Saturday, February 02, 2008
Adelina Patti on the lake with her godchild and secretary Mabel Woodford
I have a distant memory of Ethel Rosate-Lunn, known as the "poetess of the Tawe Valley". Every summer she used to visit our farm, Ty-Llangenny, just outside Crickhowell and she would talk about her five years working for Adelina Patti from 1909 to 1914.
But the farming community were not interested in the life and times of a deceased opera diva and I had no wish to remember my time at Craig-y-nos so I paid scant attention to her stories. How I regret it now!
I do recall that she seemed besotted with Patti. Ethel's life seemed to end with the death of Patti. My mother first met her when she was on one of her annual visits to Craig-y-nos and she would often come up to see me on Ward 2 balcony.
Some years later we visited Ethel in London. She lived in a bed-sitter in a street of terraced houses. She had one comfortable chair in which my mother, as principal guest, sat, while Ethel and I perched on the bed.
We ate a simple tea while all the time Ethel talked about her days working for Patti.
staff photo of Craig-y-nos taken in the early 1900s
As the stories poured out it seemed so incongruous: the reality of our present surroundings -a suburban one-room flat - yet the real world that Ethel seemed to inhabit was a much grander one in the remote Welsh castle of Craig-y-nos, some 50 years ago.
It was "the power of Patti" etched in our memories - for very different reasons: the former domestic and the ex child patient. We both had very different perspectives of our life and times within the confines of Craig-y-nos Castle.
Inside the Patti chapel where fresh flowers were placed every day. This became the matrons flat when it was a hospital and today it is used as the bridal suite.
So it was interesting to come across this reference to Ethel Rosate-Lunn in a biography of Adelina Patti by John Frederick Cone, an American academic.
"A domestic at Craig-y-nos Ethel Rosate-Lunn remembered her tenure there as a happy time, extending from 1909 to 1914. The inside staff in those years numbered eighteen, quite a reduction from former days, and in addition to the house domestics there were four gardeners in residence and other day-workers.
Rosate-Lunn especially recalled Patti's amicability, her singing, and Christmases.
Ethel Rosate- Lunn said Christmas at Craig-y-nos was always joyful. " There was always a large Christmas tree in the theatre, laden with presents, cheques and jewellery...There was a staff dance on Christmas evening and Madame Patti always danced with the chef, butler, footman, while her husband...danced with the head girls."
The diva's joie de vivre infected those around her. Each day , she took two walks around the grounds or adjoining areas, stoppping to greet anyone in her employe or strangers on the road near the estate. Encountering a vagabond on her walks, she invariably offered food from the Craig-y-nos kitchen.
Patti, according to Rosate-Lunn, liked visiting at the cottage of her head gardener and his wife and five children, the Con Hibberts. She also found pleasure chatting and joking with gamekeeper Dai Price."