Mary Vivian Hughes


I’m back to attempting a more regular blog as I have had to stop working for awhile to look after my elderly uncle who is suffering from metastatic lung cancer. The bright spot of my mornings in these sad days has been reading my daughter Miranda‘s new venture with her friend Rachel at old fashioned girls, and I realised (again!) how much I missed blogging myself.

There has been a great deal of waiting around in hospitals and sitting up in the night, and I’ve been eagerly pulling out old favourite comfort reads. I love Molly Hughes’ marvellous series of memoirs that starts with A London Child of the 1870s. Adam Gopnik wrote brilliantly on their appeal in this article, but I’d forgotten her account of her mother Mary and her Aunt Tony’s life in mid 19th century Cornwall in Vivians (first published in 1935) which has a charm and sadness all of its own. The mystery of why Molly’s father was killed “crossing the railway at that odd station of Barnsbury”, as she is (wrongly) informed by the servants is eluded to, as well as her Aunt Tony’s tragic engagement, Molly’s mother’s rash first marriage and a much fuller picture given of the Cornish connection of the family.


The view to Carn Brea where Molly’s Grandfather Captain Vivian owned his tin mine

To say Molly came from a family of strong women is no exaggeration. The Vivian family home, essentially rebuilt by their father (owner of tin mines in the area) mid nineteenth century, Reskadinnick House, Cambourne is currently for sale. Although obviously very much altered and modernised, it’s fascinating to see the photos here. As long as Tony lived, Molly visited Reskadinnick regularly and brought her own children there for their summer holidays. Molly also describes in fascinating detail her own childhood visit to a Bazaar at nearby Tehidy House, the first of its kind where she helped out at a stall:

Various aunts had made special aprons for the girl sellers – all befrilled and embroidered, and endowed with pockets for putting the money in. There was a preliminary day for setting out the stall, as full of bustle and fun as decorating the church, with picnic meals. Molly was busy stuffing her bran-pie, and printing a card for it – 6d. a dip.


image from here

4 thoughts on “Mary Vivian Hughes

  1. I am delighted by your short note on Molly Vivian Hughes and her story of the Vivians. This has always been appreciated in our family as the younger brother Joseph in the Vivians is my great grandfather and the story has provided a lasting connection to our ancestral home in Cornwall generations after our branch of the family moved to Canada. An interesting tie I delight in is the statues from Spain which Molly tells the story about on page 30 of ‘The Vivians’ remain in our family to this day – a tangible connection to the family lineage which now extends across the globe.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, and how wonderful the statues from Spain are still treasured in the family! I’m delighted to think of the extended family in Canada reading the book and savouring the Cornish connections. It must have been a fabulous home.

  2. I just re-read the “London Girl” trilogy, and wanted to see if there was more information on Molly. Thank you for the post, and the link to the real estate site! It was wonderful to finally see the home that she described. I would love to read the “Vivians”, and will set out in search of it.

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