Joyce Lankester Brisley was born on 6th February, 1896. She was the second of three daughters of George Brisley, a pharmacist of Bexhill on Sea, Sussex, and his wife Mary Constance, who had married in Cambridge in 1884.
Ethel Constance was their firstborn, while Nina Kennard was a year younger than Joyce. All three sisters attended evening classes at Hastings School of Art. By the time the girls were in their teens, Ethel was exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and Joyce and Nina were contributing illustrations to Home Chat.
George was born in Ash, Kent, in 1854. Mary was born in Chelsea in 1862. Her father died in 1870; when the 1871 census was taken, she was living in an orphanage in Halifax, which may have been run by a relative.
The Brisleys divorced in the summer of 1912, and Constance Brisley moved with her three daughters to a small flat in Brixton. Joyce and Nina enrolled at Lambeth School of Art that autumn. They tried to overcome the loss of their father’s income by earning a living from writing stories, and illustrating Christmas cards and children’s annuals. All three sisters illustrated postcards for the publisher Alfred Vivian Mansell & Co.
The family were dedicated Christian Scientists, and when they moved to Barons Court in 1918, a contact at their local church encouraged Joyce and Nina to submit stories and drawings to the Christian Science Monitor, published in America.
Joyce’s first story of Milly Molly Mandy, the little girl in the above illustration, appeared in the magazine in October 1925; she drew on frequent trips to the countryside for background detail. The stories grew in popularity, and George G Harrap published the first collection (five more would follow), Milly Molly Mandy Stories, in the UK in 1928.
In Milly Molly Mandy Has a Surprise, she finds that the little room in the eaves that was used for storing jam has been made into a bedroom for her. The walls are of primrose yellow, the curtains, coverlet, and dresser are apple green, and there is a yellow pot of nasturtiums on the window sill.
Nina, who illustrated Elinor Brent Dyer’s celebrated Chalet School series, married in 1933.
George Brisley died on 1st January, 1937. His last address was High Peartree Wood, Bexhill.
The 1939 electoral register showed Constance, Ethel, and Joyce living at 23, Bolton Gardens, Kensington.
Constance died on 7th July, 1947. Her last address was 2a, South Lodge, Ham Common, Richmond on Thames. Ethel died in 1961.
Joyce died at Limpsfield, Surrey, on 20th September 1978, just a few months after Nina. A few months before Joyce’s life ended, she gave an interview to June Factor (an Australian teacher and author who was born in Poland).
Joyce told June that, following the move from Bexhill to Brixton, “it was bread and margarine for a good many years”. When she first sent a parcel of Milly-Molly-Mandy stories to George Harrap & Co., the editors thought the stories insignificant and unexciting. “But the founder of the company, George Harrap, disagreed. “Milly-Molly-Mandy will be like a good roast,” he said. “Dripping slowly.” “.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) wrote in A Room of One’s Own (1929): “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”.