The hand that rocks the cradle

12 Apr, 2017

Correspondence and ephemera belonging to Miss Olive Rattle - beloved nanny and friend to the Royal Family.   

This collection comprises postcards, photographic Christmas cards, letters, and invitations from various members of the Royal Family including Prince Charles & Lady Diana, Princesses Alexandra and Michael of Kent, Prince Edward Duke of Kent, and James Ogilvy, to Nanny Rattle.  Also included is Miss Rattle's Royal Victorian Medal along with signed note from HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and Royal Wedding memorabilia.

Nanny Rattle

The image of the British nanny is ingrained in people's minds as the paradigm of caring discretion and resourcefulness with a no-nonsense approach.  Whether it's the 'practically perfect in every way' Mary Poppins, Nana the devoted St Bernard dog in Peter Pan, the heroic team of Nannies in One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, or more recently Nanny McPhee; there is a certain image which springs to mind at the mention of the traditional British nanny.  It is also a truism that Nanny's often play an especially important part in their charges life and continue to support and influence them long after their official employment stops.  Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote in his autobiography "I loved my mother dearly - but at a distance. My nurse was my confidante. Mrs. Everest it was who looked after me and tended all my wants. It was to her I poured out all my many troubles.", MP Jacob Rees-Moog took his former nanny canvassing with him in 1997, while many Nannies were gifted homes for life or pensions to fall back on in the future.

The Nannies of the Royal Family have experienced more exposure than most, and many of us are familiar with Queen Victoria's beloved Lehzen, our current monarch's apparently duplicitous 'Crawfie', and the Tiggy Legge-Bourke saga of the 1990s.  However, most Nannies do their utmost to stay under the radar and focus solely on their VIP charges.  Miss Olive Rattle was one of them.

We know very little about Miss Rattle aside from what can be gleaned from this collection - and what a testimony it is to her devotion to duty!  Possibly originally hailing from the Ipswich area, Olive Rattle was working as a nanny either in or close to the Royal Family in the 1950s. By the 1960s though, she worked for Princess Alexandra of Kent (cousin of Queen Elizabeth II) and Sir Angus Ogilvy, helping to raise their children James (b.1964) and Marina (b.1966).  She resided along with the family at Thatched House Lodge in Richmond Park for many years, and most of this correspondence is addressed to her there.  Since the 1950s until 2013 when chronic arthritis forced her to cancel engagements, Princess Alexandra was one of the most active members of the Royal Family (on average performing up to 120 engagements per year); and she clearly had full confidence in Miss Rattle to care for her children while travelling.  One letter from the Princess while on a foreign tour enquires after James' behaviour and Marina's dancing lessons, but is not unduly concerned about being away from her children for a long period of time!

A particularly engaging part of this collection is a series of photographic Christmas cards from Prince Charles to Nanny.  Beginning with the Prince as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, the cards progress through the years and the Prince is joined by Diana Princess of Wales then also the two young princes William and Harry.  Another lovely item is a thank you letter for silver wedding anniversary presents signed by both the Queen and Prince Philip.

The 1980s saw Nanny Rattle awarded the Royal Victorian Medal in the 1984 New Year's Honours list for services to the Royal Family and her retirement from nannying. By the 1990s she was living in sheltered accommodation in Kennington. The last dated letters in the collection are from her now grown-up and married charge James Ogilvy, they thank her for the children's Christmas presents and entreat her to look after herself as they had heard she had been unwell.   Sadly, Nanny Rattle died just a short time later in 2000.

This is a fabulous collection offering a personal insight into the devotion and dedication of one woman's role close to one of the most famous and beloved family's in the world. Full listing can be found here

Nanny 2

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