May 8 1929

Although Cynthia is reassuring her parents that she is becoming less homesick and is ‘feeling quite at home’ at school, I think these letters are revealing how close she was, as an only child, to her parents, and probably sending her to boarding school at the age of 14 was a sensible choice. (Although why in the middle of the year? As she tells her parents, she’s excluded from the gym display because the other girls know the routines, and I’m sure it made fitting in to lessons harder too.)

This is the letter where the 21st century reader is amazed to learn that the boarders get their hair washed every three weeks, which means she is due the next Saturday I presume. Also amazing is the way letters arrive the day after they are written! In the transcript I am trying to remain true to Cynthia’s misspellings of ‘their’ and eccentric contractions but autocorrect sometimes gets the better of me. I’m afraid I know nothing about the kind friend May who is to invite Cynthia to visit on Sundays, but she does appear in later letters.

On the back, neatly printed: I’ve got 5 stamps left

May 8, 1928

Darlingest  Daddy and Mummy,

Thank you so much for your letters, I love getting letters so much, I feel so disappointed when their isn’t one for me and the other girls get some.

They give us our letters as soon as they come Mumsie, I got yours this morning and one from Marjorie and one from Peggy Lawrenson and she sent me two pretty little hankies, wasn’t that kind?

I got three cakes of lux toilet soap on Sat: for 1/-.  Phyllis says they wash our hair every three weeks, Miss John does, with ‘dog soap’ as she calls it, so I wo’nt have to get any. Our hair is washed on Sat: morning, I haven’t had it done yet.

Dearest of Daddies and Mummys I’m feeling much happier than I did before, this is my 3rd Wed. now and I’m feeling quite at home. I am still longing for the hols. and the lovely times we’ll have, just my Mum and Dad and me. I write to you when we used to have our reading Mummy so I don’t feel so lonely, I love writing home now dearests and the girls are all amazed at the length of my letters but I just love trying to talk to Mummy and Daddy on paper. It’s not as satisfying as seeing and being with them of course, but it’s next best.

We did not go to the Military Service on Sunday, Mrs. P. would’ve let us go at once only Miss Ellett said it was just a spectacular affair and she did’nt think it right to go.

I wore my best hat and shoes on Sunday but not my tussore dress it was too cold, I sha’nt be able to wear that belt Mums, I’ll have to go without. I think my best shoes are much too good for school Mums they are too nice I think, they’ll just get spoilt.

I am so sorry dear old Granny is so ill, Mumzie dear, I know what it will be like for you to have your Mummy ill, for I know what I’d be like if either my Daddy or Mummy were ill.

The pink is quite a nice length now but the girls think it is short but they are all tall and wear dresses at their knees. We are having a holiday for Ascension Day tomorrow. In the afternoon we are having a tennis tournament with the day girls, I shall wear my new frock then, I shall be smart! Mommy, thank you so much for the promise of more goodies, my cuboard is quite bare now, but on Friday I am getting some home-made toffee from a girl at school who is collecting for a fund. I found out about “my friend” at the pictures, I think that was what made me not enjoy “the talkies” they were awfully silly, one was of an old negro man singing plantation songs and the song stopped off in the middle and he went on opening and shutting his mouth and gesticulating! I think, Daddy I shall write and ask May if she would mind coming and taking me home on Sunday as I would feel a bit “fed up” as I always do on Sundays the morning I always had in your bed. I shall stay at school for Whit: week-end I think Dads, as some of the other girls are, but I shall ask May if I can stay with her for half-term when it comes. And oh, daddy, I am not starting Guiding until next term as I don’t know the school and things yet. We had gym this afternoon, we were jumping over the ropes and somersaulting, I am in the middle class now, I was in the senior last week and made an idiot of myself, truly, but I am all right now. The girls are all getting ready for a gym display but I sha’nt be in as I haven’t practiced. On Monday in drill I fell down and got bruised but I’m all right now. On Monday as I was coming back about 10 minutes past 4 o’clock I saw a Baby Austin and in it a person exactly like May sitting beside the lady driver, I wonder if it was her. We have prep at B.G. now and I only have to go to school on Monday for French at 2:30 and Wed: for Geog at 2:30 and gym at 3 so I all right. In the third form at school their is a little girl exactly like Kathleen Smyth, Macon: you know, except her hair is darker, her name is Demarice Cavers I think, and in the Minister their is a curate just like Marjorie’s cousin Arnold, Mr. Dippie, I wonder if Arnold has become one!

I must stop now as I want to write to May and Peggy and Dot, I shall write to Nancy on Sunday for her birthday. Please give my love to Cilla and tell her I’d love to hear from her. With heaps and tons of love and kisses to my own darlings and dearest Daddy and Mummy from your little Doggy.

P.S. Sylvia Pallister has come back, she came back yesterday she is nice. I like her. Girlie

York, May 1 1929

Cynthia is now at school, a bit homesick and having trouble fitting in since she’s changed schools in the middle of the year. She refers to Miss Hiley, who was her former headmistress in Newcastle, and says she’ll write to her- you will see her reply to this letter when I post May 11th’s letter. Mrs Palmer, either her present headmistress or the head of the boarding part of the school, gives the girls treats by taking them to a silent film on the weekend!

May 1, 1929

Darlingest of Daddies and Dearest of Mummies,

It does seem so strange to be writing to you, I feel lonely and sad and homesick in the morning but it wears off during the day, I never, never, knew how much I loved you dearest until I came here so that is one thing I learnt!

I have just had a letter from Nancy by this evening post and I had letters from Dot and Marjorie before, I wrote to them on Sunday.

I got the blue coat a few days ago, Mummy and the snowfire, I don’t mind in the least if you and Daddy read or fill in my diary, it hasn’t anything silly in.

We all went to church in the rain on Sunday, it was horrid, to St Olive’s in the morning and the Minster in the afternoon. I didn’t wear my best shoes or panama hat as it was so wet but my black hat and school shoes. I have been thinking Daddy, if ever York Minster’s afternoon service is broadcasted you will be able to listen in and know I am listening too, won’t that be nice.

I do wish I had seen Mr. Collins, I think he might take the job in N/C because I’ll never see him if I don’t and I do want to see him again.

Mrs. Mummy Ewing, if you end again saying a long letter will bother me I do’nt know what I’ll do to you, a long letter is what I want and please send a great fat one.

Daddy, dearie I shall write to Miss Hiley on Sunday and thank you for your letter, you most likely have seen that I wasn’t feeling happy last Sunday but I’m all right now.

Shall I tell you now about myself? Well, at school there are 11 in our form Me, Jessie, two Phyllises, Millicent, Dot, Kitty, Sybil, Barbara, Joan and Hilda. Jessie and I and Phyllis are boarders, the other Phyllis and Barbara are very kind to me, some of them talk rather Yorkshire and it is very funny. I had gym this afternoon and was put in the senior class, it was horrid, I couldn’t do any of the things, I going to be in the middle next week. I seem to be a shining light at French, but I’ve done it all before. In maths I’m ahead too. For algebra homework we had three sums I got them all right and got honours. Not an excellent though, if you get 2 exc. you have to sign the honours book.  For history we are just doing early Britons so I’m lots past. For needlework at B.G. the girls are making tennis frocks I did embroidery last week but Miss John is getting me cloth. We had to bring soap with us only a girl lent me a piece and I’ll get some on Saturday. Mrs. Palmer is going to take us to see the film “The Triumph of the Scarlet Pimpernel” on Sat. it will be lovely. She has given me a cheque book to draw money out of the bank each week, a real cheque book for me!

There are 7 girls at Burton Grange 1weekly border Marsha Murray and then Mary Gilberton who is head girl of the boarding house and nice, Gertrude Williams a senior nice too, Eleanor somebody who is kind and gave me some of her own jam at tea and yesterday a piece of her cake, Phyllis Piercy who is kind too and gave me cake and kissed me goodnight one night and Jessie Muir who is very kind and kissed me last night, it makes me feel happy to be liked!

Mary’s nickname is Gilbie, Gertrudes Tishi, as she’s very tall, Eleanor’s ‘It’ and Phyllis’ Phyll or Pip.

I have played lots of tennis since I came, nearly every fine day. I use Daddy’s pretty pencil every day at school and Mummy’s box of things, are use Mrs. Allan’s pencil for my diary at night.

I must stop now as Phyllis has just nearly had a fit at all my pages, you please write some letters as long to me I love getting letter, Dearest of Daddies and Mummies I am trying in every way to please you and do what you told me, I am ever your lovingest of little daughter your own Cynthia

The Letters Begin 1929

In the summer term of 1929, Cynthia Ewing, who had just turned 14, was sent to boarding school in York. This is when her letters home to her parents in Newcastle began. Her mother saved only the letters from her first term, but she stayed at this school for the next few years, as she met new friends, had new experiences, in fact, grew up. I remember her complaining that changing schools affected her knowledge of English history, as she repeated lessons on the Tudors several times, but never did deal with the eighteenth century. Her handwriting also changed over the years at boarding school, from the script you see in these letters to what she used as an adult.

To share the letters, I will post the images of the pages, faded ink and all, but will also transcribe them because I am none too confident in my photographic abilities and the clarification might be helpful.

c/o Mrs Palmer

Burton Grange


27th April 1929

Dear Daddy,

Thank you very much for your letter, I was very glad to get it yesterday evening,  I get on quite well and all the girls are very kind and nice to me.  This morning I went to town with two other girls I got a black bow and then we went and looked round Woolworths, we did not get any lunch as we were not hungry.  I think I shall send back all of the photos, daddy dear, as I should not like to loose any of them as they are so nice.  I started this letter yesterday evening only I haven’t finished it yet.  I played tennis yesterday afternoon and had a lovely time, I think that if I go on playing as much as I did yesterday I may get quite good. At school I get on quite well, at geometry on Friday I could do the things better than the other girls. There are only eight girls at the boarding house now, Jessie Muir and Phyllis who are in the fourth form with me, Gertrude, Eleanor and Mary and Marsha and a girl Sylvia who lives in Benwell and hasn’t come yet.  I had a little weep in bed this morning Daddy, I felt so lonely but I am trying to be good and read my Bible every night and say my prayers. I had a bath last night, it is the second one I’ve had, I like having baths.  We are going to church this morning and it is horrible and wet, I am not putting on my panama hat or best shoes but school shoes and my black hat without the school band.  There is a new matron come this term called Miss John, she is very nice and quite young, she is a glorious tennis player for she played with us yesterday.  I shall write again on Wed: please give my love to Dickie and Dot and Nancy and I still love you with heaps and heaps of love and I’m longing for the holidays to come so that I can see you and Mummy again, please write again soon to your loving little girl Cynthia.

Dear Muzie,

You know all my news so all I have to send you is my best love and kisses and darling, please don’t forget to buy a birthday present for Nancy on 14th and Marjorie on 29th May so I am ever your loving little girlie who is trying her best to please you and Daddy with heaps of love your own Cynthia.

Yet another school uniform!

It reads like a different era, doesn’t it? Her childhood friend Nancy Allen was presumably the one with the birthday, and Jessie Muir became a lifelong friend as well.