A riveting glimpse of life and love during and after World War II—a heart-warming, touching, and thoroughly absorbing true story of a world gone by.
In the spring of 1939, with the Second World War looming, two determined twenty-four-year-olds, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, decided to open a marriage bureau. They found a tiny office on London’s Bond Street and set about the delicate business of matchmaking. Drawing on the bureau’s extensive archives, Penrose Halson—who many years later found herself the proprietor of the bureau—tells their story, and those of their clients.
From shop girls to debutantes; widowers to war veterans, clients came in search of security, social acceptance, or simply love. And thanks to the meticulous organization and astute intuition of the Bureau’s matchmakers, most found what they were looking for.
Penrose Halson draws from newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, and interviews with the proprietors themselves to bring the romance and heartbreak of matchmaking during wartime to vivid, often hilarious, life in this unforgettable story of a most unusual business.
“A book full of charm and hilarity.”—Country Life
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About the Author
Penrose Halson has been a teacher, an editor and a writer. She was first a client and later, beginning in 1986, the proprietor of the Katharine Allen Marriage & Advice Bureau, with which Heather Jenner’s agency had then merged. She is the author of Happily Ever After: How to Meet Your Match, published in 1999. Penrose is married and lives in London.
Table of Contents
1 Audrey's Uncle Has a Brainwave 3
2 No, It's Not a Brothel 18
3 Open for Matrimonial Business 31
4 The Capitulation of Cedric Thistleton 47
5 The Perfect Secretary and Other Learning Curves 61
6 New Clients Wanted-but No Spies, Please 76
7 Mary Transforms Myrtle 91
8 The Mansion and the Mating 108
9 Mary's Bones and Babies 124
10 While Bombs Fall the Bureau Booms 139
11 Sex, Tragedy, Success and Bust Bodices 154
12 A Sideline and Two Triumphs 169
13 Other Agendas, Pastures New 185
14 Heather Chooses Mating over Chickens 201
15 Picot and Dorothy Hold the Fort 218
16 Peacetime Problems 233
17 Loneliness and Heartbreak 249
18 Mr. Hedgehog, Journalists, a Tiny Baptist and Lies 264
19 A Chapter of Accidents and Designs 281
20 Thanks to Uncle George 297
Picture Acknowledgments 315
P.S. Section 316
Meet Penrose Halson 2
Requirements of Female Clients 1939-circa 1949 3
Requirements of Male Clients 1939-circa 1949 9
Interviewers' Comments 1939-circa 1949 18
Reading Group Questions 22
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Who would have thought that two women who simply didn't want to get married themselves would find a way to eke out living just before World War II? Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver both had everything to offer a man who was searching for a wife, both good looks, education and a willing heart for romance, only both of them wanted nothing to do with finding suitable matches for their own hearts, but felt they could match up their friends and family with men they knew overseas that were looking for love, but because of the short duration of their military leaves, didn't have much time to get to know someone before they were shipped back. So an idea was formed to create a perfect place to help love find the right match. The Marriage Bureau began in a small office in England and they would charge either parties a small fee to find them a suitable partner. While they couldn't guarantee a marriage, they would interview each potential client and find out what they were looking for in a suitable spouse. Then they would send correspondence to both parties to see if they wanted to write one another and decide if a date might be in order. Those that didn't work out, would simply be sifted back into the pile for other possible matches. Along the lines there were plenty of difficult clients to try and find suitable matches for as well as those that were the basis for their business, to find them someone to marry. Often times in as little as 4 days for dating and on the 5th day, marriage. Clients that found their suitable partner were required to pay a Marriage Fee. It was quite the lucrative business just before the war began, and once the war did, the girls had to get creative in how to keep their business afloat or risk being forced to give it all up. But what the war did was inspire many men to get married quickly so they would have someone to come home to or at least write to during the time they were deployed. From the wealthy elite, to those who were the poorest of the poor, matches were found. Even in the midst of the war, the girls used their skills to turn in clients that might be using their service as spies for the enemy under the guise of looking for love. This is where services like Match.com or eHarmony got their humble beginnings. I received The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. This is the true story compiled by hours of research garnered by Penrose using newspaper articles, advertisements, film, photographs, letters and books to bring this book to life. From war veterans and widows, to debutantes and shopgirls, each was looking for love and the promise of a future with someone suited just for them. This was the birth of matchmaking based on the true stories of the two women who made it all possible for love to be found in the midst of war in an unforgettable story and most unusual business. I absolutely LOVE the section at the conclusion of the book that shows what women and men's requirements were to become a client in addition to the interview comments from 1939 to 1940. There is even a discussion guide that would make this a perfect book club selection. I give this a 4 out of 5 stars and gives us a look at history we never knew existed before.
Before there was E-harmony or Tinder, there was The Marriage Bureau, which is recounted in Penelope Halson's book of the same name. In 1938, twenty-four-year-old Audrey Parsons had already been through a litany of jobs near her home in England. She worked in a factory (too boring), as a dental receptionist (too bloody- she had to pick up teeth off the floor!), as a photographer's assistant (the darkroom was too dark), as a delivery girl for a cake shop (fired for eating the cakes) and as a riding instructor (she refused to muck out the stables). Audrey went to visit her Uncle George in Assam, India and he gave her the idea of starting a marriage bureau in London. There were so many young men working overseas looking for a wife to join them, he thought Audrey could do something about that. So Audrey found a partner in Heather, who was practical and logical in contrast to Audrey (now called Mary), who was more romantic and imaginative. They made a perfect team for this job! The Marriage Bureau was formed, and thanks to a slew of good publicity in local newspapers, it was successful right out of the gate. The idea was that people would come in and be interviewed, giving their requirements for a potential spouse. They paid a small fee, and if a match led to marriage, they paid an After Marriage Fee. The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London is filled with stories of the many clients who came in looking for love. Their first wedding was a 68 year-old bride to a 70 year-old groom, which garnered so much publicity (including a short documentary film) that the bureau was overrun with inquiries across the world- India, dozens of African nations, and once WWII broke out, even American servicemen stationed in England used their services. The stories are charming and sad, and some are even maddening. Mary and Heather were so successful, they even found a match for Cedric, a man they both found unappealing and disagreeable. Maybe there is a lid for every pot. At the end of the book, there are two lists that must be read- Requirements for Female Clients 1939-1949 and Requirements for Male Clients 1939-1949. These lists contain such specific client requests as: Women required: Not too sophisticated but not too dumb Man who will cherish a large woman I divorced my husband who was teacher. Not another teacher No bridge, pub crawling, golf, passion for The Club or Americans Men required: No hysteria, no gold diggers; likes mountaineering Able to play a portable instrument (string or woodwind) well. Rather a prairie than a hothouse flower Someone who doesn't expect too much A nice, stylish girl, not too brainy, with the appearance of a West End mannequin. No objection to a rich widow. Someone who likes living and is human. Reading this put me in mind of PBS' series Home Fires, and if you like that, this book is for you. Mary and Heather were women ahead of their time, and I enjoyed reading about their successful business and all of the lovely people they helped to find love. I recommend The Marriage Bureau.