Looking back 100 years to a post-war Suffolk wedding that captured public imagination
PUBLISHED: 13:53 05 November 2019
In the aftermath of war 100 years ago, Holywells in Ipswich was the joyful setting for a wedding for a well known Suffolk family | Words: Jane Dismore
On October 22 1919, the first peaceful year since the end of the First World War, the bells of St Clements Church, Ipswich rang out joyfully to herald a significant wedding.
Large crowds gathered in the afternoon sunshine to watch the arrival of the bride whose family had been associated with the church and the town for nearly 200 years.
Nineteen-year-old Pamela Cobbold was the youngest of three children of John Dupuis Cobbold, head of the brewing family that had brought its business to Ipswich in 1746.
In those days Thomas Cobbold and his family lived at Cliff House (later the Brewery Tap) by the River Orwell, where he built the first Cliff Brewery and used for his beer the spring waters of Holywells.
Today, its grounds are enjoyed as a public park, and although the mansion Thomas's grandson built there was demolished in 1962, some outer buildings have been painstakingly restored.
Pamela was the last Cobbold to be born at Holywells, something her father did not anticipate as he led his beloved daughter from the house to the waiting carriage.
The beautiful floral arrangements adorning St Clements were provided by the Cobbolds' head gardener, Mr Davis, whose "flowers of various hues" set amid "waving plumes of pampas grass" attracted many compliments.
He must have been relieved. He had been working under the unerring eye of Pamela's mother, Lady Evelyn Cobbold, an aristocrat and knowledgeable gardener, who enjoyed growing exotic plants in her orangery at Holywells.
At the church, Charles Hambro, aged 22, scion of the merchant banking dynasty, waited nervously for "the most wonderful, beautiful girl in the world" to arrive. As a tall, handsome schoolboy, he had met Pamela through his friend, her brother John Murray 'Ivan' Cobbold. After war broke out, aged 18 they joined their families' regiments, Ivan the Scots Guards, Charles the Coldstream Guards.
Pamela was close to her brother and feared she would lose both him and her dear friend Charles, who begged her to write to him while he was away. Gradually, their letters changed from jokey humour between friends to something deeper, and he saw her on the few occasions he was home on leave.
In 1917 Charles was awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the battle of Passchendaele. He eventually came home in May 1919.
Theirs was a short engagement. During one of his leaves, Pamela had lent him a two-shilling piece for a taxi and, as he told her later, "That was the night I really knew!" She accepted his proposal straight away. "Thank God for giving us this," she wrote.
Her best friend and now chief bridesmaid, exuberant Angy Tollemache, from another brewing family, would miss her. They had planned to buy a farm together in Canada, for which Pamela had been saving her wartime wages from local firm Ransomes.
Pamela was also helped in her preparations by her new sister-in-law, for there had been another Cobbold celebration on April 30, when Ivan married Lady Blanche Cavendish, daughter of the 9th Duke of Devonshire.
Theirs was another short betrothal. The war, in which Ivan was wounded, had reminded people of the preciousness of life and the need to make the most of it. Pamela was a bridesmaid, along with Blanche's sister, Dorothy, who would marry Harold Macmillan.
After the wedding at the Guards' Chapel in London, a reception was held at glorious Lansdowne House, a home of Blanche's mother. Ivan and Blanche returned to Suffolk where he had joined his family's business, living first at Sutton Hoo and later Glemham Hall, where they raised their family of four.
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Their two sons would become known as 'the football brothers', walking in Ivan's footsteps in their commitment to Ipswich FC.
Meanwhile, at St Clements Church, Pamela walked calmly down the aisle on her father's arm, attended by two young pages and seven bridesmaids in apricot satin. Her Italian-designed dress was of white and silver brocade, with a diamond girdle passing loosely round the waist, one end caught up on her shoulder at the back.
Her long veil was secured by a wreath of orange blossom and her jewellery was simple, a pearl necklace and the Coldstream Star of Charles's regiment. A bouquet of lilies and white heather completed her outfit. Blanche was worried that one of the pageboys who was recovering from whooping cough might be sick down Pamela's train. Fortunately he was fine.
The Bishop of Edmundsbury and Ipswich conducted the ceremony in which the congregation sang well loved hymns such as Fight the Good Fight, made all the more poignant by memories of the war and the absence of those who had not returned.
Pamela and Charles made their vows standing on a white rug at the front of the altar and signed the register to the singing of Miss Ivy Lush from the Royal Opera House. Mendelssohn's Wedding March played as they left the church and passed underneath the crossed swords of the guard of honour of Charles's regiment.
Everyone enjoyed a lavish reception at Holywells, where the newlyweds posed for pictures inside the orangery. Guests came from a diverse mix of business, aristocracy and the arts, including artist the Hon Marion Saumarez, whose family owned Shrublands Park, and the Tollemaches of Helmingham Hall, who would later join with their old friends to form Tolly Cobbold.
Budding politicians mixed with war heroes, including Lord Cranworth, who had won both the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre, and Mr and Mrs Chevallier, close relations of Lord Kitchener and of the Cobbolds.
A Kodak camera and a travelling watch were among the gifts, reflecting the couple's desire to travel. A crocodile skin writing case, and a seal and musquash coat reflected the era. A silver biscuit barrel from Pamela's sister, Winifred, went well with Ivan and Blanche's silver kettle and stand.
Pamela, never one for dressing up, nevertheless looked forward to wearing her new jewellery at one of Charles's business functions, for he would be joining his family's bank. As Pamela and Charles began their honeymoon at Rannoch Lodge on her father's Scottish estate, Ivan and Blanche looked forward to their first child, expected the following May. Such hopeful beginnings - but nothing lasts forever.
John Dupuis Cobbold and Lady Evelyn separated in 1922. After his death in 1930 the Holywells estate was sold, although the brewery continued to flourish. Ivan's death came during the Second World War on June 18, 1944, when a doodlebug fell on Guards Chapel, where he and Blanche had just celebrated their silver wedding. Pamela and Charles enjoyed a happy marriage and four children.
At Holywells today, on the lawns where the Cobbolds hosted summer parties, in the orangery where the newlyweds kissed a century ago, and in the stable block where Pamela kept the horses she loved to ride, there remains a sense of the vitality of a family who for generations were part of the fabric of Suffolk.
Jane Dismore is author of The Voice From the Garden: Pamela Hambro and the Tale of Two Families Before and After the Great War (long listed for the New Angle Prize 2013). More on this and her other books at janedismore.com