Remembrances of a young American Girl
Part 4 - Arrival at Earlscliffe
Margery L. Stratton
At last about 5 pm we arrived at the Hill of Howth and drove into the driveway of Earlscliff – to be my home for a year.
Granny had told me she had borrowed a donkey for me to ride and that was the first thing I saw, in a small, fenced-in field to the right of the drive. My first impression was correct, I was too tall to get much of a ride on that little donkey. And standing on the gravel driveway in front of the entrance to Earlscliff on a red carpet placed there in our honor, was a tall white-haired gentleman, who after embracing his son after an absence of 16 years enveloped me in a big hug; he was such a kind man whom I loved at first sight.
Don’t misunderstand, I loved my new Granny but I was a bit awed by her and felt that I had to watch my step with my every move. Also waiting to greet us were: Dad’s sister Norah Latta, living in Scotland but home for the summer. Aunt Betty, also home for the summer from her studies at the Conservatory of Music in London, not yet married and was only about 12 years older than I. Norah and Douglas had two beautiful children, Jennifer (4) and Stuart (2) whose light blond hair was the whitest I had ever seen. They had a nanny with them whose Scottish accent was soft and lovely.
Dad’s nanny whom they called Ninny probably because he pronounced her name that way was also waiting to greet us. She was not a very happy person I am afraid and I felt an hostility there which I tried to overcome, but perhaps not strongly enough. Ninny (whose real name I cannot remember) came to live with the Lumsden's when Granny was expecting her first child, my father. She was 18 years old, about the same age as Granny and remained with Granny until her death after World War II. (Grandpa died during World War II and when Earlscliff was sold Granny moved to Ashford House near Sutton Cross.)
After Dad and the girls were grown and gone, Ninnie stayed on and was busy as an excellent seamstress who made a lovely green tweed coat for me in addition to the uniforms I would need for Bellevue School in Sutton. She even sewed for Aunt Betty and I remember a beautiful black suit and a bright red satin blouse that was stunning. Had I been more mature I would have realized that Ninny’s life was not very fulfilling and no wonder she seemed morose and cranky at times.
Also on hand to greet us was Winnie McManamin, who had come from Shean Lodge, County Mayo to be the parlor maid at Earlscliff. She was very shy and wore horn-rimmed glasses, black uniform with a bibbed white frilly apron. She was very kind to me and I remember one evening that a boy I had met through friends at school in Sutton wrote me a note and left it at the front door. When Winnie found it she slipped it into her bib and brought it into the Morning Room and gave it to me “on the sly.” Because of the way she brought it to me I sensed that I should not tell anyone in the house about it, particularly Ninny. The note was harmless – I was 12 and the boy Pack Harding was no more than a year or two older and asked me to take a walk with him some afternoon after school.
The Morning Room was where I ate breakfast and the main meal of the day around 2:30 (I returned from school at that time each day), Tea was always served around 5 pm and Granny joined me then. I am not sure if Granny and Grandpa used the dining room which was quite formal unless there were guests.
I was sent to bed around 8 where I might read until bedtime. My room was opposite the dining room and when there were guests they often came in and chatted and said: “Goodnight.”
I remember so vividly the first night; Aunt Norah (who lived in Ayr, Scotland, visiting each summer with the children) came in to get me settled. My bedroom had a vanity sink though there was just one main bathroom between Grandpa’s bedroom and the formal dining room) And she said I should say my prayers and when I knelt by the bed I saw the words on the side of the mattress, “Made to the order of His Majesty, King George.” My Goodness -- I was really impressed!