Memories from Esme Trethewey

A collection of memories from Esme Trethewey, nee Fursdon

Taken from 'One Foot in the Past', Viv Wilson's column in the Teignmouth Post

Taken from 'One Foot in the Past', Viv Wilson's column in the Teignmouth Post

Barrister Herbert Leigh Holman lived at Red House at the top of Breakneck Hill around 1930.

He attended many parties thrown by the Martin family, of Trevervan, Exeter Road.

Leigh was strongly attached to young Dulcie Martin and marriage was a possibility until he met Dulcie's friend, a beautiful woman named Vivian.

Her farther, Ernest Hartley, was a former tea planting colleague of Mr Martin and his wife Gertrude, a beautician, was said to have Armenian blood.

She had passed on her stunning looks, dark hair and flashing blue eyes to Vivian, an aspiring actress.

Leigh, who resembled favourite film actor Leslie Howard, found her mesmerizing. They married in London within a year and their daughter Suzanne was born in 1933.

Following her agent's advice, Vivien adopted a new stage name by changing the a to e of her Christian name and adding Leigh... Vivien Leigh.

Her aunt lived in Teignmouth as well as her in-laws so she probably visited often after Suzanne's birth.

By 1937, Vivien was entangled with actor Laurence Olivier and the pair crossed the Atlantic where she landed the $25,000 role as Scarlett O'Hara in the all-time favourite film Gone With The Wind of 1939.

Mr Martin sold Trevervan to Mr Ballard who renamed it Mount Everest and rented Yannon Towers from the Hammond Family.

His Household staff went of to do war work and Mrs Fursdon, who lived nearby, helped out.

Her daughter Esme, who could turn her hand to most tasks, was asked to work and live-in at Yannon Towers. She was treated like family and met many visitors including Ernest Hartley, who once said that, in real life, Vivien was just like Scarlett.

She suffered from a bipolar condition that caused violent mood swings. Laurence and Vivien married in 1940, little Suzanne spending most of the war with her grandmother in America.

After three miscarriages, Vivien gained a lot of weight and began the process of self denial with food. Despite the divorce from Leigh, her connection with Teignmouth had not ended since she sent packages of high-class clothes that no longer fitted her to young Esme, who had to send her clothing coupons in exchange.

One of the dresses was of grey wool with small white spots and another outfit was a hat and coat which were worn and cherished for many years.

I the 1930s overhanging trees formed a canopy across the narrow Exeter Road and there were no pavements. Each day, six auburn haired Fursdon children walded crocodile-fashion from their home in Yannon Terrace to school with Esme, the oldest child , in charge of the brood under a 'woe-betide' foad safety warning from her mother. When they passed the driveway to Yannon Towers, Mr Martin, formerly of Trevervan, always chatted to them. When war came and Yannon's household staff went off to do their duty, Mrs Fursdon cleaned for the Martins once a week.

They also paid her handsomely to bake wonderful, fat-less sponges for their whist parties and for Esme to darn Mr Martin's silk vests. Much needed food coupons came to the Fursdons when the bread baking father, Ernest, slipped a loaf in at Yannon.

Young Tony Martin came home to Yannon on leave from the navy and went to play golf at Dawlish Warren, The ball crossed the coastal defence barrier and he tried to retrieve it with his club. It came in contact with a hidden explosive and Tony was killed, the family never recovered from his loss.

His Norland nurse, Miss Clark, had been retained at Yannon and in 1946, was joined by Esme after leaving GWR for a live in job there for £2 a week. She was up at 6am to cook, pick fruit, make jam and numerous other tasks. Mr Coleridge, an enthusiastic Methodist, was head gardener who, with two full time men, worked the large, productive grounds, Much of the excess produce was bought by Peter Pearce the greengrocer in Northumberland Place.

The day Dr Quinnell GP announced the birth of his son Nick, he was given a bottle of champagne by Mr Martin, a very generous man. At lunchtimes always served up with the meals at the table making sure that 'Bez', as he renamed her, got hers first, even thought she ate it in the back scullery. She played the piano for Colemans Avenue Sunday School and after lunch, needed to clear up quickly. The dishes for her by house guests Ernest Hartley (Vivien Leigh's father) and film actor, Michael Denison. On one of his visit, he accompanied Esme to the Riviera Cinema to watch his wife Dulcie Gray in a film, where paradoxically, she played the role of a servant. Esme, now 85, was marzipaning a cake moments before she sat down to share her memories for 'one foot' (Viv Wilson's column in the Teignmouth post, from which this article is taken)

Yannon Towers, said to resemble Balmoral Castle,had a studded oak front door leading to the hall with its fireplace, staircase and massive oak table.

Esme, aged 19, accepted a live-in post there in 1946. She was impressed with the Indian carpets of unbelievable quality dotting the oak parquet floor that her mother, Mrs Fursdon, frequently treated to a good polish.

The large lounge had two doors and the dining room extended into a kind of conservatory. Most rooms had views of the sea and river.

The kitchen was stone floored and fitted with an aga and two great cupboards of beautiful china stood in the housemaid's pantry. All laundry was sorted and listed each Monday, collected by van on Tuesday and returned by Friday.

Mr Martin was in his 70s and one of Esme's daily tasks was to run a bath in his en suite bathroom. He was a caring employer and when he was ill for a month, she slept on a camp bed outside his bedroom door.

After five years of living-in, and with her wedding to prepare for, she felt it was time to move on. Mr Martin had decided to go on a long cruise, took his leave fondly and said it had been a pleasure to know her. Sadly, he died on board ship and was buried at sea.

Esme, now married to Sid, was working for the Mercers of Higher Yannon, helping to run Devon Ironmongers in Station Road.

In 1954 when Esme was expecting a baby, Mr Mercer bought her a two tone grey silver cross pram.

He was terminally ill and begged her to stay on in the shop after the birth to help his wife.

On New Year's Eve, Mrs Mercer, now widowed, phoned to ask Esme to meet her off the midnight train. As they walked up Exeter Road, Esme knew her baby was on the way.

Husband Sid was away in the navy and Nurse Kneebone could not attend due to an injury. Nurse Short cam from Shaldon but 12 hours passed before Nurse Chill arrived and delivered baby Ruth.

Esme and Sid bought the ironmongery business in Station Road and built a new home, paradoxically next to the Yannon Estate, Their shop and neighbouring police station were swept away in the early 1970s development.

Esme told me: 'I would not have had my life any other way'. 'All that training stood me in good stead'.