Friday, January 25, 2008

Horace Batts - 1933

Powys Archives, Llandrindrod Wells

I am grateful to John S Batts, retired academic living in Australia, for furnishing me with background information relating to the family of Horace Rees Batts, a cousin of his fathers from Hay, who died in Craig-y-nos. Some of this information is already lodged with the Powys Archives.

It offers a rare insight into the minutiae of life in rural Wales during the 1920’s and 30’s when the “white plague” was rampant and it was common to have an “invalid” living for years in an upstairs bedroom.

Horace had a younger invalid sister, Gertie, who kept a diary.
“Horace, afflicted by TB, went to stay at Adelina Patti Hospital. Craig-y-nos, Pen-y-cae, Swansea,” Gertie wrote one day.

(Indeed, even as late as the 1950’s this was not that unusual in rural Wales: I had a severely crippled aunt who became bed bound in her early 20’s and lived until she was into her 60s cared for at home by her family- Ann).

John found a series of postcards from his elder sister, Tillie, to Horace at Craig-y-nos when Tillie seems to have been in Bournemouth.

Here is one extract
--“Hope you had the parcel safe, & hope you are feeling stronger, I was out yesterday & went to look for the pen, but the shops was closed, you shall have it the first chance I get, I expect you had some books this week & wondered where they came from, it was the chauffeur’s wife that sent them, hope you had them alright.

The mystery chauffeur with friend/partner -Hay early 1930's.

(A subsequent letter from Horace to his sister stated that he was still waiting for the books to arrive. Did the medical staff in fact confiscate them on the grounds that he was too ill to read them?)

It was later to become the job of “Tillie” (Matilda Batts 1889—May, 1975), who lived at 3 Smallbrook Cottages, Heol-y-dwr, Hay to look after her bedridden father, George Batts, after the death of her mother, Sarah, as well as caring for the bedridden younger sister, Gertie, sister of Horace.

(Again, this was a common practice of the spinster daughter being obliged to become the full-time carer for her relatives, thus sacrificing her own life.- Ann)

By family repute Gertie was always a bit delicate, and she was one of the three children in that branch of the family – 9 children born! -- to survive to adulthood.

As a teenager she belonged to The Girls’ Friendly Society, and also played the piano. John in Australia has inherited some of her inscribed sheet music of songs from the 1914-18 war.

In her early twenties she was diagnosed as suffering from some disease – John thinks it may have been an acute form of rheumatic fever.

“There may have been a touch, also, of that very Victorian malady, neurasthenia. Either way, she took to the life of an invalid and occupied the upstairs front bedroom of that house all the time that I knew her. Her body, needless to say, became frail and her fingers, especially, grew to be misshapen. For all of which, she was extremely interested in the family, including her mother’s family (Rees) from Solva, Pembrokeshire. Gertie was wonderful at remembering birthdays and sent Christmas presents to me and eventually to my own children until almost the end of her life. She loved visits from family and Hay friends, too."

John had not been aware of her diaries until sifting through his father’s papers.

“Bed-ridden for most of her life, hers may well appear to have been a wasted life,” says John.

The diary contains major gaps in the entries, but most list house calls from relatives, friends, and Drs. Tom Hincks & Hughes.

Gertie wrote:
“I been in bed ill from Aug. 24th. 1923. Hoping to be up very soon”
The 1925 diary records little or no reflection, the entries being stark, but perhaps interesting from a social perspective.

“Miss Lewis from the Castle called”

“[Hon.] Miss Gladys Bailey, Castle, called to read for me this afternoon” (19 Jan). [“Bailey” was the family name of the Glanusk baronetcy (created 1899).]
“The Rev. [J. Jefferys] de Winton came to read for me” (Long-time vicar of Hay, then living at Belle Vue, the large house at the head of Broad Street. This is interesting to me because Gertie and her family were Non-conformist; her sister Tillie had been a Sunday school instructor at the Baptist Church in the Bull Ring for about fifty years before she gave that up.

“The Hon. Mabel Bailey [of Hay Castle] called.

“Lady Glanusk called this afternoon”
“Lady Glanusk came this afternoon & brought some lovely roses”
“Two young ladies called from Castle [sic] this afternoon”
“The Dowager Lady Glanusk called to see me for a little while this afternoon to read to me”.

“Miss Gladwys [?Bailey] from the Castle came to read for me this afternoon”
“I heard a cuckoo singing” (1 May).
“Mother went to a tea held at the Castle.”

Why did Lady Glanusk visit regularly and spend time reading to the sick Gertie? We don’t know.

Is the mystery chauffeur and his female companion with the Rolls Royce the same one referred to by Horace in his letter?
Did Lady Glanusk employ him?

We now know the chauffeur was not Horace but more likely a friend of the family, the same man who sent books to Horace while he lay dying in Craig-y-nos except he never received them.

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