Threads holding us together

Mother was prompted to write this brief memoir for the 150th anniversay of the Bedford Institute Association now called QSA (opens in new tab).

The Ascoli family
The Ascoli family

Some time ago a Friend wrote in our local newsletter about the many threads that hold us together. The Bedford Institute Association (now Quaker Social Action – QSA) provides one such thread through my early life.

My father’s sister, Beatrice Ascoli, attended the Meeting in Walthamstow and this led in 1912 to her marrying James Ryan in Madagascar where they worked for the Friends Foreign Mission Association. After a spell of leave in 1917 James was drowned when his boat was torpedoed off Birkenhead on the way back. Their daughter was three-months old and Beatrice trained in order to return to the mission in Madagascar. Molly went with her even though the sea journey took a year. (Ref: Hodgkin, 1925)

For family reasons, I spent much of my childhood with their daughter, Molly Ryan, my cousin. Molly married Tom Watson in 1945 at Friends’ Hall, Barnet Grove in Bethnal Green.

While teaching in Walthamstow I helped with the youth work at Barnet Grove. I also visited Molly and Tom at their home where I was much influenced by the books of Quaker Faith and Practice.

I married the Barnet Grove youth club leader, Alfred Willson, in 1947. The wardens at the time were Charles and Harriet Haworth. I remember also Ivy Still, a youth club worker, who was related to a family that I taught at school.

Life at Barnet Grove

There was a table at Barnet Grove which had come from the Salter family at Bermondsey. I have a current friend who was born in Bermondsey and, although not a Friend, remembers Alfred and Ada Salter well.

I am now in the Quaker Care Home at New Milton and aged 90. I have been in this area for about fifty years and know Ruth Bell of Bournemouth Meeting from various committee meetings. We spoke casually one day about my cousin Molly Ryan and she told me of one of her memories.

When young, Ruth had sat under the table and listened while members of the committee were deciding that Beatrice should return with Molly to the mission in Madagascar.

The Priory (YMCA) Leatherhead
The Priory (YMCA) Leatherhead. BIA Youth Club holiday weekend 1948.

Sadly after four years away my aunt died of Blackwater Fever, a complication of malaria, and my cousin was returned to England to be supported by various family members. Molly and I were more like sisters as my father, Percy Ascoli, had also died when I was very young. We also both married men who had been conscientious objectors and shared many social concerns.

The threads continue to be woven into our family history. I certainly think the Bedford Institute Association (now Quaker Social Action) had much to do with it.”

Lorna Fermer
April 2016

For more on the Ryan’s work at the mission in Madagascar see MF Hodgkin (ed) (1925) A Fearless Voyager: Letters of Beatrice M Ryan, Friends Foreign Mission Association, London

For the wider story of Beatrice Ascoli’s seven siblings see on this website The Onlooker: Memoirs of Alice Ascoli 1884-1965

An account of the Ryan’s work is also contained in John Omerod Greenwood (1978) Quaker Encounters Volume 3: Whispers of Truth, William Sessions, York. Pages 85-88
(A further ‘thread’ is that we have a water-colour of fishing boats by Elizabeth Jemmett, who is the daughter of John Omerod Greenwood.)

There is a recent biography of interest: Graham Taylor (2016) Ada Salter: Pioneer of Ethical Socialism, Lawrence and Wishart, London