A London Child of the 1870s, by Molly Hughes

My book review of ‘A London child of the 1870’s’ by M. Vivien Hughes. Is a delightful autobiographical addition to Persephone books. It is maybe not as flowing in a literary style, but does capture the essence of a child growing up in a middle class family of that time period.

Mary Vivien Thomas, born in October 1866 the youngest, with four older brothers, Tom, Dym, Charles, Barnholt and parents who in many ways are very liberal in their attitude to bringing up children. In 1870 they move to Canonbury, North London and live there for nine years. Their father works in the City, something to do with stocks. They have their ups an downs financially, but are never poor and have a couple of servants.

It’s a charming review of a child’s life. how did children play back then? What did they play with? Learning at home, the books she read, relatives who often visited. Her joy of life, wit and insight fullness.

The highlight of life was visiting her mother’s family in Reskadinnick, Cornwall. These accounts are full of Cornish life back then, and I love the quotes from the locals. My grandfather came from Somerset and I can relate to that pattern of old speech. She mentions a manchet loaf of bread, that was not put in a tin to form, and if it was cut, must not be left on the table, a superstition. She also mentions her mother’s family money coming from the tin mining business, which goes all the way back to the time of the Phoenicians who traded tin from Cornwall. Mollie mentions a trip that her aunt Tony took to Norway with her grandfather to buy Norwegian logs for pit props. Just interesting history.

There is a lot of mention of reading of those very pious religious Victorian books to teach morals, that mostly taught fear.

With all the liberalness of the family Mollie was not taken out on trips as much as the boys were, such as the Lord Mayor’s Show, a steam boat trip to Greenwich. In fact she says, “Of course I was never allowed to go there myself.” And further on that page she says “Strange as it seems I was never taken to anything more exciting than a picture gallery, not even to a Pantomime at Christmas…” Mollie does not resent this, but states it as a fact. “My father’s slogan was that boys should go everywhere and know everything, and that a girl should stay at home and know nothing.”

One entrance that caught my eye was a visit to Bumpus Book Shop in Oxford Street, London. It seems it was a very large and well known bookshop so here is a link to Bumpus Book Shop, don’t you love that name? I think we would have liked to visit Bumpus Book Shop.

All the photos below are from the first book, except for the first photo of the author.

I wrote this a couple of days ago before the above review.

I had totally not thought about this book, ‘A London Child of the Seventies’, as I do not have this book as a Persephone publication. I was driving home from work today and it suddenly flashed into my mind, that I had this book, in fact the trilogy. I was so excited thinking I could do a review on it when I almost missed my exit to go shopping.

I first ran across the autobiographical works of M.V. Hughes over twenty-five years ago, in the form of a paperback discard from our local library which I happened to buy. It was ‘A London Girl of the Eighties’. I so loved this book that I read it over several times during that time period.

In more recent years I realized that it was part of a trilogy, ‘A London Child of the Seventies’ and ‘A London Home in the Nineties.’ So I thought let me try and find it on ebay and in my first week of looking I came across A London Family 1870 – 1900, by M. Vivien Hughes. What is so nice about this is I have the 1947 trilogy, first published 1946. Full of photos. The three books having been first published in 1934,1936,1937. I don’t know if the Persephone publication has photos in, so thought that I would post some here.

I always felt that these books would make wonderful reference works if you were writing a fictional novel in that time period. You would be able to capture the period by reading these books. But of course the writings are far more than a reference book you feel you have walked those streets with Molly.

I do have one question of Persephone. Why did they choose A London Child of the Seventies? Persephone calls it A London Child of the 1870’s. As opposed to, what I personally think is the most interesting of the trilogy, A London Girl of the Eighties. That opinion could be totally subjective.

In any case try and read both, the last book of the trilogy is not I feel quite as interesting.



Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, by Winifred Watson

Persephone Challenge, first book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

I’ll start out by saying that it is just a delightful book. It’s like a bubbling brook as it runs along, or a child skipping along, a little hop, skip and a jump. That is what the dialogue reminds me of. It flows so very freely. A bubbly, bouncy, burlesque kind of story, in the genre of the old time music hall.

Miss Pettigrew a very tired greyed out middle aged spinster , who is a nanny, seeks a job, in a very greyed out period of 20Th century history, at least for some. But not if you have money. There are two types of money, that of the rather boring suburbia families, living still within the rules of Victorian morality and then there is the entrepreneurial nouveau rich. Who have cast off restraints of society themselves, and don’t hold others to such high standards either. Who accept you for what you are and do not judge you by your pedigree background.

Into this is cast Miss Pettergrew desperate for a position, never given a leading role to shine is sent by her employment agency to the apartment of a night club singer, Miss LaFosse, here it all begins. We enter into the comings and goings of gentlemen folk at Miss LaFosses’s apartment.

This early paragraph sums up our entrance into the story.

“…She knew she was not a person to be relied upon. But perhaps that was because hitherto every one had perpetually taken her inadequacy for granted. How do we know what latent possibilities of achievement we possess? …”

Miss Pettigrew’s thoughts on one gentlemen, Phil.

“… I do,’ she apostrophized her shocked other self determinedly, ‘I don’t care, I do. He’s not quite … quite delicate. But he’s nice. He doesn’t care whether I’m shabby and poor. I’ m a lady, so he’s polite in his way to me.’

The relationship between Miss LaFosse and Miss Pettigrew grows. Who would be right for Miss LaFosse to marry? Can Miss Pettigrew stave off the wolf?

Her thought about Nick.

“His glance flicked over her and Miss Pettigrew became aware at once of her age, her dowdy clothes, her clumsy figure, her wispy hair, her sallow complexion. she flushed a painful red. Her mind disliked him at once: her emotions were enslaved.”

As the day goes on.

“… But these people! They opened their hearts. they admitted her. she was one of themselves. It was the amazing way they took her for granted that thrilled every nerve in her body. No surprise: they simply said ‘Hello’, and you were one of themselves. No worrying what your position and your family and your bank balance were. In all her lonely life Miss Pettigrew had never realized how lonely she had been until now, when for one day she was lonely no longer…”

With the acceptance of Miss Pettigrew and her witty dialogue come a new wardrobe.

“… She had never worn real silk underclothes in her life. at once they made her feel different. She felt wicked daring, ready for anything. She left her hesitations behind with her home-made woollens.”

I will intersperse here some personal thoughts. A dear friend of mine whose mother never had access to an education, told me that her mother never left home without dressing to the nines. She would say to M. I feel more confident and people sum you up, by first appearances, how you dress.

I personally had that experience some weeks ago. Feeling somewhat down and not bothering to dress even somewhat better, I went into a store, where I’ve shopped often and never been asked for ID to accompany my credit card, but on this day I was. My whole persona came across as down and the shop assistant thought of me accordingly.

I love this sentence.

“She breathed Ambrosial vapour.”

Is a romance in the offing for Miss Pettigrew?

Well read the book. You will not be disappointed.