Mrs James Sykes (Maria Henrietta Abdy)

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14 Cornwallis Terrace, Clifton.

“My grandmother, Sykes, played a considerable part in our young lives. She was a handsome old lady with strongly marked features, and a great air of blood and breeding. This contrasted strangely with her material and social surround- ings. She had become a Plymouth Sister, and held the most innocent amenities of life for sinful. Her house in Cornwallis Crescent, or the Lower Crescent, had nothing in it to rejoice the eye, except flowers, to which she was devoted. Yet it never impressed me with a sense of squalor. The perfume of pot-pourri in a blue china bowl, and of Tonquin beans exhaling from drawers and work-baskets, gave distinction to the rooms, and the old lady’s stately person rendered it impossible to regard any of her possessions as beneath the dignity of a gentlewoman. Nevertheless, all objects of taste and luxury, all that delights the sense, had been carefully weeded out of the grim, bare dwelling. And what company my grandmother kept ! It was a motley crew of preachers and missionaries, trades- people and cripples the women dressed in rusty bombazine and drab gingham the men attired in greasy black suits, with dingy white neckties all gifted with a sanctimonious snuffle, all blessed by nature with shiny foreheads and clammy hands, all avid for buttered toast and muffins, all fawning on the well-connected gentlewoman, whose wealth, though moderate, possessed considerable attractions, and was freely drawn upon.

I often went to stay with my grandmother when circumstances, generally some infectious ailment in our nursery, made it desirable that I should be away from home. So I had plenty of opportunities for studying these strange people, and appreciating the marvellous figure which that formidable old lady, aristocratic to the backbone and terribly ill-tempered, cut among them.

Heavy teas, like those described by Dickens, were of frequent occurrence, after which the Chadband of the evening discoursed at a considerable length. Then followed prayers, in the course of which a particularly repulsive pharmaceutical chemist from Broad Mead uplifted his nasal voice in petitions to the Almighty, which too often, alas, degene- rated into glorifications of the Plymouth sect at Bristol, and objurgations on the perversity of other religious bodies. My grandmother came in for her due share of fulsome flattery, under the attributes of Deborah and Dorcas. My father was compared to Naaman, who refused to bathe in Jordan Jordan being Bethesda, or the meeting-house of the Plymouth Brethren.”