The Mother Problem – part ten

Geoff to his brothers again:

Paddington, Wednesday

Dear All

Many thanks for Leon’s letter letter [sic] to have returning the vacancy lists – another enclosed for his perusal.*

If Mother will only realise our efforts are for her benefit as much as everyone else’s I am sure she will thank us and not condemn us for what we are doing. Quite apart from all else the very fact that she will not have to be pulled around every so often (particularly in the winter) surely is a great blessing. Secondly the daily avoidance of stairs which are a nightmare to her and us will help her immensely and thirdly not having to go to and from a cold bedroom at night and morning shivering for the cold will save her much anxiety – to say nothing of numerous other advantages. Mother’s permanent comfort and independence with proper spiritual and medical care is the aim – the cost is our headache and not hers. Last time she came to London and more especially when she returned she had an awful journey and it was terrible even to witness it, let alone having to cope. So Mother is going to Lyng on Sunday and I hope to be one of her first visitors to Exeter to make sure everything is as it should be. I have in mind Sat. Nov. 22nd subject to tieing up [sic] with Don.

Was interested in Leon’s note to Mr Phillips and his reply. Should say he is a different sort to the rest and it is already clear Edwards intends stirring the mud. Heard John Saunders is a strong candidate for Exeter – fairly senior too. Also rumoured the Plymouth Chief Clerk’s job is likely to be readvertised under the new organisation – a different title with the same salary – but that suggests neither Collins nor Beer will get it.

No more now.

Love G&S

*Work vacancy lists, no doubt. It seems as if Geoff’s view has prevailed at last, and Emily is on her way to Fort Villa at the end of November. I have yet to confirm this, but she most certainly died at Heavitree in the March of the following year – a few weeks after her 87th birthday.


The Mother Problem – part nine

Geoff to his brothers:

Paddington, Thursday

Dear All

Leon’s letter safely to hand and I can only say when someone has tried very hard to find the right solution to all our problems it was very discouraging. Let us face facts – when we were small boys we were told “Mother knows best” and “It’s sometimes necessary to be cruel to be kind”. Surely now Mother is beyond the stage of control she should have confidence in her sons to know what is best for her. It is very clear the present moving around cannot continue and it is beyond the human endurance of any one of us to stay permanently at one place. Last time Mother came to London she was very will and when she returned I thought she was going to pack up before we reached Paddington. We cannot hope that it would be any better on another occasion and it is wrong – definitely wrong for her to be moved about in this manner quite apart from anything else. To have been able to find a spot in a Christian house where she is well known and near old friends which she could not hope to see again otherwise; also to have regular visits from us all including the little girls and away from all upsets and arguments surely Mother is something you should thank God for and not be ungrateful. No one wants you gone and no one thinks you’ve lived too long but you must help others to help you and I do hope you will see it in this light.

No more today.

Love G&S

It’s impossible not to feel desperately sorry for Geoff, who is doing his best in impossible circumstances – torn, as it would seem, between the demands of his wife and those of his brothers, and with Emily the unwitting cause of all the discord.

The Mother Problem – part eight

Geoff to Leonard and Eva:

Sorry you have been put to such trouble and it’s clear if we are to get any peace within our midst Mother must be guided by us and not us by her. It is wrong that you or any of us should suffer in this way – you have earned your rights to happy retirement & we need peace to concentrate on the lives to come. I cannot possibly cover my job and be in and out to Mother all night – it is wrong even to think of it.

Love G&S

P.S. Understand re: cash and tickets – I have offered Don £15 to cover to end of year when position will be reviewed as he says. This meets the points he made.

Clearly, nobody wants to deal with Mother themselves and everyone thinks somebody else should be doing it. Typical!

It also sounds as if Geoff’s wife, Stella – who may still have been working herself at this point – has put her foot down about night attendance, whereas the other brothers think that because their wives are willing to do it she darned well ought to as well. They’re all for compassion and self-sacrifice, as long as they can leave it to the women.

The Mother Problem – part seven

Don to both his brothers:


Dear Geoff and Stella

Thanks for Geoff’s letter to hand this morning. I think the first thing I should like to mention is that Joan and I are on our 8 weeks rest period but instead of being allowed to have that essential rest this correspondence has played havoc here.

Now can we have a spot of law and order. M is due here from Clevedon on Nov. 16th and on to London Dec. 14th but to the latter you say No.

You are going to Exeter this week to fix up for M at Fort Villa, but having satisfied yourself that it is suitable and that Mrs Searle fully understands Mother’s condition you should then go to Clevedon early next week and tell M all about it. After that a date can be made for getting M to Exeter via Lyng. Under no circumstances will she be taken to Exeter if after a few 24 hour periods Mrs. Searle is going to say – come and take her away, I cannot cope – because who will carry on from there.

Don & Joan

Addendum to Leonard and Eva:

Thanks for Leon’s letter to hand this morning. Perhaps Geoff will answer some of your queries after his visit to Exeter. I doubt if Mrs. Searle knows the present state of affairs.

It is a pity that Geoff did not visit Clevedon and tell his Mother that Headstone Lane* was off. She would not have gone there at all if Joan and I had not pressed the subject. It had reached the stage here that we would not let him visit her – have we to go through all that again.


*Headstone Lane was the name of the road in which Geoff and his family lived.

What’s disturbing here is the aura of distrust between the brothers. Nobody seems to consider Geoff capable of undertaking the negotiations with Mrs Searle, and as the youngest of the three this may be a legacy of their childhood. Nevertheless at this time he was fifty years old, married and settled and in a very good job; he was surely as sensible as either of the others, and probably more down-to-earth.

Why Don should have found it necessary to stop Geoff visiting his mother at Lyng, though, is anyone’s guess – unless the sight of him always made her think she was going to be taken back to London to see her grand-daughters, and she became upset when she found out that was not the case. It definitely sounds as if she had mental as well as physical troubles, however, and I’m astonished that they let the matter become this serious before they started looking for a solution. I can only imagine that they were more concerned about keeping their money in their pockets.

The Mother Problem – part six

Leonard’s notes:

  1. Cannot afford anything towards keep.
  2. Has the true position been put to Mrs Searle – I think not because I cannot see anyone taking Mother in her present condition which is deteriorating daily.
  3. What happens if Mother – for obvious reasons – cannot be kept in the Home – where does Geoff come into this.
  4. You* and I have almost completed our ‘shift’ for 1958.
  5. ? Night attention at Fort Villa.
  6. Mother requires everything done for her now-a-days – even to very often undoing and doing up her clothes for toilet purposes – who is going to do this in any Home.
  7. ? Visiting every third week – Geoff has an all stations pass and Eva and I will have to pay every time – either priv or petrol to get to and from Exeter.

*Presumably this is addressed to Don.

There’s a streak of absolute pig-headedness about this list, coupled with a complete absence of generosity and total unwillingness to see anyone else’s point of view but his own. It doesn’t seem to occur to Leonard that Mrs Searle knows her business, for one thing, nor that toileting and night attention are part of the service they would be paying for. Nor does anyone seem to have thought of consulting Emily’s GP for advice about placing her, nor indeed organising professional nursing attendance in the home. They’re all too focused on what a burden it is, and seem unable to accept that other people find solutions to these problems which are also available to them. “Poor Downtrodden Me” syndrome runs rife in the Atkins family, and the assumption is that Geoff is doing this *at* his brothers as some sort of Machiavellian ploy; rather than co-operating to find a solution for their mother’s well-being, they are turning it into a ‘who’s suffering most?’ competition – and the winner is, was, and always will be Emily.

The Mother Problem – part five

Leonard’s letter to his brothers:


Not a very good day here as you may imagine and I would that it had not fallen to me to tell Mother of proposed arrangements. Anyhow I waited until after breakfast and gently broached the subject and read out Geoff’s letter addressed to her. She was very angry and I had to listen to quite a lot. “She had lived too long and we wanted her out of the way” etc. etc.* “Under no circumstances would she consider it and Geoffrey must think again.” “She had been looking forward to seeing the grandchildren again.” Frankly I had no heart to pursue subject then and after Eva returned from shopping turned out to garage until lunchtime. I asked her in afternoon what reply had better be given as the vacancy at Fort Villa was imminent but the afternoon dragged on dismally until Mrs Marshall turned up for tea and that finished the matter for the day. I can assure you though she was very very down. I answered and tried to answer a great number of questions from her & endeavoured all ways to get her interested in life in the Whittlesea area but without result.

If Geoff is going to Exeter to see the place this week he must tell Mrs Searle of Mother’s physical and mental difficulties in fact she is now an invalid. I have to go into her bedroom every hour – sometimes more often night [sic] to get her on the commode – the former ‘potty’ arrangements now very much out of date as M does not know what to do with it. What are night nurse arrangements at Fort Villa? Will someone be always on hand day & night to help Mother with toilet requirements? Also what are sleeping arrangements, M must be accommodated so that she can be on her right side always. I feel some assurance is necessary on all these vital matters before having another chat with Mother. Another question where’s lavatory in relation to where Mother will normally sit. Strictly speaking it should be adjacent to avoid the walks to & fro.

It is most difficult to deal with – I wish it has never come to this.

So far as Don’s letter of 2nd is concerned we much appreciate suggestion for journey to be broken at Lyng for a night or two as presumably Don would take journey thence to Exeter, where without doubt he would have to arrange the financial aspects of the matter with Mrs Searle. Unfortunately I am not now-a-days in a position to pay anything towards Mother’s keep – quite enough to me to make ends meet here and you will all understand this.

So far as visits go, if Mother does go to Fort Villa Geoff’s suggestion appears to be the only one practicable & somehow we would make it although not in possession of pass.**

No more now.


*Leonard had a deeply hypocritical side to his nature. Thirty years later he used precisely these words to his daughter-in-law when she was no longer capable of looking after him – he had become increasingly demanding and unpleasant and seemed to expect five star treatment with no thought of the effect he was having on those around him. [And Alec, deeming it to be ‘women’s work’, took no part at all in either the emotional or the physical labour required.]

**Leonard pleading poverty is also very difficult to swallow. Of the three brothers, Don was the one with the most reduced standard of living – although he was still working, and his house was rented rather than owned. Geoff and his wife lived in London in very comfortable circumstances, and Leonard and Eva – with only themselves to please and no mortgage to pay – could hardly be said to be paupers, especially as they grew a lot of their own fruit and vegetables and so saved on expenses that way. They also sold their surplus at the front gate on an honour system, something that wouldn’t be possible in that particular neighbourhood today. Leonard’s assertion that he ‘doesn’t have a pass’ is mysterious, too, unless he’s distinguishing between an ‘all system pass’, i.e. free rail travel everywhere, and a ‘priv’, i.e. reduced cost rail travel for life. He most certainly had the latter.

The Mother Problem – part four

Don’s reply to Geoff:

Lyng, 2/11/58

Dear Geoff and Stella

Thanks for Geoff’s letter to hand this morning. Joan sent it on by train to me.* I think Leon should give M all the information (except £.s.d.) you have to date. If she likes the idea of settling once more in Exeter – good show for everyone. If agreed a journey Clevedon to Exeter in one day may be too much unless at the time M really feels on top of the world. The alternative would be Clevedon to Lyng, stop a night or so and then on again. I cannot think for M but sharing a room would naturally be best for her as we understand things. Re: finance, for the time to end of year I should prefer to make up the diff. between 50/- and 6 gns among ourselves = 76/- for 8 weeks say £10** apiece but if perchance Leon thinks differently perhaps he will please say what he would like. My idea in going to end of year is for bank account interest to be made up to 31/12/58 when can go more fully into question then. However that is only my suggestion and subject to confirmation by Clevedon & London. No more now,

Don & Joan (copy sent L&E)

*Don may still have been stationmaster at Athelney at this time. The whole family sent letters and parcels by train, with the assistance of friendly drivers, guards etc., until at least 1968, and it was probably a widespread practice.

**The sum Don’s suggesting they find is roughly £230 each in today’s money. This is less than £30 per week each and seems reasonable to me in exchange for the peace of mind of knowing that their mother is being looked after in an appropriate setting, but as will emerge later in the correspondence Leonard’s attitude to money is somewhat ungenerous.

The Mother Problem – part three

Geoff’s letter for Leonard to read out loud to their mother (along with the one from Mrs Searle):


Dear Mother

You know that for some time you have wanted me to try to fix you up with a spot where you could avoid being swapped around every few weeks – and a place where you could settle in without any more disturbances. At last I have found it and with someone you know and near to Whittlesea where old memories will be revived and where Mrs Chapman and Mrs Elston will be able to visit you, also you will be able to take Communion when you wish.

Mrs Chapman’s son also recommended this to me. The Elstons referred to in the letter from Fort Villa you will remember better Miss Milner. [sic]

I know you will love to get back to Exeter for a while and I am fixing this to start at the end of this week. Leon will tell you all about it.

Love, G.

P.S. You may not remember the name – Mrs Searle – but you will certainly remember the person.

There is an additional note across the top corner:

The Rev. Powell Price is the leaving [sic] at Whittlesea. Can also renew acquaintances with Dr Bradshaw who knows you better than anyone.

The Mother Problem – part two

Geoff’s letter enclosing the one from Mrs Searle:


Dear Leon & Eva

Many thanks for Don’s letter to hand but I am sorry it doesn’t provide the answer to our problem – or yours. Sufficient is it for me to add that after covering the responsibility of Mother for over 10 years after Dad’s death Stella and I are at the end of our tether.

From a purely personal angle I would still plod on but it doesn’t affect us all in the same way and I am sure you do not realise that I know there will be tragic circumstances if another spell is attempted. It is not for my sake or Stella’s that I have to call a halt but the children’s future is at stake and they are entitled to a normal life with their mother and father.

I have kept Don’s letter from Stella and just as well I did as with the same post there was an air mail from her sister in Singapore telling her she is in hospital following an operation for removal of several stones and the gall bladder. This is mere coincidence but you can imagine the effect on top of other things.

On the brighter side – I hope for all of us – I enclose a copy of a reply to a letter I sent to the person in charge of a good old folks’ home in Exeter at least two months ago. I have also written to Mother telling her of the advantages from her side but before Leon reads it to her – and the letter from Fort Villa – I suggest he and Don have a word together. (I have sent the normal daily letter separately.)

In my view Mother would be as happy there as she could be anywhere for the following reasons:-

  1. Exeter is her birthplace and she has asked me several times during my visits “if only I could fix her up in a couple of rooms in that part.”
  2. Her old friends Mrs Chapman and Mrs Elston (not the one mentioned in the Fort Villa letter – although they would also be pleased to see her) would be able to visit her at regular intervals.
  3. We could visit her say once every three weeks which would mean to her one of us once a week.
  4. The person with whom she will be staying knows mother – the place too was also recommended by Mrs Chapman’s son to me.
  5. Fort Villa is well known to Mother and is but a few yards from Whittlesea* which is ever in her mind.
  6. The parson who now lives at Whittlesea also visits the home – and he’s a jolly nice chap too. Communion is important to Mother.
  7. She could be re-registered with Dr Bradshaw who has known her for years. In the event of an impossible situation ultimately occurring he has all the back ground.

I will pop down to Mrs Searle next week and give her the up to date position and if you agree will book the place for Mother from Monday 10th November (or Sunday 9th) which is the earliest possible – at least until the end of my session – viz 5 weeks plus 16 weeks from Dec. 14th. If of course you both feel this should be permanent I’ll make it from Nov. 10th with no closing date, but this must be for you to decide quickly. From the paying angle I will make up the amount normally allowed for Mother to 6 guineas for the period [illegible] unless you have other ideas on the subject.

One thing I do suggest is that the sentence about payment should not be read to Mother – merely tell her that we will look after that. If you tell her the cost, it’ll only frighten her off as you know her ideas on finance are a little adrift these days.

The only other thing is how to get her there and that I am afraid I must leave to one of you – obviously however if the accommodation is not taken from Nov. 9th or 10th it will not be available from Dec. 14th.

I have tried to do and say what I feel is right and I do ask that when you decide you will consider not only your side but the fact that I just cannot undertake the proposition on Dec. 14th without grave risk of serious consequences.

Have written the same to both of you.

Love, G&S

*Whittlesea was the name of the house where Emily had previously lived – and it looks as if perhaps when she sold up after her husband Tom’s death it was bought by The Rev. Powell Price as mentioned in Mrs Searle’s letter – more research is indicated.

The house was named after the town in Victoria, Australia, where Tom’s sister ended up living. Her story is one of the more fascinating ones in the whole collection, as I’m sure you’ll agree when we get to it.

The Mother Problem – part one

There is a bundle of correspondence from 1958 in which Leonard, Don and Geoff (Alec’s father and uncles) are trying to resolve the issue of where their mother, Emily, should live. At this point Emily is approaching her 86th birthday, and has clearly been shuttling around from one son to another, a month at a time, probably for several years. That this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a viable arrangement becomes obvious when Geoff, the youngest – clearly at the end of his tether – proposes sending Emily to live in residential care.

The file (all three brothers, and Alec, were great makers of notes and keepers of records, hence the amount of paper they left behind) begins with a handwritten letter to Geoff from Mrs Searle at Fort Villa, Butts Road, Heavitree, Exeter, dated 30 October 1958. Unusually for the time, it has been ‘photostatted‘ – the company was not yet the Xerox Corporation! – and the resulting print is bluey-black on very heavy grade 8″ x 10″ (American size) yellowish paper.

Dear Sir

Please excuse the delay in answering your letter but I have been in hospital prior to having my baby and your letter was mislaced [sic]. I was going to write to you c/o The Station-Master, Paddington Station as Mr Elston (the [illegible]*) thought this was the best way of contacting you. Then yesterday I found your letter with a gas receipt. I am able to tell you that I have a vacancy from Monday next if you care to accept it for your mother. I remember her very well, and she used to be very fond of my eldest son now [illegible]**. The room I have the vacancy in is the drawing room of Fort Villa (I don’t know if you know the house), it is very pleasant and if possible your mother could easily be walked in the garden (weather permitting). It is a double room but large and airy and if she doesn’t like the idea of sharing would move her to a smaller single room when a vacancy occurs. My fees are 6 gn per week***. The Rev. Powell Price visits here regularly and gives my old people communion if and when they want it. You may come to see the room at your convenience after Sat-Sun of this week and if your mother comes I will do all in my power to make her happy and encourage people I know she knew to visit her.

My regards to your wife and family,

Yours faithfully

Doris Searle

P.S. If you have arranged for your mother elsewhere would you be kind enough to let me know by return. Thank you.

*This word could be either ‘Groom’ or ‘Grocer’, either one of which seems odd. I suspect this is a mystery that may never be solved.

**The same goes for this. It might say ’24yr’ or ’24mn’ or virtually anything in between. There is nothing inherently impossible about Mrs Searle having a son of 24 and yet be planning for another baby – she wouldn’t need to be much more than forty years old, after all, and ‘menopause babies‘ often occur when women’s periods start to become erratic. But it feels indelicate to speculate further about this; Mrs Searle could still be alive, after all.

***6 guineas in 1958 would be roughly £145 now, so you’re looking at a little under £600 per month – albeit sharing a room, and with no (mentioned) specialist nursing services. By the time Alec’s widow, June, required residential care fifty years later the charge would be four times as much – a calculation which will be relevant later in the correspondence.

The next post will upload on 28 April 2019 at 06.00