Francesca Wilson

The Wallis family were introduced to Walberswick through Bridget Lytton telling Francesca that she had come across a cousin of hers. Bridget had realised that she was Oscar’s second cousin when she came to Meeting for Worship in Cirencester. They had lived in Purton just 10 miles or so outside of Cirencester, where the Wallis family were living at the time. Bridget was expecting her first child. They lived in a very small cottage – Annette remembers that the chest of drawers in the bedroom had been cleverly designed with the drawers opening in the bedroom, and the rest being a useful surface to put things on, on the other side of the wall on the small upstairs landing! Peter Lytton was quite a handyman.
At this time, about 1956, Francesca was already living in Fellows Road off the high street in Belsize Park. Oscar hadn’t mentioned Francesca prior to this, as she hadn’t featured in his childhood particularly. Through Bridget, Oscar and Annette got to know Rosalind and Enid Priestman, also living in Hampstead. They were working at Gordon House, where clothes were sorted for refugees and displaced people in Europe. They were members of the Friends Relief Service; Rosalind was the daughter of Francesca’s sister Muriel, who was younger, and considered the ‘beautiful’ sister – the family had 3 sisters and a brother. Frieda was the eldest, and retained the firm Plymouth Brethren belief and lifestyle that the family had been brought up in. Francesca escaped this upbringing by going to Cambridge. In fact this was before women were able to graduate, and as a result Francesca graduated later in life, when the University dealt with a backlog of women who had not been awarded official recognition when they graduated. Francesca’s background had been difficult for her. She went on to do relief work soon after the First World War - in Serbia, and also with Serbian refugees in Corsica. She then went to Germany to look after Jewish children, and on to Russia. Francesca also looked after refugee Spanish children in the Pyrenees, near the border during and after the civil war. She published a number of books during her life, but one written about' this time was called "In the Margins of Chaos".

Annette recognises Francesca as a quite remarkable woman - amazing - an excellent organiser, and something of a romantic at heart. She loved the fact that Oscar had been at sea, loved his sea stories. He had enjoyed learning the names of the stars and planets when on night watch, and all those years later, he would take Francesca out to look at the night sky when they were together at Creek Cottage.
On one occasion, Annette remembers Francesca reading out a chapter of her autobiography, a manuscript she was working on - and maybe never completed. She detailed her Plymouth Brethren upbringing, obviously with some judgements and insights. Francesca said that it wouldn't be possible to publish it in her sister Frieda’s lifetime, and guesses that it never was published.

Francesca was quite a smoker. Annette has been reading a biography of the German refugee Nicholas Pevsner, whom Francesca knew, helped, and indeed had as a lodger in her house when she lived in Birmingham. There is considerable mention of Francesca in this recent biography, "The Life of Nicholas Pevsner" by Susie Harris. He later became an expert on the art and historical buildings of Britain, and of course very well known. Francesca enjoyed offering hospitality to all sorts of people – everyone, especially those in need, were welcome. She was generous because it gave her great pleasure to have lots of people around. She invited the Wallis family, in this spirit, to stay in Creek Cottage in Walberswick, and Annette is sure that they were never properly charged for staying. Through the years, her house was often full of odd and interesting people – including Fred Wolsey who had a breakdown as a result of financial woes, and the architect Peter Buxton who lived in Creek cottage one summer, and following a complete breakdown lived on at Creek through the following winter and beyond. Annette was told - and was impressed - to hear that people in the village of Walberswick used to leave food for him outside the door, sometimes cooking an extra meal especially for him. He never had to go to hospital. As he recovered, he began re-designing Creek Cottage and making the alterations himself - though that wasn't his expertise. Annette guesses it was a way of saying thank you. By this time the Wallis family were going to East Point rather than staying at Creek - going usually twice a year, autumn and spring, times when more immediate family were less likely to be going. Francesca bought East Point sometime before 1953 - - for about £500. We were told the story that the whole front of the house fell off in the 1953 floods, and we remember well the oil mark on the wall of the elsan toilet which was still there in our day - marking the extraordinary high tide mark which caused so much havoc and flooding along the east coast. East Point had first of all been a kippery, but was converted into a house, pottery and shop by an artist, making distinctive pottery with spots on it - of which there were a few precious surviving examples which Francesca displayed. She bought East Point from the potter - I think he had found it wasn't making enough money out of season.

Francesca sometimes talked about Mischa, a Russian whom she had adopted as a child and put through school in England. He was already an adult in our Walberswick years, and lived not so very far away. We once - all eight of us - went for tea to his house, where his wife sensibly supplied us with buttered toast and lots of drinks! I think they later moved to the south of Ireland.

Pevsner made rather rude comments about Francesca’s untidiness – she had holes in her clothes and dust on her books according to him, and didn’t seem to worry about it at all. He called her "a woman of extraordinary and unconventional energy." To us she seemed just delightfully relaxed and a little eccentric.

Francesca had taught at Bedales, a well known independent school earlier on. We don't know when she bought Creek Cottage, but she loved it there, and used to come for the whole of the summer. Before the conversion by Peter Buxton, it had a big kitchen. Peter Buxton designed the changes and then had a go at doing the diy, although he wasn’t very practical as a builder. Francesca was quite a journalist, writing articles for The Guardian and other papers and magazines, as well as books. One of which was called “Strange Island; Britain through foreign eyes”.

Bridie used to visit Francesca in London sometimes. We played the game Botticelli with her on one occasion, crowded into her sitting room - and of course on other occasions too. We met Bridget's two older sisters, and had pleasant connections with both. June, the eldest (called Elizabeth professionally) lived in Primrose Hill and was a doctor - and by chance the GP for Annette's mother, near the end of her life. Annette Tolson, Bridget's second sister, lived in Bath and was married to an architect - they had 3 children, one of who became a Moonie. Their youngest child was named after Francesca. Annette and Oscar only met June and Annette a couple of times, but they remember many occasions with Francesca sitting in her chair, and conversing in her interested and considered way. She was one to talk and listen – and was not often seen on the beach! Annette remembers Dorothy (Bridget’s mother) In Walberswick on one occasion - she had bought Crow Cottage and also a house on the terrace opposite the pub. Francesca called Dorothy ‘my belle soeur’ .

Annette remembers an affectionate relationship with Francesca, and loves the photo of her (which Brita took) in a peaked hat - so very Francesca! On one occasion Oscar had left a hat knitted by Annette at Creek Cottage – and on the next occasion when they visited found Francesca wearing it! She said that things of hers went missing, and things left behind sort of balanced things out. We had a good laugh about it.

We weren't able to go to Francesca's memorial meeting at Hampstead Meeting house - maybe we were abroad at the time. But she has a lasting place in our family history, and her generosity in lending us East Point enriched all our lives.


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