A glance behind the curtain (i)

If you were walking along the respectable streets of Hampstead in April 1911, and you happened to wander along Kilburn Priory you might have passed number 27, the home of a very respectable family. No doubt the exterior of the house was immaculate, the windows shining, the sills and steps to the door clean and swept. The door would have been neatly painted, the brass door furniture gleaming like gold, and no doubt the curtains and nets at the window were pristine. The servants would have made sure the property was neat, tidy and… respectable. Maybe the nets only came half way up or down the window and maybe there was an aspidistra or similar houseplant in an ornamental china container.

Maybe if you had passed early in the morning you would have seen two handsome young men hurrying out, maybe to take a cab or a train or an omnibus to their work as clerks. They were Edward and Nelson Walford, aged eighteen and twenty-one and the youngest of four brothers and a sister. Their sister was maybe sitting at breakfast with their mama, or maybe she was planning her day ahead, maybe to go into the city, or to meet friends, or to practice the piano.

Edward and Nelson’s older brothers had left home; George, the oldest, was doing very well for himself, living in Warrior Square, Southend-on-Sea, Essex with his wife Elizabeth Isabella, and two young sons Howard and Montagu – known as Eric. George was an ‘agent and merchant in foreign produce’ – keeping up the family tradition of export/import business. Horace, who was five or six years younger, was also married, living in St John’s Wood with his wife Charlotte; he was also a business man, ‘a commercial traveller in oils, rubber and asbestos.

The four boys’ sister, the middle one in the family was Ida Isabel, a beautiful, gently and intelligent young woman, very gifted musically. She lived at home with their mother Lois. Ida was probably engaged to be married, to a man the similar age to herself, twenty-five; ; William Reginald Matthews, always known as Reginald,  was born in Littlehampton on the south coast, the son of the manager of a timber yard. He might have been abroad in 1911, maybe he wrote to his fiancée, telling her about his adventures and business dealings.

If you saw Lois and Ida leaving their home, fashionably and expensively dressed, but modestly and decently attired as a respectable widow and her respectable daughter, you would have seen two striking women, no doubt wearing the latest hats. Lois probably still wore black, or grey or navy blue in memory of her husband who had died so unexpectedly in 1895. He, like his sons, had been in exports and imports, mainly dealing in wool, having many connections in Australia where he had lived, and Tasmania where he was born.

If it happened to be a Sunday when you passed by, then maybe you would have seen the family on their way to church, probably to the Parish of Saint Mary with All Souls, Kilburn. You would have seen a respectable middle-class family, more than comfortably off, with connections in high places…

However, what you would have observed, would not have told the whole story… there was a very different aspect to their lives which you could catch a glimpse of behind the respectable curtain…

© Lois Elsden 2018

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