Miss French and Mr Bibby

Newsletter #8

Miss French and Mr Bibby

(August 2022)

In a moment, I’m going to share a little bit of two peoples’ personal history – a brief moment in their lives that probably meant a great deal to them a hundred years ago, but which has been lost over the passing years.

But, first, thank you so much for all your positive feedback from my Summer Reading Week. I loved sharing William’s sad tale with all of you, and I’m touched that so many of you told me how much you enjoyed it. And also by how many new readers signed up to these Newsletters – so a big welcome to all the Newbies.

William’s story, Your Affectionate Friend, is now here on the website, all in one place. If you missed out, just click here…

So, let’s get back to that other story I was talking about.

This is the kind of historical gem that I love, and it might well find itself woven into a Chapter of The Descent of Chloe Jackson.

The story starts (or does it end?) with my uncle coming across a couple of old medals in a skip outside a house clearance in Hawes, in North Yorkshire. Don’t ask me what he was doing in the skip – that’s probably another story altogether. Anyway, he found these little beauties…

They’d been forgotten. They were won almost exactly a hundred years ago, and they must have been proud possessions at the time, but it was only my uncle’s beady eye that saved them from becoming landfill.

They open up a whole world.

I’ve been doing some sleuthing, and I believe that these medals were awarded in 1922 to the winners of the Amateur Waltz at the North Western Area regional final of the World Dancing Championships, which was held in the famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

The winners of the Regional Final would have gone on to a national final, and then, perhaps, to the world finals in London – an annual event which, at the time, rivalled the Olympics in prestige and cultural significance.

And the names of these winners are engraved on the backs of the medals…

… Miss. L. French and Mr. J. Bibby.

You know me by now. I’ve tried looking up Miss French and Mr Bibby on every online resource I can think of, and I’ve got nowhere. I so want to know who they were, how they got together, where they lived, what happened that day in Blackpool when they became regional champions, whether they went on to the nationals, whether they won!

I do know that they didn’t win the world championships, which is, of course, a disappointment. But I can share with you now this old Pathe film of the 1920 world amateur foxtrot champions, Miss Flora le Breton and Mr Cecil Reuben. It’s not Miss French and Mr Bibby, and it’s not the Waltz, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it anyway.

I wonder what did happen to Miss French and Mr Bibby. Of course, both the medals ended up in the same skip, so I can’t help thinking that they ended up together as Mr and Mrs Bibby of Hawes, Yorkshire.

But the nearest I can find to anything like that in the records is a catholic priest from Lancashire called John Bibby. An unlikely match, but one with all sorts of possibilities!

So, they remain unknown. And their triumph in the the Blackpool Tower Ballroom is commemorated only in two dusty old medals thrown out nearly a hundred years later. It’s exactly the kind of moment that would fit in The Descent of Chloe Jackson, and maybe I can find a way to squeeze them in.

I’ve been distracted recently by the website and Summer Reading Week, but I’m back in the trenches now again, working up a story for Charles Parkes, a navvy cutting a tramline up the cliffs of Dover in 1912 (and, of course, a direct ancestor of Chloe Jackson).

If you’ve enjoyed reading this newsletter, please feel free to pass it on to all your book-loving friends, and encourage them to sign up here on my website. 

All the best