We called them that because their pursuits were ‘holy’. Lettice was an artist at arranging church flowers in uncompromising brass vases & took hot nourishing dishes to the sick and the poor. Emmie dealt with the choir. She rattled them and bullied them into singing but her own magnificent voice had more to do with it than anything else. Of wonderful volume, purity and compass, it nevertheless had not one ounce of sympathy or tenderness; & to hear her singing the Indian love lyrics was an astonishing experience.
She was a grand figure of a woman, but manlike in the simplicity of her life and dress. A wonderfully sweet smile redeemed the severity and ruggedness of her countenance & her crowning glory was in very truth her hair – Five silken tresses of a glorious golden colour were wound in thick plaits round her head. Sometimes I would ask her to undo it and it would float around her like a cascade of golden light to below her knees. She was the man of the party and the other two Nevins sisters used jokingly to be called her two wives.
Emmie Tatham, the youngest of a large family lived with her aged mother. Miriam and Lettice Nevins looked after their widowed mother in a small cottage in Hammersley Lane. In 1916 Mrs Nevins died & these two unmarried daughters went to live with the Tathams. The death soon after of Mrs Tatham made no difference to the menage, & the three women continued to live together. Emmie and Lettice were inseparable & shared a bedroom and a bed. Lettice ran the house – busy, narrow minded and thin lipped, she was not a favourite but she was extraordinarily capable and good at her job, loyal and possessed of a heart of gold. Miriam, the odd man out, was loved by everyone and Emmie was always very tender towards her.
She, of all of them could have rightly been called a Holy Woman, for she was goodness itself. She kept the household sane and sweet, for all her self effacement & humility. & her own innate sweetness gave a dignity to the difficult position she filled so happily. Miriam’s share of the household duties was to act as scribe & help in the garden – they all gardened, but Emmie did the lion’s share.
Occasionally they would ask me to spend an evening with them. The 2 ‘wives’ would be sitting sewing or mending, while Emmie, snug in a velvet jacket would enjoy her evening pipe. Presently she would read to us from a book on Italian travel or from a criticism on the pictures of the Italian school.
I missed Emmie most. She was a strong healthy creature – Downright in thought & word, honest in all her doings & with a gift of comradeship which she gave to those who had won her affection.