Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Margery Spring Rice & Memories of Post-War Iken

Lucy Pollard, Margery Spring Rice: Pioneer of Women's Health in the Early Twentieth Century

This book, written by her granddaughter from family letters, tells the story of Margery Spring Rice (1887-1970), a remarkable woman who lived a full, at times sad, and certainly a rather unconventional life.(1) Reading it has brought back many childhood memories of Iken, a tiny village on the Alde Estuary close to the Suffolk coast, where Mrs Spring Rice lived from 1936 until 1956. During that time she continued her women's health and family planning work in London and became involved in various music activities in Suffolk including the Aldeburgh Festival.

The river Alde, Iken Cliff, Iken Hall (bottom centre) and Snape Maltings (top left)

Born and brought up in an upper middle class family in London, she was a member of the Garrett family, leading agricultural engineers and entrepreneurs in nineteenth century Leiston and Aldeburgh. Her grandfather Newson Garrett (1812-1893) founded Snape Maltings, now the home of the Aldeburgh Festival.

Snape Maltings from Iken Cliff

The Garrett family produced able, strong women, and Mrs Spring Rice certainly had a number of inspiring role models most notably her godmother Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a physician and a surgeon.

Having gone through what she describes as a "sometimes-uncomfortable journey", Lucy Pollard provides a very frank account of her grandmother's life. What emerges is a picture of a forceful, highly intelligent, cultured, politically and socially aware woman from a family which by and large valued such qualities in its women.

Margery lost her faith as a young adult, and after a brief flirtation with socialism in her teens became actively involved in Liberal politics and the League of Nations Society, of which she became its first secretary. All her life, whilst not an outright pacifist, she had a strong distaste for war and militarism. After the death of her brother Harry in the Great War she wrote of "the uselessness of all this sacrifice of life." In July 1916 her husband, serving with the Warwickshire Regiment, was killed for a cause in which like her he did not believe. These events as well as the death of her one year old daughter just before the war are chronicled in a chapter entitled simply "Loss", which also provides an account of her and her husband's astonishing experiences in trying to get out of Germany in 1914 after the war had begun.

After all the family tragedy she launched herself into work, quickly remarried because she felt her two young sons needed a father, and had two more children. This was not a wise move, but one which many women took in a world in which men were in short supply. Dominick Spring Rice, the nephew of Britain's wartime Ambassador to the United States, had a drinking problem, was according to his granddaughter a sadomasochist, and a disastrous parent to the two boys who had lost their father.

Mrs Spring Rice was perhaps not untypical of women of her class and generation in her attitudes to feminism, pacifism and sexuality and in her commitment to improving the lot of those less fortunate than herself, nor perhaps in her rather detached approach to child-rearing.

The young Margery Garrett

Not much of the Garrett or Spring Rice wealth seems to have percolated down to Margery, but with the aid of scholarships all her four children were educated privately: two sons who both became Communists were educated at Rugby, the third son at Eton, and the daugher at Wycombe Abbey. Lucy Pollard comments that she loved her children, but never let their presence interfere with her activities.

The book understandably focuses a great deal on the family, but almost equally influential must have been Margery's experience at Cambridge where women students were very much second class citizens, not able to take degrees until 1948. Here she encountered an intellectual world far removed from her Suffolk hinterland and made new friends, among them the distinguished medieval historian Eileen Power. Well connected and cherishing the many distinguished people who crossed her path, including Charlie Chaplin whom she met on a lecture tour in the United States in 1930, Margery was we learn a bit of a snob.

In reading the book I kept being reminded of Bloomsbury, a privileged world of strong egos, fluid relationships, chaotic and unconventional lifestyles and a desire to change the world for the better. It is somehow not surprising to find the recently widowed Margery appear thinly disguised in a novel If all these young men by long forgotten author Romer Wilson, about a group of young people living through the Great War, "which drained the vitality of all those who did not go out to it." (2)

Jumbo Ward's Cottage - more mud than I remember

So Amaryllis, the character apparently modelled on Margery, does not entirely satisfy her future husband. She is in his eyes a country woman, with a "fat short body .. golden hair ", and he liked her best "when she was closest to nature, rough, matter-of-fact, and solid," and because she was older, he rather ominously held her "responsible for everything that may happen between us." (3) We get only an external view of her though. What goes on in Ameryllis's head doesn't seem to interest the author.

1953 Coronation in Iken. Mrs Spring Rice with granddaughter Lucy and her two young brothers

From my childhood I remember her as a very self assured, somewhat imperious woman living at Iken Hall and driving around in a rather battered old Land Rover. She belonged to a world of which I had no conception and and at that age no curiosity. She was reputed to be very left wing, even a Communist!(4) I remember a group of children from the village once attending a Christmas Party at the Hall where we were treated to a convincing performance by members of her family involving a magic carpet. I also remember being deputed by a group of boys to ask her if we could borrow her rowing boat. Quite rightly she refused, telling me that she had been in touch with my father, which I doubt, and he had told her I couldn't swim, which was probably true!

Coronation celebrations in the soon to be demolished old village hall

The most surprising thing I learned from the book was of Mrs Spring Rice's friendship with Benjamin Britten, who after his return from the United States lived nearby in the Old Mill at Snape. I knew that Iken Hall featured in a couple of works by Britten, but had never made the association and hadn't realised she was involved in the founding of the Aldeburgh Festival. It seems fitting that the festival is now located in the building designed and built by her grandfather at Snape.

View towards St Botolph's Church

The book provides an amusing account of an encounter between Mrs Spring Rice and Benjamin Britten with Gabriel Clark, the post-war owner of the Anchorage, the former rectory next to Iken church. The latter ultimately succeeded in closing a right of way along the Alde to the Church which Mrs Spring Rice and associates valiantly tried to keep open.

Ben Britten, Ursula Nettleship & I did the ‘grind’ again last Sunday! Clarke [sic] met us at the fallen tree & after the usual sort of ding-dong argument backwards & forwards he became extremely rude to me, saying it was well known that I ought to be in trousers, & that he sympathised with my husband having left me etc. etc. Ben was so angry that there was nearly a fight. Clarke threatened to use violence if we went on, — but I ignored him & we went on, & he merely followed us hurling abuse at us, of the above sort.

Mr Clark was not the most popular person in the village, and the rumours that a person or persons had been paid to lie about that right of way even reached my young ears.

St Botolph's churchyard: an old adversary

I couldn't resist including this long quotation from the book, attributed to an Etonian friend of Mrs Spring Rice's son Stephen.

Then I met Margery Spring Rice, mother of my friend Stephen. She was short and round like Mrs Tiggywinkle, but certainly no domestic drudge. She came down to Eton in a battered old Riley amid the Rolls and Bentleys, in an old overcoat done up with string as a belt […] In my first meeting with her at Eton she said in a very loud voice ‘I hear you are trying to resign from the OTC. Congratulations: I hope you succeed.’ I loved her from that moment; she was my first adult ally […] But her support did me little good at Eton. They thought her a wicked woman because of her advocacy of birth control, and because she was trying to divorce her husband, an Old Etonian and brother of the writer of ‘I vow to thee my country’ and who had turned Catholic in order to thwart the divorce. The MIC [Master in College] even wrote to my father, warning of her influence over me, with dark hints of subversion, atheism and sexual perversion. She threatened to sue him, but as it was only a private letter and not published she was dissuaded by her lawyers: a pity, for it could have made a great cause celebre. ... Margy Spring-Rice put the fire back in my belly and I fought the good fight against the OTC with renewed vigour. (5)

Sadly the fates had not finished with Mrs Spring Rice. Early in the war one of her daughters in law was drowned at Iken in mysterious circumstances, and then in late 1942 her son Stephen was killed when his submarine was depth charged by the Italian navy off Malta, but she soldiered on, maintaining a nursery for young evacuees at Iken Hall for the duration of the war. (6)

Finally, since this book has triggered so many memories, I debated for a long time as to whether to include the most embarrassing photo in my family collection. It offers a glimpse of life almost 70 years ago in a village which is now almost exclusively the preserve of second homeowners, and whenever I visit seems completely deserted. Iken Hall too seems to have disappeared, but I always find plenty of familiar names in the churchyard.

1953 - the Tyrrells in fancy dress - how embarrassing was that!

NOTE - clicking on the photos provides a larger,clearer image.
1. Lucy Pollard, Margery Spring Rice: Pioneer of Womens Health in the Early Twentieth Century Open Book Publishers 2020.
2. Romer Wilson, If all these young men (London 1919) p. 125. The book was published in the year that Margey and Dominic Spring Rice married.
3. Romer Wilson pp 127, 133.
4. Iken Hall was part of what remained the Sudbourne Hall estate when Mrs Spring Rice began to rent it in 1936. In the early twentieth century Sudbourne Hall had been the childhood home of Kenneth Clark. Mrs Spring Rice was one of a few people who lived on the banks of the Alde estuary and were allowed to remain throughout the second world war when the area was used as a battle training area. After the war the tenant farmers never returned, and most of the Iken estate, some 1500 acres, was purchased by James Mann, who became Mrs Spring Rice's new landlord. He used to ride round the village slowly in his Jaguar. He was the brother in law of Henry Fulcher, the owner of Poplar Farm.
5.Anthony Gillingham, Young Rebel: Memoirs 1917–39 (privately printed, 2007), p. 50 - quoted in Lucy Pollard, chapter 6. Dominic Spring Rice was the nephew not the brother of Sir Cecil Spring Rice.
6. After the drowning, her sister in law wrote, "Douglas always speaks of you when your troubles come as ‘My dear old war-horse of a sister’, and like a tried war-horse your wounds heal and you go forth to battle again to bring home once more some wounded warrior."

Monday, 4 May 2020

1918, another Pandemic, another Prime Minister: Lloyd George in Manchester

David Loyd George (1863-1945)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's recent contraction of coronavirus has revived memories of the 1918 pandemic and the illness of another Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was to be the last Liberal Prime Minister, and in September 1918 was visiting Manchester, the place of his birth and a place very closely associated with liberalism, to receive the freedom of the city.

Very little is remembered about him now, but he was by far the dominant political figure in the early twentieth century. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he had introduced old age pensions and unemployment insurance and can justly be said to have laid the foundations of the welfare state.

Lloyd George's birthplace in Manchester

He was one of those rare Prime Ministers who had never been to Oxford or Cambridge nor to Public School, and had no connection with the landed classes nor even the upper middle classes. He remains the only UK Prime Minister whose first language was not English, but it is doubtful if a better orator has ever sat in Parliament.

Even out of power in the 1930's he still commanded great respect and even fear when he got up to speak in the House of Commons. He was highly regarded by his junior colleague Winston Churchill who in the Liberal phase of his career supported Lloyd George's controversial People's Budget of 1909 when many in their own party did not. Churchill invited Lloyd George to enter his own war cabinet, but he said he was too old.(1)

The only memorial to Lloyd George in Manchester

Lloyd George was born to Welsh parents at 5 New York Place, Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester. His father William was a teacher, and the family had moved around a bit. William seems to have been on a short term contract in Manchester, and they moved back to Wales before the young David Lloyd George was a year old. Wiliam died not long after, and the future Prime Minister was brought up by his mother with the aid of her shoemaker brother who struggled to teach him the Latin he needed to become a solicitor.

Lloyd George being greeted by large crowds lining the route from London Road Station to Albert Square

In September 1918 the war was drawing to its close, and Lloyd George, the head of the war time coalition since 1916, was visiting the Northwest. His trip, starting in Manchester and then moving on to Salford, Bolton and Blackpool, was very much a celebration of the anticipated victory in the war, but it also had a political dimension, with a General Election only three months away. (2) He was due to receive the freedom of Salford and Blackpool as well as Manchester, and was to share a platform at Blackpool Tower with the United States trades union leader, Samuel Gompers.

Lloyd George being granted freedom of City of Manchester, Manchester Hippodrome, 12th Septmber 1918

The Prime Minister was given a raptuous reception on arrival on the evening of Wednesday 11th September. He later received representations at Manchester Town Hall from representatives of the Jewish Community, the Armenian Community and the Syrian Community, all of whom were seeking support for their causes in the coming peace.

The following day he was scheduled to go the Hippodrome to receive the Freedom of the City, then to the Midland Hotel for a luncheon, then tea at the Constitutional Club, a recognition that he was leading a coalition Government, then to a meeting with the Welsh community in Albert Hall, the large Methodist assembly room close to the Town Hall, and finally for a formal dinner at the Reform Club.

Mrs & Mrs Lloyd George attending reception given by the Welsh community, The Albert Hall, Manchester

He completed most of the schedule, but felt ill after the meeting with the Welsh community, and retired to his room at the Town Hall, hoping that he would be fit for his later engagement.

Manchester Town Hall 1922, before the Central Library and the Extension were built

He never made the Reform Club, nor any of his other engagements outside Manchester, and didn't venture outside the Town Hall until 20th September, when, wearing a respirator, accompanied by the Lord Mayor and both their wives, he was taken on a drive through the south of the city, along Burnage Lane to Parrswood, then to Northenden and back through Withingon to the city centre.

Initially he said he wouldn't see a doctor, but a distinguished Liberal doctor, Sir William Milligan, had been summoned to the Town Hall to attend one of Lloyd George's daughters who was also ill, and Lloyd George was persuaded to see him. Milligan was to issue a number of medical bulletins over succeeding days which referred to high temperature, fever, restlessness, exhaustion and throat inflammation. To ensure that the Prime Minister would not be disturbed in his room at the Town Hall, traffic was diverted, barriers placed across the road, and the area in front of the Town Hall was kept clear.

The Manchester Guardian speculated that his influenza probably

followed as a result of the cold he may have contracted in the afternoon in Albert Square, when he walked for a time bareheaded in the rain during his inspection of the munition workers and wounded soldiers. It may also have been due to the change in coming from crowded and heated rooms into the open air when rain was falling. The weather in Manchester on Thursday was very trying, a succession of heavy showers and and strong winds being the main characteristic. (3.)

It reported that he had had several such attacks in the past and had thrown them off, and initially he was expected to do the same with this. It made no link with the pandemic which had started to sweep the world several months earlier, but because of censorship had never been reported in the press.

Casket presented to Lloyd George on the occasion of his being granted the Freedom of the City

On Saturday 21st September, 10 days after his arrival he was declared fit enough to return to London. He left the Town Hall around noon, and at London Road Station a special saloon was waiting for him on No 4 platform, away from the crowd boarding the London train on Platform 1. His carriage was them run out of the station and fixed to the front of the train. He was accompanied by Sir William Milligan. On arrival at Euston a number of people recognised him and cheered

the familiar figure in the unfamiliar garb of a greatcoat, a large white muffler, a respirator, and a soft hat turned down over the face. (4)

In its editorial the Manchester Guardian indicated that he was not looking so well when he arrived back in London and obviously required some rest, before he plunges into the thick of the enormous business which .. is still pressed upon the head of the Government.(5) The Times reported that though still wearing a respirator, he appeared to have fairly well recovered from his illness, and walked briskly from the train to his car.(6)

Early twentieth century Northenden, through which Lloyd George was driven on 20th September 1918.

The Times coverage of the whole affair contrasted very much with the Manchester Guardian, which obviously was politically sympathetic to Lloyd George, and relished his tenuous links to its home city. There was virtually no coverage of the visit in the Times, simply a couple of reports on his medical progress and a report on his arrival back in London. On 18th September it had a report from its Manchester correspondent

There were many callers at the Town Hall yesterday,and one lady left a beautiful basket of roses for the sick-room. The immediate front of the Town Hall and the main road at one of its sides have been barricaded from all vehicular traffic. The Prime Minister shows a lively interest in matters of public concern. He conveyed his congratulations to a private of the Manchester Regiment who was presented with the Military Medal at the Town Hall during the morning .. (7)

Two days earlier it had given a couple of medical bulletins and noted

It being desirable that Mr. Lloyd George should have absolute quiet before nightfall, it was considered expedient to divert the tramcars from the side of the hall nearest to the bedroom where he is lying. ..the authorities will take further steps to minimize the sound from street traffic if it is regarded as essential. (8)

In 1918 of course the big news was the war and the shape of the approaching peace. The pandemic, which was to take millions of lives, was not reported, but in any case its full seriousness was not fully appreciated in September 1918, when the far more deadly second wave was just beginning. Manchester as it happens came off relatively lightly compared with other major UK cities, almost certainly due to the efforts of its long term chief medical officer, James Niven, but still by the end of 1918 it had recorded over 2000 deaths from the virus. It was to record even more deaths in the third phase in 1919.
1. Richard Toye, Lloyd George & Churchill, Rivals for Greatness (Pan Macmillan Ltd., 2008), gives a fascinating portrayal of a long,very complex and at times tempetuous relationship. See especially p.407
2. Lloyd George seeems to have made up his mind to call a General Election in early September 1918. Toye p. 190.
3. Manchester Guardian, Sept 14, 1918.
4. Manchester Guardian, Sept 23, 1918.
5. ibid 6. Times, Sept 23, 1918.
7. Times, Sept 18, 1918.
8. Times Sept 16 1918.