Marjorie Benson was born on 14th April 1884 at St George's Terrace, Kensington in London. She had two older brothers, Alick (4) (featured in Week 2) and Hugh (1). Her father was a successful merchant but soon after her birth he left and emigrated to Natal in South Africa. Her mother, Marion, was left to bring up three young children as a one parent family. "There appears to have been no violent disruption about this, and on his rare visits to England my grandfather always spent part of his time with his wife and children. It is likely that sheer boredom had driven him away and sheer inertia made her unwilling to join him".
Probably due to the parents separation, on the 1891 census Marjorie, Hugh and their mother are living with her widowed mother at 53 Gwendwr Road in Fulham (which today runs parallel to the Talgarth Road near the Hammersmith flyover) with two live in servants - a cook and a housemaid. Ten years later in 1901, Marjorie (16) is a pupil at a Ladies School in The Upper Mount, Villiers Road, Portsmouth.
On the 1911 census Marjorie (26) is living as a "boarder" at Clifton Cottage, The Common, Henfield with the Harmes family. It is to the left of Clifton House (now renamed as The White House) in the photograph. Henfield was where Percy was living with Eliza Ross at Chestham Park, certainly up until her death in 1904 and must be where they met. Clifton House still exists but is now renamed as The White House. For a couple of years before marriage Marjorie "had kept ducks and hens commercially on a very small scale" which probably came in as useful experience for later in her life when she and Percy did much the same on a larger scale.
"Subsequent references to her husband are equally reticent, and it is fair to assume that she realised the magnitude of her blunder immediately, put on the best possible face in public and did not even reveal her feelings to her diary."
Percy was brought up in affluent surroundings in the manor house at Chestham Park with his widowed Aunt Eliza Ross. It seems that Marjorie expected Percy to eventually inherit a considerable sum from the Estate. Tony says "Whether or not it was ever implicitly or explicitly stated that he was to inherit the pleasant estate and the bulk of the Ross money I do not know, but when my mother married him she certainly believed it to be so and she and my father felt a grievance against life that he received only a small income from a trust fund".
Tony obviously respected his mother and says of her that she was "intelligent, strong willed, often impetuous but always efficient and decisive. She was an impatient woman who did not suffer fools gladly".
I do not intend to go through the various business enterprises she and her husband got involved with as probably the least said about them the better. I will however repeat a couple of short stories Tony wrote because they say more about Marjorie's personality and what Percy must have had to put up with.
As I recalled in Percy's story it was Marjorie who drove the family car. Apparently Percy "was a heavy pipe smoker who could never keep his pipe alight for long, and every motor drive, in the open cars of the period (and even the old Arroll-Johnston landaulet had no side windows to the front seat portion), was punctuated by pleas to my mother to slow down in order that the pipe might be lit or re-lit. Her usual response was on the lines of :
“It’ll do you good to stop puffing at that filthy thing for a few minutes Percy .... anyway, how can I drive properly if you keep blowing smoke right across my face .... you’ll have us in the ditch one day all for the sake of that silly little baby’s dummy of yours". Sounds like a Sat Nav with an attitude !
Normally Marjorie "was financially prudent to the point of parsimony, but again this was forced upon her by necessity and against her natural instincts which occasionally showed in apparently uncharacteristic bursts of extravagance. One of these bursts led her to buy a small, old, cheap cabin motor boat in 1931. I think her inheritance from her mother furnished the means (from memory it only cost £65), whilst the prospect of cheap holidays and week-end jaunts provided the justification".
On one occasion they were coming in to moor at Richmond when Percy "threw the anchor over but imprudently threw himself with it, having made the classic slapstick mistake of standing on a slack loop of chain on the boat’s tiny foredeck. What with one thing and another we were five minutes or more bringing the boat under control and safely moored, during which time poor Papa was floundering about in the swift and very cold water. As it was a raw, blustery April day he was hampered by heavy clothing and when he finally scrambled aboard, chilled to the bone and badly winded, a little sympathy might not have come amiss, but Mamma’s greeting was terse and typical: “Really Percy! I told you not to wear that new wrist watch on the river.” Poor Percy !
Separate room for Percy
In view of their fundamental incompatibility and the way in which each brought out the worst in the other, it is surprising that my parents’ marriage lasted as long as it did. As time went on they had less and less in common, and after the birth of my younger brother (Hugh was born 1926) the delights of the marital couch, such as they may have been, were denied to poor Percy.
Discretion being the better part of valour, Percy left without notice one day in 1933. I understand he never returned although Uncle Hugh remembers receiving letters from him.
"After the Mill Hill cinema business was closed the family’s main income came from the rent of £400 a year Woolworths paid for the premises. With income tax deducted this brought in about £6 a week, and my parents must still have had some small income from investments. My elder brother (my father, Derek) and I cost little to keep and, indeed, made token contributions to the household expenses. My mother gave up her part time voluntary work at Bart’s Hospital and became a full-time paid almoner, although the pay was small in recognition of the fact that the work was still regarded as charitable. So, with the customary pruning of expenses we managed comfortably and were far from poor by 1935/36 standards".
Tony recalls that "once the initial shock was absorbed the change was for the better; and my mother later admitted it although she would never admit the gratitude she should have felt for ‘that dreadful woman’ who had ‘enticed’ Percy. Once the immediate disruption caused by Percy’s defection had been overcome, and we had moved to a smaller house about a couple of miles from the Willifield Way horror, life at home was more rather than less tolerable".
The house they moved to was just outside the boundary of Hampstead Garden Suburb in Ossulton Way at the East Finchley end.
Then Marjorie moved to 13 Temple Gardens in The Suburb. I use the term "The Suburb" which sounds slightly snobby. However, as I lived there for twenty odd years of my young life 'The Suburb' is somewhere I hold dear to my heart so I say it with love and respect. Having said that, and I'm sure Marjorie would agree, it ain't what it used to be !
With both of her older sons, my father Derek and Uncle Tony, serving in the forces, she moved out of London with Hugh to an upstairs flat at 14B Liverpool Road, Kingston Hill, Kingston (no doubt the posh part of Kingston !). Uncle Hugh remembers the house being on the peripheries of the damage caused by a V1 falling on a house across the road. He also remembers incendiary bombs falling nearby. Luckily there was only superficial damage and, after the War, Marjorie purchased nearby 30 Liverpool Road and they lived there until she died in October 1961.
The circumstances surrounding her death were that both she and Hugh were away on holiday in Carlisle and after having a stroke she was taken to Cumberland Infirmary where she died aged 77. She was cremated in Carlisle and Derek, who couldn't attend the funeral, insisted on her ashes being brought back to be scattered at Golders Green Crematorium.
Marjorie's estate, which consisted mostly of the house in Kingston, was valued at £20,590.
I don't really have any personal memories of Nana other than remembering she died when I was young. It was therefore nice to discover this photograph taken of me and her when I was between one and two in 1956.