The TB Stephens Department Store
T. B. Stephens, a modest draper's in 1904, built a three-storeyed department store at nos. 230-240 Stoke Newington High Street, Hackney, London, where it survived until c. 1973.
TB (Great Uncle Tom) was Grandpa Edgar's youngest brother. Born in 1876, he died in 1949 (the same year as Edgar) and was buried in Moriah, Llansteffan. He must have started his draper's shop in London when he was still in his mid-twenties; we don't know where he got the money from. But he obviously prospered, and Mum always referred to Uncle Tom and her cousins Joan, Peter and Heather as being "the wealthy members of the family".
In 1925 Mum's brother Stanley left Coedybrain to join the staff of the draper's shop, which was no doubt still managed and owned by his Uncle Tom. At the time, the local paper in Carmarthen bewailed the loss of an excellent forward by the Carmarthen Quins, and stated that Stanley hoped to join the London Welsh team -- "where he should be assured of his place on past merit."
County Councillor Edgar Stephens, Methodist and agriculturalist
Cllr EH Stephens
Between the Wars, Granda Edgar became a pillar of local society, well known and respected as an "agriculturalist" (were all respectable farmers referred to as agriculturalists?) and also very active in the life of the Methodist Chapel in Kidwelly. In 1925 (at the time of the Silver Wedding of himself and Johanna) he was clearly not involved in local politics, but later he became a county councillor. Towards the end of his life cousin Meryl recalls that somehow or another, as a county councillor, he got to know that she had succeeded in her "Eleven Plus" examination and passed on the news to her --- much to the disgust of the local headmaster, who was still in the dark as to the exam results.
Another story related by Meryl involves a rather recent "nostalgia" visit to Llansteffan. She was looking for a parking space on the car park, and got into conversation with the elderly man who was issuing tickets. She said she and her friends were looking for The Grove. "So you must be the grand-daughter of Colonel Stephens?" he asked. Greatly surprised, she confirmed that indeed she was. "In that case, my dear," he said, "parking is free."
Cecil Rhodes, imperialist, entrepreneur and ruthless diamond mining magnate, reputed to have been a cousin of Grandma Johanna Stephens. The family link is difficult to establish without a great deal more work......
The Cecil Rhodes Connection
We don't know too much about this, except that when we were young we were told that Grandma Hoolie was a cousin of the infamous Cecil Rhodes who gave his name to Rhodesia and who ruthlessly pursued British imperialist ambitions in the southern part of the African continent. He appears not to have been a very nice man -- brutal, insensitive, and driven by the quest for a personal fortune and by his conviction that the British were racially superior to everybody else. Some of his ideas about racial superiority and the need to control and direct those who are naturally inferior were taken up by Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930's -- leading of course to all the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Some authorities believe that Rhodes did more than anybody else to establish the principles of Apartheid which blighted South Africa for more than a century after his death.
The only member of the Rhodes family to appear in the family tree is Harriet Maria Rhodes, who married James Cotterell Hoole in 1838 and who was the grandmother of Grandma Hoolie (Johanna). That makes her our Great Great Grandmother.........
Harriet Maria was born in 1820 in Hull, and must have travelled out to South Africa in one of the emigrant ships as a child She married in 1838, and OPP Hoole was her fifth child. She died in 1856 in Grahamstown, long before Cecil Rhodes arrived in South Africa in 1870. So where was the family link? Could Cecil's father Francis William Rhodes have been a brother of Harriet Maria Rhodes? It's possible -- and somebody will certainly have researched the family tree. Cecil (born in 1853) had nine brothers and two sisters -- but the family was based in southern England rather than in Yorkshire. When he arrived in South Africa as a young man in 1870 he set up various business enterprises with his brother Herbert, who had recently emigrated to Natal. He amassed a huge personal fortune in the diamond mining business and established the De Beers empire. After that, he dabbled in politics, much to the irritation of serious politicians. His personal life was something of a mystery, but it is accepted that he never married, and that he had no offspring...... and he died relatively young, at the age of 49, in 1903.
Did Cecil have any dealings with the Hoole family? Did he ever meet Grandma Johanna or Grandpa Edgar Stephens? It's possible, since Edgar was trying to make his way in the world in South Africa in the period 1894 -1903..... but maybe we will never know the truth of the matter.
Great Aunt Mabel's Adventures
Mabel (born in 1884) was the only one of Johanna's siblings who left a narrative of her life, in the form of a rough typed manuscript which somebody managed to save. It was written in 1965, when she was 81 years old.
She was the seventh and last child to be born to OPP and Lydia Hoole, and her mother died a week after she was born. For some reason her father decided that he could not look after her. She was adopted (informally?) by her Aunt Chrissie Taute, but she and her new mother seem to have had a hard time of it, moving about from one family member to another. Mabel was not very strong, and missed a lot of schooling -- but when she was 14 she attended the same school in Grahamstown as her sister Verena. When she was 17 she left school and went to live with Edgar and Johanna in Queenstown, to help with the children.
In 1908 Mabel seems to have decided to follow a career in nursing, and she started her training in the General Hospital in Johannesburg. Although she claimed not to be very bright, she passed her exams, finished her training in 1912 and obtained a post closer to home, in a nursing home in Port Elizabeth. Then in 1914 war broke out, and she applied to join a South African nursing contingent. There were no places available, and so she applied to the War Office to join the English Nursing Staff. Almost two years had passed by the time approval finally came through, and in 1916 she and a friend sailed on the "Balmoral Castle" to England. Following her arrival there were yet more delays, and so she went on a visit to Coedybrain. It was winter, and Mabel was shocked by the conditions she encountered. She said they seemed to exist on bread and butter -- and poor Hoolie seemed to spend most of her time in baking for the family of husband and six growing children.
At last Mabel was notified that she was needed in a large military surgical hospital in Aldershot -- and there she remained until the end of the First World War. She was obviously a devoted and competent nurse, for she was promoted to Sister and put in charge of the operating theatre for the war wounded who were brought in from the front line. She spent some of her holidays at Coedybrain with Hoolie and the family. A high point of her nursing career was the visit of the Royal Familt to the hospital while she was on duty -- and she was delighted to have shaken hands with the King and Queen and Princess Mary and the Prince of Wales. In 1918 Mabel and the other nurses had to cope with a deadly flu epidemic which claimed many lives. Then in November 1918 the war came to an end, and Mabel paid what she owed for her return fare and returned to Cape Town on a captured German ship renamed the "Captonia."
This courageous and feisty lady enjoyed a short spell of happiness when she met and married her husband Dick Vause in 1920. For three years they lived in rented accommodation -- and then her son Wyatt was born in 1923. Sadly, he died when he was less than a year old, and a few months later Mabel was widowed when her husband Dick died in August 1924. (Did he die in a diamond mining accident? He was at the time a miner working in the Transvaal. The best man at the wedding had been a Mr Toll, described as Dick's "partner" -- presumably in a private mining company.) Mabel never married again, and when she died in 1977 (at the age of 93) she had lived as a widow for 53 years.
During the Second World War Mabel volunteered for nursing duty again, and nursed at an Internment Camp in Andalucia, Spain, for more than two years. She saved her meagre wages in order to retire in reasonable comfort, but then she had a great stroke of luck when she won £1000 in a raffle! In 1951 she sold her house and moved into the Empire Hotel in Schweizer-Reneke, Transvaal, and there she seems to have lived for the rest of her life.
In the late 1950's and 1960's all three of the sisters (Lilian, Verena and Mablel) were widows -- and they made the most of whatever life was left to them. Intriguingly, Mabel left a note saying that when she was 84 the three of them greatly enjoyed going on plane trips -- we have no record of where they went and what they got up to........
Food Parcels for the Poor
One of the strong memories of my childhood concerns the arrival of a box of South African good things at Ridgeway, our family home, every year shortly before Christmas. As I recall, the good things included pineapples, pomegranates (which we thought incredibly exotic) and multi-coloured crystallised fruits.
The Christmas hampers arrived over quite a few years, maybe in the period following the end of the War, in 1945-1950. I don't know who sent these hampers of good things -- maybe they came from Great Aunts Mabel, Verena and Lilian.......
Did all the Stephens families get these Christmas hampers? Or did they come to Ridgeway because that was where Grandma Johanna spent the last years of her life before she died in 1949?
The Grove, Llansteffan
The substantial house called The Grove, in Llansteffan, seems to have passed into the Stephens family in the later years of the nineteenth century. We don't know if Grandpa Edgar Stephens ever visited it before he set off for South Africa. In 1907 Edgar and two of his sons visited the family at the Grove -- Joan has a photo of him and the two little boys in the porch with Sarah Stephens (his sister) and a lady who might be another sister.
In 1920 it was still occupied by Edgar's father Evan, at the time of the death of his wife Sarah. Later on it was occupied by three maiden aunts -- who must have been Nellie, Winnie and Esther Stephens.
Our mother Gwladys always referred to them as part of the "posh" end of the family, but one doubts now that they were really all that wealthy. We visited the Grove occasionally when we were children, in the 1940's, and thought of it as a rather grand house inhabited by three (or was it two?) formidable elderly ladies dressed in black and smelling of camphor balls. The rooms were dark, with heavy curtains and furnishings, and there was at least one glass case filled with stuffed animals and birds. I have memories of the splendid monkey puzzle tree in the garden.
Later on, presumably on the death of the last of the three sisters, the house passed out of the family.