Growing Up

Evelyn's father started back from India on 31st March 1882, for a year's leave. On the first Sunday that she had him back in Tunbridge Wells, she, now aged 9, and her brothers and sisters went with him for a long walk to pick blue-bells. At the end of this walk she felt a little less shy of her father than she had when they met.

Evelyn knew and loved wild flowers. Her mother's family must have had a tradition of studying them, because Evelyn's first cousin Edith founded the Wild Flower Society, which still exists.

A part of her father's leave was spent in visits to Ireland and Wales, and he was "much occupied with business matters". Soon after his return to England he was presented to Queen Victoria by Lord Wolseley. Evelyn's mother went with him. He describes the function in his diary, but sums it up with :
'I don't see any one but the Queen and don't look much at her.'
Evelyn's elder brother William was now 11, and was sent to Monkton Combe School near Bath in Somerset, only recently opened. During the Easter holiday of his first year there, when he was only 12 years old, he died from meningitis. At least he was at home with his family when he died.

William's early death makes the letters that he wrote to his parents from Monkton Combe School particularly poignant. He was very worried on one occasion because he and a friend had dropped earth from a bridge into a passing railway truck, and had to appear before a magistrate. At another time he had to write twice before he had his parents' permission to buy a piece of ribbon, perhaps his house colours, to sew on his athletics kit for the school sports day. Whether he ever ran in the sports is doubtful, because at just about that time he complained of frequent headaches; the school matron and the doctor put the headaches down to various causes, but clearly he had contracted the meningitis that led to his death on 15th April 1883.

In May, 1883, their father sailed for the last time for India. For him it was harder than ever to leave his family, and Evelyn must have felt the parting keenly, too. This time he was away for just over two years. Once again he left Georgie pregnant.

Irene, the last of Evelyn's siblings, was born on 21st October. Their father kept the Christmas card they sent him that year, showing a kitten sitting on a plate, beside a cup and saucer, annotating it thus:
1883 From 5 of his dear children. Evelyn, Gracie, Charlie, Reggie and Vere.
Irene was too young to put her mark, and William was in heaven.

Death was not a taboo subject in Victorian times. Evelyn was given stories to read which often included the Christian teaching on heaven.

Father returned finally from India and arrived in Tunbridge Wells on on July 6th 1885.

He then arranged for Evelyn to go to school with a Miss Goldie. Sixty years later Evelyn recalled what she could of the school:
"Yes, I was at Miss Goldie's school but I think only for 2 or 3 terms. I can not quite remember how long I was there. I know I left in 1886, as my family then left Tunbridge Wells to live in Northamptonshire. One or two things I do remember: The first Missionary address I heard was from a Miss Swainson, a Missionary from India, who gave us an address in the Big School room and made a charming impression on me. There was a big School room facing the road and it had an organ in it, and there was a text on the wall. 'Not unto us, O Lord. but unto Thee be the praise.'

"At that time every girl had to say once a term a piece of poetry to Miss Goldie herself. I remember, after having prepared a poem, standing outside her door with great fear before knocking. The poem I had learnt was 'Maud Muller' by Whittier. I was disappointed when Miss Goldie would not allow me to say it; she said that poem was forbidden to be learnt or said. I suppose the ending was thought too melancholy.

"Another incident I remember was that all the pupils were collected in the Big Schoolroom to hear Miss Goldie tell us about the evils of tight lacing! She told about two girls (I think they were Old Girls) who had gone to India and one day, dressed for one particular occasion, they laced themselves too tight and were found quite dead lying on their beds. It does sound dreadful now, but I do not remember feeling very shocked then."
When Evelyn was 13 she and her family moved from Tunbridge Wells to the Court House in Kingsthorpe, Northamptonshire.

The diary that she kept in 1889 survives, and gives a picture of a sixteen year old girl's life.

At the beginning of the year Evelyn's parents Charles and Georgie, with the help of Aunt Emily, were house hunting. Perhaps the lease on the Court House was to expire. As it turned out, they did not find a house until 1890, having spent time in Ireland and Germany in the mean while. Fortunately there were relatives with large houses whom they could visit, so they were not going to be homeless.

Meanwhile a week of hard frost brought Evelyn and her brothers and sisters out skating. They were no experts, but after a whole afternoon and the next morning they felt they were getting on a little. On Sunday 6th, when they did not skate, Evelyn noticed the frosty trees on the way to church looking most lovely. By Tuesday the ice had become soft with many puddles of water. Snow followed at the end of the week.

There were other diversions in the post-Christmas period, parties at Mrs Wood's, Mr Luson's, Lady Robinson's and Mrs Evans', fireworks let off by the boys, a magic lantern show, Mrs Newsham's concert. There was even a new bicycle, just one for all the children to share, a neat little thing. Charlie took just a week to learn to ride it, but Vere took seven weeks. They had cats, Brownie and Smut.

Evelyn's great passion, however, was horse-riding. Every day that she was able to ride Merlin or Toby was a red letter day - marked in red in the diary. All the children rode. Even 5 year old Irene rode round the yard on a little pony and did not seem afraid - but Evelyn could not help noticing that she did look so very big and fat. As for Grace, Evelyn clearly did not think her an accomplished horsewoman. One, she said, Grace and she went for a ride. Evelyn took Merlin, but Toby took Grace!

If riding was a passion, hunting was something even more. The diary shows hunt days ringed heavily in red ink, and gives detailed accounts of where the hunt went. On the 25th January Evelyn noted a meet at Cottesbrooke on the lawn before the house. After a hunt lasting from 11.45 to 4 she wrote:
I can write no more as it would be impossible to express the great enjoyment that I experienced.
Her brother Charles wrote her some verses after one hunt, in which he mentions local names - Wilmer (historically Wythmail) Park, and Sywell:
The Court House
Kingsthorpe

Elegy on the death of a fox
The morn was joyful and fair
With a slight tinge of frost in the air.
Our horses stood waiting at the door
When we came from the second floor.

On we get and away we go,
Each thinking of Whoop Tally Ho
At last in good time we arrive
With everything looking alive.

We start off to Sywell cover.
The fox we quickly discover.
The hounds all barking and yelping
The Whips Whoo -or Tally Hoing.

Away go the fox and the hounds
And pleasure with many abounds
See there goes Miss .... down
The noblest blood of Court House town.

"Never mind" says one with a smile
"A miss is as good as a mile."
Now the frosty mist is all gone
And they all go galloping on.

On goes the fox o'er dale and hill
And far away through nook and rill.
And turning round he runs homeward
Across the soft meadows and swards.

First straight to No Bottle cover
And then round by Park Wilmer.
The hounds were drawing very near
The fox looks round in despair.

But still a spurt the fox retains
And still goes on with might and main
And still the hounds push madly on
Until all hope for the fox is gone.

At length the fox turns round at bay.
The horses give a weary neigh.
And the fox has fallen dead.
The body is separated from the head.

Alack and alas for we go
Home not thinking of Whoop Tally Ho.
At last we come to Hobsons Choice
With mournful wailing and not rejoice.
In contrast with the red-ringed hunt days, March 30th, when fox hunting ends, is edged in deep mourning black.

A fox's mask decorated Evelyn's house in Foxrock in the 1930s and 1940s, possibly from the very hunt described in these verses, but by then her views had changed and she admitted that it was strange to think that she had once enjoyed hunting.

Her time was not all spent in amusements. The children had their lessons, with Margaret who, it seems, was a kind of nurse - perhaps the equivalent of an au-pair. Evelyn did not always enjoy this. Once she noted that the day was fine and perfect for 'the joy' (by which she evidently meant riding), but there they were 'breathing the stuffy air of lessons, hard and melancholy tasks'. Grace and Evelyn went to drawing lessons and dancing lessons. Grace had music lessons, but Evelyn, tone deaf as she was (later at least), was spared these.

By the end of April the family was preparing to leave their home. New owners were found for the cats. Eureka (possibly a cart) was sold. Saddest of all was the last ride on Merlin before he too had to go to new owners. Evelyn was sure that he would not get a good home.

One cheerful event happened on May 2nd, the wedding of their cook, Jane Gilbert. Margaret was one of the bridesmaids, and the whole household went to the church. The wedding breakfast was in the housekeeper's room, and the couple drove off to the station in a light, open one-seated carriage known as a Stanhope.

Two days later the household broke up. Evelyn and Irene were taken by Margaret to their Aunt Emily in Tunbridge Wells, while the others went to Clifford Chambers to stay with their Uncle Frank (Revd Francis Annesley).

Aunt Emily's involvement in the church was clear. Evelyn found herself on the very first Sunday teaching three little ones at a Sunday School. The following Tuesday Aunt Emily was obliged to go up to London to a meeting of the Zenana Mission, a society devoted to reaching Indian women who lived in seclusion in a separate part of the house, unseen by male visitors. Meanwhile Margaret took Evelyn and Irene visiting. Everyone wonders, marvels (wrote the superior Evelyn), praises her prodigious size.

When Aunt Emily returned the good works continued: flowers taken to a poor woman and various other visits; accompany a temperance deputation from London; an hour-long missionary meeting on a Tuesday morning; a confirmation class.

Evelyn also made time for German lessons, preparing for the family's stay in Germany, and also, with more enthusiasm, had riding lessons. After a while the rest of the family joined them, taking lodgings in Tunbridge Wells.

Evelyn stayed a month with Aunt Emily, before going on to Clifford Chambers. There life was more ordered, with lessons each morning: German, Sums, Science and History. If Papa or Uncle Frank was not there to teach them, the older children taught the younger ones. Once or twice Evelyn drove in the dog-cart with her Uncle Frank to Stratford, where he did some shopping. Vere tried fishing. Evelyn tried sketching. Then they heard the news: Uncle Frank was going to take them to Ireland.



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