Today is Swiss National Day, so it seems appropriate to feature these 2 cowbells, more items of Auntie’s which hold fond memories for me. The cowbells would be rung to call us in for meals when we were out playing in Derwen’s vast gardens. They would also tinkle to wake us for breakfast in the mornings, often accompanied by the family chant from one of my brothers: “Wakey wakey, rise and shine, breakfast’s ready and I want mine!” And down the dark wooden stairs we would tumble, to a breakfast of cornflakes with the freshest Jersey cream poured from a blue and white striped ceramic jug.
I vaguely recall knowing that the cowbells came from Switzerland – Mum or Auntie herself must have told me – and the scraps of paper in the above photo give further clues. They are pages from a notebook written by Auntie’s mother Hephzhibah Watson, recording a “Journey to Lucerne”. The first and last pages are missing so I don’t know the date of this journey, although Hephzibah’s accounts of their long walks and mountain hikes suggest that she is much younger and sprightlier than she was on their journeys to Africa and the Caribbean in the 1920s. Sure enough, this incident in their hotel dining room confirms the date to be pre-1901:
“Just before we left the table an American gentleman got up & proposed a toast, ‘The Queen of Great Britain & Empress of India.’ He made an awfully nice little speech. Three cheers were given, the toast was drunk, & ‘God save the Queen’ was sung with great gusto. We thought it nice of an American to do such a thing.”
Hephzibah is enchanted by the spectacular Swiss scenery, her pen gushing with delight about the views: “snow peak on snow peak, one behind the other for such a distance. It was like looking into another world. It was most lovely.” The renowned artist Herbert Moxon Cook and his wife are staying in the room next to theirs, and invite them to look at his sketches of local scenes; perhaps the Swiss paintings which I remember from Derwen were his. The Watsons visit the local sights, such as the Lion of Lucerne monument, Treib chalet and (William) Tell’s Platte, and observe local customs such as Corpus Christi on June 1st:
“We were awakened at 5 o’c by the canon firing 12 times. Again at 6, & 6.30. We had our breakfast at 8 o’c & went down to the front of the cathedral to see the procession arrive. At 9.30 it came along. Headed by about a dozen soldiers, then hundreds of little girls in white with white wreaths. Then hundreds of older girls still in their first communion dresses. A great many women of all ages & classes, and nuns. Then came hundreds of boys & men & a number of Capuchin monks & then, bringing up the rear, the Archbishop, under a canopy. As he passed all the Roman Catholics fell on their knees. All these carried rosaries, & all excepting the very young children carried lighted candles. They went into the cathedral & had a service with Gregorian music.”
Bells feature more than once in this short 11-page extract of the journal. in Lucerne, writes Hephzibah:
“We have a beautiful room with a balcony fitted with sun blind, lounge chairs & table. And there is such a view. Across the lake to Pilatus, over 7,000 ft high & covered with snow. There is quite a long range of snow covered ones from this to the Rigi, which Mab sees from her window, to the left of us. We look down on the town, too. Just below us is the Roman Catholic Cathedral which has a most musical Bourdon bell. I find myself often listening for it, it is so rich & beautiful.”
After 2 weeks the family take a boat across the Lake of Lucerne, and arrive in Engelberg after a dramatic, but “wonderful” train journey:
“First of all we had half an hour between orchards & fields, with the river Aa a perfect torrent at our side. Then we began to rise & rose 3,340 feet to Engelberg. We seemed to be climbing up the wall of a house it was so frightfully steep. We could not stand in the carriage without clinging to something, & looking out of the window, one looked down a sheer precipice, which almost made one nervous, for there was nothing to save the train from rolling right over if anything should go wrong, no wall or anything. And the scenery was magnificent!!! Woods & mountains on either side, & such flowers & ferns! We were all amongst the snow now & the thermometer ran down 10 deg. in the carriage in no time, & we ceased mopping our faces. It was delightful to feel the cool air stealing in, it was like drinking a most refreshing draught. We had a very heavy thunder shower which we also enjoyed. I hung my hands out of the carriage window to catch the cooling drops.”
The following morning, at the Hotel Engel, she is “awakened at 4.30 by the herds of cows with their bells passing the house. It was such a sweet, musical noise.” I like to think this was what inspired her to buy the Swiss cow bells as a souvenir – along with the pictures, like this one, that I remember from Derwen.
Or perhaps the cowbells came from Lausanne, like this miniature bell charm. I didn’t even know it was engraved until my friend’s micro-photo lens picked it up – the charm is only a few millimetres long:
I have also found a very old photograph album in the archives, with some very Swiss-looking scenes. This one, surely, must be from their walk to the “End of the World”, described by Hephzibah as “a lovely walk all through meadows & past pretty Swiss chalets, which are so picturesque, & gradually ascending all the way”.
Picturesque indeed. Happy Swiss National Day!