Victorian Grandmothers






Sue Thring










Copyright 2008 by Prof M W Thring’s executors.

All rights reserved.

The cover features Lydia Meredith in a watercolour painted by her daughter Annie in 1898.


3  Foreword


4  Sarah Jenkyns - my father’s great grandmother


13 Lydia Eliza Dyer Meredith - my father’s paternal grandmother


36 Florence Sieveking - my father’s maternal grandmother


58 Dorothy Wooldridge - my father’s mother


84 Margaret Sullivan – my mother’s mother


97 After-word






99 Map of Wiltshire localities featuring in the life of Lydia Meredith


100 Family tree for my father’s family


101 Family tree for my mother’s family


102 Time line for my mother’s family


103 Time line for my father’s family













This has been a labour of love.  No – that’s only half true; labour implies some misery and it has been pure enjoyment. The love has been in the fascination with relating the lives of my ancestors to the happenings of their times.  Trying to discover the individual habits, foibles and characteristics of my forebears has also been a great interest. 


It all started from a vague curiosity.  I realized that although we had numerous facts about the men in my father’s family we knew next to nothing about the women.  On my mother’s side we knew nothing of either the men or the women.  By the time I was aged seven, three of my four grand parents were dead, and in fact the only one I knew well died when I was 11.  This grandmother was, I realized later, strangely reticent about her childhood and upbringing.  So I missed out completely on the grandparent-grandchild conversation along the lines of “what did you do when you were a little girl/boy”?


As a woman writing primarily for myself and for the, as it happens, all female next generation I decided to explore the lives of the women and fit the men around them in a reversal of the usual mapping of family history. However I hope that my grandchildren will find it of interest when they are adult.


With the great help of a friend, to whom very many thanks, one of the prime sources for family information has been the Victorian census; collected every decade from 1841.  Discussion with my uncle and with my father’s cousins has been fascinating and profitable and my thanks go to them too. Googling of family names has also been very fruitful.  On my father’s side of the family, because there were hoarders in several generations, a large number of letters, photographs, books, newspaper cuttings and other interesting paper work have survived.  I have thus had enough evidence to make informed guesses at the personalities and characteristics of some of my Victorian relatives. However on my mother’s side of the family there are just names and dates with no hint as to their characters and interests. 


In an appendix are two simplified family trees and two time lines to try to relate consecutive family and historical events.  There is also one map.  At the beginning of each section are lists of important dates, which include details of the relevant siblings and offspring. 


Obviously I have only two grandmothers, so the title “Victorian Grandmothers” refers also to two great-grandmothers, and because we have information about her, one great-great-grandmother.  All these women were born, or lived most of their lives, in Victoria’s reign.  In each case I have called these five Victorian ladies by their maiden names, and then identified them thereafter by their Christian names.  In each case I have included what I know about their parents, husbands, siblings and children.








Her father was Reverend J Jenkyns, vicar of Evercreech in Somerset

She was born in 1790

Her elder sister married Dr Thomas Gaisford, Dean of Christ Church.

She was the second daughter.   

One brother, Richard, was Master of Balliol and Dean of Wells. 

Another brother was Fellow of Oriel, Canon of Durham and Professor of Divinity at Durham.


She married John Gale Dalton Thring (born 1784) on 1st October 1811 at Evercreech Somerset


Their children were:

Theresa born 18th July 1815

Theodore born August 1816

Henry born November 1818

Elizabeth born 1819

Edward born 1821

Godfrey born 25th March 1823

John Charles born 11th June 1824


She died on 16th September 1891





This is the only one of my eight great great grandmothers about whose lives I have any information.  Amazingly this obituary from the Mother’s Union Journal of January 1892 survives.  I don’t know Sarah’s relationship to the author.  Her brother Richard was a reverend gentleman and master of an Oxford college so was probably not allowed to marry by his college; her other brother may have had children when he went from being a fellow of Oriel College Oxford to Durham University, where the dons were allowed to marry.  The obituary may have been written by one of his descendants.



M. S. Jenkyns

Last September  the death took place of Sarah Thring, aged 101 years, widow of Rev. John Gale Thring, rector and squire of Alford, Somerset.


She was the second daughter of the Rev. J Jenkyns, vicar of Evercreech.  Her brother, Rev. Dr R Jenkyns, was Master of Balliol and Dean of Wells, and another brother, Rev. Dr H Jenkyns, was Fellow of Oriel, Canon of Durham, and Professor of Divinity at Durham University.

Mrs Thring’s sons were no less distinguished than her brothers.  Edward, the beloved late headmaster of Uppingham School, made that celebrated school what it is; Henry, now Lord Thring, was a distinguished Parliamentary Counsel of the Government, and his mother lived to see him made a KCB and a peer; Godfrey, prebendary of Wells and rector of Hornblotton, is the author of many well-known hymns, among them “Saviour, blessed Saviour,” and “Fierce rage the tempest o’er the deep,” and he also compiled “The Church of England Hymnbook”.  With him his mother lived at Hornblotton since the death of her husband, who lived to the age of ninety[1]. 

Her eldest son, Theodore, was a county magistrate for Somerset, and deputy-chairman of quarter sessions, and he was chosen an alderman of the first Somerset County Council.  He died, aged seventy-five, at Alford, the family seat, two days after his mother, and they were buried in Alford churchyard on October 1st 1891 – the eightieth anniversary of Mrs Thring’s wedding day.  Her three surviving sons were there, Henry and Godfrey above mentioned, and the Rev. Charles Thring, and also her son-in-law, Archdeacon FitzGerald.

It was a most touching sight to see the two graves side by side, lined with moss and flowers, and the two coffins quite covered with beautiful wreaths, and the three surviving sons with their grey hair, looking like a past generation themselves.  Out of her twenty-nine grandchildren twelve were present, five of whom were Theodore’s sons, and, with another grandson, carried their father to the grave.

It is remarkable that Mrs Thring spent her whole life almost in one spot: her childhood at Evercreech, her married life at Alford, and her widowhood at Hornblotton, all within five miles of each other.  Her long life was one of usefulness and happiness, the greater part of it being spent at Alford.

She travelled very little, and rather despised “change of air;” but that did not prevent her from taking a keen interest in all that was going on in the world.  Perhaps the most remarkable traits in her character, retained to the last, were her meekness under provocation, her intense sympathy with the suffering of distressed in mind or body, and her very strong sense of duty.  If she saw it was her duty to do or bear anything, it never occurred to her whether it was agreeable or not; it was done, or borne, as a matter of course.

Up to the age of ninety-three she was in good health, and though since then she was a complete invalid, her strong constitution was shown by her surviving five paralytic strokes (the last of which deprived her of speech) and several bad illnesses, such as congestion of the lungs, bronchitis, etc. Those who nursed her during those last years were attached to her, so that it was a pleasure to do anything for her.  She seemed to be a mother to them all, and was so good and patient, besides being cheerful and full of fun.

This cheerfulness was a matter of principal with her.  She said once, “I have tried all my life to be cheerful, and now I am reaping the benefit”.  There were no dismal, long faces in her room.  It was the centre of interest in the house, and she enjoyed hearing what went on in the outside world.  The Hornblotton choir will never forget how she liked them to come up to her room and sing the Christmas carols, and how she shook hands with them all afterwards.

She has left a blank that can never be filled; but for her own sake we can rejoice that after waiting so long she has gone home to the “rest that remaineth for the people of God”.



Richard Jenkyns was master of Balliol College Oxford from 1819 to 1854.  Benjamin Jowett, his successor as master, described Richard in 1888 as “short of stature and very neat in his appearance; the deficiency of height was more than compensated by a superfluity of magisterial or ecclesiastical dignity.  He was much respected, and his great services to the College have always been acknowledged”.  He was apparently no great scholar but he was a shrewd organizer and good judge of men and had an inflexible view of what was right.  In his last years as Master he instituted an ambitious rebuilding programme and his obituary in the Times said that “He found Balliol a close college among the least distinguished collegiate bodies at Oxford – he left it almost entirely open, and confessedly the foremost of all”.[2]



The obituary makes Sarah sound almost too good to be true; however there is other evidence concerning her character.  In a book about the life of Sarah’s third son, Edward Thring[3], Parkin describes the family background of the young Edward (and therefore of the other siblings).  He also touches on the characters of their mother, Sarah Jenkyns, and their father John Gale Dalton Thring.  Parkin tells us that one of her sons said that:  “Mother’s idea, too, was that everything should be sacrificed to work and duty”  Parkin goes on: “He [i.e. Edward] never spoke of his mother without a tender dropping of his voice, which made one feel that all that sweetness and tender sympathy which was so marked a characteristic of him was an inheritance from her’”.

Later Parkin says: “Once when asked for recollections of Edward’s earliest years, his mother said that he ‘never seemed so happy as when he was lying on his face on the floor reading’.  A neighbour used to relate that, making a call one day at Alford, she discovered the lad, then six or seven years old, thus disposed in the library, and completely absorbed in a huge volume of Indian history.  The visitor remarked to Mrs. Thring that it seemed a mistake to let the boy read a book so much beyond his years.  The mother’s reply was that no book which awakened such deep interest could be considered beyond a child’s years.”  Sarah’s reply to her visitor’s criticism seems wonderfully broad-minded for Victorian times. There have been avid “bookworms” in later generations of the family as well, including me. 

Parkin concludes “Those who knew her in middle life remember in her a rare combination of mental activity and of Christian character at once gentle and firm.  To those who saw her in her later years she presented a wonderful picture of a happy and interesting old age.  Till long past ninety she retained her faculties almost unimpaired; her hand-writing was as firm and clear as in middle age; her memory keen and retentive; her literary interest scarcely diminished.”   Even when one has discounted the Victorian sentimentality and high moral tone she still sounds a remarkably pleasant, interesting and sensible woman.


Another book about Edward Thring[4] is mostly a summary of the information contained in Parkin, however some of the paragraph concerning Sarah is worth quoting:

“No biography of Mrs Thring has been written and we only know of her from the tributes of her friends and her children, but the picture which these give is one of extraordinary charm.  To begin with, she was a woman of strong mental power with a clear, penetrating mind and a sense of duty as definite as her husband’s but with a gaiety and humour in addition which he does not seem to have possessed.  This gaiety and sense of fun she shared to the full with her children, entering deeply into the joys and adventures of their second world (i.e. their outdoor life) and reinforcing them, by the strength of her character, in their struggles with the first (i.e. their relationship with their father).  She gave them, moreover, the deepest and tenderest parental love without the least trace of spoiling or softness – a combination, one may guess, as rare in those days as it is in these.  Finally, she was deeply and serenely religious.  Had the boys’ notion of religion been taken solely from the example of their father, worthy man as he was, they might well have dismissed it when they grew older as something detached from real life, but their mother made it quite impossible for them to take any such view. For their father they felt affection and respect, mingled with fear, but their mother they adored…”



According to the family tree drawn up by a Thring in Victorian times John Gale Dalton, Sarah’s husband, had one sister but no other siblings.  A note on the tree has some interesting facts about his parents:

“On Tuesday morning August 24th 1782, was married at St Edmund’s church Salisbury, Mr John Thring, attorney-at-law of Codford St Peter to Miss E Everett, daughter of William Everett, Esquire, of Heytesbury, a young lady with a handsome fortune and every accomplishment necessary to render the marriage state happy”.  I wonder if it was Elizabeth Everett’s money, which helped to pay for the building of the large and beautiful house at Alford in 1806 and for the estate.


Parkin[5] has observations concerning the character of John Gale Dalton Thring: “But the respective influences of father and mother were in strong contrast.  It was said by a keen and competent observer of men who knew John Gale Dalton Thring intimately, that he applied to the small details of family and parish government, abilities which might have made him a great statesman or a great general.  His own early desire had been to enter the army, but he took orders in deference to the strong wish of his mother.  The duties thus assumed were not, perhaps entirely congenial to him, but they were discharged with conscientious care and fidelity”.  I guess that as he was her only son Elizabeth didn’t want to lose him to the army.

“The parish was small, however, and the work light, leaving time for other things.  He was a magistrate for the county as well as rector of the parish.  He managed his own considerable estate.  He had the fondness of English country gentlemen for outdoor life, and was known as the best and boldest rider in the county of Somerset.

Winchester School, where he received his early training, and St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he was at the head of one “side[6]”, when Lord Palmerston was at the head of the other, had made him a sound and polished scholar.  His two elder sons received from him the whole of their preliminary training for Eton and Shrewsbury respectively.  The Eton tutors of his boys, as school letters show, consulted him with deference on questions of classical teaching.



John Gale Dalton Thring (date unknown)


If his teaching was sound his rule was rigid.  He was a man of strong and unbending will, and none had better reason to know this than his own family.  His domestic government was not merely strict – it was autocratic and exacting. 

‘The fact that the Thrings as boys and young men did not revolt against their father’s arbitrary interference with the details of their daily life always seemed to me a striking proof of the depth and sincerity of their Christianity’, was said by an intimate friend and relative who saw much of the home life at Alford in the early days.  ‘Just, but hard’ is the description given by another”.


Parkin[7] quotes an entry from Edward Thring’s diary dated December 14th 1874. It reads thus:

A solemn epoch.  My dear old father passed away on Friday last, December 11th.  My dear old father, how thankful I am to have had a brave good man as my father according to his lights!  I thank God for him.  And my dear, dear mother – O may God keep her and comfort her; sixty-three years married, and for the last fourteen or fifteen all her daily work and thoughts centred on him, and he is gone.  But a more saintly woman in practice and faith I believe cannot be found.  God does and will support her with His holy comfort”.  I wonder if there is any veiled meaning behind “according to his lights”.  By all accounts, including his own, Edward had a fairly miserable time when he was sent away to a very unpleasant boarding school at a young age, and Parkin makes John Gale Dalton Thring sound like a bully.


I can’t help thinking that although she lived in great comfort Sarah must have had a somewhat tempestuous life, with an autocratic husband and five robust sons.  Interestingly I have seen no mention in Parkin of the two daughters listed on the family tree, Theresa and Elizabeth.  Neither died young.  Theresa married Augustus Fitzgerald and lived to the age of 52 and Elizabeth, who was unmarried, lived to the age of 40.  Possibly Parkin discounted them as being of too little interest to mention.



Alford House, where Sarah and John Gale Dalton Thring brought up their five sons and two daughters, is in a small village 2 miles west of Castle Cary in Somerset. It was built by John Gale Dalton’s father in 1806. The population of Alford village was 136 people in the 1820s when John Charles Thring, my great grandfather and the youngest of the five sons, was born.  The manor of Alford, of which John G D Thring was the squire, is listed in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086 as Aldedeford.  Alford manor encompassed four farmsteads, which produced good rental for the squire.  As well as being the squire John G D Thring was also the rector from 1808 to 1858. I believe that when the roles of squire and parson are combined the position is known as a “squarson”.  John Charles Thring served as curate at Alford and Hornblotton in the early 1850s and again in the early 1870s.


Parkin mentions life in the village:

“The village contained only a small farming population, and in the life at Alford there was something of that isolation which not unfrequently makes for individuality of character in those brought up subject to its influences.  But as the five brothers of the family were not widely separated in age, there was within the home itself abundant material for a cheerful boy life”.

“Other companionship was not entirely wanting.  The most intimate holiday playmates of the boys were their cousins of the Hobhouse family, whose seat, Hadspen, is but a few miles distant from Alford.  The relations between the two families seem to have been particularly affectionate and intimate.  One of the Hadspen family remarks in a note: “I have always reckoned on all Thrings as steadily as brothers, and I never found them fail yet.”



THERESA married Archdeacon Fitzgerald and had 2 daughters and 2 sons.


THEODORE took over from his father as squire and was also a county magistrate for Somerset and an alderman of the first Somerset County Council.  He had 2 daughters and 6 sons.



A version of Henry’s career was published in conjunction with a cartoon by ‘Spy’ in Vanity Fair on June 29th 1893.  It is entitled “Statesmen Number 615 Lord Thring” and I wonder what he thought of it when he read that he had been “warped into detailed narrowness”.

“He is the second of five sons born to the late Reverend John Gale Dalton Thring, of Alford House in Somerset; of whom three became parsons, one Edward, now dead, was the excellent and popular headmaster of Uppingham school, and himself, Henry, after being grounded at Shrewsbury School, went to Magdalen College Cambridge, got third place in the classical Tripos and became fourteenth Junior Optime and a fellow of his college.  Having achieved so much and being still most industriously inclined he went to the bar with qualities and luck that together some three-and thirty years ago improved him into Counsel to the Home Office.  Eight years later he rose to be Parliamentary Counsel; after which, as a matter of course, he was honoured with a KCB, and on retiring from Office seven years back, he was very naturally offered a peerage, which he accepted as a slight part of the reward to which his years of service had entitled him from a grateful country. 

He has now lived through three quarters of a century; but he found himself in the House of Lords too late to cut the figure that he might there have cut as a younger man.  For he had been warped into detailed narrowness by a long life of drudgery spent in the unwholesome drafting of parliamentary documents such as would have made musty the talents of a better man.  Yet has he written much outside the routine work of his Office.  Among other Bills he drafted the Joint Stock Companies Acts of 1856, 1857, and 1858, the Joint Stock Banking Companies Act f 1857, and the consolidation of those acts by the Companies Act of 1862; whereby he became, as he thought, qualified to contrive that work on ”the law and practice of Joint Stock and Other Companies,” which still, ‘though much edited, bears his name; in which he explained to those concerned how the principle of Limited Liability was meant to work. He has also written on the Succession Duty Act, and on “Practical Open Legislation”; of the clerical parts of which at least he should know as much as any man.

He lives at Egham and he is a County Councillor for Surrey.  He greatly interests himself in good works and, being a keen politician as well as an ardent admirer of Mr Gladstone, he conscientiously misses no chance of attending a Liberal meeting.  He married a niece of Lord Cardwell, and having one daughter he has no heir.  He is a very worthy man but he does not go into society.”


I found another reference to Henry’s work when searching the Internet.  In 1851 a pamphlet was published entitled The Supremacy of Great Britain Not Inconsistent with Self-Government for the Colonies.  The explanation accompanying this entry reads: “Published on behalf of the Society for the Reform of Colonial Government, this pamphlet discusses the Colonial Bill proposed by Sir William Molesworth.  Thring was the Parliament Counsel.  Considered one of Parliament’s greatest legislative draftsmen, he had a formidable knowledge of English law and government.  He was the author of many books and articles of law and procedure.  Many of these, such as his treatises on military law, were important works that went through several editions.”


Three letters Henry Thring wrote to his niece Nona Thring, one of John Charles’ daughters, have survived.  Nona went to Newnham College Cambridge to read mathematics in 1891 so the first two must have been written when she was still at school. The story of her life as far as I know it is in the section about her mother, Lydia Meredith.  The letters are all on beautiful paper with a very fancy embossed red coronet above a capital T. They read as follows:


January 19th 1889

5 Queen’s Gate Gardens S W

Dear Nona

I have heard with the greatest satisfaction of your success in your examinations- it shows how steadily and ably you have availed yourself of the opportunities of learning afforded to you.  The greatest pleasure I think I ever experienced was the receipt of the news that I had taken a good degree at Cambridge.  Now I said to myself I shall be able to become (illegible) and I never rested till I achieved that position of independence I earnestly longed for – I have no doubt that with the helping of providence you have before you the prospect of a useful and successful life.

Your affectionate old Uncle


Tell your father that I thank him for his letter and will answer it (illegible)


August 12th 1890

Alderhurst, Englefield Green, Surrey

Dear Nona

We are extremely pleased to hear of your great success in your examinations.  It shows not only that you are possessed of the requisite ability to get on in the world but what in my judgement is of still more consequence, of energy, perseverance and force of character – The greatest pleasure I have ever felt in life was the satisfaction of (illegible) a high degree at Cambridge.  I began then to feel that I should be able to stand upright on my own legs and make my way for myself – I have little doubt that you think now much as I did then. No doubt you like me will have a sharp struggle and many disappointments but perseverance overcomes everything – and I have little doubt that should life and strength be given to you – you will be a successful and what is still better a useful good woman.

Your affectionate Uncle



June 12th 1895

Alderhurst, Englefield Green, Surrey

Dear Nona

Of all the honours I have gained in life the one that gave me the greatest pleasure was the attainment of a first class in the Classical Tripos in the year 1841.  It came at the opening of my career and seemed to spur me that if I worked hard I might consider that I had ability enough to do what any other man might reasonably expect to achieve.  You may imagine then how heartily I congratulate you on your success in becoming a wrangler – You have broken the spell which appeared to hang over our family none of whom except yourself have shown any aptitude for mathematics and I hope and believe that should God grant you health you have a just expectation of a happy and successful life – It is pleasant to think how many doors are now open to a woman in ?literature, teaching in colleges and other vocations which were entirely closed to her when I was young so that a University Honour is not only a great distinction but a substantial benefit – That you may be good successful and happy is the earnest wish of your affectionate Uncle



I can’t help thinking naughtily that these letters make Henry sound somewhat pompous.  The reference to being a “useful and good woman” in the second letter is very interesting.  I have read that the Victorians put “goodness” as a quality in a person’s character very much higher than “cleverness” – and particularly for a woman. To give Henry credit he does seem to be genuinely pleased with, and proud of, her success.  I like the reference to the family non-aptitude for mathematics, which luckily didn’t seem to hold true for subsequent generations of Thrings.


Henry had two daughters.  I can remember being taken to have tea with one of them in a grand and gloomy London house when I was a very small child.  I still distinctly remember the beautiful white loo with wonderful blue decoration all over it, which you approached by mounting two steep steps.  Apparently Henry’s daughter, the Honourable Catherine, asked whether I had enjoyed my tea.  Being a well brought-up child, and obviously completely in awe of this very old lady, I answered politely, ‘It was very nasty thank you’.  Wartime cakes were, I believe, not very good to eat.


ELIZABETH did not marry. She died aged 40 and I know nothing more about her life.


EDWARD was educated at Eton and in later life wrote to his brother Godfrey that “The grind of the schooldays at Eton had much in them that was exceedingly repressive, and whilst I give unabated thanks for the power of working against odds that my early training gave me, I lost a freshness and spring of imagination that has never come back”.


In addition to Parkin’s Life and Letters of Edward Thring I have a memoir[8] of Edward written by a former pupil, and subsequently a teacher at Uppingham, who therefore knew Edward from two perspectives.  His initial inscription reads: “I dedicate this memory of our master to those many who praise in silence him who taught them the worth of life”.


Chapter IV is entitled “The Hero as Schoolmaster” with subheadings “The Man – The Leader –The Hero”.  In 16 extra-ordinarily flowery Victorian–style pages he gives us an insight into Edward as a man.  They can be summarised as follows:  Edward was genial and humorous but “altogether, in his sociality there was too much force for general pleasantness”; I’m not sure I like the sound of this!  He was short and stocky. He had been an athlete and was “always in hard fighting condition”. He excelled at fives, and was still playing in his fifties, and was also keen on playing football and cricket. He was extremely energetic - “energy seemed to us the very soul of him”. When he spoke to the boys he inspired them and they “believed him to be a hero”. “He treated everything as if it mattered supremely”.  “He appeared to have a genius for being unworldly”.  “Last, at least in my memories of these times, he invented a smoke–consuming fire-grate, patented it and warmed his study with it: an earthenware eggshell of a thing, swinging on a pivot”.  This is a fascinating detail because my father, his great nephew, also invented and patented a smoke-consuming fire-grate, probably with as little success.  Skrine concludes by describing Edward giving a sermon “with rarely a movement except to turn the leaves; there was only the firm-outlined figure, energetic in stillness; the voice charged with steady passion, the eye which wonderfully took fire with the voice, and without grace of feature, lit up the stern face into beauty: only a man of faith, speaking of things he knew.”



Photograph of Edward Thring from his “Life and Letters”


An oft-quoted Victorian maxim is “spare the rod and spoil the child” and all public school headmasters at this time were “floggers”.  Another book[9], quotes the following story:

“…He discovered a proposed game posted on the boards as: THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN FLOGGED BY MR THRING V. THOSE WHO HAVE NOT.  ‘Ha!’ he said, as he ran his pencil down the list, ‘if that game takes place, all the players will be on the same side’.”  However Skrine approves of his methods of discipline and says: “it was only a miserable percentage of them who had a first-hand experience of the beneficent whip.  Its exercise was guarded too by strict limitations”.  The author tells us that flogging was administered only by the headmaster and in public and also that “his laws were few; they were easy to keep; and there were plenty of things to do which were more amusing than breaking them”.  In fact “there was room for all of us on our playing grounds, and the games were organized to include everyone, and not only the cricket or football worthies”. Edward also introduced carpentry and music lessons.  The author states, “Another most powerful instrument of discipline was the extension through the school of self-government “.  “What Thring did of his own was to make not the sixth form responsible for the society, but the whole society responsible for itself”. One final quote from this memoir on discipline: “but if his severity and justice made discipline inevitable, it was another quality which commended it to us.  Among the secret springs of discipline was his tenderness”.  


Edward Thring wrote and published many books including the Theory and Practice of Teaching and Sermons preached at Uppingham School.  Interestingly I have a copy of the Theory and Practice of Teaching which belonged to Ella Sieveking, who was from another family line altogether, which leads me to think that it must have been in common use as a text book for teachers.  The sermons are immensely long and to a modern eye look fairly tedious. 


Edward Thring died suddenly at the age of 66 while still working as head master.  While building up the school he had had many worries concerning debt, which may have taken their toll on his health. He had 2 sons and 3 daughters.


Family legend passed down to us by our Great Uncle Ernie, who was Sarah’s youngest grandchild, told us that one of Edward’s sons married a bar maid and that Edward never talked to him again.  How true this is I do not know but it certainly seems very Victorian.



Godfrey was educated at Shrewsbury and at Balliol College Oxford.  Some time after he left Balliol he went to Germany where he became engaged to a lady called Maria Koch. “His parents were not in favour of this liaison, and sent his elder brother Edward out to Germany to try to prevent the arrangement leading to something more permanent.  This Edward did by marrying Maria himself!  We don’t know what Godfrey’s reaction was”[10].


Godfrey was first his father’s curate and later became rector.  He resided in the vicarage at Hornblotton, which his father had built for him in 1867.  He finally married at the age of 47 and he and his wife supervised the building of a simple and beautiful new church at Hornblotton. His bride was aged 38 and they had only one child, a son.


Godfrey was a prolific hymn writer and also edited published collections of hymns.  When I started primary school we used a hymnbook, which contained several hymns by Godfrey Thring, and I used to feel a great sense of family pride whenever I saw his name.  Godfrey was also an inventor and very forward thinking.  He influenced his father to have a hydroelectric generator installed  at Alford using the water of the local river.  Later a paraffin engine was added to provide electricity when the water flow was low.  He installed the “first electric turret clock in the kingdom made with a striking apparatus” in the new Hornblotton church.  He invented a stile for walkers, which was easy to negotiate, could not be left open, and was proof against cattle and sheep.


He retired in 1893 at the age of 70 and died in 1903.


As for JOHN CHARLES, Sarah’s youngest child, his story is in the section concerning Lydia Meredith.









Her mother was Lydia Eliza Dyer born 1796

Her father was Samuel Meredith born 5th August 1794

Their marriage date is not known

Her older sister was Mary de Saumary Meredith born May 21st 1826

She was born 4th August 1830


She married John Charles Thring (born 1824) on 18th May 1858


Their children were:[11]

Lydia Marian Ethel born April 18th 1859 at Uppingham

Godmothers: Mary Meredith, Eliza Marian Thring. Godfathers: Edward Thring, Hugh Dyer.   


Charles Henry Meredith born January 21st 1861 Uppingham

Godmothers: Lucy Merryman, Mary D S Meredith.  Godfathers Henry Thring, Charles Hoskins


Lionel Charles Reginald born September 5th 1862 Uppingham

Godfathers: Godfrey Thring, John Baverstock

Godmother: Anna Eliot


On the 4th December 1863 - a boy stillborn (from a fall)


Gertrude Elizabeth Lydia born November 24th 1864 Chantry Bradford

Godfather: John Medland Dyer

Godmothers: Mabel Sarah Fitzgerald, Mary Bell


Llewellyn Charles Waldron born July 11th 1866 at the Chantry Bradford on Avon

Godfathers Henry Stilwell, Andrew B...........  Star........  Godmother: Mary Agnes Roche


Theresa Anne Lydia born November 22nd 1867 at the Chantry

Godmothers: Constance Starky, Clara Wayte.  Godfather Thomas Guy Barlow Poole


Amy Gwendoline Mary Lydia born at the Chantry March 13th 1869

Godmothers: Caroline Crabbe, Laura Roche.  Godfather: Theodore Thring.


Nona Alice Lydia Born the second day of September 1870

Godmothers: Alice a Baker, Mary D S Stilwell.  Godfather Edward Edgell. 


Walter Hugh Charles Samuel Born May 30th 1873 The Chantry

Godmother Ellen Whinfield   Godfathers: Francis Baldwin Leighton, Francis H Du Boulay. 


Ernest Walsham Charles born Feb 22nd 1875 The Chantry

Godmothers: Arabella Dyer, Ella Jane Robinson. Godfathers: Ernest A Fuller,  Wm. Walsham How. 


Lydia died on 4th September 1925

Lydia was born at Kingston Cross near Portsmouth on the 4th August 1830.  Her father was a serving officer in the navy at the time.  Her parents already had a daughter called Mary, who was born on May 21st 1826 at Stonehouse near Plymouth; they had no other children.


In 1920 Lydia was persuaded by one of her children to dictate a memoir of her life, which runs to 26 closely typed pages[12].  By this time she had been a widow for 15 years and three of her ten children had pre-deceased her.  All the quotations from the next two sections are from her memoir.



Lydia’s father, Samuel Meredith, was the only child of elderly parents.  Samuel’s father , Joseph Meredith, “held a small appointment under government …. his duties were to superintend all of the Excise officers in that district”.  Joseph had retired by the time of Samuel’s birth[13] and lived in West Ham. As a child of 10 Samuel ran away from his school at Greenwich and could not be traced.  Joseph Meredith and a great family friend called Mr Dyer (who later became Samuel’s father in law and therefore Lydia’s grandfather) “laid their heads together to devise plans for tracking the runaway.  When some days had passed without success, my grandfather Dyer had a letter from the captain of one of HMS ships at Portsmouth telling him that a bright, active boy of ten years old had come on board, asking if he could be taken as a ship’s boy.  Being questioned he mentioned Mr Dyer’s name, so the captain wrote to him for particulars.  Mr Dyer’s position in the admiralty enabled him to get the boy entered as a midshipman and after getting permission to come home and take leave of his parents, who had found that nothing but a sea life would satisfy him, they gave their consent, and the ship soon after sailed for the Indian Ocean.

The life must have been rough.  I have heard him say that as a middy[14], his dinner table was often an upturned bucket.  He must have made himself liked by the men, as he told me once, that on first going ashore to India, an old sailor said to him ‘if you wants some money, Master Sam, I’ve got some in old stockings and I don’t want it; you can have it’.  There had been much prize money taken by the ship’s crew, and some of the crew of the Captain’s gig had pierced guineas as buttons on their jackets.  It was five years before my father came back to England.”  

Lydia goes on: “It has always been a mystery to me how my father became educated.  At ten years old he could not have learnt much at school, but he was undoubtedly a well-educated man, a fair Latin scholar, well read in history, and with polished manner.  I do not think anyone ever heard him use an oath, even when he was very angry.  Probably he came under the teaching of a good chaplain, who in those days were, I believe, usually naval instructors as well.”


Lydia Meredith’s mother, who was Lydia Dyer before she married Samuel, was the “eldest daughter by the second wife of John S. Dyer, Chief Clerk (as it was then called) of the Admiralty Whitehall, and the secretary of Greenwich hospital[15], which was then a home for old and disabled seamen.  In consequence of his appointment (as secretary) my grandfather had apartments in the Hospital, and that was where my mother was born, in the left wing, facing the river”.

It is hideously confusing to have mother and daughter Lydias in this narrative.  I shall always call the mother by her maiden name, i.e. Lydia Dyer. The daughter, who is the subject of this section and who on marriage became Lydia Thring, I shall call just Lydia, or occasionally Lydia Meredith.

When Lydia Dyer married Samuel Meredith, Samuel “was a lieutenant in the RN attached to the Plymouth division, and they had a small house at Stonehouse, Devon, where my elder sister was born. Soon after her birth my father was appointed in command of the ketch Vigilant”.



When command of the Vigilant ended Samuel asked for a shore appointment.  He was “given the command of the Gosport in July 1830 in the district of the coast guard.  It was during this appointment that I was born”. 


As an infant Lydia had a narrow escape.  The new phaeton my father was driving had only just arrived from the coach builders.  My father, mother and my sister were in the front, and the nurse with me in her arms sat behind.  She was leaning back to see the view when suddenly the back seat gave way and nurse and baby were on the ground.  My mother, who was speechless with terror, snatched at the reins and the horse, a spirited thoroughbred, reared and backed.  My father, with a cut from the whip, made him spring forward when the wheel was close to my head.”


The Portsmouth job came to an end in 1833, when Lydia was three, and Samuel Meredith, Lydia Dyer, and their two daughters then travelled around Europe for several months. Lydia mentions that Samuel greatly enjoyed fishing. She had an eventful early life; she relates that while they were abroad “my father when playing with me, swinging me by the right arm, dislocated my shoulder”.  A French doctor was sent for and put it back into place.   On their return to England they went to stay in the “little village of Chicklade[16], in the south of Wiltshire, where my maternal grandfather [i.e. Grandfather Dyer] had bought a large old-fashioned house called Chicklade Hall.  Here we stayed for a long visit.  The one daily excitement in Chicklade was to see the Exeter coaches pass, as the high road from Salisbury to Exeter ran through the village, and I well remember my tall stately grandfather standing on his lawn daily, with his white hair blowing in the wind, for the coachman to call out the correct time to him, that he might regulate all the clocks in the house by it.”


While they were at Chicklade Samuel was appointed Inspecting Commander of the Swanage Coast Guard District in Dorset.  His remit was to supervise the coast guards who covered the area from Lulworth Bay to Bournemouth. Apparently the Admiralty considered that his predecessor had not checked smuggling sufficiently strictly. At this time the Admiralty appointed coast guard officers from the naval ranks and used the coast guard service as a naval reserve and recruiting agency.  The service was at this time known as the coast guard, in two words; the one-word ‘coastguard’ came into use in the twentieth century.   The family lived in a house called Alpha Cottage from 1835 to 1838. “Swanage at that time had a bad reputation for smuggling, and my father had to go out almost every night, with his mounted orderly, to visit the different stations”. Following the appointment of Samuel, and his success in checking the smugglers, the Swanage tradesmen took their revenge when “my father went to London to attend one of King William the Fourth’s levees[17].  They surrounded the house with a dense mob of quarrymen, carrying an effigy, supposed to be my father.  We had a very plucky governess and she persuaded my much-alarmed mother to let her run down to the coastguard building and tell the lieutenant and his men.  This she did, and while the mob were still ringing our bells and knocking and shouting, they found themselves met by a strong body of sailors fully armed with cutlasses and muskets.  The sight was enough and the crowd melted away at once”


Captain Samuel Meredith R N – Lydia’s father


Soon after they arrived at Swanage, when Lydia must have been aged five, her father’s armed mounted guard called Heath, who was a friend of hers, put her up into the saddle of his thoroughbred mare Betsy, where she “sat astride, holding onto his holster pistols.  Betsy suddenly broke into a gallop and went up onto the down above Durleston Head.  I enjoyed my scamper exceedingly, but my father mounted his horse, headed Betsy and soon caught her.  I was ignominiously lifted off and sent to the schoolroom for the day”.  Later in the memoir she says “my sister did not care much for riding, but I was devoted to it, and my father often let me ride with him, when he rode to some of his stations.  I was then 7 years old, and my father was very much pleased with the way in which I rode Jack”.  She tells of riding with her father on a dangerous path on a great slope, which ended in a steep cliff.  It sounds as if her father greatly enjoyed the company of his feisty little daughter. 


Lydia recounts that Samuel had a small steamer, a large cutter, and a beautiful small cutter called the Gertrude “to take him about to various stations.  The Gertrude became an important part of our life, as my father used constantly to take us and our governess on board when he visited his various stations, and we often had our lessons on board to our great delight.  On one occasion Mr and Mrs Gale Thring from Alford took lodgings in Swanage, and often went afloat in the Gertrude with my father, and my sister and I went too, little thinking they were one day to be my mother and father in law.”


The “plucky governess” was called Miss Swain and “was a good botanist.  When taking us out for walks she used to interest us so much in the flowers that I have been grateful to her ever after.  Our pony, Jack, went with us on our walks so that either of us could ride when tired, and I remember on one occasion Jack bit out the whole crown of Miss Swain’s straw bonnet as she walked in front of him”.


The description of life in Swanage ends with the following: “My father’s strict rule had great effect in capturing many of the smuggling ‘ventures’ of the Swanage people, and before he left, smuggling had greatly diminished on that coast”.


When Samuel’s Swanage appointment ended the family moved to the Old Rectory in Boyton, Wiltshire.   Lydia says that the house was damp in winter and that her mother had a long and serious illness there, which the doctor said was “decidedly caused from the miasma arising from the pond”.  From the Old Rectory they moved to Boyton House, which was lent to them by Aylmer Bourke Lambert, “who was a very distinguished member of the Linnaean Society[18], and had a rare and valuable collection of living cacti in his greenhouse”.  Lydialoved beautiful old Boyton House”.  She says that a battle between the King’s army and the Roundheads was fought nearby in the Civil War and that afterwards one officer of the King’s army was concealed in a secret room in Boyton House. Pevsner[19] tells us that Boyton Manor was built by Thomas Lambert and completed in 1618.  He says that it is a “fine square house with 3 by 3 gables” and that it has a fine plaster ceiling in the stairway, and original panelling in the principal room on the first floor, which also has a fine large chimneypiece.  We made a pilgrimage to Boyton, which is a tiny, peaceful, unchanged village in the Wylie valley.  The Old Rectory is an attractive Georgian house and Boyton Manor is enormous.  Lydia mentions in her memoir that these are the only two large houses in the village and the same is true today.  Funnily enough Boyton Manor is virtually in the churchyard, whereas the Old Rectory is a few minutes walk away from the church.



By good fortune I discovered a cache of 31 letters that must have been preserved by Mary.  Four of the letters are written by Lydia, one by a young friend and twenty-six by her mother, Lydia Dyer.  The earliest letter in the collection is from a friend called Frances Frowd who lived in Upper Clatford Rectory.  It is dated December 20th 1838 and is written in the most beautiful copper plate hand.  There is a considerable amount of information about how to care for a dormouse although the writer adds: “at present we have no dormouse, as ours unfortunately died”.  This makes me wonder about the usefulness of the care-instructions!  Frances thanks Mary “and dear Lydia for the interesting and instructive book you so kindly sent me.  I was very much pleased and delighted with so unexpected a present. 

The season of Christmas is now fast approaching, what a solemn event it is to commemorate the birth of our blessed saviour, and when we consider the amazing love of God in giving his only son to suffer and die for us it ought to fill us with love and gratitude to him.

You told me in your letter that you were collecting shells and fossils, which must be very amusing to you.  I dare say your governess is kind enough to explain them to you and tell you their names; should I have the pleasure of seeing you at some future time, I should very much like to see them.

You I doubt not are as fond of the study of history as I am.  I have lately finished that of Rome, which I consider very entertaining and am about to commence the History of Greece which I hope to be as much interested in; our wish however ought not to be merely to read for amusement, but that we may derive benefit and instruction, and endeavour to retain it.

Papa and Mamma unite with me in kind remembrance to your dear parents and your sister.  I shall be always pleased to hear from you when you have leisure.

Will you please to present my love to Miss Swain and believe me to remain your affectionate young friend, Frances Elizabeth Frowd”.


Considering that Mary Meredith was aged ten, and guessing that Frances was much the same age, this is an extraordinarily pious and stilted letter.  From hints in the letters that Lydia Dyer wrote to Mary I am guessing that her parents and maybe a governess read this letter before it was sent, and that it was written as an educational exercise.


The next letter was written by Lydia Dyer on August 13th 1839.  Mary was staying with friends in Hindon, Wiltshire, and Lydia Dyer, Lydia Meredith and Samuel had gone to stay in Limmington near Ilchester with William Dyer (Lydia Dyer’s brother) and their sister Ann who kept house for him.   William was a curate and Lydia Dyer mentions him often in the letters.

“My dearest Mary

I am anxious to fulfil my promise of writing you, because I know you will be anticipating the pleasure of a line from me.  We arrived at this place on Saturday in time for dinner at five o’clock and found dear Uncle and Aunt quite well.  Sunday was a very happy day with us all, and to none more than Lydia; she often, very often, thought and spoke of you and felt pleased in the reflection that you were also enjoying a similar treat with herself.

Yesterday we spent the evening with Mrs Williams.  There Lydia found much to amuse and delight her.  I had almost forgotten to tell you, that I went with her to the top of the church tower where she looked with the deepest interest for some trace of your visit to the same spot, and was delighted to find the outline of the print of your shoe, and a little brown flint stone you had placed there.  You will be surprised when I tell you, that I have just written the above 6 lines from Ilchester Gaol – wither Uncle William challenged me to accompany him while I was directing my thoughts, and pen to you: I therefore brought my letter with me that I might finish it on the road and my dear Mary I have found that there is a voice, a lesson, in the stones of a gaol, which teaches me the importance of the prayer “Lead me not into temptation” “but deliver us from evil”.  'Tis humiliating to see the degradation to which Sin – levels the different ranks of society when we yield our bodies, as slaves to Satan’s (illegible).  Let us ever while imploring blessings for ourselves remember the “prisoners and captives” that God would turn their hearts.  From the Gaol I proceeded to the Yeovil Union House – [or work house][20] where many poor creatures find a comfortable Asylum.  The most interesting sights to me were the schools, and nursery.  Many poor orphan children are here – who have no home, no friends and connections, but are the property and charge of the Union.  They have however a “Father in Heaven”, “who willeth not that one of these little ones should perish”.  Several little girls younger than Tiddy were working and patching for the old and infirm.  Thus it has pleased God to defend the fatherless widows, and to provide for them.



According to Lydia’s memoir the Meredith family were established in Boyton House by the time Samuel attended an interview for the job of chief constable of Wiltshire on Thursday 28th November 1839.  Lydia records that it was a sensational highway robbery, which took place near Devizes “which made a general desire for the formation of a Wiltshire County Police”. However according to a fascinating history of the Wiltshire Constabulary [21] it was not quite so simple.  In the early part of the 19th Century there was much change and unrest throughout Britain. The Industrial Revolution made life very difficult for agricultural workers and they staged protests against poor wages and food price rises.  Chartism was another law and order problem.  The Chartists had drawn up a six point Charter for Parliamentary reform and were very prepared to march and demonstrate in the cause of their principles. As a result of all this unrest Robert Peel had introduced the Metropolitan Police Bill in 1829 and ‘Peelers’ and ‘Bobbies’ appeared on the streets of London soon afterwards.  The Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 required the boroughs to set up police forces;  Salisbury and Devizes had policemen soon after this.  Then Parliament passed the County Police Act in 1839 requiring the counties to set up their own police services.  The job advertisement for Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police was placed in the Wiltshire Gazette on 21st November 1839.  The interviews took place in Devizes soon after.  Samuel was short listed from thirteen candidates and approval for his appointment came from London in early December.  Wiltshire became, by less than a week, the first English county to appoint a chief constable, a fact proudly reflected in their original motto, Primus et Optimus or First and Best.


Lydia’s memoir recounts:  “Soon after the Wiltshire Police were established, there was a great deal of Chartism in the manufacturing towns of Trowbridge, Bradford-on–Avon and Westbury.  The inhabitants became alarmed at the general feeling among the weavers, and asked the Lord Lieutenant to appoint more magistrates.  I once persuaded my father, who had little fear of the Chartists, to let me ride with him to Melksham where there was to be a ‘mass’ torchlight procession of Chartists.  I rode a fine old horse, that I had taught some tricks, amongst others to lift his hind legs as if about to kick, but without really kicking, when I put my hand behind my saddle, on his behind.  The crowd in the market place was very great, my father rode first, speaking to some of the constables he had ordered to be present, and I followed.  Whenever I found the crowd pressing on my horse, I touched Tartar on the back, and he moved his hind legs in a threatening way, which made the people say, “Take care, he’s going to kick,” and give me plenty of room.  When the leaders saw my father there, and his body of constables, the crowd began to disperse very quickly putting their banners out of sight, and there was no speaking that night”.


Miss Swain, the “dear governess”, left them in late 1840 or early 1841 to take charge of an old relative, and Mary, Lydia’s sister, went to board at Mrs Boscawen’s School in Salisbury in February 1841. Indeed the census of 1841 shows Samuel and the two Lydias living in Boyton with three servants Elizabeth Stokes, Mary James and Edward Bright and no sign of Mary.  Mary is listed as living in Barnards Square Salisbury with Harriet Boscawen aged 55, Sophia Boscawen aged 30, two other teachers, 22 girls and 3 servants.  The girl pupils range in age from 15 down to 8 and Mary is 13.  I am intrigued as to why Mary was sent away to school and not Lydia.  There is apparently no governess living in the Meredith household and Lydia was 11 at the time, well within the age range of pupils at the school.  From Lydia Dyer’s letters the education of her daughters was very important to her.  I can only imagine that Lydia shared a governess with another family or was taught by her mother but the reason that the two sisters were separated is unfathomable.



The letters give a good idea of the kind of life that Lydia was living at home with her parents while her sister was away.  They also give some idea of the character of her mother.  I don’t wish to think ill of my great great grandmother but I can’t help building up a picture of Lydia Dyer as a hypochondriac prig without any sense of humour. However the fact that Mary carefully kept the letters all her life speaks for itself.  It feels somewhat voyeuristic to read intimate day-to-day details never intended to be read by anyone except the recipient, but I cannot resist the fascination of a window into the life of close relatives over 160 years ago.  There are many references to “dear Papa”, “dear Lydia” and other “dear” relatives.  I find this Victorian habit of endearing everyone somewhat irritating but that is my problem and no reflection on them! 


It is obvious from the letters that Samuel called in to see Mary frequently whenever he was in Salisbury on Chief Constable business.  News of neighbours and friends, family, the servants and the family pets are themes running throughout the letters. There is also advice about clothes, talk of Lydia Dyer’s own health, worry about Mary’s health, advice about medication, discussion about the contents of parcels to be sent to Mary, and much pious religious sentiment.  Needlework, the state of the garden, the timetable of the carrier (the horse drawn delivery service) and the health or otherwise of the houseplants also feature.


This is from the first letter sent to Mary after she went away:

“Behind my dressing glass, I found these words written on the wall “ dear Mamma I shall never forget you”.  I instantly recognized my Mary’s writing and by that the workings of her heart.  May the constant remembrances of your Mother lead you to remember “Him” who has spared her to you and believe me dearest love any blessing you find in her must be traced to God’s love for you in thus smoothing your pilgrim path through life. 

We all think of you, talk of you, and love to hear from you.  Lydia is very good and attentive to her lessons.  Puss shares the attentions of the whole house and is very well.  She generally visits me as soon as my bedroom fire is lit in the morning. 

You do not mention Elizabeth [one of the servants] in your note, but as I am sure it was a “forget” (which by the bye, is an excuse I do not patronize) I have substituted a remembrance to her, as no one in the house thinks of you more than she does.

I dare say you feel the cold very much, we all do, especially poor Mamma, but I am thankful to say I am quite as well as when you left me.  Doubtless you miss your fire in the evening, but my Mary is quite equal to any sacrifice of feeling where duty appeals to her and others are cheerfully complying with circumstances.  These little privations must be looked upon as the [???] in the weight of pleasure in the society of so many young friends.  When next you write you must give me an account of your daily arrangements.  Your Governesses, schoolfellows, nothing is too trivial connected with my darling’s welfare to give pleasure to her fond parents.  God bless you my beloved child.  Papa sends his affectionate love”.


The following are examples of some of the recurring themes from different letters; the first four show Lydia Dyer’s pre-occupation with health or the lack of it:

“I was a little anxious upon first reading your note, as any thing like spontaneous palpitation of the heart, is quite foreign to your constitution, but upon reflection, I anticipate, that the cause has originated in your need of your aperient[22] medicine which I hope you have received by this time, and have resorted to its salutary aid.  Should Mrs Boscawen still think you had better have the “Fluid Magnesia” I shall be obliged to her to send to Quareys for a shilling bottle of it for your use, as Mrs Seagram assures me its qualities are much deteriorated after the cork has been withdrawn; therefore it will be better to have but a small quantity at a time; by promptly replacing the cork that quantity will be available while it is good.”


“ I should like you to purchase a cake of camphor soap and use it to prevent chilblains, but you must take care to keep it carefully wrapped up in the lead paper in which you buy it. Or perhaps it would come lighter to your purse to have two, or three ounces[?] of camphorated spirit and when your hands are dried out of the water after washing them rub them well with the spirit and let it dry in.” 


“I am a close prisoner to the house, but thank God in very much better health than is usual with me at this season of the year.  I am urged, by no means to venture out, and if that precaution will help to preserve my health to enjoy the companionship of my dear girls, I am well repaid.”


“…….although on my return to Boyton I am reminded continually of the temporary loss of one, who is loved, valued, and missed very much.  [Presumably she is referring to Mary away at school.]  Still we are expecting gain from our loss, and that seems to qualify everything: your affectionate sympathy in all my weaknesses, is always gratifying; but I wish them to have only their just weight, remember my love, so sensitive a frame as mine, is more susceptible than is to be desired and therefore needs the utmost endeavour to suppress its morbid effects.”  (The underlining is mine).


This next extract makes me fell quite worried about their care of the dormice.  “You will think of me I doubt not; dear Papa left us yesterday for a long tour, and will not return until tomorrow night.  I think he is likely to see you on Thursday or Friday.  I will talk to him about Lydia’s accompanying him; she is a dear good girl, quite enthusiastic in her care of all your pets.  She begged leave to invite the dormice to our soiree yesterday, [February 22nd 1841] when the genial warmth of the room, aroused them both from a six-month nap!  But the frosty night appears to have relapsed them into their winter’s torpor; they have however, had a luxurious stretch, and convinced us of their existence”.


The next three extracts are an insight into Lydia Dyer’s attitude to her daughters:

“Your letters are every way cheering to me, because they manifest such a very amiable spirit.  Humility is a cardinal Christian grace, the very touchstone of sincerity in our desires to “learn to do well”.  The only one which elevates us in proportion, as we can surrender self and selfish principles”, [etc etc for many more lines]


“Lydia has written you a note which served to gratify her – but I do not think it is fit to shew, therefore destroy it when you have an opportunity.” 


“ I am afraid I shall not be enabled to dispatch the shoes as I had intended by post tonight as I have been sadly hindered by a great difficulty I found in getting any ribbon to match the pale blue silk, but I have at length succeeded pretty well and if I have no other means of sending them tomorrow shall hope to enclose them in an envelope and send them by post – in that case they will arrive on Sunday morning which I shall regret but as there will not be one line with them you must content yourself with waiting until Monday morning before they are opened, as I am truly sorry they should interfere in the slightest degree with your Sabbath duties.  Let me hope you will explain the circumstances under which it so happens”.

Being told exactly when to open a parcel sounds a bit like “control freakery” to me, but also goes to show how very seriously Lydia Dyer took her religious duties.


This extract concerns their servants: “Bright is going to leave us, for his habits have recently become very loose and idle.  There is a most respectable man coming as groom, who will live at the cottage and act as porter at the gate.  I am sorry, and disappointed at Bright, but am really not sorry to lose him under such circumstances.  Sarah and Ellen are quite well and going on extremely well.  I have at present a work-woman living in the house from Dr Daws, where she is in almost constant work, but Mrs D has kindly spared her to come and make up curtains, carpets, and different things which our new house requires.”   


There is one passage about Mary’s education that I find interesting: “You allude most sweetly to the little deficiency in French and Music and will I am sure see the propriety of doing all you can, in a private way, to perfect yourself in both.  Mrs Boscawen most kindly and tenderly tells me of it, as a regret, that you can not commence another language until you are more familiar with French; and the ground work of music is not well understood by you.  Will Hamilton’s Dictionary of Musical terms be useful to you?”


One letter discusses a stay  at the school in Salisbury by Lydia after she had been invited by the head mistress:

“I am quite delighted to find that you enjoyed dear Lydia’s visit so much, your feelings on parting with her, were nature’s own, such not to be regretted, but improved to the mellowing of your character: may all these little trials have that tendency, and thus fit you for that genuine test of true Christian virtue, “To weep with those who weep” and the greater grace “To rejoice with those who do rejoice”, neither of which could we do, unless there was a kindred chord in our own bosoms, that could feel the “grief” of the “joys” which claimed our sympathy.  Our reason tells us that could we take a birds-eye view of all the sorrows human nature displays, at one glance, we should soon feel how insignificant our little trials were in comparison; and yet how soothing, how animating, how cheering, to know, and feel, that when the heart is oppressed, there is no occurrence too trivial for God’s sympathy, that we can conscientiously carry to Him. 

I am quite pleased at the account you give of dear Lydia’s behaviour while with you, and that she was not burdensome to any one.  We felt the loss of both of you almost insupportable, poor Elizabeth almost dreaded Papa’s return lest he should have left her behind in consequence of the weather. For my own part I was prepared to expect, and almost to hope it had been so; although my self denial would have been sadly taxed, and Papa knowing that, preferred the little risk of getting wet, but happily she was so well defended from the weather that she was not at all the worse from her ride in the rain”.    Incidentally the distance from Salisbury to Boyton is 15 miles


Two letters refer to plans for Lydia to go and stay in Salisbury but explain why the visits had to be cancelled:

“I write you a hasty line to tell you that Papa will certainly see you tomorrow (DV[23]) but not until about 1, or 2 o’clock and will not I fear be enabled to remain long with you.

Dear Lydia has had a very severe feverish cold which has needed strong measures of ??? and which renders her unfit for the journey on this present occasion.  The disappointment is very great to her, as I doubt not it will be to you but it becomes us to meet such casualties with calmness and submission.  They are not in our dispensation, and ‘is well so’, or we should lose sight altogether of the beautiful harmony subsisting in all things that work together for good to those who love God.  You know well your Mother will always be pleased, when things are smooth with you, but her judgement, her experience, convinces her, that such providential discipline is sometimes necessary – always wholesome.  I trust it will not be long before you and dear Lydia will meet again”.

And later after they had moved from Boyton House to Easterton House:

“There is one disappointment I am anxious to do every thing in my power to soften down to you, which is the necessity for our deferring Lydia’s visit until the spring!  I have been unwilling to pain you by an abrupt denial of your request but there are so many difficulties in the way, that Papa has urged it upon me and I must confess my own judgement acquiesces most fully; although I always suffer in any pain, or disappointment I cannot prevent. However in this case  I rely upon your good sense to see the propriety of our decision, and in doing this, we are driven to the same resources that I must recommend to you, namely, the hope we are encouraging of seeing you so shortly with us at home!! The fact is the journey to Salisbury, is now rather a formidable undertaking in an open carriage, being now 36 miles for the horse, and the days are short, that night arrives ere it can reach home, and Papa does not like the idea of a second journey to fetch her back – independent of all this, Lydia’s cough is still excited by the slightest cold and has betrayed itself into a whoop, more than once lately, which silences every consideration I could possibly offer to Papa in his objections.  Certainly I must assent, that her visit will be better in the spring.  Now dear Mary, I have written you a letter which has cost me some pain, because sensibly alive to the pain I am giving. If therefore, you can overcome your disappointment, so as to enable you to write to me in a cheerful, and submissive strain, it will be the greatest cordial you can give me.  I shall anxiously look for a line to that effect.  Dear Lydia is truly a loser in the matter, but she is so sweetly reconciled to the propriety of the decision, that I feel almost ashamed of my anxiety for you.”


The other item of note is the appointment of William Dyer (Lydia’s uncle) to the rectorship of Imber.  I went to the road map to check the exact location of Imber but it does not feature in the index.  When I looked up Imber on the Internet I found that the War Office requisitioned the village in 1943 and this is why it is not on the map.  Imber was a village in the middle of Salisbury Plain, at a distance of about 6 miles from both Boyton and Easterton.[24]  In 1943 the village had a church, 4 farms, a blacksmith, 2 big houses, and 40 cottages and newly built council houses. The buildings, apart from the church, are now shells and the ruins are surrounded by tank tracks.  It is inaccessible to the public except for a very few days each year.  The 700-year-old St Giles’ church, of which William was the rector in the 1840s, is of great historical interest.  Fortunately money has recently been found to restore and preserve it.  There was a local rhyme about the village: “Little Imber on the down; five miles from any town”.


While staying with William in Imber Lydia Dyer wrote to Mary as follows:

“It has been thought good for me to have a little change of air, and scene; and as your dear uncle’s Christian society is always soothing and refreshing to me, I have selected his manse as the most congenial to my wishes and quite as long a journey as I can comfortably bear [NB 6 miles]. It is apparently, a great delight to him, that such a plan should have been fixed upon, and I am looking forward to the enjoyment of a spiritual feast tomorrow in the midst of Salisbury plain!  One thing alone can enable me to realize this hope; which is the suitable frame which St John speaks of, when he tells us, that on the desolate Isle he was ‘in the spirit on the Lords day’.  May this spirit be mine, and then indeed the little trials of our pilgrimage will be ‘but for a moment’ as it is only while setting our affections upon things above that as Christians we are justified in expecting the fulfilment of these precious promises.

The village is all upon the qui vive at our sojourn: and having visited several sick-poor, and enjoyed the blessedness of a visit to the house of mourning there is a general muster of all the invalids in the place to wish their claim upon us for a visit.  I have seen several today, but as I am glad of a stronger arm than my own to lean upon, I feel the propriety of submitting to the opinion of my friends as to the prudence of maintaining a system of quiet and repose and therefore cannot hope to see them all, they are however to assemble in the School room where we may all unite in holy communion and take sweet council together”.


There must have been a bereavement in the family as the above letter and all following for the next 3 months are written on black edged paper.  At the end of the visit to Imber Uncle William went back to Boyton with them and later Lydia Dyer  wrote this:

Uncle William leaves us for Imber this afternoon, for tomorrow’s sacred duties, and returns here on Monday morning.  Eliza [William’s house maid] will remain here during his absence.  I very much enjoyed the opportunity of passing a Sabbath with him.  The whole observance of the day was so primitive, so simple, and so very sweet, it really appeared, a shadow, of heavenly enjoyment.  Dear Uncle (in his native ingenuity) has repaired all the flutes and instruments which appear to have been useless for some years, and certainly he had in the easiest and simplest manner secured the most perfect harmony throughout the congregation.  So painfully sad had been the sectarian spirit of this little community that the churchwardens assured me not more than 12 persons used to frequent the church at all, but it was truly gratifying to me to witness the mass who were congregated in their most venerable edifice, and during the sermon several old people stepped “softly” to the foot of the pulpit stairs with the intense anxiety to catch every word that fell.  May your dear uncle (who appears as a stripling among a hoary-headed flock) be instrumental in imparting that peace which passeth all understanding instead of that false peace in which too many appear to have [illegible] themselves.

On leaving Imber on Monday last it was as amusing as it was interesting to watch the proceedings at the parsonage.  The house was to be shut up, and left in charge of the schoolmistress, and it became a consideration to dispose of all perishable articles.  A clandestine peep into the movements of “mine host” discovered him with upturned cuffs, dividing a cold lump of beef and quarter of lamb into platefuls, and as the motley group of messengers stood by, they were charged thus “this is for the clerk’s wife”, “this for the tall woman the clerks wife’s friend”, “this is for poor Jacob Meaden the sick thatcher”, “this for the dumb man”, “this for the sick man who is dying”, “and this little pudding for poor old Bartlett”, “the seed cake to be taken to the school and divided amongst the children”.   William had been rector for such a short time that he did not yet know their names!


The last of the letters from Lydia Dyer is dated Feb 19th 1842 when Mary must have been nearly 14.  It looks as if any subsequent letters have not been preserved.  It is possible that Lydia finally joined her at school and the fact that the letters were written to both of them meant that they didn’t remain in Mary’s safe keeping.  I am guessing that Mary stayed at school until 15 or so as that was the age of the oldest pupil in the 1841 census



Mostly the five letters from Lydia to Mary are fairly routine but one is worth quoting:

My very dear sister Mary

I am very much obliged to you for the threads of wool you so kindly sent me by dear Papa.  Last Monday one of the poor little children at Sherington School was burnt to death.  When Mrs Becket was gone to Mrs Anderson’s with some pence she had collected the little girl’s pinafore took fire and she was burnt all over before any one could assist her.  She died this morning.

In the last St James’s Chronicle Mamma told me there was an account of the burning of Camberwell Church the picture of which I sent you.

Mr Roche came yesterday and remained till this morning: he says he has his brother’s collection of coins and will send them to us the first opportunity.

I enclose you the account of the Royal Christening[25].  She is your namesake and had 6 godfathers and godmothers.  Hoping you will like it I remain my dear sister Mary your affectionate sister Lydia C D Meredith.



Throughout the time-span  of the letters Samuel was setting up the Wiltshire County Constabulary.[26]  At work he was apparently a fairly remote and awe inspiring character.  He instituted a system of instruction for the constables and was rigorous about the importance of documenting every case. The constables worked twelve-hour days and there was approximately one constable to every thousand people. In the absence of any other kind of communication information was passed on at daily meetings between the constables of neighbouring districts.  The uniform for the constables was similar to contemporary naval dress and I imagine that Samuel relied upon the experience gained in both his naval and coast guard appointments.  By 1864 there was a total of two hundred men in the Wiltshire Constabulary.  Samuel retired in 1870 and apparently towards the end of his tenure his health had declined and he had become less and less active. This wasn’t really surprising because he was 76 when he retired.   He died three years later.  In spite of all the worries about Lydia Dyer’s health she survived Samuel and lived until her mid eighties.


In her memoir Lydia talks of moving house from Boyton to Easterton (which is also covered in the letters).  During this move Lydia Dyer and Lydia removed themselves to Imber leaving the servants to cope.  In order to be even closer to Devizes for Samuel’s work they later moved from Easterton to Rowell, and finally from Rowell to Battle House at Bromham where they lived for 16 years.[27] The 1851 census shows Samuel, Lydia Dyer, Lydia Meredith (aged 20) and Mary (aged 22) all living at Battle House. 



Lydia tells us nothing  in her memoir of how she met her future husband, nor of his courtship: in fact she barely mentions him at all.  She was 28 when they married in 1858 and had been living at Bromham with her parents and sister.  John Charles Thring became curate for Overton with Fyfield in March 1857.  Early in Lydia’s memoir she recorded that John Gale Dalton Thring and his wife Sarah Jenkyns (John Charles’s parents) had met the Merediths in Swanage so the two families definitely knew each other.  It is about 13 miles by road from Bromham to Fyfield so travel either on horseback or by coach would have been feasible. 


John Charles had a large bible with the inscription “To her nephew and Godson John Charles Thring from his aunt Eliz Anne Jenkyns May 4th 1832”. I am guessing that it was a present at his Confimation as he was aged 12 at this time.  On the first three blank pages he wrote his curriculum vitae and other family details.  This record shows that he was ordained deacon in Wells in December 1847; and ordained priest in December 1849.  He was curate of Alford with Hornblotton, where his father was rector and squire, to April 18th 1855.  He then went to be curate at Cirencester and from there to Overton with Fyfield.  He was nearly 34 at the time of the marriage.


The memoir continues:

“On May 18th 1858 I was married to the Revd. John Charles Thring, at that time curate of Overton and Fyfield near Marlborough.  The only suitable house we could get was one attached to a large malthouse at Lockeridge, a small hamlet between the two villages.  The two sitting rooms faced south, and looked into the pretty glen leading to the West Woods.  The kitchen and offices were very good, but the malt shovel over the roof was very noisy on windy nights.  The garden in front of the house had been long neglected but we soon restored it to order after our return from our happy honeymoon at Swanage.  I was very fond of my home at Lockeridge. 

My brother-in- law Edward Thring, the headmaster of Uppingham School, persuaded my husband to come to him as a master.  I was very sorry to leave, but it seemed the right thing to do, so had to be done.   When we reached Uppingham we found that the house we had been told we should have had been given to another new master, who positively refused to take his bride to the ‘Red House’ as that only faced north, and was very gloomy”.  Lydia recounts that the Red House was bearable once they had made a sunny drawing room. She continues: “I leave out the strenuous years I passed at Uppingham ‘til 1864.  My first child was born  (in 1859) and my dear mother and father both came to me, and were present at her baptism”.   Lydia and John Charles left Uppingham in early 1864 and “for some time we lived in the Manor House at Alford, in my father-in-law’s grounds, and my husband took the duty in Alford and Hornblotton churches, as his father’s curate”  [His first stint as his father’s curate had been from 1847 to 1855].


For some reason this is all that Lydia tells us in the memoir about her life after marriage. Maybe this was because at age 90 her memory was better for earlier events than for later ones, or maybe because her children had asked her to tell them about her childhood. There is however one reference to John Charles Thring and the time in Uppingham in a published extract from his brother Edward’s diary[28]. It reads as follows:

August 8th 1862

“My brother certainly is the best fellow alive in his way, for the last night he spoke to me about my prospects here with a feeling and forbearance wonderfully tender, considering his views that it is a speculation, and his ignorance of the state of affairs.  I have promised not to buy anything or borrow again (and please God will keep it faithfully) without acquainting him, which means of course to me not doing it.  He says he is responsible to my other brothers for my debt. I trust God will preserve us from the trial, but as they value my blessing, neither my wife nor children must ever accept a penny from him or the family for anything lost in this cause, I am sure God will not let them suffer for what I have honestly done in this cause.”


This is one of many entries relating to Edward’s perennial financial problems in the building up of Uppingham School.  I wonder what Edward meant by “best fellow alive in his way”.  Is this a coded reference to coolness between the brothers, which later became a fierce quarrel?  I can find no other mention of John Charles in Parkin.  Obviously the selection from Edward’s diaries and letters was made mainly with reference to the development of the school, and therefore Edward’s relationship with his brother would not be a topic for publication.  I would love to be able to read the diaries in full!  According to Great Uncle Ernie, from whom all our family gossip came, Lydia did not get on with Edward’s wife and this was why Lydia and John Charles left Uppingham.  Indeed another family rumour circulates that Edward himself did not get on all that well with his wife, and that was why he threw himself so whole heartedly into his job as head master.  However, as they say, I couldn’t possibly comment! 



I have another theory for the reason for the departure of Lydia and John Charles from Uppingham.  John Charles’ only claim to fame is that he was instrumental in clarifying the rules of football.  In 1838 when John Charles was a student at St Johns College Cambridge he and a school friend from Shrewsbury persuaded some old Etonians to join them to form a football club.  By this time football was becoming established in most of the public schools but they all played to very different rules.  In order to be able to play together, these Cambridge players sat down and drew up the first set of written rules; no longer in existence.  Only a few games were played but the precedent for a single set of rules had been established. In 1855 the world’s first football club came into existence in Sheffield.  In 1856 a modified set of the 1838 rules was published in Cambridge.

I have read several wildly conflicting versions of the origins of the rules of football but there is no doubt that in 1862 John Charles published his own set of rules called in one version ‘The Simplest Game’ and in another ‘The Winter Game: Rules of Football’. I have found a facsimile copy of the cover of the Winter Game on the internet and the sub heading is “to which are added the rules of the Cambridge University Committee and London Association.”  This version was the 2nd edition and was printed in early 1863.  The explanation states “in drawing up this amalgamation of the rules formulated up to this date, Thring became a central figure in the early framing of the laws of football.  This is an important early document in the history of football, effectively responsible for all that the game now stands for”. Because of the rise in the number of football clubs the Football Association was formed in late 1863 and John Charles’s rules in the 2nd edition of the Winter Game formed the basis from which the Football Association rules were laid down in December 1863. For me as a non-participant rule number four of the Simplest Game, “kicks must be aimed only at the ball” seems highly practical and of prime importance! .



John Charles Thring painted in watercolour by his daughter Annie in 1900


In 1863, soon after the formation of the Football Association and without consulting his brother Edward (the headmaster), John Charles applied for Uppingham School to join[29].  Edward caused the application to be withdrawn because he did not want Uppingham to play against other schools, and the brothers quarrelled.  Uppingham went on playing with a 40-foot wide goal for the rest of Edward’s long reign as headmaster.  Certainly the dates of the alleged quarrel and Lydia and John Charles leaving Uppingham tally closely; however it could have been that there were multiple reasons for leaving and that the quarrel was the last straw. 



The publication of his Winter Game seems to have been the high spot of John Charles’s career.  After another stint as curate at Alford he went on to become chaplain to the workhouse in Bradford on Avon[30] for 16 years but we always got the impression from Great Uncle Ernie that he thought that his father had rather wasted his talents and was fairly lazy.  My father in his own memoir calls John Charles’s job as chaplain “a sinecure”[31] but my father would have been influenced strongly by Great Uncle Ernie.  The duties of the chaplain were as follows:

§       To read prayers and preach a sermon to the workhouse inmates every Sunday, and on Good Friday and Christmas Day

§       To examine the children, and to catechise such as belong to the Church of England, and to record the dates of attendance, and the general progress and condition of the children, and the moral and religious state of the inmates generally.

§       To visit the sick paupers, and administer religious consolation to them

I imagine that this job description could entail some very hard work, especially as the Bradford on Avon workhouse had three hundred plus inmates, but that it didn’t have to!



Lydia married John Charles on her 28th birthday and then proceeded to have 11 pregnancies in the next 17 years.  Lydia and John Charles had a novel way of naming their children.  The first boy had Charles as his first name and the first girl had Lydia as her first name.  However these two were in fact known as Meredith (or May for short) and Ethel respectively.  All subsequent boys had Charles, and not surprisingly all subsequent girls had Lydia, somewhere in their string of names.  The godparents listed in John Charles’s family bible and quoted at the beginning of the Lydia section evidence numerous family names e.g. Thring, Meredith, Dyer, Fitzgerald, and Stilwell.  Lydia’s sister Mary is godmother three times and all four of John Charles’s brothers feature.


The family bible not only lists John Charles’s CV and the births and godparents of the children, it also records their illnesses.  For example:

Whooping Cough 1867 – Ethel, Meredith, Lionel, Gertrude, Waldron.

Scarlet Fever July 1870 – Ethel, Lionel, Gertie, Llew, Annie, Gwen.  E Walsham July 1890.

Typhoid Fever 1877 April, May and June- Ethel, Meredith, Lionel, Annie, Gwen, Nona, Hugh  Whooping Cough 1879 – Annie, Gwendoline, Nona, Hugh, Ernest Walsham.

The typhoid fever episode must have been alarming for all concerned.  



Lydia’s memoir says that they left Uppingham “soon after my recovery” (meaning the stillbirth in December 1863).  One way and another it can’t have been a very happy time.  In 1864 we went to the Chantry, Bradford-on-Avon which my father had bought from Sir Charles Hobhouse, and given to me.”  This house is named on the censuses as Chantry House but was always known to us as the Chantry.   It is a large and beautiful house of Georgian appearance. I remember my acute embarrassment as a child when Great Uncle Ernie rang the door bell of the Chantry, told them that he used to live there and more or less demanded entry.  I think we were allowed in but unfortunately the embarrassment seems to have blotted out all memory of what happened next.


When searching the Internet I found a pamphlet called “A Stroll through Bradford on Avon” printed in 1882.  The author W H Jones talks of the Chantry House and says that “the site was at one time the endowments of the “Chantries” which were founded in the parish Church; and possibly also on the same site there once stood a smaller dwelling, in which the Chantry Priests[32] lived.  The present house has been from time to time added to and altered, and looks as though its oldest parts may date from the fifteenth, or at any rate the sixteenth century.  It belonged, some two hundred years ago, to the Thresher family, from whom it was purchased, about 1741, by Mr Samuel Cam, a leading clothier and active magistrate of the town.  One of Mr Cam’s daughters married Sir Benjamin Hobhouse, and their eldest son, John Cam, inherited Chantry House.  On his decease it descended to his nephew, Sir Charles Parry Hobhouse, Bart, and by him was sold a few years ago to its present possessor, the Rev. J C Thring”.

It is interesting that although Lydia says very clearly that the house was bought by her father and given to her, Victorian convention assumes that her husband owned it.


The Hobhouse family is mentioned in the Life and Letters of Edward Thring: “The most intimate holiday playmates of the boys were their cousins of the Hobhouse family, whose seat, Hadspen, is but a few miles distant from Alford.  The relations between the two families seem to have been particularly affectionate and intimate.  One of the Hadspen family remarks in a note: “I have always reckoned on all Thrings as steadily as brothers, and I never found them fail yet.”  It could be therefore that Samuel, who purchased the house for Lydia, had insider knowledge of the sale of the Chantry House through his son-in-law John Charles.


 The 1871 census shows both Lydia Dyer (aged seventy four) and Samuel Meredith (aged seventy seven) living with the large Thring family at the Chantry House.  Samuel retired in 1870 aged seventy-six and I imagine that when he bought the Chantry the deal was that he and Lydia Dyer should live there in retirement.  Lydia is listed as “head of family” and not “wife” as is usual; John Charles is not present.  There are already seven children ranging from age 12 down to eight months and there are six servants.  I wonder what Samuel the man-of-action thought of his laid back son-in-law; and what Lydia Dyer, hypochondriacal mother of two biddable daughters, thought of her numerous grandchildren?  John Charles feature on the 1871 census living with his brother’s family at Alford and named as curate.  After leaving Uppingham he worked as curate at Alford and Hornblotton until he obtained the job as chaplain to Bradford on Avon workhouse[33].  The Mansion at Alford contained a total of 19 people at this time including Theodore, his wife and children, John Charles, two visitors and seven servants.  Theodore is listed as “head of family” and “late commissioner of bankruptcy, divisional magistrate and deputy chairman of Quarter Sessions”.  Their father John Gale Dalton Thring was still alive in 1871 but I imagine that he and Sarah were living nearby in a smaller house or maybe they were both living with Godfrey, their fourth son. Sarah’s obituary[34] notes that she lived with Godfrey in the last years of her life.  The 1881 census shows John Charles back as head of family at the Chantry House with Lydia, eight children, six servants and Lydia Dyer aged eighty four all in residence.  Lydia Dyer is named as mother-in-law and captain’s widow Royal Navy. Samuel Meredith had died in 1873 after only three years of retirement.



The education of the eldest three boys, Meredith, Lionel and Llew was an academic one, similar to that of their father.  They were sent as boarders to Marlborough College, only about 30 miles by road from Bradford-on-Avon.  They then went on to Cambridge.  Marlborough College was set up in 1843 initially as a school to educate the sons of clergymen.[35]  In 1892 a clergyman’s son wrote about his experiences as an 8-year-old schoolboy 50 years before, when the college started[36].  He tells of continuous hunger, ferocious discipline and boring lessons.  These were definitely not the “happiest days of his life”.


I know that Nona, Lydia’s eighth surviving child, attended the newly formed Cheltenham Ladies College, followed by Newnham College Cambridge, where she read mathematics.   A newspaper cutting headed Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, unfortunately with no date, lists Nona as the only woman to achieve the status of Wrangler in Part I examinations.  After her name in brackets is the fact that she came between 22 and 23 of the male Wranglers.  She was thus 23rd out of a list of 120 people who took Part 1 Mathematics, 16 of whom were women; she was first of the sixteen women.  Cambridge did not award degrees to women at that time and all the women are listed as coming between two consecutive numbers for male candidates.  Looking at this from today’s perspective it seems incredible that women were allowed to study but not allotted their own places on the list.


From letters to Nona from the principal of Cheltenham Ladies College (quoted later) it sounds as if she knew some of Nona’s sisters; possibly they attended her school as well.  I wonder if their grandfather Samuel helped to pay for all this expensive education. 


Family lore has it that the money had run out by the time it was the turn of the two youngest of the ten children to go on to secondary education.  This was why Hugh and Ernest were dispatched to the Navy as midshipmen[37] at the age of thirteen and not sent to Marlborough College.  Their grandfather Samuel Meredith had also been a midshipman, so there was probably some direct family experience being brought to bear on this choice.  Ernest and Hugh both spent two years in training on the hulk of an old navy ship called Britannia, which was moored in the river mouth at Dartmouth.  It was apparently very damp and dark.  They studied mathematics, navigation, French and seamanship.



Hugh in his midshipman’s uniform


Although the experiences of boys in the early days of public schools seem to have been singularly unpleasant being a midshipman was also very tough indeed; so probably all Lydia’s sons had a bad time in their teens.  Incidentally my father recounts that Hugh told him that they had a good time in early childhood making boats and playing on the river.  They had a treadle lathe on which metal could be turned and they made steam engines.  .



The second child Charles Henry Meredith, known to us as Great Uncle May, made a fortune as a partner in a scholastic agency called Gabbitas and Thring.  The agency found jobs for teachers in boarding schools.  The firm had been set up in 1873 and Great Uncle May must have joined on coming down from university in about 1881, becoming a partner fairly soon afterwards. Ronald Searle[38] produced a lovely cartoon by of two fierce looking gentlemen, one short and one tall, garbed in black and wearing top hats entitled “Gabbitas and Thring trap a young man and lead him off to be a master”. An article in The Guardian newspaper[39] stated that Gabbitas and Thring were rarely on speaking terms.  This is confirmed in my father’s writings.  He says: “When Gabbitas retired they had a fight in the office about the terms”.  Great Uncle May retired soon after this at the age of 45.  He then married an American actress of about the same age, and they set off on a trip round the world.  He left her in a hotel in India while he went up country to shoot a tiger, and when he got back with the tiger skin she was dead.  It may not have been quite as heartless as it sounds as she already had cancer when they started the trip. 


In the early twentieth century, after both Gabbitas and Thring had departed from the agency, it recruited a string of writers and poets.  H G Wells, Flecker, W H Auden, John Betjeman and Evelyn Waugh were all placed in schools by Gabbitas and Thring.  In 1993 the name of Thring was dropped and it is now known only as Gabbitas.  W H Auden wrote a poem in a letter to a friend in which he referred to it as Rabbitarse and String.  At other times it was called “Rabbitguts and String” and “Grabitall and Fling”.  “String” amuses me, as this was my nickname at school.



My father reports that in the First World War, in his fifties, Great Uncle May drove an ambulance in France.  He lived out the rest of his life in great comfort in a house called the Woodlands in Chilcompton, Somerset.  Great Uncle May was quite a sporting gent; as well as being keen on shooting and cricket he had a billiard table and a croquet lawn at the Woodlands.  My father records his Uncle May became very upset if he was losing at any of these games. In fact all five of Lydia’s sons were keen on cricket; a faded photograph survives of the five of them in middle age, wearing cricket whites, and obviously having a great time playing in the same team.   In 1944 my mother took John (aged 3 months) and me (aged two and three quarters) to the Woodlands for three months to escape the flying bombs in London.  My father, working in a protected occupation but also serving in the Home Guard, joined her at week ends.  However, being a Londoner born and bred, she said that she preferred the risk of being bombed to being buried in a tiny village in Somerset without my father and we returned to Wimbledon.  I remember nothing of the experience although I was told later that the house was full of snappy dogs and that I did not like them.


My father knew nothing about Ethel (1st child), who died fairly young, but he said that Gertie (4th child) was a “real sweetie, warm and loving to my father (Hugh) and Uncle Ernie when they had asthma attacks as boys and very kind and loving to me.  She suffered from serious ill-health all her life”.


Great Aunt Annie (6th child) was an artist.  Family rumour said that she trained at the Slade School but they can find no record of her enrolment.  However she must have had good training, as her paintings, both watercolour and oils, and her pencil drawings, are skilled and professional.  She painted enthusiastically all her life.  She was in demand as a family portraitist and there are still in existence watercolour paintings of her parents, Dorothy Wooldridge, and my father and Aunt Bryn as children.   I also have a delightful book of witty sketches, paintings and notes about Inn Signs that she kept over many years. 


Gwen (7th child) and Nona (8th child) became teachers, and so did Lionel (3rd child) and Llew (5th child). Gwen was a teacher in Canada for many years.  She finally returned to live in Bradford on Avon where we visited her as children.   Lionel became headmaster of Dunstable Grammar School, and Llew became headmaster of Brunswick Prep School, Haywards Heath.  My father remembers staying with his Uncle Llew after he had retired from being a headmaster.  My father says that Llew was an extreme hypochondriac; it must have been in the genes, or perhaps Lydia Dyer fussed over him in his childhood. 


Two references for Nona as she applied for her first job as a teacher survive:

From W H Young MA  Peterhouse Cambridge Feb 16, 1896 

“Miss Nona Thring, of Newnham College[40], was my pupil for the three years during which she was preparing for the Mathematical Tripos of the year 1895.  The distinguished place she took in that examination - one of the four or five highest that have yet been gained by women candidates - proves that she has acquired a wide range of mathematical knowledge and a considerable grasp of mathematical principles.  But I am glad to have an opportunity of adding my testimony to this fact.  Miss Thring’s knowledge is in no sense of the word superficial.  All her work has been thoughtfully and carefully done, and she has on several occasions shown that she possesses the power of solving problems of decided difficulty.  I should like to add that in spending a 4th year in reading Physics she has been acting partly under my advice, and that I am convinced that the knowledge she has thus been gaining will prove to be of immense use to her in teaching mathematics”.


From Katharine Stephen Vice Principal of Newnham College Feb 1896     

“I have much pleasure in saying that Miss N A L Thring has been at Newnham College since October 1892.  She worked first for the Mathematical Tripos which she took last June, gaining a 1st Class.  Since then she has been working for the 2nd part of the Natural Sciences Tripos.  Her conduct has always been thoroughly satisfactory in every respect.  She works very well, and is also good at games, and at gardening.  She has excellent health, and a cheerful disposition, and has many interests outside her special lines of study.

She is able to get on well with other people, and I feel no doubt that she would be liked as a colleague, and that, owing to her good sense and good nature her help would be valuable to any Head Mistress under whom she worked.  I should expect her to teach with clearness and brightness, and to be on good terms with her pupils.

I believe her to be thoroughly conscientious, and to deserve full trust and confidence, and I have no doubt that she would do her utmost to carry out to the full the duties of any post that she undertook”.


There are also two references from Miss Dorothea Beale, the principal of Cheltenham Ladies College[41]:

Feb 13th 1896

“Miss Nona Thring was a pupil here for 3 years.  We think very highly of her ability, and of her character – and should have wished, had circumstances permitted it, to place her on our own staff.  She has devoted all her time at Cambridge to Mathematics – but she is not a mere specialist.  She could take a class, and has a good all-round knowledge of the chief subjects required

Dorothea Beale Principal”


July 20th 1897

“Miss Nona Thring was an excellent pupil, and I had always looked forward to engaging her on our staff, as soon as she had passed her Cambridge examinations, I am sorry that she decided to leave us at the end of the year, because we had not enough mathematical work to give her the sort of teaching she wished.

Miss Thring is not a mere specialist – she has a good knowledge of a larger range of subjects – she is a good, painstaking and conscientious teacher.

Personally she is pleasing and one who wins the love and respect of her pupils and colleagues.

I doubt not that she will fulfil the expectations of those who have appointed her Mathematical Mistress at Manchester            Dorothea Beale”



Nona Thring as a child


The next part of Nona’s story is told in two personal letters to her from Miss Beale:

June 19th 1900

“Dear Nona

I am so sorry you have had to give up work for a time – yet perhaps I ought not to say that – for what is appointed for us must be best – and periods of quiet and repose are as necessary as those of work.  You have been often in my mind since I heard – I wonder if this is a touch of influenza .

I wish you could have come to our Guild – would you care to have the words of the performance – I have written a preface. 

I heard of your sister from Miss Richardson who was staying with me at Whitsuntide – she seems very clever as an artist (this must have been Great Aunt Annie) – I hope your sister at Manchester (I’m not sure who this is; possibly Great Aunt Gwen) is doing well.

Miss [illegible] is to take up important work in Africa – to train students and travel about as inspector [illegible]

I shall hope to get an improved account of you soon

Yours most sincerely

Dorothea Beale”


May 3rd 1901

“Dear Nona

It is nice to hear of your from others – we often think of you, and wish you were well enough to be with us once more – but now you have to remember that those also serve, who only stand and wait – I have just been reading [illegible] beautiful life of S. Francis and it was wonderful what a power he was upon his sick bed – and the most beautiful sermons I know almost are those Adieux d’A…………  [illegible].

I hope you will enjoy this lovely spring, and read the glorious book [illegible] before us each spring tide.

I have not seen your kind uncle for a long time – I may be in London at Ascension tide and then I shall try.

I hear your sisters are getting on well

With much sympathy dear Nona,  Yours most sincerely.. Dorothea Beale”


Nona’ s illness was terminal and she died at the age of 31 on January 2nd 1902.  I wonder if the “kind uncle” was Lord Henry Thring, the lawyer, as he was the only Thring brother resident in London and her mother had no brothers.   Another of Nona’s uncles, Edward Thring of Uppingham School, was much in favour of the education of women and had met Miss Beale.  Parkin[42] records that Edward invited the London Society of School Mistresses to hold their annual meeting at Uppingham in the summer of 1887.  Some fifty-nine ladies attended; mistresses of high schools from various parts of England.  Edward says in a letter: “they were greatly pleased at being invited; it will be very interesting, and I think much good will come of it.”  The meeting seems to have been a huge success and Miss Beale wrote him a letter of thanks afterwards. 


I cannot remember my grandfather, Hugh, but I do remember Great Aunt Annie, Great Aunt Gwen and Great Uncle Ernie.  My father says that Great Uncle Ernie told him that Lydiaput all the girls off men” and therefore none of them married. However my father adds that “he’s not sure whether he believes this”.  Of the sons only Hugh and Lionel (for some reason known as Uncle Sax) had any children so Lydia and John Charles had only six grand children.


When we were children we stayed many times with Great Uncle Ernie at his lovely house on the banks of the river Wylie in Heytesbury in Wiltshire.  He was a real Victorian and definitely believed the Victorian edict that “children should be seen and not heard”.  He had piercing blue eyes and we were very much in awe of him.  He became a Captain in the non-executive branch of the Royal Navy because his eyesight was not good enough for the executive branch.  He was awarded the Commander of the Bath for working out the position of German submarines in the First World War and did some similar work at the beginning of the Second World War.  He lived to 96.  When I went to visit him as an adult he was charming and it was difficult to imagine why we had been so frightened of him as children.


As for Hugh, his adult life story features in the Dorothy Wooldridge section.



John Charles died on October 3rd 1909 and a newspaper obituary (probably from the local paper) says: “he had lived in retirement at the Park Dunmow for the past ten years and could take very little part in local church affairs, owing to failing eyesight.  One of the rare occasions upon which he spoke in public was at a meeting of the clergy of the rural deanery of Dunmow about a year ago, when he protested against the principles of Socialism which were then advanced.  He lived a quiet life, but showed an interest in parochial affairs, and frequently threw open his grounds for meetings connected with the church.  He had been ill for four or five months.  ……………………He leaves a widow, five sons, and three daughters.  He was a kind-hearted and generous clergyman and his loss will be greatly regretted”.


My father clarifies what happened to Lydia at the end of her life in the rest of his passage concerning Great Uncle May: “When I first knew him in the early 20s he was living with Aunt Annie at Little Dunmow, while my Grandmother (i.e Lydia) was living with Aunt Gertie at Great Dunmow.  About 1925 Uncle May bought a thatched house with an acre or two of land in Chilcompton Somerset, and Aunts Gertie and Annie and my Grandmother lived there with several dogs.  My Grandmother died about 1926 aged 96”.

In fact she died on 4th September 1925.



Pen and ink sketch of Lydia cleaning silver, by her daughter Annie


               Lydia on her 90th birthday                          



I have a vague impression from my father that, as a grandmother, Lydia was a formidable old lady.  I don’t think that he knew her very well although several presents from her to him in the form of handsome books survive.  From her memoir it is apparent that as a child she was a fearless horse rider, however there is very little sense of her adult personality. 



When I was eighteen a bank account was opened for me with great formality at a particular branch of a large bank chain then in Haymarket London.  On each cheque was printed “Successor to Messrs Stilwell and Sons, Navy Agents and Bankers since 1772”.  I was told that all Thrings banked there, as Stilwells was a family bank.  I never thought to enquire about the family connection.  However when checking the godparents of Lydia and John Charles’ children I became suspicious that Lydia’s sister Mary featured three times, once as Mary Meredith, once as Mary D S Meredith and once as Mary D S Stilwell. 


Research on the internet revealed all.  Mary lived at home with her parents in Battle House Bromham Wiltshire until she was 34 and married Henry Stilwell on 16th October 1862 when he was 31.  They had two daughters and three sons but one of the sons died aged eleven.  From 1871 Census records they were living in Melksham Wiltshire; in 1881 they were living in Lancaster Gate London with Henry listed as a navy agent; in 1891 and 1901 they were in Dorset and Henry is listed as J.P. for Dorset, retired banker and navy agent.  At this stage there were just the two of them in the house with no fewer that seven servants, a butler, a page, a cook, a kitchen maid, a lady’s maid, and two housemaids.  Mary died aged 75 on 24th June 1901 and in 1907 Henry (aged 73) was married again to a lady aged 58.




Her mother was Jane Ray born 13th September 1825

Her father was Edward Sieveking born 24th August 1816

They married on 5th September 1849

Florence was born 2nd July 1861


Her siblings were:

Henry Edward born 21st June 1850, died 19th February 1851 aged 8 months

Lawrence born 11th July 1851

Herbert born 19th April 1853

Arthur born 29th October 1854

Frederick born 20th April 1856

Albert born 17th July 1857

Henry born 7 December 1859, died October 1873 aged 13 years

Ella born 20th November 1862

Alexander born early 1864, died 3rd December 1864 aged 10 months

Emmeline born 1st September 1867


Florence married Leonard Wooldridge (born 1857) in 1884

Dorothy Wooldridge was born 20th January 1887

Leonard died 6th June 1889


Florence  married Ernest Starling (born 1866)  23rd December 1891

They had four children:

Muriel born June 1892

Phyllis born July 1894

John born January 1898

Ursula born November 1900


Florence died in January 1928





On Friday August 28th 1874 Edward and Jane Sieveking set off for a month’s holiday with two of their surviving eight children, Florence (aged just 13) and Ella (aged nearly 12). The four eldest, Lawrence, Herbert, Arthur and Frederick were adults and presumably occupied with other pursuits. Albert, aged 17, had left school in 1873 and seems to have been having a “gap year” in Germany.  He joined them for two weeks of their trip and Ella records that when he left them he “shed a few tears”.  Emmeline, the third daughter and the baby of the family, was probably left with a nursemaid.  Perhaps they considered her, aged 6, too young to travel for a month.  Their son Henry had died aged 13 in October 1873 while away at boarding school; I wonder if this holiday was partly planned as a distraction from their grief, although continental travel seems to have been a very regular feature in their lives. 


While they were abroad Ella kept a diary, written in beautiful copperplate handwriting. In it she pasted various menus, restaurant bills, depictions of the hotels they stayed in, train tickets, newspaper cuttings and pressed flowers.  Her spelling and grammar are impeccable apart from the spelling of a flower, misspelled as “gerainium”. Their holiday was in Germany; Edward’s parents were born and brought up in Hamburg and he himself had some of his medical education in Germany.  They went from London to Dover in a first class train carriage but after the ferry crossing to Ostend seem to have done most of their travelling by horse drawn carriage, with “our luggage tied on with ropes on the back”, but there were also a couple of hops by river steamer on the Rhine.  They stayed in 11 different hotels for varying lengths of time but in none for longer than 4 days.  Ella shows a touching preoccupation with table d’hote menus and mentions them in detail almost every day.  By the end she is describing one in a nonchalant way as being “as usual very good”.  On another occasion she says that the menu was “fuller being Sunday”.  They even had a table d’hote lunch on a steamer, which was also “good”.  One day they “went to the best confectioners in town and had an ice each.” Another day their breakfast “was the most disgusting one.” They drank the waters, “which were not as nasty as the others which I have tasted” and at one stage “I took a walk with Papa and got some laudanum and cotton wool for Mama and Albert as they both had got colds and were rather poorly”.  On the 13th September it was Mama’s birthday and Papa bought her a nosegay and a cake.  They went for a drive and “Mama was nervous, for as we were going down hill, a strap of the harness broke, but it was soon mended”. They went sight seeing, shopping and bathing.  They collected shells, played croquet and Bezique, listened to a band, and picked blackberries. They went to zoological gardens in various cities and Papa sketched on several occasions, once while the girls were swinging.  Incidentally I have a couple of small sketchbooks of his skilled watercolours of various landscapes.  In the earlier book a delightful pencil sketch, done many years before this holiday, shows Jane with the baby Lawrence, sitting on the beach at Dover under a parasol.  From the same date are some sketches of bathing women and bathing machines, and some attractive watercolours of Dover Castle.  In 1856 a small pencil sketch is entitled “Yr Doctor’s wife making socks for her babbies (sic) in the railway carriage”, and another is of their sturdy transport entitled “diligence Basle to Zurich”.  The second sketchbook is from the 1880s and is entirely of landscapes and townscapes from his holidays, some in England but most on the continent.  They both have an inscription on the first page which indicate that they were given to Ella Sieveking in 1894.  I find the earlier sketchbook with pencil sketches of fellow travellers on ferries and in railway carriages, and of family, by far the more interesting.



Florence as a child

In the diary Ella mentions Florence often, and mostly refers to her as Florrie.  Being so close in age and having so many older brothers they probably did everything together and they seem to have been good friends. They lived in a 5 storey London town house at 17 Manchester Square to which their parents had moved in 1857. Manchester Square was built in 1776 and is dominated by the mansion after which it was named.  Manchester House became known as Hertford House in 1850 and now houses the Wallace Collection.  Number 17 was very close to Hertford House but unfortunately it was on the corner of Manchester Square that was bombed in the Second World War and has been replaced by a more modern building.  However the style of the original house must have been identical to the rest of the Square.   A cousin reports that the Sieveking parents were friendly with the occupants of Hertford House. 



Florence and Ella’s father Edward Sieveking was a practising physician and Member of the Royal College of Physicians. He eventually became a Fellow and finally Vice President of the RCP. 


Edward’s own father was a wool and timber merchant, a descendant of a distinguished Hamburg family, who moved to London in 1809 following the death of his father.  Because of Napoleon and his ambitions Hamburg , a city-state, was having a very difficult time politically and was finally annexed to the French Empire in 1810.  This was probably also a factor in Edward’s father’s decision to relocate to London.   From May 1813 to May 1814 Hamburg was occupied by some of Napoleon’s troops returning from Moscow, and it was in a state of siege for all of this time. Because of this emergency Edward’s father left London to join the allied army who were trying to break the siege. Hamburg was fairly impregnable and in fact the siege was finally brought to an end by the abdication of Napoleon on 25th April 1814.  Edward’s father then spent a short time in Hamburg with his siblings and married during this time.  Then he and his new wife returned to London to his career as a merchant.  There is a photograph of Edward’s parents on page 55.


Edward and his brothers Gustavus and Hermann were born in London and had their schooling in England.  Edward’s early medical education was in Germany, followed by 2 years at University College London, and completed at the University of Edinburgh.  On graduation he worked in Hamburg for 4 years, treating the English colony in the city.  During this time he founded the General Alster Rowing Club.  Also during his time in Hamburg he was associated with his aunt Amelia Sieveking in founding a children’s hospital.  Amelia was a great philanthropist and a pioneer of nursing as a profession[43].  Edward was probably greatly influenced by her and became a strong advocate of proper nursing for the sick poor.  In fact his first English publication in 1849 was “The Training Institutions for Nurses and the Workhouses”.  It is interesting that he and Amelia were trying to influence the training of professional nurses long before Florence Nightingale came along and achieved just that.  It was said of him “Nursing and all connected with it was a subject of much interest to him throughout life, and he valued highly the distinction of being Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.”[44]  He returned to London in 1847 and set up in practice first in Brook Street and then in Bentinck Street.  In 1851 he became one of the original staff at St Mary’s Hospital when he was appointed assistant physician.  


In 1863 Edward was appointed physician in ordinary to the Prince and Princess of Wales.  It is known that Victoria liked to surround her family with people of German origin because of her loyalty to Albert, so this may have influenced the appointment.  Edward’s private medical diaries covering his attendance on the Prince of Wales’ family are held at the Royal College of Physicians archive in London. It is clear that he was in constant attendance on the Wales’s from his appointment in 1863 until 1869, when they stopped asking to see him, although he retained the official appointment.  That he was initially on very friendly terms with them is shown in a letter commiserating on the death of his son.  It reads as follows:


4th December 1864

Dear Dr Sieveking

I cannot tell you how distressed I was to hear of the death of your youngest child, our godson – which must be a sad blow to yourself and to Mrs Sieveking.  I had always understood from you that he had been so healthy and strong, but the hooping (sic) cough at that tender age is I believe always more or less dangerous.


The Princess begs to join me in our sympathy to you and Mrs Sieveking for the sad loss you have sustained, and although the Almighty has blessed you with a numerous family, still the loss of an innocent little child is always very keenly felt.  You will be glad to hear that the Princess and our little boy are very well and enjoying our country life.


I remain

Yours very sincerely

Albert Edward


This letter was written less than a month after the return of the Wales’s from a two-month trip principally to visit the Princess’s family in Denmark.  Drs Sieveking and Minter went with them as medical attendants.[45]  Two months away with frequent contact must surely have meant that they got to know each other fairly well?


In a commentary on Edward’s diaries by Dr Neville Goodman it is suggested that a possible reason Edward was eventually spurned by the Wales’s was that he was a favourite of Victoria, and that she used him as a method of spying on her son and daughter in law and of trying to influence their medical management.  It is known that Victoria had a difficult relationship with her son and that she tried to dominate her children’s lives, and Dr Goodman thinks that the Wales’s may have ultimately preferred to choose their own physician.  He suggests that Edward Sieveking may have been in a delicate situation and unable to satisfy both sides.  We do know that it was the Princess of Wales and not the Prince who after 6 years decided to stop asking for his attendance.


Edward’s diaries are interesting evidence of the changes in medical practice since Victorian times.  After the birth of her first baby Edward restricted the Princess of Wales “to beef tea with arrowroot, or vermicelli and marmalade water, she having asked for oranges which we objected to”.  The poor woman must have been starving!  At another time he recommended she have “stout for luncheon and an earlier dinner hour, 7 instead of 8”.  What sort of medical prescription is that?  Dr Goodman says that quinine was a sovereign remedy at this time, with few other potent drugs save opium and aperients.  There was in the 1860s no taking of temperatures, testing of urine, weighing of babies, nor antenatal care.  My own facetious theory for the spurning of Edward by the Wales’s is that the Princess preferred a physician who was less strict about her culinary arrangements! 


In 1873 Edward became physician extraordinary[46] to Queen Victoria, and finally her physician in ordinary in 1888.  He continued as physician extraordinary when the Prince of Wales became King Edward VII in 1901. He was knighted in 1884. 


Edward Sieveking wrote numerous medical papers and his best-known monograph was “Epilepsy and Epileptiform Seizures, their causes, Pathology and Treatment”.  With a colleague he published a Manual of Pathological Anatomy “Which for many years held its place as a regular text book in our medical schools.”[47]  Apparently it was illustrated with reproductions of his watercolours.  In 1858 he invented an Aesthesiometer, an instrument for testing the sensation on the skin.   In 1861 he was elected president of the Harveian Society.  He was physician to the hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic in Queen Square from 1864 to 1867.  He was involved in the foundation of Epsom College, which was established for the education of the sons of medical practitioners.  He was the first Honorary Secretary for Epsom College and served on its Council for many years.  He also took an active part in the Council of the British Medical Association. His son Albert, the author of the family, in a tribute written after Edward’s death says, “his quiet reserved manner and his absolute impartiality made him an admirable chairman of committees of all kinds”.  He was “loyal and straight”, “no self seeker” and “very reserved but kind”.  He must also have been a prudent manager of money.  In a Statement of Accounts of the Trustees drawn up after his death he owned shares in 42 companies with a total value of £42,158.  He had a large life insurance policy and owned the leasehold on 17 Manchester Square.  When his daughters married he made each a financial settlement that remained in their own control.   In Ella’s case an ante-nuptial contract was drawn up; possibly Florence and Emmy had one of these too, but Ella’s is the only one which survives.




Edward’s wife Jane was the daughter of John Ray of Parkgate Finchley.  I know that John Ray was born in 1774 in Wigton Cumberland, that he married Eliza Flint in London on August 12th 1809, and that he was a JP.  John died in 1838, 10 days after suffering an apoplectic seizure whilst out shooting; and Eliza died aged 73 at 17 Manchester Square in 1859.  These facts are written on the back of photographs of oil paintings of John Ray and Eliza Flint.  On the back of John’s portrait is written “To Ella Crum nee Sieveking” in her brother Herbert’s writing.  I am guessing that Herbert gave them to Ella at the time of Ella’s marriage to Walter Crum in 1896.  On the back of Eliza’s portrait Herbert has traced Ella’s lineage through five generations of the female line back to a Mrs Ann Barker nee Barr who was born in 1736.  The portrait of John Ray shows a plump gentleman with a distinct double chin, who probably overdosed on cholesterol and looks just the physique to have an apoplectic seizure.  Eliza is a beautifully dressed lady with prominent jewellery, lots of lace and a hat piled high with fluffy feathers.  She has some artfully arranged curls, and she too has a double chin.


Jane married Edward at St George’s Hanover Square in1849.  The 1861 census shows them living at 17 Manchester Square with six children under the age of nine and five servants - footman, housemaid, cook, nurse and under nurse, all under the age of 26.   Two of the servants are from Middlesex and the others from Norfolk, Devon, and Somerset.  None of their servants seem to have stayed with them for very long – there is absolutely no consistency from one census to the next from 1861 to 1901.


It seems that Edward and Jane had a loving relationship; in a postscript to a letter from Florence to Edward written while he was in Edinburgh receiving an honorary degree in 1884[48] Jane has written “Kindest and best love dear one and many thanks for your kind letter, Jane”.   In the same letter Florence describes the “Grand doings in Edinburgh in the Times which Mama read aloud”.  Present at this reading of the Times were Florence, Ella and Emmie.


After Edward’s death in 1904 the lease on 17 Manchester Square was sold and Jane went to live at 23 Devonshire Terrace with Emmeline.



I don’t know what kind of early education Florence, Ella and Emmeline had but I imagine that they either went to a local day school or were taught at home by a daily governess; there is no living-in governess on the relevant censuses.   Their father Edward, possibly influenced in this by his Aunt Amelia in Hamburg, was a keen supporter of further education for women. In 1862 Emily Davies, a suffragist and campaigner for women’s education, sent a letter to 1,500 of “the great and good” asking for their views on the admission of women to the University of London.  E H Sieveking is listed as being in favour.[49]


FLORENCE was an accomplished pianist and as a young woman studied German and music in Leipzig


ELLA studied art at the Slade School from 1885 to 1887[50].  She then went on to postgraduate study for at least two years at an art school in Bushey run by Hubert Herkomer.  I have a letter from Hubert Herkomer to his lady students, which I find fascinating, as it clearly shows the Victorian attitude to the status of women. 

28th Nov/90

My dear lady students

I think it necessary for you to know that I make no exception to my rule in Miss Redland’s case, a rule I feel absolutely necessary for the safety of this art colony.  Miss Redland owes her success to my having watched her through many, weary, stages and her art has ripened accordingly. She is now engaged to be married; therefore she separates herself from me. 

She has a perfect right to be engaged, but as I explained to you in my last lecture, I do not hold it my duty to train in art women, who (to my knowledge) are pledged to be married, for their duties then lie in other directions (to my thinking).


We are here together, men and women, for the study of art.  This is not a matrimonial market or agency.

It is to help you succeed in art that I place my experience, and my ability at your disposal, and this I do with all my heart – for half my life is given to my students.


This justifies me in selecting those who are giving their whole life to the study of art and art alone, for my help.  But then, when you pledge yourselves to this other great change in life, it is for me to bow my head in silence, and submit to your decision; but it is also necessary that you submit to the laws that I have a right to enforce for the good of the whole art community, composed of earnest art students of both sexes.

Your faithful and affectionate master

Hubert Herkomer


I wonder if he made the men leave his art school when they got engaged!  I suspect that after this engagements would have been secret ones.


A very fine invitation from Mrs Hubert Herkomer to Miss Sieveking has survived in which Ella is invited to an At Home with Small Dance on Friday Feb 7th from 8 to 12 o’clock.  It is printed on stiff card and has on it a fine drawing of a mediaeval maiden in pen and ink with the initials H.H.90 beside it.  With such wonderful occasions for fraternisation of male and female students no wonder they had trouble with engagements!


Hubert Herkomer was apparently a “controversial figure because of his outspoken enthusiasm and no-nonsense personality”.  His art school at Bushey, which flourished from 1883 to 1904, drew students from Sweden, South Africa, America and Australia.  He succeeded Ruskin as Slade Professor of Fine Arts (1885-94) at Oxford University.  Herkomer received many public honours, among them a knighthood in 1907.  He painted portraits of, notably, Wagner, Ruskin, Lord Kelvin and the Marquis of Salisbury. He also produced innovative stage set designs and stage lighting.


I know that Ella was Vice President of Morley College in Lambeth, London for some years before her marriage.   


In 1888 EMMELINE attended a fund raising evening party on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage Journal at which Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first English woman to complete a medical training, and Fanny Wilkinson were also present[51].  This is the only reference I can find to Women’s Suffrage in my research about the Sievekings, but it is good to know that they supported votes for women.


Emmeline was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about gardening.   In 1889 she assisted Fanny Rollo Wilkinson, England’s first woman professional landscape gardener, with the building of the 14-acre Myatt’s Fields Park in Camberwell in London[52].  It is known that Fanny Wilkinson employed female assistants who were probably serving two-year apprenticeships. Together Fanny and Emmeline supervised the 220 unemployed men who were laying out Myatt’s Field Park.  Fanny Wilkinson designed and supervised the building of many London parks and also numerous private gardens.  She wrote a pamphlet in 1899 entitled “Suggestions for the Planting and Maintenance of Trees in Public Thoroughfares” which she sent to all the London local authorities.  In it she strongly advocates the planting of plane trees in large towns.  She may, therefore, have been responsible for the numerous large plane trees still in evidence throughout London.


Emmeline was later Hon. Secretary of the board of Swanley Horticultural College[53] and her father was a member of the Council of the College.  In 1900 Mathew Eason Wilkinson, Fanny’s brother became principal of Swanley Horticultural College.  When the college became a women only establishment in 1902 Fanny took over the job of principal.  Mathew Eason Wilkinson and Emmeline married in 1908 and went to live in Snape in Suffolk.  Fanny Wilkinson had a house in Snape and Emmeline’s sister Ella also lived nearby, as did Elizabeth Garrett Anderson[54].  After her marriage Emmeline taught “gardening” at Belstead House School in Aldeburgh.  I suspect that “gardening” included botany. 



In her early twenties Florence spent some time in Leipzig studying music and German.  While she was there she met Leonard Wooldridge to whom she became engaged in 1879.  Leonard was the son of a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons; his father was born in Winchester and he was born in Overton in Hants.  His mother Susannah was born in Kent near Ashford[55]. Florence and Leonard married in 1884.  He had followed his father into the medical profession and was a consultant physician at Guys Hospital with a great interest in physiology. 


A letter from Florence to Edward written in 1886 relates that Florence and “L”, in the early days of their marriage, are in charge of the house in Manchester Square while Jane and Edward, and possibly a son or two, are on holiday in Spa in Belgium.  Florence shows her organizational skills by her references to sorting out Edward’s correspondence and the messages from his patients, and in supervising the servants while they are doing spring-cleaning.  She says, “The servants, I consider, have worked well; and are all most obliging”.  She then talks of a possible holiday with L and continues “if so, would not Mama like me to give the 3 servants ten shillings each for board wages.  I think it would be safer as the bills are sure to amount to more than thirty shillings unless this is done.  If we are away more than a week, I can send them a P.O.O. for another thirty shillings as we shall not go out of England.”   She continues “I have hitherto in this note been so occupied with business matters that I have not yet wished you, what  I do most heartily, many happy returns for your to morrow’s birthday.  I am so glad you are spending it amid such pleasant surroundings and only wish I could suddenly pop down upon you and give you some birthday kisses.  I suppose you will celebrate it by taking Mama for a drive in one of those nice little carriages I remember at Spa.”  Florence goes on to talk of taking Aunt Lizzie[56] for a drive “which she seemed to enjoy.  I had previously requested coachman to try and keep the horses quiet, as she was nervous, which he succeeded in doing.  Tell Mama Aunt Lizzie invited L and me to drink your health with them tomorrow! which we hope to do.   She ends “L is in very good health and spirits, though wishful for a further holiday.  He has gone round to ?? Smith’s to talk over his Croonian[57] lecture.  Much love from your loving daughter Florence.  Love to the ‘boys’”. 


Leonard’s lecture title was “On the Coagulation of the blood”.  He talks of three coagulable bodies present in the plasma and names them A-. B-. and C-fibrinogen.  A footnote in the abstract tells us that these names “are provisional”. It is amazing that he should have been invited to give such a prestigious lecture at the age of 28.


Florence and Leonard’s daughter Dorothy, my grandmother, was born in 1886 in Barnes, London. 


On 20th February 1889 Edward Sieveking wrote to Leonard:

“Would you like to be presented at court?  Of course I shall be happy to perform the office of presenter and Herbert thinks his suit would fit you, so that you would be spared expense.  There is likely to be a levee in March, ‘though I have not seen it announced yet.  With love to Flor and Dorothy I am  yours affectionately Edward H Sieveking.” 


Less than 4 months later Leonard was dead and I don’t know if he borrowed the suit or not.  From my father I learned that Leonard ate a dodgy sandwich at a railway station and died of botulism.  However another source[58] says that he “ate a late lunch at Guy’s that, he believed, contained some elderly fish.  He had diarrhoea and vomiting for a few hours, was then unwell and, in spite of treating himself with a day’s train trip to Hastings, died a week later.”  A visit to the seaside seems to have been another kind of Victorian medical prescription.  His death certificate says that the cause of death was Dilated Heart, Ulceration of colon 8 days, and Syncope.  Albert Forbes Sieveking, brother in law, is the informant.  Leonard was only 31.  In his short career Leonard had published 26 papers, mostly concerning the coagulation of blood, and was very highly thought of at Guys.  A bronze art nouveau memorial plaque is still present outside the Harris lecture theatre in the Hodgkin building on the Guy’s campus.  It reads:


In memory of Leonard Charles Wooldridge MD Dsc Lond.

Joint lecturer in Physiology in this School

And (for only 18 months) Assistant Physician

to the Hospital, who will long be remembered

for the brilliance of his achievements and for the

still more brilliant prospects obliterated

by his early death.

This tablet is erected by his friends and students.

Born Dec 1857

Died May 1889



Memorial to Leonard Wooldridge in the Hodgkin Building on the Guy’s campus


I have a letter written on thickly black edged paper that Florence wrote to Ella just over a year later.


3 Sylvester Terrace, Bushey, Herts.    August 15th 1890

Dearest Ella

You will be amazed, and yet perhaps not so very, at receiving a letter dated Bushey, when I ought according to all arrangements to be now at Falmouth.  Well, dear, I thought I could go there and tried to persuade myself it was all right, but on Wednesday night it all came over me.  The miserable suffering at Falmouth and the sickening dread of going there again, to have all the remembrances of that wretched time brought back to me, when the only freedom from agony was the welcome sense of physical faintness – after all what was it being done for- surely to add a little to Papa’s pleasure – I would not have minded if it had been only a small sacrifice on my part, but was my agony to be gone through again, merely to save him from a small disappointment?  This may sound selfish – but I will tell you Ella that I realise now how much I have suffered more than I need have done.  The relief of being by myself with Dorothy at Bushey has shown me that the strain of living at home has added not a little to my burden.  Two things happen when I live at home; either I strain to be cheerful and compassionate, when I infinitely would like to be alone, or I stay by myself and reproach myself for not being pleasant to people – so that either way it is not easy living for me.  You see I want very little really and am quite content with books and a piano.  I don’t even care for society – I see nobody now here, and I am not lonely – of course with Dorothy.


Mother saw it all and arranged it with Papa; but it was not pleasant, having to turn one’s feelings inside out, and also to disappoint them of Dorothy’s society – ‘though I wished them to take Dorothy just the same with them though Mother would not hear of that.  Of course, I have reproached myself, but what can I do?  One cannot stifle one’s feeling beyond a certain point, or go on suffering always.  To go on living with any comfort, or indeed with anything but misery to myself, - I must forget.  I have to lead a new life and to forget the old one and why should I have suffering, 10 times renewed needlessly.  I don’t blame them.  They don’t know what suffering means – I know everyone is supposed to think their own troubles worse – but have they ever suffered ‘til they felt as if every vein in their body was bursting, have they ever felt they could not live another second, that they would give an eternity for the power to drop down dead at that moment – have they ever felt what it is to have realised the meaning of the words “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood” – have they in fact ever felt suicidal? If  I were to have perfect happiness the rest of my life, it would only just make up for the agony of the past year.


Don’t mention dear to them that I have written this to you- but you have known better than I – you thought I could not live at home.  I have tried to do the impossible. 


We have Miss Lecky’s rooms and also the large front bed and sitting room combined which make a capital nursery for Dorothy, who sleeps with me in the back bedroom: only 16/- a week for the three rooms  I have had the piano moved in here, and it seems to furnish the sitting room and make it “homey” at once.  Dorothy is out in the field, with Vivien Milner; he passed by with his nurse and little sister yesterday afternoon and I invited him in to tea.  He is a nice little chap and gets on admirably with Dorothy, who is equally fond of him.  As his mother likes him to have a companion of his own age, as much as I him for Dorothy, I expect they will be always together, especially as we have adopted the plan of Dorothy’s fetching him for walks with her.  I notice it seems to make Dorothy really happier to have a constant companion; she is not the least “tiresome” when with him.  I think she is so engrossed in her play with him that she has not time to put herself out.  She ran home in front; after leaving Vivien yesterday, shouting "Oh I am so happy!”


Nell dear this is a very full letter of self; but it has been a great relief to me to write it; one must be understood or try to make oneself comprehensible to one or two people, whom one feels can understand; as for the rest, on s’en fiche (sic). 


Nell dear, your month’s stay abroad is half over – I hope you are having a good time. I expect you find the climbing rather trying don’t you?  It used to make my head ache so much going up hill in Switzerland.  I hope Nora has not found the housekeeping part irksome or difficult’ but one feels inclined for very simple living in the mountains, it seems to harmonise with the whole surroundings and mode of life.


Nell dear goodbye. Write me a p.c. just to say how you are getting on and with my love to Nora. Yrs ever Florence


Florence then goes on to talk in a P.S. of a friend who is to be married: I am sorry en avance for Marthe: unless Frank develops very much I cannot conceive his making up entirely to Marthe for all she will renounce in marrying him.  Not even a profession to his back, because merely being a barrister without employment in his calling, is only a skeleton profession, to my thinking. But perhaps she will be the making of him; and anyhow he will be devoted; but if she is the woman I take her to be, this will pall without the backbone of manly delight and ardour in his work.  But perhaps, when his expectations from his grandfather are realised he will go into parliament, or be the country gentleman- and so give his wife position in that way.  Otherwise, to live in a suburban villa on £400 a year, with no prospects of ambition to be realised or success to be attained, seems to me poor looking forward for poor Marthe.


I suspect that Florence gravitated to Bushey because she knew it well from visiting Ella there at her art school.  Florence seems to have forgotten that her parents had suffered the agony of losing two babies and a teenage child, but in Victorian times the loss of a child was a fairly common occurrence so maybe she felt that losing a husband was on a different scale of grief.



Family legend has it that Florence asked Dr Ernest Starling, friend and colleague of Leonard Wooldridge, for help in sorting out Leonard’s papers.  In 1891 Florence and Ernest married.  Florence was five years older than Ernest but they apparently had many things in common including a love of music.  Florence was an accomplished pianist and Ernest an enthusiastic baritone. Florence also helped Ernest enormously by acting as his secretary, translator, editor, indexer, proofreader and fundraiser.  She must have put in a vast number of hours helping in the background with his books, letters and publications.  She translated, presumably from German, so many medical works that she was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1913. 


Ernest Starling was a distinguished research physiologist and professor of Physiology at University College.  He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1899.  His works include Principles of Human Physiology (1912).  Henderson[59] says, “In his range and productivity, in his passionate bridge-building between science and medicine, Starling stood alone.  No one person could nowadays achieve the range of subjects that he made his own and, in his own lifetime, no physiologist approached him in the breadth of his enthusiasms”.   Among his important research subjects were the secretion of lymph and other fluids, and with his colleague, friend, and brother in law William Bayliss, the discovery of secretin.  In 1904 Starling and Bayliss also gave a Croonian[60] lecture.  Theirs was entitled “The chemical regulation of the secretory process”.  In 1909 Ernest coined the word “hormone”.  He also formulated laws that govern the activity of the heart.  Indeed I can remember being very excited when I first heard of “Starling’s law” when studying physiology in the 1960s.  His other great achievement was the building of the University College Institute of Physiology, which was opened in 1909.


A letter from Florence shows how much she was involved in Ernest’s work and what a support she was to him:


40 West End Lane


Dear Professor Schafer

Your letter to Ernest has been forwarded to me at Weymouth (where I am staying a few days), together with one from Professor Langley on the subject of the title for your new Quarterly Journal.  Ernest is in New York giving the Hester Lectures and will not be home until the beginning of February.  I feel quite sure that my husband would choose the title which Prof. Langley would prefer. i.e., “Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology”


Since Professor Langley has brought the Journal of Physiology to its high state of efficiency and renown, of which I have heard my husband speak his appreciation, it would seem only just to carry out his wish in this respect.


Since Ernest wished me to undertake his correspondence during his absence, I do not think I am acting ultra vires in thus expressing what I have no doubt would be his opinion.


With kindest regards to Mrs Schafer and yourself and all good wishes for the New Year

Believe me Sincerely yours Florence Starling



Ernest Starling


Florence and Ernest had four children, Muriel, John, Phyllis and Ursula; Dorothy Wooldridge’s half siblings.  Ernest was a loving stepfather to Dorothy, and my own father had fond memories of him as a grand father.  My father sometimes stayed with Florence and Ernest in his school holidays and had happy recollections of being taken to Ernest’s laboratories and shown around. He also remembered Ernest showing him a model steam engine and trying, but failing, to demonstrate its working; not really Ernest’s field, but very much up my father’s street.  The insight into the happenings in a research laboratory almost certainly influenced my father’s choice of Natural Sciences as a degree subject and academia as a future career.


A cousin tells me that Florence was an early Fabian and entertained the Webbs to tea.  She may also have known the Bernard Shaws.  Apparently when her children were old enough to join in Florence entertained on Sunday evenings and there was always music.  Florence would play the piano, Muriel played her violin and probably Ernest sang.  They also had frequent tennis parties at their house in West End Lane in Hampstead.


At the beginning of the First World War Florence wrote to her daughter Dorothy in Melbourne Australia as follows:

Nov 20th (1914)

Darling Do

I take a half sheet because the spirit seems not to move me today to write much to you!  - esp. as I find Mu has been as I expect telling you all the news.  Little Bryn is a year old today and we have not yet seen her!  But you and Hugh are having all the pleasure in the world out of her, and she is so thoroughly satisfactory in every way that we just enjoy her through you both.  It is delightful to think the little frocks are a success.  I thought those embroidered blue and pink ones would be most useful, as no pleat is needed.  You know the “first” drawers[61] don’t take much making, just triangles put into a band with a button and buttonhole at bottom of each flap over and one at bottom to fasten between the legs.  (A tiny sketch is included).


Am still working at placing Belgian Refugees now among better class families who have used up all their money.  Incidentally we are helping Elsie to make 50 pairs mittens by Monday! and we never have the knitting needles out of our hands, servants included. 


How splendidly Hugh has done!  But our line is so thin in the West; the French and we and the Belgians have not nearly enough men, and if it were not for Russia (illegible)  off masses of Germans, they would have assuredly got to Paris before now.  It is all we can do to hold them. 


Now I must have a little rest, as I have Belgian Refugee letters to write before the 5.30 post.  I do not eat lunch nowadays till 2 or 2.30, after spending an hour or two at Town Hall and Hostel.                   


No Christmas presents for anyone this year.  Babs for her birthday had wool and knitting needles given with which to knit for the soldiers.  (She was only 13!)  A destitute medical man’s widow is trying to let her house (as she can’t get any boarders now and they are (illegible) 35/- a week for B Refugees.  I have obtained complete maintenance for a family of Belgian  Refugees from the local council if I can pay the rent (in Surrey).  I have promised to for 3 months and have got subscriptions of £11.10 (including £1 from myself and want about £10 more.  Would you like to give £1?  It does both good; the poor widow and the BR.  The family to be looked  (?after) are now in a cottage and sleeping without beds.  I interview all likely ones for my own offers to make sure of sending the suitable ones. - Do be careful darling of every penny now; this war will ruin many and yours may have to help people.

Dear love and God bless you all Mother


The reference to the half sheet in the first line of the letter confirms an observation by Muriel in Henderson’s Life of Starling concerning “the scraps of paper on which she wrote her long letters, one of her minor economies”.  In fact the above letter is incredibly difficult to read; the two pieces of paper on which it is written are, respectively 7 by 4.5 inches, and 3.25 by 3.5 inches.  She has written down every side and at right angles across the top of the half sheet, and then, to cap it all, she had to start another sheet anyway, quarter size this time, which is equally crowded.


Henderson[62] also mentions “the delicate state of the Starling finances, for she (i.e. Florence) had spent much of her life helping lame dogs and supporting good causes, often to the dismay of her family.”  Two different cousins confirm this dismay, telling me that her daughters sometimes felt that Florence was more interested in “poor girls” than in them.   They felt that Florence must have had a very strong social conscience   I wonder if Florence inherited this characteristic from her aunt Amelia Sieveking, or whether it was the direct influence of her father.  A cousin tells me Muriel used to help Florence to make dresses, caps and aprons on a treadle sewing machine and that these were given to young girls from very poor East End families who were then helped to find jobs in good households. Indeed some were employed in the Starling household.  Another cousin can remember Muriel telling her that the East End maids were encouraged to do deep breathing exercises at an open window every day to counteract any tubercular tendencies.  A quotation from a letter written by Florence to a doctor friend is another example of her philanthropic work.


I have not yet spent any of the £5 you generously gave me for my ex-soldiers who are “down and out”, as I have been away, but there is a case of a tubercular man (only 29) who is waiting to be received into Papworth (where graduated work is prescribed) and I have promised to pay the fare of the wife (with baby) to Wales, where she can live with a married sister, who will look after the child while she herself goes out to work.  It’s a great thing to lessen the congestion in London by however small a number as the rooms are so much needed. (And I shall try and place in these particular rooms when vacated, a family that is at present living in the floor above a highly tubercular family and cannot find so far any other accommodation elsewhere.  The more I see of the way the poorer classes are forced to live, the more I marvel at the lack of resource shown by the “authorities” in these so-called civilised times.


I find both Florence’s care and support of Ernest and her selfless care for people less well off than herself very praise-worthy, and the evidence from letters and photos shows her as a concerned mother and grandmother, however it seems sad that Babs (i.e. Ursula) had to have knitting wool and needles with which to knit for soldiers as a teenage birthday present!  Florence seems to have found it hard to show love to her children; maybe her own upbringing in a Victorian nursery was somewhat loveless.  Apparently all his children adored Ernest.



“Granny Florence” holding my aunt Jane in about 1919


Henderson[63] quotes another of Muriel’s recollections of Florence: “The memories of my mother in my youth are much associated with her economising every penny, and she explained to me that it was so important to her to save in order that Papa should have something to supplement his pension on retirement.  And then, after a lifetime of scrimping, he did not live to retire”.  Florence seems to have been far too generous for her own good.  She had a good marriage settlement and was left considerable amounts of money on the deaths of both her father and her mother but by the time of her own death money was not abundant.


In 1920 Florence and Ernest moved from West End Lane in Hampstead to Taviton Street, very close to University College.  Their daughter Phyllis and her family lived in a downstairs flat at the same address.   In the same year Ernest, who was suffering from abdominal pain, went to a physician for his opinion.  Florence was obviously worried about the extent of Ernest’s smoking habit and whispered to the physician to ask him to tell Ernest to “knock off the cigarettes”[64].  She was a woman ahead of the medical thinking of the time.  Ernest was finally diagnosed with cancer of the colon and had an operation to remove the tumour on June 15th.  The surgeon was Sir Arbuthnot Lane, a leading abdominal surgeon.  He had operated on Ernest’s stepdaughter Dorothy for the same problem in 1922.



Florence with her three living daughters, son John, three sons in law and four grandchildren (date



In 1921 Florence was knocked off her bicycle by a horse bus close to the flat in Taviton Street.  I know from a letter to Ella dated September 25th 1921 that Ella spent the summer of 1921 with Florence “in town”.  The friend continues “ I hope v. much that there is some improvement by now; and that you have been able to get back to A.burgh with an easier mind”. Florence had to have five operations for skin graft and was out of action for months.  Her mobility was never the same again.  A cousin thinks that Florence may have had a weak heart because when she took her granddaughters to the park they were told “never run up hill”.


Ernest died, probably of secondary cancer, in May 1927.  A sad letter from Florence describes Ernest’s last few weeks of life.


23 Taviton Street London WC1


Dear Dr Plesch

Yesterday I found your letter to my husband on his table in the lab.


My beloved died on May 2nd before the steamship arrived at Kingston, Jamaica.


He came home one evening about a month before this saying that he was very tired and was going to give up work for the time and take a good holiday, and he thought a sea voyage to the sun would set him up.  He would not let anyone accompany him saying he should be all right directly he got on board, but our son took him to Bristol, and saw him on the boat at Avonmouth, putting him in the care of the doctor, who wrote us on his return, that my husband gradually sank, without pain, becoming unconscious about 24 hours before his death.  I think he suffered from the same streptococcal poisoning (due to removal of ileo colic valve in the operation for cancer 4 years ago) that affected his legs 2 years ago; but this yielded to self-cultures and inoculations; then according to my idea it invaded the brain and heart.  But he had no suffering, only weariness.


I shall never cease to remember your kindness with gratitude Florence Starling.


A cousin remembers that Florence lived with them in Buckinghamshire in her final months cared for by her faithful cook.  Ten months after Ernest’s death, in January 1928, Florence died of cancer, aged 66.  When the end was near the cousin was sent to board at her school for a short time.  When she came back, Granny was no longer in the house, but, presumably in an effort to spare her pain, her parents did not discuss where Granny had gone.



Ella married Walter Ewing Crum in 1896 when she was 34.  He was the son of Alexander Crum who was at one time M.P. for Renfrewshire.  Ella and Walter lived in London for ten years and then moved to Aldeburgh in Suffolk in 1906.  They lived for two years in a house called The Chestnuts and then moved to Mill Edge, a substantial house next door to a boarding school for girls called Belstead House School.  An inventory and valuation taken of the contents of Mill Edge when Ella left it in 1939 show it to have had 2 drawing rooms, a dining room, a studio, a hall with “side hall” and “back hall”, a housemaid’s pantry, a kitchen, a servants hall, 5 main bedrooms, 3 maids’ bedrooms and a work room.  It was stuffed with antique furniture, oriental rugs, silver and original paintings.  A cousin reports that Aunt Ella was not demonstrative, however she obviously got on well with her servants: her cook was with her for 30 years and her parlour maid for 18 years. She also had a housemaid.  The cousin tells me her mother Phyllis was shocked at the very small size of the maid’s bedrooms.



Ella’s cook, house maid and parlour maid (date unknown)


The first Belstead House school magazine dated Autumn Term 1909 includes a mention of the School’s third birthday party held on October 1st.  It tells us that Mrs Crum caused a sensation by arriving dressed in a fancy costume and that Mr Crum was one of the other visitors.  By Easter Term 1910 Mrs Walter Ewing Crum features as a visiting mistress for drawing, painting, and sketching.  From later magazines it is clear that Ella was a devoted art teacher whose pupils enjoyed her lessons.  She organized holiday sketching competitions and she also seems frequently to have had pupils to tea at Mill Edge.  




  Mill Edge, Aldeburgh


Ella and the headmistress of Belstead House, Mrs Pam Hervey, had a close and intense friendship. There is evidence that they wrote frequently when apart and that they (and their husbands) took holidays together.


I have a small white vellum covered book that belonged to Pam.  At the beginning is a card inscribed, “For Ella – this book if I die”.  In fact she died in 1929 and indeed it must have passed to Ella. It is full of Pam’s own poems, of photographs, pressed flowers, postcards, letters and so on.  Under a photograph of Ella is written, “She walked into my life dressed like this.  May 18th 1906  Westfields drawing room 4.30 p.m.”  Under another poem is written “Passing of Arthur.  Said by Iris and Celia at our first concert.  Ella sitting near me. Our eyes met”.  Beside a photograph of Ella and GG, the Hervey’s daughter, is a poem which starts “My friend – my Child!  They are the world to me”.  There are photographs of Ella’s paintings; indeed there is another printed book that consists entirely of Pam’s poems and Ella’s paintings.  There are photographs of Ella sketching, of Ella with Belstead pupils, of Ella and Pam on expeditions, of Ella and Stewart, and of Mill Edge.  There is one significant photograph of Walter and Ella, which is inscribed “But not a quarrel!”  There is a letter taped into the book from Ella to Pam but unfortunately Ella’s handwriting is extremely difficult to decipher.  It starts “Beloved and ends, “Take heart beloved Yr. V. loving Ella”. In it Ella asks Pam to come and see her “at 8.30 when W goes to a meeting if you’re not too tired”.  She refers to Pam being made unhappy and goes on to say “there are things worth a sacrifice and I think getting Walter back in the right attitude was one.  I don’t know what he is thinking, he does not say, but when he (illegible) the envelope at luncheon he got v. red – and gave it to me – without a word.  In the evening – he asked me for it – and said “one could not quarrel with friends like these”.  On the facing page are two photographs of Ella, Pam, Walter and GG on an outing with “Pam’s and Ella’s answer” written beside them.  I can’t help wondering if Walter felt threatened by the amount of time Ella spent with Pam and bemused by such a very close friendship.  Or was such intensity between married females common in Victorian times?


Walter Ewing Crum seems to have had a private income although a cousin tells me that he worked at the British Museum researching scarabs.  He was educated at Eton followed by Balliol College Oxford, and studied Egyptology in Paris and Berlin.  He edited many Coptic[65] texts; catalogued Coptic manuscripts in the British Museum (1905) and in the John Rylands Library, Manchester (1909) and produced a definitive Coptic dictionary in 6 parts[66].  A cousin tells me that Ella found Walter a lady assistant because Ella felt that he was working too hard, and that eventually Walter went off with said assistant.  It is possible that after the move to Aldeburgh Ella and Walter lived apart some of the time so that Walter could pursue his academic interests in London, and that this also contributed to their problems.  Ella and Walter separated in 1911 but I don’t know if they divorced.  However Ella was well off financially: partly from her father’s marriage settlement, and partly from a settlement from Walter, so she was able to continue living at Mill Edge with her three servants in attendance.  


Ella’s visitors’ book for the whole of her time in Aldeburgh, i.e. from 1906 to 1939 show that she had around forty visitors a year, a lot of them staying for a week or so.  Her siblings and their spouses, nephews and nieces, and great nephews and nieces all feature.  Also of interest is the visit of Cecil Sharp, who was an expert on vernacular folk song, and who travelled to many remote areas of Britain to record the oral tradition of folk song for future generations.  Another frequent visitor was Violet Dickinson, who had been a good friend and neighbour in Manchester Square.  Violet Dickinson features in the life of the troubled novelist Virginia Woolf, to whom she was also a good friend.  I am told that another close friend was Kate Greenaway, the artist.  Florence stayed with Ella several times a year, often for two or three weeks.  I imagine that getting to Aldeburgh from London was a straightforward train journey.  Hugh Thring and Dorothy Wooldridge went to stay several times after their return from Australia and Hugh visited many times after Dorothy’s death, even eventually taking his second wife there.  Interestingly Hugh’s sister Gwen Thring visited four or five times and Ella’s “black sheep” brother Lawrence must have returned from Australia in 1923 and stayed with her for four days.


Although it seems that Ella was fond of children, she and Walter never had any of their own.  However they do seem to have adopted Walter’s brother’s son Stewart; he features frequently in letters and photographs and I think he must have stayed with Ella after the separation.  He was killed aged 19 in the First World War.  


My aunt Bryn kept a Report of Inspection of Belstead School held on the 11th, 12th and 13th March 1931.  In the section on Art we read as follows: “twelve of the more advanced pupils have the advantage of special teaching in figure drawing and sketching in the studio of a lady artist living next door to the school, who has for many years devoted much time and energy to its service.  Some very pleasing work was seen both here, and at the lower stages”. It is good to know that Ella made such good use of her Slade School training and her postgraduate years with Hubert Herkomer.  Mrs Pam Hervey died in 1929 and in 1931 the principal of the school was her sister. At this time Bryn Thring (one of Florence’s grand daughters) was a pupil there, living with her Great Aunt Ella at Mill Edge.  Ursula Starling (Florence’s youngest daughter) and Philippa Trouton (another of Florence’s grand daughters) were also pupils at Belstead. Ursula was friendly with Griselda Hervey (known as GG), the headmistresses’ daughter.  Griselda became an actress and seems to have taken part in numerous radio plays.  Philippa tells me that although she enjoyed school she would rather have lived in the school as a boarder and not lived with her Great Aunt Ella, because by this time Ella was an elderly lady and Philippa felt that she missed out on a lot of fun. 

After she left Aldeburgh Ella went to live in Ruthin, North Wales, to be near her niece Muriel.  Muriel’s daughter tells me that a “Crumish” account was family language for the inclusion of much pedantic detail in a conversation.  One member of the family recalls Ella at this time as a “sweet old thing” while to another she was a “very daunting” old lady.  


A letter from Ella’s solicitor replying to some pertinent questions about the proceeds of her mother’s will shows her to have had a good head for finance.  When she died she left her money to her great niece Bryn who had spent a lot of her later childhood with Ella.  Bryn was left so well off that she stopped work and lived on these funds for the rest of her life.  Being a great hoarder Bryn kept all Aunt Ella’s papers and letters which have proved a great source of information.



After her father’s death Emmie lived with her mother in Devonshire Terrace near Hyde Park. She did not marry until she was 42.   Family legend reports that she was so happy to be finally leaving home that she was “ill with joy” for a week after the engagement.   A cutting from the Globe newspaper for December 2nd 1909 tells us that at her wedding Emmeline was given away by her brother, Mr Herbert Sieveking, and that “she wore a blue cloth costume with a bodice of chiffon, and a blue velvet toque trimmed with a white osprey.”  There were neither bridesmaids nor pages.  Her husband was Mathew Eason Wilkinson, the brother of Fanny Rollo Wilkinson, with whom Emmie worked on Myatt’s Field Park.  Fanny and Mathews’ father was a doctor and one time president of the British Medical Association. Immediately after their marriage they went to live in Snape, very close to Ella in Aldeburgh. A cousin reports that “they were not well off so they did what everybody of slender means did in the 20s and went to live in France where the cost of living was very much lower.  Her life there sounded like a perpetual honeymoon.”  The cousin also says “She was petite and really pretty, with bobbed wavy hair and a sweet smile”.  “She used to talk about Uncle Mathew a lot.”


A letter from Emmie to Ella written just before Emmie’s wedding very clearly shows her emotional state:

23 Devonshire Terrace, Hyde Park, W.

My darling

My heart is literally beating with love and gratitude for all that you have always been to me and are and will always be, though I can hardly find the words to tell you so –

You and Walter have made it “roses all the way” not once but many times – and I think it would take more than the time there is left between now and our marriage to tell over all that you have done –

Darling my love and Matthews’ will be our living thanks – Do you know that the older I grow the more I yearn for the deepening and strengthening of all great existing ties – I long that you should know how much I feel and Matthew feels-

Bless you my dear now and always-

M and I hunted high and low to find a little jewel in white or purple to put inside this little box – I think you may like to have it simply because it belonged to Father who was so fond of it.

Will you read into its many coloured gelds the symbol of the love that changes and yet is always the same-

Your sister and friend Emmy


Sadly Emmeline had only 18 years of happy marriage as Mathew died in Snape in 1927. 



Jane and Edward’s first child, Henry Edward, died aged 8 months in 1851.  Another son, Alexander, also died as a baby in 1864[67].  Five of the surviving six brothers were educated at Marlborough College in Wiltshire and the sixth, Fred, went into the Navy at an early age.   I assume that the Navy was his own choice, as money to pay the fees does not seem to have been an issue, unlike the case of my grandfather Hugh Thring.


For his birthday in 1871 Edward Sieveking’s children presented him with a handsome green leather folding wallet with space for twelve photographs and with his initials in gold on the front.  At the beginning is a photograph of his parents; taken in Hamburg, probably when they went to visit his Aunt Amelia, which they did every few years.



Florence’s paternal grandparents


Some of the following information is written on the back of the photographs in the wallet: 


Lawrence, the eldest surviving child, was apparently the black sheep of the family.  It is suggested that he may have married twice but another source shows him as unmarried.  He does not seem to have had any kind of training for a career.  A cousin has discovered that he was a farmer in New Zealand from 1872 to 1879.  He finally became a Sub Warden and Magistrate, Mines Department, Perth, Western Australia and died in London in1932.   There are three photographs of him in the wallet, one behind the other, the first taken in London (presumably before he blotted his copy book) and two more, dated 1874 and 1877 both taken in Napier, New Zealand.


The second son Herbert trained as a doctor.  His first post was at St Mary’s Hospital London.  In 1884 he became a physician at the Victoria hospital Cairo and later became Medical Officer for Cape Government Railways in South Africa.  He died in London in1923.


Arthur went to Caius College Cambridge and became a barrister.  He died in 1927.


Fred’s photograph shows him aged 15 wearing his Navy uniform with a smart cap and numerous gold buttons.   He was an officer in the Royal Navy from 1881 to 1901 and died in London in 1902.


Albert became a solicitor and was librarian to the Imperial War Museum from 1917 to 1921.  In 1899 he organized the International Exhibition of Fencing.  He also edited books about gardens, and wrote articles on history, sports and games.  Albert’s only child, Margot, became an actress and married the founder of the Everyman Theatre in Hampstead.  Albert obviously had a close and friendly relationship with Ella and the following extracts come from long letters he wrote to her:

November 11th 1883 Written from Brighthelmstone[68]

“I have been to hear Oscar Wylde (i.e. Oscar Wilde) twice, and got distinct pleasure and profit each time.  I do not think I ever heard a pleasanter lecturer – cheerful, vivacious, humorous and even poetical.  With the face of a woman, he has the voice and muscular development of a man, and the gesture, dress, bearing and manner of an artist, and withal as little affectation (in lecturing at least) either in matter or manner as you can possibly expect after the noise that has been made about him.  I do not believe he is by any means “snuffed out” yet, like that Prophet of Beauty, of whose creed he is a preacher, John Keats.”


October 29th 1889 written from 34 Essex Street Strand

“I am sending you over my bottle of Fer Bravais to see if it will do you any good.  It is accounted a very delicate preparation of iron and may suit you.  About 10 drops in water is the dose.  The drop measure I did not find easy to manage, perhaps you will be more successful.

I am going to make a final bid for health, by going over to Paris some time next month, by Smith’s advice, and consulting (illegible) the great man on nerves.  If he can suggest nothing, I shall give it up as a bad job.  But he has done wonderful things and Mrs Reid told me he cured Leicester Reid of his “Nerves”.  I wrote to him for an appointment, but while the Exhibitions lasts he is too busy to be able to fix a definite time.  Smith will perhaps run over with me.  Don’t say anything about it at home, as they will think it waste of money.  But it will be the last I shall spend on doctors.  As time goes on, I do not acquire more energy and one wants to do something before being snuffed out.”


In fact Albert lived to a ripe old age and died in 1951.   In the Second World War Albert, Ella and Emmeline all went to live in Ruthin to be near Florence’s daughter Muriel.



Florence’s father in court dress


Arthur and Henrys’ photographs were taken in Marlborough while they were at school; Henry Droop Sieveking died at Marlborough College in 1873 but I don’t know of what cause.  He looks a sturdy, healthy boy in the photograph.  Edward and Janes’ first baby had been called Henry Edward and it was apparently common in Victorian times to name a subsequent child after a previous dead baby; it seems that Henry was not a lucky name for this family.


There is also a depiction of Edward himself wearing court dress, and a lovely one of Jane wearing a fetching cap with flowers on it, with white lace frills at her neck and wrists, and numerous ruffles and flounces on her black satin dress.  She is sitting next to a table carrying that favourite Victorian plant, an aspidistra.



Lawrence, Herbert and Frederick did not marry.  Arthur married but had no children.  Albert had one daughter called Margot.  Florence had 4 daughters Dorothy, Muriel, Phyllis and Ursula and a son called John.  Ella and Emmeline married late and had no children.  There is a faint possibility of unknown grandchildren in Australia but Edward and Jane had only 6 known grandchildren, five girls and a boy.  Considering that Jane gave birth to 11 children this seems a small haul, however Florence with her 5 did them proud!



Dorothy obtained an honours degree in English from University College London in 1909.  She then taught for three years before marrying Hugh Thring and having three children; Bryn, Meredith and Jane.  She spent the first five years of her marriage in Australia.


Muriel obtained a first class degree in physiology from University College and then worked as a civil servant until her marriage to Sydney Patterson, an Australian who had come to work with Ernest Starling as a research fellow.  They also spent the first years of their marriage in Australia but then returned to live in Ruthin in North Wales. They had five children, one son and four daughters.


Phyllis worked as a Red Cross cook (the only female member of her family who learned to cook when young) during the First World War and married Maurice Trouton in 1917.  They had a son and a daughter. Phyllis and Maurice were killed in the Second World War when the London house in which they were sleeping was hit by a flying bomb.


In a letter written by Ernest to a friend in Denmark at the beginning of the First World War he says, “My boy (i.e. his only son, John) is desperately keen to join the army, but is not yet old enough”.  However John went to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1915, was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1916 and then went straight to the Somme aged about 18.  After the war he briefly tried academia both at Trinity College Cambridge and at University College studying French for one year before making the army his final career.  A cousin remembers that he stabled his horses at their house in Buckinghamshire, and that he was great fun as an uncle.   He served not only in the First World War but also in the Second and retired as a Brigadier. Henderson tells us “Ernest, though very devoted to John, was not impressed with his way of life”. Neither Ernest nor Florence seems to have had an enthusiasm for horses.  John had one son, who tells me “I don’t think that his father was against the army per se, but the fact that my father didn’t take it seriously enough”.  This was because “John never took the Staff College Exam without which peace time promotion was virtually impossible.  That said, I think that he was an extremely good and brave soldier: certainly, according to my mother, he was totally fearless steeple chasing and hunting”. 


Ursula studied for a diploma in dairy bacteriology at Reading University.  She married Roy Carne in 1927 and they spent many years in Australia.  They had three daughters.  In retirement they came back to England and lived in Cambridge.





Her mother was Florence Sieveking born 2nd July 1861

Her father was Leonard Wooldridge born 11th December 1858

They married on 2nd July 1984

Dorothy was born on the 20th January 1887

Leonard Wooldridge died on 6th June 1889


Her mother Florence married Ernest Starling on 23rd December 1891

They had four children:

Muriel born 11th June1893

Phyllis born 5th July 1894

John born 18th January 1898

Ursula (also known as Babs) born 10th November 1901


Dorothy married Walter Hugh Charles Samuel Thring (born 30th May 1873) on 11th January 1913


From 1913 to 1919 they lived in Eltham, Melbourne, Australia


They had three children:

Brynhild Wooldridge born 20th November 1913

Meredith Wooldridge born 17th December 1915

Jane Felicity born 15th September 1917


From 1919 to 1922 they lived in Blackheath, London

She died on 31st May 1922





Dorothy was born on the 20th January 1887 in Barnes London and was the only child of Leonard Wooldridge and Florence Sieveking.  Her father died when she was two.  Two years later her mother married Leonard’s colleague Ernest Starling.  Dorothy had four Starling half-siblings.


From the various letters and post cards written to Dorothy by her half siblings it seems that she had a close and loving relationship with them. It is good to know that her mother had a happy second marriage and that Dorothy grew up in a close family. She was four when her mother remarried and six when her first half sibling was born.


I know that Dorothy went to Baker Street High School but know little else about her childhood[69] except for a letter that she pasted into a scrapbook and entitled “A letter of Mumu’s, when she was a very little ‘gail’ ”.  It is written between carefully pencilled lines in beautiful handwriting with minimal punctuation and interesting spelling and reads:

Dear Puppy I hope you like your volunteering. Yesterday when we went to auntie Ella’s first we picked strawberries next we shelled some peas next we picked bunches of blackcurrants then we had lunch then we played in the hay when we were too hot to play in the hay we went and picked a few wild flowers and then we sat in a little wood and while we picked flowers Dorothy made us wreathes your loveing little gail MURIEL.

I am guessing that Dorothy must have been in her early teens when she made them “wreathes” at the end of their busy day.  Puppy is Muriel’s father, and Dorothy’s stepfather, Ernest Starling.  The letter paper is headed 8, Park Square West, Regent’s Park and is dated Sunday 22 July (with no year)



Dorothy as a teen-ager



In 1905 Dorothy went to Germany for six months before starting university.  It is interesting to see that the “Gap Year” is not such a new idea. She stayed with various families and the main objective seems to have been to improve her spoken German; after all her maternal grandfather’s family came from Germany and her mother was a fluent speaker of German.  These short extracts from a series of very long letters written to her mother’s sister Ella between April and September 1905 give us some idea of her ideas and interests aged 18. There are references to letters and parcels from home, food and meals, painting, dressmaking, embroidery, travel, entertainments, German people and so on.  The tone of the letters seems to me to be unsophisticated compared with the sort of letters that might be written by an eighteen year old today.  Here are a few extracts:


Monday 3rd. Address illegible

“Frau Fricker and Hedwig met me (they do all wear check flannel blouses as Aunt Emmie said and hideous little black felt boat shaped hats with check ribbon) and they speak the tiniest bit of English and I even less German but still we got on very well.


We have such nice beds, first a scarlet mattress and a wedge shaped scarlet bolster- then a sheet and then two feather beds – the under one red and with a sheet buttoned on to it all the way round and the upper one white and a pillow – very thin over half the bed – these beds are very much more comfortable than English ones.


They all wear aprons – even the grandmother – I must make or get one too.

Hedwig does all the waiting at home – she cooks and clears away and dusts etc. – they ask what English girls do all day instead of Hauswork – I said I didn’t know[70].  

I love being here.  It is so funny, the servants come into the sitting room at night and say good night and say “Good Day” whenever they open the door to one.


I have been to the Drawing School and have joined for one term, I must go Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday 8 to 12.  In the whole term the price is 12 shillings. Not dear is it?”


June 1st Brunswick

I do love my German grammar lessons, I have the very nicest girl to give them to me.  When I come back I shall get up a German Club among a few friends to meet at one another’s house once a week and read a German book and have tea and talk only German.  When they come to my house I shall give them coffee and German cakes.


Tuesday, 12 August Bei Frau Simon, Beutnitz, Neumark

We have got rainy weather here now so I can’t do any sketching either, and do you know, I am rather glad.  Isn’t it dreadful of me?  If I had any real talent I should want to work at every opportunity – and do you know even the two hours a day at Ackenhausen were rather a labour sometimes?   I have done 2 hours painting a day for the last 5 weeks, and not being a genius but a very ordinary girl am going to be lazy for a week or two.  I am a lazy pig I know – it really is only laziness – I have no excuse for there is heaps of paintableness round here”.

Taking drawing lessons may have been the idea of her Aunt Ella, a Slade trained artist; Dorothy herself doesn’t seem to be particularly dedicated!  However her drawing skills were used in later life in letters, and in a story that she wrote and illustrated for Bryn.


September 2nd Cliestow Frankfurt am O.   

“She has invited Mu and me for 4 weeks in 4 years……………….(presumably after Dorothy had finished her degree) but I am afraid war will come before then – the Germans do hate us so – they talk as if there would be sure to be war in a very short time.

It is interesting to read this, written nine years before the onset of World War One. 


 Ah if we women had votes of power I wonder if we should muddle about like the war office?  I really think it would be a good thing – though I don’t like the masculine, bony, waist less creatures who agitate for women’s right – but really when there are women and men together on a council the women always seem to get “forrader”.  No the women I mean are the practical “tuchige” ones, who first perfect all home duties to the best of their power and then can give a few hours weekly to such business – I mean like you [her aunt Ella] at Morley[71] and Mother with the School of Medicine[72] and Aunt Emmie with Swanley[73].  I always think the women’s speeches are the best at prize givings and things.  Don’t snub me ‘though I know I deserve it.

As far as I know none of my Edwardian female relatives were suffragettes, but it seems that women’s rights were a topic of conversation in the Sieveking family.


I am going to learn to cook ‘though it is hateful. I am ashamed when I think of the many English girls I know who do nothing the whole day but amuse themselves – sometimes not even that – myself among them (when I am not studying for an exam).  I don’t believe there is one in 50 in Germany who does that – When they ask me what English girls do – well, I make out a case with dressmaking and charity work – but there really are many girls I know who do absolutely nothing – In fact I really don’t know how they get through the time!  I really like German girls very much – especially my 4 particular friends, But German men I can’t bear – the first time they see one they say silly meaningless compliments and then they tease – really tease one so dreadfully…. and then they do say such things about England and the English and the King – it is really awfully rude……. some aren’t so bad – but Englishmen are so much nicer.  Polite in a certain way they are – they pick up things one drops and give one roses and so on”.


Thursday + illegible address.

“I had yesterday the most delightful letter from Muriel in which she says “I wish Mrs Fricker would invite me to stay with her, couldn’t you give her a gentle hint and say I am such a dear, pretty, helpful child, and that I adore cooking, washing, ironing, picking fruit (ahem) etc.  Please do!”


I find the reference about learning to cook very fascinating.  I am told by a cousin, daughter of one of the Starling children, that none of the Starling girls had any idea of how to cook in their youth, as they had never had to.  Indeed Muriel didn’t need to cook until her husband retired in the 1960s, although one of her daughters reports that she would have liked to cook, and that she enjoyed making jam for WI fetes on the gas ring outside their childhood nursery on the nanny’s day off.  For the latter part of his working life Auntie Mu and Uncle Pat (known to us by these names even ‘though they were in fact our great aunt and great uncle) lived in some style in a private wing of Ruthin Castle in North Wales.  The main dwelling was a Victorian pile, which housed a private nursing home; Uncle Pat was the resident physician in charge. It is now a hotel.  Auntie Mu invited my brother John and me to stay without our parents for a week for two summer holidays running.  We had a wonderful time in the old nursery, which had a rocking horse, lots of books, a wind up gramophone and a radio on which we listened to the Archers.  Close to the main house were numerous ruins of the historic castle and we much enjoyed exploring them, and we loved the freedom of the large grounds.  Auntie Mu was wonderful to us and we also spent time with Frances, the cook, in the kitchen trying to learn some Welsh.  I remember that Frances made delectable brandy snaps.  I also remember helping Auntie Mu silver dip and dry the cutlery after meals (she did the washing of the silver but not the crockery), and laying the beautifully polished dining table; trying not to forget anything vital and trying to put everything in the right place.  On retirement Auntie Mu and Uncle Pat moved to a flat in North London and at this stage Auntie Mu took up cooking with great aplomb and served excellent roast lamb with all the trimmings to guests for Sunday lunch.  I can vouch that she was an excellent cook


On her return from Germany Dorothy helped her siblings with a Christmas entertainment. A hand drawn programme with the date Dec 28 1905 is in her scrapbook.  The first half of the programme features musical and other items by all four of the Starling children. After the interval is a play called Two Chums, with the two characters acted by Stewart Crum and Margot Sieveking.  I am guessing that this would have been performed in front of, at least, Florence and Ernest, Ella and Walter, and Albert and his wife as parents/guardians of the performers.  Albert and Florence were the only two of the Sieveking siblings to have children.  Stewart Crum was Ella’s nephew by marriage and I think that she brought him up after his parents died. 



The records held by University College London state that Dorothy attended from “1905 to 09”.  In 1906 she apparently studied “drawing from the antique” for 3 days a week in addition to her degree subjects. In 1909 she officially achieved a “BA Hons English” but in fact her degree included English, History and Icelandic and Celtic languages.  Interestingly her sister Muriel achieved a BSC Hons Physiology from University College in 1914, and her brother John studied French at UCL for one year only (1918 – 1919) on his return from the battlefields of the First World War. As her step-father was also employed by University College there was a strong family connection.


For some reason unknown to me Dorothy asked her University College professors for references in May 1912, all of which I have and which follow.  She had already been teaching for several years so these cannot have been her first references but since they all refer to her academic skills it seems worth including them here.  I feel that they tell us almost as much about the people who wrote them as they tell us about Dorothy!


Letter accompanying reference from W P Ker 28th April 1912

From 1 Windsor Terrace West, Glasgow

Dear Dorothy

What do you think of this, in official capacity?  It is a disgusting language, but I do not mind, in a good cause. Do come and see me on Tuesday morning at the College either 11 or 1.

I meant to write to you from the Island of Arran, but there were so many things to do.

I am quite unfit for work, and can think of nothing but clear streams running between granite rocks, with the April sun on them. Childish, but very natural as the Poet observed.

I have just bought out a shilling shocker on English Medieval Literature which I will give you with the author’s compliments – when I get a copy to give.


Med beztu oskum fra ydar einlaegum vini

W P Ker


Reference from W P Ker 29 April 1912

Miss Dorothy Wooldridge attended my lectures when she was reading for her B A degree; she did a considerable amount of work for me beyond what was required, and I believe that I am justified in recommending her strongly as a teacher of English.  She is well qualified by her attainments, by her interest in the subject, and by a remarkable talent for engaging the interest of her pupils.

Miss Wooldridge took up Icelandic literature as her special subject, and read a large amount not only of the classical Icelandic prose but also of the very difficult old poetry.  The spirit of her work was excellent. and the results obtained were such as to be of great value to a student of literature.  I shall be glad to answer all references that may be made to me on behalf of Miss Wooldridge.

WP Ker

Quain professor of English at the University of London

Fellow of All Souls College Oxford

Fellow of the British Academy


W P Ker later became my father’s godfather and his name heads the list of Dorothy and Hugh’s wedding presents. He gave her amethysts. I wonder if he was perhaps a family friend through her stepfather.


Reference from Prof of French May 2nd 1912

From University College Gower Street. London WC

I have great pleasure in stating that Miss Dorothy Wooldridge attended my lectures on French at University College from 1906 to 1908.  She had already an extremely good knowledge of French, which she spoke with a perfect accent and wrote very skilfully.

She took her BA Hon in English with Icelandic as subsidiary subject; she knows German very well, can speak Swedish, and has a fair knowledge of Italian.

She is then admirably equipped for a post where modern languages (including English) would be taught, and would (two illegible words) services in a secondary day-school.  She has the great advantage of having lived both in France and Germany and would thus be able to give a thorough idea not only of the language but also of the life and customs of the countries which she knows so well.

I have no doubt that she would be most popular among her pupils and her colleagues and I feel certain she would fill her post with talent and distinction.

Louis Brandin

Professor of French and of Romana Philology in the University of London.


Reference from Prof of German May 2nd 1912

From 1 Downside Crescent, Haverstock Hill NW.

I have much pleasure in saying that Miss Dorothy Woolridge (sic) has attended several courses of my Lectures and Classes in German at University College London and I always found her a serious and intelligent student.  She has spent a good deal of time in Germany and speaks the modern tongue quite fluently.  I consider Miss D Wooldridge is well able to undertake the teaching of German in a secondary school and would always inspire her pupils with a love and interest for the subject.

Robert ?Priebach (Professor of German in the University of London)


Reference from the Provost (illegible signature) June 8th 1912

Miss Dorothy Wooldridge entered this college in October 1905 as a student in the Faculty of Arts.  During the first year of her course, she read English, French, German, Latin and Roman History and successfully passed the Intermediate Examination in Arts at the end of that Year.  She then proceeded to read for the Bachelor of Arts degree, aiming at Honours In English and reading in conjunction therewith History, Icelandic and Celtic languages.  Her work throughout her course was creditable and in many ways original and distinctive.  She obtained second Class Honours at her degree examination in 1909. 

Since then, Miss Wooldridge has been teaching and has been gaining experience in many directions.  I hear that her teaching has been successful.  She shows sympathy and insight into the work of her pupils.  She combines enthusiasm with a considerable degree of judgement and I am satisfied that she will make a thoroughly good teacher.  I shall be glad to answer any further enquiries about her.



Dorothy wearing the dress in which she was presented at Buckingham Palace



In July 1909 Dorothy played two major parts in Scenes from Shakespeare performed in the original pronunciation. In her scrapbook is a letter of congratulation from the director, and two reviews, one from the Observer and one from the Daily Graphic.  Neither mention Dorothy by name.

The last of Dorothy’s recorded performances is in May 1910 when she took part in a Chaucerian Entertainment given under the auspices of the Poetry Recital Society with the pronunciation as it was thought to be in the 14th Century.  There are two reviews; one from the Morning Post and the other from the Daily Graphic and Dorothy is mentioned in each.  In the first we find: “Dressed as the Prioress, Miss D Wooldridge recited part of the Prologue with dainty grace and expression”.  The second tells us: “and Miss D Wooldridge, though she showed a deplorable tendency to forget her lines, brought a delightful humour into her rendering of the passages”.



From January 1910 Dorothy taught “literature, needlework, junior drawing, and elocution” (this from the prospectus) at Belstead House School in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.  The school was next door to her Aunt Ella’s house, Mill Edge, and a photograph shows the close proximity of a windmill.  Aunt Ella, her mother’s sister, taught art at the school from 1906. Ella and Mrs Pam Hervey, the principal and founder of the school, had a very close and intense friendship. 


The scrapbook contains another letter in childish handwriting which must have been written soon after Dorothy started teaching.  It is entitled “An early letter from Ursula” (Dorothy’s youngest half sister) and again has very interesting spelling.  It reads: 

Dear Do, I hope you are getting on very well.  have you sent any children to report themselves since you saw me last.  Was Mrs Harvey very anchouse when you did not arrive or did she expect that you had missed the train.  Please write to me and tell me all the queschons I have asked.

On Saturday Papa had a tennis party for his studants nobody I knew except Harvey.  But on Sunday only two People came wich I did not know, all the rest I knew.  Leonard Hail White came.  He was very much interested with my photographs. 

I am inclosing a little note to GG[74] please don’t forget to give it to her.  With much love from Ursula. 

P.S. I am going to write down the little rhimes you asked me to if you want them seperate write and tell me. 

Birdeys birdeys

Sweet little birds.

They sing me sweet songs

Oh the sweet little birds

The worm it squerls about the grass

And through its body the earth dose pass.

I have four Belstead House magazines, the first for Autumn Term 1909 and the others for the three terms of 1910.  They have a special section entitled Chief Events some of which are of historical interest. By Easter Term 1910 Dorothy Wooldridge is listed as a resident teacher and Mrs Walter Ewing Crum features as a visiting mistress for drawing, painting, and sketching.  Ella’s sister Emmie lived nearby in Snape at this time and taught gardening; so the school staff included two sisters and their niece.


In the Belstead House School magazine entitled Summer Term 1910 there is a short article describing the “Comets of 1910”. Then under the heading of ‘Chief Events’ for May 5th is recorded “The chief and mournful event – the death of our King”.  It goes on: “On May 9th we received a summons from the Mayor (Mrs Garrett Anderson) to attend the Proclamation of King George V, at the Moot Hall, and we obediently resorted thither, to hear a new King for the first time proclaimed by a lady mayor from the steps over the porch of our ancient Corporation building”.  In the ‘Occasional Notes’ section we learn that “German has been spoken at Miss Wooldridge’s table this term”, and “Mrs Crum’s Drawing Club Portfolio has once more gone its rounds, with its interesting contents from old and present girls”.


In the Autumn Term edition is the following: “The elections occupied our thoughts very much.  It is our duty to take a very lively interest in our Country at this moment – now that ‘the old order changeth’ is so clearly brought home to us, we ought to notice the signs of the times, and to hear or read the opinions of those engaged in ‘making England’ when we get the chance”.  

We are also told “After many rehearsals, the whole school took part in ‘As You Like It’.  It was really a wonderful production.  Thanks for endless trouble are due to Miss Wooldridge, who taught it…..(She was the stage manager)  The dresses were beautifully carried out from Miss Wooldridge’s drawings…. The garden scene was painted by Miss Wooldridge and some of the children … the wood scene by Mrs Crum.


A tiny photo album records a holiday in Switzerland.  There is a photograph of Dorothy on the Allalin glacier dated August 20th 1911 i.e. in her school summer holiday.  She has a rope around her waist and is using a long pole.  She is wearing a huge sunbonnet, a long sleeved blouse and a skirt down to her ankles.  It seems very odd to be climbing on a glacier wearing a full-length skirt and emphasizes how much women’s clothing has changed.


Dorothy left Belstead School in December 1912.


I have a teaching reference for Dorothy written by Mrs Hervey (principal of Belstead School) some time after Dorothy had left.  It is dated 9th July 1914. It sounds as if Dorothy was thinking of starting a school in Melbourne at this time.  There is also a Certificate of Registration as a Primary School Teacher from the Education Office Melbourne dated 28th August 1916.  It is possible that at each of these two dates pregnancy intervened before any teaching job was pursued.  The reference reads as follows:

I have much pleasure in testifying to the excellent qualifications of Mrs Hugh Thring for undertaking in the best way the education of children.  Mrs Thring taught during the three years she was at my school (Jan 1910 to Dec 1912) the following subjects:-  English Literature, and Recitation, Mathematics (Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry), German, Drawing and Needlework.

Her zeal and enthusiasm awakened keen interest in her pupils; added to this she threw herself heartily into all school life socially and intellectually, and helped largely in the character training and development of individual children, winning their warm affection and confidence.

She was very helpful and clear-headed in arranging time tables and organizing things with me for the benefit of the children, and very ready with help and sympathy at all times, with plenty of cheerful resource on difficult occasions.

I feel sure that were Mrs Thring to start a school, parents would have every confidence in her educational and sympathetic training of those put into her charge.



In October 1906 Dorothy started writing poems in a chunky lined exercise book, and has written on the front cover “My Rhymes”.  It is a collection of more than a hundred poems; the last one written in April 1913.  Some are humorous, some philosophical, some religious, some record a visit to Sweden and Iceland, some record political happenings, one is in French and the styles are various.  They also document her longing for children.  She started writing them while a student at University College, continued when she was teaching at Belstead School and stopped soon after she married.  She wrote 29 poems in 1908 (the most in a year) and only 6 in 1910 (which must have been her first year of teaching).  Most of the following quotations track an unhappy love affair (my father says that “my sister Bryn tells me that she was jilted by a cousin”), the recovery from the grief it entailed and then the dawning of love for Hugh.  However one earlier one from September 20th 1908 is of great interest because it discusses a topic which much interested all three of her children:

                                                            Depressed Doggerel

                                                Our dazed thoughts in a circle go

                                                Why, why, why?  Does nobody know

                                                What we are for, or why we live –

                                                Can no one ever an answer give?

                                                Will nobody ever tell us why

                                                We are born, we live and die

                                                Ever the question comes again

                                                ‘What is the good?’ is its refrain

                                                ‘Is it worth while to live at all?

                                                Is there no god to hear our call?


                                                No one can tell us, and if they could

                                                Their efforts wouldn’t be any good

                                                For from each separate heart must come

                                                A reason for life – though there are some

                                                Who simply believe what they are told

                                                For them must life seem a path of gold.


On March 16th 1911 she writes a poem “To him I love” which ends:

                     They say

                                                You’re good, you’re kind, you’re gentle and beloved!

                                                And yet your cruelty eats out my life!


On March 17th 1911 is a sad poem entitled “To Death” and on April 27th there is ‘The Song of the Woman who is Unloved’.  The grief culminates on April 30th in this poem called Love:

                                                It is so horrible to be alive

                                                Oh God! The days, the endless long-drawn hours

                                                My heart is a dull weight of heavy pain

                                                At night “Would it were day” and all day long

                                                I struggle not to scream “Would it were night!”

                                                Is there no end, Oh God?  Are all the powers

                                                Turned to the making of new worlds where strive

                                                In woeful agony undying souls?

                                                Help me at least to fringe my pain all round

                                                With gentleness (if men are made less sad

                                                Thereby) and oh, give me an iron case

                                                Wherein to hide my shrinking, bleeding soul.

                                                I am all pain, and the one thing on earth

                                                That is still sweet is ever-gentle Death.

                                                Oh Death, be merciful and come to me.



By May 1911 she has at least regained her sense of humour and writes as follows:

                                                Pain is my portion:

                                                No one shall know it.

                                                Joy have I never:

                                                None see I forgo it

                                                “Happy she is” they say,

                                                “Happy and cheerful”

                                                So is the inward pain

                                                Rendered less fearful.



In the night watches

                                                Hug I my grief

                                                It is so sharp it brings

                                                Joy: and relief!


                                                Yet thou, God, knowest

                                                How joy would burn

                                                Flesh and soul in one flame

                                                “Through pain you learn”.


Several more very sad poems follow, and then nothing between September 21st and December 17th except for a torn out page.  The December 17th poem is as follows:

                                                ‘Looking Back’

How real and deep it seemed-

                                                My little sorrow:

                                                When I nor hope nor dreamed

                                                Of a glad morrow.


                                                If I were not so blind

                                                To what comes after,

                                                In all my griefs I’d find

                                                True cause for laughter!


                                                If you are gay, be glad!

                                                And, if you’re weeping

                                                Know: Time swings soon from sad

                                                Backward to sleeping.


On March 11th 1912 follows a poem called ‘Happiness’ and in June an untitled poem talks of “him I love” and her “true love” for him.  On 27th November there is a passionate love poem entitled “To my Beloved” and on 29th November is a poem called “The Fourth Dimension”.  It ends:

There are greater richer sorrows there; and work that’s music’s soul,

And love, that here we know in part is there a perfect whole. 

Her interest in the fourth dimension greatly intrigued my father, who had even invented a fifth dimension long before he read his mother’s poem.  The book of poems was given to me (I think by my mother) when I was a child and I always treasured it.  My father was unaware that I had the book until I talked to him about it roughly twenty years ago. He was very thrilled to read the poems because he felt they were a direct link to his mother’s thoughts, and I feel the same.



Hugh Thring was born on 30th May 1873 in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire.  He was the ninth child of Lydia Meredith and the Rev John Charles Thring.  Med Thring (my own father) records that “they (i.e. Lydia and John Charles) had a very lovely house, the Chantry, where my father was brought up, playing with (sic) the river, making boats and steam engines.  They had a treadle lathe on which metal could be turned”. Hugh’s older brothers were educated at Marlborough College and Cambridge, and his sister Nona went to Cambridge.  Apparently there were no funds left to educate the two youngest children, Hugh and Ernest, so they both joined the Navy at the age of 13.  Hugh was on HMS Britannia[75] from 1886 to 1888 and passed out first in Term with the rank of midshipman.  Med says “he never spoke of this but I believe he had to survive some pretty rough treatment from the older ones”. It is reported that bullying and fagging on the Britannia at this time had got beyond a joke and that the punishment system for trivial offences was inhuman[76].


Another of Med’s recollections is as follows: “Once he told me how the Mediterranean Fleet, which had sails and steam, held drill practice on the masts every day, controlled by a megaphone from the shore, and that most days one man fell to his death from the rigging”. 


The service record of Hugh’s navy career has phrases in the remarks column such as: promising youngster, zealous, VG physique, great zeal, strongly tipped for advancement, most zealous and tactful.


In 1900 Hugh received a commendation for bravery from the Admiralty for extinguishing a dangerous cordite fire in the magazine of the battleship Revenge.  Thanks to his skill as a mathematician he specialised in gunnery. In 1902 he invented one of the first “change of range indicators”.  Its purpose was to enable the gunnery officer of a battleship to make speedy calculations concerning the time taken by the ship to move 50 yards, in relation to the change in distance from the target.  This ensured more accurate firing of the ship’s guns.  A summary of Hugh’s career in the article describing the above instrument contains the following: “described by a contemporary as a “clever, silent, well-informed man”. 


Med continues: “he received the Japanese order of the Rising Sun 4th class as he was one of the officers in the British Battleship watching the Russian fleet being sunk by the Japanese at Port Arthur in 1905”.  Hugh progressed through postings on various ships and rose upwards through the ranks to become captain by 1911. 


Med also tells us: “In about 1911, he was serving as Flag Lieutenant to Lord Charles Beresford, admiral of the channel fleet.  I think it was then that he grew a beard as there was not time to shave every day with 4 hour watches.  He got on very well with Beresford, but unfortunately at this point Beresford had a quarrel with the first sea lord, Jackie Fisher, who ran the Admiralty with his own nominees so it was called “the Fishpond”.  As a protégée of Beresford this ruined my father’s career chances and he resigned in 1912.”.  Promotion in the navy at this time very much depended on personal recommendation; by being so strongly linked to Beresford my grandfather felt that his career was completely blocked.  As his service record states “specially recommended for promotion by Admiral Rice 1903” and all the remarks on his record are highly complimentary this must have been a big disappointment to him.


Med remembers that when in his teens: “We used to have great discussions over meals, on politics, religion, his voyages, science, psychology etc.  My father’s views on politics were quite simple; he divided the powerful into (firstly) politicians; who were only in it for their own benefit, and (secondly), statesmen; who really wanted to improve the lot of the ordinary person.  Statesmen were very rare and he did not recognise any at the time.”


Med also says; “My father told me that he had studied the religions of all parts of the world where he had found himself in his naval career.  He had reached the definite conclusion that they all had the same idea at base, but that priests had distorted them differently for their own aggrandisement.  


He was anxious to get his children to see that there was something deeper in life and wrote a very careful essay on 'intuition’ which he read to us.  He also said (following Buddha) ‘believe nothing anybody tells you, not even what I tell you.  I only give you material for thinking about.’

He once helped me write an essay on an ideal society for the 6th form debating society at Malvern.  I had the greatest admiration for his clear thinking.


Uncle Ernie once said to me that Daddy should have been a ‘don’, and certainly he was deeply interested in the history of trade routes, but he was also interested in the theory of warfare”.



I know nothing about how Dorothy and Hugh met, nor about their courtship.  However I do have their original Certificate of Marriage.  They married at St Mary’s Kilburn NW on the 11th January 1913; Dorothy’s address was 40 West End Lane, Hampstead and Hugh’s was Dunmow Essex and their official witnesses were Lionel C R Thring, Hugh’s uncle, and Ernest H Starling, Dorothy’s stepfather.   Dorothy was 25 and Hugh 39. Apparently officers in the Navy were so busy progressing through the promotion ladder that they seldom married until their late thirties.[77]  An itemised list of 198 wedding presents in Dorothy’s handwriting survives so it must have been a well-attended wedding!  The presents are all small in size, presumably with the thought of the Australian venture to come, and vary from jewellery, lace collars, money, books, pictures, cushions, clocks and silver items through to thermos in case, and 2 lapis lazuli hat pins. The maids at Mill Edge (her Aunt Ella’s house) gave a handkerchief case, and the maids at 40 West End Lane (her parents’ house) gave a ladle.  I wish that I had some wedding photographs. 


They left for a honeymoon in Switzerland on 28th January and three post cards that Dorothy wrote in this time have survived.

From Dorothy to Ella post mark Gstaad (Bern) 30.1.13

Ever so many thanks for your letter and present and good wishes. Hugh didn’t forget to give it to me.  We had a splendid journey and I slept all the morning and in the afternoon I went ski-running with Hugh.  H thinks I can ski quite well and am up to small expeditions.  Such a nice pension[78].  Bright weather – no skating – ski running fair.

My very best love to Mrs Hervey and love to all the school and both of our loves to you


To Ella post mark Gstaad (Bern) 4.2.13

Congratulate me please!  I can do the Telemark turn!!!  I am so pleased with myself.  I’m going to attack the Christiana tomorrow.  Some ladies friends (sic) of Hugh’s called on me today – I was out, but it was the first time, so I thought it rather a joke.

Wed evening to Montreux, where we stay the night.  7a.m. – 11.16 p.m. to Florence where we stay till 1.35 on the following day – arriving at Naples at midnight.  We leave with the Osterley in the afternoon, so we shall see something of 2 cities.  Love from Do.

Love to Babs and Mrs Hervey.


To Miss Ursula Starling (i.e. her youngest sister), who must have become a pupil at Belstead while Dorothy was teaching there. Postmark as above 5.2.13


I am sending you two penholders with Bears on them and if they both arrive safe, I want you to give one of them to GG.  Poor thing, it is tiresome for her to be in quarantine!  But I suppose she’ll be out soon now.  It is such lovely weather and today for the first time we are going to skate so we stay another day and travel straight through from Montreux to Naples.  Yesterday we went an expedition on ski!  Please write to me every week from now and address c/o Navy Office, Melbourne, Australia.

Have you had your 2 photographs?




I have a home made book with lino-printed cover containing photographs that were possibly put together by one of Dorothy’s sisters for her to take to Australia.  It starts with photos of Dorothy in Schenectady New York[79], next is a photograph of the mistresses at Belstead, which shows Aunt Ella, Dorothy and Mrs Hervey and is dated Easter Term 1909. There are numerous photographs of a skiing holiday in La Bretaye in January 1912 at which were present Mr and Mrs Hervey, Aunt Ella, Stewart Crum and Dorothy.  Then there are photographs of all her siblings and a picture of “Mother and Granny at the end of the garden in West End Lane”.  Mother (i.e. Florence) looks relaxed with her feet up and Granny is sitting upright wearing a long dark skirt, a black bonnet and a shawl. For some unknown reason a photograph of “Meredith Thring and his 10ft 4in tiger” is included. Meredith Thring was Hugh’s eldest brother, known to us as Uncle May. There is a picture of Phyllis playing the piano, and also “at plantains” on the tennis lawn, of John on his bike, of Ursula up a tree, of Muriel looking very smart and of a tennis party at which were present various doctors.  The tennis lawn and tennis parties seem to have been an important feature of Starling family life, and it was perhaps Phyllis’s duty, or pleasure, to remove the plantains from it.  I can remember having a fascination for weeding the lawn when I was a child; helped by the fact that we were paid for each weed produced.



After their honeymoon Dorothy and Hugh went out to Melbourne, Australia where he became assistant to the first Naval Member of the Australian Naval Board.  From 1914 to 1918 he was director of the Royal Australian navy war staff.


Dorothy wrote only four poems after her marriage. I can only assume that life was so fulfilling that she no longer felt the urge to write poetry.  The poem entitled ‘Written when Hugh was away at Darwin’ shows her happiness:

                                    Unwrapped warm in your love, I lie and dream

                                                Of the child that is to be.

                                    And I know the calm of the once wild stream

                                                At rest in the infinite sea.


                                    May our sons, O my love, be loyal like you,

                                                And tender, and noble and free;

                                    May our daughters be safe in a love as true

                                                As the love you bear to me.

The very last poem, ‘To my Wanderer’ is another love poem. 


When Dorothy and Hugh arrived in Australia Med records that “they bought a cottage at Eltham a car drive outside Melbourne.  My father built a large extension to this, he always greatly enjoyed the carpentry of building”.  I have a drawing by Dorothy, and a plan of the house plus extension, that was obviously sent home to the family in England.  There is another photo of the unfinished extension with Hugh, Bryn and a toddling Med pottering around inside it.  The house appears to be entirely made of wood and is fairly primitive.


Med tells three stories of Hugh’s time in Australia in the 1914-18 war:

1.”When war broke out he sent a lieutenant to take over a German Merchant Ship in harbour.  The lieutenant went to bed in the captain’s cabin, and in the middle of the night the captain crept in and started to lift a floorboard.  The lieutenant switched on the light, pointed his revolver, and captured a German Naval codebook.  For the next 3 months all signals received by the Admiralty in London were sent by cable to Melbourne to be decoded, until the Germans changed the code”.

2. “He made the first ever use of radio location. The Emden, a large German merchant ship equipped with 4 inch guns was raiding and sinking British merchant ships in the neighbourhood.  She had a base on an island and was sending out radio signals.  By using box aerials in two separated locations my father organized two direction fixes; when the aerial was rotated to make the signal loudest, the axis of the box points towards the sender.  From 2 locations he pinpointed the Emden and sent HMAS Sydney, with 8 inch guns, to destroy her. I think that it was for this that he was awarded the CBE”.




Dorothy and Hugh outside Buckingham Palace after the presentation of his CBE, exact date unknown


3. “In 1919 his last job for the Australian Navy was to write a report to the Australian Government on the likelihood of Japan trying to invade Australia because they were so overcrowded.  In 1942 he told me that the Japanese were using exactly the strategy he had predicted: leapfrogging down the islands of the pacific.”



They had three children:

Brynhild Wooldridge born 20th November 1913

Meredith Wooldridge born 17th December 1915

Jane Felicity born 15th September 1917


Like many new parents, Dorothy and Hugh kept a large and detailed baby book for their first child.  One diary sentence appeals to me: “On Saturday December 20th her Father and Mother took her for the first walk in her perambulator.  They went after dinner at about 8 o’clock to a seat they often walked to before she was born, from which they could watch the sky at sunset.”  This entry is in Hugh’s writing. 

Later in the book are numerous of Bryn’s amusing sayings.  This is a selection:

Mother: “You should wipe your mouth with your napkin Bryn, that’s what it’s for”.  Bryn: “Then what’s a tongue for?”

“How did you all get big when it takes me such a long time?”

Hugh: “Have you been a good little girl?” Bryn: “No, but I will tomorrow”.

B hits her father on the head with Dutch hoe and D says “If you murder my husband I’ll give you beans!” B: “Oh, do give me some beans because I have murdered Daddy haven’t I?”


Another diary entry from the baby book reads:

B wants to give Med away now she has the wished-for baby sister.  She dresses him up, finds him some toys, and gives him to Mr Bird.



Dorothy, holding Jane and with Bryn and Med, outside the house in Eltham


There are numerous family photographs from this time, mostly taken by Hugh, showing Dorothy with the children.  They all look very relaxed and happy, and the enthusiastic notes that accompany them for her family back in England show how much Dorothy was enjoying life.  There is a very complete photographic record of this time in Australia because Dorothy was sending home such regular missives. Some photographs of Hugh with the children and a sketch by Dorothy of him reading to Bryn and Med while they sit on his knee, indicate that he was a “hands on” father. 


The baby book for Med is physically half the size of the one for Bryn and I am sorry to say that it peters out completely after four sides of fairly basic information.  I don’t know if they even started one for Jane but on this evidence I would guess not.



Several letters and a post card survive from the Australian period.

(i) From Phyllis Starling to Dorothy Thring Nov 21st 1913 on receiving the news of Bryn’s birth

Address: “At home”

My darling Do

I’ll tell you how we received the LOVELY news- Telegram boy announced his arrival by loud rat-tat.  Phyllis went to the door – Oh, a telegram for Mrs Florence Starling- Then at the back of her mind she wondered what it meant, never dreaming what it might contain.  She ran upstairs to Mother who was resting “Open it darling “ said Mum sleepily.  Phyllis did so, and read “Daughter”, the first word was enough for her to realize the situation – “and Pen cannot describe the happy scenes over which we draw a veil” – (Peter Pan!)  Then hastily did Phyllis write to Aunt Ella and Babs, who will be in the same state of gladness by this time.  Oh, how I should LOVE to see the darling little Bryn, you must photograph her at once Do darling because just think how we are longing to get a little glimpse of our little niece!  We were so surprised that it was so soon, but ever so glad.  What I said to Mother was, “I’m glad it’s a girl because my frock will suit a girl better than a boy!”  Mother laughed – I should think she’d be well set up with clothes for years to come, yea, even until the age of 10!  (Mother said indignantly “Ursula wore that dress when she was 6, but we teased her about it and she laughed with us!  She always does when we all tease her together.  There’s one joke that always makes Mother laugh, I can’t think why.  If we say she’s among her progeny it always amuses her!!  It is now 10 past 9 and in 5 minutes I must go off to College, so I had better stop now.

With very much love to all the family (Mummy, Papa and the Baby!)

Your loving sister Aunt Phil!




Hugh demonstrating his skills as a “hands-on” father


(ii) From Aunt Ella to the new born Bryn

Saturday Nov 22nd 1913

Hotel du Chateau, Vevey, Switzerland.

My precious little godchild and great niece

It was lovely of you to arrive on my birthday – the most beautiful gift in the whole world.  And that very day I had been saying and wondering if you could do so delightful a thing.  And I think you must have known how much I wanted you to - And you came, and this, perhaps your first letter, is just to tell you, all to yourself, how much I have been longing for a god-daughter, and how much I love her, and how greatly I long to see her, and hold her in my arms.  Give your mother and father my love, my darling and many kisses to your tiny self.

Your most loving Aunt Ella


(iii) From Muriel Starling to the new born Bryn

Friday Dec 5th 1913

Dearest Brynhild

Please accept this little gift, which is to bring you happiness, not only on your Christening Day, but all your life, if this can be brought about by the many good wishes of your very loving godmother and Aunt, Muriel

(iv) Post card to Mrs Hugh Thring at 12 Myamyn Street, Malvern Melbourne Australien

From Phyllis Starling at Hotel Concordia ?Zuoz, Switzerland

Christmas Day (1913)

My darling Do

This is to wish you very very many happy returns of your birthday.  I’m only writing a card as Mumu is telling all the news in her letter.

Last Monday we 3 took the train to St Moritz (20 mins) to buy Papa a pr. of ski.  We walked up the mt. above St. M. and had lunch on the wayside, during which an itinerant photographer came along and took this!  We had tea in St. M and watched some tobogganing.  The views here are most beautiful.  Papa thinks we must all come next year to Gstaad, or somewhere where Aunt Ella is.

Very best love to all Phil.

The photograph on the front of the post card shows Muriel (aged 18), Phyllis (15 or 16) and Ernest looking very relaxed under a tree and in Phyllis’s hand writing is written “Lunch by the wayside St Moritz Dec. 22nd 1913.  Henderson[80] records that Ernest and Muriel were fond of walking but that Florence and Ursula were not; so I guess that Florence, John and Ursula stayed at base during this expedition.


(v) Extract from a letter from Florence Starling to Dorothy[81]

Nov 20th (1914)

Darling Do

Little Bryn is a year old today and we have not yet seen her!  But you and Hugh are having all the pleasure in the world out of her, and she is so thoroughly satisfactory in every way that we just enjoy her through you both.  It is delightful to think the little frocks are a success.  I thought those embroidered blue and pink ones would be most useful, as no pleat is needed.  You know the “first” drawers[82] don’t take much making, just triangles put into a band with a button and buttonhole at bottom of each flap over and one at bottom to fasten between the legs.  

How splendidly Hugh has done!  But our line is so thin in the West; the French and we and the Belgians have not nearly enough men, and if it were not for Russia  (illegible)  off masses of Germans, they would have assuredly got to Paris before now.  It is all we can do to hold them


Aunt Ella kept two of the letters that Dorothy wrote her during the Australian years.

(vi) Eltham May 26 1918

Dearest Aunt Ella

Thank you so much for the sweater you have made for Jane.  It will be ever so nice for her, but I think I shall keep it for next winter, as it is nice and big and she has plenty of ordinary woollen coats now which would not be suitable then.  It is a very good idea to send the parcels registered to Hugh, we don’t have to pay duty and they come safely.  I have just made Bryn some heather-mixture stockings (she has only blue and white ones) and soon I will make her a brown corduroy skirt to go with the green jersey and cap.  I think that will look jolly don’t you?  I have just got out for her the frock I wore at my Mother’s wedding and it fits her nicely.

I have been making Med 5 or 6 new rompers and I wanted to try one on and he said ‘No, because tiger might come!’  Bryn always says in her prayers ‘and bring the war to an end’.  Med insists on saying his and copying her and said ‘ring the water!’  Nurse took Bryn to Sunday school today and taught the babies.  She is so nice.  Hugh and I went to church.

Yesterday we went (B and I) to tea at Traills – Mrs Rutter and Mrs Withers too – to say goodbye to John Traill, 19, soon to leave with the flying corps.  I am going to ask Mother to ask him to stay when he gets leave on landing in England.

 Bryn can now knit a row of plain knitting.  Last week I did 5 and half feet of knitting – 7 arm stump socks 9 inches long and part of a stocking for Bryn.  This week I have made Bryn a pair of stockings –15-inch legs too. 

I have got to have a doing at the dentist’s.  I have been twice – never mind, I have better teeth than most Australians half my age! 

One morning Med came into our bedroom when his father was at home and I said “Don’t you love darling daddy?” and he said “ I love daddy’s darling bedroom!” 

I have been reading Romeo and Juliet to Hugh. 

So many thanks for the New Statesman.  It is much appreciated.  Mrs Latham used to read it too.

Bryn, when I asked her what she thought she was made of, answered “Food”. 

With much love from Do


Jane makes funny faces just as the others used.


(vii) From Dorothy to Aunt Ella

Heading: Eltham Vic.  Sun Nov 17th 1918

Dearest Aunt Ella

The great event, of course, is the signing of the armistice, about which we are all very happy.  I enclose the notice about Hugh’s appointment and a copy of some praise of the admiral.

Yesterday the children had their second morning’s lessons with Miss Sweeney, this time at Myamyn Garth[83], as Hugh was at home (Sat till Thursday, comes back on Friday morning and joins Encounter on Monday 25th)  This time the class consisted of 5 as it included Phyllis.  The children are learning “Here’s a ball for baby”, Looby Loo”, “London Bridge is broken down” and “God save the King”.  We pay 1/- for each child, and of course we carry on a little during the week. 

I have lately had 3 fine calves, 2 heifers and a bull.  I am not selling any cattle now as they are very low in price, but I hope they will go up in the autumn and then I will sell them before we come to England, in June, I hope.  I have now 13 head of cattle.

When you get your parcel from me, tell me if you would like another, and what I shall put in it.  Uncle Laurence[84] has sent some to England at my suggestion.


Nov 20  Bryn’s and your birthday- but we kept Xmas. Father Xmas came down the dining room chimney and gave the 8 children (Rutter’s, Rouse’s and Thrings and all the grown ups, such a lot of presents).  Mrs Rutter, her nurse, Hugh and I had dinner at the veranda table and Boy, David, Bryn and Merry at the little table on the veranda.  We had a turkey, but it was so little we had to have a pullet as well. (I killed it, I have now killed 4 ! ! !  With the large axe! )  And plum pudding, and gooseberry fool with strawberries on it, for the children.  And a ham.

And the living room was done with Xmas lilies (lilium album multiflorum) like in the photograph on Jane’s christening day and masses of love in the mist and red roses – red, white and blue, of course.  And all the children were so happy.

Here follows a long list of all the presents given to Bryn, Merry and herself …. Hugh gave me a tortoiseshell and silver hair brush, scrumptious, and a light wheelbarrow in which father Xmas had his bundles.  It was draped with the printed voile dress lengths which he gave the 3 girls

And the English mail (two of them) came in today and a nice letter from John, which is unusual for me, as well as 2 each from the regulars!

And we had high tea at 6 because dinner was so late and Bryn and Boy stayed up and we had ham and Xmas cake and cherries and lollies, and scone (hot) and cakes. And when it was dark we went out and had a bonfire and left the 3 youngest in the house; we sang all the songs and hymns and carols we could think of and danced Sir Roger and the Swedish by the light of the bonfire!  And that’s all!  And Hugh is waiting for me to go to bed!  I do wish you could have some of the lovely fat cherries I am eating now!

Sun.  Hugh and I went up to town on Thursday and he came to tea at the Lyceum and so did Mr Stead and then he went to the office to find they’d been looking for him all over the place, the Encounter had gone and he was to follow her to Sydney on Friday and sail immediately for Samoa, cutting enclosed to explain why.

Much love from Do.


There are in fact three cuttings, one which states that Captain Walter H C S Thring RAN has been appointed from the Navy Office, Melbourne, where he has been in charge of the War Staff and Intelligence Section, to the command of the HMAS Encounter.  The next cutting has a headingSamoa Stricken 80 per cent of natives suffering”. It goes on to say that many deaths had occurred and that “the medical staff were in urgent need of assistance and medicine”. The last one states that on arrival “it was found that the epidemic had subsided, but that 10 per cent of the inhabitants were dead”.  It ended “the Encounter will shortly return to Sydney”.


In a paper written later by Hugh about this episode and entitled – “Naval Operations in the Pacific in 1914 An Australian Point of View” he says “six weeks were lost over the Samoa expedition and could not be made up.  He concludes: “Of course the Admiralty were occupied with far more important matters than war in the Pacific.  The pity was that they interfered at all.  The obvious and only course is for the Admiralty to lay down such plans as are necessary for general co-ordination and to leave the operations to the local commands, always giving them all available information.  No man, even in peace time, can grasp the situation in the Pacific from this side of the world.  My recent experience at the Admiralty has made me quite certain of this”.  Hugh in his retirement wrote many thoughtful documents on navy history and strategy, many of which were kept by Med.


Dorothy, as a naval wife, must have spent much time on her own.  She seems to have become a keen keeper of livestock, which she followed up on a smaller scale on her return to England.  I find

this extraordinary as she was born and brought up in London and presumably knew nothing about livestock farming before she went to Australia.


Lydia Meredith’s[85] memoir, written when she was 90, contains an extract from a letter written by Hugh in 1914 while he was in Australia, to his sister Gertie back in England:

“ I had a visit yesterday from a Mrs Davy, a fine looking woman of 70, who reminded me strongly of father.  Her maiden name was Thring, and she came to Australia with her father when she was 10 years old.  Her grandfather owned a farm, Bulbridge near Wilton (near Salisbury) and had 5 children: Henry(an explorer who crossed Australia with Donald Stuart and was the father of Dr Thring of Sydney, William (father of Mrs Davy), Sophia, Edward (a clergyman) and Thomas (a lawyer at Wilton.  She was passing through Melbourne, so called on me.  Her husband (I think) owns some kind of tug on the Upper Murray, or her son runs it, I am not sure which”.



In Hugh’s own words concerning the end of the time in Australia: “Commanded cruiser Encounter for a few months 1918-19.  Returned to England 1919 for command of cruiser Brisbane, but health broke down.  Returned to Navy Office, Melbourne end of 1919 and home again in 1920 as Liaison Officer for RAN at Admiralty. 


Med records:

“In 1919 he (i.e. Hugh) came back to England in command of a battleship, and then for about 3 years had a job in Australia House in London.  My mother brought us over on the passenger ship SS Themistocles, we called it the ‘Mister Clees’. At one point in the Indian Ocean we were stopped by Admiral Jellicoe, so that his pinnace could take my mother and we 3 children to have tea with the Admiral who was a personal friend of my father.  I have heard that he used many of my father’s ideas.  I was a naughty boy of 3 and threw a sailor’s cap into the sea.  I also remember that when we were told that a man could get into the 16 inch guns, I asked for a demonstration and an unfortunate seaman was hoisted up to put his legs into the barrel.   The only other thing I remember about the journey was that Mother brought over racks of dried apricots and that I once swallowed 5 prune stones when her back was turned for a moment”.  There is a photograph of Med and Bryn on the deck of the Themistocles happily engrossed in playing with a pile of toys which are on the seat and footrest of a wooden steamer chair.



Hugh (centre) on board ship


Med continues: “When we first came over we lived with my mother’s mother and step-father (Prof Ernest Starling) in West End Lane and then took a house in Greenwich.  I remember my father making us a model boat we could sit in on the lawn, and his having a bonfire in which he burnt all the explosive he had emptied out of his revolver cartridges, when the peace treaty was signed.”


The only other photographs from this time are three of Jane with Granny Florence, several of the children and Dorothy in the garden in Blackheath, and four of Bryn and Med on a holiday at Over Woolacombe Farm in Devon in July 1921.


The following letters remain from the time in Greenwich:

Hugh Thring to Ella Crum 25th June 1919

From Brechfa S Wales

My dear Aunt Ella

I am very much touched by all you say in your letter to Do. It is good to be received so heartily into your family, you have all been very kind to me but to yourself in particular I owe a great debt of gratitude for your many acts of kindness and in particular for the very happy time we spent with you at Aldeburgh.

I hope I may not be very long away this time and that we shall ultimately be able to settle down happily in England.

At present the whole world is in such a state of unrest that the making of very definite plans is not practicable but we have our dreams of a happy life together in England.  Do has always been a splendid wife to me and also an ideal companion and friend so the parting from her and from the children is somewhat hard but we count ourselves very fortunate people who have tasted the best that life has to give and we confidently look forward to a happy future.

The children are all that we could wish and we hope to be able to bring them up well.

The sailing of my ship has been postponed until Monday so we are staying on here until Saturday when Do and Med will return to London and I shall go to Bristol or the whole way to Devonport.

Do is not quite strong yet and I hope she will be able to rest quietly and get quite well after I am gone.

I hope the time may not be long until we meet again.

Yours very lovingly Hugh Thring.

I’m not sure what the reference to “not quite strong yet” means but a cousin tells me that her mother always said that Dorothy’s health was ruined by the strain of having sole responsibility for three very young children on the six week sea journey from Australia.  This however, seems to me to be doubtful.



Bryn, Jane and Med in the boat their father made them


Aunt Ella’s visitors’ book, which records all her visitors from 1906, when she moved to Aldeburgh, up to 1939, confirms that Hugh and Dorothy stayed with her from May 19th to June 4th 1919 soon after their return.  In the 33 years covered by the visitors’ book Aunt Ella entertained literally hundreds of friends and relatives.  However it must have been pure pleasure for her as she had a cook, parlour maid and house maid to do all the work!  It is fascinating to see the signatures of so many relatives.  There are even early scrawls by Med one of which reads MEDBY.  He obtained his nick-name because he was first of all called Merry, from his full first name Meredith[86].  Bryn turned this into Meddy and it was then shortened to Med.  He was known as Med for the rest of his life.


From Dorothy Wooldridge to Bryn just dated Sat.

Address Eliot Vale Blackheath

Dearest Bryn

Here is your jersey, also two jersey vests in case the blue should be inharmonious!!

Our hen only has 2 chickens, we are so disappointed, because she sat so beautifully!

We spent the morning in the garden, planting and sowing.

With love to Aunt Ella

Ever your loving Mother


Letter from Dorothy Wooldridge to Bryn Thring Feb 18th

Address: 14 Eliot Vale S E 3

My darling Brynny

Yesterday I went into the garden and planted some bulbs into pots, 2 pots each of snowdrops and crocuses (in bud) one each for Med and Happy[87] and 2 for me and three bulbs in a pot for you which should develop when you come home.  I don’t know what they are, it will be exciting to see.

Did I tell you we have made you two new frocks, a government silk one, blue and green, and a rosy cretonne, very pretty.

 We are soon going to make a sand heap in the garden, probably next week.

 I send you a plait of sewing cotton to keep in your workbox; I hope you will find it useful.

We are all learning Italian.  Happy thinks it a great joke; she is also learning to make letters on the blackboard and Med is learning script.  He can nearly read now.

What a nice letter and what fun you had at the fancy dress party.

Dear love, Mother


From Dorothy to Bryn May 23 1922

Address: Eliot Vale, Blackheath, S E

In Bryn’s writing top left “Delivered at Mill Edge 1922”

Dearest Bryn

The Hiawatha is at grandpapas, Daddy can get it when he goes there.  I took it up for a reading book for Meddie.

Daddy and I were very pleased with your two nice letters, you used not to tell us so much at Godstowe[88], but it makes a big difference having Granny.  She is very good to write so much.  You are having a lovely time aren’t you?

I do so want a hammock and Daddy is going to see if he can make one out of some old stair carpet, with Elsie’s help.  Miss Macey is staying on here to look after the house and the children (for Med is coming home on Thursday) and then she will be able to look after me when I come out, so I may be able to come out a week sooner than if I didn’t have a nurse.

I sent Med’s white sailor suit to John Michael Gordon Smith, do you remember him?  His mother said it was just what she needed.

Auntie Violet is going to have an operation on the 29th, I wonder which of us will be well first?

We have given you an apple tree and it has flowered beautifully.  Daddy says the blossom is like me!  I am glad you are going to have a garden of your own, you have one here and it is sown all round with nasturtiums, but they haven’t come up yet.  It is splendid that you have such a chance of learning French.

Med is going to sleep in my bed, as he and Happy get into mischief when they are together and wake each other up.

Ever so much love, darling, from us both.

Your very loving Mother

Tragically this was possibly the last letter that Dorothy wrote.


Med takes up the story again.  1922 was the disaster year for my Father.  My Mother, to whom he was totally devoted, died of an embolism during an operation for removal of cancer in the bowel by the top surgeon Sir Arbuthnot Lane[89].  In the same year he was retired on half pay, not yet 50, and with no training for any other job.” 


In 1921 Edward Geddes was appointed to chair a committee on government expenditure.  Its report came out in February 1922 and resulted in cuts in the army, navy, education and public health.  These cuts were known as the Geddes Axe and as a result of them Hugh lost his job.  In his own words “This office was done away with in the economies of 1922   Offered unimportant job in Australia but decided to resign, as I did not wish to take my children out there again”.  Hugh was thereafter on a pension of half pay, and for the next 15 years could have been called up in the case of war.


Med continues: “My father was heartbroken at the death of my Mother.  I can remember seeing him pacing in the garden, struggling to come to terms with the end of his short 9-year period of real happiness.  When he died I found a piece of paper which he carried in his wallet:

3rd June 1922

All is right.

There is no cause for mourning.

We can best make her happy by being happy ourselves

Love one another and keep her loving memory bright.

Don’t worry about trying to understand the future life, remember it’s all right.

(I cannot read the last line but I think it says “Don’t be an idiot.)”


The death certificate shows the place of death as 2 Beaumont Street and the cause of death as:

1. Intestinal obstruction 9 months  2. Pulmonary embolism. The death was certified by E H Starling MRCS (her stepfather).  The name and residence of the informant is Ernest Thring, brother in law, 9 Bessborough Gardens SW1 i.e. Hugh’s youngest brother.


I have a letter Hugh wrote to Bryn a year later:

From Hugh Thring to Bryn 30 May 1923

From: Fox and Hounds Hotel

My darling Brynnie

Thank you very much for your sweet little letter and for the birthday shield with its good wishes.

It is very pretty and beautifully done, did you design it yourself?

Your letter too was very nicely written, it is so much better to get into the way of writing well when you are young.  I had to try to improve my writing after I had grown up and I have never made a great success of it.

This is a day of sad memories; this day last year I saw your darling mother alive for the last time.  We cannot help being sorry that we no longer have her sweet presence with us and her help in our daily affairs but we can be quite sure that all is well with her and we can be thankful that she has no longer to suffer pain.

I am leaving here tomorrow but shall stay one night in Bristol as I have some things to do there and cannot fit in the trains to do them in one day.


The weather has been very cold and rather wet all the time I have been here but I think my stay has done me good.  I like to get out by myself on the desolate moor.  I have caught a few fish on each day I have been out and on Saturday they were really rising for two or three hours.  I caught thirty that day.  Yes, I eat some of those I catch.

I have had this hotel to myself most of the time, as people do not come here until the summer,

I’m afraid there is no chance of my coming to Aldeburgh for the half term, much as I would like to see you and Aunt Ella, to whom please give my love.

Ever your loving Daddy.


Aunt Ella kept a letter written to her sister Emmeline by the “old friend with whom Dorothy stayed in Sweden”. In it is the following:  “It is so nice to hear about Do’s children, they must be very intelligent and very nice.  Their mother one can never forget – she was so bright and charming.”


Twelve years later on the occasion of her 21st birthday Bryn received the following letter. It makes a very poignant ending to this memoir of Dorothy’s life.  Irene Dukes features on Dorothy and Hughes’ wedding present list and gave Chinese embroidery. 

From Irene Dukes to Bryn Thring November 18th 1934

Address: 19 Campden Hill Gardens London W 8

“Dear Bryn

It is a great occasion!  Perhaps you will be at home for it.  Anyway my very best wishes for the day and a happy future.

I’m putting in one or two tokens, the little “Tub” was a keep sake from Do in the last year, and the “Sonnets” were for our joint coming of age, (also) the photo in case you haven’t it already (though I expect you have), such a jolly likeness of you both!  Some time when we meet I’ll give you one or two of her letters, though I’ve been too much a wanderer to keep many relics – I wish I had more.

We had a glorious coming-of-age party in West End Lane –(Mrs Starling so kindly including me as mine was just after) – Dorothy was the most radiant witty creature – I suppose it should be some consolation that she got more sparkling fun and happiness into her 30 – odd years than the rest do into threescore-and-ten, but how you would all have adored her!

Love and best wishes – to Hugh, too, when you write, Irene


I knew my maternal grandmother well; but Dorothy was the grandmother I never met.  In fact her own children only knew her as a loving mother and didn’t know her on adult terms, as they were only 8, 6 and 4 when she died. They must have had very happy memories of their early childhood but they could not have appreciated her skills, talents and intelligence as an adult would.  Reading through the letters, poems and stories that she left, and poring over her scrapbooks and photographs has given me a clear idea of what her character was like.  It has also shown me how much of a loss she was; not only to her husband and children, but also to us as a grandmother.


In summary of my grandfather’s life the following is an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography:


THRING, WALTER HUGH CHARLES SAMUEL (1873-1949), naval officer, was born on 30 May 1873 at Bradford, Wiltshire, England, son of Rev. John Charles Thring, and his wife Lydia Eliza Dyer, née Meredith. In 1886 Thring entered H.M.S. Britannia, passing out two years later as midshipman. After heading the examination lists, he served from 1893 as gunnery lieutenant in the Channel, Pacific and China squadrons and the Mediterranean Fleet. He was promoted commander in 1903, became flag commander to Admiral Lord Charles Beresford in 1908 and shared in the admiral's eclipse in 1909. Thring's lines for Dumaresq's rate of change of bearing instrument were adopted by the Royal Navy's gunnery. He chose early retirement in February 1911.

Next year the Australian Naval Board was looking for a gunnery expert as assistant to the first naval member, Rear Admiral Sir William Creswell, and in December Thring accepted the appointment to the Royal Australian Navy. On 11 January 1913 at St Mary's Church, Kilburn, London, he married Dorothy Wooldridge and on the 28th they left England; their three children were born in Australia. Shortly after Thring's arrival in Melbourne the Naval Board required him to accompany the second naval member and the chief of the general staff, Brigadier General J. M. Gordon, to northern Australia and Papua. Seeing the futility of such a mission without a strategy for the naval defence of Australia, Thring advocated an early form of forward defence against Japan. He proposed naval bases at Bynoe Harbour, Northern Territory, and at the south-eastern tip of New Guinea. He appreciated the necessity for an Australian naval staff, developed a system of naval intelligence and produced a comprehensive war book which was completed only a few weeks before August 1914. His foresight meant that Australia entered World War I with a high degree of naval preparedness.

Insisting on the priority of eliminating German warships in the Pacific, Thring had successfully pressed the Naval Board to take precautionary steps on the eve of war; on 4 August he secured his minister's support for a request to the Admiralty to change the war orders of the battle-cruiser H.M.A.S. Australia. The result was the speedy appearance of Australian warships in Rabaul harbour. Frustrated by orders from London to seize Germany's Pacific possessions, Thring never understood or excused British disregard of the Australian navy's wish to act with maximum strategic orthodoxy.

Acting second naval member for three months from October 1914, Thring was promoted captain and appointed director of (naval) ordnance from January 1915. As director of war staff he became the genius of whatever wartime autonomy the Naval Board preserved. In the Navy Office A. W. Jose was required to analyse the history of the R.A.N.'s wartime operations. He and Thring prepared for Prime Minister W. M. Hughes the navy's views on post-war naval policy in the Pacific.

The collection of Pacific naval intelligence continued and an expansion of naval censorship and counter-intelligence work led to conflicts with other surveillance organizations. In March 1918 the head of the Counter Espionage Bureau, (Sir) George Steward, complained that—according to Admiral Creswell—'practically the whole of the administrative work of the Commonwealth Navy had been and was being carried out by Captain Thring'. Before Lord Jellicoe arrived in Australia, Thring's health broke down, but Jellicoe's reports reflected much of Thring's strategy.

Routine tasks were found for him in England and Australia until his appointment in early 1920 as Australia's naval liaison officer with the Admiralty in London. In 1922 his wife died. Soon afterwards Thring was eased out of his post and he resigned from the R.A.N. He had been appointed C.B.E. in 1920. Left with his young children, for a short time Thring farmed in Gloucestershire and then established a school at Leiston, Suffolk, in which village on 11 July 1927 he married a widow Syria Elmslie Pearson, née Horwood. Survived by his wife, and by two daughters and a son of his first marriage, he died on 17 January 1949 at Bristol.


Hugh Thring in later life



All three obtained first class honours degrees from Cambridge.


Bryn worked first as an employment supervisor at Ever Ready, then at the Board of Trade and briefly at the Treasury.  After the death of her great aunt, Ella Crum, she had enough income to stop work and lived modestly in Kingston Surrey.  After Bryn’s death we discovered that she could in fact have afforded to look after herself much better than she did.


Med worked first for two different research organisations and then became a Professor, first at Sheffield and then at Queen Mary College London.  His double first encompassed both maths and physics.


In addition to her Cambridge degree Jane qualified as a medical doctor and also as a psychologist.




Many dates are approximate because the age of the people is taken from 1891 and 1901 census information, and the exact date of the census information collection is not known.


Her mother was Margaret Simpson born about 1859

Her father was William Sullivan born about 1859

They married in 1881

Margaret was born 8th March 1882


Her known siblings were: 

Elizabeth born about 1885

John born about 1887

Maurice born about 1889

William born about 1891 but probably died very young

Emily born about 1897

Another William born about 1899


Margaret Sullivan married Robert Hooley (born 14th September 1883) on 16th April 1906

His mother was Ann Pearmain born 1858

His father was Henry Hooley born 1850


They had 3 children:

Alice Margaret Ann Hooley was born 28th February 1907

Ralph  Hooley was born 13th October 1912

Donald Rowland Hooley was born 28th September 1924


Margaret Sullivan died in 1954




My grandmother was slim and of medium height with very dark brown hair; snowy white by the time I knew her.  She was 60 when I was born but was vigorous and active to the end of her life.  My first memory of her is of having my face vigorously and painfully scrubbed with a damp flannel before leaving the house.  Appearances were very important to her; no grandchild of hers was going to go out with even a speck of dirt on her face.  If my grandmother was staying with us it was very important to be a proper “little lady” and always to wear a hat when out of doors.   Please note the photograph on the next page, in which she is paddling in the sea wearing a smart hat.  I also have a photograph taken when she lived with us in Sheffield.  We were having an autumn picnic in the Yorkshire dales and are lolling around in the sun; my grandma is sitting upright wearing an elegant coat with fur cuffs and of course a stylish felt hat.


I remember that I had a ghastly knitted beret in fair-isle pattern.  My grandma had a habit of pulling this beret sideways over one of my eyes, which she obviously thought looked good, but which I hated with a passion.  The photograph on the next page shows my beret at exactly the weird angle that I remember, and indeed I do look ridiculous.  To this day I am loath to wear a hat of any description.  For some reason John’s beret looks less strange; perhaps he adjusted its position.




My mother, grandfather and grandma on holiday in Hastings in 1923




My mother, Uncle Don, John and I out for a walk in Richmond Park in about 1947


Another early memory is of going to stay with my “grandma” on my own in Woodford (Essex). I think that my grandparents bought this house in 1929 when Robert retired from the police.  I can remember my mother saying that she encouraged them, against their custom and intuition, to buy rather than rent at this stage.  How right she was.  It was a terraced house and the address, found written at the beginning of one of my mother’s books, was 8 Lansdowne Road, South Woodford, E18.  The front room was for “best” and rarely used.  I remember it contained a table covered with a plush cloth with bobble fringe and a large model of a rearing horse under a glass case. My grandmother was extremely house-proud.  Her stone step outside the front door was given a fresh white covering every day using some kind of chalk that came in a block and was dampened before use.  My mother certainly didn’t feel it necessary to whiten our step and I guess this was just another way of keeping up appearances.  My grandmother had a curtain rail on the outside of the front door and when the sun was out the canvas curtain was always pulled across to cover the paint and stop it blistering.


At the back of my grandparent’s kitchen was a scullery with a built in copper in the corner. Early every Monday morning the fire beneath the copper was lit in preparation for the week’s wash. A copper held about twenty gallons of water and was a safer and speedier way of washing than boiling up the water on the range.[90]  The scullery was also equipped with a ribbed glass washboard on which the soaped, dampened clothes were rubbed to remove stains before going into the copper. Most of the wash was cotton or linen and could stand this rough treatment. “ Whites” went into the copper first, were removed and followed by the “coloureds”.  Any silk or woollen items were washed by hand.  After coming out of the copper everything had to be rinsed several times with cold water in the large square porcelain sink.  Starching, to add stiffness, and adding Reckitt’s “blue” to prevent a yellow tinge imparted by the soap, were other parts of the process at this stage.  Then after a wringing by hand, the water was removed from the washing using an enormous mangle with a handle.  My grandmother turned the handle, which caused the rollers to rotate, and I was allowed to feed the clothes between the rollers, which squeezed the water out of the clothes extremely efficiently.  The trick was not to get your fingers in the way of the rollers.  I remember that I enjoyed working with her, and the feeling of being useful; however I suspect that she would have managed just as well without me.  I thank my lucky stars that we now have washing machines and easy care fabrics.


Once the washing had been dried in the garden, or on wooden airers indoors, it had to be dampened and rolled up ready for ironing next day.  The ironing was done with a collection of flat irons, which were heated by standing them flat on the black leaded cast iron cooking range.  My grandmother’s flat irons were given to me and I believe that they belonged to her own mother. I have a memory of her showing me how to spit on your finger and then touch the wet finger on the base of the iron.  The amount of sizzling allowed her to judge expertly the exact temperature of the iron, and she never seemed to burn her fingers.  She always ironed the linen first, then the cotton, and the silk last as the iron was cooling down.  Naturally there were several irons in circulation.  If the iron was too hot disaster ensued.  The last part of the laundering process was careful airing on the wooden airers.  The Victorians greatly feared illness as a result of wearing damp clothes. TB and rheumatic fever were rife and damp conditions were thought to be causative factors for both of these illnesses. I was brought up to fear wearing damp clothes and always to dry myself meticulously after bathing. 


Monday lunch was always cold meat left from the Sunday joint, accompanied by “bubble and squeak” fried up from the cold potatoes and cabbage also remaining from Sunday.  It now seems extraordinary to me that my grandmother in the 1940s was still cooking on her old range and using her flat irons, when at home we had a gas cooker and an electric iron.  However I guess that she felt comfortable with the Victorian appliances she used earlier in life, and may even have mistrusted more modern equipment. 


The medium sized back garden was the province of my grand-dad and was immaculate; he was an expert and knowledgeable gardener.  He was very keen on dahlias and I remember watching him dig up the dahlia tubers in the autumn to store them in sturdy wooden boxes under the stairs for the winter.  My only other memory of him is of being shown his cigarette papers and tobacco tin and how to roll a cigarette.  To go back to the dahlias: if my grandmother heard a horse and delivery cart coming up the street (a reasonably frequent occurrence) she would peek through her lace curtains to see if the horse had left anything useful for the dahlias.  If the dahlias were lucky she would quietly sneak out with her bucket and shovel and carry the dung through the house to the back garden.  I guess that in this particular case her wish to keep up appearances was subservient to her wish to do what her husband wanted – they were a very devoted couple.  My grandfather was a skilled carpenter and had made much of their handsome furniture.  I remember that he had an upstairs workshop in the Woodford house and that he had to be careful not to tread the sawdust and wood shavings up and down the stair carpet. 


My grandmother had a venerable Singer treadle sewing machine on which I learned to sew.  I can remember her showing me various sewing techniques; in particular how to hand sew three parallel rows of gathering stitches, pull them up to the required length and then wind the threads around a pin to fix them.  She would then even out the gathers by carefully stroking them with another pin before stitching them in place.  She also showed me how to fold and pleat material firmly when making a straight hem in order to avoid using tacking stitches or pins.  I learned from the censuses only recently that her mother had been a tailor’s assistant and, that before her marriage at the age of 23, my grandmother herself had worked as a collar turner.


My grandma was a speedy and skilful knitter and used to make balaclava helmets and warm mittens for us to wear when out sledging – the winters in Sheffield were much colder then and we had about a month of snow every year.  She came to live with us when we moved away from London in 1952.


Margaret Sullivan loved the old music hall songs and sang to me, among others,  “Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do”, “He was a dear little dicky bird, tweet tweet tweet he went”, and “Oh what a surprise, two lovely black eyes”.   I can also remember her singing “the galloping major” to Rob when he was a toddler while bouncing him up and down on her outstretched lower leg.  These songs are all very tuneful, while some are histrionic and some very sentimental.  They must have been the pop songs of their day and many of them encapsulate the typically cheeky East End sense of humour.  I have discovered that it was the choruses and not the verses that my grandmother sang.  I suspect that she either heard these songs herself in the music halls, or heard other people singing them, but that she never learnt the words or tunes for the verses. 


My grandmother was keen on wise little maxims, many of which I still regularly recite to myself and even try to follow! However there was one that, even as a child, I found inexplicable and unpalatable.  The offending one was “Be good sweet maid and let who will be clever”.  This seems to be the Victorian implication that only women had to be good and only men were allowed to be clever.  The other annoying Victorian saying that used occasionally to be quoted to us by our parents, I think with tongue in cheek, was “Children should be seen and not heard”. The wise sayings I remember are: “Moderation in all things”, “A place for everything and everything in its place”, “One good turn deserves another” and “Look to the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you”.  My mother told me that my grandmother used to tell her in her youth “Never be a door mat”. 


My grandma was a skilled cook. She used to make melt-in-your-mouth Victoria sponges with home made raspberry jam between the layers.  I remember that to us children she was always calm, loving and patient although fairly firm.  I also remember my mother becoming irritated when my grandmother told my mother how to run her life!  My grandmother completely idolized my father, her son-in-law, and he could do no wrong in her eyes. 


It was not until many years after my mother’s death that I realized that we knew almost nothing about her grandparents.  In fact I think that my mother herself knew nothing about them.  They were never mentioned and at the time it did not occur to me that this was strange. The only thing my mother did tell us was that her father’s father had died young, and that after this some rich friends had adopted her father’s brother (her uncle), and that he was never seen again.  I was not told his name.  Her father missed his brother for the rest of his life. Her father was still in touch with his sister Ivy, who lived in Suffolk; but we never met her.   One day we drove over Tower Bridge just before it was to be closed for the road to be elevated to let through a tall-masted ship.  She asked my father to stop the car on the other side of the Thames so she could show us this momentous event.  She then said pensively “she supposed she must be a Cockney because she was born within the sound of Bow Bells”[91].  This meant nothing to me at the time but I always remembered it.  In fact she was born in Kilburn and nowhere near the sound of Bow Bells!


Census records and birth, marriage and death certificates reveal bare details about the lives of my mother’s antecedents but there is none of the documentation that brought to life the facts about my father’s ancestors.  Both my maternal grandparents were born and brought up in the East End of London and so probably were true Cockneys.  Interestingly they seemed to change address fairly frequently; I suppose that they were in rented accommodation and circumstance obliged them to move.  Sometimes they only moved up the road and usually stayed in close proximity to the old address. Most of the addresses are in the St George in the East district immediately to the East of the Tower of London. Incidentally the architect of the church of St George’s in the East, built in 1714, was Nicholas Hawksmoor.  Booth[92] reckons that St George’s was the most “poverty stricken district” of the East End with 49 per cent of its residents “in poverty”.   However even St George’s had some more prosperous areas and study of Booth’s Poverty map reveals that neither the Hooleys nor the Sullivans lived in the worst conditions although they must have been aware of the poverty around them.



In the 1840s the railway came to the East End of London and “comfortably prosperous company clerks, minor civil servants and dockyard officials moved out of East London rather than see their houses covered with grime and soot.……The withdrawal of these white-collar workers confirmed the character of the East End as a dormitory for the manual labouring class.  At the same time the railways and steamers made it possible for more and more outsiders to come to London in search of a home, a refuge, and a place in the queues for casual labour”[93].  


The Reverend Harry Jones[94] wrote the following about living in St George’s in the East in 1875: “Life has a very severe and importunate side in these parts.  The air is heavily charged with the sentiment of toil, and there is little to stir it.  We seem not only to be always at work, but we hardly ever have a glimpse of the unoccupied side of London life.  Every one appears either to have something to do or to be seeking work. I except, of course, the phase of relaxation, often grossly offensive, exhibited by sailors ashore, who crowd as much coarse indulgence as possible into the few hours at their disposal.  otherwise, all are obviously about some business…..As I think about it I perceive that here the strain of work and sentiment of toil is continuous”….and so on for many more sentences in the same vein.  He concludes “We live much from hand to mouth.  Every farthing has to be earned, and a sixpence is severely perceived to be worth six pennies.  True there is some pretext for relaxation associated with Victoria Park and the Bethnal Green Museum, but here we sorely want some mollifying influence, some commentary of ornament.  The strain of toil is too importunate.”  He obviously would not have approved of the music halls, based originally in pubs, and dispensing bawdy humour and cheeky lyrics; however it is fascinating to have a description of the area by someone who lived there just a few years before Margaret and Robert were born. 


The [95]Booth poverty maps codify all the areas of London and the Hooleys and Sullivans lived in parts of the East End which he classified as “Mixed. Some comfortable, others poor”[96].  Robert Hooley (my grandfather) was even born in an area classified as “Working class comfort. Good ordinary earnings”. It is interesting to think of the contrast between the childhood of my mother’s grandparents in the East End with my father’s grandmother Florence who was born and brought up in a “Wealthy” area of London.  I imagine that Margaret’s wish to keep up appearances was instilled into her as a child as a result of living surrounded by poverty, even ‘though her parents were in work and probably “comfortable”.  Johnson[97] talks of the “importance of a working-class desire for self–esteem.”  He goes on to say that in the East End there was an “inward- looking” response to this desire for self–esteem”, causing an obsession with “the minutiae of keeping up appearances for the sake of neighbours, and of outdoing them if possible”.  I suddenly understood where the worry about looking like a little lady came from.



The family tree for my mother (page 101) compiled from the census records shows that her late 18th century paternal great grandparents came from Norfolk[98] and London. Her maternal great grandparents came from Ireland[99] and London, but her grandfather’s father’s origins

are untraceable because there were so many William Sullivans in Bristol at the relevant time. 


Margaret Sullivan’s father William was born in Bristol but it is possible that he had roots in Ireland. William himself was listed as a “carman”[100] on Margaret‘s birth certificate in 1882 and a brewers’ drayman on the census of 1891.  Besant[101] describes the driver of a van as “a post of real distinction and responsibility, with “good money”, although the hours may be long.  Carmen needed to be skilled with horses.  Booth[102], from whom all the following information comes, says that a week’s work for a carman, inclusive of time occupied in the stable, averaged from 96 to 100 hours. He talks of the lives of carmen and their families in the following terms; “What they have comes in regularly, and except in times of sickness in the family, actual want rarely presses, unless the wife drinks. As a general rule these men have a hard struggle to make ends meet, but they are, as a body, decent steady men, paying their way and bringing up their children respectably.  …The women (in this whole class) work a good deal to eke out the men’s earnings, and the children begin to make more than they cost when free from school; the sons go as van boys, errand boys, &c., and the daughters into daily service, or into factories, or help the mother with whatever she has in hand.  The comfort of their home depends, even more than in other classes, on a good wife.  Thrift of the “make-the-most –of everything” kind is what is needed, and in very many cases must be present, or it would be impossible to keep up so respectable an appearance as is done on so small an income.” For some unknown reason by 1901 William Sullivan had stopped being a carman and was a labourer general.



A family legend told us that Robert Hooley’s father was an officer in the Indian army who died young. However although the army officer story was true, research showed that the officer was from several generations earlier and that he was in the British rather than the Indian army.  My Uncle Don showed me a certificate dated 1739 for a certain “Trusty and Welbeloved Robert Hooley Gent” appointing him as an Ensign to the 15th Regiment of Foot commanded by Major General Harrison.  An Ensign was a commissioned officer who carried the ensign or flag of a company or regiment.  It was abolished as a rank in 1871.  At this time a commission had to be purchased and it cost £400 to gain the rank of ensign.  Robert Hooley became a Lieutenant on 10th April 1741, a Capt-Lieutenant on 25th December 1741 and a Captain on 22nd June 1745.  He retired on half pay on 9th April 1748.  He served in the Cartagena and Cuban Expeditions 1741-2 and in Flanders in 1745.[103]  The Cartagena expedition was a disaster for British troops; out of the original force of 9000 soldiers only 1700 were fit for action by the time they sailed away.  Despite detailed research at the National Archive in Kew I have not found out anything else about the origins of “Welbeloved Robert Hooley Gent”. It is however clear that at this stage the Hooleys must have had a certain affluence.  In 1782 the regiment was re-named as the 15th (York East Riding) Regiment of Foot.  It is therefore possible that the Hooleys have a Yorkshire connection but I have not pursued this clue.


My grandfather Robert Hooley’s grandfather George (who was either the grandson or great grandson of the 1739 soldier Robert) was born in Marylebone London in 1790 and in later life was a carpenter.  He married Isabella Day in 1831 and their son Henry was born in 1850.


By the time of the 1881 census Henry Hooley was living at the Two Chairmen in South Bruton Mews, close to Hanover Square in the West End, and working as a barman.  He was still a barman on his marriage certificate in 1883.  Booth[104] tells us “with very few exceptions barmen are unmarried and live in the house” and  “The average hours of a barman are 81 to 88 hours a week”.   He goes on: “there is a strong objection to married men, and as barmen are probably no less susceptible than other members of the community, many no doubt seek for other employment in order that they may enter upon matrimony.  Unfortunately, no class of men find it harder to effect a change of calling.  …The superannuated barman is consequently under peculiar temptation to join the great army of loafers”.  I am glad to say that Henry did not become a loafer but on the certificate recording his early death in 1888 he is a painter’s labourer.


Henry’s wife Ann Pearmain was born in Norfolk and so were both her parents, but I know nothing more of her origins.  



My mother told me that Margaret Sullivan was the eldest of ten children and had to work hard looking after her younger siblings.  The two relevant censuses do not show as many as ten children although the name William is repeated; probably the first recipient of the name died young.  I am guessing that several babies or very young children died between the 1891 and 1901 census checks.  It is also possible that more babies were born after the 1901 census.  Margaret must have had in depth knowledge of baby care.


The Education Act of 1880 enforced compulsory education for children aged 5 to 10 years.  I imagine that from the age of 10 my grandmother was employed caring for her below school age siblings while her mother was at work as a tailor’s machinist.  At least by this time all children had the chance of some education.


My feeling is that Margaret Sullivan firmly put her East End past behind her when she married and moved to Kilburn.  Interestingly some clues about her background, for example her knowledge of music hall[105] songs, her expert sewing tips, and her insistence on showing respectability, were there if only I had realised.  Other hints of her background were her insistence that all frayed shirt collars should be “turned” – i.e. unpicked, turned over and re-stitched, and that worn sheets should be turned “sides to middle”. This involved cutting down the middle of a sheet, and stitching the two sides together so that the worn pieces were used as a “tuck in”.  My mother still carried out this practice in wartime and the result was an uncomfortable hard ridge on which to sleep.  One other clear memory is the final hint: I can remember my grandmother telling me that my bedroom must be tidied because it looked like a “slum dwelling”.



Before their marriage Robert’s parents both worked in pubs, he as a barman, and she as the servant to a female “licensed victualler” who was a widow.  This widow later remarried and had a baby son who died.  After the death of Robert’s father from pleuro-pneumonia the widow and her second husband adopted Robert’s brother Ralph. My guess is that Mary and Rowland Tidder (i.e. the widow and her second husband) adopted Ralph for two reasons; partly to help Ann in her straitened situation and partly to replace their own lost boy.  Ralph was the middle child of Henry and Ann Hooley, and was three when his father died.  The youngest child was a baby girl only a few months old.   As far as I know my grandfather Robert did not see his brother Ralph after the adoption. [106]


Another look at the 1891 census shows the widowed Ann Hooley aged 31 working as a laundress and living with Robert aged 7, Alice (Ivy) aged 3 and her aunt Ann Pearmain, a retired nurse. Sadly Ann Hooley died of TB at the age of 40 in 1899.  TB was an illness that was prevalent among laundresses; they spent a lot of time in cold, damp conditions.  The 1901 census shows that Ann Hooley’s mother, Maria Pearmain aged 61, came to the rescue and moved into the house with Robert, Alice, and Ann Pearmain (the retired nurse of the 1891 census, by now aged 81).  Robert was at this time working as a warehouse packer.


Robert’s childhood must have been very unsettled.  His father died when he was 5 and his mother when he 16.  At least his grandmother cared him for after the death of his mother; many orphaned Victorian East End children were just abandoned and lived on the streets. My mother told me that Robert was absolutely devoted to his sister and always very protective of her, and that he always talked of his lost brother with great affection and regret. 


Robert must have benefited from elementary education and we know that at the age of 17 he was working as a warehouseman.  When he was 20 Robert Hooley joined the Metropolitan Police as a beat constable in J (or Hackney) division.  This area included the docks and he would have had to cope with some very tough situations, including the dock strike of 1912.  His joining papers (which I was able to see at the National Archive in Kew) give a detailed description of his appearance in 1904.  He was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 11 stone 10 pounds.  His chest measurement was 37 inches.  He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes, brown hair and no “particular marks”. The form records that he previously worked as a warehouseman and that he had belonged to the army volunteers.   The form also has an entry headed “Whether belonging to any illegal Secret Society”; I am glad to say the answer is “No”.  My Uncle Don reports that his father often said that if only he had been six feet tall he could have joined the City of London police.  Robert Hooley married Margaret Sullivan in 1906 when he was 22 and she 23.  They lived about a mile away from each other as children; perhaps they met at school.



In his very old age, well after my mother’s death, my father told me that when Margaret Sullivan, brought up as a Catholic, married Robert Hooley, a Protestant, her family cast her off . However there was a William Sullivan as a witness on her marriage certificate and my uncle Don can remember being taken by his mother to see relatives in an East End street in which years before a riot had happened.  In 1901 the Sullivans were living in Cornwall Street.  In October 1901 “Jewish tenants were attempting to move into the street (i.e. Cornwall Street), when the natives, some three or four hundred strong, made a rush for the van.  The occupants beat a hasty retreat, while the crowd pulled the furniture out of the van, smashing it to pieces, and afterwards wrecked the van itself”.[107]  So I suspect that Don’s visit was to Cornwall Street and that my grandmother was still in touch with her family at this time.


After their marriage Margaret and Robert lived at 177 Kilburn Park Road, Kilburn, North London, where my mother was born. 


By 1919 I surmise Margaret and Robert had already moved to Woodford.  I have a Sunday School prize of my mothers dated 1919 and inscribed, “Awarded to Alice Hooley May 1919 South Woodford Congregational Sunday School”.  Incidentally, although she was probably named after her father’s sister and her first name was Alice, my mother’s childhood name was “Looley” and in later life she changed her name to Margaret. My grandmother was not happy when I reached the age of 10 and decided to be known as Sue instead of Susan.  At least her male relatives didn’t insist on changing their names! 


Please note the beautiful ringlets my mother is sporting in both the photographs on the next page.  My grandmother once rolled up my very straight hair in strips of torn sheet to achieve this ringlet effect, but neither my mother nor I was keen on the results, and the experiment was not repeated.  In addition it was necessary to sleep with the “curl rags” in place, which was extraordinarily uncomfortable.  The second photograph is in postcard format and was probably taken by a passing professional photographer.


My mother aged three or four



My mother aged five or six


Robert retired from the police with a full pension in 1929 at the age of 45. I am told that his colleagues liked him so much that when he was struggling with arthritis towards the end of his police career they used to cover for him and help him out.  The police retirement form bizarrely contains not only a description of my grandfather but also of my grandmother.  His description is as before, except that he has grown by an inch, and is now 5 feet 11 inches tall.  Her description says that she is 5 feet 7 inches tall with dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion.  It seems that neither of them was mal-nourished in childhood in spite of their East End background.  After he stopped being a police constable Robert worked in a garage.  My father told me that Robert Hooley had such a lovely personality that dogs regularly used to follow him on his way home from work and that everybody liked him.


The earliest photographs of Margaret and Robert are in a small notated photograph album of my mother’s, which records holidays and outings from 1921 to 1926.  There were seaside family holidays in Brighton, Hastings and Worthing.  Most of the photos are taken on the beach and they all look very happy together.



My mother and grandfather on holiday in Lowestoft in July 1929


My uncle reports that Margaret and Robert had very close friends called Albert and Mabel Anderson with whom they went on holiday every year.  Albert worked for the Great Western Railway at Paddington. They and their daughter Eileen feature in the holiday snaps.  I remember my mother talking often of “Auntie Mabel and Uncle Albert”.  It was the custom in those days to bestow an honorary “aunt or uncle-ship” on the friends of your parents. The album also contains records of yearly visits to Burnham, which look very jolly and seem to be church youth club outings. 1926 has the ubiquitous open charabanc[108] photograph with my mother in the middle of a crowd of people in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight. 


I remember my mother saying that Margaret was extremely strict with her when she was in her teens.  My mother was forbidden to wear make-up even when she was about 19 and told me that she used to sneak her make-up out of the house and put it on in the street round the corner.  Her apparel and behaviour were also strictly supervised.  She was much more liberal with me, her only daughter, and not only purchased my first make-up for me but also gave me a dress allowance when I was about 14 so that I could choose my own clothes.

Having looked after so many of her baby siblings in such a short time when she was growing up, my grandmother’s own family was very different.  My mother was born early in their marriage.  Ralph was born when my mother was five and a half and then Don when my mother was eighteen. 



My grandmother holding Don “in the garden in 1925”


A photograph in the book shows my mother also holding the baby Don in 1925; she looks relaxed and happy.  I don’t think that she ever felt that her nose was put out of joint by the late arrival of siblings.  The only thing she did envy was the superior education that Ralph and Don both had.  Ralph won an open scholarship to Chigwell, a minor public school.  My mother made up for leaving school at fourteen by going to evening classes to learn several subjects including French and music.  She continued to read widely and deeply for the rest of her life.


My grandfather died in 1949 at the age of 66.  My father said that in later life Robert’s crippling arthritis was treated with gold injections, and that it was this pioneering treatment which led to his early death. 


It is good to know that Margaret and Robert had a secure and happy later life after the tough childhood they had in the East End.



After the funeral of Robert Hooley, when I was seven, I was dispatched on my own to stay with my grandmother.  I suppose that looking after me was supposed to give her something to occupy her and distract her from her bereavement.  My grandmother was very kind and loving but the house was extremely quiet and full of dark heavy Victorian furniture and it was obviously not a very jolly time.  I can remember that whenever we went out someone would come up to my grandmother to give their condolences and that I had to stand quietly and wait ‘til they had finished.  I am never very patient when hanging around with nothing to do, and I still recall my feelings of extreme tedium.  I must have stayed with my grandmother for a week or so and I can remember that at the beginning of this stay I was told that if the weather was fine we would go to the cemetery on Sunday to put some flowers on the grave.  The thought of this treat in store terrified me, but I didn’t like to confess to this.  I prayed every day for rain, but when Sunday came the weather was dry, and off we went.  Needless to say the cemetery turned out to be perfectly acceptable and not the terrifying experience I was expecting, but I was greatly relieved when the visit was over.


When we moved from London to Sheffield in 1952 my grandmother sold the house in Woodford and came to live with us.  She had her own bedroom and sitting room and greatly enjoyed listening to the radio.  I used to join her in her sitting room for an amusing weekly programme called “Educating Archie” and we used to chuckle together.  Another favourite was “Top of the Form”, a quiz programme for school children.  She also liked the Palm Court orchestra concerts on Sunday evenings and used to sing the themes in a cracked voice.  She apparently had a good singing voice in her youth but by this time must have damaged her larynx.  In those days we had a wonderful daily radio programme called Children’s Hour and I often used to listen to this in her sitting room too.  John was away at boarding school by this time and Rob was as yet too young for such programmes.



Grandma, Dad, Mum holding Rob, me, John, and far right, Great-Aunt Annie in about 1950.


The above photograph was taken before my grandmother came to live with us.  She came on holiday with us to Cornwall and we stopped for a meal with Great Uncle Ernie on the way.  We are all standing on the bridge that Uncle Ernie built over the river Wylie, which flowed through his garden in Heytesbury, Wiltshire.  John and I used to lower jam-jars on strings, facing upstream and containing small crumbs of bread, into the water from this bridge.  A skilful pull on the string could result in the catching of a small fish.  After careful inspection we always returned them unhurt to the water. 


Margaret Sullivan died in Sheffield of leukaemia in about 1954 after a very short illness.











The Victorians lived through enormous social, industrial, mechanical and political change and the relevance of the political change to my relatives’ lives are intriguing.  There is enlightened thinking concerning the education of the Victorian females among my father’s relatives; his great aunt Mary Meredith was sent away to boarding school and his aunts in both the Thring and Sieveking families had good early education which allowed them to go on to further education.  My mother’s mother left school at the age of twelve but at least the Education Act of 1880 meant that she and her husband were some of the first to benefit from universal compulsory schooling.  The Poor Law of 1834, which proposed the establishment of workhouses, affected John Charles Thring directly as in later-life he was employed as chaplain to the Bradford On Avon workhouse.  In 1839 her brother, who was curate to a nearby church, took Lydia Dyer to visit a union house (another name for work house) in Yeovil.  Her reactions are of interest.  As this establishment was only opened in 1837 she must have been one of their earliest visitors. 


The amount of continental travel managed by many of my Victorian relatives was a surprise.  The advent of the railways obviously helped, but some of the journeys must still have been lengthy, tedious and on occasion dangerous; as evidenced in Ella Sievekings travel diary when a strap broke on the coach and “Mama was frightened”.  The dangers of horse-drawn travel also feature in Lydia Meredith’s memoirs; she documents that the back of the trap broke, she and her nurse were thrown out, and she was nearly trampled by the frightened horse.  She had another exciting adventure with a horse which bolted.  However she doesn’t seem to have been discouraged from riding.


When talking of the Sieveking name my father always used to say that he supposed “that it had a Viking origin”.  As a child I found this romantic.  It was therefore astonishing to discover the German origin of the Sieveking family.  Although Florence Sieveking and her father were born and brought up in England, and Florence’s married name was English, I now wonder if she wanted to suppress the German heritage at the time of the First World War, and therefore fed the Viking story to the grandchildren as a form of protection from adverse public sentiment.  Her daughter Dorothy, my grandmother, lived with a German family for six months nine years before the First World War and had some interesting observations to make about Anglo German relations.


I did not know that Edward Sieveking was an eminent physician when I started looking into the family history.  Indeed I knew nothing of Florence’s great aunt Amalie Sieveking’s philanthropic work in Hamburg, and her progressive ideas about the importance of training for nurses, which foreshadowed the innovations of Florence Nightingale.  Amalie bravely shut herself in a house with cholera patients and selflessly nursed some of them to recovery so she knew about nursing from first hand.  I was interested when reading the account of Amalie’s life to have discovered the two reasons for her brother’s relocation from Hamburg to London in 1809; he left Germany following the death of his father, and Hamburg at that time was politically and materially at a very low ebb.  He obviously felt that his career as a merchant would flourish in London even if it was not doing so in Hamburg.  This in fact did prove to be the case.  However he visited his sister every few years and she travelled to London several times.


The health, lack of health, and medical practice in Victorian times, are absorbing themes. There does seem to have been a strain of hypochondria running from Lydia Dyer and then through the Thring family but it is possible that I have made too much of this when reading the letters.  With high mortality among children in Victorian times it is natural that a mother should worry about the health of a daughter when separated from her.  It is also possible that Lydia Dyer lost very young children who have not shown up in the records and therefore was particularly worried about the health of her two surviving children.  However she also seems to worry considerably about her own health. The interesting prescriptions mentioned by Edward Sieveking in his medical diaries when he was physician to the Prince and Princess of Wales were fascinating.


The details of the setting up of a county constabulary by Samuel Meredith as first chief constable of Wiltshire were another revelation.  Also in the policing line was my mother’s father who was a beat constable in the London Metropolitan police for twenty-five years.  He must have had some thought-provoking stories to tell but unfortunately I was too young when he died to have heard any of them.  His early experiences and the naval career of Hugh Thring were also of notice.


There were a number of reverend gentlemen in the Thring family and at least one in the Dyer family.  Religion was so obviously at the forefront of Victorian minds and although some of the religious sentiments in the letters seem over-pious to my modern eyes I recognize that it is important to try to accept them in the context of the time. The enormously strong influence of Victorian religion on all members of the Thring, Meredith and Sieveking families is evident from the various religious books, missals and tracts that have survived.


The census details about the number of servants of my father’s ancestors and the size and comparative luxury of the houses they inhabited were an insight into their way of life.  Ella Sieveking had the same servants for many years but the others didn’t seem to keep the same employees from one census to the next!  However this could have been the normal way of things. 


Interestingly both Edward and Jane Sieveking, and Lydia and John Charles Thring, had a surprisingly small number of grandchildren considering that the Sievekings had seven, and the Thrings ten, grown up children.  


I am extremely happy to feel that I now have some insight into my father’s mother as a personality.  My father was only six when his mother died and his own father later remarried to a woman who was very jealous of her predecessor.   I think that for these reasons my father didn’t hear his mother talked about and therefore knew very little about her.   He certainly never spoke of her to us.  Luckily, enough documentation survived to give a picture of her as a delightful person.  I did not have access to most of this documentation until first my aunt Bryn and then my father died.


As far as my mother’s family goes the fact that in Victorian times they lived in the East End was a complete surprise and of great interest.  It is strange to think that at exactly the same time that some of my father’s ancestors were living in affluence in London and Wiltshire, my mother’s relatives were living in a very deprived area of the metropolis.  I discovered a little about a Hooley from the 18th Century who came from a moneyed family but I would love to know more.  I would like to be able to fill the gap between the money in the 1740s, and the East End two generations later.  It was fascinating, and often horrifying, to read about the East End in Victorian times. The extreme poverty of some East Enders and the stories of the philanthropists who tried to help them were a revelation.  The fact that this philanthropic work eventually led to the setting up of the Welfare State was also worthy of note. 


Although Census records show Hooleys and Sullivans living in the East End of London in the middle and later 1800s it is clear from the addresses and from study of the Booth’s London Poverty Map that none of the families lived in the destitute areas.  It is also clear from the behaviour of my grandmother that keeping up appearances was of extreme importance to some East End families. 


Finally, thanks to clever detective work on the part of my friend, it was a great thrill to discover my mother’s “lost uncle”.  I await with anticipation the release of the 1911 census records and greatly hope that he will be traceable in these.

Wiltshire localities map.jpg

thring fam tree.jpg



Hooley Family Tree v2.jpg








George Robert Hooley (his father’s father) born in London






Isabella Day (his father’s mother) born in London





19th May 1831

Isabella Day marries George Robert Hooley (his grandparents)


Octavius Clark Simpson (her mother’s father) born in Ireland




Jane ? (her mother’s mother ) born in Middlesex. Marriage date not known






Maria Pearmain (his mother’s mother) born in Norfolk




15th Sept 1850

Henry Hooley (his father) born (Marriage date of his parents not  known)




William Sullivan (her father) born




Margaret Simpson ( her mother) born


Ann Pearmain (his mother) born in Norfolk



1880 EDUCATION ACT for compulsory schooling up to the age of 10


William Sullivan marries Margaret Simpson (her parents)


Rowland Tidder marries Mary Newton

8th March 1882

Margaret Elizabeth Sullivan born (my grandmother)





20th Feb 1883

Henry Hooley marries Ann Pearmain ( his parents)



14th Sept 1883

Robert Henry Hooley born (my grandfather)



Dec 1885

Ralph Rowland Hooley (his brother) born




Alice Ivy Hooley (his sister) born




Henry Hooley (his father) dies




Ralph Rowland Hooley adopted by Mary and Rowland Tidder


16th April 1906           Margaret Sullivan marries Robert Hooley

28th Feb 1907 Alice Margaret Ann Hooley (my mother) born at 177 Kilburn Park, London







Robert Hooley dies


Margaret Sullivan dies








John Gale D Thring born in Wiltshire (his father’s grandfather)




Sarah Jenkyns born in Wiltshire (his father’s grandmother)




Samuel Meredith born in London (his mother’s grandfather)




Lydia Dyer born in London (his mother’s grandmother)





John Gale Dalton Thring becomes rector of Alford



1811 1st Oct

Sarah Jenkyns marries J G D Thring


1816 24th Aug

Edward Sieveking (her mother’s grandfather) born





1824 11th June

John Charles Thring born (his father)

1825 13th Sept

Jane Ray (her mother’s grandmother) born







Lydia Dyer marries Samuel Meredith (his grandparents)



1830 4th Aug

Lydia Eliza Dyer Meredith born (his mother)






Samuel Meredith becomes first chief constable of Wiltshire





1847 23rd Dec

John Charles Thring ordained deacon at Wells


Edward Sieveking marries Jane Ray ( her grandparents)

1849 23rd Dec

John Charles Thring ordained priest at Wells




Edward Thring becomes headmaster of Uppingham


Leonard Wooldridge (her father) born





1858 28th May

Lydia Meredith marries John Charles Thring (his parents)

1861 2nd July

Florence Sieveking (her mother) born

1859 to 1864

John Charles Thring assistant master at Uppingham

1862 20th Nov

Ella Sieveking (her aunt) born






Samuel Meredith retires as chief constable of Wiltshire





Samuel Meredith dies



1873 30th May

Hugh Thring born




John Gale Dalton Thring dies




J C Thring becomes chaplain to Bradford on Avon workhouse

1882 MARRIED WOMEN’S PROPERTY ACT allows married women to own property in their own right


Florence Sieveking marries Leonard Wooldridge




Ella Sieveking enters the Slade School



1887 20th Jan

Dorothy Wooldridge born


Hugh Thring enters HMS Britannia




Hugh Thring passes out as a midshipman


Leonard Wooldridge dies




Ella Sieveking becomes a post graduate art student




Florence Wooldridge, nee Sieveking, marries Ernest Starling

1891 16th Sept

Sarah Thring, nee Jenkyns, dies


Ella Sieveking marries Walter Crum





Edward Sieveking dies

1909 3rd Oct

John Charles Thring dies


Dorothy Wooldridge starts as a student at UCL




Ella Crum, nee Sieveking, moves to Aldeburgh Suffolk




Dorothy Wooldridge becomes a teacher in Aldeburgh




Ella and Walter Crum separate



1913 11th Jan

Dorothy Wooldridge marries Hugh Thring and they go to Australia



1913 20th Nov

Brynhild Wooldridge Thring born





Jane Sieveking, nee Ray, dies



1915 17th Dec

Meredith Wooldridge Thring born



1917 15th Sept

Jane Felicity Thring born





Dorothy and the children travel from Australia to England on the SS Themistocles






Hugh Thring awarded the CBE for his work with the Australian Navy

1922 30th May

Dorothy Thring, nee Wooldridge, dies





1925 4th Sept

Lydia Thring, nee Meredith, dies




Ernest Starling dies



1928 24th Jan

Florence Starling, nee Sieveking, dies






1949 17th Jan

Hugh Thring dies


[1] John Gale Dalton Thring died in 1874

[2] All these facts from Balliol College. A History 1263 – 1939 by John Jones, Oxford University Press 1988

[3] The life and letters of Edward Thring by G.R. Parkin, Macmillan and Co 1898

[4] The Man who made a School by Geoffrey Hoyland.  S.C.M. Press 1946

[5] The life and letters of Edward Thring by G.R. Parkin. Macmillan and Co 1898

[6] I have tried, and failed, to discover what are the implications of being head of one “side”.

[7] The life and letters of Edward Thring by G.R. Parkin. Macmillan and Co 1898

[8] A Memory of Edward Thring by John Huntley Skrine Macmillan and Co 1889. 

[9] Manly and Muscular Diversions. Public Schools and the 19th Century Sporting Revival by Tony Money.  Duckworth 1997

[10] From a monograph about Godfrey by Arthur Thring.

[11] Information taken from John Charles’ family bible.  The name by which Great Uncle Ernie identified them is in bold.

[12] It is entitled “The recollections at 90 years of age of our mother, Mrs J C Thring”. It was painstakingly transcribed from the original handwriting by her son Hugh’s grand daughter Anna in 1989.

[13] 1794

[14] i.e. midshipman.   Midshipmen were usually the sons of well off families training to become commissioned officers.  They were taught navigation, astronomy and trigonometry by the ship’s schoolmaster as well as going on watch when school hours were over.

[15] The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, where Lydia Dyer was born, was the naval equivalent of the still existing Royal Hospital Chelsea; which is for army pensioners.  In the heyday of the Greenwich establishment it had four times as many pensioners as Chelsea. It had a huge staff, and its own bakery and brewery.  It closed as a refuge for naval pensioners in 1865 because the majority preferred to live “out”.  The beautiful Wren buildings now house the University of Greenwich, Trinity College of Music and the Old Royal Naval College Visitor Centre.

[16] See the map on page 99

[17] William the Fourth 1830 to 1837 – Queen Victoria’s uncle.  A levee is an assembly held by a sovereign at which only men are received.

[18] A forum for debate and discussion of natural history in all its branches; founded in 1709.  It is named after the Swede Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), who first catalogued plants and animals in a consistent scientific way using a Latin two word system which is still used world wide.

[19] Buildings of England – Wiltshire by  Nikolaus Pevsner revised by Bridget Cherry.  Yale University Press

[20] The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 laid down terms for the building, supervision and conditions in centralised work houses for paupers.  Yeovil’s work house opened in 1837.  Before this help for poor people was the responsibility of individual parishes and people were not required to go and live institutions.

[21] The Oldest and the Best’, by Paul Sample. Published by Wiltshire Constabulary to celebrate their 150th anniversary in 1989.

[22] A laxative.

[23] DV = Deo Volente or God willing

[24] See the map on page 99

[25] I am not sure whose christening this is.  The letter is dated 11/2/1841.  Queen Victoria’s first child, Victoria, was born in 1840 and her second, Albert Edward, in 1841.

[26] The Oldest and the Best by Paul Sample. See footnote 21.

[27] See map page 99

[28] Life and Letters of Edward Thring by G R Parkin.  Macmillan and Co 1898

[29] Manly and Muscular Diversions. Public Schools and the 19th Century Sporting Revival by Tony Money.  Duckworth 1997

[30] The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 laid down terms for the building, supervision and conditions in centralised work houses for paupers.  Bradford on Avon  workhouse was set up in 1836 by the Bradford Poor Law Union and was intended for 250 inmates.  By 1899 it had 315 inmates.

[31] From the Latin sine cura – without care.  An office of profit or honour without duties attached

[32] A Chantry priest is one who sings masses for the soul of a person who has given an endowment to provide this service.

[33] An entry re John Charles in a list of Cambridge Alumni states “C. of Alford from 1870 to 1874” and “C. of Bradford-on–Avon 1875 – 91”.

[34] In the Sarah Jenkyns section

[35] Edward Thring went to Uppingham as head master in 1853

[36] The Early Days of Marlborough College by Edward Lockwood.  Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Co 1893

[37] Midshipmen were usually the sons of well-off families training to become commissioned officers.  At this time they had 2 years naval education before going to sea.

[38] Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle. Penguin Classics 2000

[39] Saturday January 20th 1990

[40] Newnham College was founded in 1871

[41] Cheltenham Ladies’ College was founded in 1853.  Dorothea Beale (1831 – 1906) became principal in 1858.  When she arrived the school had 58 pupils.  When she died in 1906, still working as principal, it had over 1000 pupils.  She transformed it from a school concentrating on music, sewing and drawing to the first girls’ academic school offering courses equivalent to those in men’s schools.  She was a prominent Suffragette and also founded a teacher training college for women in 1885 and St Hilda’s College Oxford in 1893.

A rhyme of the time links her name with that of another prominent educator of girls, Frances Buss (1827 – 1894) principal of the North London Collegiate School.

“Miss Buss and Miss Beale, Cupid’s darts do not feel…  How different from us, Miss Beale and Miss Buss” 

[42] Life and Letters of Edward Thring by George Parkin.  Macmillan 1898

[43] The Life of Amelia Wilhelmina Sieveking (originally in German) translated and edited by Catherine Winkworth . Longman Green Roberts 1863

[44] Presidential address given at the Royal College of Physicians by Sir W S Church on March 28th 1904

[45] King Edward VII a biography by Sir Sidney Lee.   Macmillan 1925.  Page 254 in the first volume.

[46] I assume that “physician in ordinary” means physician on a day-to-day basis and “physician extraordinary” means to be available as a second opinion when called in by “the physician in ordinary”.

[47] Presidential address given at the Royal College of Physicians by Sir W S Church on March 28th 1904

[48] Other recipients of Edinburgh honorary degrees in this year were Frederick Leighton, the painter, and the Rev. Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College Oxford.     

[49] Enterprising Women The Garretts and their Circle by Elizabeth Crawford. Francis Boutle 2002

[50] Incidentally Gwen John did not go to the Slade School until 1895, her brother Augustus had started there the year before.  Edward and Jane Sieveking were forward thinking in allowing their daughters freedom to explore their interests in their 20s.

[51] Enterprising Women The Garretts and their Circle by Elizabeth Crawford. Francis Boutle 2002

[52] The London Gardener Volume 10 page 36

[53] Swanley was founded in 1889 and women were first admitted in 1891.  The course for “women gardeners” at this time included botany, chemistry, zoology, physics, building, construction and book keeping.   

[54] Enterprising Women The Garretts and their Circle by Elizabeth Crawford. Francis Boutle 2002

[55] This information comes from the 1861 and 1871 censuses

[56] The wife of Edward’s brother Gustavus, a merchant like their father

[57] In 1701, Dr Croone, one of the original members of the Royal Society, left a bequest to fund a yearly lecture.  It continues to this day. 

[58] A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson 2005 Oxford University Press

[59] A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson 2005 Oxford University Press

[60] In 1701, Dr Croone, one of the original members of the Royal Society, left a bequest to fund a yearly lecture.  It continues to this day.  Florence’s first husband also gave a Croonian lecture.

[61] A legged undergarment for either sex, worn below the waist. (Collins Concise Dictionary)

[62] A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson 2005 Oxford University Press

[63] A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson 2005 Oxford University Press

[64] A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson 2005 Oxford University Press

[65] The Mediaeval language of Egypt

[66] All these details from the Concise Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press 1992

[67] See the letter from the Prince of Wales on page 39

[68] i.e Brighton

[69] There is a mention of her as a very small child in the letter from Florence to Ella on page 45

[70] This theme reappears in the letter dated September 2nd.

[71] Morley College in London, founded in the early 1880s by a lady called Emma Const.  It is one of the oldest adult education colleges in the country. At first it provided weekly ‘penny lectures’. In 1889 it was renamed Morley Memorial College for Working Men and Women.  It was very advanced to include “women” in such a title at this time. 

[72] Dorothy’s mother worked hard helping her stepfather with his books and administration.

[73] Swanley Horticultural College in Kent.  It was founded in 1889 for both men and women, but in 1902 changed to a women only college.  It was aimed at “well-to-do” women and after their training many went abroad to teach their botanical skills.

[74] GG is Mrs  Pam Hervey’s daughter

[75] From the BRNC website: “Beginning in 1863 the training hulks Britannia and Hindostan were moored on the river side of a tiny peninsula called Mount Boone.  Dartmouth’s  isolation provided an ideal spot to prepare young men for naval service without the distractive temptations of naval ports like Portsmouth and Plymouth.”

[76]Britannia at Dartmouth by Capt S W E Pack. Alvin Redman 1968

[77] The Royal Navy by Captain John Wells.  Alan Sutton 1994

[78]  Boarding house.

[79] I have no other evidence of her visit to America

[80] A Life of Ernest Starling by John Henderson.  Oxford University Press 2005

[81] This letter is included in full on page 48

[82] A legged undergarment for either sex, worn below the waist. (Collins Concise Dictionary)

[83] Myamyn Garth is the name of their house in Eltham, which is now a suburb of Melbourne, but was then quite rural.

[84] Laurence Sieveking was one of Florence’s brothers. He was a Sub Warden and Magistrate, Mines Department, W Australia. 


[85] Hugh’s mother

[86] The maiden name of his father’s mother.  His middle name was his mother’s maiden name.

[87] Happy is the family nickname for Jane; could it have derived partly because Med was originally called Merry? Or was it because Jane’s middle name was Felicity? 

[88] Godstowe was a boarding school in High Wycombe to which later my father and Jane were also sent. 

[89] My father adds that Sir Arbuthnot Lane was the original of Sir Blenkinsop Iron in George Bernard Shaw’s play Doctor’s Dilemma.


[90] The Victorian House by Judith Flanders. Harper Perennial 2004

[91] Bow church with its tower of bells is situated in the City of London. A definition of a Cockney is that they are “born within sound of Bow bells.”

[92] Charles Booth (1840 – 1916), ship owner and sociologist, not to be confused with William Booth (1829 –1912) who founded the Salvation Army.  Charles Booth initially collected his data by sending School Board visitors into the streets of London to collect facts according to his specifications.  The resulting two volumes entitled Life and Labour of the People in London were first published between 1889 and 1891 with a “Poverty Map” tucked into a pocket at the end. The descriptions are a fascinating window into Victorian London.

[93] The East End by Alan Palmer.  John Murray 1989

[94] East and West London by the Rev. Harry Jones.  Smith , Elder and Co. 1875

[95] See footnote 92

[96] The seven classes are:  (i) Wealthy; hardly found in East London and little found in South London; inhabited by families who keep three or more servants, and whose houses are rated at 100 pounds or more. 

(ii) Middle class. Well-to-do. Keep one or two servants.   (iii) Working class comfort. Good ordinary earnings.  (iv) Mixed. Some comfortable, others poor.  (v) Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family.  (vi) Very poor, casual labourers and others living from hand to mouth.  (vii) Lowest class. Occasional labourers, loafers, and semi criminals – the elements of disorder.

[97] Saving and Spending: the working-class economy in Britain 1870 – 1939 by Paul Johnson. Oxford University Press 1984

[98] There was a huge influx of people to the East End of London in the 1870s from North Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk - areas of extreme agricultural depression.  This depression was brought about by a combination of factors including the imposition of “enclosures” (which caused the loss of open, common land and meant that the poorer people were unable to grow their own food and graze their livestock) and the first use of agricultural machinery (needing fewer workers).

[99] It is probable that the fathers of William Sullivan and Margaret Simpson came to England sometime during the mass emigration from Ireland between 1846 and 1861, following repeated failure of the potato crop, the main food of the rural Irish people, due to potato blight.

[100] The equivalent of the delivery man of today.

[101] East London by Walter Besant.  Chatto and Windus 1912 (first published 1899)

[102] See footnote 92

[103] A History of the 15th (East Yorkshire) Regiment 1685-1914 by Robert Jones. 

[104] See footnote 92.

[105] Music halls were a very strong East End tradition.  They started as music hall pubs and gradually metamorphosed in mid Victorian times to much larger institutions.  They were the East End’s answer to the West End’s large theatres.

[106] A friend, expert in family history research, cleverly managed to trace the missing brother.  The search started with the birth lists of 1885 and revealed a Ralph Rowland Hooley who was therefore 2 years younger than Robert Hooley.  The search involved moving back and forth between censuses but I will relate the story in calendar order.  The 1881 census showed the connection between Mary Tidder and Ann Hooley.  A 34 year old widow born in Norfolk called Mary Newton who was working as a licensed victualler in Finsbury, employed Ann Maria Peirmair (Ann Hooley, also from Norfolk, with her maiden name incorrectly spelt) as her servant.  At the same time Mary Newton also employed Rowland William Jidder (wrongly spelt) aged 44 as her barman. Soon after the census was taken in 1881 R W Tidder (correctly spelt this time) married Mary Newton.  Ann Pearmain married Henry Hooley in 1883.  Mary and Rowland Tidder had a baby son, John Rowland Tidder, in 1883 but he died in 1885.  My guess is that when Ralph Hooley was born Rowland Tidder (being an old friend/benefactor) was his godfather and his name was used as Ralph’s middle name.  In 1888 Henry Hooley died aged 37.   Clever detective work on the 1891 census found a child of the correct age, born in the East End, with the name of Ralph Rowland Tidder and the status of adopted son.  The unusual middle name of Rowland was the search clue.  He was living with Rowland W Tidder, now a beer retailer, and his wife Mary in Commercial Road.    Unfortunately Ralph Rowland Tidder, who by now would have been 17, cannot be found on the 1901 census. In 1901 Mary and Rowland Tidder are living in Limehouse at the Royal Navy Beerhouse but Ralph is not listed.  It is possible that he was staying away from home, or in the army or navy and therefore out of the country.  He does not seem to feature on the death lists of this time.  We will hope to pick him up again when the 1911 censuses are released or maybe from army and navy records.  When Margaret Sullivan and Robert Hooley’s first son was born he was named Ralph after the missing brother; their second son Donald has Rowland as his middle name; these are the final pieces in the jigsaw.

[107] The politics of the Poor - the East End of London 1885 –1914 by Marc Brodie.  Clarendon Press – Oxford 2004.

[108] An early open topped motor coach for sight seeing.