TRAVEL DIARIES OF THE GLYN FAMILY
The following four accounts of journeys made by various members of the Glyn family cover a period from 1845 to 1893. Visits were made to Paris and Normandy, Russia and Scandinavia, several countries in the Middle East, and finally a trip to Australia and back by way of Ceylon.
Emily Jane Glyn's Diary of a Holiday in Normandy and Paris in 1845
The first account is the journal of Emily Jane, Lady Glyn (née Birch), the first wife of Sir George Glyn, 4th baronet and vicar of Ewell. She travelled to Paris in 1845 with what appears to be a large family group, although presumably without her husband, as he is not mentioned. The group included Mama and Papa, and at least one uncle and aunt, and Charlie (brother?). The party travelled by steamer from Shoreham, via Brighton, to Dieppe, and then on by train to Paris. Emily Jane would have been thirty years old at the time, and had one child, George, aged four, who was presumably left behind in the nursery. Emily appears to have been a very conventional Victorian lady of rather limited outlook. She reacted to the ritual of mass, in a side chapel of the Madeleine, with shock and disdain, and was not very impressed by some of the pictures in the Louvre, of which she said: 'Many of the subjects are not agreeable, particularly amongst the French paintings, no end to people wounded and dying'. She did like some of the Canalettos though. The party went to the Sèvres factory near St. Cloud, but apparently were not impressed with the china on display. The tapestries at the Gobelin factory met with more approval.
This visit to Paris was before Baron Haussmann transformed the city and created the grands boulevards, but the party visited most of the same sites and places that tourists visit today, and we really do not get a picture of the very different city that it must have been then, with narrow cramped streets unchanged since medieval times. They did climb the Arc de Triomphe, which had been completed around ten years earlier by the king Louis Philippe, although it was originally commissioned in 1806 by Napoleon following Austerlitz. The Tour Eiffel of course was not built until 1889, as the entrance arch to the World's Fair.
Emily Jane's account is quite impersonal. She recounts the facts about the places she visits, but does not really give us much of a reaction, other than saying a view or picture is 'very pretty', or 'dreadful', as she describes the orange trees in the Tuileries gardens. Neither does she give us any idea of what other individual members of the party may think at any time. She does seem particularly interested in the royal family, and in the tragic death of the Duc d'Orleans, the heir to the throne who had been killed in a carriage accident in 1842, aged 31. Her description of the memorial chapel, and the painting therein of his death, is the most animated of the journal, but the impression of the diary on the whole, is of a rather dutiful account by a typical, rather sheltered, Victorian lady.
Sir George Glyn's Journal of a Visit to Russia in 1866
When Sir George Glyn went to Russia in 1866, it was during the reign of the Tsar Alexander II, and ten years after the Crimean War. Sir George was a clergyman, and when he inherited the Baronetcy of Ewell from his older brother in 1840, he had already been the vicar of Ewell for nine years. He served the parish in this capacity for a total of fifty years altogether and, after his brother's death, he was also the patron of the living. In 1866 Sir George was 62. His wife, Emily Jane had died in 1854, aged only 39, and five years later Sir George married his cousin, Henrietta Amelia Carr Glyn, 24 years his junior. On this visit to Russia he was accompanied by his second wife, Henrietta, and also by two children of his first marriage, George aged 25, and Emily 17. The two young children (Anna 5, and Gervas 3) from his second marriage, remained behind. The purpose of the trip was to visit George Birch, the brother of Sir George's first wife Emily Jane, who lived in St. Petersburg, where the family had business connections. The party travelled to St. Petersburg by steamer from the Thames at London, and thence on to Moscow by train.
As an Englishman visiting Russia in the 19th century, Sir George not only gives a vivid description of the main sights in St. Petersburg and Moscow - The Hermitage, the Winter Palace, the Kremlin etc - but also provides a colourful and comprehensive picture of everyday life in Russia at that time. He enquired into everything; climate, food, dress, horses (which he thought were much better treated in Russia than in England), carriages, religion, dress, trains, building methods, fishing, etc. At one point he even caught a glimpse of the Tsar himself, and gave his impression of this personage: 'a gentlemanly looking man, quite the Emperor in feature and gait, but I did not like the expression of his face, it had a tinge of anxiety and melancholy'.
Sir George had a great eye for detail, and was able to recall very clearly the architectural highlights and ornate interiors of the many churches and palaces they visited. He also expressed fairly strong views upon everything he saw. As an Anglican clergyman he found the elaborate (and very long) Greek Orthodox services quite impressive and moving; unlike what he calls 'Romish' worship they did not seem to offend his Protestant sensibilities. He also remarked upon how servile and abject the common people were, but hoped that, following the recent abolition of serfdom (in 1861), this would change over time. A visit to the Foundling Hospital in Moscow led him to conclude (rather surprisingly for a clergyman) that such institutions, which took in infants with no questions being asked, only encouraged a high rate of illegitimacy.
The party returned by steamer via Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Sir George particularly liked Sweden, and thought Stockholm could have been an English town as far as the streets, shops, people and carriages were concerned, and he compared it favourably to Russia in many respects. All that travelling must have been exhausting, but Sir George retained his energy and enthusiasm to the end. However, it would seem the children were flagging by the time the party reached Norway, where they preferred to remain at the inn, while Sir George and his wife climbed a small mountain - Sir George on foot and his wife Henrietta on a pony. They achieved this ascent in record time - at least an hour less than the usual time allotted!
Upon his return to England, Sir George gave two public lectures on his travels. These were held in the Ewell School rooms, for the benefit of the Church Choir Fund, and were accompanied by the church choir giving 'a Specimen of Greek Church choral music'.
Anna Lydia Glyn's Letters from a Tour of Egypt and the Holy Land in 1892
Born in 1860, Anna was the eldest child of Sir George Glyn and his second wife Henrietta. In 1892, aged 32, she embarked on an adventurous tour of the Middle East lasting nearly three months, most of which was conducted on horseback.
Anna joined a party of people (none of whom she had met before) which was led by the Revd. Haskett Smith, a fluent Arabic speaker. The tour began in a civilized fashion with a steamer voyage to Alexandria, which Anna very much enjoyed. She met and talked to Siegfried Wagner (son of Richard) who was on board, and was entertained by the flirtations of the ship's officers and the 'fishing fleet' of young women en route to visit families in India (and find husbands). Anna was already a published novelist (in fact during the course of the trip she received a letter to say a publisher had accepted her latest novel), and she writes in a very entertaining and descriptive way, almost filmic, so that the reader can easily visualise each and every scene. In Cairo, the image of Anna climbing the pyramid in her riding habit, with an Arab pulling on each hand, and another pushing from behind, sticks in the memory.
After Cairo, the party travelled from Jaffa to Jerusalem by carriage, the last part of the journey by moonlight. From then on they would ride. Anna did not find the rest of the group particularly congenial, but luckily in Cairo the they were joined by a young man, Mr. Laidlay and, in Port Said, by a young woman, Miss Croft. The three young people increasingly separated themselves from the rest of the party, and virtually conducted their own tour. Anna's initial enthusiasm for Mr. Smith gradually turned to disdain and eventually contempt, as his incompetence and complacency became more and more apparent once they began camping out.
Anna was obviously a competent horsewoman, and she loved nothing more than to race at full gallop against one of the local guides, and she swapped horses with the guides on occasion as she wanted something livelier. The three young people became very close, as they set off on long rides across country. They frequently became lost, as their guides did not seem to be very efficient, but somehow always found their way back to camp and 'the flock' as Anna called the rest of the party. Eventually the three of them set off on a long ride from Damascus to Beirut, via Baalbeck - a journey of about a hundred miles. This involved crossing a mountain range by a pass with a narrow track and a precipice below. It also involved a night in a flea-infested room which all three had to share, although a curtain was rigged up in the middle for propriety's sake! Despite the increasing intimacy of the three, Anna continued to refer to her friends, in her letters home, as Miss Croft and Mr. Laidlay.
It comes as a shock when reading of their adventures and the freedom that they had, to realise that Anna and Miss Croft were actually Victorian ladies riding sidesaddle! They seem so modern. The tour ended with the three of them in Paris, where they had a very enjoyable time, while 'the flock' and Mr. Smith went on to Constantinople. Anna then returned to England, and Victorian convention, where she requested her brother Gervas to meet her, as she would need to be chaperoned.
She has left us several unforgettable vignettes: the pyramid climb, Mr. Smith tucking the (very wide) Miss Oldham under his arm to give her a lesson in deck walking, Miss Oldham in her palanquin on the mule, Anna trying to have a bath in a rubber tent bath on a slope with all the water running out, Anna at full gallop racing the luggage bearer with his horse festooned with luggage, the three young people scratching and throwing insect powder around all night, the almost biblical storm on the Sea of Galilee and many more.
Anna wrote in her letters that she was sorry to leave Syria and the tour behind. She said 'My only consolation is to think I am coming again someday with a nice party including I hope you (her brother) and Mr. Laidlay, and going to do the cedars and everything properly! Is that a castle in the air I wonder?'. Alas, it was.
Anna Lydia Glyn's notebooks of a cruise to Australia and Ceylon, 1893
A taste for travel evidently ran in the family: Henrietta Glyn and her sister Lydia both kept large albums of watercolours recording their journeys through Germany and Switzerland (SHC: 6832/6/16/1-3). Anna was more ambitious, and a year after her trip to the Holy Land, she set out for Australia via Ceylon, accompanied this time by her younger brother Gervas. Their trip, like that of Sir George to Russia, was influenced by family history, for 'Grandmamma' (Jane Florentia Glyn) had accompanied her husband Richard Carr Glyn to the East when he was an employee of the East India Company.
Anna seems to have been prepared for anything - to walk through forest fires under the guidance of a dubious local character ('he says he worked his passage out as a boy, but we have no manner of doubt that he was transported himself'), to come home in a tropical storm ('it poured, thundered and lightened almost incessantly the whole evening'), to share the road with an elephant ('not a very large one, walking along carrying a tree trunk as if it were a feather') and to breakfast on pawpaw ('looks like melon but tastes entirely different and is very good indeed'). Australia, as she found it, had all the comforts of European cities - the bookshop in Melbourne was particularly good - but Ceylon was another world, and she threw herself into a round of sightseeing with temples, palaces and buried cities. Gervas was less energetic, but followed family tradition in painting a number of watercolours (SHC: 6196/1).
It is noteworthy that although Ceylon had been a British colony for over seventy years, there is very little about Anna's attitude that can be called colonialist. She viewed Sinhala, Tamils and European with what seems like equal interest and respect - and she saw a great deal when she was there, including a murder trial. When she visits the establishments of another religion she is less interested in whether it was good or bad it than in remembering the monks who showed her round: 'the priest wanted nothing for showing us over. He knew no English so we could not even thank him'. It's very different to her father, setting down ex cathedra opinions of Russian Orthodoxy and Swedish Lutheranism. But they were separated by a generation, or more - Sir George was 56 when Anna was born - and the difference between their worlds reflects the change from the Victorian judgemental mind to a more open Edwardian attitude.
Sometimes even Anna had enough of things foreign. At one festival 'the accompanying music of tomtoms and droning pipes was a bit trying', and her thoughts wandered to home when she saw 'a big red Colias tree, which would astonish Worsfold, I think' (he was the gardener at Glyn House). By August she was back in Ewell, thinking of working her notes up into another book. 'I have learned quite a lot of Sinhalese and have made an elaborate study of Buddhism'. It was a hot summer; village society had gone mad on croquet, and the faithful Worsfold was busy removing wasps' nests.
You read on, expecting the next vivacious account of people and places - but this spirited and enterprising young woman would be dead two years later. In November 1895 she had eleven teeth extracted under chloroform. On 12th December she died at the Rectory from heart failure aged 35.
The travel diaries form part of the Glyn papers, a large family archive which was divided up after the death of Margaret, the last of the line, but has been substantially reconstituted as SHC: 6832. Emily Jane's diary is 6832/6/6/5; Sir George's journal is 6832/6/5/30-1; and Anna's letters are 6832/6/9/4 and 6-7. The documents were originally transcribed in the 1980s by the Documentary Group of the Nonsuch Antiquarian Society, now Epsom & Ewell History & Archaeology Society, who published the Holy Land journal as The Letters of Anna Glyn, 1892, edited by Phyllis Davies (NAS, OP13, 1982). A revised typescript was prepared by Barbara Abdy. I have transcribed these copies, except for the journey to Australia and Ceylon, which was digitised directly from Barbara Abdy's version.
Sheila Ross © 2012
More details of the Glyn Family can be read on our Glyns pages