Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mother Passed Away Last Week

My beloved mother passed away last week. I may not feel like writing any blog posts for a while.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Syrie and Mr Selfridge

Beaton, Cecil, Syrie Maugham, Wikipedia

One of my favourite shows on TV now is the costume drama "Mr Selfridge," based on the larger-than-life Harry Selfridge who founded the huge London department store Selfridges.  Selfridge introduced several great innovations, including placing the cosmetics section on the first floor and spectacular store windows.  One of these was a tribute to ballerina Anna Pavlova.  Unfortunately, even though the store-owner was married with four children, he enjoyed the company of women and gambling rather too much! Syrie Wellcome (later Maugham) was one of his many girlfriends.

Syrie Barnardo, born on July 10, 1879, had an extremely unhappy childhood.  Her father, who started Dr Barnado's homes for slum children in London's East End, kept strict control over the household.  He banned smoking and alcohol in his house, and he didn't even let the children go to the theatre.  He also liked them to read the Bible and 'good books'. 

The family home was quite luxurious, however, and the children went to expensive schools, so it wasn't all bad.  Syrie, who was a striking young woman, wanted to escape her restricted life, This probably caused her to marry the wealthy and much older pharmacist and businessman, Henry Wellcome when she was only 21.

There are many different stories about the marriage.  According to one, he beat her and he was generally very cruel, even making her ride camels in the Egyptian heat when she was pregnant.  He needed to travel for his business and Syrie often got sick.  They did have a son, who was probably dyslexic and physically delicate.  I have read that Henry Wellcome was kind to the son, supporting his decision to become a farmer.  This is hard to reconcile with the accusation of the beatings.

The marriage broke up after ten years but Wellcome didn't want a divorce.  Syrie could continue to mix in society in spite of the scandal because she was chaperoned by her widowed mother. Sophisticated and intelligent, she soon caught the eye of Harry Selfridge.  He even bought her a lovely house in Regent's Park and paid to have it lavishly furnished. She lived there with her mother.

Some people apparently thought that Syrie wasn't all that keen on Harry.  However, her friend Rebecca West wrote that it was 'certainly a love affair. But they were only lovers when it suited'.

Syrie eventually obtained a divorce from Wellcome because she was pregnant to gay writer, Somerset Maugham! She had a miscarriage but she later married him, two years after having his daughter Liza, named after the character in Maugham's novel, Liza of Lambeth.

Poor Syrie had no luck with the men, and Maugham was rotten to her and Liza, because he concentrated on his gay lovers.  She is still famous, however, because she began her own extremely fashionable interior design business frequented by clients, such as the Duchess of Windsor, and popularised the 'all-white' room.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Popular Australian Song Written in a Cemetery

Caroline wondered why the muse visited her at such strange times.  Nevertheless, she was thankful.  She had decided to enter the competition for a national song run by the Gawler Institute, but she had failed to find inspiration until today.  It was so peaceful here in the cemetery while she sat and watched her children play nearby that she took out her notebook and started to write...

The lyrics that Caroline Carleton composed that day won the competition in 1859, and it remained one of the most popular Australian songs for over 100 years, especially in Mrs Carleton's native state South Australia. The stirring music written by German immigrant Carl Linger helped convince the judges. "The Song of Australia" as even shortlisted for the National Anthem in 1977, but "Advance Australia Fair" won the day.  Some people still think that this is a pity.

Although not many people know of the song today, it played a small role in the moving love story of the tomboy Olive and Pat Dooley in the Australian series "Anzac Girls".  I especially enjoyed the scene in which Olive plays the song on the gramophone when she is conflicted about whether she should marry Pat!

Born near London in 1819, Caroline was well-educated, especially in languages and music. She spoke French and she played the piano and the harp.  Caroline married Charles James Carleton in 1836, and the couple migrated to Australia three years later with their two young children on the Prince Regent.  The two children died during the harsh voyage, but the couple had two more children. Charles Carleton was the ship's surgeon and worked as a medical officer in South Australia. Carleton died in 1861.

Caroline taught at private schools after her husband's death, but she also wrote poems and articles for newspapers. She died when she was only 54.

The song was one of famous singer Peter Dawson's favourite songs.  Here is a clip of him singing it:

Here are the lyrics:

THE SONG OF AUSTRALIAThere is a land where summer skies
Are gleaming with a thousand dyes,
Blending in witching harmonies, in harmonies;
And grassy knoll, and forest height,
Are flushing in the rosy light,
And all above is azure bright -
There is a land where honey flows,
Where laughing corn luxuriant grows,
Land of the myrtle and the rose,
On hill and plain the clust'ring vine,
Is gushing out with purple wine,
And cups are quaffed to thee and thine -
There is a land where treasures shine
Deep in the dark unfathomed mine,
For worshippers at Mammon's shrine,
Where gold lies hid, and rubies gleam,
And fabled wealth no more doth seem
The idle fancy of a dream -
There is a land where homesteads peep
From sunny plain and woodland steep,
And love and joy bright vigils keep,
Where the glad voice of childish glee
Is mingling with the melody
Of nature's hidden minstrelsy -
There is a land where, floating free,
From mountain top to girdling sea,
A proud flag waves exultingly,
And freedom's sons the banner bear,
No shackled slave can breathe the air,
Fairest of Britain's daughters fair -

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

When the Prince came to Ballarat in 1920

The rain fell in torrents on the cold June day, but excitement swept through the crowd.  The handsome Prince of Wales would arrive soon! The Lucas girls* massed on each side were especially delighted.  The Prince was going to formally open the Avenue of Trees and the impressive Arch of Victory, and the Lucas girls had waited a long time for this day.

The girls were famous for their fund-raising efforts during the First World War, but this was the highlight.  They sold dolls made from scraps of the clothing made in the factories, and they also gladly sacrificed some of their pay, so that this tribute to the fallen soldiers could be built.  When the time for the Prince's arrival drew near, the Lucas girls even armed trucks with bricks so that the Arch could be completed in time!

The avenue of beautiful trees, including elms, oaks and poplars, named the Avenue of Honour, was almost 14 miles long. Bronze plates with the names and battalions of each of the fallen soldiers from Ballarat were attached to every tree. The girls and other volunteers planted the trees lovingly during cold, wet and windy weather.

The huge crowd cheered when Prince Edward arrived.  He was presented with a pair of gold scissors, so that he could cut the greenery across the arch.  The girls giggled when one of the heads of the firm also gave the Prince a pair of silk pyjamas which he accepted with a blush.  The pyjamas had a picture of his crest on one side and a picture of Victory on the other.  I somehow doubt that he wore these pyjamas when he was with the Duchess of Windsor!

* The Lucas girls worked for the Lucas clothing factory in Ballarat.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Enterprising Widow: Eleanor Lucas

My mother gave me an exquisite pink slip one day, and I noticed that it was made in Australia by Eleanor Lucas.  I had never heard of her, but when I looked her up I was quite amazed.  This enterprising widow lived a tragic life - she lost two husbands and two children.  However, she found the strength to start a clothing business that eventually employed hundreds of girls and she also devoted much time to charity work.

Eleanor's family immigrated to Australia from Yorkshire with their parents. The children were left in the care of friends when their mother died, and Eleanor only went to school until she was 14.  She married John Prittard Price when she was 18, but the marriage ended tragically when her husband died in a fall at the soap factory where he worked.  Eleanor was penniless at 30 with four children. The youngest was a baby of only seven months.  Funds were raised for the family, enabling them to live in a cottage.

Eleanor decided to make money herself, so she bought a sewing machine.  She made underwear and shirts, even sewing in bed! She also married again to a William Lucas, but he was killed in a mining accident two years later in 1888. Eleanor continued to work at her sewing.

She formed her business into a company called E.Lucas and Co., and it became the first mechanised factory in Ballarat.  Her employees, the 'Lucas Girls', made beautiful lingerie with eyelet embroidery, blouses, children's wear and dresses.  The factory had a showroom to display their items.  This impressed Sydney Myer (the founder of the famous Australian store Myers) who became one of the first large customers.

The Lucas girls became famous for their fundraising during the First World War.  They planted an avenue of trees to honour the enlisted men of Ballarat and raised enough funds to build an Arch of Victory that was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1920.  (More about this next time).

Mrs Lucas died in 1923 but her son took over the business which lasted until the early 1960s.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Anna Pavlova at the Music Hall

When Bronislava-Nijinska saw the great Anna Pavlova dance at the famous music hall, the Palace Theatre, in London, tears came to her eyes.  She thought that appearing on the same bill as musicians, clowns and acrobats had ruined Pavlova's dancing.  (Our Albert Whelan, the 'great Australian entertainer', was sometimes on the same stage, so he might have been included in this indictment!) Some of the papers also looked down on Pavlova's appearing at a music hall.  One critic wrote that Pavlova had been 'rescued from the music-hall' when she joined Diaghilev's company again.

However, most ballet stars such as Adeline Genee did perform on the music-hall stages in the Edwardian era, and they helped ballet to become popular. It was part of Pavlova's mission to make ballet accessible to the ordinary people, so she saw nothing wrong with moving to the Palace. She would probably have been foolish to refuse the attractive salary that she was offered.  This started at 400 pounds a week, and it eventually rose to 1200 pounds - an enormous amount in the early 1900s.

Pavlova's most popular dance was probably the 'Bacchanal' from Autumn, which she performed with Michael Mordkin.  Mordkin looked like a 'Greek God', and, according to Kerensky, his strong and manly physique provided a dramatic contrast to Pavlova's ethereal fragillity and grace.  In this abandoned dance, Pavlova wore flimsy chiffon and danced wildly with her long dark hair tied in a scarlet ribbon. * ( Mordkin actually flung her onto the stage at the end of the dance.  Once he dropped her rather too hard, and she created a sensation by slapping him! (There were rumours of an affair, but Mordkin's widow didn't believe it). Perhaps he did it because he was jealous of her popularity - Pavlova performed more solos.  Once he complained that there were no dishes named after him, but some were named after her!

* Years later, some of the audience in Sydney complained that this dance was unpleasant.

(Anna Pavlova in The Dragonfly)