Meet the Relative – Aunt Nellie

I’ve been promising Aunt Nellie for a while for she has cropped up quite often on these pages. She wasn’t my aunt. She was my dad’s aunt – my great aunt.

Nellie was the first born child of my Great Grandparents, George and Sarah Ann Stevens. She was born in 1880 which means she was actually quite old when I first knew her (Said with caution, for I’m getting close to that age now). She was born in the parish of Ringmer in Acorn Cottage. That still exists.


This was in in 2001. I cannot imagine that my ancestors had all of this house. It looks far too grand.

Such evidence as there is suggest that Nellie, first born and female, was treated quite harshly by her father. Nellie was a dozen years older than my gran and she recalled a beating for mucking up some aspect of cooking when gran was born. By then, the family had moved many times – all within a small area, but the stability of home and friends that we seem to like would have been absent from Nellie’s early life.

In 1901 she was in service in Eastbourne but she then got taken on at Firle Place, the oh so grand home of Lord Gage. Nellie paid lip service to being subservient to ‘her betters’; but in truth she rather despised the aristocracy with their airs and graces. I am sure Nellie felt, and quite rightly too, that she was equal to anybody.

In Firle she met estate worker Frank Toms. The couple married in 1905. Son Frank arrived in 1906. Here are Nellie and son Frank in about 1908.


Nellie had  twins who died and then Arthur came in 1909.


There we see what turned out to be the Toms family of Nellie, young Frank, Arthur and Frank senior.

If my dad had holidays at all it was at Aunt Nellie’s house. Dad was enormously fond of aunt and uncle.

Nellie and Frank had something of an entrepreneurial spirit. Their cottage was on the main road between Lewes and Eastbourne. Nellie ran a sweet shop and tea room there – and here she is posing at the gate.


Frank senior died in 1952. Frank junior’s wife had died in 1951. Nellie upped sticks and moved to Crossways in Firle to be mother to her grandchildren. This was where I knew Nellie.

I picture her, sitting by the kitchen range, slicing runner beans to a degree of perfection I can’t manage. She’d be managing the range as well, making sure it was at a good temperature for whatever she was cooking.  She seemed eternally cheerful and every now and again her head would go back as she laughed. It has to be said that her laugh was rather a witch like cackle. I grew to love it. Crossways was not a bad house, but some features date from another age. The loo was outside the house – off the back porch. The water supply was there, but required work on a hand pump in the kitchen to get the water into the house. Whenever we visited, I was sent to the kitchen to do some pumping – making one less thing for old Nellie – she’d have been over 70 by then, to do.


That’s Nellie on the left in 1961 – she was 80 or 81 at the time, still laughing her head off. The other two, my grandparents, look more sombre. Granny is next to the runner beans.

Nellie died in 1969. I still often think of this happy and contented lady.

I ought to mention Arthur again. He was always a bit unstable and during world war two he beat up his mother, very severely. He ended up in a secure hospital. Nellie visited him, which took her out of Sussex, but apart from that and a chance trip to Switzerland when she was in service at Firle Place, she just didn’t travel. Her world was East Sussex.

You sometimes read travel blogs, written by people who just could not imagine how full and complete a life Nellie lived within her limited geographical horizons. Travelling is good, but it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all of life. Despite that limited geography, Nellie’s conversation was full of wit and wisdom.



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One Response to “Meet the Relative – Aunt Nellie”

  1. Meet the Relative – Frank Toms | Locksands Life Says:

    […] was my dad’s cousin – the older son of my great aunt who was always known as Aunt Nellie. His father was also called Frank Toms. Frank was aged 13 when dad was born but they always seemed […]

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