My Mother: Betty Kate Selkirk (nee Broomhall)
My mother was BKB – Betty Kate Broomhall and she was born on the ‘Glorious twelfth – the 12th August 1907 – the day grouse shooting begins. . She never liked her two Christian names – they were both abbreviations. She would much preferred to be Elizabeth Katherine Broomhall, but she was christened by the two abbreviations and was always known to her friends as Betty. She always said that the family came from the Cotswolds, though details from a genealogy programme says that as lot of them died at Temple Balsall, which is in Warwickshire, south east of Birmingham, near Solihull. At one time I traced the family to Wooten Wawen, again in Warwickshire, just north of Stratford upon Avon. On my birth certificate – or was it their marriage certificate – her father’s profession was given as being the publican at the Old Bull at Tewkesbury.
Her father’s name was Frank and I think he died in 1939 and my brother was named Frank after him. But my grandmother lived on another 20 or more years – in fact she must have died in 1964, the year I went out to Italy and met Wendy. The two events were linked. Knowing that the old girl was on her last legs, I wrote her an enthusiastic postcard saying I had just met the most beautiful girl and I had fallen madly in love. I wanted to cheer the old girl up. Sadly she died a fortnight later and my mother went up to clear up her estate, and found the postcard in her desk. This was a disaster. It is one thing to tell one’s grandmother that one has fallen madly in love, but this is not the sort of thing that one tells one’s parents. But my parents knew right from the beginning that Wendy was something special.
However I also remember my great-grandmother, for her mother lived to a great age. Her surname was Garland, – Edith Mary Garland – and I remember just two things about her. One was that she only had one eye – she lost the other one I think quite early on, and it was just a socket. It didn’t seem to affect her. I also remember being told that when she was a little girl, one of her friends ran through the village with an open knife in her hand and tripped and fell, and stabbed herself to the heart with the knife and died. Thus every time I was with an open knife I was always told that I was never go running with it – and you must carry it with the blade pointing outwards. The episode must I suppose have happened in the mid-19th-century –but it is the only bit of family mythology that I can remember that goes back that far!
My mother came from a family of four – she had three brothers. The eldest was Uncle Joe who was a butcher. He married Queenie and ended up with a chain of four butchers shops, one at Stonehouse, another at Dursley, and a third was at Frampton, run by Roger, though it closed when he retired in 2002.
The head office, and abattoir, is in Eastington, run by Stephen. I visited him as there was an excavation carried out at the Frocester Roman Villa by Eddie Price who I think was the Lord of the Manor. I never really let on that I had a cousin who was the butcher at the other end of the village. There were also two daughter, the oldest, Jose and Judith: Judith was exactly 2 years older than me, as she was born on 18 April 1935. She married Theo Sparrow who was a Methodist minister.
My Mother also had two younger brothers. There was David, who was the black sheep of the family. I do not know what he did to become the black sheep of the family, but we never spoke of him. I once tried to look him up at the last known address in Birmingham, but it turned out to be under the Spaghetti Junction of the motorway!
Then there was Uncle Pete, the youngest, who was a greengrocer – I am rather proud that the family on the Broomhall side are from what I would call yeoman stock – a butcher and a greengrocer! Peter married Irene, And they had three children, two sons, Michael and Howard, and a daughter, Penny, with whom I am still in touch. Uncle Pete had an extensive wholesale greengrocer business. I remember visiting his factory where he had a large shed where he ripened bananas – I think he supplied bananas all over Weston-Super-Mare. He lived in a posh house at 3, Uphill Park North if I remember the address correctly. He used to come up to London to Covent Garden market to buy his stock, and I remember that a couple of times he took us out to lunch at Simpsons on the Strand, a very posh restaurant where they specialised in a very superior roast beef. Sadly I think at the end, the business declined, but I am still in contact with Penny who still lives in Weston-super-Mare.
The big event in my mother’s life was when she went up to college, the Gloucestershire Training College for Domestic Science, where she met her three great friends, who she kept in contact with for the rest of her life: Christine Evans known as Brin, Peg Savile, and Mary Waghorne. Her best friend was Christine Evans, and as I was the eldest child, I had the good fortune to be made her godchild. I visited a number of times in her house in Hereford in Canon Pyon Road, the road leading out of the town where she was nearly the last house. Brin came from an ecclesiastical family. Her father was Canon Evans who married my parents in Tewkesbury Abbey, assisted by his son, Brin’s Tom, Evans who also became a parson. Indeed he became the family parson – he christened me, he married us, and buried my parents. He was not academically very bright, and ended up being the rector of Brent Pelham church in Hertfordshire when I went to his funeral and learnt that he was known as the poaching parson, which sounded about right.
Brin had rather a sad life. She gave up teaching quite early on to look after her mother who lived to a ripe old age, bullying her daughter into looking after her, and I think that Brin spent the best years of her life virtually confined in the small house in Canon Pyon Road looking after her mother and rarely being allowed out. By the time her mother died, the best part of her life was behind her. I continued to visit her and found she was a delight: she was more of an intellectual than my mother, and I could talk politics with her and many other subjects – in fact I think she was only person of my mother’s generation to whom I could talk in this way. She wrote a short memoir of my mother which I attach.
After my Mother finished her course, she became a domestic science teacher, teaching I think mostly in Shropshire. She managed to acquire a car, a little Austin Seven. When she met my father, she had a car and he didn’t: he had a motorcycle but he was mad keen on cars and I think to some extent he took it over and serviced it. They went in on a long fortnight’s holiday to Scotland the year before they got married, sleeping together in a little tent. We can follow something of her activities through her driving licences, which have been preserved in Frank’s collection. Her first driving licence was in 1931, when she was living in Gloucestershire, but then she spent two years at Meol Brace near Shrewsbury where presumably she was teaching. I think she was a very good teacher, very keen on domestic science: at the time, domestic science was in fashion – it was an early form of feminism – cooks were not cooks, they were domestic scientists. She was also very keen on the girl guides and became I think a leading figure in the girl guides in Shropshire.
How and where she met my father, I do not know. I heard vague stories of how she had another boyfriend, a young curate who lived in Godalming, though how she got down to Godalming I do not know. Apparently Brin told her that she shouldn’t kiss him so ardently unless she intended to marry him – but in the event she married my father. It was a very happy marriage – even if, as the saying goes, she was the one who wore the trousers. I think she was slightly disappointed she did not have any daughters to teach cooking, even though she did her best to teach us, when Wendy appeared, she put all her efforts into teaching Wendy how to cook – and I have benefited from it ever since!
On to my Early Days
On to Brin’s memoir
16th January 2016