Eveline, Elsie, Agnes and Joan – May Queens through time

We are all time travellers. Our dilemma is that we can only go in one direction. Sometime time goes slowly, like one of the endless summers of childhood. Sometimes hours or even days get eaten up like minutes. But we can only get off the flow of time by stopping, something you don’t usually want to do. And you can’t go back. But you can fake it sometimes. History, like memory, is one of the ways of hanging onto the past, and one of the best methods is photography.

Another feature of time travel is the regular appointment and my time machine visits this subject every year, the May Queen Festival of Whitelands College. This year’s post is about going back, and we start in 1937. This happens to be the last group photograph in the third volume of the May Queens scrapbooks which are in the College archives. The archivist generously let me have a set of digital images of the pictures in the scrapbooks some years ago, and I have been using them every year since.

In 1937 the College was in Putney. The original Chelsea building couldn’t contain the numbers of students and staff. But the traditions continued and every year there was a new May Queen who was joined on the day of her coronation by former holders of the same office.

 

 

[For reasons of clarity I have not compressed all of this week’s pictures so if you click on a picture to see a bigger version, you should be able to join in the game by studying faces.]

Queen Betty, in the centre of the group,sits on the wooden throne, has some child attendants, holds a bouquet but she is not the main focus of our attention. Look at a few of the other faces.

 

 

The Queen in the red circle is Queen Eveline, who would probably have been in her late 50s, We’re going to follow her back in time to the day she was crowned. I picked her because her dress is quite distinctive, but we won’t follow her on her own. We’re also going to look at Queen Agnes II who was a particularly faithful annual returnee, and Queen Elsie III. I’ve also circled a more recent queen, Queen Joan, but she won’t be with us for long.

 

 

Queen Joan is seated with Agnes at her left shoulder. I did wonder if the the other queen in a blue circle was our old friend from the 2016 post, Queen Mildred but as I looked further I  realised she was Queen Marjorie. By looking carefully and comparing pictures it should be possible to identify them all. But frankly there is a point where careful examination shades into time-consuming obsession so I’m limiting myself to a few names and if there are any other experts I’m happy to hear from you. But this isn’t like spotting vintage cars.

We’re not going back year by year but here is the 1936 group photo which has a good view of the new college building designed by Giles Gilbert Scott.

 

 

Queen Kathleen was the new queen then. You can see her in the first picture, sitting next to Queen Betty. Last year’s queen has to come back to pass on the title. Conveniently, Queen Eveline is just behind her, standing next to Queen Agnes. Queen Joan is there and behind her stands Queen Elsie, who hadn’t made it the following year.

 

 

Now  we move back to 1933.

 

 

Our group of three have clustered together again, with Joan still in the front row.

 

 

In 1932, Elsie was absent.

 

 

Eveline is behind Joan, while Agnes is on the far left, her robes billowing in a breeze. Keep you eye on the white or grey haired queen next to Eveline.

The previous year, 1931, was Joan’s year as Queen.

 

That’s the last time we see her, and the first ceremony in the new College, so to mark her special day, here she is planting a tree to celebrate the occasion, with some hand maidens in attendance.

 

 

In 1929 the College was still in Chelsea.

Queen Eveline wasn’t there that year, but Queens Elsie and Agnes were.

 

 

Elsie is quite plain to see on the right of the group.

 

 

Can you see Queen Agnes?

 

In 1923 there was a smaller gathering.

 

 

Fourteen years younger than the in 1937 picture, Eveline stands at the left next to one of the teenage girls (or younger children) who were were also a feature of the group photos.

This was Queen Marjorie’s year as Queen.

Eveline is also in the 1919 group.

 

 

The Queen that year was Janet, standing next to the Mother Queen, Ellen I.  Janet eventually appeared at the centenary of the festival in 1981.

 

There are Eveline, Elsie and Agnes. The Queen next to  Eveline is Mildred, the 1904 Queen, I think, who doesn’t seem to have attended many ceremonies.

 

 

Next to her is an older queen who might be the one we saw earlier. I’m leaning towards this being Queen Minnie, the 1884 queen. Something about her hairline. But I’m not certain.

 

The 1914 picture is crammed with children, but our trio is all here.

 

 

 

1911 was Elsie’s year. Here she is in the throne room being crowned by Queen Ellen I, the first queen (1881) also know as the Mother Queen, a title passed on to the oldest living queen.

 

 

Note the bust of Ruskin (?) on the far right.

Queen Eveline stands at the back. It’s not a good quality photo but you are beginning to see her as a young woman.

 

 

We mark Elsie’s leaving in this counter clock world with this view of her and her predessor Queen Louise.

 

 

Agnes’s day is coming. Here she is in 1909.

 

 

Mildred and Florence are there with more of the pre-1900 queens.

We’ve seen pictures of Agnes in previous posts but as a farewell, here is a studio  portrait against a painted backdrop.

 

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Our next step in to go back to Eveline’s own year, 1900. This was the year that Ruskin died, and his influence over the festival was fading. Queen Eveline sits between Queen Annie and Queen Agnes I.

 

 

The three queens behind her who seem to be in civilian dress are from the period when the robes were passed on from year to year. They adopted a variety of dresses over the year.

On the right is Queen Elizabeth II with another distinctive dress. Behind her is Queen Minnie, and next to her Elizabeth I.

The little woman sitting on the floor is Queen Jessie, and she is wearing the second of the two shared robes.

Eveline looks very young in the pictures from this year, like this one with her predecessor, the first Queen Agnes.

 

 

And in this portrait.

 

 

Miss Eveline Head’s part in this story is now finished but in the regular world of time moving forward, her life, like the new century, was just beginning. (Later she married and became Mrs Grey.)

Postscript

This was a tricky post to do, looking back and forth between pictures trying to spot faces from year to year. And, as you’ve noticed, a bit of a marathon in terms of pictures. So one final picture won’t matter.

Queen Minnie, possibly the oldest queen in the 1930s pictures. (Or possibly not. At one point I wondered if she was Ellen II, but more of that another day.

 

 

My thanks as always to Gilly King, the Archivist at Whitelands when I first became fascinated by the subject, and to the College itself. My best wishes to this year’s May Monarch, who will be crowned on May 13th.

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2 responses to “Eveline, Elsie, Agnes and Joan – May Queens through time

  • Liz Altieri

    Fascinating. I was going to ask about the dresses but I googled the RBKC link and found the rest of your story about this. Thanks

  • merriank

    The embroidery and hand painting on many of those robes is wonderful. As a fan of Elsie J. Oxenham the May Queens are interesting to me but also something as simple as the young women’s names cropping up being the same EJO used for characters in her Abbey Girl books. Seeing books and these young women being of their time

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