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.