Engagement - Christmas 1932/New Year 1933
In some biographical notes which my mother wrote, she implies that Athole and Aunt Silvia had lived together for some time ‘which was very disapproved of – and I don’t know what pushed them into marriage’. Nor do any of us… Their engagement wasn’t popular on either side of the family whereas, amongst their artistic and literary friends, there seems to have been great support and delight. I suspect the negative vibes which we picked up were to do with the social ‘mores’ of the day. Prior to WW1, it was expected that those of an aristocratic standing would marry someone from their rank. Following the war, this code began to break down but it was still unusual in the early Thirties for people to marry outside their background and upbringing. Added to which the family may have been concerned that Silvia was now 40 whilst Athole was only 32.
In a picture frame, we found some sketches which seemed to be drawn in celebration of their wedding as they are signed All our love darling, your ever devoted A. We naturally assumed this was something which Athole had prepared for Silvia.
On opening up the frame, it transpired there were two adoring letters written by someone called Albert, accompanied by the joyful sketches. They were difficult to read but a colleague recognised the writing as that of Albert Rutherston. The letters – one to each of them – proved to be in celebration of Athole & Silvia’s engagement, as in the following extracts:
New Years Day 1933
Dearest and best of Silvias – All our warmest and most delighted wishes
to you & Athole. I can’t tell you how overjoyed we are
to get your letter. If anybody in my world deserves happiness, it
is, dear Silvia, yourself and now one is certain that in
Athole you will find it – and he, lucky fellow, in you.
2 January 1933
My Dear Athole – what a lovely New Year it is for you.
A Time … to offer every warmest congratulations… that
you have found a wonderful happiness….. (all her friends)
must share the very real joy that we do in the knowledge that
she & you have found each other. It is quite splendid.
Wedding, 6th April 1933
My mother (aged about 9) had fond memories of the wedding to which she went with another Aunt because her parents were in India. She was sent to London for about a week and remembers having to find a dress, coat and hat to wear at the wedding; she thought they came from Daniel Neals in Portman Square. Her grandmother, Silvia’s mother was, ‘as always, in her snow leopard coat and gave Aunt Silvia away; this was pretty unusual but, of course, I didn’t know that‘. Indeed, the press notices, state that her Mother did give her away and that Clough Williams-Ellis (of Portmeirion fame) escorted Silvia down the aisle.
The wedding was held at Chelsea Old Church, Cheyne Walk. The Revd H Maude-Roxby officiated. The best man was Athole’s eldest brother but there were no bridesmaids. According to the press account, the bride wore a simple dress of beige georgette and coat of dark brown woollen material. Her hat of beige straw was trimmed with darker brown feather pads and a brown eye-veil. A spray of beige orchids and lilies of the valley was pinned to her coat.
The Reception was held at 11 Ormonde Gate, the home of Mr & Mrs Geoffrey Whitworth. Geoffrey (1883-1951) was a key figure in the history of British Theatre and president of the English Drama League. My mother remembered that the ‘Reception was enormous – at least I thought it was. Everyone made a huge fuss of me which was lovely.’
Married Life, 1933-1938
From the time when they became engaged, Silvia enjoyed the most stable and perhaps the happiest five years of her life. They were an unconventional couple but devoted to each other.
They had a wide circle of friends and I imagine they did quite a bit of entertaining. In an essay Silvia wrote in 1962, there is mention of Walter Gropius joining them for dinner in their flat.
But, sadly, her happiness was not to last because of Athole’s accident and subsequent death in 1938. At the end of one of her letters she states that she still misses him every day….