Ferrier, Judith Madeline. A Woman’s Life; A collection of diaries,
...photograph albums, letters and ephemera related to the life of Judith Ferrier and her family, dating from the late 19th Century until the 1970’s..
Around 70 items; diaries and albums, notebooks and scrapbooks. The main “spine” of the collection is comprised of Judith’s diaries (37 volumes); commencing in 1915 when she was about 13, with a Zeppelin raid (”Zeppelin raid last night on the North Coast, 15 killed & 15 wounded), coursing energetically through the twenties and thirties mainly based in Norfolk and environs, detailing her relationships and family adventures, reflecting her near obsession with ornithology, progressing through the Second World War, and finally petering out a little in the sixties, with the last personal diary being kept in 1970, the final entry being the day before she went into hospital for the last time. Also present are legions of photographs, mostly held in twelve dense albums, notebooks, a Victorian recipe book, her brother’s memoirs of serving during the Great war, and the collected and accumulated family sediment that goes to make up what we rather dismissively refer to as “life.” The Ferrier family, cheerfully recording its history from 1397 right through to Judith, were prosperous merchants around Great Yarmouth and Norwich in the 16th century and later progressed into politics and public office. Seeing as a fair quantity of that public office was based around the perpetuation of profitable local industry, keeping an eye on foreign commercial incursions, and Richard Ferrier in 1712 being appointed chair of the Committee on “African Trade” we can pretty sure there’s a literal wealth of intrigue and colonial history buried in their bloodline. Judith, however, was interested in travelling the world, founding bird sanctuaries, supporting the Girl Guide movement and learning as much as she could from noted Norfolk naturalist Arthur Patterson ( a character straight out of Arthur Ransome who wore mismatched shoes, lived on a houseboat, had fish in his pockets and possessed an incredible knowledge of flora and fauna about which he wrote under the name “John Knowlittle”).
Side Note: In the context of this collection, usually when I say “Diary” what I actually mean is “Hardback octavo stuffed until the hinges are springing with text, photographs, cinema programs, postcards, concert tickets, costume details, pressed flowers, bits of grass, pasted in maps, a couple of which are hand drawn, newspaper clippings, Christmas cards etc...” Several volumes present here aren’t just diaries, they are basically time capsules just waiting for the correct technology so that the entirety of 1920’s Paris or Great Yarmouth can be recreated in their detailed entirety. Judith Ferrier, with her phonetic spelling, Wellington boots, and galloping weirdness straight out of Angela Brazil, was an absolute recording angel.
There are gaps, some diaries are odd volumes only covering half the year, some years are absent entirely, entries become less ebullient or embellished as time goes on. Despite the usual and oft repeated tragedies of the Twentieth Century; Judith’s brother Robert dying on board HMS Sandpiper in 1917 (two of his diaries, and a piece of rather Henty-esque fiction about the war are present here, he was barely 18 and very much a schoolboy), the endless casualty reports, artillery attacks on her home town (an occasion which caused Judith great upset, as she was in London at the time and “missed it!”), death of relatives and friends...she seems to have led a life of what can only really be called privilege.
There are trips to Italy, Spain, Cyprus, a whole diary about Paris in 1920, Germany, barely a year passes without an adventure, there’s a program for a series of Magic Lantern lectures delivered by her in Holland on the subject of sea birds, acres of ornithology, motor trips, almost always, in the earlier half of her life, surrounded by family and friends, girl guide camps, two volumes of the log of the Motor Launch Curlew, commanded by her on its trips through the Broads of Norfolk. A quick dip into 1927 reveals a week spent lecturing to Girl Guides on Woodcraft at Foxlease House, or a Missionary Retreat in London, an extended trip to Holland, a further number of Guides trips, evenings at the Opera, the theatre, the cinema, concerts. She’s 25 at this point, her life is dominated by her Mother, various bewhiskered men of the family and the church, and countless laughing, smiling young women with names like “Toby” and “Punch” who accompany her out amongst the beaches and reed beds to find bird’s eggs, or lounge in small boats in crisp, white blouses and heavy wool skirts. It very much gives the impression of a life of eternal, gentle girlhood, taking place against the general backdrop of sorrow, isolated joy, and weather, which seems to characterise a lot of British diaries. She is educated, she reads continuously; mostly male writers, and the peaks of her literary enjoyment are adventures like “King Solomon’s Mines”, and the works of Walter Scott, she thinks Byron “Most overrated” (you go, girl). Her spelling is often phonetic (something she has in common with her late brother), and her heart is worn continuously and eternally on her sleeve throughout the whole of her life. Every event is charmingly described with the dramatic intensity of a silent movie caption: “It was quite dark this morning when we were called, as we were to leave the house for England at 8. We were all very excited but were keeped [sic] with in bounds by the consciousness of the sorrow of the six unfortunate girls left behind for the holidays + the ever present vision of the Stormy Deep we were about to cross...” This is Judith going home from France for the Christmas holidays.
The first entry, on January 1st 1914, at the age of 11 reads: “I wrote in till (sic: until) twelve then I went to Little Ormesby with Mlle to get a feather brush but I could not get one.” The last entry, 19th March 1970, at the age of 68, reads “Very quiet day to reserve my strength for tomorrow, legs still very painful.” In between those words, she lived. A lot.