Joyce Lankester Brisley (1896-1978)

Lucy Mangan wrote an introduction for the Pan Macmillan edition of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, highlighting Joyce Lankester Brisley’s aversion to publicity. At one point in her life, two of Joyce’s pictures were accepted by the Royal Academy. In response to a journalist’s request for an interview, she immediately telegraphed that she “would be out”.

The home in Bexhill-on-Sea where she had started life lay so close to the sea that, when there was a very high tide, waves washed into the garden. Her mother was a homemaker who enjoyed drawing and painting. Joyce and her sisters, Eth and Nina, took the train to their evening classes at Hastings School of Art.

At the time of their parents’ separation, Joyce recorded in her diary, in French, that their father wanted his family to leave the house. While Joyce and Nina were finishing their last term at art school, Eth had found the tiny flat in Brixton where the four of them would live.

An uncle agreed to pay the fees for Joyce and Nina to attend Lambeth School of Art full time for two years. In 1913, they moved to a house with a large room that the three sisters could use as a studio. As food became more scarce with the outbreak of war in 1914, their mother spent more time seeking out meat and vegetables.

In her diary, Joyce wrote about drawing advertisements for Cherry Blossom boot polish and Mansion floor polish. She described a German bombing raid in September 1916 which drove them downstairs for safety in the middle of the night.

In 1917, Joyce records, Nina daringly wanted to cut her hair short, and Eth longed to. Joyce said of herself, “I couldn’t – it wouldn’t suit me well at all”. Shortly after her twenty first birthday, she was able to have a room of her own – “My longing for years and years.”.

In 1918 they moved again, to a house with a larger studio. Of her first Milly-Molly-Mandy story, which appeared in October 1925, Joyce remarked that it came to her “when the sun was shining and I longed to be out in the country instead of sitting indoors all day, earning a living…”.

She recorded that:

“…boys and girls began writing letters to the paper, to the editors and to Milly-Molly-Mandy herself, wanting to know more about her, asking, Could she come for a holiday by the sea? Could she have a baby sister to take out riding in the pram? (She couldn’t, as she was an “only” child, but little-friend-Susan could, and did.) Some of the letters enclosed foreign stamps for Billy Blunt’s collection (so generous!). One boy wrote all the way from Australia to tell me that “Father” was shown digging with his wrong foot on the spade (for it seems the left foot is the right foot for digging with!). I wrote back to thank him and promised to alter the drawing before it went into a book – as you may see I did, for it’s nice to get things quite correct.”.

From the Bexhill Observer of 9th January, 1937:

“Mr. George Brisley, one of the last links with Bexhill’s business life in the eighties, died last Friday night at his home, High Pear Tree, Peartree Lane. He was 82 years of age.

An illness last April had taxed his strength, but he was confined to his bed for only a day before his death.

Fifteen years ago Mr. Brisley retired to his bungalow home in the High Woods after a busy life spent in ministering to the ills and ailments of a growing population. Coming to Bexhill in 1886 he commenced business as a chemist in Station Road when Bexhill had hardly emerged from the village stage. To keep pace with its rapid development, he moved later to Marina, and for a long period he performed a useful honorary public service by keeping the town’s meteorological records.

He served for a time on the Local Board and was the last surviving member of Bexhill’s first local governing authority. He did not seek election to either of the bodies which succeeded it.

Up to the beginning of last year Mr. Brisley was able to boast that he did not have a single pain, and he was seen quite frequently on foot in Little Common and Bexhill, where his remarkable likeness to Mr. George Bernard Shaw, the famous playwright, involved him in some amusing experiences. He was a lover of literature and possessed an extensive library.

A number of sympathisers, including Councillor F. B. Wimshurst, attended the funeral at the Borough Cemetery on Tuesday. The Rev. G. W. Standish, rector of St. Mark’s, Little Common, officiated.

Mrs. Brisley (widow) was unable to attend, and the immediate mourners were: Miss Ethel C. Brisley, Miss Joyce L. Brisley and Mrs. Alan Talbot (daughters), Mr. Frank Brisley (nephew) and Captain De Bock Brisley.

The funeral arrangements were conducted by Mr. J. P. Mummery, of Devonshire Road.

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