AUGUST 30 1887 – AUGUST 25 1958
Further to my earlier account of Aunt Millicent, I have assembled this picture gallery of her life. The first picture is of Millicent aged about ten; her mother Rebecca had died when she was only seven years old.
She was brought up by her step mother; her father needed help to bring up his young family and he soon married his housekeeper Alice Farrow. Alice went on to have five more children with Millie’s father Charles Mason. At the age of twelve Millicent was still at school, but she was just about to embark on her first job.
This photograph is a portrait of Millie sitting at a table. She may have been still working as a parlour maid in Norwich at Strangers Hall, where her employer was Leonard Bolingbroke, the solicitor who gave the house to the City. Her hairstyle does not seem suitable for the nursing profession; it would not fit into the hat that was an essential part of a nurse’s uniform. However she was soon to abandon her work in service and begin her ascent to the very heights of the nursing profession.
This next picture comes from her time as a pupil nurse in South London. In spite of her still youthful appearance she was in her early thirties by then. As a relaxation from her arduous occupation as a nurse she is taking part in an amateur production of the Beggar’s Opera, with the lead female rôle of Polly Peachum. The Beggars Opera, first performed in 1728, had a phenomenal professional revival in London in 1920, with a run of nearly 1,500 performances. This photograph was taken at Christmas time in 1923, shortly after Aunt Millie had qualified as a midwife. She was living in Balham in the Wandsworth area, just south of the river.
Balham is well served by transport links, with both Underground and Overground stations. It was thus fairly easy for her to get on a train to visit her family in Norfolk. The postal service was cheap and efficient in those days, and you could send a postcard for as little as a ha’penny. There were nearly 500 of these ½d coins to a pound, and even if you posted your card late in the day it would arrive at its destination the next morning without fail. Would that this was still true.
Her place of work was St James’ Hospital in Balham where she had been enrolled as a pupil nurse in 1920. (The official title of the Infirmary was indeed St James’ with no final ‘s’, although the nearby street is correctly called St James’s.) It was a large hospital with over 600 beds, which had been opened in 1910 on the site of a former workhouse, and the building included accommodation for nurses. It finally closed after nearly eighty years in 1988. Millie moved to another hospital in 1926 and eventually progressed to working in Harley Street, the top location for medical advice in the country. There she became the favourite midwife of the highest echelons of society.
The picture above shows Aunt Millie in her nurse’s uniform. Always rather short-sighted, she was still wearing rimless glasses, but by the 1930s she had changed to a heavy round black horn rimmed frame, a style that she wore for the rest of her life. Our first picture of her wearing these glasses was taken in 1936 in Trowse, where she had returned for a short break to spend some time with her father who was then in his late seventies. The two are shown here in his garden. She was already becoming well-regarded in her chosen career, and I think you can tell her father was immensely proud of her.
In 1953 Aunt Millie was employed by Timothy Colman at Bixley Manor, his home a short distance to the south of Norwich. He had recently retired as Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was settling down to married life. This was an important appointment as Millicent was to look after his first-born child, a daughter called Sarah, cousin to the new Queen Elizabeth.
Millie took the opportunity of living near Norwich for a few months to visit family members in the vicinity. We went to Bixley Manor to see her from our home in Poringland, and although I was only four I remember clearly what she said to me; perhaps my family reminded me in later years. However I recall her appearance as that of a very old lady, but in fact she was a young looking sixty-something. She also journeyed into Norwich to see the Withams and the Berrys, her half sisters’ families and doubt other family members too; there were plenty of Masons living in the Lakenham area of the city. Unlike today, Council Houses with large gardens were being built in huge numbers after World War I, and the Masons took full advantage of this fact.
For the Christmas of the previous year she had sent out this studio portrait of herself to acquaintances and members of her family. She had made many friends through meeting the parents of new babies, and in spite of being a single woman I get the impression that her retirement in Kent was not a lonely one. She would have chosen this area to retire to because both her brothers who had remained in Norfolk had already passed away, while her two sisters Nellie and Bessie were both living in Kent at the time.
The final picture I have of Millie shows her in the summer of 1953 in the home of her half-sister Edith Berry (née Mason) in Pilling Park, Norwich.