Noel and Molly Downing Wedding, 29 Jul 1919

The marriage of Noel Downing and Molly Evans held at St John the Baptist, Hagley took place on Tuesday 29 Jul 1919. It was a relatively hastily convened occasion in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. The engagement had been agreed on 24 Mar 1919 two days after Molly’s return from France.

The couple had already been neighbours in Hagley for 25 years from an age as young as 5. The events of the war and the loss of so many close friends that they shared in that childhood was a significant backdrop to the day. They seem to have talked about their possible engagement many times whilst both were on active service but held off announcing it until they were both safely back in England.

Noel and Molly Downing wedding, 29 Jul 1919

Noel and Molly Downing wedding, 29 Jul 1919

The pre-war marriages of Noel’s sisters May and Daisy had been fairly grand affairs but the photographs reveal a much smaller and less formal, if joyful occasion. The war had seen a number of hastily arranged marriages of friends taken in brief interludes of leave. Many of Noel’s school and University friends had been killed and Molly’s parents would have struggled to find solace in the wedding from their mourning of their only son Wilmot killed on the Somme in Jul 1916. Florence, Molly’s mother, was in poor health but was able to attend the wedding. She was evidently bed-ridden for most of the months leading up to the day of the ceremony and Molly recounts how she was much pre-occupied with a new nursing role. At one low point in her diary a few weeks before her wedding she describes her parents as a ‘decrepit pair’ .

The spring and summer of 1919 were evidently full of weddings. On 31 Mar Molly, along with neighbours Lyon Hatton and Joyce Reay (the couple themselves to marry a year later) went to ‘see’ Joyce’s brother Noel Reay’s new bride. Noel Reay was evidently keen to marry and Molly must have recalled the perturbing occasion that Noel Reay had proposed to her in a Taxi in the Pas de Calais in Mar 1918. Molly also mentions that it was Roy’s wedding day on Monday 7 July. This would be her cousin Roy Marten who had recently returned from military service abroad. Preoccupied with her own wedding and furnishing her new home she did not attend. Another wedding on 3 Jun 1919 was that of Noel’s sister May Williams, a young widow since 1910, who married John McKay Pringle. Molly went up to London for that. Finally there was the wedding of her close friend Rachel Wilson (Cadbury) on 24 Jun 1919 summarised in this one cursory phrase in her diary – “motored to Park Hall [Kidderminster]- amusing Dunkerque afternoon”

We can glean details of Molly and Noel’s own wedding from two sources – a small photograph book of the wedding itself and Molly’s own diary. The amateur photos shown here are all taken at the reception held at the Lawn, Hagley and were quite possibly mainly taken by Mary Downing, Noel’s youngest sister.

Phyllis, Molly’s sister, appears to have been the sole bridesmaid. We do not know who was the Best Man – it was possibly someone like Balfour Trotter, Fritz Dobbs or Trounsell Gilbert. Noel’s sister May Pringle was not there as she had left on a boat for India shortly after her marriage in June. The photos clearly show Noel’s other sister Daisy and her two children, Nancy and Jack. We know from other snippets that close friends Daisy Hatton and Kathleen Webster were there. There are no photos of Henry Evans, Molly’s father. The guest list was undoubtedly small. Molly states in her diary that she sent out wedding invitations on 15 July a mere fortnight before the event.

Here are the diary entries for the day itself:

29 July 1919

Up early. Read letters. Various people bring in presents & letters & bouquets. My own servant arrived. Masses of flowers. Daisy Hatton helping. Packing in morning, then talking in garden. Cutting in. Early lunch. Early at church!! Service safely over. Sunny garden. Photography! Motor to Hagley station. Carriage to ourselves. Oxford 7.30. Nervous. Noel a dear. Unpacked. Bed.

…and the honeymoon in Oxford:

30 July 1919

Fine & lovely. Wander round Oxford. Charming. Ordered punt. Lunch at hotel. Then Noel punted me up. Tea in farm on right in privet huts. Amusing. Lovely sunny afternoon. Many ‘easies’. ‘Rollers’ before 7.30. Bathing place busy. Back to hotel for dinner. Talking at night.

On 7 Aug after an idyllic summer week in Oxford, the couple went to London where they stayed at the Reubens Hotel. They now met up with a number of other relations who were not able to be at the wedding – notably Roy [Marten] and Hellier [Evans]. Hellier would be Charles Hellier Evans, the oldest son of her father’s brother, Charles Evans. On a hot summer Saturday evening in London Noel and Molly went to the theatre to see a performance of “His Little Widows”, a Broadway musical.

The newly weds returned from honeymoon to Birmingham on Sunday 10 Aug to their new address 16 Woodbourne Road, Edgbaston. Evidently servants were there already awaiting them and awaiting instructions about where furniture should go etc. The next day Monday 11 Aug 1919 it would appear Noel went off to work. Molly recalls the arrival of ‘Mother and Phyllis’ for lunch, the first visitors to the new home.

Last updated on 4 March 2021 by JJ Morgan