Frances Gilbert’s Story of Courtship
… When I received the invite to my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in January 1950, I was told by my aunt that I would be sat beside two eligible young men.
Hailing from a poor family in London’s East End and aged just 18, I enlisted the help of my best friend’s mum to make a suitable outfit for the occasion to be held in the ballroom of the Regal Cinema along the Finchley Road.
As was tradition at the time, guests were subjected to a lavish three course tea which included sandwiches and cakes before the reception and meal began but no sooner had I arrived in my full-length white gown than I had spilt my drink everywhere.
While drying myself off and combating my embarrassment I noticed a young man walk past.
He was very handsome but he looked quite young and he had another girl on his arm so I didn’t think anything of it.
But later, when sat down for the evening meal, I found myself next to this girl who in turn was next to the man I had earlier noticed.
He was meant to be sat next to me. But it transpired that a week before the Bar Mitzvah his brother had gotten married and while inebriated he had agreed to take this girl to the party with him. But when he sobered up he didn’t want to anymore and nearly didn’t come.
Nevertheless I struck up a conversation with Leslie and we spent most of the night getting to know one another.
I had wanted him to ask me to dance because there was a chemistry between us. And when it came to the last Waltz my ex sister-in-law asked his lady friend to dance because she realised Leslie wouldn’t ask me if she was alone.
At the end of the evening, he asked me for my telephone number, but without a phone at home, I gave him my work details.
Having lost my number, a determined Leslie phoned the offices where I volunteered and they gave him my address. Soon after I received a letter from Leslie and we arranged a date.
Nobody had cars in those days so we met at the station. Then we went to have a meal and saw a film at the cinema.
A few weeks later I was invited to meet his mother at their home in West Hampstead and soon after my mother asked to meet him. She used to say ‘if he’s good enough to go out with he’s good enough to bring home’.
But just four weeks into our relationship my mum, who had raised me alone for most of her life after my father died and my brother was killed in the war, asked me what his intentions were.
I was horrified. How could you expect to base a whole lifetime on four weeks? But Leslie, being the diplomat he was, said he’d let her know in a week.
Six months later we were engaged. And on March 23rd 1952 we became Mr and Mrs Gilbert in front of some 80 guests at Anson Hall in Willesden. I wore a silk, net and lace dress made by the same lady who made my gown the day I met Leslie and was flanked by one bridesmaid and one page boy.
Guests were treated a nine course dinner followed by endless sandwiches, pastries and cakes at £4.10 shillings a head.
It wasn’t a posh wedding. The caterers were very good but the hall was quite cheap. …