July 13th ’74
You will pardon me, I hope, in not following the injunction you gave me last evening. I could not resist breaking the ice this afternoon (not that it is anything unusual for me to break the ice of another nature) with your good father. I am happy and proud to say the result is satisfactory. I will tell you all tomorrow when I come over. I can have my other trap at 5 o’clock so that you might expect me by 5.30.
I have sent by John a strap handle of the kind you require which kindly make use of.
With best love
Send word by John if time will suit you tomorrow evening.
This precious letter is 146 years old. We suspect that it has been treasured for so long because it relates to the engagement of the two correspondents: Lorna’s paternal grandparents Emily (Grannie to Lorna) and Gabriel. If we understand it correctly, that afternoon Gabriel (Lorna’s grandfather) asked Emily’s father (Lorna’s great grandfather) for his daughter’s (Grannie’s) hand in marriage, Permission granted, he will visit his fiancée the next day. The reference to regularly breaking the ice probably hints at Gabriel’s work: he was a fish merchant.
Sixteen months after this letter was written, when Gabriel was 27 and Emily 21, the couple married. It was quite a long engagement, but perhaps this was because they were waiting until Emily came of age? Between 1878 and 1893 they had nine children, the third of whom was Lorna’s father Albert born in 1882.
We know a little about Lorna’s grandparents from the self-published memoirs of one of her cousins.
Gabriel was a talented artist who would have liked to pursue art as a career, but instead joined the family business. (Had he been able to follow his passion he might have enjoyed a career similar to that of his brother 16 years his junior. John designed several posters for the London Underground and railway companies in the early twentieth century. You will know the type.) From Lorna’s cousin’s account, Gabriel sounds a bit frightening as a short severe man, with little sense of humour. She also notes that he was very musical and had a lovely low singing voice.
We already know that Lorna loved her Grannie (Emily) very much, and it sounds like Lorna’s cousin felt the same. She describes Grannie as ‘beloved by everyone’, a warm, loveable, hat-loving, extrovert with a great sense of humour. She understood children and was ‘gracious’ and ‘courteous to tradespeople’.
Lorna’s grandparents were committed Christians and said prayers at every mealtime in their household. According to Lorna’s cousin, these droned on far too long when led by Gabriel. We have also learnt that Grannie - dressed in a scarlet petticoat - prayed each morning in her bedroom, and she ran a bible class for the servants of the household.
The family lived in a big five-floored, eight-bedroomed house with large cellars and a greenhouse. The house was crammed with big plants in enormous pots on pedestals, and glass cases of stuffed birds and animals (owls, squirrels, ferrets). Several of the bedrooms had curtained four-postered beds. The household hot water system depended on gas geysers which made a terrible noise, often threatened to blow up, and occasionally did so. The maids who helped run the household were treated like members of the family. They wore blue or pink uniforms in the morning, and black in the afternoon.
Gabriel died in 1933 aged 84. Grannie followed him to the grave aged 82 in 1937, two years before Lorna started writing her war diary.