A hand in Dame Ethel’s pocket

Ethel and Pan III, 1928, Bassano NPG, from A Final Burning of Boats etc, 1934

Photograph of Ethel and Pan III, 1928, by Bassano (Reproduced under licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery)

The Mayford History Society newsletter, for February 1976, contains a story submitted by Mr R Fowler Wright, which gives a fascinating candid insight into Dame Ethel’s life locally. The story is transcribed as follows:

‘When recording the lives of historical personages the little anecdotes which acquaintances love to tell about them re all too often ignored.

One of the amusing things I have heard about Dame Ethel Smyth, who, of course, lived at ‘Coign’, Hook Heath Road, opposite Fisher’s Hill, came to me from Mr Eric Bucksey, who was chairman of Woking Urban District Council in 1969-70. He was born in Vale Farm Road, Woking, and had one of his first jobs at Webb’s, the greengrocers, in Guildford Road, Woking, where Dame Ethel was wont to shop. One day, perhaps in 1938, when Eric was 17, she loaded herself with purchases before settling the bill, and rather than dismantling and restacking her collection, she ordered the greengrocer’s youngest assistant to put his hand in her pocket for money. But he was not accustomed to plunging his hand into ladies’ pockets, even if they were only four foot ten or thereabouts. Nor was the task made any easier by this square, stocky figure wearing a heavy tweed jacket and skirt that fitted pretty closely. In short, hew would not put his hand deep enough.

“Dig deeper, boy, deeper”, she commanded in her own deep voice, that would have done full justice to Land of Hope and Glory. And, unwillingly, deeper he had to dig. For those were the days when a greengrocer’s assistant could not be offhand about politeness and if a customer instructed him to search her pockets for money and take what he wanted for the till, he could not be uppish about it.

Quite different days indeed, for young Mr Bucksey worked from 8 to 6 on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 8-1 on Wednesday, 8-7 on Friday and 8-8 on Saturday, and he turned his hand to anything that was wanted: selling, buying, delivering, van driving, anything that would help to earn thirty bob a week.

front cover of A Final Burning of Boats etc, published in 1928 (copy at Surrey History Centre)

Front cover of A Final Burning of Boats etc, published in 1928 (copy at Surrey History Centre)

But we have forgotten Dame Ethel. By the time she had settled her bill she had lost Pam [Pan], her Old English Sheepdog. Out into the street she stepped and called “Pam! Pam! Pam!” in a tone that made everyone turn around to see what was to do. Pam came trotting up from Victoria Arch and mistress and dog went unconcernedly on their way. And that, until the present, is an unrecorded glimpse of a historical personage.’

Ethel had a number of Old English Sheepdogs all called Pan (I, II or III). Pan III, the one most likely to be featured in Mr Bucksey’s incident, appears on the front cover of A Final Burning of Boats etc, published in 1928 (copy at Surrey History Centre).

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