I came across this book during a visit to the Wellcome Medical Library (a repository of fantastic stores of weird info) and had to order it. It is one of those exquisitely researched volumes by a gentleman scholar giving vent to a personal passion. I have not managed yet to discover the reasons behind Gathorne Hardy’s passion for nannies but it has led to the creation of an absolute gem. Well worth a read!
EXTRACT FROM: Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy 1993 The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny London: Weidenfeld, pp 157-8.
Occasionally, criminals were for a short time Nannies. They will once or twice slip wickedly in and out of this book or for a brief moment lurch, usually drunk, across its pages. One such was Nanny Joan, Nanny to the McSorley children before the Second World War. She was large and jolly, with a big loose mouth and a line in coarse, vulgar phrases. Veronica McSorley said they knew the phrases – ‘Shut up’, ‘belt up’, ‘button your lip’ – were coarse because their mother would shudder and then take Nanny Joan outside and reprimand her. Nanny Joan terrified and dominated Mrs McSorley, who was a frail woman and often unwell. She could not bring herself to sack her, disliked her, yet was fascinated by her. One summer she escaped with her husband to Juan-les-Pins, leaving Nanny in sole charge. Never exactly inhibited, Nanny Joan now blossomed. Veronica remembers how, evening after evening, she would tell the children about an illegitimate baby she had had and then, led on by association and becoming stimulated, would describe in great detail numerous other sexual exploits which, though they didn’t understand, excited them. She also systematically ransacked the house. Veronica remembers how she would come into a room to find Nanny Joan going through the drawers, setting valuable and disposable objects to one side. She would look up, smile her ‘red lipped huge smile’ and calmly conduct the little girl out of the room. On top of this, she ran up enormous bills. Wisely, just before the McSorleys returned from Juan-les-Pins, she packed her bags and left. Later they found out that she was an ex-convict from Holloway, sentenced for theft and ‘improper practices’. They also learnt that she was supposed to have been a lesbian.