Friday, December 12, 2014

Auntie Bee


I know I keep going on about this, but as I get older I become more and more aware of how things last much longer than people do. Here, for example, is Auntie Bee's china. I'm fairly sure that it lived in the wall cupboard - what we in Scotland call a press - in my granny's sitting room when I was a child. This cupboard had glass doors in the upper half; but the sitting room was used only when my grandparents had visitors so I didn't see the china often. When my grandmother died, it went to my mother, who kept it in her china cabinet in the dining room. She told me that Auntie Bee - who was actually her maiden great-aunt - was the ladies' fashion buyer for Small's, a big department store in Princes Street in Edinburgh (which was still there when I was a girl). Auntie Bee used to go down to London on buying trips; a long and difficult journey for a single lady in the earlier years of last century. Late in life she was crippled with arthritis and had a housekeeper who lived in the basement of her ground-and-basement flat. Mum said that my granny, who was a good soul and often rallied round elderly relatives, used to visit her a lot and take her out in her wheelchair. Auntie Bee was a tiny lady and wasn't hard to push about in  her chair. I never knew her myself and wasn't sure when she had died.

When my mum came to live with us, the china came too and I put it in a glass-fronted cupboard in my kitchen, where it remains.


I'm sure it's not remotely valuable but it's pretty. The cups and saucers all feature different flowers. The plates, jug and slop bowl were bought later by Auntie Bee and don't match exactly.



When I was looking vaguely at the china the other day, I realised that I didn't actually know who Auntie Bee was. I now know that she was my mother's great-aunt, but up till today, when I did a bit of research, I wasn't sure - I thought she might be a cousin or second cousin. My dad compiled a very detailed family tree, but though I knew that Auntie Bee was on my mother's side of the family, I didn't know whether she was a relative of my grandmother or my grandfather. I didn't even know her proper name. She was always referred to as Auntie Bee.

After some perusing of the family tree, which didn't feature any Beatrices or anything else which particularly suggested "Bee", I decided that the most likely candidate was Isabella Enwright Tait, my mother's father's mother's sister, who lived from 1856-1942. There are a lot of Isabellas on both sides of my family, so it seemed possible that an Isabella could have been called Bee - though it didn't seem an obvious contraction.




And then it suddenly came to me: I knew what she looked like! I remembered a photo of her in my mother's collection; I could picture it. And, on investigating, I came on the photo I remembered, and on the back, my mother had written, "Isabella Tait, aunt of Thomas Tait Campbell". Thomas Tait Campbell was my grandfather. So I'm now sure Auntie Bee was indeed Isabella Enwright Tait, and here she is, above.

It has just occurred to me that she may not have been Auntie Bee, but Auntie B - short for Bella? I never saw it written down.

Anyway... I wanted to record her existence. She lived for a long time - about 86 years - and was presumably quite a successful career woman in her way. She's pretty; she certainly looks elegant. Look at that lovely hair. I wonder why she didn't marry. Mum always said that she was sweet-natured.

I don't suppose I'll ever know any more about her - my brother knows even less than I do. This is all that's left of her - I'm sure Mum had some jewellery that had been hers too, but I can't remember which bits they were, so it comes down to one photo and the china. Something else for the children to decide what to do with when I'm gone... . Sorry, offspring.

11 comments:

  1. Auntie Bee was a very stylish lady, wasn't she! Wonder if she had auburn hair? Looks like it. What a lovely collection of china - it's all so gorgeous!

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  2. Lovely lady, I can definitely see her as a buyer for an upscale department store. Love the china.

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  3. Doesn't she look lovely? I wonder how long it took to get her hair just right?

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  4. Lovely lady and beautiful cups.....I sympathize! Things do outlast people........But it's worth at least leaving a photographic record.......None of my children has my fondness for all sorts of "china", alas.

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  5. I have Auntie B's garnet ring. I've labelled it 'Auntie Bea' but that's probably my own invented spelling rather than something Granny told me.

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    1. Oh good! Well, keep remembering that it was hers!

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    2. Mum - I think I may have the small brooch she's wearing in the photo! I'll get it out so we can compare it. It's certainly similar, and is among the jewellery I inherited from Granny (so I'm afraid she didn't tell me where it came from).

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  6. I think I know why things last longer than people. Especially precious things....it's because we rarely use them.
    I have lovely china from my Mum, my Mother in Law and a maiden aunt on R's side.. A few pieces are displayed, the rest are kept in a deep drawer as I don't have a glass fronted cupboard. This time last year I went to a friend's 80th party and we were each asked to bring and use our favourite china cup saucer and plate. That was lovely.
    Maybe we need to have more ladies afternoon teas.( personally I prefer to go out for coffee! )

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    1. Oh, the china has been well used. The pattern is slightly worn in places. One cup has a small crack.

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  7. Perhaps there was an Auntie A and she was Auntie B to distinguish her from that one?

    Ever so pretty china. I've got an inherited china tea set too but not as precious as that one, just pink rosebuds. It is nice but I never use it, I think perhaps I can't be bothered washing up saucers.

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  8. You've hit on all my favorite things here... vintage items, family stories, and old photographs! Auntie B was certainly lovely, wasn't she? And her china is precious. So glad you're cherishing it!

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