Who was Elsie?
Elsie represents the inspiration for the vintage side of our online boutique. She was a real person.
Elsie was born around 1906 in Woodbridge, Suffolk but as she was illegitimate, and her father was unknown to all but her mother, in later life she lied about her date of birth to avoid the shame she felt.
Her exact birthday and age still remains a bit of a mystery. For years her birthday was celebrated by her family in January, when in fact it was in November, and the year she was born was hazy too. In those days being born outside of marriage and of ‘dubious parentage’ was a massive social stigma. It had a significant impact on her life and as a child she felt like an outsider.
To this day, no one knows who Elsie’s father was, but family legend has it that he was an Italian chef, hence her definite, dark, Latin looks. Elsie's mother wasn't unmarried for long (although Elsie live with and was brought up by someone else) and she took her new stepfather's surname, Plummer, until she married Jack Hilton Blake in 1929.
Before Elsie married she was a trained seamstress and milliner. She worked all over the country including some time at Bobby & Co in Exeter. The draper shop was bombed in the blitz in 1942 and destroyed and then rebuilt on the site where Debenhams used to be and is now home to John Lewis.
Once married she gave up her professional work but continued to sew and knit, making many of her own clothes and household items. Of course having lived through two world wars she was keen on ‘make do and mend’ where possible. We still have her sewing machine and some of the items she made, which we hope to re-create.
Elsie had two sons, one of whom sadly died aged four from complications associated with measles, this was just six weeks before her second son, David, was born. From David she eventually went on to have seven grandchildren. There are 14 great-grandchildren too – some she met, others arrived after she died.
Each new grandchild she declared as bonnier and cleverer than the one before. I am not sure if she said the same about her great-grandchildren.
I remember her homemade hats, her egg-shaped straw basket lined with jolly, patterned material and the bed socks she knitted for me while I was away at university.
She also made wonderful gooseberry and blackcurrant jams, everything stopped for tea and she was the queen of baking when it came to Victoria sponges. Elsie was also a very keen gardener.
Elsie and Jack moved to the Westcountry in the mid-1960s and lived first in South Molton and then Chulmleigh, Devon.
She was the matriarch of the family. We still miss her today, but through Elsie and Fleur she can live on and she’d be delighted to think she was.
I’m her youngest grandchild, Rachel, & I am the founder of Elsie and Fleur, which was inspired in part by my Grandma.