A chance encounter with a memorial tablet while we waited for Ray’s coiffeuse to complete her magic led us to learn about a more than local hero. Ray is Octavia’s 99 year-old mother, and I am visiting her at her house in Bridlington for the first time. Octavia met me at the station yesterday. I have seen so many pictures of Ray in her kitchen, or sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and the view across the fields, that some parts of the house feel very familiar. Not so others.
Her five children, all adult, left home decades ago. It’s a big house, and a big garden. The garden was always Ray’s love, and it shows. It is gorgeous. Allegra, Octavia’s sister, has undertaken the herculean task of restoring it to glory. A restorative project in every sense. She is doing an excellent job.
The other day I was having a conversation about how changing technology affects the verbal expressions we use. I observed I hadn’t pulled a chain in decades. For years now I have flushed the loo. Within hours of arriving at the house I had pulled a chain. In the back kitchen are not one but two meat safes. There are people alive today in their late middle age who have never heard of, let alone seen, a meat safe, never mind two. This is a house where technology of the past is preserved and used alongside the technology of today.
I think I remember a meat safe in my grandparents’ house. There was definitely one in the kitchen of the house where my mother was employed as private nurse to the frail matriarch of the Gates family. Gates as in Cow and Gate. This was before I started school, so a long time ago. We had a fridge in our house, but only because in the flat where my parents lived for the first seven years of marriage there were mice. So memories are stirred in this house as I recognise objects once familiar (a coal scuttle!) now long absent from my life.
But back to the not so local hero. We had strolled some streets and admired the town hall in the sunshine which had been falsely forecast as rain. We moved to a small green where there was a shelter with benches, but no other public seating. We perched on some decorative rocks. On the side of the shelter was a memorial, so before we headed back to the hairdresser’s we had a look. It remembered Humphry Sandwith, born Bridlington 1822, died Paris 1881. The letters after his name revealed he was a doctor, as is Octavia. Neither of us had ever heard of him. The memorial had originally been on a fountain.
We were curious, our interest piqued. I looked him up on duckduckgo. Gosh, what a long entry, what an interesting man. The fountain has been restored so we are going to visit it. I’ll let you check him out yourselves, but I want to share the my two favourite morsels. The first, and do make sure you are sitting down here, is that he was at Nineveh with Henry Layard and spent nearly two years in Mesopotamia. Wow. The discoveries Layard made can be seen in the British Museum in Bloomsbury. Why have we not heard of this man? The second is that his nephew Humphry Ward was married to Victorian novelist and anti suffragist Mary Ward. I imagine the nephew was named after his uncle, which of course means the ginger cat who used to be the resident mouser at the Mary Ward Centre, also in Bloomsbury, and whose sculpture stands in the nearby children’s playground similarly owed his name to Humphry Sandwith.
In the end, it all comes down to cats. Obviously.