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A Visit to the Mumbles Haven

Emily M. Coombe

[The following comes from Coombe’s Footprints volume, and personalizes the cozy nest that Frances so enjoyed at the end of her life.]

A steam-tram skirting Swansea Bay for five or six miles, takes you speedily and very pleasantly right away from all the bustle and smoke, to the Mumbles, a small and beautifully clean country settlement on the shore. It is named from the bold, rocky headland and lighthouse running out into the sea, and forming the western boundary of Swansea Bay.

The Cosy Nest

It was here dear Frances stayed with her sisters many years ago, and such pleasant recollections did she retain of the grand coast scenery and quiet beauty of the inland villages, that in 1878, when looking for a "cosy nest" to retire to with her dear sister, she said "Marie, let us go to the Mumbles!" So they came, asking special guidance of the King as to the locality, and the house they should choose.

"That will not do, 'tis too grand," said dear F. R. H. when shown a sea-side villa; "I want a little nest, where you and I can be quiet and happy together!"

Up the hill, past a lovely view of the fine ruins of Oystermouth Castle, a mile away from the Mumbles, and overlooking the splendid rocks and inlets of Caswell and Langland Bays, there is a country lane called Caswell Bay Road, close to the village of Newton. A little way back from the road stands a small white house, with a pretty garden in front, filled with the bluest of forget-menots in summer, and a tiny green bower at the side. To this the sisters' steps were led, and having settled that it would be "just the thing!" they arranged with the good landlord and his wife to take their lodgings for the winter months.

The sisters found the small white house in the Caswell Bay Road, overlooking the Caswell and Langland Bays, such a dear little nest, and Frances so delighted in all around, that they stayed on.

Her tastes were simple but elegant. Not the least approach to luxury or self-indulgence was to be found in any of her surroundings. The breakfast-parlour, her own study and bedroom, were made as tastefully and prettily comfortable as the devoted love and ingenious thoughtfulness of her dear sister could make them. The traces of that loving heart and skilful hand were everywhere visible. But, though none admired elegance more or had prettier taste than Frances, it was hard work to make her submit to use anything for herself, if she had an idea it might be a source of pleasure or comfort to others. Her King's sceptre was indeed over everything, and all she was and had she placed so absolutely at His disposal that she called not aught she possessed her own.

The first room I went into was the parlour, with its low, bay-window opening into the garden. Here we have a lovely view. Across the lane and a few fields are the green downs upon the cliffs; beyond stretches the blue expanse of the Bristol Channel, and the faintly-outlined hills of Devon. On the parlour walls are dear homeportraits, and a few choice texts illuminated for them by loving hands. One specially (opposite the window), "Joy cometh in the morning," seems very appropriate to this room, into which the morning sun shone as they sat at breakfast. In a recess stands a wooden bracket, and on it a bust of Canon Havergal, beneath being placed a card with the words, "The Lord is risen indeed." Over the piano now hangs the beautiful lifelike enlarged photograph of F. R. H., in a carved oak frame, wreathed with ivy from the lanes she loved. Just beneath it, on a bracket, stands a silver cup, kept always full of sweet flowers.

Her Study

Then her study! Let me tell you how it looked that first evening when I was lovingly told that I might go in alone and quietly sit there. Everything in that sacred "chamber of peace" has been kept just as it was when she left it. All the brightness and repose of the house centre there, and instead of being a gloomily hushed room, unopened and unused, it is the one sweet spot of rest and praise to all her loved ones who have the privilege of quiet hours there.

I took the low chair in the window and sat down, trying to realize that I was actually in F. R. H.'s study. It seemed too sweet, too dream-like to be true. But with the next thought a shadow fell, and the light died out of my heart. She is not here! Without that bright presence, the little study seemed desolate as an empty, last year's nest. There stands her sofa, she could watch the sunsets over Caswell Bay as she lay on it. Beside it, the invalid-table from the old home, and on this, her father's large Bible, in which his own hand marked all his sermon texts. On the wall above it hangs her father's portrait, two of the exquisite Alpine sketches by her friend the Baroness Helga von Cramm, and her favourite Alpine cards. Beside the fireplace I see "The Day of Days Almanack" which F. R. H.'s own fingers nailed there. It is open where she left it, May, 1879. The text (they were all chosen by herself) for the day she last sat there is, "Peace I leave with you!" Small busts of Beethoven, Mozart, etc, stand on either side of the clock, and then specimen glasses of roses and forget-me-nots freshly sent from Oakhampton. Her writing table and the old chair from Astley Rectory are opposite the fireplace. Here, at her desk, she toiled in writing to the very last. Uncomplaining she worked on, allowing herself but little respite, if so she might keep abreast of the never-ebbing tide of letters. Dear patient one, it is all over now, as her sister so touchingly said to me, "In heaven there is no post!"

The table drawers, her desk, cupboard and shelves were kept in the most perfect order. Every letter, paper, manuscript, proof, had its allotted place, where it could be found at once without worry or waste of time. It taught me such a lesson! For dear F. R. H. was not naturally so neat and orderly. Her bright, quick, eager nature might easily have been allowed to lack that orderliness and method for which she was distinguished. How many busy workers, with not half the excuse dear Frances had, seem to think it quite pardonable for their rooms to be in the wildest confusion, causing endless loss of time to themselves and others! F. R. H.'s "full consecration" reached even to the drawers and shelves of her "workshop." It was her King's order, and she saw His "coat-of arms " upon everything she possessed.

At her left hand, as she sat at the table, stood her sweet-voiced harp-piano, raised upon the most cunningly-devised stand made by her own clever fingers out of a wooden box. It was covered with black American leather, neatly finished off with brass-headed nails, and divisions put in to hold her music books. At this instrument she used to sit and play, the sweetest melodies flowing from her fertile musical brain through those light fingers, with the true "Havergal touch."

Just over it hung two cards, "With my song will I praise Him," and "Complete in Him," framed, as she did so many, with a few straws, fastened at each corner by a large black bead. Above these was a water-colour sketch of Lynton. On the wall behind her table was a large engraving of the "Martyrs in Prison," which she called her "saintly picture." Her own Bishop "Ridley" was one of the figures. On either side are sketches by Mrs. Crane, of Astley Churchyard and Rectory, and in the centre a lovely illumination, "The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him." On the table lay her writing-desk, her precious Bibles, her Greek Testament, and Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Lexicon and a copy of "Paradise Lost," illustrated by Martin, were the only books she selected to keep out of her dear father's library. She sent all the rest of her share to her nephews, to whom she knew they would be most valuable.

Near the door, by the book-case, were her "Bruey Branch " motto, "For Jesus' sake only" and her own temperance pledge-card.

Walking About

Early in the morning dear M. V. G. H. took me to the cliffs overhanging the Bay, from which we had a grand sea view. This was one of dear Frances' favourite rambles, such an easy distance from home. She would sit in a sheltered nook, on the short downy grass, with the friendly sheep cropping it around, and listen to the musical splash of the waves as they break on the grey crags beneath.

It is a most beautiful as well as secluded spot. No wonder she said, "Marie, I do think the Mumbles 'A i."' The lanes are rich with a wealth of wild flowers, and there are trees of such size and foliage as are rarely found near the sea. How she revelled in the great starry primroses during that last sweet spring! They abounded on wayside bank and hedgerow and field. She would gather them with a child's delight and freshness, taking them to her poor people in the village, arranging them in water with her own tasteful hand.

Here, on the slope of a steep hill looking out towards the Channel, is the "east bank" of the village, the place were F. R. H. stood with her "temperance regiment" the last day she was out. Here it was the royal warrant from the King's palace reached her, and found her "about her Father's business." The village shop is close at hand, and when the chill mist crept up from the sea, and it became too damp and cold to stand in that exposed spot, she just moved to the steps leading to the shop, and there talked to the men and boys. Mrs. Lucas, the shopkeeper, will tell you she "never knew a lady like Miss F."

Visiting the People of the Village

Walking through the village, every house of which she visited, keeping a neat record of each family, how many faces brightened at the mention of her name! Each could tell some incident of the happy times when "dear Miss Frances" went in and out among them. We met good old Howels during our walk (the old man who said to Frances, "God has been particularly good to me "), and his first word, as he greeted M. V. G. H. with hearty love beaming in his face, was, "I've just been thinking of that verse, 'His greatness is unsearchable,' and how little even the angels in heaven know of it, and how much less do we!" Then he told me how "Miss Frances met him one day carrying a heavy burden, and she insisted on taking it from him, and carrying it herself until she could find a boy to do so!" I asked him to give me a text, and he said: "Well, Miss, I can't give you a better than this,' Out of His fulness have all we received.' You see 'tis His fulness, not ours; this makes him everything and us nothing,"

The village school owes very much to the ever watchful interest and practical help of the two other sisters. Frances would go in constantly and cheer the teacher's heart by bright loving words to herself and the children. She sat up late one night to finish making a frock for "Violet," one of the scholars. We went in on our way to the village, and found the hearts of the children still gratefully cherish the remembrance of her words and the texts and hymns she taught them. It was touching to hear them sing, "Jesus, I will trust Thee," to her tune "Hermas." On Sunday afternoon I had the privilege of speaking a few words to them in the Sunday-school, and afterwards of worshipping in that village schoolroom, as she always used to do at the Church service held there by the Vicar of the Mumbles every Sunday afternoon.

One dear child we came across one day, whom we found quite unexpectedly to be a star in F. R. H.'s crown. It seems she went to Sundayschool one afternoon, and fainted away. On recovery, at home, she said to her mother, "It was too much for me! Teacher said the very same words to me as Miss Frances had said, and I could not bear it." She is an earnest Christian child now, ever trying to get her young companions alone, and, with her arm around them, to win them to Jesus.

We called in to see a nice old woman, stone deaf, to whom dear Frances had ministered and been a blessing. We took her photograph to show to the old woman, and most touching it was to see her take it reverently in her toil-worn hands and kiss it again and again. Then she told me of F.'s last visit, taking her a bunch of primroses. "She put them in water her own self, in that mug there. Eh! but she was pretty, with her dancing curls!"

How truly does our dear one still live! To these simple people she is hardly "away," only gone "up higher," and the never ceasing ministry and loving care still bestowed upon them by her sister M. V. G. H. leads them on to "think of the meeting again!"

One lovely June evening we went for a long walk through green lanes, under shadowy trees, wading through flowery meadows gay with white "moon-daisies," yellow buttercups, blue and pink milk-wort, red and white campion, purple orchis, with here and there spikes of the rarer "butterfly" or " bee." Then, suddenly, a view of such beauty burst upon our gaze, that we fairly cried out with delight! This was "Bishopstown Valley," a wooded glen, through which runs a silvery stream, crossed by a rustic bridge. Of this lovely landscape the Baroness Helga von Cramm has made a sketch. The lanes are like a natural fernery. Every nook and crevice is filled with hart's-tongue fronds and polypody, mingled with graceful bracken and the small trichomenes, wall-rue, ceterach and adiantum-nigrum.

Another delightful excursion we had to "Penmaen,"the highest hill for miles around, through the villages of Bishopstown and Parkmill. The view from Gower Vicarage garden is beyond description. The white rocks of Three-cliff Bay, the blue sea dotted with wing-like sails, the rich green trees and cliffs in the foreground, and the hills of Ilfracombe and Lynton far away over the water, made a picture never to be forgotten.

F.R.H. Directory


Early Life and Conversion

All For Jesus

Bible Study and Devotional Life

Hymns and Quotations on Music and Art

Books of Frances Ridley Havergal

Quotations from Frances’ Letters

Longer Letters

The Later Years