My grandfather’s cousin Mabel Zoe Watson – variously known as Mabs, Watty, Auntie Babbie, or, to us, simply Auntie – was deeply religious. One way in which she expressed her Christian faith was to live frugally and give away most of her considerable wealth to charity. This well-thumbed King James Bible bears a dedication to her from one of the grateful recipients of this charity, the Shaftesbury Society (now renamed Livability):
It reads: “Presented to Miss Mabel Watson on the occasion of the Dedication of the School Chapel, given by her in memory of her parents and brother, to the Russell-Cotes Home, Parkstone with the grateful appreciation of the Council of the Shaftesbury Society & R.S.U., London. September 1st 1927”. An Order of Service from the dedication ceremony is also enclosed:
The Russell-Cotes Home and School of Recovery was later taken over by the Barnardo’s charity and run as a nautical school. Auntie was most distressed to learn that her chapel had been de-consecrated and put to another use. Her brother had died young in a riding accident after emigrating to Australia, and this chapel was her memorial to him and to her parents. The beautifully illustrated Bible has clearly been well-used and is full of her notes from Bible study, and newspaper cuttings.
It was not unusual for Auntie’s largesse to result in whole building projects like this one. She had a particular interest in the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (now Sightsavers), having looked after her blind father for many years. When she died in 1972, the legacy she left them in her will enabled them to build their new headquarters in Haywards Heath. My mother, who was her executor, was told that she would be invited to represent Auntie at the opening ceremony, but the invitation never came. As my parents were active members of the Communist party and had been told by a friend who worked for the Post Office that their phone was being tapped, she assumed this was the reason for the change of heart. A royal patron would have been present at the ceremony and it would be unthinkable to have a Communist in the same room!