On the 3rd of May 1919 a sale in aid of the Peace Celebration Fund was held in Chitterne. A little book recording the sale was amongst the treasures discovered in Raymond Feltham’s house after his death. It gives a fascinating insight to village life 100 years ago.
Each of the 101 items donated for the sale is listed, alongside every buyer and what they paid. We would recognise many of the sale items such as the cakes, preserves, eggs, vegetables and books. But rabbits, cockrells, barley meal, fowl’s corn, wings and tips and a boudoir cap? (The wings and tips went to Mr Hinton for 1s.6d and the cap went to Waddington and Dunn for 7s.)
Sidney Smith paid the most, £3 for a wagonette. Other items that caught my eye were: a flock mattress bought by Frank Polden for 6s, a model engine by Mr Brown for 12s, a pair of puttees by F Ashley for 1s.6d, a milk churn by Farmer Wallis for 17s, a wheelbarrow wheel by Farmer Collins for 5s.6d, a dog trough bought by Mr Daniels for 3s, a pony carriage by Mark Wallis for 12s.6d and a tricycle bought by Mr Shipham for £2.7s.6d. Altogether the sale raised £37.12s. for the Peace Fund.
Added to this total were subscriptions collected by the ladies of the village. Mrs Wallis and Miss Canner raised £22.15s.11d; Mrs Long and Miss Collins £33.6s.6d; Mrs H J Smith and Miss Feltham £14.13s.4d; Mrs S G Polden and Miss Robberts £1.9s; Miss Robberts also raised 6s.1d with a mystery box. Altogether £111.4s.4d was secured and signed off by chairman Frederick Wallis and treasurer Charles Collins on the 9th of May 1919.
The little book makes no mention of how the money was to be used for the Peace Celebration. The pages beyond the details of the sale are blank, but between them are two receipts pinned together concerning the War Memorial dated 1920. So perhaps that’s where the money was spent.
Another possibility is the purchase of peace mugs and beakers for the village children. There is a photograph which shows the children after the presentation in 1919. At least one of the beakers has survived, and was kindly brought back to the village by DS some years ago.
I first heard of the village passion for nicknames from my mother who told me a tale about two good-looking footballer boys from Chitterne who regularly came to Warminster to play when she was a teenage football supporter. They were ‘Pont’ and ‘Pimp’ Bailey (this was the 1920s before ‘pimp’ had seedy connotations!) It wasn’t until I came to live in Chitterne that I found out that ‘Pont’ was short for ‘Ponton’ and ‘Pimp’ was short for ‘Pimple’ and that their real names were George (born 1896) and Frank (born 1904, killed in WW2). Frank was the youngest of the Bailey tribe hence the nickname ‘Pimple’ but I still have no clue where George Bailey’s nickname ‘Ponton’ came from.
The nicknames, for men only as far as I know, were so commonly used that sometimes the man’s original name was unknown, even by his children or his relatives, as in this story told to me by the late Raymond Poolman.
One day Ray was stopped by a stranger to the village who asked Ray if he knew where he might find Alfred Charles Poolman. Ray had no idea and replied: “Never heard of him.” But later discovered it was his own uncle, who, to all and sundry was known as ‘Bob’ and lived less than 100 yards away.
In another tale gleaned from the Poolman family, Anthony George Poolman (born 1925) always thought that his father was using a nickname when he called his wife ‘Minnie Matilda’. He said it was a shock when at her funeral the vicar intoned “Minnie Matilda Poolman” over her body, as he at last realised it was his mother’s real name. She was born Minnie Matilda Bachelor (1885-1968). Anthony’s father did have a nickname though, he was Harry ‘Gunner’ Poolman (1880-1971). I have no idea why ‘Gunner’, as he was a cowman, perhaps he was good shot.
This Anthony Poolman is not to be confused with another Anthony Poolman (1933-2000), who would ever be known as ‘Pip’ Poolman, thanks to a comment made by his grandmother. On seeing him for the first time she said: ” What a little Pip!”
The reason behind some of the nicknames is very clear, as in the case of Fred ‘Bammer’ Poolman, (1883-1969 below left), a good batsman; Ray ‘Tunnox’ Poolman (1933-2017), a well built chap; Burt ‘Chirpy’ Grant (1890-1966 below centre left), a cheerful character and George ‘Spriggy’ Dowdell (born 1899 below centre right), who was never still. Frank Maidment (1861-1952) had two nicknames depending on which hat he was wearing, ‘Crummy’ when a baker and ‘Daddy’ when a Baptist Preacher; Reg ‘Tippy’ Billet (1897-1965), the postman, wore large steel tips on his hobnailed boots and William ‘Tec’ Brown (1872-1941 below right) was a real Scotland Yard detective.
Some nicknames were almost cruel and you wonder if the men were actually called that to their face. Was Alfred ‘Crabby’ Burt (1885-1957 below centre), the blacksmith, really crabby? And Frederick ‘Duffy’ Paterson (1885-1952), the shepherd, a duffer? And what prompted Hubert ‘Starchy’ Burton’s (1908-1995 below right) nickname?
Other names echoed the surname, Walter Henry ‘Sugary’ Sweet (1878-1918), or John ‘Chippy’ Oakes (above left) for instance, but some didn’t, ‘Snowy’ wasn’t called White, he was Charles Gordon Goodenough!
If any blog-readers know of more Chitterne nicknames, I would be glad to hear of them. I can be contacted via ‘Contact’ on the menu in the top right corner of this page.
At Whitsun in June 1878 Maria went home to see her family in Chitterne and Imber. In Chitterne in those days Whitsun was the big summer festival of the year and everyone would be on holiday from work for a day to celebrate with music, dancing and other amusements. No doubt Maria’s son Jimmy would have been playing in the Chitterne Brass Band.
A week later Maria is aboard the Hamilton family’s favourite Yacht Diana. She writes to Jimmy on the 16th June 1878 from aboard the yacht anchored in Portland Bay, Dorset:
Here we are in the midst of the Channel Fleet. They left Spithead on Friday last. We left Portsmouth Harbour about ½ past 12 on Saturday and anchored at ½ past 9 in the evening, a splendid run of 60 miles. It has been a lovely day here and we hope to leave tomorrow morning, if all is well for Guernsey, on our way to Jersey.
You would be much interested if you were here, as there are 9 ships of the line and four or five turret shipsand some Gun Boats and a training ship. I should think such a fleet of heavy armour was never seen in Portland before.
I suppose all your Whitsuntiding is over now and you are settling down to work in good earnest.
She writes to Jimmy again on the 20th June from the yacht anchored in St Malo Bay, France:
We left Guernsey last Monday and went to Jersey, but the heat! I never felt any thing like it, not even in Italy. We had a splendid sail across and lay in the Harbour close to the Pier, which was not at all pleasant, there being so many Steamboats constantly loading with the produce of Jersey, one going every day to Covent Garden in London.
I am so glad you have got your Pig and hope it will do well and that you will always be able to get one. I am glad you go to see poor George Feltham (died aged 22 years in June 1878), and what a comfort he is ready to go. May we all be ready when the time shall come.
Many villagers at the time kept a pig or two to provide them with bacon and pork. Jimmy was no exception. He was a member of the Pig Club from 1891 until 1928 when it folded. For more on this see my blog Chitterne Pig Club.
Maria describes Guernsey to her mother in a letter dated 21st June:
We left Portland last Monday and were rolling about all night in a dead calm and a heavy swell, but a little breeze sprung up and we arrived quite safe on Tuesday afternoon. This is the most lovely place I have seen out of Italy, a sort of half French half English place. They have a different coinage to ours, a penny is called 8 doubles and they call the Queen the Duchess of Guernsey. But such Fruit, Flowers and Vegetables! Geraniums grow like Nettles and Fuchsias every where and such Roses! Mrs Hamilton hired a Carriage and Pair and took the Captain and I a beautiful drive yesterday. I do like seeing new places. The sky and water are intensely blue, and there is plenty of Fish. The town itself (St Peter Port) reminds me of Dieppe in France.
Maria wrote again to her mother from Yacht Diana anchored at Portsmouth on 11th July 1878. Meantime the yacht had sailed the party to France as Maria explains:
I have enjoyed my trip to France very much. We went to Cherbourg from St Malo, had a splendid sail. At Cherbourg we were most hospitably entertained at the English Consulate. Very nice people, distant relations of the Lapgary (?) Hamiltons. On Monday we left Cherbourg about 20 minutes past ten and anchored in Portsmouth harbour at quarter past 6. The dear little “Diana” just flew over the waves, sometimes going 12 knots or 12 miles an hour. It was glorious, although the decks were one sheet of water, as going so swiftly made her throw the spray proudly over her. We passed closer to the “Eurydice” than I have ever been before, and I must confess, going at such speed at such a place made me feel a little nervous. I fear here is not much hope of her ever being raised.
HMS Eurydice was a 26-gun Royal Navy corvette, the victim of one of Britain’s worst peacetime naval disasters when she sank on 24th March 1878 off the Isle of Wight. The wreck was refloated later that same year but had been so badly damaged during her submersion that she was then subsequently broken up. So it appears that Maria saw the ship during the short time after it had been raised but before it was salvaged and broken up that same year. This enabled us to accurately date the year of these letters of Maria’s to 1878. As usual she hadn’t bothered to add a year.
Maria goes on:
I wish you could see how quaint and funny the people dress in the part of France where we have been. The maidens about 14 wear close fitting muslin caps and the married women thick muslin caps without Borders, the crowns about a foot high. I should think they must be starched and then dried in a shape. And short petticoats of course. No Bonnets either to Church or Market, and all wear wooden shoes, the toes pointed and curled up, but very clean looking. So you see, they are not like us, change the dress with every Breath of Fashion.
I hope you will be able to read this, but I am writing on deck and the wind seems very much inclined to toss it to the waves for a plaything.
I don’t know where we are bound to next, but I think towards Scotland, calling at most of the ports on our way. I expect we shall be here for some days.
Dick Parker, or properly Richard Parker, mentioned in my last blog, was in plain sight all the time, had I only looked more closely at my records. I don’t know how I missed him but luckily J & R did have their eyes open and spotted him in the Chitterne Burial Records for 1877.
The record shows that he died aged 45 years suddenly in fits and was buried on August 12th 1877. In the census records of 1871 he and his wife Katherine née Davies, were living in the twelfth house from the bottom of Bidden Lane on the All Saints side (the left side) next door to the shop. This would put them about where number 61 is today, except that 60 and 61 (Chestnut Cottages) were not built until 1874. So were they living in the new number 61 in 1877 or had they moved elsewhere? We will probably never know, except that their neighbours George and Sophia Bartlett, who ran the grocer’s shop in 1871, moved into the new shop at number 60 after 1874 so perhaps the Parkers moved into the new house alongside too, and that was the house Maria’s widowed mother hoped to get if Katherine moved out.
That leaves the reference to Townsend, a possible destination for Maria’s mother in my last blog, as a bit of a mystery. I had assumed that Richard Parker and family lived there.
Richard Parker was the eldest son of James Parker of Chitterne St Mary and Maria White of Chitterne All Saints. He was baptised in 1833, worked as a farm labourer and married Katherine Davies in 1860. Katherine was born about 1840 in Benguinlais, South Wales. Their two eldest children David James and Eliza Jane both died in 1872 aged 10 and 8 years. Richard Edward 1867, Sarah Florence 1870 and a second David James 1872 survived. After her husband Richard’s death in 1877 Katherine moved away, the family do not appear on the Chitterne census of 1881.
Note for new blog readers: Bidden Lane is the correct, but rarely used name for the Shrewton Road.
Many thanks once again to J & R, always a pleasure to have your input, which puts me to shame this time.
On 25th August 1877 we find Maria staying in hospital with the eldest of her charges, 13 year old Eva Hamilton. She writes to Jimmy from The Hospital, Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire, Scotland explaining why she hasn’t written for so long:
It is a very long time since I have written to or heard from you but now there is no fear of infection from the fever which Miss Eva has had and which she is better of now.
At the hospital, which opened in 1876 as Helensburgh Hospital and was renamed Victoria Infirmary in 1897, Maria finds herself in a very different situation from her earlier tour around the continent, and she is missing out on the Summer yatching:
This has been a very dreary time in the Hospital. I have been here 5 weeks today, but thank God I am very well. We had fearful storms here the beginning of last week, washed the potatoes out of the ground and flooded the Railways and did great damage. But it is fine now. The yacht and our people are away at Ardtornish in the north of Scotland. The dear child has not seen one belonging to her but me since she took ill, but I think now she will soon get up her strength.
Maria is concerned for her son Jimmy’s future after he finishes his apprenticeship with Mr Exton the wheelwright, and for the welfare of her newly widowed mother, who may move to Townsend from the bottom of Bidden Lane:
And your grandmother, has she thought any more about going to Townsend yet? I do not like to ask her and she has not said but the time is getting on. I do feel very worried and anxious but I trust, my dearest Boy, you will be kept in the right way.
The following month, on the 18th September 1877, Maria writes to Jimmy from 18 Bath Street, Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland:
I heard from your Grandmother that she is in hopes of getting Dick Parker’s House. I hope she will like it if she does go up there. (I have not been able to trace Dick Parker as a resident of Chitterne, so he may have been a landlord living elsewhere).
Our people have not returned from the North yet but we hope they will now very soon. Be sure and tell me when you hear of any situation. I do hope for my dear Mother’s sake you will be at home this winter at least. I should feel so much happier about her, but I feel you will do your very best and we must leave the rest in the hands of god. We don’t know what a day will bring forth.
Maria is back at Armadale on 7th October 1877 and writes to Jimmy:
The Yacht left for England yesterday the 6th. I hope they will have a safe and pleasant passage to England. We brought dear Miss Eva home to Armadale last Saturday the 29th. She is quite well and getting strong. It is so nice to feel at home again. Mr James (Dennistoun) is to sail for Australia on the 25th of this month. He has made me a very handsome present of a silk umbrella with a lovely Handle surmounted with Silver and my Monogram on it, and I got a china cup and saucer from the sister of Mercy, a handsome hand bag from the Captain and a necktie from the Mate, so I have had some handsome presents this last week.
I suppose your dear Grandmother will have to remain in the old house. It does not seem as if Dick Parker’s wife is going to move.
I am getting very anxious now about you. I hope all will turn out for the best but don’t throw yourself out of work, what ever you do.
The 22nd October 1877, in another lettter to Jimmy:
I have been looking over my memorandums and I find your time is up on the 21st of Nov. I do hope you will not go farther from home than Warminster, not this winter at least. Do write as soon as you have decided.
25th November 1877, Jimmy has finished his apprentice training as a wheelwright:
I am glad that we have been spared to see the accomplishment of your apprenticeship and hope now you will, by the blessing of God, be able to earn your living in a respectable manner. I am very glad you parted friendly and now I must ask you to be as careful as you can try and put some money away every week, if it’s only a little. You are in Warminster and it’s no trouble as I suppose you hope to take a wife some day, but I do most earnestly hope it will not be until you have saved up money enough to make a good home, so that you may begin the world free of debt, and if she is a sensible Girl, as I think she is, she will not mind waiting.
Jimmy has found the girl who he will eventually marry. Alma Charlesanna Polden was the eldest daughter of Abdon Polden 1835-1924 and Jane Hinton (1835-1919). Abdon was the builder who oversaw the building of the new Chitterne Church in 1861/62 and had a hand in building and repairing many more Chitterne houses. He built a house for his family at number 1 Townsend in 1856 and named it Alma Cottage after his first child who was born in 1855. He and his large family were influential in many areas of village life. He was a freeholder of Chitterne, bandmaster (Jimmy was a member of the band), organist at the church for over 50 years and he and Jane his wife were lifelong members of the choir. He is remembered for all time in the name Abdon Close, Chitterne, which was built on land he once owned.
The influence of this man and his family on Jimmy Feltham should not be underestimated. I am sure Abdon provided the father-figure so sadly missing in Jimmy’s life and from the many mentions of him in Maria’s letters, I believe she knew it too. Jimmy and Abdon’s eldest son Clement Polden (1857-1929) would later form a business together called Polden and Feltham, but that’s in the future and another story.
Back to Maria’s 25th November letter:
And another thing I should like is for you to attend some classes for improving your education. You don’t know what an incalculable benefit it may be some day and in a town like Warminster there must be many advantages you could not have in the country. It would be money well laid out, even if you had to pay some little for it.
I shall be very anxious to get your next letter to hear how you like your new work, and what wages you will get, and how you like your lodgings.
In her last letter of the year, written on New Year’s Eve 1877, Jimmy is working with his uncle, presumably William Cockrell, Maria’s brother, who lived at Portway in Warminster. I am not sure what work Jimmy and William were engaged in but Maria says this to Jimmy:
You must write as soon as you can. I like to hear of you going to work with your Uncle and I am glad you like your work. I hope you will get on well.
In January 1877 Maria travels from Florence to Rome and stays there until the middle of March. On the 20th January she writes Jimmy a birthday letter from the Hotel de Milan, Florence. Jimmy is now 20 years old and Maria gives him more heartfelt advice:
I am sending you by registered letter a beautiful mosaic pin set in gold for a Birthday present, and also as my present to you from abroad. I intended to have brought it home, but as I have bought it and we are going on to Rome, I thought I had better send it in case I should get it stolen.
And one thing, my dear Boy, I do hope you will not get sweethearting too soon, but try and save a little money to make a comfortable home and look about and try to find a good wife. But if you fix your affections while you are very young and before you have seen the world, you may repent it all your days, as I have done.
On 25th January she writes a long letter to her mother from the Hotel Molaro, Rome:
Does it not seem strange that I should be writing to you from this place? I can hardly believe it myself that I am actually where the Apostle Paul was, and where he wrote his epistle, and actually looking on the arch of Titusthat you used to have a picture of in an old Magazine, where the Soldiers are carrying away the 7 branched candlestick and spoiling the temple of Jerusalem. I feel now I should like to travel over Egypt and the Holy Land and then I could rest contented.
We left Florence on Monday and had such a pleasant journey, such blue sky and bright sunshine. We went first to the Anglo American Hotel (in Via delle Quattro Fontane) but did not like our rooms, so Tuesday we came here. It’s very tiresome moving, but I am very well now thank God, and pretty strong. Only I cannot walk up hill much.
Well, yesterday we went to the Vatican. It’s a tremendous large Palace where the Pope resides, and has about two thousand rooms in it and lovely pictures painted by Michael Angelo and Raphael, two of the greatest painters that ever lived. Such wide marble staircases, quite as wide as from your house to Mrs Titt’s garden wall (from near White Hart garage to the wall of Elm Farm), and in the courtyard two beautiful fountains playing, and the sun was shining through them , and there was a rainbow through them both. It was beautiful.
Then, the floors are all Mosaics inlaid, and today I have been to see St Paul’s Church (San Paolo fuori le Mura) where St Paul is said to be buried under the high Altar. There was a High Mass today as it’s St Paul’s day, and the chains that he was bound with are exhibited once every year an the 25th Jan.
It was terrible to see the faithful, and among them so many of my own countrymen and countrywomen, go and kiss those rusty chains, and then the priest touched their forehead with them. They even brought infants to touch them with their foreheads. But the Music and singing was more beautiful than any thing I had ever heard, and the priests and Cardinals in their gorgeous robes, dressing and undressing. If it was all done to the Glory of God, it would be different, but we know that Paul preached against all these superstitions and laid down his life in defence of the truth. And now even his bones and chain, or what are believed to be his bones are worshiped. I hope to go to St Peter’s Cathedral tomorrow, and another day to the Palace of the Caesars (on the Palatine Hill).
And the scenery along the route was magnificent. We came by rail over a part of the Apennines Mountains, 800 feet above the level of the sea. There are magnificent Palm trees growing here and Orange trees laden with fruit.
10 days later Maria has received news from her mother that her husband Isaac Windsor is very ill. In distress she writes a little incoherently to her son Jimmy on the 4th February 1877:
I was very sorry to get a letter last night telling me of Isaac’s illness. I am very I am very sorry for him and for dear Mother. Could you not go over on your Iron horse (his bicycle) one evening; that is, if you don’t go this Saturday, and write and tell me how he is? I shall enclose a few lines in this, which you will please post to Mother if you do not go. It will save the postage to me.
I am glad to tell you I am very well and enjoying myself in Rome, seeing a great many things new every day, but I feel I should much rather be near my dear Mother to help her nurse poor Isaac. I am sure he will be very trying and she is getting on in years now, but I am so far away and fear it will be some time before I am back.
Isaac dies soon after, aged 68 years, and was buried 10th February 1877. Maria continues to worry about her poor 65 year old mother and writes to Jimmy on 15th February:
Your kind letter was a great comfort to me. I feel that it’s such a blessing you are near your dear Grandmother now I am so far away. I feel I want to fly to her, but I can trust you to see she wants for nothing. You and I must do our best to comfort her declining years, for we can never repay her all we owe. If there is any thing she wants which you cannot get, write at once to me, and if she wants in another load of coal, tell her to order Willie to put in one and send the bill to me.
I do feel so thankful you are so nearly out of your time (Jimmy’s apprenticeship is due to end on 21 November 1877) as then we shall be able to work together, and I am sure it will be always a labour of love on your part as well as mine, for every kindness done to your dear Grandmother I shall feel done to me.
I don’t know how much longer we are to remain here but I am just longing to return to England now, as Mrs Hamilton has kindly promised I shall run home before we join the yacht. Mr James (Dennistoun) is expected home from Australia in April to yacht with us all summer. We thought at one time the yacht would come out here for us, but it is thought better we should return as we came, through France.
The following month Maria has reached Naples and writes to Jimmy from the Hotel Nobile on the 18th March 1877:
What will you think when you read this and find that I have actually arrived at the foot of the burning mountain Vesuvius. It is lovely here and nice to be so close to the seashore again. The mountain is sending forth huge columns of smoke and another eruption is expected. I went to the museum yesterday and saw the things that have been dug up out of Pompeii, a city that was overwhelmed with fire, and gold and silver things and crockery look as fresh as if they were in use but yesterday. But I shall be so glad when all this sightseeing is done, for though it’s very wonderful and it’s not every one gets the chance, still it’s very tiring and the heat is so great, and I do so long to see you and my dear Mother.
And yet, I rather dread the long long journey back, only it will be going home. I cannot tell you what a comfort it is to me that you go home on Sunday. I am sure dear Mother will just look forward to it all the week and all day Sunday I think of you being at home.
There are no letters for a while after this so Maria must have made it home for a visit after her travels. We will pick up her story again later in 1877.
We left Maria in Paris at the beginning of October 1876. In the next week she travels across France by train to Marseilles. From the Hotel de Paix, Marseilles, on the 8th October she describes the journey to her mother:
Well, we travelled 12 hours by rail through hundreds of miles of vineyards and olive yards, laden with fruit in some places. Men and women were gathering it. It is called the valley of the Rhone, and Mulberry trees, on the leaves of which the silk worm is fed. The trellised verandahs of the houses’ gardens, palings, railway embankments, wherever there was any mould, a vine was stuck in them.
We rested a night at Lyons, a splendid city where the great silk manufactorys are, the next day came on through the same kind of country here. Today we have had a carriage and been driving about among the Docks all day, which extend for miles and is crowded with the shipping and produce of all nations. The sea and sky is of the most lovely blue you can imagine, but Oh the heat. All the works of God on land and sea are beautiful and wonderful, only Man is vile. We had a good view yesterday for many miles of the Swiss Alps, wonderful mountains with Mont Blanc the highest of all, clad in everlasting snow.
The following day she writes from the Hotel Grand le Bretagne, Nice:
We left Marseilles yesterday morning and came the whole day through vineyards and olive yards, Pomegranates, Cactus much taller than myself but Oh the heat! It seems to take all my strength away. Last night I slept for the first time under Mosquitoes Curtains. They are made of white net and you just lift them up and get under them. They are dreadful.
All the Hotels in France are very grand, more like Palaces than any thing I have seen in England, of course very expensive. They charge 7/- (shillings) per day for me and nearly double that for each of the other 4. Now we are in a city of Palm trees. The streets are bordered with stately Palms and prickly Cactus, but it’s very fatiguing travelling in this heat, and I shall be glad when we get to Italy and get settled.
The Mediterranean sea is something wonderfully blue and I cannot help wishing the yacht was anchored out here, it would be so much cooler on sea than on land.
On the 15th October from the Grand Hotel de Genes, Genoa:
We had a dreadful journey from Nice to Genoa, owing to the heat and Mosquitoes, but the country and fruits are something wonderful. Oranges and Lemons in abundance. The trees seem weighed down with them, and the Gardens full of Salad and green vegetables. We arrived here last Wednesday and have been driving about seeing Palaces, Churches, Cathedral, Cemeteries, which are very grand indeed. This is called a city of palaces, and they are rich and rare. It is a place that has been famed for hundreds of years for the manufacture of Velvet.
The Genoese women all wear their hair dressed in a peculiar fashion and no bonnets, but black Lace Mantillas pinned on the top and hanging gracefully down the back. There is a great deal of gold and silver filigree work made here. But I shall be very glad to get to Florence and get settled, although Mrs Hamilton is very kind and never goes for a drive or to see any thing without me.
The 9th of November 1876 Maria writes to Jimmy from The Hotel di Milan, Florence:
We have had nothing but bright sunshine ever since we have been here, and cloudless blue sky till yesterday when it became grey, and today it’s raining just a very little. The sun is still very hot but the wind is cold, but there is no coal here to make big fires with, and there is no smoke, which keeps the city so clean.
Last Wednesday, the first, was full moon and Mrs Grey and Miss Laurie, two Ladies who are staying here with Mrs Hamilton, took me a drive some miles round to see Florence by moonlight. It was a sight I shall never forget whilst memory lasts. It was so light one could see to read, and the sky so blue. We went out of the gate of the city and drove up a hill. There lay the city, clear and distinct as possible, no smoke hovering over it, with its Marble Palaces, its Towers and Cathedral, and the great broad river Arno with its many beautiful bridges across it and lighted up on either side with lamps, which were reflected in its clear bosom. Then, the slopes of the hills, covered with terraces full of Vines, Olives and fig trees. Sometimes the vines climb up the fig tree and almost every branch, so that you could literally sit under your own vine and fig tree.
There are a great many wonderful things here, one of which I think is an American, a Millionaire. That is one who is worth a Million of Money. And he drives 12 in hand every day. Some days he drives 14, but he has had 12 when I have seen him. Beautiful fat bay horses, well matched, and he turns the corners beautifully. I see he has 6 different coloured reins, so I suppose he knows which pair to pull.
The Empress of the French (Empress Eugenie, widow of Napoleon III) and Prince Imperial (Prince Napoleon Eugene, her son) drive out very often, but I have never seen them, in the same carriage like our Queen’s. She is always in black.
Prince Napoleon Eugene insisted on joining British forces in fighting the Anglo-Zulu wars and was killed in 1879.
I like this Hotel very much. It’s very comfortable. There was a very nice French Maid here last week who could speak a little English and now there is a Scotch and also a German Maid here, so it’s not so dull.
Maria stays at the same hotel in Florence until the middle of January 1877. Whilst there she suffers with an eye problem during November and writes this to Jimmy on 4th December 1876:
You will be glad to hear that I am better and going about my work again, although I feel I shall have to be very careful for a long time to come. I have not begun to do any Needlework by Candle light yet, but I think my eyes will soon get quite strong again.
I went to Church yesterday for the first time for 5 Sundays, both the English and Scotch Churches are very close here, as we are in the very heart of the city. I can hardly fancy we are here in December as it’s very warm. I am sitting writing in my room with both my windows open. The rainy season has commenced and we have had a good few heavy showers, and as the streets are paved all over, they look as if they had just been scrubbed down. I pity the poor horses though, as the pavements so soon wear smooth that the horses frequently slip and fall. Instead of seeing men putting down stones to mend the streets, you see them sitting down and chipping little bits out with a hand chisel.
On the 18th December 1876, thinking about home and Christmas, she writes again to Jimmy:
I do not expect any thing here to remind me of Christmas in dear old England, but I will write after and tell you how I get on.
I am glad to tell you I am pretty well now, but not very strong, and I am afraid I never shall be again, but I am able to keep about and do my work, which is a great mercy.
I am sorry to hear the springs are so high at Chitterne. It must be dreadful for your dear Grandmother and Isaac. You must write me a long letter and tell me exactly how you have spent the Christmas and if you played in the band and where.
Chitterne Brass Band existed for decades under the leadership of Abdon Polden, who would later become Jimmy’s father-in-law.
Maria goes on to Rome and Naples in 1877, but that will have to wait for next time.