The Mystery of the Missing Pearls

Sunday 20 June 1960: Poets’ Walk, Clevedon

So, although I’ve mentioned it before, this was how one dressed for a Sunday afternoon walk in Clevedon in 1960. In my collection of old photos this image is dated 1961, but we’ll come to that in a moment.

Loss of the pearls

It was not possible to go out walking on a Sunday afternoon in, say, shorts, tee-shirt and sandals; it was necessary to be ‘properly dressed’, because the object of the exercise was to look as if one had been to church that day, even if one had not. Nor was any music (other than of a sacred nature) allowed to be heard escaping from one’s home. Nor were children to be seen and heard playing out in the garden, and no housework was to be undertaken except cooking. (Think of the scandal if the neighbours heard the Hoover or the washing-machine; think how awful it would be if anyone was hammering or sawing on a Sunday!)

If you think those stultifying scenes of home life in ‘Pirate Radio’/’The Boat That Rocked’ are exaggerated, think again; not every household worked that way, but some certainly did.

Leonard, of course, as the son of a very religious mother, attended church every Sunday. He was captain of the bell-ringing team for many years, also in the choir, and was I believe a church warden as well. Eva was a stalwart of the flower-arranging rota, and the church was always full of chrysanthemums cut from the garden at Devonia. In short, they Had A Position To Maintain – which meant that their guests had to toe the line and dress up for a walk as if they were setting off to meet the Queen; men in suits, women in dresses, children in their best shoes and hair-ribbons. That was just the way they did things in those days.

So, this accounts for the whole family going out for a walk on Sunday dressed to the nines and June wearing her pearls, and as there were two Sundays during the holiday this clearly happened twice – on Sunday 20 and 27 June. The picture with this blogpost must have been taken on Sunday 20 June, because – devastatingly – June’s pearls vanished during a Sunday walk on that trip and were never seen again. She never felt them go – just, one moment they were there and the next they weren’t. That couldn’t have been the same day that the photo was taken, for reasons I’ll list below*, so the pearls must have been lost on Sunday 27 June. As soon as the loss was realised we all turned back – to the top of Church Hill, for those who know Clevedon – and searched; however I’m pretty sure we were all looking for an intact necklace, perhaps with a broken clasp, whereas in retrospect the more likely scenario is that the string broke and the pearls were scattered to the winds. Eventually we gave up and left – whether walking on or turning back I now can’t remember – and the loss would have been reported to the local police, probably by telephone, in the hopes that they might be handed in. They never were, though, and June’s lament ever afterwards was that ‘somebody’s had those’.

In any case, Leonard’s letter makes it clear that they started the ball rolling on an insurance claim when we got home. Whether the eventual payment came up short or not I can’t say – maybe the letters will give some indication – but the money was clearly used for something else; June never had another set of pearls, at any rate, which is a bit sad – but, as they wouldn’t have had any sentimental association if she’d bought them herself – maybe she just didn’t see the need.

And from that day to this, every time I embark on that walk over Church Hill, I’m half looking out for my mother’s pearl necklace; you never know, it might turn up. We recently found a gold ring that had been buried in our garden since the early 1950s, so stranger things have definitely happened! However we also live over 150 miles away now, which cuts down our searching activities a bit.

Photo dating

All the slides in Alec’s collection are dated, by Alec, in his own hand. He used to give slide shows, which we called ‘pictures on the wall’, and this dating would have occurred round about the time he bought the first projector. The date of that is undetermined at the moment, but 1963 or thereabouts might be a reasonable guess.

However, unfortunately, the picture shown – which was clearly taken in June 1960 because the pearls are present – was dated 1961 by Alec. This, in turn, is going to call into question all his other datings – particularly the early ones – which will now have to be re-examined in some detail.

It does, however, mean that the picture taken in Pinner Park, which I used in conjunction with a post about that, was also taken in 1960 rather than 1961. You will note all three of us are wearing virtually identical outfits in the two pictures, which reinforces the status of the park visit – best clothes and best behaviour. How exhausting!

*Reasons for dating this particular picture to the week before:

1. It was taken on a bench on the path between St Andrew’s Church and the clifftop which is known as Poets’ Walk. We would have set off from ‘Devonia’ (then at 8, Tennyson Avenue – later renumbered to 10, Tennyson Avenue) and walked out along Church Road and through the gate at the end, where a path branched up and around the headland. (We flew kites there sometimes, but not of course on Sundays.) We would then come down from Church Hill along Poets’ Walk and returned either through or around the churchyard or – if we had more energy and the weather was good – continued down to The Salthouse Inn and back along the road. (N.B. this probably had something to do with the old superstition about never walking around a church ‘widdershins’, i.e. anti-clockwise!)

In short, Poets’ Walk was after Church Hill where the pearls were lost – and if June is still wearing her pearls at Poets’ Walk then clearly this must have been a different occasion.

2. I have a vivid recollection of what June was wearing when she realised her pearls were missing, and it wasn’t the brown and white dress and cardigan shown in the picture. It was a pale yellow and cream dress which was very flattering on her and set off the pearls to perfection. The obvious inference to draw from this is that the weather was much better on 27 June than it was the Sunday before, but clearly the string the pearls were on was no longer up to the job. June was devastated, but for once she didn’t actually manage to find a way of blaming her children for the loss. There were very few occasions thereafter when that could truly be said to be the case.


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