Margery Williams’ Childhood

Before the tragic deaths of her father and sister, Margery Williams had an enchanted Victorian childhood in England. She wrote about those days in her book, Bright Morning, published in 1942, just two years before her death.

She writes of the thrill of hearing the tune of the organ grinder and his monkey as they played in front of her house in Barnes, London; of being surprised to see Queen Victoria in her carriage on High Street while shopping with Nanny; of her Papa who tossed his still-burning match into Mama’s beautiful new wickerwork wastebasket lined with blue muslin and, after he had stomped out the fire and ruined the basket, promptly bought a hammered brass fern pot, declaring, “That’s my idea of a sensible wastepaper basket.”


Margery’s book is full of charming stories. But perhaps my favorite scene in the book is about a day at the sea when the sisters go swimming. But they do not run or wade into the water. This is the late 1800’s, and for females, swimming involved something I confess I did not know existed—the bathing machine. Here is how Margery describes these contraptions:

“They were little wooden houses on wheels, painted white and blue. Each had a front door with a number on it, and three wooden steps to climb up by. Inside there was a bench on either side, with pegs above to hand one’s clothes on, and a very small window high up in the wall.

Nanny did not bathe, but she helped the children out of their clothes and into their bathing dresses, which were of blue serge trimmed with rows of white. ” ‘ Old on tight, please,” and he hitched his horse to the bathing machine … and pulled them down to the edge of the water.

…the bathing machine bumped and lurched like a drunken ship …. Presently the jolting stopped … and when Nanny opened the door there was the sparkling sea all around them and the three wooden steps leading down into clear green seawater.”