I know where my parents first met, at the Rex ballroom in Cambridge. No doubt they went with their friends to dances at various venues round the town and no doubt they saw the same people at these different places – just as my children see the same people on their nights out round our town. In 1947 or 48 when my parents must have first met, Cambridge was a small town – not yet a city.
I guess my dad’s parent met because their families worked on the railways, and Cambridge was an even smaller town just before the first war. My mum’s parents… now how did the son of a wood yard manager in Littlehampton meet the daughter of an apparently respectable widow living in London? Well that is a puzzle, except he was at one time a student at the original London Polytechnic so possibly he met her through her brothers. As for my great grandparents, the Cambridge side of the family were either railway folk or shopkeepers and trades people, the Littlehampton side lived in the same street, but the fourth set… one was the daughter of a Northamptonshire basket-maker and the other the son of a very rich Jewish business man who was born in Tasmania.
This last set of great-grandparents are the ones who most interest me because I just can’t imagine how they ever came to meet. It really is the most puzzling puzzle of all my family history puzzles.
I have tried to imagine how they might have come across each other
Maybe they were at an exhibition, maybe she was standing, admiring a picture, standing with a natural elegance and grace, and maybe he noticed her, noticed her lovely form, her erect posture, the dreamy expression on her face as she stared…
Engrossed in the works of Charles Robert Leslie and Clarkson Stansfield, maybe Lois Penney didn’t notice the man with the extravagant moustache, immaculate attire and jaunty air.
Or maybe they met like this.
Maybe she was in Regent’s Park, strolling arm in arm with her sister Sarah beneath their parasols, gossiping about their family, their oldest brother George who was so taken up with business and commerce, George who had changed their father’s basket making company into an enterprise, with factories in Mansfield. Or maybe they were gossiping about their father’s second wife and brood of step brothers and sisters she had brought into the marriage with her.
Maybe as they strolled a glove was dropped, a handkerchief escaped, and maybe a man with a fashionable moustache and even more fashionable and expensive clothing saw the two young women, saw the dropped glove, the fluttering handkerchief.
Somehow an encounter happened, somehow the young woman from Northamptonshire became acquainted with a handsome man from an immensely wealthy family, a young man recently arrived from his native Australia.
Did they take tea together? Was that what might have happened, maybe with Sarah as chaperone, with Lois and her new acquaintance barely aware of the sister, only conscious of each other.
Was it love at first sight, were their feelings so overpowering that they threw convention aside? Because he was a Jew from a strict and observant family, his father Samuel a pillar of the great Synagogue in London, and joint founder of the new synagogue built in Hobart Tasmania, the first synagogue in the Antipodes.
Louis could not marry Lois, however willing she might have been to leave her Christian faith behind, he could not leave his own family, he could not go against the traditions of his faith and his upbringing.
How did they meet? No-one will ever no, but maybe, maybe, maybe they sat beside each other in the Albert Hall at a morning concert given by Her Majesty’s Opera Company, conducted by Signor Calsi… Maybe…