Muriel Foster

Muriel Foster was not a Nugent – but both her brother Osbern and her sister Gladys married Nugents! She was aunt or great aunt to many Nugent nephews and nieces, as well as to Fosters, Fowlers and Robertsons, some of whom lived in Aldbourne, the village she chose as her home.  Besides researching the Foster family, Muriel Foster carried out much of the research into the Nugent pedigree, showing its ancestry back to Norman times now recorded in the Family Book. For these reasons ‘Aunt Muriel’ deserves a place in Nugent history. The following memoir is contributed by a great niece and was prepared for the publication by Michael Joseph of two of Aunt Muriel’s Fishing Diaries, illustrations from which are shown here. The books are dedicated to her eldest nephew, Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster, and end on a poignant note in June 1949 with the comment ‘Finis Arthritis!’

Muriel Foster was born in June 1885 in the village of Shenley near Redhill in Surrey. She was the eldest daughter in a typically Victorian upper middle class family

The Foster family at Shenley around 1906: Muriel sits on the left; beside her is sister-in-law Monica Nugent; behind her is sister Gladys, who became Gladys Nugent
The Foster family at Shenley around 1906: Muriel sits on the left; beside her is sister-in-law Monica Nugent; behind her is sister Gladys, who became Gladys Nugent
of four girls and two boys. Muriel Foster’s interests were always allied with those of her brothers, and included fencing as well as fishing; the feminine pursuits of little girls never interested her, except for embroidery at which she was skilled.

As Muriel grew up, it was her mother Constance Jemima – who seems to have been a sweet, understanding and sympathetic

person – who realised that her daughter had considerable artistic talents. She arranged for Muriel to attend the Slade School of Art where the famous Henry Tonks was her teacher. Her success there is marked by the fact that she exhibited at the Royal Academy.

How or why Muriel developed her lifelong passion for fishing is not clear. It may have been because her brothers were interested, or perhaps because of some chance invitation to Scotland to stay with friends. We will never

Ivy Cottage, Aldbourne, in the early 1960s
Ivy Cottage, Aldbourne, in the early 1960s

know and the diary does not reveal any details. We can assume, however, that most of her fishing trips were made on her own, in the company of her dog and ghillie —and that she deeply loved the wildness and peace of Scotland.

Muriel Foster's drawing of Ivy Cottage in 1930
Muriel Foster's drawing of Ivy Cottage in 1930
After the death of Muriel’s rather autocratic father, and the marriages of her brothers and sisters, it was decided that the time had come for Muriel to have her own home. In about 1930, she bought Ivy Cottage, a small Queen Anne house with a Victorian extension in the picturesque village of Aldbourne in Wiltshire. It was very small in comparison to the family home, but more than adequate for Muriel. She was helped by a cook and parlour maid, Nellie and Dorothy, and their presence gave her more than enough time to concentrate on her drawing, painting, embroidery, fishing and gardening. She lovingly cared for the walled garden herself and grew wild strawberries exclusively for the younger members of her family who loved to visit her.

I was six years old when I first met my great-aunt and the impression she made on me was in every sense great. All of the Fosters were big and somehow Aunt Muriel was even bigger and more awesome. She wore long tweed skirts, thick stockings and brogue shoes. The first visit I made to Aunt Muriel stretched from two weeks into four years as the Second World War was declared and Wiltshire was considered safer than my home in Cambridgeshire.

During the war, Muriel set aside her fishing rods and paint brushes and worked hard for the war effort. Sadly, however, the war years must have undermined her health because arthritis began to trouble her soon after the end of the war. The entries in the diary for this time show a marked decline in her fishing excursions.

Nellie and Dorothy died during the war and were never replaced, but living alone in Ivy Cottage held no fears for her. The front door was always open to family and friends. Small boys carrying cabbage whites for inspection always departed glowing with pride as they inevitably had ‘a very interesting specimen’.

The death in 1952 in Korea of Muriel’s eldest nephew Kingsley, followed later by that of her eldest brother Osbern (Kingsley’s father), could not have cheered her declining years. They were perhaps the two members ofthe family she was closest to for she stayed regularly with her brother fishing his beat of the river Granta.

I  can remember many of these visits because I was living there with my grandparents at that time. Aunt Muriel spent many hours illustrating the game books belonging to Osbern and Kingsley who had filled them with entries from all over the world. Even though her arthritis grew more and more painful, Aunt Muriel was always cheerful and enormously courageous. She died in February 1963, aged 78.

Patricia King

(Sources: Patrica King; Days on Sea, Loch and River by Muriel Foster (1979) and Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diaries (1980) – both published by Michael Joseph; additional pictures from the family collection.)