Saturday 27 October 2018

A Norfolk Wedding by Janie Hampton

The Norfolk wedding of Rachel Gurney & Rosslyn Bruce, 1908

Just one hundred and ten years ago this month my grandmother, Rachel Gurney married Rosslyn Bruce at Northrepps in Norfolk. Rachel, aged 21, was the oldest daughter of untitled landed gentry, and Rosslyn, 37, the 7th child of a poor but well-connected vicar. Both of them were descended from 11th Century Norman invaders. They met after Rosslyn, the rector of a Nottingham parish, broke his leg out fox-hunting and was sent by his best friend, a socialist MP called Noel Buxton, to convalesce with Buxton’s cousins, the Gurneys of Northrepps.
Rosslyn and Rachel fell in love. But it was not always easy. When Rachel’s nerves became frayed during their wedding preparations, she wrote to Rosslyn, ‘You Bruces are quite unordinary in your huge amount of love. I have got mine in me, only I can’t show it like you do.’ Rosslyn replied offering ‘double thoughtfulness, in thoughtful devotion, in not being too outwardly devoted.’ Rachel replied, ‘You don’t understand a bit… because you haven’t always lived in the same house with the same mother all your life and you are not very young like me, and you know all about the great world and I don’t.’ 
The bridal carriage was pulled by two new horses called
Bryant & May - because they were such a good match.
As Rachel and her brother Quintin trotted in the family carriage and pair through the village festooned with bunting, Quintin asked her, ‘I suppose you know the facts of life? Because I don’t.’
The year was 1908 and the Eastern Daily Press reported: ‘Never before had the inhabitants seen so large a number of such beautifully appointed and powerful motor cars. Within the church, the pulpit was treated with chrysanthemums.’ 
'Miss Gurney's wedding, bridesmaids, page's and travelling costumes' in The Queen
Rachel’s wedding dress of white, silk satin was described by her mother Evelyn in the Parish Magazine: ‘made en princesse, with a Court train of satin, it was lined with masses of chiffon. Over a myrtle wreath was a veil of lovely old Brussells lace, which had been worn by her mother and grandmother. She carried a choice bouquet of lilies, carnations and stephanotis.’ Her seven adult bridesmaids, all sisters or cousins, wore huge hats swathed with tulle and their trailing bouquets were attached to shepherd’s crooks. The two page boys wore scarlet woolen Peter Pan suits, in homage to Rosslyn’s friend, James Barrie. Rosslyn’s uncle who was a Bishop, aided by three other related parsons, took the service. The 14th century flint church was packed.
The bridal party (the groom still limping) left the church under a crimson striped awning. Evelyn conveyed the scene: ‘Brilliantly coloured beech leaves were showered upon the bride from baskets carried by children of the Sunday school’ in new scarlet woolen cloaks. ‘Meantime the wedding bells were firing away and ringing a merry peal.’ An arch of evergreen had been erected over the road bearing the mottoes ‘Health and Happiness to the Bride and Bridegroom’ and ‘God Bless You Both’. At the entrance gate to the bride’s home, Northrepps Hall, was another one reading ‘Joy and Happiness to Both’ and 'Success to Bride and Bridegroom'. 
The evergreen arch leading to the bride's home, Northrepps Hall.
After a reception in a marquee in the walled garden, the couple left for a five-week honeymoon in Italy. Thomas Cook’s first-class train tickets to Lugano cost £30 for two.
A few days later the villagers were invited to tea in the marquee to look at the presents. They included a silver tea pot from the parish committee, a travelling clock from the church choir and silver sugar tongs from the Sunday school. Rosslyn gave Rachel an upright Bechstein piano; she gave him a watch and a shooting stick. Rachel’s mother gave her a trousseau costing £404 and 2 shillings, which included three riding habits, six pairs of hunting boots, and enough serge suits, cloaks, combinations (knickers) and flannel nightgowns to last her entire life. Mrs Carter, the coachman’s wife was paid a pound for marking bodices, linen and 96 pairs of stockings. I inherited one of the dozen hand-embroidered white lawn night-gowns and wore it while ‘lying-in’ after the birth of my babies.
As a child, I watched my granny gardening in one of the Sunday School’s scarlet woolen cloaks. Beside her front door was a myrtle bush grown from her wreath, which she claimed came from the bush at Osborne House grown from Queen Victoria’s wedding wreath.

Rachel's satin wedding shoes and gloves, on the Sunday School cloak.
Just 63 years later I was married in the same Norfolk church; and two months after that Rachel’s funeral was held there too. At both events, the packed congregation included three of Rachel’s bridesmaids, and we all sang ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.
The completed Bruce family at Northrepps in 1920.
Verily, Erroll, Rhalou, Lorema and Merlin.


lamaisonsansfiche said...

Janie's descriptions always bring events and people so vividly to life. I love the idea of her family's continuity - long may it continue into the future gnerations...

Donna S said...

I so enjoyed your post. Love weddings, especially from the past. Like to see their dresses and the expressions on the faces. And it really helps when you know who they are. Thanks so much.