Emily Elizabeth EMPEY (1863-1947)
Emily Elizabeth Empey (1863-1947) was the former governess of Mrs Helen Lees-Milne (née Bailey) of Wickhamford Manor. She was a stalwart of the church, which shared the same Vicar as Badsey and, along with Mrs Drysdale and Mrs Lees-Milne, was one of the main people in Wickhamford helping in the war effort on the home front.
Emily was born on 28th September 1863 at Queen’s County, Ireland. Probably in the 1890s, Emily and her older sister, Maria, moved to Scotland. This may have been when Emily became governess to the young Helen Bailey (born 1884) and her sister, who had been orphaned in 1896 following the death of their mother (their father had died in 1889). In 1901, both Emily and Maria were employed as a governess in the home of William and Jane Morrison in Ayrshire. The Morrisons may have been “the rich relations in Scotland”, mentioned in James Lees-Milne’s biography, whom Helen and her siblings went to live with after the death of their parents. Whilst Helen Bailey was not resident in the household on census night 1901, it is possible she may have been away at finishing school at the time.
Emily moved to Pitchers Hill (present-day No 10), Wickhamford, in 1908, along with her older sister, Maria. Emily’s former young charge, Helen, had married George Crompton Lees-Milne in 1904 and they had bought Wickhamford Manor in 1906. From 30th November 1908, Emily began renting the Wickhamford house. It came with just over an acre of land and, at the time of the 1911 census, both Emily and her sister were working as market gardeners on their own account.
In his book, Another Self, James Lees-Milne, when talking about Wickhamford Church, says of Emily: “Within the chancel, practically hidden from view, were two benches along the south wall facing the monuments and the harmonium. They were reserved for the choir, which consisted of Emily Empey, my mother’s old governess, wrapped in a fawn teddy-bear coat and distant sanctity, and …..”
Miss Empey, or possibly her sister, was obviously a big lady. May Sladden, in a letter of 4th June 1914, when commenting on her younger sister being sent the wrong size combinations, wrote: “Poor Betty’s combies came and were sent direct to her, but she has returned them to us saying they might fit the big Miss Empey!”
In 1939, her sister having died the year before, Emily was living in the home of Bertha Drysdale. Emily died at Wickhamford on 1st January 1947 and was buried in the churchyard five days later.