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Meet the Thrupieces #8: Great Aunt Josephina

Release of the Chickenliverpathé/childhoodfilms/thrupiecemedia documentary Professor Thrupiece Treasures from a Lost Archive has, not unnaturally revived interest not only in the distinguished and late lamented Professor himself, but also in other members of the family whose lives have not hitherto been thrust into the harsh spotlight of intrusive public curiosity. Notable amongst these is Great Aunt Josephina whose recumbent (not to say supine) posture and - literally - open-mouthed insouciance has endeared her to millions who have no idea who she is or what part she played in the Thrupiece story.

Great Aunt Josephina seen in the recent Thrupiece TV screening of Professor Thrupiece Treasures from a Lost Archive.

[MAIN PICTURE] Great Aunt Josephina (RIGHT) seen in the recent Thrupiece TV screening of Professor Thrupiece Treasures from a Lost Archive. The footage, filmed in Weymouth in about 1950, shows Josephina with her sister in law Kitty Thrupiece. She would have been about 67 years old. [INSET] Josephina in about 1915. The photograph (taken in E W Bickershall's studios in Clifton Maybank) has an inscription to an unknown person - possibly a wartime sweetheart with an appetite for golf.

We commissioned family historian and ancestry expert Ann Sestory to look further into a woman whose past may be more interesting than we think!

Great Aunt Josephina - one of the indestructible matriarchs of the Thrupiece family - was born in 1883 in Clifton Maybank, Dorset. She was the daughter of Titus Thrupiece and Adeline Pinchglove and the older sibling (by nearly 18 years) of Ferguson Thrupiece the famous gas fitter and popular dance band leader (aka Fernando Mediantepieza). Something of a rebel spirit, she refused to enter either Girton College or the family's glassblowing firm ("I hadn't the lips or the wind for either") and instead ran away to Paris where she worked first at the Bureau de la Presse Etrangère (German section) at the 1900 Universal Exhibition and then at the stockings and suspenders counter of Printemps Haussmann, the famous department store. It was here that she was spotted by the owner of Les Bains Café Bar and recruited to play in the Café's resident banjo quartet. She performed under the pseudonym of Muriel Sans Culotte. A regular in the bar was Marcel Proust with whom it is said she struck up "une relation à la limite de la convivialité". Josephina/Muriel fails to get a mention in À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, despite living with the novelist, critic and essayist for nearly two years, only because Proust perdu sa mémoire et son sens du temps following an ill-advised lukewarm bath and a subsequent ear infection.

Returning to England in 1914 Josephina met and was briefly engaged to a man towards whom the family evinced strong disapproval. Fortunately for them - though less so for Josephina - he did not return from France, having been declared "missing in inaction" whilst playing 18 holes in Le Touquet ("he rather preferred it to a trench", his commanding officer reported).

Thereafter Josephina appears to have devoted herself to good works and to furthering the career of her elder brother who was struggling to put together an orchestra (originally The Furguson Thrupiece Cafe Orchestra) which could work the south coastal resorts in the more carefree post war climate whilst allowing time for the occasional emergency boiler-based call-out. [NOTE: Largely through Josephina's "friendship" with the Manager of the Excelsior Cafe, Lyme Regis, the orchestra became the resident band for the thés dansants regularly held there in the 40s and 50s. They fell out of favour in the late 1950s but a chance encounter with the Harry Styles Skifflemen briefly re-ignited Ferguson's career after he had "mastered" the washboard. He later toured the hotels of western Dorset (1958-1961) as Fernando Mediantepieza and his Latin Rhythm*. Josephina seems to have been something of a "roadie", driving the van, toasting the crumpets and stealing the petrol.)

*Not to be confused with Fenandinõ and the Music of the Mountains or The Geofredo Amor Orchestra - both of whom shared personel and were at one time under contract to Hornimint Records [Ed]

By the early 1950s, Josephina was sharing a small cottage in Marnhull with her sister-in-law Kitty Thrupiece who was by that time separated from Furguson ("First he stole my washboard and then he started playing the b****y thing. Drove me mad - he could never get a tune out of it no matter how hard he blew!"). Josephina died in a fall from a fairground horse in Weymouth in September 1976 aged 93. "She died as she lived", said an obituary at the time, "on and off the saddle. It's how she would have wanted it".

"Great Aunt Josephine" is mentioned affectionately by Professor Thrupiece in several of his writings. He described her in Travels With My Great Aunt (2003, reprinted 2012) [The Threadbone Press] as "something of an inspiration: an example to some and a warning to others".

Headstone in the Churchyard of of St. Mary Magdalene, Loders, Dorset.

Headstone in the Churchyard of of St. Mary Magdalene, Loders, Dorset. The inscription reads: "Josephina Thrupiece (1883-1976)" "Never forgotten Except by Proust".

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