Dorothy Geraldine Symons is an author of books for adults and for children, many set in Salisbury. Like many of the women included in Her Salisbury Story her own life is comparatively unrecorded.
Geraldine was the youngest of 4 girls, born in August 1909 in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where her father was serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. By 1911 Geraldine her three older sisters Sylvia, Eugenie (Ena) and Helen, together with their mother Dorothy, had returned from the east and were living with Geraldine’s maternal grandmother, Georgina Bennet, at number 26 in the Cathedral Close. The Bennet family were well known in the city, having owned the Salisbury Journal since 1848.
The family lived in the Close for much of Geraldine’s childhood interspersed with periods in Gosport and Weymouth. She also attended Godolphin School as had her mother and aunt. Her father Frank Albert Symons was killed at Arras on 30th April 1917. There is a memorial to him in the cathedral cloisters.
On leaving school Geraldine worked in the Almoner’s office and then the pathology department of the Salisbury Infirmary in Fisherton Street. Following the outbreak of war in 1939 she lived in the North Canonry in the Close, worked for the Red Cross, drove an ambulance and then became a secretary for the BBC at Evesham.
After the war she worked for the YMCA initially in Exeter Street and later on the continent. She then became a secretary at both Godolphin and Malborough College. Her final job before she retired was as a guide at Wilton House where she was for 20 years.
Following an initial children’s book Minnie the Minnow Geraldine’s first book for adults All Souls was published in 1950 followed closely by French Windows (1952). In 1959 she published Children in the Close. This was a memoir of her childhood, much of it spent at her grandparents’ house. Her sister Helen provided pen and ink illustrations. For anyone living in modern-day Salisbury this book is a must read: it is a charming illustration of a long lost time, yet also amazingly familiar.
Geraldine went on to write more books for children clearly drawing on her own childhood experiences. The Rose Window (1964) and The Quarantine Child (1966) are each set in Salisbury and contain re-imagined incidents from Children of the Close. Her protagonist Pansy (based on Geraldine herself one would guess) has a strong social conscience and gets into scrapes trying to help those less fortunate than herself. Luckily she is helped in her endeavours by her redoubtable friend Atlanta and all turns out for the best.
She went on to write seven more children’s books. In Miss Rivers and Miss Bridges (1971) Pansy and Atlanta take up the suffragette cause in one of few books about this period written for children at the time.
Geraldine, Helen, their sister Eugenie and their mother continued to live either in or near to The Close to the end of their lives. Geraldine died in June 1996 in Salisbury survived by her three sisters.
This is a revised version of the original article following contact by Geraldine’s nephew Nigel and his daughter Jane. They have kindly supplied additional information and a number of family pictures many of which I have been able to include in the revised article.
Written & researched by Barbara Evans
Children of the Close, Batsford Books (1959)Women in Salisbury Cathedral Close, Jane Howells and Ruth Newman
Sarum Studies 5 (2018)
The Salisbury Journal
Her Salisbury Story would like to thank Geraldine’s nephew Nigel Gripper and her great-niece Jane Troop for providing photographs and additional material.
Geraldine’s published books
Minnie the Minnow (1944)
The Rose Window (1964)
The Quarantine Child (1966)
The Suckling (1969)
Miss Rivers & Miss Bridges (1971)
The Workhouse Child (1976)
Second Cousins Once Removed (1978)
Crocuses Were Over, Hitler was Dead (1978)
The Children in the Close(1959)
All Souls (1950)
French Widows (1952)