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When Bessie passed away in 2003 at the age of 98, most of her possessions were distributed to her beneficiaries. Included were several large boxes of documents, diaries and photographs. Upon reviewing these boxes, I realised that I knew very little of her life despite her being my aunt. So I decided to study everything that was left to me in the boxes. Combined with the help of others, I have been able to compile this history of a fascinating lady.
Pears Soap Child
Bessie was born Bessie Field on September 26th 1905, her home was 9 Crofton Road Heaton Bradford Yorkshire but I do not know if it was a home birth or not. Her father was Harold Field and her mother was Carlotta Amelia Womes.
The earliest known event in Bessie's life was when she was selected as a Pears Soap child probably in 1908 or 1909. The above photo is a copy of a life size framed picture that hung in her bungalow in later years.
By 1916 the family had moved to 31 Birches Barn Road Wolverhampton and had named their property 'Heaton Cottage', an association with their Yorkshire roots.
Once they had settled in Wolverhampton, Bessie enrolled in the recently opened Girls High School on the Tettenhall Road. Bessie developed two key interests at school, namely music and art. These two paintings are water-colours in an autograph album dated 1914. The little book contains contributions from friends of the family but the above are both signed B.F. for Bessie Field. Bessie was to go on in later life to develop her love of art into quality work that was exhibited in many places including the Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
Bessie was also interested in photography and took many scenic photos throughout her life often to provide inspiration for her painting. However this resulted in relatively few 'people' photos. The one shown above is of Bessie when she was in her early 20's, one of few to survive from that time period.
However it was music that was to provide the career of her young life and she studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1922 to 1926 receiving recognition from both the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music to teach music and carry the letters after her name. Her achievement is displayed on the walls of the High School Assembly Room.
Bessie took an active role in all things musical and would have enjoyed the company of fellow musicians. Whether this group performed together or whether Bessie was simply a fan, the talent and the fun is obvious.
Bessie the Bohemian !!
Bessie Qualified as a teacher in 1926 and went to teach at St Dominic's. There is no record of her teaching anywhere else so she may well have stayed there up until the time she married in 1935.
When Bessie married she became a housewife but at the outbreak of World War Two she volunteered for service in the local Red Cross. She attained several qualifications awarded by medals such as 'Proficiency in Air Raid Precautions' so you can imagine the sirens going off and Bessie involved in escorting people to the various air raid shelters. She was eventually in charge of a Red Cross Nursing detachment. Her husband Leslie was a air raid warden and you can imagine them both heading off to work most nights to keep the population safe.
Bessie enjoyed many holidays with her parents in the Southwest part of England but she set her sights higher and her goal was Paris. In 1929 this was much more of an expedition than it is today and it provided conversation material for many years after. Fortunately Bessie kept several of her travel stubs so that a fairly accurate timetable of her trip remains.
She traveled with the Polytechnic Touring Association Ltd a company that appears to have arranged almost every detail of the trip. Bessie left London on March 29th 1929 at 8.30am on an Easter package. She traveled second class on Southern region trains. She crossed the channel from Folkestone to Bologne arriving in Paris (Gare du Nord) at 4.05pm. She was advised to take her own soap as this was not supplied on the Continent! There were coupons for everything, travel, hotel, entertainment and excursions. Even for moving luggage from the train to the hotel. A visit to the Galerie de Rohan and a theatre ticket to the Quatrieme Loge de Cote on April 2nd were both on the agenda. One gets the impression Bessie had little time to herself.
St Dominic's Brewood where Bessie taught
Bessie married Leslie James Hayward in 1935. She was 29 and Leslie was 40. It was to be an enduring marriage. Their first married home was 113 Goldthorne Road, Wolverhampton. The house had the affectionate name of 'Windcliff' and stands today. * My mother, Hilary, was the 9 year old bridesmaid.
To all intents Bessie and Leslie's marriage was a very happy affair. They were equals in knowledge and intellect and while Bessie continued her development in music, Leslie aspired to the stage and together this led to a long association with drama and operatic clubs in Wolverhampton. There was also a long life link to Trinity Chapel where they were married.Bessie's love of travelling continued into her marriage and with the exception of the war, they visited many places in South West England and the Continent including a return to France and a tour of Italy. A letter to her parents while on holiday in Salcombe on September 14th 1948 gives a feel for those vacations:
" Just a few more pictures of Salcombe but I'm afraid they're not very good ones. It's nice and sunny, so I 'm sitting outside after lunch. We have come to Thurleston in some people's car from the hotel. It's turned out glorious, and we've just had a paddle, so I'm sitting on the sands to dry. We went on a long walk yesterday afternoon over Bolt Head but it came on to drizzle (sort of sea mist) later and rather spoilt the views. The house behind ours belongs to two millionaires (somebody's biscuits and vita bread) and the house down below us is the man who invented "Pluto". They know where to live don't they. I'm just finishing this to post in Thurleston (a lovely village) The hotel where Uncle Joe used to stay looks a nice place " Love From Bessie.
N.B. Uncle Joe is Joseph Wones, Carlotta Wones's middle brother, founder of Joseph Wones, Printers of West Bromwich, married to Margaret.
Marriage at Trinity Church Wolverhampton
Trinity Methodist Church was built on Compton Road Wolverhampton in the late 19th century. It was a grand size for a Methodist Church and in true Wesleyan fashion, was strictly a chapel. In the later 20th century the term chapel fell out of favour and church was generally adopted. Trinity was demolished in 1985 and a block of flats now stands in its stead. But the stone cross still stands at the front facing Compton Road and Larches Lane and the stain glass was sent to Norfolk for storage
Bessie regularly provided accompanist services for concerts, musicals and performances for and on behalf of Trinity Church. She had a long friendship with the soloist Isobel Bailey and played for her many times.
While she kept her maiden name of 'Field' in a professional capacity this programme is using her married name. Hiawatha was produced in three parts in 1898-1900 and was one of the most successful works of its era. Coleridge Taylor sold the three part cantata for 15 guineas and neither he nor his family saw any of the royalties. This led in part to the formation of the Performing Arts Society that seeks to compensate all artists collectively for their music.
Trinity was part of a circuit of Methodist churches iand many concerts were held in the churches over the years. A regular performer was a celebrated artist called Isobel Baillie. A long friendship grew between Bessie, Isobel and fellow pianist Ann Chadwick.
The concerts were held throughout the war as a morale booster and to keep some sense of normalcy in otherwise stress filled times.
Trinity Methodist Church Compton Road Wolverhampton (demolished)
Life in the Arts
Bessie was a great supporter of Trinity Church and was involved in many choral works including Hiawatha.
Trinity Operatic Society
Bessie was a founding member of the society in 1936 shortly after her marriage. She took an active interest as pianist, accompanist, producer and, in retirement, as benefactor. In many productions she was the pianist and a producer especially in the late forties and early fifties. But slowly she reduced her role until she moved with Leslie to Weston in 1957.
Retirement and Later Life
Lesley and Bessie retired to Weston-super-Mare on July 2nd 1958. They sent out new address advisories on that day to all their friends and aquaintances. But they did not lose touch with their Wolverhampton connections. Lesley's sister, Gladys, continued to live there until she died in 1967 and there were many reciprocal visits. Bessie's keen interest in the Trinity Operatic Society as a life president continued and she and Lesley always attended the Saturday night performance including visiting members backstage afterwards. It is an interesting note that Bessie's mother, Carlotta died in 1962 in Somerset and I wonder if she moved down with Bessie in 1958 or was she already in Somerset before they moved.
Bessie also joined art societies and became the President of the Society of Arts and the Art Society in Weston-Super-Mare and regularly exhibited in Christian Aid Exhibitions where proceeds of sale of her paintings were donated to the charity.
Bessie was interested in art from an early age but her most productive years were in retirement and old age. She lived to 98 and Leslie died when she was 80 and many of her paintings hang in the houses of friends and family. Many as well were exhibited in places such as the Wolverhampton art gallery. Bessie was very proud of her catalogue of work and gave her an interest until her very last years.
Bessie made the trip to the Lake District in April 1992 to attend her great niece's wedding. Whilst staying at the hotel she fell down stairs and broke her femur from which she took a long time to recover. She was transferred to Weston hospital where she convalesced before returning home.
Bessie lived independently most of her life. However she moved into Tower House Nursing Home on Montpelier Street Weston at the turn of the century and died on September 14th 2003.
Rubbing shoulders with celebrity, Bessie seen here attending a dinner given for Lord Archer in the late nineties.
Bessie's Photos on Flickr
- Bessie Hayward | Flickr
Explore Bessie Hayward's 922 photos on Flickr!