LINKS WITH VICTORIAN OSBORNE

Posted by Admin on Monday, 25th July 2011, 11:38

Of the three, my closest relative was my grandmother, Elizabeth Hudson, a widow with two sons, whose husband, a tall-ship sailor died at the age of 41 in 1881. Employed at Arthur Cottage, an annexe that still stands on the corner of York Avenue outside the gates which now admit the public to Osborne House, she worked for the Munshi, Abdul Hafiz Karim and his wife; the former officially being the Queen’s Hindustani teacher.

Arthur House

Arthur House

 

Over the years much has been written about the Munshi, some of it exposing him as a liar regarding his father’s status, and a thief. In spite of this, in keeping with John Brown, he was an especial favourite of Queen Victoria who refused to listen to any evidence against him. Detested by her courtiers, he was allowed to stand at her elbow when she wrote letters, ostensibly to blot them, and when she opened her despatch boxes, and thus had access to State secrets only her statesmen should have known.

A photograph, of which unfortunately I do not have the copyright, shows him resplendent in Indian costume, and reveals him to have been a handsome and very impressive man.

Being only a servant, it is probable that my grandmother knew nothing about his character. If she did, discretion would have prevented her from talking about it, and the only thing she ever told me was that on one occasion when she responded to a knock at the door she was confronted by the Queen (apparently unescorted) who told her to inform the Munshi’s wife of her arrival.

Whether or not Elizabeth slept at Arthur Cottage I do not know, but think she went back to a small house she and her sons rented in a short terrace adjacent to the last of J. S. White’s buildings in Clarence Road, East Cowes.

From my father I learnt that, being allowed to go up to see his mother, he, then in his early twenties, became friendly with some of the Queen’s Indian servants whose portraits in oils, I believe, still may be seen by visitors to the rooms open for public inspection. That my grandmother enjoyed certain privileges was evident, for one of my mother’s sisters, Mabel Gates, could remember being permitted to use a swing hanging from a tree in the garden of Arthur Cottage upon which the Munshi’s wife used to disport herself.

Judging by the way my father was able to walk unquestioned in the grounds of Osborne House, where once he was passed by Queen Victoria driving her small pony carriage who acknowledged his bareheaded and statuesque presence with a slight inclination of her head, security measures were not strongly enforced.

That Elizabeth was on good terms with men from the sub-continent was proved when she asked my other grandmother, Mary Jane Gates, if she could bring two of them to the family party annually held at her home on Boxing Day. Having never even seen an Indian, at first Mrs Gates demurred, but finally agreed and all went well until my mother’s brother George, a self-important little man, being ignorant concerning Indian taboos, introduced one of those tricks (popular at the time) that raised a laugh at the victim’s embarrassment. In this case one of the Indians was given a plate and my uncle, holding another, instructed him to copy his actions, the penultimate one being to draw his finger across the bottom of the plate and finally to stroke his cheek – an action that caused the unsuspecting victim to transfer soot to his face. When shown in a mirror what he had done, the Indian was furious, and had it not been for the presence of a soldier on leave from India who could explain that no insult was intended undoubtedly a very serious situation would have developed. It says much for the Indians’ sterling character that the following day my grandmother received a request that a second party be given, for which all expenses would be paid.

To celebrate in 1897 the sixtieth year of the Queen’s reign, my grandmother and presumably all employees were given two plates and two cups and saucers made by J. Aynsley and Sons, lavishly decorated with a portrait of the Queen, the Houses of Parliament, Windsor Castle, flags, roses and other symbols, with a reference to ‘the empire on which the sun never sets’.

When the Queen died in 1901 all the servants were permitted to file past her deathbed on which roses were strewn, possibly entering one door and leaving by another as visitors to the bedroom do now.

Of the remaining two relations, one was my grandmother’s sister Louisa Way who served Princess Beatrice at Osborne Cottage where she met so many of the distinguished guests that she became a peripatetic Almanach de Gotha. Both she and her sister comported themselves like duchesses. Although, like Elizabeth, Louisa was too discreet to ‘tell tales out of school’, there was one incident she was prepared to relate. Under the impression a room was unoccupied, she opened the door, and before hastily retreating saw the German Emperor and members of his staff poring over a map – a sight she recalled when the 1914-18 War began, and from that time was convinced she had surprised them planning it!

Shows, left to right, Louisa Way, Mary Ann Lewis and Elizabeth Hudson

Shows, left to right, Louisa Way, Mary Ann Lewis and Elizabeth Hudson

 

The third connection was Louisa’s husband William who was employed as an upholsterer and who, on encountering my father one day took him into the Durbar Room to show him the table prepared for a State banquet, and allowed him for a few seconds to sit in the Queen’s chair which, Her Majesty being short, was much lower than he expected it to be.

At her home in Stephenson Road, Cowes, a house built by my grandfather, George Gates, Senior, Louisa had on her white marble mantelpiece under a glass dome four small alabaster vases – a present from Princess Ena who became the Queen of Spain whose wedding procession in 1906 was interrupted when an anarchist, named Mateo Morral, threw a bomb which luckily missed King Alphonso the Thirteenth and his bride, but I think killed one of the horses drawing their carriage and a bodyguard.

Also of interest in the same room were two photographs showing royalty at Osborne taking part in amateur theatricals with their names handwritten on the mounts. When several years ago I asked Louisa’s grandson if they still existed, I was told that owing to their having woodworm in the frames, he had thrown them away! Yes, undoubtedly some mothers do have them!

The fourth and last member of my family to be connected with Osborne was my mother’s sister Minnie Gates who, like Louisa Way served Princess Beatrice who by that time was Princess Henry of Battenberg. When at work, to obviate the possibility of her being confused with Miss Minnie Cochrane, a lady-in-waiting, my aunt was called Maggie. In my possession I have a handbag measuring 5″ by 3.5″ made of brownish glossy material which nobody yet has positively identified, although both leather and shagreen have been suggested. Inside there is a holly decorated Christmas label inscribed ‘To Maggie from H.R.H. Princess Henry of Battenberg”. Needless to say it never was used.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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