“Garnie” – remembering our great-grandmother

By Ethel’s great-grandchildren

George, Clara and I heard many stories about “Garnie” as our father, David Fenwick, called his grandmother.

We all have names associated with her:

   David – David Davidson Manson, her father.

   Harriette – Harriette Anne Palmer, her mother.

   George – George Storer, her stepfather.

   Clara – her sister.

Ethel was a formidable woman, very grand and did not suffer fools gladly and she certainly wasn’t modest.  When caught contradicting herself she claimed that it was the Cromwellian blood in her fighting with the royal blood.  She refused the award of an MBE on the grounds that it was: “The type of thing given to stationmasters at Balmoral”.

She was forthright and whenever anybody pronounced the W in Fenwick she would say “No, the W is silent: as in whore.”

Our father was frequently ill as a child and he told us that when he was about four years old Lucozade (originally Glucozade) was invented for him after Ethel had collared a local chemist to make him a tonic which must, on her instruction, contain glucose.

Our sister, Clara, invited to South Africa in 1991, was told by Professor Charlotte Searle, that Garnie was friends with Henrietta Stockdale, an Anglican nun and nurse who stayed with Ethel  in London in 1874, prior to sailing to South Africa. We think that it is more likely that they met when Henrietta returned to the UK to be treated for typhoid some ten years later.  However, she and Ethel were active international collaborators for the improvement in nurse training and registration and Henrietta Stockdale registered with Ethel’s British Nurses’ Association in 1890 becoming registrant no 15.  Sister Henrietta, eventually became the most famous nurse in South Africa and was instrumental in achieving nurse registration there in 1891 – the first country in the world to have a register.  The aim was to shame the mother country into doing the same. 

Garnie was friendly with Princess Helena, Queen Victoria’s fifth child, who became godmother to our grandfather who was named after Princess Helena’s husband: Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein.  Princess Helena became a patron of Ethel’s in her fight for nursing improvements and this led to royal support for her cause.

She refused the award of an MBE on the grounds that it was: “The type of thing given to stationmasters at Balmoral”.

Not only a strong and forceful woman: Ethel also enjoyed quality dresses and like Beatrice, her daughter in law, she loved grand hats. We remember our father being appalled to find out that both Beatrice and Ethel would each think nothing of paying 20 guineas for a hat in the 1920s. It is worth bearing in mind that this was at a time when miners took industrial action because their wages had been cut, we believe, from some 30 shillings a week to 26 shillings. 

Ethel was a knowledgeable collector of antiques and her great grandson George, a retired antique dealer, owns some of her reference books however most of her collections were destroyed by bombing during the war.  At this time she lived in a separate home from her husband Dr Bedford Fenwick but to keep up appearances they met publically once a week. 

Her collecting definitely inspired our father and through him, our mother and thus George, who is very grateful for this legacy.

In our childhood we were also told a story that she bought 100 bricks from Florence Nightingale’s house (10 South Street, Mayfair) after it was demolished in 1929 and later sent Mary Cochrane (Matron of Charing Cross Hospital) and Beatrice (our grand-mother) to Canada and the USA, where they toured presenting a brick to each institution they visited.  Our father remembered Mary Cochrane teaching him breathing exercises for his asthma and remained in touch with her till her death.

Although none of us met our illustrious great-grandmother she was definitely a force in our lives and we all acknowledge her influence on us even to this day.

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