Apparently Theresa May has humble roots:
They were two grand family houses 40 miles apart. One in London’s Notting Hill, a huge white affair on four floors with seemingly endless rooms, was where Amy Patterson lived; the other in Reading, Berkshire, red‑brick and rambling, was where Violet Welland spent her days.
Both young women were below stairs, Amy a parlour maid and Violet a nursery nurse.
Here begins a storybook tale of social mobility. For the granddaughter of these humble domestic servants is Theresa May, the Home Secretary and possibly the next Tory Prime Minister.
Gosh! My Word!
Idiots. This is how things worked.
So let us go back more than a century, to 1901 when Amy, then 22, was living and working in Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill — a neighbourhood now full of multi-million-pound mansions where fellow Tories David Cameron and George Osborne used to live.
Tall-ish and dark-haired, Amy was one of four servants in the household of a rich widow from Liverpool, Caroline Henderson, and her two unmarried daughters in their 30s.
Amy had just returned to London after two years in New Zealand. She had been sent there by her father, himself a butler in service, to work for a family in Christchurch. But she grew homesick for London and her family, and sailed back to Britain.
It was a prescient decision. For on the return voyage she met the man who was to become her husband, Wimbledon-born regular soldier Tom Brasier, whose family were carpenters and builders.
He disembarked when the boat docked in India, to return to his regiment, and Amy continued to Southampton. But a romance had started, one which, for much of their courtship, had to be conducted long-distance.
No one is quite sure why, but it was another eight years before Amy — by then 31 — married Tom at a non-conformist chapel in Fareham, Hampshire, after which he was posted back to India and she went with him.
She gave birth to two boys in India, though one died in infancy. Later, after returning to Britain, another three children came along. One of these was Hubert, who would become an Anglican vicar — Theresa May’s father.
He was born in 1917 during World War I, in which Theresa’s grandfather Tom Brasier served with gallantry and was decorated, rising to Sergeant Major in the King’s Royal Rifles.
The other grandma, Violet, meanwhile, was only seven in 1901 and living with her family in Reading, though they hailed from Plymouth.
By the time she was 17 she was living and working in a smart, detached house in the town, occupied by distinguished Australian astronomer Walter Duffield and his wife Doris.
She was their nursery nurse, looking after their 11-month-old baby, Joan. Not much over 5ft in height and slender, she fell in love with a leather worker and salesman, Reginald Barnes, from Milton in Hampshire.
Hers, too, was a love that had to be put on hold for most of World War I as Reg, a private in the Army Service Corps, set sail to fight in the East Africa campaign.
He took with him a photo of Violet that she gave him, on the back of which she had written a beautiful and emotional message displaying her deep love for him and even a touch of her native Plymouth idiom in a little poetic flourish.
She wrote, with charmingly muddled grammar: ‘To Reg from Vie with fondest and truest love with all good wishes for great success in East Africa.
‘The ocean between lies such distance be our lot Should thou never see me? Love: forget me not.’
As with Amy’s husband, so Reg also mercifully returned safely from the bloody conflict and they married in Reading a year before the war ended, in 1917, when Violet was 24.
The only odd thing in there is the great grandfather who was a butler. That was a career in service and that was the unusual thing. What the two young women did was, well, not something everyone did but something that was entirely normal. Enter service in between school and marriage. One of my grandmothers did it for example (the other was a nurse, one of the very few other ways a woman could work). I’d lay odds that a large proportion, certainly well over 20%, perhaps as many as 50%, of the readers here have a grandparent or great grandparent (for it was a little less common for men but still common enough) who did a few years in service.
It’s one of these things we seem to have forgotten about servants in Britain. It was rarely a life calling. It was, for the vast majority, something done when young and left behind upon marriage.