A couple of Christmases ago, just a few months before starting this blog, I fell ill with a heart problem the doctors just couldn’t get to the bottom of. Taking things into my own hands I searched for things to take my mind off of it, in case my endless worrying about it was making it worse. One thing I decided to do was read a particular book I had been given as it looked like a bot of light reading, nothing too taxing to get me worked up. It was called Coco’s Secret.
If you’ve never heard of this book before it’s about a woman, who has just come out of a bad relationship and feels she has nothing to look forward to in life. She’s very much stuck and isn’t really sure she wants to move on. Along with her grandmother she runs an antique/shabby chic type shop and goes to a lot of auctions. After buying a box of odds and ends at one said auction she comes across a genuine 1950s Chanel 2.55 handbag. Could you imagine? Inside the bag she finds a very old letter and it sets her of on a journey of trying to find out its original owner so she can return it to her. I really enjoyed it, it’s not my normal type of reading material as I prefer a bit more grit to my stories, but I’m glad I read it. If you like Cecelia Ahern then you’ll probably love it.
So, imagine my surprise when I bought a beautiful 1940s genuine Cordé handbag from an antiques fair and found a calling card in the inside pocket from the original owner. Something clicked in my head. I just had to find out who she was.
The bag itself is just exquisite and it looks brand new. In reality it was probably used once or twice as there are no marks on it, no wear and no damage. I paid £22 for it, which I thought for the condition was a pretty decent price.
You can just about see the pattern on it, two vertical rectangles in a spiral design side by side. The handle is a single band of the corded fabric rolled into a sausage-like shape with the design going along it lengthways.
At the top of the bag, underneath the clasp, is a pearlised resin inset which is immaculate and has no discolouring to it, it’s still very bright ivory. I love this part as it makes it look quite expensive and elegant. It adds a touch of luxury to the bag. The clasp works perfectly and has no chips or nicks on it at all.
The lining is immaculate, no marks, tears or snags in the lovely black satin fabric. Of course there’s the classic Genuine Cordé label which again is pristine and gleaming white!
And this is the calling card that I found inside the small internal pocket. It says “Mrs Alan G. Wright, 5 Downs Park West, Bristol, 6, Tel: 622185″. I posted a photo of the bag, including the calling card, on my Instagram account and my sister-in-law, a genealogy enthusiast, text me just a few hours later apologising for spoiling my fun but she just had to do a little research. What she found out was incredible.
The owner of bag’s maiden name was Diana Player Rees. She was born on the 29th of January 1915 and married Alan Gilmour Wright in 1938 in Henbury, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol. They had a long life together with Alan dying in 1988, aged 76 and Diana living on until she passed away at the age of 89 in 2004.
I cannot tell you the excitement I felt finding out these small facts out. Now she was real, she was a living person. I had to find out more. Thank God for Google! After doing a search of both her maiden and married names I came up with just two hits. The first was the announcement of her death in The Telegraph.
‘Wright. Diana Player (nee Rees), widow of Alan, sister to Patricia and Kenneth, passed peacefully away, October 26, 2004 at St. Monica’s, Westbury Fields aged 89. An unforgettable lady, who will be missed by all who knew her.’
Several things struck me about this…
- She was unforgettable! Oh, how I wished she was still alive so I could meet her.
- She died on my birthday. That’s kind of spooky.
- She died at St. Monica’s, Westbury Fields, which is very close to Westbury-on-Trym, the town where she got married.
- There was no mention of children.
So, back I go to my sister-in-law and she does a check to see if she can find any mention of children but, alas, it came up cold. I began to wonder why, it was unusual for couples not to have children at this time. This led me to follow up on the second hit from Google.
On the website RootsWeb there was a forum post from the 5th of May 2006 by a guy called Trevor. He talks about picking up a wedding album at a car boot sale which belonged to Diana Player Rees and how it included their guest list, newspaper cuttings, wedding invitations and even the bill for the honeymoon. He even mentioned where she lived and who she married, one Alan Gilmour Wright. This was her. He had her wedding album. My heart skipped a beat. I danced around like a little kid at Christmas. I needed to see it. I needed to see that wedding album.
Then reality kicked in. He wrote that post in 2006, that’s 9 years ago. There’s no way his wife (who moaned about all the junk he kept picking up at car boot sales!) would’ve let him keep it and, even if she did, there’s no way he still has the same email address. He might not even be alive still. My heart sank. But what harm would it do just trying? So, that night I sent Trevor an email, not really expecting to hear anything back.
I woke up the next morning and, as always, checked my emails on my phone. It was 7am. There were two emails proudly sitting in my inbox from Trevor!!!! I have never opened an email so fast.
And this is what I was presented with, Diana Player Rees and Alan Gilmour Wright’s wedding photo in the local paper. Honestly, I nearly burst into tears! It’s so beautiful, everything about it, the bride and groom, the bridesmaid dresses, that huge bouquet. Absolutely stunning and a true British wedding outside a country church.
I had to blow the photo up to really see the couple in all their glory and I was struck by just how lovely they both were. Alan looks like a real gentleman and I wonder if his tie was his university tie as it’s quite adventurous for wedding attire. Diana is just beaming and so beautiful. I love her floral headpiece and veil.
This was the article that went along with it. There’s just so much to take from it. Alan’s father was no longer alive at this time but his mother still lived up in Glasgow. It makes you wonder how he came to be down in Bristol to meet Diana or had he met her whilst she was in Scotland at some point? It’s safe to assume that was he was well educated as his father was a professor, so perhaps a job had brought him down south. I’ll never know.
And then there’s Diana whose father was a well known tennis player. I tried to find out more about him but couldn’t find anything on the internet, which is a shame. The description of what she and her bridesmaids wore is just divine. I love that both her sister and his sister were the bridesmaids and his brother was the best man. That’s just so traditional.
Trevor also sent me a copy of the Banns of Marriage, which is an announcement read out in church a few weeks before they are wed. You can see that they were published in St Mary the Virgin, Marshfield which is in Gloucestershire. This was Alan’s church and it says that it was announced on the 3rd of July 1938 and the following two Sundays without any objections.
And this is Diana’s church, St Mary’s in Henbury, where they actually got married. You can see the doorway at the front which is the one they are all standing in front of in the wedding photo. It’s such a sweet little village church and I can just imagine them there so happy with their families around them throwing confetti.
This was their wedding invitation, simple yet very elegant. The reception was held at Diana’s parents home, Oakdene, Grange Park, Westbury-on-Trym. I had a good look at this street on Google Maps and it’s a really well-to-do area with lovely big 1920s houses. They certainly must have had money, that’s for sure.
And then there was this. A notice to say the wedding had been postponed due to the indisposition of Alan. This really intrigued me. What happened? Was he ill or was he in an accident and suddenly had to be rushed into hospital for an operation? Perhaps this could explain the no children. Who knows! Or perhaps it was something to do with the impending war. Britain started preparing for war, building new warships and increasing its armaments, back in 1938. Was Alan involved with ship building? That would explain why he moved to Bristol. Oh, there’s too many unanswered questions.
Well, they did finally get married on the 22nd of October and here is the receipt of payment for the choral wedding at Henbury Parish Church. It was a total cost of 3 pounds, 10 shillings and 1 pence which would roughly be about £130 today. The average monthly wage in 1938 was about 17 pounds, so it’s probably comparable to the sort of chunk we’d pay today out of our monthly wage.
And this is the receipt for their honeymoon at Fisherman’s Cot, Bickleigh, Tiverton in Devon. They must’ve gone straight there from the reception at Diana’s parents’ house. The receipt charges them for ‘garage’ which I can only imagine was for parking their car and I wonder how long it took them to get there as it is a good 70 miles away. I have visions of them waving to everyone as they leave, suitcases stacked in the back, Diana in her beautiful going away outfit and both of them giddy with excitement.
The honeymoon cost a total of £7. 19. 6d for a full week, which included the garage charge, morning tea and egg, which I’m assuming was a light breakfast, and a wake up call on their last day. I’m intrigued to know what ‘minerals’ were on the last line of the receipt!
This is the stunning Fisherman’s Cot today and I can’t imagine it’s changed much since Alan and Diana’s day. Isn’t it just idyllic? It was built only 5 years before they honeymooned here and was initially a private fishing lodge for Bickleigh Castle. Perhaps Alan was a keen fisherman and sat on the edge with his bamboo fishing rod whilst Diana sat in a lounger sunning herself and reading a book. Today it’s just a Marston’s Inn, one of the UK’s pub chains, so it probably doesn’t hold the same kind of unspoilt hideaway spirit of the 1930s.
After the honeymoon the happy couple initially set up home in what I believe was Alan’s house at Montague House, Marshfield. At some point during the following decade they must’ve moved to 5 Downs Park West, Bristol due to the age of the Cordé handbag. Downs Park West is a really lovely street, again with fairly large 1920s houses. Unfortunately the Wright’s house has been replaced by a very out of place stylised 1970s property so I have no photo to show you.
I’m so contented in the fact that Alan and Diana spent their whole lives together until Alan’s passing. It’s good to know they both survived the war, although I couldn’t find anything about whether Alan was called up or not. I do hope it was a happy marriage and they were good to each other but most of all I’m so glad to have experienced their story. And thank you Diana for your beautiful handbag, I’ll treasure it.