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A biography

Chapter 2

Growing up in Wicklow

Emily remembered life in Wentworth House with affection and clarity. She regarded it as her home, in a way no later home could be. Indeed, she was surprised to find that she had lived longer in Locking after retirement than she had in Wicklow. Here are her comments on daily life in Wentworth House.

“We used some of the copper cans to draw the water from the bath tap to fill the basin. The water was heated by a big kitchen range which was rather ironically called The Frugal! It had an oven on each side of the firebox and was our ONLY means of making even a cup of tea! There was gas in the house, but it was only used for lighting. And in the bedrooms we used a candle or a small oil hand lamp. My Father thought it safer not to risk a gas leak in sleeping-rooms.

“There was no washing up liquid, and washing soda was used for greasy things. Our tableknives were steel which stained very easily, and Tom the gardener cleaned them with the Duke of Wellington’s knife powder and a little machine with two rubber rollers.

“The carpets were swept with a “twig”, after used washed tea-leaves had been sprinkled on the floor to lay the dust.

“Every Monday a little elderly lady, Kate Walker, came. She washed the flagged kitchen floor and later carried away the clothes for the wash in a big oval basket. She lived in a little two-roomed cottage in the Ball Alley. How she made the things so clean with only a very tiny open grate to heat the water on is a tribute to her patience and hard work. She brought them back well-ironed on Thursday. Her great joy were her cats. While she was out she used to put them under a big box. One of her eyes was crooked, and she said it was caused by boys “pegging” stones of which one hit her.

“I think the big damask tablecloths were sent to a laundry.

“There wasn’t any rubbish collection as far as I know. We had an ashpit in the yard where the ashes and other rubbish was thrown. Very occasionally Mr. James Dunne came with a horse and cart and cleared it away. He had a posting establishment, which we made use of. He had a couple of jaunting or outside cars. He also had two closed carriages and a wagonette.”

There were deliveries of milk and fish to the door of Wentworth House.

Carters in Wicklow town “The milk was brought to us daily by quite a small girl carrying a big can with a lid. The dairy was about ten minutes’ walk, near the Market Square, owned by a Miss Nolan.

“Fishing was one of the occupations of the men, and their wives would bring the fish to the door in a big basket. They always seemed to wear a black cloak over a black skirt down to the ankles. Herrings usually were brought towards evening, and I remember my Father packing a few up and posting them to Aunt Kate in Glendalough, to whom they were a treat.

“Sometimes the ‘fish women’ would ask if we had any cast-off clothes for their children to cover their ‘poor little naked bodies.’

For other food and necessities one had to go either to a shop - and Emily remembered many of the Wicklow shops by name - or to a private house, like that of Mrs Quinsey.

“An old Mrs. Quinsey lived in a one-roomed cottage at one end of which were bars for her hens to roost at night. She smeared butter on the eggs to keep them fresh, and they were thought very choice.

“The Haskins brothers had several businesses in the town. Nicholas was a keen Methodist and had a grocer’s shop. Biscuits were weighed out in a paper bag. There were hardware items at the back of the shop.

“For bacon and ham my Mother went to Mr. Fitzsimmons and he would show and recommend different brands - much more interesting than the modern methods. There was also Hopkins grocery.

“There were two drapers shops- indeed three at one time as Miss Haskins had one. My Mother asked her if she could suggest a helpful paper for the maids and she said The Christian Herald. So that was how our almost life-long connexion with it began.

“Passants I thought a very delightful place to visit. One could buy material, wool, etc., and in a small apartment off the main store were hats and ribbons and laces and embroidery.

“Next door was P.J. Byrnes which went in more for men’s outfitting and at Christmas time they stocked toys and games.”

There was a strong social life in Wicklow town. “The Assembly Hall was used for concerts and meetings and a badminton club.” Emily remembered the annual visit of Percy French, who entertained with a one-man show including his own songs and recitations. Emily believed that Percy French had to continue with his travelling show in order to support the extravagance of his wife, and she learned by heart one of his verses, “Ach, I dunno.” It was her party piece almost to the last year of her life.

“On August Bank Holiday a Regatta was held. There were a few yacht races but far the most popular events were on the Murrough (a stretch of grass near the sea). There was a merry-go-round and accompanying sideshows and in the evening a good firework display. They were set off on the bank of the river opposite the Murrough and were reflected in the water. We looked forward to this very much and it was the one occasion when I remember that my Father took his stick. When we were coming home after it was over there were a good many the worse for drink and they would be leaning over the sides of the wooden bridge we had to cross.”

Ships in Wicklow harbour Edward took many photographs of Wicklow, including the Murrough, one or two showing the regatta and one of the Murrough covered with army tents. On a recent visit to Wicklow I took several of the old photographs and tried to find exactly where they were taken. I was able to take new photos which showed the changes, but also how much is unchanged.

Emily wrote, of one regatta day: “Canon Johnson, our Rector, decided to run a light lunch in the Assembly Hall that day to provide a place for people to come instead of the pubs. His daughter Honor and I helped to serve and enjoyed it enormously. She got a tip - I didn’t!”

On the road between Wicklow to Newcastle, where Emily’s grandparents, and now her parents also, lie buried, is an old-fashioned establishment called Hunter’s Hotel. Emily wrote: “Some Wynne ancestor spent their honeymoon there. A very early memory of mine is of going there when there was a clay pigeon shooting club in a field at the back, and Uncle Charlie and I used to pick up the unbroken clay pigeons afterwards. And then we would have a delicious tea in the garden with scones and bramble jelly.”

She adds: “The last time Dad and I were over we had coffee there and chatted to the proprietor and weren’t charged for the coffee.”

Dolls' tea-set Model train Family with dog
Posing on tricycles Photographs can add to our picture of that Wicklow childhood. Two, from about 1908, are of brother and sister using a doll’s china tea set on a garden table, and of the two of them with a large model train on the lawn. One might imagine that the tea set appealed more to Emily and the train to Charlie, but Emily inherited her father’s practical bent, and probably enjoyed both occupations.
Another shows Emily and Charlie in about 1911, with their mother, who has a small dog on her lap; the same dog appears in Emily’s arms in a slightly later picture. At around the same time we can see Emily, with Charlie and a young friend, posing on tricycles outside Wentworth House. These were no miniature affairs; one was like a penny-farthing - perhaps it should be called a tuppence-farthing! Later, they had more normal bicycles.

The extended family was very important to Irish Protestants. Hugely outnumbered as they were by Catholics, they tended to stick together and to intermarry. Among Emily’s ancestors were a large number of marriages between cousins, which make the drawing of a family tree a complicated business. We have already mentioned her mother Evelyn’s family, the Actons, and their seat at Kilmacurragh. This house, not many miles from Wicklow, was originally called Westaston, and was built by Thomas Acton in 1697. It remained in the Acton family until 1944, when Charles Acton, the music critic, sold it. Emily never lived there, but she used to stay there with a rather eccentric uncle.

On Emily’s father’s side, the Wynnes had a large house in County Sligo called Hazlewood. The head of the family always tended to be called Owen Wynne, and was a large landowner with many tenant farmers, but, unlike many landlords of English descent in Ireland, the Wynnes were on the whole good to their tenants. Hazlewood was sold in 1937 and is now owned by Korean manufacturers of cassettes. The comic novelist George Birmingham, whose real name was Hannay, had a Wynne as mother, and married a Wynne, and was dismissive of the Wynnes, thus:

“An old though scarcely distinguished Anglo-Irish family. As country gentlemen of importance they had sat in the Irish parliament for a century and had produced soldiers and divines for the service of their country. They had, I think, only two claims to real distinction. They were a subject for Swift’s satire. He wrote of the Irish parliament of his day that in it “humdrum Wynne sat surrounded by his kin.” And the Owen Wynne of 1800 remained uncorrupted and through the whole period of the passing of the Union, voted steadily for the independenceof the Irish Parliament and thereby missed a chance of getting a peerage for the family.” (Pleasant Places, Kingswood, Surrey 1934 p.6)

Among the large family of Wynnes in Ireland was John Brian, known as Jack, who married his first cousin as Wynnes tended to do, and lived in Glendalough, where his daughter-in-law still lives. Jack, an engineer, was the son of Albert, the mining engineer in West Prussia, and brought a revival of mining to the Glendalough area; he also provided electricty to the whole valley with his private hydro-electric scheme. He was Emily’s cousin, and she writes:

“Two or three times we went to Glendalough for holidays. The Albert Wynnes had a nice house up on the right side of the road called The Cottage, and Wyndham Wynne owned The Lodge on the other side of the road. They would lend (rent?) us one or the other and it was a lovely holiday.”

A photograph shows Charlie and Emily riding a pony outside The Cottage. Charlie and Emily in Glendalough
Emily continues:

“It was quite an undertaking, as we had to take quite a lot of things - sheets etc. Mr. Dunne would bring his wagonette to the yard and it was there for quite a while to be stocked up. Then we all got in and Mary and Rachel too. If the weather looked uncertain Mr. D. spread a yellow waterproof cover over our knees which my brother and I called Mr. Dunne’s tablecloth.

“Once we went in the winter time and the horses slipped on the little steep bridge in Annamoe and we were taken into a cottage and my “little cold feet” were kindly rubbed to make them warm.”

Her mother’s brother Reginald was sent to South America to keep him from making a marriage to Isabel Richmond that his family disapproved of. Evelyn, it appears, was not the only one to suffer in this way. Reginald wrote to Emily:

El Correntino
29 December 1910

My dear Baby,

The letters from Wentworth House were the only ones I got before Xmas, and not much after. I felt quite heavy with the millions of lbs. of love you sent me. It does me a lot of good and you too without doubt. Hope the BRITISH Domins are going on all right. In reply to your P. S. do not worry, you sent me enough love to keep me going till your next letter. Great fun ragging, no? This [a blot of ink] is a dead fly that was hoiked out of pot on the pen, and all sorts of creatures flutter over it and make it worse.

		Baby sent,
		Gave, not lent,
	Millions of libs of love for me.
		Do not you
		Wish you too
	Had such presents from over the sea?
	Pasa buena noche y que Dios le guarde.
		Your affectionate uncle

Reginald returned to marry his Isabel and to father a son, that music critic Charles Acton, just before enlisting for the First World War. He wrote from the trenches in 1914:

“If [Edward] Wynne will visit me in my trench I can promise him opportunities for accurate shooting and scope for his eyesight in locating their snipers. They beat me.”

Reggie’s brother Charles was killed in 1915. Reggie himself was killed on 22nd May 1916. The third of Emily’s mother’s brothers had lost his life in the Boer War before she was born.

Next chapter.


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