Joan Poynder as a bridesmaid
Joan Poynder as a bridesmaid

Joan Poynder as a bridesmaid

Sir John Dickson-Poynder and his wife Anne Beauclerk Dundas of Hartham House had just one child. Joan was born at Hartham Park on 11 September 1897.

Joan had a lonely childhood as an only child, spending much of her time with her nanny and French and German governesses. Her nanny taught her to read and write; Joan said she had the greatest influence on her life. Books were read over and over again; she loved Alice in Wonderland and books by Mrs Molesworth. Governesses were then a relatively new innovation and as such their positions of neither being family nor servants meant that they lived in limbo, the servants thinking governesses were a cut above them, but neither being accepted as one of their own by the master’s family. Joan had to speak French one week, German the next. No arithmetic was taught – Joan later said she could just manage her bridge scores. Although her parents’ friends’ children often came to play, she also played with the village children. Her meals were taken in the nursery with her nursery maid and nanny, plus any children who came to stay. Food was very plain, a lot of bread and butter, few eggs, and very few sweets. It was not until she was 8 or 9 years old that she was allowed to eat with her parents downstairs. Although she longed to go away to school, she was not allowed to do so. Until she was 15 she went to bed at 6.30 to 7pm. She rode a lot, even joining the Beaufortshire Hunt when only about 7 or 8 years old. She was taught to ride by the stud groom, Mr Faircloth, who went to New Zealand with the family when her father became Governor General in June 1910.

Joan remembered before the war there was a servants’ ball. It was opened by the master dancing with the housekeeper and his wife dancing a waltz or quadrille with the butler. These balls did not happen after the war. The servants had a reading room and a billiard table outside, were able to play cricket matches in the grounds.

Her father, Sir John, served as High Sherriff of Wiltshire in 1890 and as Conservative MP for Chippenham 1892-1910. He was in the Wiltshire Yeomanry and served in the Boer War as ADC to Lord Methuen. He then became a Liberal at the time of Free Trade under Mr Asquith, who was Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916. Joan remembers a toy shop in Corsham where the shopkeeper was a liberal and she loved buying toys,” like the wooden painted dolls which cost about sixpence”. He was a Liberal and Joan thought it was wrong. He had a long beard, which rather frightened her. As he was a Liberal he had been an enemy of her father, but overnight, when her father joined the Liberals, he suddenly became a friend.

Her mother was a great influence. She was not content with fashionable society, but had a wide range of friends, intellectuals, writers and musicians, especially politicians, including Winston Churchill.

Despite her young age, Joan joined the Red Cross during the 1st World War and after working in English hospitals she managed to get to France and nursed in No 2 Red Cross Hospital in Rouen and No 8 Paris Plage. This combined her need for independence and to have something to do. She was married in 1923, to Edward Grigg, and had 3 children. Edward was MP for Oldham and Altrincham and then Governor of Kenya. Joan’s great interest was always hospitals and whilst in Kenya with her husband in 1928 Joan founded three hospitals, two for Africans and one for Asians, all with training schools for nurses. She also started a nursing association of trained nurses from England for the English settlers and officials.

Edward Grigg was raised to the peerage as Baron Altrincham in 1945, and died 1 December 1955 aged 76 at Tormarton. Joan died at Tormarton Court on 10 August 1987.

Jane Browning

Source: Edwardian Childhoods by Thea Thompson

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