Searching for Grace, (Weigall family)

Carol Henderson & Heather Tovey (Steele Roberts Publishers, 2010)

23cm x 16.5cm, flexiback, 301pp.

This well-written and intriguing book describes Heather Tovey’s (1911- 2004) search for her true identity and parentage.

The book opens in 1975, shortly after Heather Tovey’s suspicions of her true mother’s identity are confirmed. Wishing to return to England from her home in New Zealand she finds there is no record of her birth, and her British passport no longer exists. The next twenty or so chapters describe Heather’s life from her earliest recollection of being told, “You can call me Mummy, but I’m not your real mummy” to the confirmation of her mother’s identity 60 years later. In the interim the reader is taken through her comfortable childhood, finishing school in Paris, her early loves, clandestine marriage to an artist and emigration at the age of 19. Up to the time of her emigration she was in regular contact with her true mother (as a kindly patroness), the influential Weigall family, and her quasi-guardian, Dr Boys.

The second part of the book follows the story after Dr Boys’ death and the revelation of her birth mother’s identity. On a first visit she meets her hitherto friend; now her half-sister. The two sisters later find out that they have a half-brother from another of their mother’s liaisons. Through affidavits regarding her (unregistered) birth and upbringing, Heather finally regains her British citizenship. Carol tells the full story of her grand-mother’s privileged and promiscuous life the very top of Edwardian and inter-war society in the Weigall family. However Heather dies without finding the last resting place of her parents and her mother’s lovers. This last piece of the puzzle—the vandalised and forgotten private burial ground of the Weigalls—was found by members of the Berkshire Family Historical (sic) Society.

This book provides a moving and poignant social documentary on upper class Edwardian life, both its virtues and its hypocritical amorality, and the effect it had on both those it acknowledged legitimate and those it hid away. It is a must for the early 20th century social historian, and for students of the Weigall family history.

Tony Roberts

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