The Best Christmas Gift You Could Give Me

The Best Christmas Gift You Could Give Me

Cavendish Mews is a smart set of flats in Mayfair where flapper and modern woman, the Honourable Lettice Chetwynd has set up home after coming of age and gaining her allowance. To supplement her already generous allowance, and to break away from dependence upon her family, Lettice has established herself as a society interior designer, so her flat is decorated with a mixture of elegant antique Georgian pieces and modern Art Deco furnishings, using it as a showroom for what she can offer to her well heeled clients.

Today however we are not at Cavendish Mews. We have travelled east across London, through Bloomsbury, past the Smithfield Meat Markets, beyond the Petticoat Lane Markets* frequented by Lettice’s maid, Edith, through the East End boroughs of Bethnal Green and Bow, and through the 1880s housing development of Upton Park, to East Ham. It is here that we have followed Edith and her beau, grocery delivery boy Frank, to the Premier Super Cinema**, where, just before Christmas, Edith is being treated to her festive season gift from Frank.

The pair of lovers stand in the warmth of the cinema’s foyer, which as well as being a welcome place of warmth after the December chill of the journey up the High Street from the East Ham railway station, it is also brightly lit and cheerful. The cinema, renovated the previous year, isn’t called a picture palace for nothing, and no expense has been spared with thick red wall-to-wall carpets covering the floors and brightly coloured up-to-date Art Deco wallpaper covering the walls.

“And did Mrs. Boothby’s son like the book you gave him?” Frank asks his sweetheart.

Several months ago, Edith met Lettice’s Cockney charwoman*** Mrs. Boothby’s son, a forty-two year old man who is a sweet and gentle giant with the aptitude of a six year old, when Mrs. Boothby sold her a good quality second-hand hand treadle sewing machine. The old Cockney woman found it easier not to mention that she has a son, not because she is ashamed of him, but because not everyone outside of her Poplar neighbourhood would understand her wanting to keep and raise a child with such difficulties. Mrs. Boothby took Edith into her confidence by introducing her to her son, Ken, so aside from Frank, Edith hasn’t told anyone about Ken’s existence, not even her best friend Hilda. Several weeks ago, she bough Ken a copy of Beatrix Potter’s ‘The Tale of Benjamin Bunny’ from Selfridge’s as a Christmas gift because she discovered after meeting him how much he likes rabbits.

“Oh yes Frank! He loved it! He had me read it to him twice over when I visited Mrs. Boothby’s house for tea last Sunday. I think Mrs. Boothby was very touched that I should think of Ken at Christmas time. But why shouldn’t I? After all, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have a beautiful new sewing machine to whip up frocks on. He’s ever such a sweet soul. No wonder he is known as the gentle giant of Poplar.”

“That’s my girl,” Franks says proudly. “Generous to, and thoughtful of others.”

“Oh Frank!” Edith blushes at the compliment.

“I have to say that you’re looking every inch a lady, like your Miss Chetwynd, Edith,” Frank says as he admires the companion on his arm, dressed smartly in her three-quarter length black winter coat and purple rose and black feather decorated straw hat. “Far too grand for the likes of me.”

“Oh nonsense, Frank!” Edith scoffs in reply. “I’m not wearing anything new. My coat came from a Petticoat Lane second-hand clothes stall.” She gathers the hem in her black glove clad hand. “I picked it up dead cheap and remodelled it myself. The hat I decorated with bits and bobs I picked up from Mrs. Minkin’s down in Whitechapel.”

“Well, with that fancy new bag of yours,” He points to her snakeskin handbag with the gold chain slung over her wrist. “You look like you could afford to buy every seat in the cinema.”

“Oh, get away with you Frank!” Edith playfully slaps his arm with her left hand, before winding her right arm more tightly through his left arm and snuggling closer against his shoulder. “It’s second hand from Petticoat Lane too.” She pauses for a moment before continuing. “Mind you, I did buy it because I really wanted one like Miss Lettice’s.”

“That’s my girl, bettering herself all the time.” Frank says proudly.

“But not enough to better myself from you, Frank Leadbetter.” she coos softly in return.

“I just wish I could have afforded to buy you a better Christmas gift, Edith.”

“What?” Edith cries. “A slap up tea at Lyons Corner House**** on Tottenham Court Road, some delicious Gainsborough Dubarry Milk Chocolates*****,” She pats the side of her handbag in which the chocolates sit. “And a trip to the pictures! What more could a girl ask for, for Christmas?”

“I’d have liked to have got you something proper though Edith.”

“Like what?”

“Like a nice brooch or something.” Frank admits with a disappointed tone in his voice. “A girl like you deserves a nice piece of jewellery from her chap.”

“I don’t need any jewellery from you, Frank.” Edith assures him. “You give me all I need.” She gives his arm a gentle squeeze, eliciting a blush from the young man. “I’d much rather you save your pennies than spend them on unnecessary frippery for me.”

“It’s not frippery when we’re talking about you, Edith.” Frank mutters.

“Yes, it is, when you’re talking about wanting to move away from your current lodging house, Frank. Aren’t you always complaining to me about how it smells of boiled cabbage, and that your landlady who won’t allow any of you to have lady callers even visit and sit in the parlour with her as chaperone?”

“You wouldn’t want to sit in Mrs. Chapman’s front parlour, believe me!” Frank assures her with raised eyebrows. “Between the stink of cabbage, the sticky oil cloth on the tea table and the miserly amount of coal she ever puts on the fire, it’s not a welcoming place.”

“Well then, Frank Leadbetter! All the better you save your pennies and move to a different house with a nicer landlady who doesn’t cook cabbage, does put coals on the fire, and welcomes visitors.”

“I might need a better paying job for that.” Frank admits. “But I’m hoping that Mr. Willison might give me an increase to my wages in the new year. I’ve been doing more for him, ever since Mrs. Willison became poorly after catching pneumonia last month and she’s had to rest at home, and he’s been spending more time at home taking care of her.”

“That’d be good, Frank.”

“I know! I’ve taken on a lot more duties and been a real help. Mr. Willison even said so not last week.”

“Well, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you, Frank.”

“Just think, if I did get an increase in my wages, I could afford to buy you a nice piece of jewellery, Edith.”

“Now don’t go spending it before you get it, Frank.” Edith scolds her beau, not unkindly. “Come on. Let’s decide what we’re going to see.”

The pair of lovers scan the brightly coloured posters plastered across the walls. Rudolph Valentino looks smoulderingly into the eyes of Nita Naldi as he holds her dramatically in his arms in an advertisement for ‘Blood and Sand’******. Marion Davies looks sombre yet beautifully aristocratic draped in jewels as Mary Tudor in ‘When Knighthood was in Flower’*******. John Bowers looks grimly down upon them as he holds Madge Bellamy to his side in an advertisement for ‘Lorna Doone’********.

“Look at this, Frank!” Edith gasps, pointing to a stand upon which is advertised another film.

“The Gipsy Cavalier*********,” Frank reads aloud the title printed in red script on the promotional lobby poster. “It looks like a lavish production.” he adds as he scans the images in the poster.

“It’s made here in England,” Edith says excitedly as she scans the credit information in fine print at the bottom of the poster. “So it might star Wanetta Ward!”

“Didn’t you tell me that she works for Islington Studios**********, Edith, not Vitagraph***********.”

“Well, she’s a big star here now, so she may work for several studios. Can we see this, please Frank?”

“Well,” Frank replies. “This is your Christmas gift, so of course we can see it.”

A short while later, the pair mill about the brightly illuminated foyer along with a handful of other patrons outside the cinema door, waiting for the film currently showing to end. Eventually, the double doors open and with the voluble burble of cheerful chatter, people begin to file out the door in pairs or small groups. Edith and Frank stand aside, next to the board advertising The Gipsy Cavalier to let them pass. Amongst them are two girls around the same age as Edith, one slender with a hard face and angular features in a moss green coat and black cloche hat, and her companion, a dark haired, rather pale, and doughy girl in a dark brown coat and matching cloche. At the sight of Frank and Edith the larger girl comes to a sudden halt, pulling up her thinner friend with whom she has linked her arm, their animated conversation ceasing as the thinner one turns to see what her friend has stopped for.

“Frank Leadbetter!” the doughy girl says, her face hardening as she puts her hands featuring pale fingers that look like uncooked sausages on her heavy hips defiantly. “You’ve got some cheek showing your face around here.”

“Oh, give over Vi!” Frank says, placing his arms akimbo across his chest in defence of her sharp words.

Noticing Edith standing next to Frank, her arm entwined with his, Vi’s dark eyes grow cold as she looks her up and down. “So, this is who you threw me over for, is it? A cook’s assistant not good enough for you? You want some skinny tart who looks better in a skirt and hat than I do, eh?”

Edith is taken aback by this strange girl’s rough language and vehemence towards her. Having never been called something so horrible before, she blanches at the insult and tightens her grip around Frank’s arm, too afraid to say anything in her defence.

Around them, patrons murmur and mutter disgruntledly, suddenly alerted to the altercation by the girl’s vulgar word cutting through the conviviality and joviality of the theatre foyer like a knife.

“You better watch your mouth, Vi.” Frank growls back warningly in a deep voice. “This here is a lady,” He untwines his arm from Edith, but them wraps his arm protectively around her shoulder, pulling her closer to him in a chivalrous gesture. “Which judging by the way you are addressing her, you most definitely are not. Sounds like you’ve been hanging around pub corners a bit too much on your afternoons off, Vi.”

“Where I hang round on my afternoons off is none of your business, Frank Leadbetter!” Vi spits back bitterly, her whole body edging forward menacingly.

“You’re right there, Vi,” Frank agrees with a snort. “I don’t care what rocks you crawl under. I never promised you anything.”

“You’re just saying that, ‘cos she’s here!” Vi acknowledges Edith with a curt nod in her direction and a sneer of revulsion.

Edith shrinks further back into Frank, but doesn’t say anything as she wraps her hands around her snakeskin handbag.

More murmuring goes on around them as interest in the argument picks up amongst the other people waiting to enter the cinema, an electric undercurrent of excitement filling some, whilst others peer over at the quartet with unveiled interest.

“Say what you like, Vi, but you’re the one who wanted to walk out with me.” Frank replies bravely. “I never wanted to step out with you, and I didn’t. Whereas,” He turns his head and looks down with a proud smile at Edith. “This is my girl, and I am stepping out with her.”

“You’re a liar Frank Leadbetter!” Vi spits viciously. “I know I meant something to you.”

“Only in your mind, Vi.” he recounters.

“Come, Vi,” her thin friend mutters, tugging on her arm. Looking both Frank and Edith up and down quickly with a look of disgust, she adds, “He’s not worth it.”

Reluctantly, the larger girl reneges and recants, walking away with her friend, their two heads together muttering as they go.

“Alright ladies and gents,” Frank announces to those who have been standing around watching his argument with Vi. “The real show is about start.” He looks down at Edith. “Shall we?”

Frank escorts Edith through the crowd of chattering cinema goers and they go to their seats.

Inside the dimly lit theatre a fug of cigarette smoke fills the auditorium. The place is filled with the faint traces of various perfumes, which mix with the stronger traces of cigarettes, fried food, and body odour. Around them quiet chatter and the occasional burst of a cough resound. It feels cosy and safe. At the front of the theatre, in a pit below the screen, a middle aged woman in an old fashioned Edwardian gown with an equally outmoded upswept hairdo that wet out of fashion before the war plays an upright piano with enthusiasm, dramatically banging out palm court music for the audience before the beginning of the feature.

Settling in their plush red velvet seats in the middle of the auditorium, Frank tentatively puts his arm around Edith’s shoulder. “You do know that I was telling the truth back there, don’t you, Edith?” Frank asks nervously. He looks to see Edith’s face, but it is obscured by the feather and flower decorated brim of her black straw hat.

“Oh I know you wouldn’t lie to me,” comes her soft reply. “But who was she, Frank?”

“Vi,” he sighs. “Vi used to work as a cook’s assistant, well a glorified kitchen maid really, for the house of an earl in Pimlico. I used to do deliveries there for Mr. Willison, and she’d be loitering around the kitchen door, smoking a Woodbine************ waiting for me. She was nice at first. I had fun chatting with her – nothing intimate mind you – just a how do you do and a passing of the day. I sensed she was lonely and perhaps didn’t have many friends amongst the staff of the house. Then Vi took a fancy to me and wanted me to step out with her, but I wouldn’t.”

Turning her head towards him, Frank can see tears glistening in Edith’s blue eyes as they gather there. “She said the most horrible thing to me.”

“Oh, please don’t let her spoil my Christmas present to you, Edith.” Frank pleads. “She isn’t worth a second thought, much less one of your tears. Honestly!” He pauses for a moment before continuing his story. “Vi grew more and more insistent with her propositions. She made some rather lewd and vulgar suggestions, all unwarranted and as you saw, she can be a bit intimidating. Eventually, it got so uncomfortable for me that I complained to Mr. Willison, and then one day when I went to deliver groceries she wasn’t there anymore. I heard from the house’s hall boy************* that she’d upped and done a flit in the night after some kerfuffle with the cook – not an uncommon thing apparently owing to Vi’s rather fiery temper. I never saw her again until just before.”

“Well,” Edith says shakily, dabbing her eyes with a white lace trimmed handkerchief she pulls from the confines of her snakeskin purse. “Thank you for calling me a lady, and for being so chivalrous, Frank. That meant a great deal to me back there.”

“Of course I’ll defend you, Edith, and call you a lady, because you are a lady. You’re my lady.” Frank pauses and removes his arm from about Edith before looking down earnestly at her. “That is, if you still want to be my lady.”

Edith’s heart melts at the mixture of fear and hope that sculpt the young man’s features in the dim golden light of the picture theatre.

“Put your arm back, Frank.” she says softly, with a gentle smile. “Of course I want to be your lady. I know how much courage it took for you to ask me to step out with you. So, if that awfully overbearing woman was so racy as to proposition you, I know you would never have said yes to walking out with her. That’s why I like you, Frank. You aren’t like so many other men. You’re a gentleman, and a gentle man. You’re kind and considerate and unlike so many other men who only want one thing from a girl.” She flushes at the mention of it.

“Goodness!” gasps Frank as he returns his arm to drape around Edith’s shoulders. “Thanks awfully, Edith.”

“Best of all, Frank, you showed me that I could find love again. After Bert died in the war, and with so many young men our age killed, I never thought I’d be lucky enough to meet someone again.”

“Do you mean that, Edith?” Frank breathes. “Truly?”

“Yes, of course I do, Frank. I wouldn’t lie to you any more than you would to me. Why do you ask?”

“Well, because you’re really the only girl I’ve ever felt this way about, so it’s rather jolly that you should feel the same way about me.” He smiles broadly across at her.

“Well, that’s the best Christmas present you could ever give me, Frank. That means more to me than any tea at Lyon’s, or trips to the pictures, or any jewellery that you could give me.”

“Thank you Edith.”

Edith reaches into her bag and withdraws the box of chocolates Frank gave her at the beginning of the evening when they met outside the Lyon’s Corner House on Tottenham Court Road. Opening it, she holds the box of brightly foil wrapped sweets out to Frank. “Here, have a Dubarry milk chocolate, Frank.”

As the lights in the picture theatre start to dim, Frank turns to Edith.

“I do love you, you know, Edith.” he whispers.

“I know Frank,” she whispers in reply. “I love you too.”

Behind them the projector whirrs and suddenly the screen is illuminated in blinding, brilliant white as the pianist in the pit below the screen starts to play the dramatic opening bars to the music to accompany The Gipsy Cavalier.

*Petticoat Lane Market is a fashion and clothing market in Spitalfields, London. It consists of two adjacent street markets. Wentworth Street Market and Middlesex Street Market. Originally populated by Huguenots fleeing persecution in France, Spitalfields became a center for weaving, embroidery and dying. From 1882, a wave of Jewish immigrants fleeing persecution in eastern Europe settled in the area and Spitalfields then became the true heart of the clothing manufacturing district of London. ‘The Lane’ was always renowned for the ‘patter’ and showmanship of the market traders. It was also known for being a haven for the unsavoury characters of London’s underworld and was rife with prostitutes during the late Victorian era. Unpopular with the authorities, as it was largely unregulated and in some sense illegal, as recently as the 1930s, police cars and fire engines were driven down ‘The Lane’, with alarm bells ringing, to disrupt the market.

**The Premier Super Cinema in East Ham was opened on the 12th of March, 1921, replacing the 800 seat capacity 1912 Premier Electric Theatre. The new cinema could seat 2,408 patrons. The Premier Super Cinema was taken over by Provincial Cinematograph Theatres who were taken over by Gaumont British in February 1929. It was renamed the Gaumont from 21st April 1952. The Gaumont was closed by the Rank Organisation on 6th April 1963. After that it became a bingo hall and remained so until 2005. Despite attempts to have it listed as a historic building due to its relatively intact 1921 interior, the Gaumont was demolished in 2009.

***A charwoman, chargirl, or char, jokingly charlady, is an old-fashioned occupational term, referring to a paid part-time worker who comes into a house or other building to clean it for a few hours of a day or week, as opposed to a maid, who usually lives as part of the household within the structure of domestic service. In the 1920s, chars usually did all the hard graft work that paid live-in domestics would no longer do as they looked for excuses to leave domestic service for better paying work in offices and factories.

****J. Lyons and Co. was a British restaurant chain, food manufacturing, and hotel conglomerate founded in 1884 by Joseph Lyons and his brothers in law, Isidore and Montague Gluckstein. Lyons’ first teashop opened in Piccadilly in 1894, and from 1909 they developed into a chain of teashops, with the firm becoming a staple of the High Street in the United Kingdom. At its peak the chain numbered around two hundred cafes. The teashops provided for tea and coffee, with food choices consisting of hot dishes and sweets, cold dishes and sweets, and buns, cakes and rolls. Lyons’ Corner Houses, which first appeared in 1909 and remained until 1977, were noted for their Art Deco style. Situated on or near the corners of Coventry Street, Strand and Tottenham Court Road, they and the Maison Lyonses at Marble Arch and in Shaftesbury Avenue were large buildings on four or five floors, the ground floor of which was a food hall with counters for delicatessen, sweets and chocolates, cakes, fruit, flowers and other products. In addition, they possessed hairdressing salons, telephone booths, theatre booking agencies and at one period a twice-a-day food delivery service. On the other floors were several restaurants, each with a different theme and all with their own musicians. For a time, the Corner Houses were open twenty-four hours a day, and at their peak each branch employed around four hundred staff including their famous waitresses, commonly known as Nippies for the way they nipped in and out between the tables taking orders and serving meals. The tea houses featured window displays, and, in the post-war period, the Corner Houses were smarter and grander than the local tea shops. Between 1896 and 1965 Lyons owned the Trocadero, which was similar in size and style to the Corner Houses.

*****Although packaged in a purple of the box the same colour as Cadbury’s trademark purple, Gainsborough’s Dubarry range of milk chocolates were not marketed as Cadbury’s, but rather Gainsborough’s, paying tribute to the market town of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, where Rose Bothers manufactured and supplied machines that wrapped chocolates. The Rose Brothers are the people for whom Cadbury’s Roses chocolates are named.

******Blood and Sand is a 1922 American silent drama film produced by Paramount Pictures, directed by Fred Niblo and starring Rudolph Valentino, Lila Lee, and Nita Naldi. It was based on the 1909 Spanish novel Sangre y arena (Blood and Sand) by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and the play version of the book by Thomas Cushing.

*******When Knighthood Was in Flower is a 1922 American silent historical film about the romantic travails of Mary Tudor directed by Robert G. Vignola, based on the novel by Charles Major and play by Paul Kester. The film was produced by William Randolph Hearst (through his Cosmopolitan Productions) for Marion Davies and distributed by Paramount Pictures. This was William Powell’s second film.

********Lorna Doone is a 1922 American silent drama film based upon Richard Doddridge Blackmore’s 1869 novel of the same name. Directed by French director Maurice Tourneur in the United States, the film starred Madge Bellamy and John Bowers.

*********A Gipsy Cavalier is a 1922 British historical drama film directed by J. Stuart Blackton and starring Georges Carpentier, Flora le Breton and Rex McDougall. It was one of three films made in Britain during the early 1920s by the British-born American founder of Vitagraph Studios. All involved elaborate sets, costumes and extras and set an example of showmanship to emerging British filmmakers. It was adapted from the novel My Lady April by John Overton.

**********Islington Studios, often known as Gainsborough Studios, were a British film studio located on the south bank of the Regent’s Canal, in Poole Street, Hoxton in Shoreditch, London which began operation in 1919. By 1920 they had a two stage studio. It is here that Alfred Hitchcock made his entrée into films.

***********Vitagraph Studios, also known as the Vitagraph Company of America, was a United States motion picture studio. It was founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, as the American Vitagraph Company. By 1907, it was the most prolific American film production company, producing many famous silent films.[1] It was bought by Warner Bros. in 1925.

************Woodbine was a brand of cigarettes launched in 1888 by W.D. and H.O. Wills. Noted for its strong unfiltered cigarettes, the brand was cheap and popular in the early Twentieth Century with the working-class, as well as with army men during the Great War and the Second World War. In the Great War, the British Army chaplain Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy MC was affectionately nicknamed "Woodbine Willie" by troops on the Western Front to whom he handed out cigarettes along with Bibles and spiritual comfort. The intricate nineteenth century packet design remained current until the mid 1960s. Although Wills changed the packaging, Woodbine sales continued to drop. In common parlance, the unfiltered high-tar Woodbine was one of the brands collectively known as "gaspers" until about 1950, because new smokers found their harsh smoke difficult to inhale. A filtered version was launched in the United Kingdom in 1948, but was discontinued in 1988. Woodbines came in four different packs: five cigarettes, ten cigarettes, twenty cigarettes and fifty cigarettes.

*************The hall boy or hallboy was a the lowest ranked male domestic position held by a young male worker on the staff of a great house, usually a young teenager. The name derives from the fact that the hall boy usually slept in the servants’ hall.

This beautiful Art Deco cinema interior is not all it appears to be, for it is made up entirely with pieces from my miniatures collection.

Fun things to look for in this tableau include:

The posters around the cinema walls were all sourced by me and reproduced in high quality colour and print. “The Gipsy Cavalier” board is the only one I have created myself rather than printing an existing poster because there are no posters that I can find in the public domain for it. However all the images used in it, including the film reel images to either side of the main photo are all stills from the film, and the central image is a publicity shot for the film.

The chrome Art Deco smoker’s stand is a Shackman miniature from the 1970s and is quite rare. I bought it from a dealer in America via E-Bay.

The easel, table , vase of flowers and two flounced red velvet chairs all come from Kathleen Knight’s Doll’s House in the United Kingdom.

The geometric Art Deco wallpaper is beautiful hand impressed paper given to me by a friend, who did so in the hope that I would find a use for it in the “Cavendish Mews – Lettice Chetwynd” series.

The thick and bright red carpet is in fact a placemat which I appropriated in the late 1970s to use as a carpet for my growing miniatures collection. Luckily I was never asked to return it, and the rest of the set is long gone!

Posted by raaen99 on 2022-12-11 05:39:36

Tagged: , cinema , kino , picture theatre , theatre , flicks , pictures , the flicks , the pictures , moving pictures , When Knighthood was in Flower , Marion Davis , Blood and Sand , Rudolph Valentino , Nita Naldi , The Gipsy Cavalier , Flora le Breton , J Stuart Blackton , George Charpentier , Rex McDougall , Vitagraph , Paramount , Paramount Pictures , Gloria Swanson , Her Husband , Loran Doone , Maurice Tourneur , Art Deco , Deco , Art Deco wallpaper , wallpaper , Deco wallpaper , movie poster , poster , film poster , moving picture poster , 1922 , easel , chair , velvet , salon chair , armchair , foyer , smoking stand , ashtray , Shackman , Shackman miniature , carpet , table , flowers , vase , floral arrangement , store , shop , retail , retailing , miniature , 1:12 , 1:12 scale , dollhouse miniature , dollhouse , toy , antique , artisan , hand made , hand made dollhouse miniature , furniture , Edwardian , dollhouse furniture , tabletop photography , tabletop

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