Thursday, 25 February 2010

MY GRANDMOTHER'S BALLROOM...


Octavia (Betty) Thomas in the 1920's
Though never inclined to perform on a stage, the VV loves the theatre - everything about that suspended state of reality: the stories, the sights, the smells, the contrast of darkness and colour and light. And, perhaps that fascination stems back to the lovely lady above.

My grandmother. Octavia, was born at the turn of the last century. She was named as such because she was the eighth child in her family. But, to me she was Granny Thomas and, to her friends, she was Betty.

When she married my grandfather, Betty lived on the top two floors of what had been a Victorian coaching inn in the market town of Leominster. The hotel was built in 1840,  its owner going bankrupt by 1851 - for the inn opened up at just the wrong time, at the dawn of the railway era and with very little in the way of any 'old fashioned' coaching trade, so when the VV knew it the lower floors were used as a shopfront, some rooms above as offices, and the rows of stables built behind provided ample storage space for the agricultural machinery and feed in which my grandfather traded. 

My great grandfather had also worked there. Before owning the property outright, in the late 1800's he became a partner in the firm of Alexander and Duncan, which was then an ironmongery. At that time, the ballroom was used as a showroom, filled with such items as cast iron hearth surrounds, chairs, tables, bed frames and umbrella stands.

But, when the VV was a little girl, though the ballroom had long since fallen into crumbling disrepair, my grandmother used to tell me how it had once echoed with the sounds of  music and laughter and dancers. She would lead me through these entrance doors -



 And on, into the ballroom, which once looked like this -
An 1843 engraving of a New Year's Eve ball: the grand opening of The Lion Ballroom

And, nowadays, since my grandmother's death and the subsequent sale of the property, the ballroom has been lovingly restored, once again used for many cultural events in the town.
I wish Granny Thomas could see it now though, in truth, this picture makes the VV's heart ache. She hasn't been able to go inside to see the restored ballroom at first hand. These days, the old coaching inn is filled with too many sad memories and the ghost of my beautiful Betty. And, in the VV's mind, the ballroom will always linger as a wondrous place filled with dust and hessian sacks of grain, with rats skulking in every shadow, and spiders' webs dangling down like lace.

10 comments:

  1. When I was young, I always had dreams of having a daughter and calling her Octavia, bc of the ravishing Victorian sound to it. Then I realised that one could only use it after having the first seven children! (Duh). After I fell in love with Octavia Hill I was even more sad about that. So why did your beautiful grandmother call herself Betty, with a name like that?
    I felt goosebumps reading this post, BTW.

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  2. Thank you for the comment, Bellanta.

    I'm honestly not sure why they called her Betty - she was a very warm, dignified lady but Betty didn't really suit her.

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  3. What a beautiful face and expressive eyes! Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. How wonderful to know so much about your grandparents' history, and to be able to trace the history of the places they lived as well. Lovely, evocative post.

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  5. I feel so far removed from this era and yet I adore it so much. It makes me think of the stories both my grandmothers had but never shared. I'm sure there are some magically wicked things in their histories that would explain a lot in me.

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  6. Such a beautiful picture - I wish we had known her too. I think Susie looks a lot like Granny Thomas x

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  7. Thank you Katherine and Brook, and Clare - yes! Susie does look so like her. Those eyes!

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  8. Essie, I have mailed some historically interested parties this link, I hope they will make contact with you soon. Please let me know how you go on.
    gillianshuck@aol.com

    Gill
    Current main custodian of the Lion Ballroom

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  9. Oh, thank you, Gill. That's very kind.

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