Ada Mabel Owsten was born in Leicestershire in July 1872. She was one of at least seven children born to Hiram Abiff Owston, a solicitor, and Elizabeth Wally Varley. She lived with her family and half-a-dozen servants at the very grand Bushloe House in Wigston Magna, right. Her mother died shortly after the birth of her seventh child, when Mabel was 11. Her father remarried Ann Vann Stone. (There’s more about the family on the Wigston Historical Society website.)
In Brighton, in April 1902, not long before her 30th birthday, Mabel married Edward Hilary Rymer, a naval captain. Edward was born in October 1873 in Eltham, Kent. He was the eldest son of Edward Rymer, a leather merchant, and Mary Angelica Andoe. He was given the middle name Hilary after his maternal uncle, later Admiral Sir Hilary Gustavus Andoe (1841-1905). His brother, John, was educated at Beaumont School, Windsor, and it is thought that Edward may also have been there before joining the Navy in 1887.
Edward had had quite an illustrious career. At the start of the war, he was appointed Royal Navy Naval Attaché at Tokyo. (Japan was a British ally.) In 1915, the Emperor decorated him with the Order of the Rising Sun (3rd class) for his work in Anglo-Japanese combined fleet operations. He remained in Tokyo for most of the war and in March 1918 he took over the command of HMS Donegal based at Devonport. In September 1919 he was specially commended by the Admiralty for his war work rather than receiving any further decoration, presumably because his services were largely non-combattant.
Would Mabel have been in Tokyo with Edward? His return to the UK and appointment as Captain of HMS Donegal coincides with the dates that Mabel began volunteering with the VAD.
Wounded and missing
Between February 1918 and March 1919, Mabel worked three mornings a week for the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) in the Wounded and Missing Department This was unpaid voluntary work. Her character is recorded as ‘good worker, capable’. The second page of her VAD card notes ‘Wounded and Missing, 18 Carlton House Terrace’.
Lord Astor, who owned 18 Carlton House Terrace, had loaned it to the British Red Cross for use by the missing, wounded and POW enquiry service in WWI. Carlton House Terrace is parallel to The Mall, just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. Number 18 was a six-storey, Regency mansion, now Grade 1 Listed, with some 50,000 sq ft of living space. (Number 18 was reputed to be the most expensive property ever sold in the UK when it went on the market for around £250 million in 2013.)
Connections with Datchet
There is evidence of the family in the village from at least 1906. Commander Rymer was involved with the annual village regatta, joining in the Dongola races. (In 1906, he raced in the same Dongola as Judith Mary Osborn.)
High Street and Queens Road
The 1907 Kelly’s Directory for Datchet lists Commander Edward H Rymer, Royal Navy, in the High Street, although we don’t know in which house. This was the same year that Mabel and Edward’s daughter, Evelyn Mary “Mollie” Rymer, (1907-1979) was born. Her birth was registered in Kensington.
By the time of the 1911 census, Edward was at sea with the Royal Navy, in Chinese waters aboard HMS Kent. Mabel and Mollie haven’t yet been found in that census.
It has not been confirmed whether Mabel spent most of the war years in Japan with Edward but, according to the Red Cross records, by 1918 she was in Datchet, living at Remenham in Queens Road. Remenham was previously owned by Doctor Glegg who had moved to The Green.
After his death, Edward’s papers, photo albums, press cuttings and naval memorabilia were donated to the Royal Museums Greenwich. These include newspaper cuttings from The Morning Post, one from 2 March 1908, listing the ladies presented at Court on 28 February 1908 including Mabel, and another from 22 June 1908 about a Royal Garden Party held at Windsor two days earlier which Edward and Mabel attended.
An article in the Slough, Eton and Windsor Observer in May 1909, shows the Rymers with others from the village including the Paracivinis, the Cholmondeleys, the McGregors, at a political meeting. Mrs and Miss Curling were also there. (The Curlings would later be responsible for the Crucifix memorial on London Road.)
After the war
From 1919-1921, Edward was Captain of HMS Dublin. He was placed on the Retired List at his own request in 1922 and promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral in 1924. He subsequently worked for the Admiralty as a Nautical Assessor from 1926-37. According to the records at the Royal Museums Greenwich, Rymer, known to his family as ‘The Ad’ (Admiral), was a keen gardener and sailor out of Lymington, where he was credited with the invention of a sailing boat called an ‘X-craft’. In 1937 he had a heart attack but lived until 9 July 1952, when he died suddenly in his garden at Little Brookley, Brockenhurst, while planning the day’s work with his gardener. Mabel remained at Little Brookley until her death in 1959.