In Heatherley she says: 'One hot September afternoon near the end of the last century a girl of about twenty walked without knowing it over the border into Hampshire ' But was this in 1897 or 1898?
Evidence for 1897: The only real evidence we have for this date is that Margaret Lane said so. We do not know where she got her information from, but it could have been from Flora's own first chapter in Heatherley, quoted above but note that here her age is qualified, saying that 'Laura' was about twenty. Flora became 20 years old on 5th December 1896.
Flora also says that 'Alma Stedman' was "a pretty, blue-eyed, sweet-natured girl of eighteen " This was actually Annie Symonds, born 29 Sep 1878, and who therefore became eighteen in September 1896.
Evidence for 1898: There are a several pieces of evidence which seem to point with reasonable certainly to 1898.
In Gillian Lindsay's biography she states that Flora left Fringford ('Candleford Green') after the Diamond Jubilee (June 1897) and took her first job outside Oxfordshire 'probably at Twyford in Buckinghamshire'. [Gillian recalls that she got this latter information from Thompson family letters.] Flora's next job was in Essex, and in Heatherley (p.156 of the 1998 version) we read that she saw her first film at Halstead in Essex in 1898. Gillian writes: 'How long she spent in Essex is uncertain, but she had more than one job, for she later referred to returning to the post offices in which she worked then, to do holiday relief jobs.'
Note that Flora found it difficult to get time off while she was working in Grayshott, and I feel it is unlikely (though not impossible) that she would have gone to Essex during the time she was working here. On p.83 she says: 'Until she had been at Heatherley for a year no holiday was due to her and it was not before her second summer there she could hope to see her family again.'
Flora mentions (p.29) that 'on her first Sunday morning walk Laura had seen a tall man on a crutch, with a red forked beard and quick searching eyes, surrounded by a group of younger men who appeared to be drinking in his every syllable.' This was George Bernard Shaw, recovering from a mishap on a bicycle, and that event is documented as occurring in the autumn of 1898.
She also mentions (p.17) that, on the day she arrived, the "Hertford's" small boy 'came back from the errand on which his mother had sent him' - and a baby girl who, 'when Laura took her on her knee at once, without prompting, threw her arms around her neck and kissed her.' The boy, Walter Chapman Jnr, was born 22 Feb 1895, and the girl, Florence Louisa ('Lulu'), on 22 Nov 1896. Flora's description of them seems more likely for children aged 3½ and nearly 2 than for children a year younger than this.
Flora says she arrived in Grayshott one hot September and moved into new lodgings with the 'Parkhursts' one windy day in March (p.91). No doubt many September days are hot and many March ones windy, but we can see from the diary of Winifred Storr of 1898 that during the first twenty days of that September it was often 'almost too hot for words,' and that in March 1899 'the windiest day of the month' was Wednesday 29th. [Unfortunately we don't have Winifred Storr's diary for 1897]
In my view, then, the balance of evidence points to her arriving
at Grayshott in 1898 rather than 1897.
However, we only have her word for it that it was in September.
Flora tells us in Heatherley (p.106 of the 1998 version) 'When on that sunny, misty August morning at the beginning of the century, Laura said good-bye to Mrs Parkhurst and to all her other Heatherley friends and took the road over the heath to the railway station she thought the farewell was final.'
However, it is difficult to believe that she left Grayshott in August of any year.
Flora tells us she had to leave because a new telegraph office had opened in Hindhead and 'The day after the new telegraph office was opened the number of telegrams sent and received at Heatherley went down 80 per cent. Laura's services were no longer needed; there was not sufficient work to keep her employed, and the postmaster's official remuneration in the new scheme of things barely allowed for Alma's smaller salary. So, as soon as arrangements could be made, Laura left Heatherley' (Heatherley, p.161)
We know from other sources that the telegraph facility at Hindhead opened in September 1900. Therefore, unless her departure preceded the fall in workload (which seems unlikely), she must have left Grayshott later than August 1900.
She also implies that she was still in Grayshott when Queen Victoria died, or at least she reports the villagers' reaction to the event (Heatherley, p.153). This was 22nd January 1901, but since it was an event of national significance, she could have been telling us of the rections from wherever else she was living at the time. We know that she was not in Grayshott at the time of the 1901 census (31st March 1901) when she is shown to be in Yateley. And even if this were a temporary assignment and she returned to Grayshott afterwards (which is unlikely) she had certainly left Grayshott before the day her ex-employer Walter Chapman stabbed his wife to death, on 29th July 1901. Therefore she must have left before August 1901.
Still, she says she left 'on that sunny, misty August morning', and assuming therefore that she remembered summer-like weather on her departure, and assuming it is improbable that she would have returned to Grayshott from Yateley later in 1901, it seems most likely this would be in early Autumn 1900.
Flora says that she moved to stay with the 'Parkhursts' in March and stayed with them 'for more than two years.' We know that she was with them when their youngest child was born, but since we believe he was 7 months old at the time of the 1901 census (see below), this doesn't really help us. If we assume that she lodged for less than a year with the Chapmans in the Post Office, which seems reasonable, then the most likely dates for her moves are: September 1898 to Grayshott; March 1899 to the 'Parkhursts'; and Autumn 1900 away from Grayshott.
Comparing Flora's description of the 'Parkhursts' house in Heatherley (see chapter 'Living Alone and Liking It') with the 1901 census, the only likely fit is with the Levett family at The Ferns in what is now The Avenue.
She says 'The house had been built by a speculating builder with the idea of attracting a superior type of purchaser or tenant; but as it had a very small garden and was closely neighboured by a group of poor cottages, he had for some time been unable either to sell or let it. It had then been let to two working-class families, one occupying the rooms on one side of the house and the other those on the other side' and that the stairs were used in common by both families. This fits with the design of The Ferns, which is still occupied by two families today, though each now has its own staircase. It was also only a couple of hundred yards from the post office for Flora to get to work each day.
She says of 'Mrs Parkhurst' that 'she had seven children still living at home' and this corresponds with the 1901 census for the Levett family. She also says that 'the couple who rented the other part of the house had three small children'. This corresponds reasonably with the Budd family who also occupied The Ferns and had four children aged between 1 and 8 years in the 1901 census.
'Mrs Parkhurst' told her that she was born 'in a hamlet near Selborne' the census shows her birthplace as Bramshott parish her marriage certificate shows that her maiden name was Small, and we have traced her birth in May 1855 to a family living in Conford, which is a hamlet that was bordering Selborne parish in those days.
Flora tells us that 'at the age of forty-seven and while Laura was still living with them Mrs Parkhurst once more found herself pregnant'. The 1901 census tells us that Mrs Levett did indeed have a late child at the age of 45 the child is entered with age 7 months in the census (31 March 1901), which would give a birthdate of around August 1900 (the rector of Headley at the time, Mr Laverty, records a child born to the Levetts on 31 July 1900 it does not appear to have been baptised, which would correspond with the Levetts belonging to 'an obscure dissenting sect' as Flora puts it).
So we believe the 'Parkhursts' to have been Loftus Albert Levett and his wife Alice, née Small, living at The Ferns.
According to post office records, John Thompson was employed continuously at Bournemouth from 1891 to 1916. (Lindsay p.66). Therefore we had hitherto assumed that Flora first met him there after she had moved, as she says, 'leaving Heatherley to take up a post fifty miles farther from London'. (Heatherley p.143).
However the 1901 census, released in January 2002, tells us otherwise. Not only do we see that Flora was working in Yateley on 31st March 1901, but also that John Thompson was working not far away, at Aldershot. (Since this does not seem to be shown in his post office employment records, we assume that it was in the nature of a temporary posting.)
In fact Margaret Lane had given us a clue to this, stating of Flora in her introduction to A Country Calendar (p.19) that: "When she was twenty-four, however, this independent single life came to an end, for in the course of the penny readings and village soirées which went on in the neighbourhood she met John Thompson, a young post-office clerk from Aldershot, and as soon as he was transferred to the main post office in Bournemouth they were married."
But we had ignored this through lack of supporting evidence at the time, chosing instead to trust in the post office employment records. I imagine that Margaret Lane may have received the information direct from Flora's daughter Diana, who was alive at the time she wrote it, rather than through any written records.
So we now concur that they appear to have first met in the Aldershot/Yateley area in 1901. But we still do not know how long they each stayed there.
Although they met near Aldershot and eventually set up house in Bournemouth, for some reason Flora and John were married in Twickenham.
Perhaps Flora went to work there in about 1902 for a while she lived as a lodger in Heathfield Road North, Twickenham and so was presumably resident there at the time of her marriage.
The ceremony took place on 7th January 1903 in the church of St Mary the Virgin. One of the witnesses was John Thompson's brother George, who worked at the Central Telegraph Office in London. (Lindsay p.66/67)
Flora gave a pseudonym to nearly everywhere and everyone that she mentioned in her published writings, and there is a great deal of interest in trying to establish where and who she really was talking about. With the name 'Peverel' the opposite applies. We know she used it to signify Liphook (or, perhaps more precisely, Weavers Down nearby), but where did the psueonym originate from?
An obvious connection with the name occurs on the memorial in Cottisford church to those who fell in the First World War, where two men by the name of Peverell are listed just above Edwin Timms. But these are spelt with a double 'L' at the end, which Flora does not use in her version.
Gillian Lindsay has established that Flora spent some time working in Essex after she left Oxfordshire, and we know from Heatherley (p.156 of the 1998 version) that she saw her first film at Halstead, Essex in 1898.
It has been suggested* that, since the village of Hatfield Peverel is relatively nearby, she may have taken the name from there indeed she may even have worked at the post office there. Could it be that, when she was looking for a pseudonym for Liphook, her memory took her back to days that she wished to remember in Essex?
Who knows? Is there a researcher in Essex who would like to follow this up?
[*Suggestion in 1996 by Derek Keeling of Brentwood, Essex]
Flora completed a novel in the 1920s, called 'Gates of Eden'. It was never published. Why? See further details and discussion.