Hello and welcome to part three of The Nanny Diaries: Edith Beadle in Mandatory Palestine. My name is Heather Stracey and I am the Collections, Archives & Local Studies Officer for The Amelia.
Part two of this podcast focused on the political situation in late-1920s Palestine. The third and final topic that I am going to talk about is Edith’s everyday life, living in a Civil War zone.
After leaving Tunbridge Wells in 1925, Edith found herself in the midst of a Civil War. Although never directly impacted by the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Edith and the Hudsons were touched by it in many ways. For example, on 29t April 1929 during the Buraq Uprising (a time when everyone had to stick to a strict curfew – including British subjects) Edith wrote ‘everyone still has to be in by six ‘o clock except the government workers […] anyone loitering about after six may be shot’. The ex-pat communities were patrolled every night by British troops, who largely shielded them from the chaos outside.
Nevertheless, when individuals wanted to venture outside of their communities the dangers became much more visible. Even getting a bus into town was challenging. In April 1929 Edith wrote ’one doesn’t fancy the buses as some of the drivers have been found to have revolvers under their seats and some of them [have] had shots fired from them’. Edith mentions in multiple letters that she was afraid to travel by bus. This led to Edith travelling around by taxi, and on occasion, being escorted by Mr Hudson.
Regardless of the terrifying events that were taking place around them, Edith and the Hudsons tried to make the best of a bad situation.
Edith, being a Christian, attended a Church in her British colony and joined the British Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), where she made friends with many nannies who were in the same position as she was. Most of these women remained friends with Edith until she died in 1985. Edith’s letters make the YWCA sound like an exciting group to be a part of, as the Head of the YWCA, Mrs Brown, arranged for the women to go on many day trips. For example, on 1 February 1927, Edith wrote ‘we stopped along the Bethlehem road and went inside Rachel’s Tomb building […] At Bethlehem we went to the Church of Nativity […] it is all so interesting I could go a number of times […] we went to several other places of interest and from a little hill outside the outer buildings of Bethlehem, looked down over the Shepherds Fields where they were minding their sheep when they saw the star’.
The YWCA also hosted a series of bazaars (similar to what we would call a boot sale) in order to raise money for the YWCA. For example, on 22 October 1927 Edith wrote ‘our YW bazaar will soon be here […] one stall […] only sells things made by the members and all the other stalls are taken and provided for by different ladies […] sharing a stall. Mrs Hudson, Mrs Heron and two more […] are calling theirs ‘My Ladies Boudoir’ and they are […] making lots of things, dressing gowns, underclothing […] trinket sets and heaps of other things’. Edith often participated in these bazaars by making dolls clothes for the YWCA to sell.
In addition to going on trips organised by the YWCA, Edith often accompanied the Hudsons on their adventures. The Hudsons took Edith to many Palestinian cities, including Jericho, Jaffa, Nablus, Hebron, Haifa, and Tel-Aviv. Mr Hudson drove Edith and his family to these destinations, either for leisure or business purposes. They spent many weekends away. The Hudsons were very good friends with a family called the Herons, and the two families often went on trips together. This resulted in Edith travelling with them to Lebanon and Syria. On 24 August 1927 Edith wrote ’we had to come through two sorts of custom places called the English (Palestine) and French (Syria) posts in order to get into Syria and had to show passports, licenses etc. at the English post […] it was very interesting coming through the little Syrian villages as the people are so funny and all the women wear baggy trousers gathered in round the ankles […] and they dress in the gayest of colours’. For a young woman who before moving to Jerusalem had never been outside Britain, the different cultures, fashion and behaviours she witnessed were very exciting. Edith writes about her travels with such enthusiasm and detail. You feel like you have been transported there yourself.
However, the Hudsons did not always take Edith away with them, and when they did not, they trusted Edith to look after the house and their daughter Felicity (affectionately known as Baby or Tootie) in Jerusalem. Edith was not always happy about this. On 29 December 1929, Edith wrote to her parents, explaining that extra police patrols had been added to the streets of her community due to several burglary attempts. Edith’s letter reads ‘if our spare room windows are not barred up by New Year’s Eve, I’m going to tell Mrs Hudson that she must get someone into keep me company as they are going to a big dance and won’t be home till two or three in the morning […] I keep a torch under my pillow at night and a camel bell by my bed and I tell Mr H that if I hear anything I will ring it like fury’. Edith then goes on to say that Mr and Mrs Hudson decided to ask their Gardener (or Garden Boy) to sleep in their spare bedroom, so that he could warn off burglars and keep Edith safe. It must have been nerve-racking for Edith, a young nanny looking after an infant, to be expected to stay in such a large house alone, whilst burglaries and violence were taking place around her.
On 11 July 1927 Mr and Mrs Hudson travelled to Cairo and once again left Edith in charge of their home. Little did they know that this would be the day of the 1927 Jericho Earthquake, which shook Mandatory Palestine and severely damaged the cities of Jerusalem, Jericho, Ramli, Tiberias, and Nablus. On 16 July 1927 Edith wrote ’Mr and Mrs Hudson left that morning for Cairo and […] Baby was playing with her toys in the Nursery […] we were going to start sewing[,] but I went across into the drawing room to draw the curtains[,] and was in there when it started. Baby screamed[,] and I don’t remember coming from the drawing room […] all I do know is that I grabbed Baby at the Nursery door and we tried to get the front door open but couldn’t. Mercifully our house stood the shaking well and no real damage was done […] some people are unable to live in their homes at all they are so badly damaged[,] and many people are living in tents’. Once the earthquake was over Edith and Felicity went to stay with their neighbours, Mr, and Mrs Welster, until Mr and Mrs Hudson returned home. Edith was petrified that there was going to be a second earthquake. Thankfully, there was not, but Edith was not taking any risks. It is impossible to imagine how it must have felt, being completely alone with someone else’s child, who you have sworn to protect, during an earthquake that killed over 287 people.
To end this podcast on a happy note, yes Edith and Tootie had some very frightening experiences, but they also a lot of fun.
Something that Edith makes very clear in her letters, is Tootie loved animals. During their time in Jerusalem, Edith and Tootie cared for a variety of animals including rabbits, canaries, and tortoises. On 25 May 1929 Edith wrote ’our garden boy has made us a lovely run for our tortoises[,] so we don’t lose them in the garden […] we have now got two big ones and one tiny one […] their names are Tommy, Sunny Jim and Tiny Wee […] Tootie loves Tiny Wee and we tie a thin piece of string round his shell and she takes him for walks on a lead’.
Many of the animals that Tootie owned were found on walks that Edith and the Hudsons went on around their residence. Edith also often came back with a variety of flowers that she handpicked to put on display in the Nursery. Sometimes, Edith sent pressed samples of flowers to her parents. In July 1926 she hid some pressed heather in a letter for her mother to find. This pressed heather is now part of The Amelia’s collection.
I hope you have enjoyed listening to this podcast, and learning what life was like for a young woman from Tunbridge Wells living in Mandatory Palestine. We look forward to welcoming you to The Amelia when we open in 2022. Who knows what treasures you might find!