The Townend Family Letters

updated 11 August 2016

H P V Townend

L J Townend

The Background

Most of the letters were written by my mother's parents, Herbert and Joan Townend, to their children and to other family members in England.  My grandfather, Herbert Patrick Victor Townend (HPV) was born in Dublin on 11 March 1887, the fourth of nine children. He was a Scholar of the King’s School, Canterbury, and a Scholar of St. John’s College, Oxford.  My grandmother, Lettice Joan Bevington (LJT), was born in Essex on 27 December 1892, the youngest of ten children.  She was educated by governesses until the age of fourteen and then sent to St. Monica’s School, Kingswood, Surrey.  She was there at the same time as Vera Brittain, but had a very different view of the place.  She was engaged to Herbert when he left to take up his appointment to the Indian Civil Service in Bengal in October 1911.  They were married on 23 August 1913.  The couple sailed for India in December 1913 and arrived in Calcutta in January, 1914.

They stayed in Barrackpore until April, when Herbert was appointed to Midnapore for two months before going to Contai, where they were the only Europeans.  It was 40 miles to the nearest railway station, which was reached either on horseback or by traveling in a cart which did the journey during the night.  They stayed there for almost two years, before spending eighteen months in Asansol, in the Bengal coalfields.  Thereafter, HPV’s appointments varied between Calcutta and country districts, with leave in England every few years.  They also spent time in Europe (particularly France), New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

Their oldest child, Richard (Dickie) was born in Darjeeling in 1917, the second child Annette, in Calcutta in 1919 and a second daughter, Rosemary (Romey), in Darjeeling in 1923. As was usual, the children were sent to boarding schools in England as soon as they were old enough, and LJT and HPV wrote regularly to them.  Occasionally, urgent news was sent by telegram: this has the odd effect that some important family happenings are not mentioned in the letters, but can only be inferred from later references.  The letters formed the main link the children had with their parents and both Annette and Romey (once she was old enough - she was only six when she was sent to boarding school) kept many of their parents’ letters. The style of the letters obviously changes as the children grew older, with more and more information about life in India being included.  My grandparents wrote about people and events as they happened, and gave their views on current affairs.  Names like Charles Lindbergh, Gandhi, Lawrence of Arabia, Lady Baden Powell, and Nehru crop up.  LJT loved mountains and mountaineering and was closely involved with the Himalayan Club.  She helped organise pre-War Everest expeditions, so climber friends such as Eric Shipton and John Hunt are mentioned in the weekly bulletins.  She was very concerned for the Sherpa porters and compiled a Porter's Register with a photograph and a climbing record of each man.  In gratitude the Sherpas awarded her their Tiger badge.  She was a Girl Guide Commissioner, and was involved with the Red Cross.

In 2004 my cousin, Joan Webb, daughter of Romey, started transcribing the letters still in her mother’s possession.  Spurred on by this, I decided to do the same with those I had inherited from my mother, Annette, and have been typing them out sporadically ever since.  I have left the spelling and punctuation unaltered; LJT in particular had various consistent idiosyncracies with regards to spelling and punctuation.  On this site, the personal letters and notes to Romey were transcribed by Joan Webb, as were a few other letters that were not represented in my mother's set of letters.  Where this is the case, I have prefaced the letter with a note. I am very grateful to Joan Webb for letting me reproduce her work.

Helen Thornton
August 2016

© Helen Thornton 2016