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. A dust jacket note tells us her jobs included almoner, nurse, ambulance driver and BBC monitor.
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 the family (or at least the females) 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.
Geraldine’s first book 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 for children clearly drawing on her 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 and their sister Eugenie as well as her mother were all living either in or near to The Close at the end of their lives . Her mother Dorothy died in 1943 and was living at 35 The Close at that time. Geraldine died in June 1996 in Salisbury survived by both Helen and Eugenie
I first read Geraldine’s children’s books as a child back in the 1960s hence my interest in researching her. I have been able to find out very little about Geraldine’s adult life other than what is on the dust jacket of Children in the Close. I would love to find out more about Geraldine’s adult life and intend trying to research further. In the meantime, if anyone reading this has more information, or perhaps even knew her personally, please get in touch.
Children of the Close, Batsford Books 1959
Women in Salisbury Cathedral Close, Jane Howells and Ruth Newman Sarum Studies 5
Geraldine’s published books
The Rose Window (1964)
The Quarantine Child (1966)
The Workhouse Child (1976)
Miss Rivers & Miss Bridges (1971)
The Suckling (1969)
Minnie the Minnow
Second Cousins Once Removed (1978)
Crocuses Were Over, Hitler was Dead (1978)
The Children in the Close(1959)
All Souls (1950)
French Widows (1952)