Vickie and Nance’s excellent adventure

This story ends in Kensington in 1960 when an old woman named Victoria died at her small house in Holland Street. She had lived there quietly for many years. But a long time before that a young woman called Vickie and her sister Eleanor each inherited £30,000. They had a tragic background. Their mother had died giving birth to Vickie in 1875. Their father remarried and had seven other children with his new wife Clara. In this photograph you can see the contrast between the dark haired Vickie and Ellie and their blonde half-siblings.

Ellie is at the centre of the photograph looking confident and relaxed but as it turned out she was the more conventional one. Both sisters travelled in Switzerland and southern Europe but Vickie wanted to go further afield. She and her best friend Nance went to Egypt. Here they are sitting in a Cairo park with their new friend Monsieur Countour. It’s 1898.

In the nineteenth century the British had become obsessed with ancient Egypt. Egyptian influences are apparent in art, architecture and literature. In Victorian London there were theatres and exhibition halls in Egyptian styles. The influence can be seen particularly in burial places. Look at the Catacombs in Highgate Cemetery or closer to home the Kilmorey mausoleum in Brompton Cemetery. The Victorians seem to have felt a strange bond with ancient Egypt. Both cultures enjoyed elaborate and extensive funeral rites. By 1898 tourism was no longer uncommon. Vickie and Nance joined the other travellers who were visiting Egypt for the first time.

Just as with tour parties today a crowd of visitors mills about not sure what to do next. The locals do their best to get the tourists organised.

That’s Nance with an unknown man beside the Nile. Below are some exhibits in the Musee de Gizeh.

If you’ve been on a tour and seen the local museum you’ll naturally want to go riding as well.

That’s Vickie on a donkey at Saqqara. And here’s Nance trying a camel:

It’s very difficult to tell from what are basically low resolution holiday snaps but I get the distinct impression Nance wasn’t too comfortable perched on top of a camel in a very formal outfit. Vickie looks more assured in the same position.

Perhaps she’s getting some encouragement from Mr Drummond Hay.  From a modern perspective we’d also like to know what the camel owner was thinking. In the photo below the two men look enigmatically at the photographer, perhaps Vickie herself.

They could be annoyed at the whole process or simply maintaining a professional demeanour.

Vickie and Nance also travelled to other parts of North Africa and India returning to Egypt for an extended visit in 1903/04. Here is another chaotic looking outing with a caption in Vickie’s handwriting:

In this image you see some visitors, getting closer to a fallen statue than anyone could today:

They may be archaeologists. Vickie seems to have known the Egyptologist Arthur Weigall.

These pictures come out of a photo album deposited at the Library by a descendant of Vickie’s sister. As with all family albums details are often lost. Although Vickie and Nance were close friends we don’t know Nance’s surname.  The pictures show a couple of friends exploring the world in a way which would have been difficult or impossible for their own parents. But we are only catching a few glimpses of their adventures.

In 1904 Vickie was back in Kensington for her sister’s marriage.

She looks much more confident and assured than she did in the first group photo.

Vickie got married herself in the 1920s and moved to her little house in Holland Street. Here she is in her garden:

But I prefer to think of her on her travels. Here she is back in 1898 posing with a cactus as you would if you’d never seen one so big:

And finally another one with Nance on their way to India on board the ship Caledonia in 1902:

This week we’ve taken a holiday from purely Kensington and Chelsea matters ourselves. But all kinds of material end up in Local Studies collections, which is why they are endlessly fascinating.


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