Fate Steps In - A Love Story

Lily Wesley was a bright and beautiful young woman, petite and slim, with long curly black hair and vivid green eyes. Her passion was singing – she sang every Sunday in the Chapel Choir and dominated all the female solos. Her father, Pape Wesley, owned the family bakery in Wolverhampton. Lily was his eldest daughter and helped with deliveries.

‘The Mount’ was the local Manor House, owned by the Mander family a major manufacturer of paints. When their cook became ill, Pape Wesley was calledManders upon to make their bakery orders. The Manders decided that they loved his bread and continued to order it long after their cook resumed her duties.

So it was Lily’s responsibility to deliver to ‘The Mount’ early every morning (06:00 a.m.). Rain or shine, Lily would harness up the horse and trap and set off to the Mount, singing as she went. There the young Charlie Mander would hear her singing as she got closer and would often meet her for a chat and say how much he enjoyed her voice.

Later, when Sir Charles Mander was looking for someone to open the Founders Day Centenary celebrations by singing ‘Rule Britannia’, his son Charlie suggested Lily – and once Sir Charles had heard her sing, he agreed. He was so taken by Lily’s voice that he asked Pape Wesley if he could be allowed to pay for Lily to have professional singing lessons. Pape Wesley was taken aback, but agreed when he saw the joy on his daughter’s face. During the following months, both the horse and the choir heard the improvement in Lily’s voice.
The Grand Theatre in the town had just undergone a vast refurbishment – with many local families donating the money – including the Howard family (their donation paid for a huge chandelier in the centre of the auditorium – which is still there today). A gala evening was arranged for the opening and Lily was asked by Sir Charles to sing. She was loaned a necklace and an evening dress, of turquoise wild silk that complemented her figure, but insisted on wearing her mother’s silver earrings. Her hair was swept up with combs in the fashion of the times. She looked stunning and her mother Susan Wesley wept when she gave her a good luck kiss before the performance.

The curtains parted, the orchestra played the introduction to the ‘Jewel Song’ from Faust and Lily sang. You could have heard a pin drop! When she took her bow the whole house stood and applauded. Her second was ‘Oh, my beloved father’ for Pape. Again a standing ovation.

Three gentlemen were in awe. Pape Wesley, Sir Charles and Sidney Howard, the eldest son of the local Howard family who sat in the front row of the dress circle and knew from that moment that this was the girl he would marry.

Against all the opposition from his family, because she was a tradesman’s daughter, they did marry and lived a long and happy marriage. I am proud of my grand-parents and it has always been a privilege to know their story.

Sue Simmonds

‘The Mount’ is now a hotel. But little did I realize when I moved to Minchinhampton that there was a link to my past through ‘Owlpen Manor’ – that is now owned by a branch of the Mander’s family.