Henrietta Burkin (born 1904): Fun and Festivities – Writing Lives

Henrietta Burkin (born 1904): Fun and Festivities

Henrietta celebrates her family in her memoir and participates in every celebratory occasion she can. The Burkins’ pay particular attention to birthdays, Christmas and weddings and Henrietta expresses that, ‘weddings in the family were great fun’ (1.15). I was particularly drawn to the extent taken of making every event grand and using every last penny to ensure their days were filled with happy memories.

Cream Brocade Wedding Dress

Henrietta and Harry’s wedded on 26th October 1935 and Henrietta states that it was a simple wedding, but her descriptions of the day illustrate how they went to every last detail to ensure perfection. It was a quiet affair but admits that, ‘marrying Harry was the very best thing that could have happened to me: even today, more than forty years later…’ (3.1). She remembers the simple wedding breakfast, her brown real crocodile shoes and laughs how the vicar forgot he was conducting a wedding and was found gardening! She prided herself on her wedding cake and said, ‘It was a beautiful cake, the best I’d ever tasted’ (3.1). The memories of her wedding suggest it was the happiest time of her life and to the present day when she was writing her memoir, Henrietta is very fortunate for her relationship with Harry.

Henrietta continuously celebrates her daughter, Elaine. She is proud of her education, how she developed and the young lady she became. Elaine celebrated when she came second in a “Beauty Queen” competition (4.11). Henrietta believed that Elaine was, ‘really was beautiful at seventeen’ (4.11) and she evidently believed her daughter had the potential to succeed against other competitors.  However, the most celebratory occasion in the memoir is Elaine marrying her fiancé, Bob. On 30th January 1960, they tied the knot and Henrietta made a promise to Elaine that she would not cry at the wedding(4.13)! Henrietta remembers her daughter looking beautiful in a, ‘cream brocade dress… and with a very unusual bouquet of flame coloured gerber daisies’ (4.130.) Although Henrietta enjoyed the festivities of the wedding, she admits that, ‘I missed her the following week – I felt nothing would ever be the same again’ (4.13). The loss of her daughter to her son in-law was a difficult time for Henrietta, but I believe Elaine’s overwhelming happiness, put Henrietta at ease.

Henrietta’s memoir ends with the celebration of hers and Harry’s Ruby Wedding Anniversary. They enjoyed a small gathering with Elaine, her family and also some family friends as she states that there was, ‘much laughter’ (5.4). She received a Lladro figure off Harry and they celebrated by visiting a restaurant in Bognor and indulging in ‘a four-course meal for fifty pence!’ (5.4). Henrietta and Harry enjoyed retirement and made use of seeing their friends in and around London. I admire Henrietta’s enthusiasm to celebrate every little or large occasion and the fun she encountered throughout her life allowed for a gripping memoir.


Burkin, Henrietta, ‘Memoirs of Henrietta Burkin’, TS, pp.86 (c.50,000 words). Brunel University Library. 2:118. Extract published in J. Burnett (ed.), Destiny Obscure: Autobiographies of childhood, education and family from the 1820s to the 1920s (Allen Lane, London, 1982), pp.306-312. Brunel University Library and Ruskin College Library, Oxford.

Image References:

Cream Brocade Dress – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/246923992041900553/

Ruby Wedding Anniversary – http://www.fig1.co.uk/golden-wedding.ir?cName=cards-books-and-stationery-cards-and-wrap-occasions-anniversary


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