Thomas and Edith Pears


Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
That's extraordinary - I was under the impression that VCs were awarded only very, very rarely...so for ex-pupils from one school to win FIVE...wow! By the sounds of it, they more than deserved them. What a bloody conclusion to the so-called 'Gilded Age'.

Did I read somewhere that, aside from Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff Gordon, the Pears were the only other English couple travelling in first-class? Julia Cavendish was American by birth, so I don't know whether she and Tyrell would qualify.

Although my own interest chiefly revolves around the grander first-class passengers - the DGs, Noelle Rothes, the Wideners, the Astors et al - I have a special affection for Thomas and Edith Pears. They would not have been considered 'Society' and, under normal circumstances, would not have associated with either English aristocrats or American multi-millionaires. I see them as representatives of the prosperous middle-classes, living quietly in unglamorous Isleworth but enjoying the fruits of their labours whenever possible. A voyage aboard the 'Titanic' - very much akin to a stay at the Ritz - was, I assume, a treat indeed. We'll never know but, as always, I can't help but wonder how they regarded their more celebrated shipmates - whether Edith felt self-conscious when she saw the couture gowns worn by the other ladies to dinner or if Thomas smoked a cigar with Benjamin Guggenheim. Or perhaps, as is always the risk, I'm seeing class barriers where none, in fact, existed. For all I know, the Pears might have felt right at home!
 
S

sashka pozzetti

Guest
I suppose that considering the other passengers included Lucile who was a working re-married middleclass divorcee, and Guggenheim was travelling with his 'barely concealed' mistress, things in first class weren't too formal!!
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Yes but...'formal' is only a relative term, isn't it? In my earlier post, I took Thomas and Edith Pears as examples to illustrate my point that the social dynamic in first-class was actually much more varied and complex than most people imagine (or as James Cameron showed in that maddeningly simplistic film of his!) There was almost as great a difference between Colonel Astor and Thomas Pears as there was between Thomas Pears and the humblest steerage passenger. Fifth Avenue and Newport are a long, long way from Isleworth! And I very much doubt that Edith bought her clothes on the rue de la Paix. I can't help but wonder how all these various individuals related to each other during the voyage. Maybe I'm much more conscious of the nuances of class and background than the passengers were themselves. But, from everything I've read about life in 1912, I bet I'm not.

So I wouldn't necessarily say that things in first-class were informal. The dressing for dinner, the complicated etiquette, the observation of certain customs - this is what makes the idea of a 'Gilded Age' so appealing from the perspective of the casual, 'anything goes' twenty-first century. Yet if any of us on this board were asked to live under the same conditions as our great-grandparents (with all the moral, social, technological, even sartorial, restrictions that would entail) most of us wouldn't last a day. On another thread, we've been busy speculating on the exact nature of the relationship between Benjamin Guggenheim and Leontine Aubart. On the basis that they were NOT married, but were travelling together - and setting the individuals in the context of the period - we've put together a scenario in which she is a 'kept woman' and possibly even a high-class prostitute. Yet, today, this arrangement wouldn't raise so much as an eyebrow.

Oh, 1912 was formal alright!
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Or should that be - what kind of woman did Benjamin Guggenheim meet there? Not somebody he'd introduce to his wife, that's for sure.

But we're getting off the topic of this particular thread, which is Thomas and Edith Pears.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
Martin - it's such a breath of fresh air to have someone discussing passengers whose stories I've always wanted to delve into. The Pearses were among the passengers I put as favorites on that thread, precisely because they weren't typical. My sense is that British travelers of their type generally preferred Cunard, leaving White Star to the showy Americans.

I'd say they belong to the class represented by the characters in "Howards End" (I assume you've read that? There's that great line after Colonel Fussell has offered to rally the county families for miles around to call on Margaret. Foster says something like, "Whether Colonel Fussell, who was garden seeds, could do what he offered, Margaret doubted. But so long as Henry mistook them for the county families when they did call, she would be satisfied.")

I guess there were a fair amount of British businessmen on the Titanic who could also be said to typify the British middle class. But married couples and families of the type were more rare on the Atlantic, since America was not a great tourist destination for the British.

It's only fairly recently that I've come to realize how interesting the moneyed middle class of Britain is, with its own pride and snobberies. It can seem like there is so little rhyme or reason to it! Reading about British social life and marriage - both fictional and actual - throughout the 20th century, it seems like lineage and all the rest of it mattered to such a brutal degree in some cases and so surprisingly little in others.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Forster's 'Howards End' is a magnificent book which was later turned into an equally magnificent film. I first read it when I was in my teens but returned to it last year and was simply blown away. It isn't an easy read by any means but when you 'crack it' - and I've only just scratched the surface, further readings will yield greater and greater riches - it simply takes your breath away.

It may be a truism but the English middle classes are, as you say, a law unto themselves; they always have been and they always will be. The nuances and gradations separating the various levels WITHIN that one social group are just as pronounced as those separating the very rich from the very poor. The professional middle class, for example, is very different to the industrial middle class, the urban from the rural, the progressive from the conservative. In 'Howards End', the conflict is between the artistic, literate, liberal-minded Schlegels and the money-making, philistine Wilcoxes. On both sides, the various characters engage in a frantic struggle to connect - 'only connect' being the central message and a concept which, with my interests in the arts AND in people, I try to live up to everyday.

I can't help wondering how the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes would have behaved on if they had been on the 'Titanic'. With their notions of masculinity and gallantry, I like to think that Mr Wilcox and Charles would have 'gone down like gentlemen', like Major Butt and Benjamin Guggenheim, having first shepherded their women to the boats. But they could just as easily have taken advantage of their first-class status to board one of the first boats away. We're only discussing fictional characters, of course, but such a discussion casts an interesting light on late-Edwardian society, which was poised to undergo all the upheavals and revolutions the twentieth-century could throw at it.

I would heartily recommend J.B. Priestley's 'The Edwardians' to you, if you have not yet read it. It is a lively, informed panorama of an entire age and Priestley takes particular care to cast an ironic but affectionate eye over the middle-class world (or, rather, worlds) of his youth. And then there is Vera Brittain, of course - her 'Testament of Youth' is a wonderful, poignant evocation of just that milieu from which the likes of Thomas and Edith Pears sprang.

I apologise that my contributions to any of the discussions I've engaged in so far are lacking in 'evidence' and hard facts. It seems to me that there are countless individuals posting on this board who can command far more information than I, some derived from months and years of painstaking research. Nevertheless, I find it really fascinating to hear the thoughts of fellow board-members on subjects, issues and personalities which have intrigued me since I first became gripped by the 'Titanic' story as a child.
 
S

sashka pozzetti

Guest
Howard's End is a wonderful book and film. Some of it was filmed near to where the actual 'Howards End' is. E. M. Forsters other books are also very interesting to read , and to learn from. Passage to India is good, because the class issues are laid bare in conrast to the customs of a foreign land. Maurice will be interesting to anyone who has posted on Gays on the Titanic, and is interested in middle class attitudes to sexuality. I would not read his short stories again though they are really strange!
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
The book and the movie are both simply beautiful. The book especially I would fail to do justice to.

Sashka, another reason I find Maurice interesting is that it deals with the contrasts between the upper classes (the Durhams) and middle classes (the Halls) more than Howards End does.

Martin, I've taken note of those recommendations. Thank you.

And, as it happens, I have in idle moments pictured the Wilcoxes and Schlegels on the Titanic. When you think about these richly drawn characters placed in that context, it drives home the endless number of ways in which the disaster was a horrible, complex human event.

I think Charles Wilcox (he of the "What's the point of being kind to servants? They don't understand it.") would have taken a seat in a lifeboat as his right if he'd had the chance at one. If on dry land, however, he would have been singing the praises of the upper class Anglo Saxon males who, of course, dutifully and bravely met their deaths. With Henry, it could have gone either way, IMO.

I think Margaret and Helen ultimately would have done as they were told and taken their seats in a lifeboat (it was only feminists on dry land who said Titanic's women had done all women a disservice by following the 'women and children' first rule). But it would have created all kinds of emotional turmoil for them. I think Margaret especially would have been horrified to leave Tibby behind (who would have quite happily hopped into a boat if allowed to, but unlike Charles would not have had the cojones to jump into one on his own initiative a la Hugh Woolner). Margaret also admires masculinity and gallantry(and even Helen starts off thinking Tibby would benefit from the Wilcoxes' influence).

Oh, and Martin, this might sound obligatory but everybody with an interest in dialogue brings something to the board, even if their body of knowledge isn't as extensive as yours. Look at the discussions you've created and furthered already. This is what I tell myself when feeling like a piggybacking hack because most of my research is conducted on Google.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Thanks for this, Brian. My thoughts are pretty similar to yours!

The theory that wealthy Americans preferred travelling on White Star vessels, whilst the British usually opted for Cunard, is one that I've heard ventured a couple of times now and I'm curious to know if it's mere conjecture (although it would make a kind of sense) or whether this was accepted as a 'fact' at the time.

In this particular instance, how would Thomas and Edith Pears have come to be travelling on the 'Titanic'? Would they themselves have selected the ship or would they merely have told a travel agent the date on which they wished to sail and he would have taken it from there? Nowadays, one aircraft is very much like another, so it's just a matter of convenience. But back then, each liner had its own character so an element of personal preference may have entered the equation.
 
S

sashka pozzetti

Guest
When I fly I choose an aircraft based on the price, where it goes from, and what I think of the service. Nice food, facilities,flight times and a safety record help me decide. I expect the Pears considered some of the same things. Some people like to go by a national Airline, like you suggest might happen with Titanic, others don't care. On a long Journey I would think the rooms and food would be one of the main things.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
One thing I've wondered about is how switching bookings from one ship to another worked, especially since people seem to have often switched from one line to another.

There was the couple whose name I forget who reportedly booked one of the the mega-suites before switching to the Mauretania. The Harts were, according to Eva Hart, switched from the Philadelphia.In 1915, there were the people who switched from the Lusitania to the New York because of the submarine warnings.

I can see how switching from one IMM line to another would gain you a rebate, but Cunard of course wasn't part of IMM.

In terms of selecting liners, my impression is that some people put more thought into it than others. I wonder if, here again, you could go into a White Star Line office and come out with a ticket for a ship belonging to another IMM line.

I think I personally would have wanted to mix it up as much as possible if I'd lived in the days of ocean travel
happy.gif
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Thanks, Brian. I imagine that I too would have been quite selective - I would much have preferred the 'Lusitania' to the 'Mauretania' (all that lovely plasterwork) but would have chosen an 'Olympic' vessel over either! I don't know how much experience the Pears had on the Atlantic but I'm guessing not much - so I doubt they compared the relative merits of this ship to that so closely. I imagine that they simply took advantage of a rare opportunity to cross by the swankiest means possible.

Reading her profile, it sounds as if Edith Pears was a VAD during the First World War - at least, this is my own understanding of 'Red Cross Nurse' (or was the Red Cross separate to the Voluntary Aid Detachment?) I think I'm right in saying that VADs were not paid for their services (hence the 'voluntary'!) This tended to mean that it was primarily upper- and middle-class women who joined up - those with the funds and the leisure to work for free. Poorer women were either forced to stay at home with the children or else took paid employment in a munitions factory or somewhere similar. Vera Brittain, the daughter of a comfortable middle-class family from Yorkshire, has left us with the best record of life as a VAD, in her 'Testament of Youth'. Other well-known women who did their bit for the war effort (and, in many cases, their 'bit' was actually rather a lot) included the Duchess of Sutherland ('so beautiful she made dying men want to live' - a useful qualification for a nurse), Lady Diana Manners and Lady Angela Forbes. I find it fascinating to consider the shock that so many of these privileged, protected women must have experienced, most doing hard, physical work for the first time in their lives and seeing terrible injuries at such close quarters. But then, I also believe that many were glad to have something to DO with their time - not just to distract them from the anxieties of the war but also to alleviate the boredom which had previously accompanied their enforced leisure. Noelle Rothes was a nurse too, I believe?

In the case of Edith Pears, the war (coming so soon after the 'Titanic') might have given her a new lease of life - this is the impression I get, at any rate.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
VAD nurses were paid the standard rate for nursing employment, but those with independent means were encouraged to donate their pay to the Red Cross. It's true that some of the volunteers had never scrubbed a floor or made a cup of tea in their lives before, but the representation of social classes in the VAD detachments was probably not far different from that in the Nation as a whole. See my postings in this thread:

https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5914/42459.html

and check out this link for recollections:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWnurses.htm
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
Not all VAD members were nursing assistants, by the way. Edith Pears drove an ambulance, and later joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (formed in 1916).
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Well then, that answers a question I was about to ask about Violet Jessop: how could a woman of her background, a White Star Line stewardess, afford to work for several years without getting paid? Thanks! My perception had always been that most VADs were rather well-bred. Did anybody see 'The Roses of No Man's Land' on Channel 4, back in 1997? It featured the recollections of about a dozen women (by that time, VERY old ladies indeed) of their time spent nursing during the Great War. An incredibly moving, compassionate and inspiring story. Perhaps another documentary is due, detailing the activities of women in other areas of service during those dark days?

Anyway: back to Edith Pears. Solidly middle-class and well-provided for after the death of her her husband...well-educated too, by the sounds of it, if she spent time in France after Wycombe Abbey. What kind of life would she have lead at Mevagissey prior to the 'Titanic'? I wonder if the 1911 census could tell us - can it be accessed on the internet, does anybody know? I'm envisaging the Pears house as a substantial but unpretentious detached villa with maybe three live-in servants (cook, housemaid and parlourmaid - or, alternatively, a 'tweenie), besides an odd-job man twice a week. Thomas was at work all day so how did Edith spend her time? Her clothes would, I think, have come from a department-store or local dressmaker - no Lucile or Paquin for her! How far down the social scale did the practice of dressing for dinner extend? Ubiquitous at stately homes and in grand hotels - but in Isleworth? Yet Edith would have needed at least a couple of smart evening dresses during her time on the 'Titanic'...

All this is pure speculation, of course. I could be completely wrong! What do other people think?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
The 1911 census will be a goldmine, but you'll have to wait four years for that one - the 100-year privacy rule applies.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
My guess would be it was done among well-to-do middle class people like the Pears, but I guess I'm basing that opinion on movies (Howard's End, Enchanted April). I would bet that at least Tom and Edith's parents did.

I don't know enough about what would have been the typical staff of servants, but I'd bet they had whatever was suitable, with labor being so cheap.

So Isleworth was hopelessly unfashionable? Edith's education and Tom's car- and motorcycle-racing indicate that their lifestyle might not have been so very.....can't think of the right word - homely?

I like the scraps of info we have on them. The fact that Tom had one of his racing trophy/coasters inscribed with Edith's initials; Edith's "kindly but severe" mother presiding over a typically large Victorian family.

BTW, would Weycombe Abbey be sort of a female Eton? Other passengers to attend were the humbly-born Elsie Bowerman and the American (thus very humbly born
happy.gif
) Lucile Carter. Though I think even further back then 1912, industrialists' sons and Americans were attending Eton.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Well, my impression (derived from goodness knows where) has always been that Isleworth is terminally unsmart. I've never actually been, and don't know anybody who lives there, so perhaps it isn't fair for me to judge. Maybe I should go and investigate one day.

Wycombe Abbey was not considered 'fashionable'. Which is not to say that it wasn't a good school - it was, very, and remains so to this day. And that was precisely the problem. It was the progressive middle-classes who placed the highest importance on a full and wide-ranging female education. Girls from the best families were educated by governesses at home or else attended small, unchallenging, unacademic seminaries with only a select handful of other 'young ladies'. A few months in Germany, Italy or, most usually, France would follow in which the girls would be 'finished' before their formal debuts around the ages of seventeen or eighteen. This remained the case well into the 1950s. So, although Wycombe Abbey WAS organised along the lines of a 'female Eton', the pupil base was far from being either grand or aristocratic (as Eton's most definitely WAS at this time).

Nowadays, however, things are different and the school is indeed considered very smart, both academically and socially.
 

Similar threads