Ethel Mary Downing

Ethel Mary Downing was born on 13 Apr 1883 the third daughter of William Edmund Downing and his wife Hannah Pitt Showell. She was always known by her second name as Mary and spent all her life in the West Midlands in and around Hagley and Kidderminster. 

Mary Downing (l) with her parents and possibly Aunt Mary Taunton (c), 1913. Taken by Eustace Taunton

Mary Downing (l) with her parents and possibly Aunt Mary Taunton (c), 1913. Taken by Eustace Taunton

It seems likely she attended Edgbaston High School (founded 1876) together with her friend Eleanor Welch.

In the years before the First World War, we know she was an active suffragist being secretary of the Stourbridge Society. During the war she was a nurse working in a number of hospitals latterly in Ilkeston in Derbyshire. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal at Buckingham Palace for these services in 1918. Like many of her generation she did not marry, at least not until June 1934, when she was 51. Her eventual husband’s name was Walter Simpson that made her Mrs Simpson at an auspicious time. The marriage was extremely short lived as Walter died on honeymoon in Scotland on 2 Jul 1934.

Some of the First World War letters we have between Noel Downing, Molly Evans and Wilmot Evans suggest that she was particularly close to Wilmot. There was certainly a solidarity between the predicament of two pairs of brother and sister who had all been brought up as next door neighbours in Hagley. The Downings lived at Elm Lodge and the Evans’, next door, at The Lawn.

As Mary never had any children we have some of her possessions including at least three books of photographs. These contain pictures recounting her friends in Hagley, her visits to the Beacon and her visit abroad to Holland in 1908. She possessed an early hand held camera and some of her earliest efforts date from about 1897 onwards right up until the early 1920’s.

She was a keen artist and a folio of her paintings survives.

Her Writing Box contains a number of fascinating letters from the First World War.

Mary died on 3 Jun 1966 a few months after her brother Noel. The inventory of her list of possessions distributed from her estate is interesting. She seems to have accumulated a number of items that came direct from Beacon Lodge and other Downing heirlooms.


  • There are not many good likenesses of Mary as she was so often the photographer and not the subject of the many Downing family photos in our possession. The above example is perhaps the best one of her taken by her first cousin Eustace Taunton. Eustace, who became a Doctor, was the second son of her Aunt Mary Showell and Richard Arthur Prior Taunton.
Last updated on 4 November 2021 by JJ Morgan