Garden

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Rosslyn Carthy

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by Rosslyn Carthy

Among my many happy memories is the afternoon Sir Michael and late Lady Betty Kadoorie officially opened the beautiful ‘green’ wall at the back of the garden.  They had provided it to complete the privacy within the garden.

Sir Michael and I recalled old friends and acquaintances.  One was Dick Siegel (previous Director of Civil Aviation) who moved the airport from Kai Tak to Chek Lap Kok, and who still loves vintage cars.  He and Sir Michael would sometimes “meet” in their vintage models along roads in the New Territories!  Another mutual acquaintance was a young man whom I taught, whose grandfather (Frank Whittle) invented the jet engine, and whose father was one of the first pilots for Cathay Pacific when it began.  We also talked about the time Sir Michael asked permission to park under the huge old tree in the loading bay when he had very urgent business in the area, and how a story was built around that tree – “The Last Nut”.  Yes, happy memories mean such a lot.

Rosslyn Carthy

Member

garden
library

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Pak Kay Lai

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by pak kay Lai

I am a new Helena May member. Literally. I have to confess that I have frequented the restaurant and the Blue Room a little bit more than I should. I like to be surrounded by the history, sophistication and generosity. And later, I found out that it is in the library where everything comes together.

This is the record card of the first book I borrowed. I am the twenty-ninth borrower and there were 31 years of history in front of me. The book was a sensation in the early 90s. It has been borrowed twice by the same member. Perhaps she did not have time to finish it the first time. But she showed courtesy to return it, waited, borrowed it again and enjoyed the rest of the story.

If there was a time travel machine, I would go to meet Member 3260. Have a little chat with her about how the book has inspired the later “code-breaking novels”. Then ask her about Helena May in the last century over a cup of tea and delicious biscuits.

I am not a nostalgic person. However, I think I know the place where I can integrate the past into my present and future.

Pak Kay Lai

Member

timeless memories
timeless memories

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Diana Rose

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by diana rose

It was a warm afternoon in November 1977 when I first walked through the doors of The Helena May.  I had arrived two days before on a container ship that had taken me on a voyage from Durban to Taiwan, Korea and Japan before leaving me with my two suitcases and steel trunk at Star Ferry, TST. 

A lady I sat next to on a bus kindly mentioned the club to me and I clearly remember my impressions of the Main Lounge that afternoon:  dark bamboo ‘peacock chairs’ that made me think of W. Somerset Maugham, ceiling fans quietly whirring, and a few ladies enjoying a cup of tea.  I felt I was truly in the Far East and I was excited about my next adventure.

The following day, I arrived by taxi with my luggage (fortunately, cars could stop right outside the main entrance at that time).  Someone helped me upstairs to the first floor and I think I was given Room 2.  Several doors were open to allow air to circulate, but there were ‘modesty curtains’ across each doorway to give privacy.  The old fireplaces were still intact (but not in use) and they made an interesting feature of the room.  There was a large, dark free-standing wardrobe with a mirror on the front, a desk and chair, a chest of drawers, two bamboo armchairs, a single bed with a green candlewick bedspread, a small side table and a lamp.  The furniture was simple but adequate.

Breakfast was held in the Garden Room in the section that has now been divided off as the Library.  (In those days, the Library was in the Green Room.) Joan Little, the Manager, was friendly but kept a tight rein on everything and it was rather like being in boarding school.  If one was out later than 10.30 in the evening, one had to ring the bell at the side entrance for Tommy, the Night Porter, to let you in.  If you came back a lot later than that, you were likely to be met with a scowl.  In the morning, residents would sign a book if they wanted dinner that evening.  There was little choice as such, but it was a hot meal and residents would sit in the Main Lounge socialising while we ate. 

There were no laundry facilities, but hardworking amahs would collect our items in the morning, mark them with our room number, wash and iron them and have them back to us in the afternoon.  One fridge in the bathroom served for all of us and I remember often finding my carton of milk had mysteriously been depleted!

I am still in close contact with several friends that I made here in those early days and I feel a deep sense of gratitude to the Helena May.  Without the support that it offered me, my life in Hong Kong might not have gone as well as it did.  Bless Lady Helena for the difference her vision made in my life and that of the countless other women who have passed through these doors.

Diana Rose

Resident 

timeless memories
Breakfast at the Garden Room
timeless memories
Modesty curtains
timeless memories

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Dorothy Wong

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by dorothy wong

Although I have lived in Hong Kong for over 40 years, I only joined The Helena May during the last decade. I regret not joining earlier! A year or two after joining, I became more involved, taking part in committees, and I was invited to become a Council member. I enjoyed my involvement very much during this time, and met many lovely and committed members.

Now I spend up to six months each year in Canada, so I am less involved. However, when I return, I receive the same warm welcome from staff and members. There are always members present that I know, which is wonderful! It is the one of the things I miss most from Hong Kong.

The Helena May is a very special and rather unique club.

Dorothy Wong

Member

Your Timless Memories at The Helena May – By Helga Ann

Your timeless memories at the helena may - by helga ann

My mother, Ena Simms, came to Hong Kong in 1965 after taking early retirement from the BBC. She was a resident of The Helena May for two years (in 1965/66) and I used to make the trek from Kowloon once a week by bus, ferry and taxi to visit her. Her room was the very last at the end of the corridor, just opposite the terrace which is right above your office. Here we would sit and talk while my little son Sean splashed about in a plastic pool that she had set up.

It was very quiet in those days with little traffic on Garden Road and of course Cotton Tree Drive did not exist. We’d sit on our deck chairs and watch the Peak Tram ply its way up and down and we’d wave at the passengers. Naturally, we always went down for tea in the beautiful lounge, and for our favourite hot cakes (whatever happened to those?)

My mother enjoyed the convivial atmosphere she experienced at The Helena May and fostered many lasting friendships with like-minded expat ladies. Here she learnt Tai Chi and Chinese painting and continued these hobbies when she returned to London in 1967. Ena Simms kept diaries and was always writing articles about Hong Kong. During her years here, she regularly gave talks on Radio Hong Kong’s “Women’s Magazine” programme.

Helga Ann

Member

timeless memories
Ena Simms and her grandson
timeless memories
Ena Simms and her grandson
Timeline2019

Reading in The Garden

Reading in The Garden

Perhaps it was finishing reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden last month with my daughter that inspired me but I have found myself inventing excuses to spend more and more of my time enjoying our newly landscaped garden. The weather has finally cooled and on the last few Saturdays I have enjoyed the privilege of taking a break from the working week in what has felt like my own private garden, enjoying the newspapers and library new editions under the shade of an umbrella. Surprisingly, for the most part, my only company has been the library cat and, very occasionally, my daughter. It has felt like a secret oasis.   

For many of us living in Hong Kong, spending time in a private garden is something to be cherished. With our tiny flats and postage sized balconies (for those of us lucky enough to have a balcony at all), a garden is a luxury we can only enjoy on visits to friends and family overseas. At The Helena May we are privileged to have our own beautiful garden to enjoy at our leisure and, unlike Mary Lennox and Colin Craven, we need not first find a hidden door beneath the ivy to access it. So as much as I have enjoyed my solitude, I am letting you in on my secret. Please come outside and enjoy the garden. The weather is lovely and the librarian will even let you take your books outside to read, just be sure to check them out first.

Now if only I could arrange for the dining room to bring me down a regular afternoon gin and tonic!

Amanda Whitfort

Member

Dramatic Changes to The Helena May Main Building in 1920s

Dramatic Changes to The Helena May Main Building in 1920s

Two significant extensions to the building were added in the 1920s.  The first was begun in 1921, a mere 5 years after The Helena May opened.  Financially the 20s were a time of boom.  Hong Kong was doing well and The Helena May was also thriving.  More women were coming to the colony to work and taking up accommodation as residential members.  Subscriber membership was also flourishing.  By 1929 there were 455 subscriber members with 70 of them having joined that year.  More members meant that increased facilities were needed.  And the Council was quick to respond.

The building was originally symmetrical.  The additions to the Main Building were placed at the back while the front, facing Garden Road, stayed the same. The work, which began in 1921, was by far the most ambitious and was completed by June 1922.   A five-story extension was added on the left side of the building.  It included two spacious bedrooms on the top two floors, with a room for a library (our present Green Room) at the ground floor level.  The basement and sub-basement levels housed staff quarters and the kitchen respectively.

Original symmetrical design facing Garden Road

Another practical innovation was the enclosing of the lower floor with large doors and windows.  Today this lower floor houses the Library and the Garden Room.  The Helena May was rightly proud of these additions to the building and a grand opening was held, to which reporters from the local newspapers were invited.   The report in the South China Morning Post, on 22 June 1922 stated, “The most striking feature of the innovations is the conversion into a spacious dining hall of the large and formerly open basement.  The dining hall has been fitted up specially with electric power for cinematographic purposes and it is proposed to use the hall for lectures and other forms of entertainment.” 

Design showing completion of two extensions

By 1929 a further addition to the building was needed.  This extension was more modest.  A two-story extension was constructed on the right side of the building.  This extension contained an office, with a veranda for the Secretary, on the ground floor.  This is the location of our present office but the veranda was enclosed in the 1950s to give more office space.  The new room on the lower level was designated as a meeting room.  This is where the bathrooms, off the Garden Room, are located today. 

Over the years there have been other changes to the building but nothing so significant as in the 1920s.

Diane O’Hare

Member of The Helena  May History Group

A Three-Term Chair and a Game-changer

A Three-Term Chair and a Game-changer

The Helena May History Group is always delighted to hear from past members of the Club.  Recently we had a very interesting email from the son of one of our past Chairs, Mrs Margaret Moore.  Andrew Moore told us that his mother will celebrate her 90th birthday in July 2019. 

Margaret Moore was Chair of The Helena May three times.  Her first term of office, from 13 Nov 1968 to 11 Mar 1970, coincided with very difficult years in Hong Kong’s history.   The Cultural Revolution in China meant political unrest in Hong Kong.  The Helena May residents would watch from their balconies as the communist protesters made their way up Garden Road to Government House to demonstrate against British rule.  A number of families left Hong Kong during this time and at one point subscriber membership was as low as 123 members.  Today we have over 1,000 members.  Residential members also left.  Many were young girls and they were recalled to their home countries by their families who feared they may be in danger.  Residential members were down to about 20.   To save money only two amahs were retained out of the usual five.   In 1968, the Court building (or the Annex as it was then known) was forced to close since it had no residents.  In 1969, the Club was fortunate enough to find a tenant for this building – the Scouts’ Association – to bring in some much needed revenue.   However the Council feared it may soon have insufficient funds to keep operating. 

From 2nd left - Derek Moore, Ron Eltringham, Shirley Eltringham and Margaret Moore

It would not have been easy to keep the Club going under these conditions and yet the Council ladies found a way to do it.  On 8 December 1969, Margaret Moore took part in a lengthy interview on Commercial Radio to address any negative criticism against The Helena May and to encourage new residents and subscriber members to join.

Andrew Moore has told us that his mother’s first tenure as Chair ended when the family departed from Hong Kong.  Andrew’s father worked for Swire and the family were moved in 1970 to the Bahamas for one year.  He believes his mother would have been anxious to take up the reins again on their return.  Mrs Moore would spend hours in the office of The Helena May working for the Club.  She would often bring Andrew with her and he would be free to amuse himself.  He spent a lot of time with the Club librarian, at that time Mrs Joan Conway.  Andrew credits Joan with introducing him to the pleasure of reading, which has stayed with him to this day.  Andrew also says that when he looked at the list of past Chairs he found a number of familiar names – the sons of whom he went to school in Hong Kong in the 1970s. The Helena May was always very much a part of the Hong Kong community.

Margaret Moore and husband (on right) with friends, 1970
Margaret Moore and son Andrew at the New Forest and Hampshire County Show on her 89th birthday in 2018

Margaret Moore served two further terms as Chair – from 16 Nov 1971 to 15 Nov 1973 and later 16 Jan 1979 to 18 Sept 1981. By 1972 the focus of the Council would still be on how to increase the membership.  There were still only 136 subscriber members in 1972. During Mrs Moore’s second term of office the Council took the brave decision to invest money to turn the Court Building from dormitory style accommodation to serviced apartments.  The newly refurbished Court Building opened on 15 Nov 1973 and at this time it adopted the name of Court Building rather than Annex – since it was built on the site of the old tennis court.  To this day opening serviced apartments in the building has proved to be a very good decision.  By the time of Margaret’s third term as Chair, old ideas were being overturned.   In December 1980, a no-smoking policy was put in place for the bay window end of the Blue Room.

Margaret Moore saw The Helena May through many difficult challenges.  She certainly deserves our sincere thanks for a job well done during her years of stewardship and our very best wishes for her 90th birthday.

Diane O’Hare

Member of THM History Group