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SPRING FORWARD: Please join us at St Pancras Church, Kingston for Spring Forward, a seasonal selection of music ranging from Baroque to traditional, folk and spirituals given by the Ouse Valley Singers tomorrow, Saturday, at 7.30pm. Tickets, at £10 to include wine (under 12s free), available from Brenda Neller, 17 Mushroom Field, Kingston. Telephone 01273 472720.

KINGSTON WI: Grace Higgens, keeping house for the Bloomsbury set, by Helen Dudley. Few records by servants/housekeepers have been found; they were thought of little value so diaries kept by Grace Higgens, housekeeper at Charleston, were a wonderful research document for the writer Tessa Boase, our speaker. Grace was born in Barnham, Norfolk, one of seven children who left school with no prospects and was sent to work for the family of Vanessa Bell. In their summer home, Charleston, family and friends would meet, including her sister Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf Lytton Strachey, E M Forster and John Maynard Keynes; they became known as the Bloomsbury Set; an influential group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists.

The house was quite small, damp, with sloping floors and no electricity until WW2. With only one bathroom Grace and her family could use it once a week, on Fridays, while the family was eating dinner. In the late 1920’s the family went to the south of France and Grace learnt French. The family were interested to get to know the ‘lower classes’, they knew that the axis of power was shifting; that the working classes were coming. Grace wrote, ‘I think they are very strange people’. The family were involved in bed hopping and shrieking sexual horse play. Grace was chased round the kitchen and Vanessa’s sons had a crush on Grace as teenagers. Clive Bell, Vanessa’s husband was known as a lecherous old goat.

Grace, after first refusing, married Walter Higgens, a Jack of all trades. Vanessa was against Grace marrying as she would leave. They asked to move to the attic and Grace stayed as housekeeper. Walter was cruelly referred to as the dolt. When their son, John Peter was born she was expected to continue working which was difficult. She was promoted to be cook/housekeeper. In the 1950’s she bought a TV for the Coronation, got her own Passport, and bought a Hoovermatic washing machine. The family thought that Grace loved her work; she didn’t. After Vanessa died everything changed, Duncan’s social life meant a lot of work. Grace was now 65 years old and was fed up with extra work. Her son thought it was slave labour. Even a plaque commemorating her life got her date-of-birth wrong. In the 1970’s Grace and Walter moved to a chalet in Ringmer. Grace was an inveterate diarist. At her death in 1983 there were 44 diaries, now in the British Library.

WI business: There were two apologies. We were thanked for sending boxes to the Link to Hope charity. The treasurers report showed us in good financial health. March 25, a concert by the Ouse Valley Singers is at Kingston Church, £10. More singers are needed for our choir which meets Fridays, 4.30pm at Peggy’s house. March 23, Tap Dancing at 7.30pm and Pilates every Tuesday 2pm to 3pm both at parish hall. Craft club at the Pavilion 2pm to 4pm every Friday. March 30, a visit to Kwik-Fit, Hove. And a trip is being arranged in April to 2 Temple Place, London, to an art show, Sussex Modernism, free entry. Kingston WI is making up a basket to sell at the Federation Annual Meeting March 29 with a theme of Bees. The Kingston Quiz Team is due to be at Peacehaven on April 25.

Our April 6 meeting at the parish hall is Bring and Tell. Bring an object and tell us why it’s special.

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