Remembering Norwich’s sweet Violet, taken by influenza 100 years ago
- Credit: Archant
Derek James tells the story of 'Sweet Vi' who died 100 years ago at the age of just 20 and is remembered thanks to a beautiful memorial in Norwich Cathedral
From early 1918 to late 1920 the 'Spanish Flu' a virulent strain of influenza killed more people worldwide than had died in the First World War.
Millions of people lost their lives including many otherwise healthy young adults and it was thought that it was spread by soldiers returning home to various countries following the war.
One of the young victims was Maud Violet Caroline Vaughan Morgan, known as 'Sweet Vi.'
Her statue stands in Norwich Cathedral.
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Just who was this young soul who lost her life at such a young age?
It was Andrew Hawkins of Norwich, former technical manager for Jarrold Printing, who took it upon himself to find out.
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'I first became aware of Violet one summer afternoon and seeing her lovely memorial, which stands in a corner of the north transept, illuminated as though by spotlight by a shaft of sunlight coming through the window opposite.'
Andrew set out on a journey of discovery and discovered that she was secretary to Bertram Pollock (1863-1943), Bishop of Norwich from 1910 to 1942.
'It was reported that they had more than more than just a working relationship and had she survived they could have married, despite the bishop being 35 years her senior,' said Andrew.
Sadly she contracted influenza and died on February 22, 1919. On the eve of her funeral her coffin laid overnight in the private chapel at the Bishop's Palace, and the following day she was laid to rest in the churchyard at Caistor St Edmund in a service at which Bishop Bertram himself officiated.
'My wife and I have visited the church in the hope of finding her grave, but to no avail as most headstones have at some time been removed,' said Andrew.
In 1921 Violet's parents, Penry and Evelyn Vaughan Morgan commissioned the eminent sculptor of the time, Francis Derwent Wood R A (1871-1926), whose best known work is the Machine Guns Corps memorial at Hyde Park Corner, to create the lovely statue of Violet which can be seen in Norwich Cathedral today.
'I believe the memorial was originally located in the cathedral's ambulatory, but it is said that at some point it was deemed to be not quite in keeping with the nature of the building and it was moved to its current location in a corner of the north transept, somewhat away from the main visitor route and positioned close to the wall so that the inscriptions could not be so easily read,' added Andrew.
On the back of the pedestal, And so close to the wall that a concerted effort must be made to see it, the inscription reads:
'In Caistor churchyard was laid to rest by Bertram Bishop of Norwich all that could die of Violet the lovely and beloved only child of Penry and Evelyn Arden Vaughan Morgan. Sweet Vi, who on February 22 1919 at the age of twenty years passed from this life to the life eternal.'
On the other side of the pedestal carried one of Violet's own poems, as follows:
'No voice shall break the glory of the stillness
Or touch the joy that our two soul's fulfils
And we shall see the splendour of the morning dawn on the hills.
The opposite side bears an excerpt from Wordsworth's famous poem The Prelude.
Her death was registered by her uncle on February 24 1919. The certificate records that she died at 3 Claremont Road, Norwich.
Many years later, in 1942, Violet's father, Penry Vaughan Morgan, a newspaper proprietor, wrote to the Master of Balliol College, Oxford, of which he himself was a former member, offering the sum of £10,000 on behalf of himself and his wife, for an English Literature scholarship in memory of their daughter.
The offer was accepted and a bronze medal, which would be awarded to each successful scholar, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1947.
One side bears a profile of Violet and on the other is the following inscription:
'This medal with its scholarship commemorates for the emulation of the holder the grace and the gifts of Violet Vaughan Morgan, an only child who died in 1919. God had made her, in face and form, in mind and heart, altogether lovely.'
As Andrew Hawkins, says so well: 'How sad, but how beautiful.'
Let's remember Sweet Vi.
As a retirement project Andrew Hawkins is putting together an entirely non-commercial website of 360-degree panoramas of places of interest in and around Norwich. It is well worth a look on www.norwich360.com