or service under fire many who fought at the Battle of Jutland received one. It was less usually given to women – recipients were usually nurses who had been in battle areas – and seems to have been awarded more for bravery rather than service under fire. Nurse Violetta Thurstan received one in 1915, as did Evelina Haverfield. Another nurse associated with the Paget hospital in Izmail, Ukraine, Evelyn Evans, seems to have received a medal around the same time as Dodo. In addition, Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrona – Tsar Nicholas II’s younger sister – nursed and was awarded one, as was Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, so it may be that Dodo’s award was part of the work that they were doing.

The medal came from the Imperial government, and was supposed to presented by the Tsar but in reality probably came from Tsaritsa Alexandra, and to have received it in 1917 must have been one of the last acts of that regime. The Russian Revolution began properly in Petrograd in March 1917, with demonstrators on the streets and a workers’ strike, and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on 15th March (in the Gregorian calendar). The royal family were put under house arrest at the Alexander Palace, and a temporary government installed, which effectively ended the family’s involvement at the Anglo-Russian Hospital. Petrograd was effectively a tinder box from that point onwards, and the situation for Dodo and the other nurses was increasingly unstable, with bloody protests in July and Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party leading a second revolution on 7th November that effectively ended the allied war agreement between Russia, Britain and France. This made the existence of the Anglo-Russian hospital precarious, and the Dmitri Palace received some damage in the fighting.

Dodo appears to have left Russia around August 1917, in the wake of these events, probably shortly after the July unrest and receiving her medal. The rest of the remaining nurses were evacuated from Petrograd and returned to the UK in February 1918. The Russian Red Cross then took over the hospital, where they had been left supplies for a further six months. Once she had been repatriated, Dodo went back out to France to the Western Front, where she continued nursing work. It was while she was there in February 1918 that she was awarded the 1914 Bronze Star from the Red Cross Society.

Back in the UK, she saw out the end of the war at the Military Convalescent Hospital in Epsom, working as a night matron. She would have been involved in the rehabilitation of soldiers, both physically and mentally. The hospital also had the first physiotherapists employed by the British army, who at that point were known as masseuses, the Almeric Pagets Massage Corps. It was probably here that Dodo met a close friend who she’d spend much of her life with, also called Dorothy, who worked as a physiotherapist/masseuse.

After the war, Dodo moved to London and worked as Matron at the Duchess of Marlborough’s Maternity Hospital from 1919. Here, fired by her experiences around Tooting, she set up one of the first infant welfare and ante-natal clinics in London. The hospital was also known as the Royal Free Hospital Maternity Home, and probably would have had the involvement of doctor Dame Janet Campbell, who was at the Royal Free and a pioneer in improving mother and baby services. Concern over maternal health and child welfare had been growing since the Edwardian period, with a drive to create a national vitality and a more robust society than had existed in Victorian times. This included increasing vaccinations, the beginnings of the welfare state, better housing stock, and various other programmes and ideas. At this time, though the child mortality rate was starting to drop, mothers were generally left to get on with pregnancy and birth. The stresses of multiple pregnancy on the body, combined with severe deprivation, were starting to be understood, and Dodo and her colleagues at the Duchess of Marlborough were striving to improve matters.

Dodo’s experience here, and her connection to Lady Paget, led her to leave London in 1921/2 and head to the Baltic States – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – with a mission to provide better care for women and children there. The region had been unsettled since the Russian Revolution, but Estonia had joined the League of Nations in 1921, having had a war of independence in 1918 (Latvia began its own war of independence at around the same time, and Lithuania’s own declaration of independence had occurred slightly earlier), and this was an era of shifting borders in Eastern Europe. Lady Paget had returned to the region after the war was over, and had established mission hospitals and a series of travelling clinics. Dodo appears to have mostly been based in Estonia, where she was given the Medal of the Order of the Estonian Red Cross in 1922. The story goes that Lady Paget and two of the hospital doctors were awarded Estonian Orders of the Red Cross on 30th March 1922, and Lady Paget was given six other medals to distribute to those she felt deserved one. Dodo was one of the six.

Dodo with a group of soldiers and patients in Latvia

Three mission hospitals in Estonia were taken over by the Estonian Red Cross in February of 1922, but Lady Paget’s group continued their work in Tallinn. It’s unknown how much longer Dodo spent in the Baltics though, as her mother was taken seriously ill and she returned home to Cambridgeshire to nurse her. She was still living at home when her mother died in 1923, and decided to remain at home to support her widowed father. He was still working, and during the war had run a local hospital for no renumeration, and had been given an OBE. Her older sister Marjorie was also living nearby, so between them they supported him, and Dodo took a job as Matron at Cambridge Hospital. Meanwhile, her brothers were also experiencing success – two of whom had fought in the war. Eldest brother and doctor Lucius was based in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Dodo’s friend Dorothy also moved to the village over the next decade, and worked as a physiotherapist there – possibly alongside the family doctor’s surgery, and also possibly at hospitals in Cambridge.

Dodo now found her feet in village life and village affairs, continuing her family traditions and traits of kindness and fairness. She was taken on as the first female magistrate at Bottisham, a village to the north of Fulbourn, at some point during these years and was presiding over cases by the late 1930s, according to newspaper reports. She also served as a county councillor for twelve years, a position that coincided with the outbreak of World War II as she gives herself as in that position on the 1939 register, taken in the September of that year. She also managed to save her father’s life in 1926, when he had an accident with an oil lamp, and lost her older sister Marjorie to cancer in 1936.

Dodo with younger brother Guy

As a magistrate and justice of the peace she made her mark. A report from October 1939 describes her intimating that an increased ration of petrol for local nurses was “bunkum and rot”, and that the nurses could save fuel by cycling wherever possible. Standing just five foot two, and with a deep and booming voice, she was known as being formidable and firm but fair with her judgements, often researching and giving the harshest punishments for misdemeanours.

Her father died in 1942, and was widely mourned by the village. Dodo, who had volunteered in local nursing during the war, had her friend Dorothy move into their house at some point after that, where she remained for the rest of their lives. Dodo’s sexuality was never remarked upon by family, but it was felt that her relationship with Dorothy – known as Double on account of her surname – was more than just friends. However, it could also have been one of companionship given many women of their generation had never married due to the loss of so many young men during the First World War. They came as a pair – known as Dodo and Double – for the rest of their lives, and owned an Alsatian dog together.

Dodo, right, with Double, left, and another family member

Dodo’s brother Lucius was also awarded the OBE after the Second World War, having doctored in the Caribbean, made great strides in bacteriological matters in Ceylon and researched diet and nutrition among prisoners of war in Singapore. Dodo continued to live in her father’s house, with surgery and a small village hall attached. She remained active in health matters – making a “spirited protest” about hospital staff housing being refused at Cambridge Mental Hospital in 1949. She also served on the board of governors for the local junior school for many years (often giving parties for the children in the hall), and was a member of the Chesterton Rural District Council and sat on the Fulbourn Parochial Church Council from 1951. Aside from her professional life, she was a great favourite of her young relatives, being lively and fun at family gatherings and taking delight in visiting her relations. She had a safe full of memorabilia, including jewels given to her by the Russian royal family, letters from various dignitaries and even a pair of pistols.

After a long life, Dodo died at the age of 94 in 1980, in Cambridgeshire. Her partner Double, who was eight years her junior, made it to 100 and died in 1995, also in Cambridgeshire.

Dodo in later years

Cassia D’s story

For much of the 20th century, school head teachers were supposed to be formidable and particularly scary, so a visit to them or even just an interaction should have put the fear of God into a pupil. However, Miss (Edith, more often known as Cassia) Denne, who was the first head of Chippenham’s Girls High School in 1956, still has a reputation among women of the town for being particularly fierce and terrifying. The school buildings have now been incorporated into the town’s Hardenhuish School, but the girls’ school she founded fully came to an end in 1976.

Miss Denne May 1950 picture

Cassia in 1950

Like any scary teacher though, Cassia was in fact only human – although that fact often does not occur to pupils – and had a life before and outside the school she presided over. She gained a science degree at a time when women attending university was still very rare, and science was still considered mostly a boy’s subject. She even at one point joined a convent. And had taught at various other schools before appearing in Chippenham.

Edith Cassia was the first child of her father’s second family, born in 1906 in a village just outside Canterbury. She was followed four years later by her brother William. Her father had previously been married to a woman named Harriet, and Cassia and William had older half-siblings – Esther, Amelia and Percy – who appeared not to live with them while growing up by virtue of being much older. Harriet had died in 1903, and Cassia’s father (a bricklayer employed by Canterbury cathedral) married her mother Emma in 1905. Both were from Kent, born and bred.

Cassia was educated at Simon Langton Girls Grammar School in Canterbury, being bright enough to pass the entrance requirements and rise to the top of the school. This school still exists, although the buildings Cassia would have attended were destroyed in the Second World War. Her father died in 1917, when he was 60 and Cassia was around 11, and as such would have been too old to fight in the First World War. Cassia, once she had finished school then went on to the University of London, and gained a BSc in the sciences in the early 1920s. She took her mother with her.

Chippenham Girls High School appeared not to keep a record of their staff’s careers before joining the school – this was often more common to long-established grammar schools – so it is impossible to trace Cassia’s full career before she arrived in Chippenham. However, a newspaper articles reporting her headship of a previous school have given some clues to where she taught and lived.

She began her teaching career in 1928 after completing her degree. Going in to teaching was often the choice of bright young women coming out of university at this time, as it enabled learning to continue and gave the chance to impart what you’d learned so far to young minds. A degree was not required to become a teacher, particularly for women, but it did mark out women as committed and ambitious. There was also a marriage bar for female teachers at this time, meaning that if Cassia had married she would have not been able to keep her job. However, that does not have been a consideration for Cassia. This bar was removed for the London school boards in 1935, but not for the rest of the country until 1944.

She taught at Blackburn Grammar School in the 1920s, and by the late 1930s Cassia was on the staff of Dame Alice Owen’s School in Islington. She was living with her mother Emma in Hendon for much of that decade, so it’s possible that her first few teaching jobs were closer to there. By 1939 she was established as very much a part of Dame Alice Owen’s as the biology mistress.

DAOS girls school

The original Dame Alice Owens Girls’ School, which Cassia taught at

At the outset of the Second World War, the school moved as one to Kettering in Northamptonshire, taking all the teachers and evacuating the students. Cassia initially lived in Kettering, in digs alongside the school secretary Rita. Her mother went to Harpenden in Hertfordshire instead, so they were separated, at least initially. About a year later the boys part of the school moved to Bedford, where it remained for the rest of the war, but the girls stayed in Kettering – alongside various other evacuated schools from London, including St Aloysius’ Covent School, two Catholic primary schools and Clark’s Secretarial College.

One of her pupils, Veronica Pinckard, remembered an incident involving Cassia during these years.

“On our way to school one lovely, hot sunny day, my friends and I were enjoying an ice-cream cone when we spotted Miss Denne, our biology mistress. They threw theirs in the gutter, but I was a thrifty little soul and hated waste. Putting it in my pocket was a messy idea and hiding it behind my back seemed childish, so I brazened it out. Miss Denne was furious. ‘Eating in the street – in uniform – without gloves, Veronica is very low class. You shall not make a mockery of Dame Alice Owen’s. You will report to the headmistress immediately.’ She confiscated my blaze and straw hat, which was pointless as I was wearing the very distinctive saxe blue dress with the school emblem emblazoned on the breast pocket. Everyone in town knew which school we belonged to.

Miss Bozman, the headmistress, scolded me rather gently, told me to be more circumspect, reminded me to wear gloves at all times and not to eat ice cream in public. It was unladylike, and I must always uphold the traditions of our illustrious school. Then with my promise to do just that, she gave me back my blazer and hat.”

(Veronica Pinckard, A Damn Fine Growth, published 2012)

Veronica, perhaps understandably given this incident, had no love for Cassia, describing her as “mean”, and as someone who delighted in dissecting insects and frogs as part of her biology lessons.

This episode shows the respect for ladylike qualities, and class boundaries, that were expected of young women at the time, and that had been bred and enforced into women like Cassia. Teachers considered it their moral duty to enforce these morals into their charges, and were rarely off duty. Eating in the street was seen as vulgar, and uncouth, much as being improperly dressed without a hat and gloves, and was part of a peculiarly British sense of morals, and all about outward appearances.

The original Dame Alice Owen’s School girls’ buildings were bombed in 1940, so the school did not return until 1945. Cassia went back to London with them, and her classrooms were now temporary huts on the former school site. She rose to become their senior science mistress, and lived in Finsbury with her friend Rita.

In 1950, fancying a change, Cassia took on her first school headship. She moved to become the third headmistress of the girls’ part of the Silver Jubilee Schools in Bury St Edmund’s, Suffolk. The schools, established in 1935 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of George V having the British throne, were at this stage part of the Secondary Modern schools that had been created in the tripartite system in 1944, providing a general extended secondary education and training for pupils not expected to go on to higher education. In the early days of these schools, the provision was continuing the elementary school style education that had flourished since the 19th century, but gradually more ideas were added to the curriculum and in some towns the main employers would have an influence on the skills the children learnt.

Here, under Cassia’s jurisdiction, the sexes were kept strictly separate at the school, with a white dividing line in the playground. In addition to further English, Maths, Science, Scripture and some humanities subjects, the girls studied commercial, secretarial and nursing courses. Domestic science, often the backbone of girls’ education at the time, was also heavy in the curriculum, which would have encompassed food technology and techniques, textiles, and other home economics skills.

Edith Denne prefects 1953

Cassia (left) with prefects at the Silver Jubilee School in 1953/4

Four years later, having been well respected in the town as the head mistress of the school, Cassia decided on a full career change. She left the world of schools behind, resigning her head teacher position, and planned to enter a convent.

At this stage, in 1954, she was 48 and at the top of her profession – and may have felt that the life of a nun was right for her in terms of both spiritual and career fulfilment. She would also have long gone past the age where most women of the time expected to marry, even though she could now do so and keep her job, which may or may not have been a consideration. Or this may have been a long cherished ambition for her. Whatever her reasoning, she handed over her Bury St Edmunds school to the next head teacher Edith Crocker, and prepared to take holy orders.

Exactly what happened next is not known, but Cassia did not last more than two years in the convent. Whether being a nun was not what she expected it to be, or she missed teaching too much, she returned to teaching in 1956. She took on the position of head teacher at the brand new girl’s high school – another secondary modern establishment – in Chippenham, a market town in Wiltshire.

Chippenham Girls High School was opened 10 September 1956, by education secretary and Chippenham MP Sir David Eccles and his wife Sybil, taking the girls away from the mixed secondary modern which had operated out of the old grammar school site on Cocklebury Road since the Chippenham Temporary Senior School was formed in November 1940.

Sir David Eccles, MP for Chippenham, and his wife Sybil. Both signed the school log book.

The new building was close to the buildings that the grammar school had moved to in 1939, and had been purpose-built for their use. Four years of schooling were offered at the time, from 11 until the school leaving age, which was then around 14, so at the end of what was is now called Year 10. There were 486 girls on the roll at the beginning of the school, with 22 teaching staff and a school secretary. They offered English, maths, science, music, history, and a LOT of domestic science. With a nod towards the surrounding area, the school also offered rural subjects. They supported some girls who had already started work towards their GCE – but the ambition of Cassia and her school was to further improve the depth of the education offered to the girls of the town. The staff wanted to aim for the University of Cambridge courses, not the Associated Board syllabus that they had been working to before, and one of the first subjects discussed at staff meetings was the provision of advanced courses (beyond the GCE examinations) in Secondary Modern Schools.

Hardenhuish staff Sept 1956

This came to fruition quickly – two years after the school’s founding, in 1958, there were over 600 girls on the roll, and the school offered a Fifth Form and even had a lower Sixth Form. And by 1959 there was a full opportunity for girls to study either for GCE, general subjects, or practical courses, and they were streamed accordingly. Shortly after this commercial subjects were added to the senior school provision.

In terms of school life, Cassia’s log book regularly records sports matches against other local secondary modern schools – those in Melksham, Malmesbury and Calne most often – and athletics tournaments, with educational trips and visits from speakers intended to inspire the pupils. For example, a representative of Simplicity Dress Patterns (clothes making was an important skill when very little came ready-made) visited in October 1958, and the school held a fashion show to demonstrate the skills they’d learned, and in 1966 they hosted Flying Officer PL Sturgess of the WRAF to talk to the girls about opportunities in the armed forces. And in July 1959 the BBC radio discussion programme “It’s My Opinion” was broadcast from the school hall. Some pupils remember that when the neighbouring boys’ school opened across the field at what is today Sheldon School, Cassia altered the start and finish times of the school to discourage her girls from spending time with the boys on the way to and from school.

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The buildings used for Chippenham Girls’ High School

Cassia remained at the school until the summer of 1966, having presided over some initial discussions about integrating secondary education in the town a couple of years earlier, although this did not take place for several more years. She’d had a period of ill health just after Christmas in 1966, and had lost her mother the previous year, so at the age of 60 took retirement. There was a presentation made for her in that July, with guests served tea in the library afterwards.

She returned to the school at least once more, to talk about its history at a celebration event in 1975, alongside second head teacher Miss Wilkins.

She and her friend Wendy moved to a bungalow overlooking Bath, where she offered tutoring to some select children. Cassia and Wendy then spent her last years together by the sea, on the south coast of England at Worthing in Sussex. She died there in 1991, aged 85.