Thomas and Edith Pears

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Bob Godfrey

Member
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).
 
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Martin Williams

Member
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?
 
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Bob Godfrey

Member
The 1911 census will be a goldmine, but you'll have to wait four years for that one - the 100-year privacy rule applies.
 
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Brian Ahern

Member
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
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) Lucile Carter. Though I think even further back then 1912, industrialists' sons and Americans were attending Eton.
 
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Martin Williams

Member
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.
 
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Brian Ahern

Member
Interesting! I don't know what the academic standard was for what I believe was a significant number of girls' schools in the US by the dawn of the twentieth century. I recently read a bio of Kate Chopin who was educated at Sacred Heart schools which, according to the biographer, taught girls things like mathematics and science that they weren't taught in other systems. I was surprised when reading up on a few nineteenth century Sacred Heart Schools that a surprising number of non-Catholics sent their daughters to them. There progressiveness no doubt had something to do with the fact that they were run by women. Chopin of course was born right around 1850. I don't know how different things were by 1912, but the Futrelles' daughter Virginia was a student at a Sacred Heart School when her parents were on the Titanic and I don't think they were Catholic.
 
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Martin Williams

Member
And then there were the female colleges at Oxford and Cambridge. I don't know much about these, at least from the top of my head, but you won't have to go far to uncover information about them. Vera Brittain went up to Oxford in the early days of the Great War, before becoming a nurse. And Elsie Bowerman (from roughly the same milieu as Edith Pears) was also at university - I need to check which college, full details are given in that fascinating ET article about her and her career with the suffragettes. (I'm intending to start a new thread about Elsie and her mother, as it seems there isn't one devoted solely to them - unless you can point me in the right direction...?)

I can't think of a single example of a girl from an established 'Society' family taking a degree during this period - again, academia was chiefly the preserve of women from the more liberal middle-classes.
 
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sashka pozzetti

Guest
Isn't Isleworth near two stately homes? Syon Park, and Osterley House? I wonder if a wealthy local family might have found themselves visiting either of them. Does anyone know what Isleworth was like at this time. I know that other similar suburbs of London were home of people like MPs wealthy lawyers etc.
 
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Martin Williams

Member
Osterley is a lovely house with fabulous Adam interiors - as late as the 1930s, it was the home of the Earls of Jersey. But it was not quite town and not quite country, making it far from ideal...well before the war, it was being surrounded by drab, suburban housing developments. Eventually it was just swallowed up by a giant estate of the decidedly UNaristocratic variety!

Now the house itself seems a bit forlorn, sitting as it does in a kind of municipal park. Kenwood in Hampstead has been much more fortunate.

I don't think the Pears would have been on visiting terms with the very smart Jerseys. Or with the Northumberlands at Syon.
 
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sashka pozzetti

Guest
I am not sure about this. Lucile wasn't originally an aristocrat, and was even a divorcee, but she was allowed to socialise with the upper Crust. Is there any reason why the Pears couldn't have done?
 
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Martin Williams

Member
No, I am not 'sure' either - I am only speculating.

But it would be quite wrong to see this in terms of what WOULD and what WOULD NOT have been 'allowed'. For all I know, the Jerseys and the Northumberlands welcomed the Pears with open arms - without further research, I certainly can't prove anything to the contrary. There was nothing to prevent a countess socialising with the wife of a soap manufacturer, if she so wished. Yet we have to bear in mind what would have been LIKELY at this period. Nothing encapsulates the class divisions of the Edwardian era better than the 'Titanic' - her chief appeal to somebody like myself. We're not just debating the differences between first-class and third-class here - the whole point of this discussion is to consider the more subtle nuances prevailing WITHIN the various social groups. And, in 1912, it would NOT have been usual for great ladies like the Countess of Jersey or the Duchess of Northumberland to associate on equal terms with the likes of Edith Pears.

Lucy Duff Gordon, although not born with a title, was unquestionably of gentle birth and would have been considered a 'lady' even BEFORE her marriage to Sir Cosmo. It seems that Edith Pears, although from an affluent background herself, was not from quite the same social bracket - the two cases are quite different and shouldn't be seen as equivalent.
 
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Bob Godfrey

Member
The sad tale which follows may shed some light on the social standing of the Pears family and other wealthy 'tradesmen' of their era. Spring Grove House in Isleworth was the grandest of Thomas Pears' several childhood homes. Regardless of expense, his father Andrew had acquired a Georgian house with extensive grounds, demolished the structure and built on its foundations a huge Victorian pile with the intention of providing himself with a venue suited to a man with the highest of social ambitions. The grounds, complete with lake, were majestic and it came to Pears' notice that favourable comment had been passed even by the Queen, who admired them - in passing.

Pears had no problem attracting his friends and fellow industrialists to social gatherings at his magnificent new home, including concerts in the 'music room' which, complete with minstrels' gallery, was big enough to seat over 100 people. But for the ultimate test of his new social standing he planned a grand garden party to which he invited not just his established coterie, but the local nobility as well. Sadly on this occasion the "build it and they will come" policy didn't work, and the gentry stayed away in droves.

A sadder but wiser man, Pears moved out and the house eventually saw service variously as a hospital, a school and a Polytechnic. It's still standing, and now forms part of West Thames College. Interested parties can hire it for social occasions, but still with no guarantee that the smart set will respond to their invitations!
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Brian Ahern

Member
Thank you very much for sharing that information gem, Bob.

This anecdote provides an opportunity to gauge one's own snobbery level: does one feel embarrassed for Pears or embarrassed for the gentry?
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I personally am keeping mum!

BTW, Martin et al. - anyone who finds this subject interesting might find it worth their while to check out the thread on Catherine Cay in the Empress of Ireland section. That's an interesting example of a family that appears to be "old", while still having some industrial branches. In their case, the lines are a little more blurred.
 
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Brian Ahern

Member
Finally managed to track down a partial family tree for the Pears Family: http://wc.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=oxladefamhist&id=I4288

Not even Tom's mother's maiden name is recorded, though it does contain the names of his siblings. The years of birth don't seem entirely reliable - Edith's is put as "abt. 1899" and, if the years for Tom's mother are correct, she had her first child at 15 and her ninth 24 years later. This is of course entirely possible, but I'm inclined to hope it wasn't the case.
 
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Bob Godfrey

Member
The birth years are given as 'ABT' because they come from census returns which include age but not the date of birth. On the 1891 sheet the age for the eldest boy, Francis, is given as 20 but it's smudged and has probably been wrongly transcribed as 26 for that family tree. So his birth year would have been (ABT) 1871.

I suspect that the name 'Marion' for Thomas' mother was an affectation. The most likely candidate for Andrew Pears' bride is Mary Ann Hollingham, daughter of a master baker with a small shop in Brighton. "Fine house, but his people are in soap and hers in bread, you know".
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