QUEEN Victoria’s servants, John Brown and Abdul Karim, have gained worldwide fame from the films Mrs Brown and Victoria and Abdul, but a new book by Whakatane’s Peter “Mike” Farrell tells the true story of one of her most long-serving and faithful attendants.
Mike’s great great grandfather, George Fleming joined the household staff of the Duchess of Kent at the age of 15. The future Queen Victoria was 11 years old at the time and he was to be part of her life for the next 55 years.
Mike has recently self-published his book George Fleming, Faithful Servant, through Amazon Publishing partly based on George’s diaries. “I just picked up the work my mother had already done. She had been working on her ancestry for many years.”
Betty Fleming, nee Cleave, had been fascinated with her great grandfather since visiting
Windsor and being shown around the beautiful Adelaide Cottage in the Home Park of the castle grounds by her Uncle Leo who was chief tapissier at Windsor, in charge of all the castle furnishings. She afterwards managed to get hold of a typewritten copy of George’s diary, which is part of the Windsor Castle archives.
“We think his daughter may have typed it out,” Mike says. “I doubt he would have used a typewriter. It is almost impossible to read. It is full of rambling, repetitive details that would bore people to tears.”
However, between the diary and Mike’s own research, he has found much of interest about a life spent in personal attendance to the queen.
George Fleming was born and raised in rural Sussex. He was a gamekeeper’s son, one of a large family, as was common during those times. His father died quite young, which put the family in dire straits for a while. George’s mother, who worked as a maid for the Earl of Liverpool, used her connections to get him a position at Kensington Palace with Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, who he describes in his diary as “one of the most kind creatures who ever lived”.
Starting in the lowliest downstairs position, he rose to become a footman and when Victoria became queen he was one of the staff chosen to be part of the royal household. He moved with the newly ascended queen to Buckingham Palace, and eventually to Windsor, where he and his wife, Mary Ann, who was also in Her Majesty’s employ as a maid, took up residence at Adelaide Cottage for the next 35 years.
Having children of similar ages to the royal offspring drew the families closer together and Mary Ann was often given the children to look after. George’s diary records many events such as Guy Fawkes bonfires at which the two families socialised together.
“People think of royalty as being very superior and way above us, but they are just human beings like all of us.”
This is not Mike’s first book. He has previously written a personal memoir for the benefit of his own family that is also available through Amazon. Having lived in 15 countries and 50 addresses over his career as an engineering project manager, he and his wife, Di, originally from Reading, England, retired to Whakatane about eight years ago. When not out on the golf course, he spends much of his spare time in the study he has created for himself behind his garage.
He describes his books as “a hobby”. He says he felt that his mother had done such a lot of research he should do something with it. “I was really just picking up where someone else had done a lot of work.”
“I don’t profess to be a great writer,” he says. “However, thanks to Amazon’s website, it is possible for anyone to self-publish. A lot of them are terribly written, but these stories wouldn’t ever get out if people weren’t able to do that. It’s very difficult to get a book published otherwise.”
The book is dedicated to Betty, who died in 2014. “I only wish I could share with her some of the things I found out in my own research,” Mike says.
Mike’s findings involved other members of the Fleming family, including one of George
Fleming’s uncles who was a secret agent in France during the Napoleonic Wars, and the book nearly took on a completely different focus.
George Fleming, Faithful Servant does delve into these side-stories, but is mostly about George. It is available through Amazon.com as either a hard copy or as a Kindle e-book.
A copy of the book has also been donated to Whakatane library.
ROYAL CONNECTIONS: From left are Leopold Cleave, Mike’s great uncle who was chief tapissier at Windsor and took the above photograph of Queen Victoria; Mary Ann and George Fleming, inset over Adelaide Cottage, which was their home for 30 years; Queen Victoria in her later years and Mike Farrell.