Caroline and the First Miss World

The smell of oil, and steam, mingled with that of coal, filled the nostrils.  Train whistles squealed shrilly, porters, in beetle black hat rushed around the platform, some with upright wooden barrows, one even had the nerve to shout ‘Hey up Carrie’ as she passed him, she thought her father would have skinned him alive if he had heard him call her that.  It was warm and Caroline had worn her good dress for this journey to Scarborough, like so many she owned it was a hand-me-down, which had been altered, and as it was red wool was very hot and itchy.

 Caroline settled her ladies into their seats, what seemed like a myriad of carriage doors slammed, a Guard’s Whistle blew, his flag waved, and they were off to make a new life for themselves in Scarborough. 

Everyone could lie back in their seats and relax for a while and as old Mrs. Nicholson dozed and baby Susan slept, and as she looked through the carriage windows at the scenery speeding by the rhythm of the train threw her mind back to the family she had left behind in Mexborough and those she had been in service with.

 Her family had come to live in Mexborough in the 1860s, her grandfather, being a Pit Sinker and a skilled worker, being brought up from Warwickshire, by an agent of Denaby Main Colliery, to help sink the pit, the same pit where her father, William, now worked.  In 1902-03 came the devastating Bag Muck Strike, where many had starved, and her father had moved her family back to Warwickshire where he had found employment in the mines

and it was in Badsley Ensor where she had been born in 1905.  In 1909, in search of a better standard of living, they had moved back to live in Mexborough.  But things were still hard, and she had to take time away from school in order to help her mother do work for relatives in exchange for food or run errands for neighbours, sometimes having to go down to Church Street to get milk.

 Like many girls at that time, on leaving school, she went into Service, this was with Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Rothery, Off Licence & Grocery Shop, 11 Hirstgate, Mexborough and even though she lived on Hirstgate herself was expected to ‘live in’ and so for the first time she packed her bags and left home.  Here she was expected to: do the housework; work in the shop; and look after the needs of her ladies.  One of the things she had to do for Mrs. Rothery was to die her hair, but not using the sophisticated colouring agents we use today, Caroline was taught how to mix a very strong solution of tea and Mrs. Rothery’s head would be immersed in it.  It was a very messy business, to say the least.

In time their daughter Edwina, or Eddie as she was affectionately called, began to go courting and Arthur Clayton, of the well known local business family, would call.  It then fell on Caroline to Chaperone the couple, and with Arthur driving, they sped around the countryside in one of the newest models of motor car.  Edwina and Arthur married and Caroline remembered, in particular, her eighteenth birthday when Arthur, again driving one of the best cars of the day, and Eddie had taken her on an expedition and stopped at the Danum Hotel, Doncaster, for lunch.  It was so grand, and Caroline, awe struck, had looked around her in wonder at the crystal chandeliers, plush carpets and silver cutlery, and it was here, at one of their highly polished and linen covered mahogany tables, that they had given her her birthday present, a gold signet ring engraved with intertwined CB that sat her finger to this day, glinting in the sunshine.

 Her father was very strict and even though she was not living at home he still expected all her wages to be sent home to support the family.  After she had worked for Mr. & Mrs. Rothery for a number of years she asked for a rise in her wages, but was told that they could not afford it. She left and returned to live at home working at the Powder Works for a wage of six shillings a week.  This was given to her father, who would give her six pence pocket money per week, plus one penny per day as bus or tram fare, to get to and from work.  Caroline smiled to herself as she remembered walking it, with the other ‘Canary Girls’, so she could spend her penny, like the other girls, at the Fish & Chip Shop.  In those days she loved to go to the Olympia Roller Skating Rink to see Match Skating or Roller Skating Hockey Matches, and laughed out loud as she remembered diving for the ladies toilets as the girls ’tipped her the wink’ that her father was about, he wasn’t going to allow any of his girls to go there.

 The sudden juddering of the train, as it came to a halt; brought Caroline abruptly back to the present, and little Susan began to wake.  It must be nearly 2 o’clock she thought, time for ‘Madam’s’ feed.  Her ladies began to scramble to their feet and Caroline began to search the platform, with eager eyes, for her older sister Mary, who had procured for herself the elevated position of Lady’s Companion to Miss Swallow of Mexborough, District Nurse to Scarborough, Mary said she’d meet her at the station to help with the hand luggage and other things.  Scarborough Station was almost as busy as Doncaster but with Dorothy looking after Susan it didn’t take Caroline and Mary long to find transport to take them to the cottage which was to be their new home.

 The cottage stood at the top of a hill in one of the narrow cobblestone streets.  Close by, and dwarfing the cottage, was the imposing Grand Hotel which totally dominated its surroundings, filled to the rafters with Victorian splendour it had been constructed to overlook South Bay nearly sixty years previous and was one of the first purpose-built hotels.  Caroline had been told that it had been designed around time: it had four towers; twelve floors; fifty two chimneys; and three hundred and sixty five rooms one for every day of the year, but Caroline knew it was too grand for the likes of her and she would never see through those beautiful glass and mahogany doors.

 It was one of those summers when the sun always seemed to shine and little Susan grew from a baby into a happy, chubby, toddler in the clean air to be found in the old genteel part of Scarborough where their little cottage stood.  Every afternoon Caroline would walk with Susan, along the promenade to the huddle of little streets, alleyways, and red-roof cottages around the harbour, to where the crab hawkers and fish mongers sold fish so fresh it smelled of the sea, and on the occasions that Mary managed to get time off from Miss Swallow she would be accompanied by her sister.

But all was not happy.  Both Mrs. Nicholson and Dorothy were seamstresses and had converted the front room of their cottage into a shop where exclusive, hand painted, lady’s silk underwear was made and sold.  Both Mary and Miss Swallow did not consider Mrs. Nicholson and her daughter to be good enough for Mary and were quite scandalised by some of things which were allowed, and Mary began to look for another position for her younger sister which at last she did. 

Mary informed Caroline that she had obtained a position for her with more pay and better prospects, working in one of the better class guest houses in the town, and therefore Caroline left employment as a Nursemaid with the Nicholson Family and began work as a Housemaid. 

Following a hard day at work, and before retiring to bed, the Mistress and Caroline would sit by the kitchen fire, and, over a cup of tea, the Mistress would reminisce about her former life.  Over the years that she worked at the guesthouse Caroline began to learn some extraordinary things about her Mistress, most especially that she had been a beauty queen and had won the first Miss World Competition.

 Alice, which was her Mistress’ Christian name, was born in Mexborough in c1895 and her father was one of the local Estate Managers.  She loved the theatre but her father did not approved of his daughter working on the stage as an actress, and this may have been the reason why she changed her name to Lavender Lee, for stage use.

 In 1912 she heard of an event named The Miss World Competition run by a cinema magazine called ‘Pictures’.  In this first competition everyone was under the impression that they would have to tour the world, taking part in similar competitions, but despite that twenty-five girls, including Alice, who entered under her stage name of Lavender Lee, turned up on the day.  The main events were held at film studios in Walthamstow, East London where, she had to: do a screen test; take part in ballroom dancing; sing; and at Henley swim, and row.

 With her dark hair in ringlets and her trim 5ft 3in figure she won the title and first prize of £500.  She had a marvellous time and became the toast of Edwardian London being escorted by titled gentlemen and gentry who showered her with gifts.  She was the English Mary Pickford and was the star of silent films.

 In the 1920s she married, for the first time, and using the money she won in the competition bought a guesthouse in Scarborough where Caroline and Alice worked very hard.  But the same could not be said for Alice’s husband and rumours began to get back to them that he was seeing other women.  Also he was taking a large amount of money from the business, to the point where he was spending more than was coming in.  At last Alice could stand it no more and both the business and the marriage failed and Caroline moved back to live at Mexborough where she once again took up her old position with Mr. & Mrs. Rothery in their shop on Hirstgate.

 Alice and Caroline kept in touch for a long time.  Caroline, on a visit to her sister, Gladys at Kiveton Park met, and later married, George Albert Rayner.  Whereas Alice married a Mr. Hyde and went to live in Spain for a number of years, where she became an author of short stories.

Information obtained from:

Ann Rayner.  Daughter of Caroline Rayner (nee Blount).


 News from the Local History Room


The Summer Excursion

Suggestions for the summer excursion are as follows:


Day and Date                        Place                          Price

Friday 18th May 2007           Lichfield                      £10.00            £9.50 Concessions

                                                This will include a guided tour.


Sunday 20th May 2007         Chester                      £10.00            £9.50 Concessions


Thursday 7th June 2007        Sandringham            £13.00            £12.00 Concessions

                                                Coach Fare Only


Sunday 10th June 2007        Imperial War Museum £8.00           £7.50 Concessions


                                                Coach only.


Sun. 8th June 2007                Windsor                      £16.00            £16.00 Concessions

                                                Coach only.

 MBE for Tommy

On 19th Feb. 2007, Tommy Joyce, better known affectionately as the ‘Marathon Man’ went to Buckingham Palace were he was awarded the MBE for his services to charity.  On Thursday, following this, Julia met him on the High Street and told her of his experiences at the Palace.  He stated that the whole event had left him awe struck and the interior of Buckingham Palace was breathtaking.  Tommy had been one of many to be awarded with an honour on the day and the whole ceremony had taken hours, at which the Queen, who is eighty years old, had remained standing.  When it was his turn to receive his award, Tommy informed Julia of how nice the Queen had been to him and spoke to him about his running and the marathons he had undertaken in the name of charity.  An interview, given by Tommy, was to be heard on Trax FM that afternoon and he appeared on BBC’s Look North.

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