Stella was the Bee’s Knees in the 1920’s

My gran, Stella, was born in 1904. I have written about her on my blog before but want to go into more detail here.

When my dad disappeared from my life I was about eight years old and my gran began to spend a lot of time at my home with mum, me and my brother. Although it wasn’t until I was older that I came to appreciate her. Gran was not really child originated so as I grew, our relationship grew along side my age.

By the time I was twelve I was in awe of her spelling ability, obvious intelligence and her general refined demeanor. Not to mention she took me to see terrific movies like “The Great Gatsby.”

A few years later Stella had a hip replacement. It appeared to me that she practically jumped out of bed as soon as the doctors gave her the go ahead. Of course it was a slower process but she really did recover quickly. I was in no doubt her strong personality and will power helped. The new hip gave her a new lease of life. It was a joy to see

By the time I was eighteen I admired how she could knock back a nip of whisky without even blinking. Not to mention enjoy a little flutter every now and then on the ponies. And she always wore stockings!

Yes my gran had character in bucket loads. She was petite with a wicked sense of humor and a tongue as sharp a s a razor.

Over the years she told me loads about her her past but it was all a little muddled. During the last few months of her life, when she was bedridden, I would visit and we would chat for hours. I got her to repeat bits I was unclear about about and here is her story.

The Bee’s Knees

Stella was born into what would have been considered a middle class family. Her mum was a dress maker and her dad a journalist. Being Catholics, it was a large family. Six girls and one boy survived – although there were actually nine births.

They lived in Stretham London in a reasonably large house. The girls shared bedrooms but they certainly were not short of space and they had a garden. All the daughters were lucky to be sent to a good convent boarding school until they were fourteen. And Stella’s brother obviously went else where.

In peace time the girls would have been considered extremely fortunate to be educated to such a high standard. The fact there was a war raging made it even more of an achievement.

After WW1 Stella attended collage, became a short hand typist and eventually moved on to hold down a high standing PA position working for an executive of a well known charity.

The roaring twenties had arrived with all the joys of less restricting clothes for the women and a general prosperity as the country was recovering well after the war.

Stella loved fashion and dressed extravagantly when heading out on the town to the jazz clubs in London. That is where she met her future husband.

Anthony was the son of a south American consul who worked in the government. He lived with his dad and brother in one of the very posh squares in London and although he was a librarian he also had quite a large allowance or inheritance. (His mother had died young and tragically. She had been a model and was sketched by many in Paris. For a while one of the paintings hung in the Louvre art gallery. When Anthony was a small boy tragically his mother’s hair caught fire and caused her death.)

While Stella was living it up her sisters were busy getting married,  having found some affluent matches.

But even though Anthony was a bit of a rascal Stella adored him. They continued to Charleston their way around all the nightclubs in London spending and enjoying his money. Then one day they woke up and it was all gone. Stella became pregnant so the couple finally married and rented a two bedroom flat in the south east London suburb of Bexley.

Although their daughter was much loved by both parents Stella’s greatest love was Anthony and there was not a thing she wouldn’t do for him. Her demeanor was submissive. When he returned from work she would kneel before him to undo his laces and often wash and massage his feet.

When the second war broke out Anthony sent Stella and their daughter to live in Devon with a relative while he went off to fight for his country.

Once over, they reunited. But there were more hard times to follow.

Stella’s admiration for her husband shone through as she literally became his nurse when he developed a life threatening cancer.

In those days radiotherapy was relatively new and the amount needed had not yet been nailed down. Anthony received radiotherapy which basically zapped some of his other organs. He was a very poorly man until his death in the early 70’s. Stella nursed him daily and was absolutely distraught when he died. Indeed it took many years for her to get over losing him.


I hope you found this tale interesting. It has always fascinated me. Imagine living through two wars and nursing your sick husband when peace had finally taken hold. It must have felt like another fight to her.

Obviously my mum was their only daughter. When Anthony died Stella, my gran, became closer to the rest of the family and helped my mum with me and my brother.

One last thing about my gran – she had a marvelous appetite. On an occasion when she was visiting her nephew for her 84th Birthday his family took her out for a slap-up meal. They had just finished the second course when my gran keeled over onto the restaurant floor. It appeared she was hardly breathing, The ambulance arrived just as she came round, got up and demanded her desert and a liqueur! Cheers Gran 😉

She was an extremely inspiring individual who lived to be ninety.

Inspiring Family #144
#410 1920’s

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21 thoughts on “Stella was the Bee’s Knees in the 1920’s”

  1. I loved reading about your wonderful gran.Stella. Like you, I used to talk to my gran and write down the stories in a book. Which I still have. My mum, who lived in Wembley, also went to Devon in the war. To Lady Adelaide’s College in Ilfracomb. xx

  2. I love grandparents, sadly mine did not make it to very old ages, but I was blessed to know my ex’s two sets of grandparents and they had so many wonderful tales, three of them have passed away now, but they all made it to their late 80’s or early 90’s and their stories, like the one you have shared about your gran were wonderful to hear. Thank you for sharing May x

    1. Thanks Floss – I think we can learn so much from grand parents – it is not until we get older that we realise how wise they are/were
      xx

  3. What a lovely and interesting post. It is always good to be taken back in time and to learn of the lives of people in the past. She sounds like an amazing woman ?

  4. This is such an interesting tale. The lives of people, ‘common’ people if you may call them portray life in all its shapes and forms. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to live through two wars and then having to fight another in a different form, to then lose the one you so dearly love and have been fighting for

  5. A great tale. She sounds like she would have been fun to know. My grandmothers both developed dementia. Both were predeceased by their husbands. So talking to them wasn’t an option for me. It was a sad way to end their lives.

  6. Oh Wow May, what a fascinating tale, I love the sound of Stella. You really got the narrative, I didn’t do so well!

    My grandmother on my mother’s side was a similar age, she was a pretty young flapper too. She often used to ask me why I only had 1 boyfriend, in her day (she said) they played the boys off one another.
    My grandmother tried to have a career but her mother would ‘take to her bed’ making it necessary for my grandmother to come home and nurse her and take care of her father. My grandmother was also more of a spender than a saver! She lived to her 80s.

      1. And thank you too. it brought back memories of my gran. she was also quite a character, if she grew up in today’s times I can only imagine the repercussions!!

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