• Nicola

Ida Mary Goshawk: Quite a good sort



The item in the photograph is a small silver case, almost falling apart really, inside there are bands of dark blue silk. Whether a cigarette case or a card case isn’t really clear. I have enjoyed researching Miss I M Goshawk and discovering her journey from tobacconist's daughter to wife of a lord socialising with ministers at 10 Downing Street.


Ida Mary Goshawk was born on 22 August 1890.[1] A few months later on 16 November her parents Edwyn and Elise Goshawk took her to be baptised at Ascension church in Balham.[2] On the 1891 census, Edwyn was a Tobacconist’s Assistant and they lived at 57 Ravenswood Road in Balham.[3] Ida had an older sister Elsie. There was also a 16-year-old servant, Elizabeth Lloyd.


In 1901 the family were living at 31 Rossiter Road, Streatham. The family had expanded to include a son called Frank. Elise’s mother was living with them, along with a boarder.[4]


In 1911 the family were living at 31 Elmfield Road, London.[5]


Ida worked in a canteen cooking and serving food for the early part of the First World War. Her brother Frank Roy enlisted in the army. He received a commission into the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment. He was wounded on 1 July 1916 at the Somme.[7]


In 1917, Ida applied to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps but was rejected as she was teaching at the time.


In 1918 Ida applied to become an officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.[8] Her service record survives in the National Archives and provides some interesting insight into her character. She was interviewed by a board of 4 women. In their concluding remarks they noted: “The board did not like her at all at first, but she improved very much afterwards, and might be quite good.” There is also a physical description: Ida was described as 5 foot 3 ¾ inches, dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion.


A report after 10 days of training described her as “Noisy and thoughtless: quite a good sort. Seems childish but might show up better under responsibility.” Shortly after this another report noted an improvement “Has improved distinctly in manner. Would make quite a good junior officer with further training or under a good head. Is at present rather apt to stick to her opinions; these require to be widened.”


On 22 May she was appointed as Assistant Principal at Cardiff working under Anna Buchanan Maclennan


In June 1918 when Cardiff was inspected the officer wrote “Miss Goshawk I liked; she strikes one as being very straight and honest. She might be a bit brusque, but Miss MacLennan will check that, and she has a fine enthusiasm for her work and her Chief; they evidently pull very well together.”


In December 1918, Ida was recommended from promotion by Miss MacLennan:

“…she has steadily been taking increasing responsibility. She is a most energetic, keen and capable officer and has done much good work here. Owing to the fact that Miss Goshawk is left in entire charge during my frequent absences on duty, and that an officer who knows the work and local conditions as she does is indispensable for this purpose, it is respectfully submitted that the promotion of this officer may be approved with her re-appointed to Cardiff.”


Ida was duly promoted to Deputy Principal at Cardiff and she remained this rank until her discharge from the WRNS on 4 October 1919.


The next time Ida appears in online records is on 21 January 1926 when she sailed on the SS Ausonia from Southampton to New York. She stated that the reason for travel was ‘research’. Her ticket was paid for by the J Walter Thompson Company of 244 Madison Avenue, Manhattan which was an advertising agency. Perhaps she had a job interview. On 3 February she arrived in New York.[9]


244 Madison Avenue, New York City

She arrived back in the UK, landing at Liverpool on 29 March 1926 on SS Regina.[10]


On 30 November 1929, Ida married Norman Craven Brook, a civil servant, twelve years her junior at St Mary the Boltons church.[11] On her marriage certificate her age was given as 35 when she was actually 39. Her old chief, Anna Buchanan Maclennan, now married and called McIver was one of the witnesses.


Norman Craven Brook by Howard Coster, 1943 NPG x3182

On 29 September 1939, Norman and Ida were living at 9 Thistle Grove in Chelsea.[12]


Norman Brook had entered the civil service in 1925 and he would work in high government circles until his retirement in 1962. Described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “a personal confidant and adviser to successive prime ministers, and was particularly influential under Churchill and Macmillan” but on a personal level: “Discreet, impersonal, politically neutral, highly intelligent, immensely hard-working, devoted to duty—Brook's mastery of the role of a professional British civil servant was complete. He was tall and physically impressive in appearance, with an unhurried and unruffled style. He could seem very formal, ‘buttoned-up’, and ‘official’ in his manner, real friendship developing with only a few intimates, though many colleagues point to a quiet, restrained, and dry sense of humour. He lived quietly with his wife in Chelsea, relaxing by playing golf and by practising his hobby of carpentry (he had to endure many jokes about 'cabinet-making'—which had actually been his grandfather's occupation).”[13]


In 1963 Brook became Baron Normanbrook of Chelsea, and Ida became Lady Normanbrook. Friendships with prime ministers continued and the visitor’s book for their home 11 The Vale in Chelsea must contain some interesting signatures. Macmillan remained a friend and in letters addressed her as “Goss”. [14] Normanbrook was one of the pall bearers at Winston Churchill's funeral.


Normanbrook died at home, 11 The Vale, Chelsea on 15 June 1967 and was described by the Daily Mirror as the “man who knew the secrets of four prime ministers.”