Ariel Crittall's life

PUBLISHED: 15:26 12 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 February 2013

My Life by Ariel Crittall

My Life by Ariel Crittall

From her upbringing in Ugley's Orford House to a meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich, Ariel Crittall's life has been eventful and is now recorded in an insightful new autobiography<br/><br/>Words by Claire Willetts

A compelling history


From her upbringing in Ugleys Orford House to a meeting with
Adolf Hitler in Munich, Ariel Crittalls life has been eventful
and is now recorded in an insightful new autobiography
Words by Claire Willetts



ADOLF HITLERS most striking features were his, strange, compelling eyes, recalls Ariel Crittall in her newly-published autobiography, My Life Smilingly Unravelled. Ariel met the newly-elected German Chancellor in 1933, as the Nazi party were seizing power. But unlike some young British women of this time, Ariel was chilled, not charmed, by the encounter.
This is just one fleeting moment from the history of one of the countys most colourful and charming characters. Ariel was the wife of John Crittall, a name synonymous with the Braintree steel-window manufacturer and one of the leading families in Essex.


Ariel was born in 1914, just two weeks after her father, Archie Mercer, was killed fighting in Mesopotamia. She was born at her grandparents home, Orford House, in Ugley, where her mother Margaret (ne Tennant) had returned from India for her confinement. Orford House was the setting for Ariels early life which, through the comings and goings of late Edwardian life, nurtured a much-loved, but lonely, child growing up in a large liberal-minded household.


With Ariels mother serving in the Voluntary Aid Detachment, much of the time Ariel was raised at Orford House by her grandparents. Her grandfather, Will Tennant, or Papa, as she called him, was a huge figure in her life and throughout her records she shares his benevolent, guiding influence on her.


After leaving school, Ariel spent a year in both Paris and Munich learning the languages, studying painting and music and appreciating the culture. And that was how she came to be in Munich in 1933 with her aunt, Nancy Tennant. Nancy, on being asked at a dinner party who she would like to meet in Munich, replied, Adolf Hitler. Expecting nothing more than seeing the chancellor drive past, Ariel and Nancy were amazed to find themselves later being escorted to the heart of the growing Nazi machine, watching Sepp Dietrich, Rudolph Hess and other newly-established Nazis leaving a meeting before being introduced to Hitler. Although Ariel spoke no German, Nancy was fluent and the 15-minute meeting left a profound impact on them both.


The following turbulent year was spent in Munich, at times in the challenging company of Unity and Diana Mitford, who notoriously fell under Hitlers spell. But for Ariel, witnessing ranks of boy soldiers training in the forests and hearing first-hand from her Russian landlady, Baronin Von Feilitsch, about conditions in the notorious Hitler youth camps, she heard the distant drums of war. Leaving the worrying affairs in Germany, Ariel returned home and in 1936 she met the handsome John Crittall. They fell in love and were married later that year it was to be a marriage that would span almost half a century.
When war broke out in 1939, John and Ariel were living in Shalford and embarking on family life. With the war came Ariels involvement in local activities, something that was to become an integral part of her life, particularly in the fields of education, health and the arts. Ariel supported many important organisations; she drove one of the first early mobile Citizens Advice Bureau vans, served for many years as a governor of the Tabor High School, was a governor of St Georges Hospital in London and a trustee of Braintree District Museum. Music too was, and still is, a life-long pleasure and the setting up of the Veterans Choir in Finchingfield, was a proud achievement for her. John Crittall played an active role in the establishment of the University of Essex for which he was made a
CBE in 1979.


Originally intended as a simple recording of her lifes achievements and adventures for the benefit of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, it soon became clear that Ariels detailed diaries and the many family photograph albums provided precious material for a
wider audience.


Now transposed into an autobiography, one of the books themes is the importance of friendships and family. The years of domesticity, with all the vicissitudes of family life, are affectionately recalled. The familys move to Park Hall, Great Bardfield, in 1952 is described in detail and her love of the family home, where she still lives, is evident.


Ariels love of travel features strongly as well. The Crittall Manufacturing Company had offices worldwide and Ariel and John travelled extensively on business throughout the 1960s and 70s, visiting India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and much of Europe.


Interestingly, their arrival in each new destination usually presaged a search for the nearest art gallery or to explore and admire the local architecture. Indeed, as Ariel herself remarks, the pleasures of shared enthusiasms, be they for art, music or politics, was a keystone to her long and happy marriage to John.


My Life Smilingly Unravelled is a charming insight into a world that has largely gone. A life that spans the major events of the last century and saw Britain at the zenith of its power leading up to the first war, through the turbulent war years, to the uncertain times of the 1950s as Britain found a new role in the world. As the wife of one of the countys leading industrialists, Ariel saw it all at first hand.


Get the book


Copies of My Life Smilingly Unravelled by Ariel Crittall, published by Braintree District Museum Trust Ltd are available for 12 from the Museum Shop, Manor Street, Braintree CM7 3HW. Call 01376 328868.

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