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Friday 27 August 2021

The Golden Age: Mavis Doriel Hay (1894 -1979)

 by Carol Westron

Remarkably little is known about Mavis Doriel Hay, which is strange when one considers that she was a contemporary of Dorothy L. Sayers and received an education that, in some respects, ran parallel to that of Sayers.

Hay was born  in Potters Bar, Middlesex (North London), into a middle-class family, who were clearly willing and able to encourage their daughter to achieve an education that was unusual for a woman at that time. Hay was a student at St Hilda's College, Oxford, from 1913 until 1916 and Sayers was at Somerville, Oxford, from 1912-1915. Neither Hay nor Sayers would have graduated with degrees, because women were not permitted to be members of the university until 1920, when they were at last allowed to claim the degrees that they had earned.

After her time at St Hilda's, Hay seems to have returned to her primary love, the study and practice of rural crafts and, in 1927, she and her co-author, Helen Fitzrandolph published a wide-ranging and authoritative work, Rural Industries of England and Wales.

Hay was part of the generation of women who had lived through the tragic losses of the First World War. Hay had lost one of her brothers at the Battle of Jutland, in 1916. These young women had also seen their hopes of
marriages decimated by the loss of young men in the War, but, in 1929, when she was thirty-five, Hay married Helen Fitzrandolph's brother, Archibald Menzies Fitzrandolph, a member of a wealthy and influential Canadian family.

It was during the years of her marriage to Archibald Fitzrandolph that Hay wrote and published three detective novels, Murder Underground (1934), Death on the Cherwell (1935) and The Santa Klaus Murder (1936). Hay's detective novels seem to have been well received. Indeed Dorothy L. Sayers wrote an encouraging review of Murder Underground in the Sunday Times in 1934: 'This detective novel is much more than interesting. The
numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail.'

In 1939 the Second World War broke out and Hay again suffered grievous loss. In 1939 her youngest brother was killed when his Tiger Moth crashed in the Malayan jungle and in 1940 she lost another brother, who died after being captured by the Japanese. Hay's husband, Archibald, had joined the RAF and was killed in a flying accident in 1943.

In 1921, The Rural Industries Bureau (RIB) was established by the Ministry of Agriculture. The purpose of the RIB was to develop rural industries by providing technical advice and assistance to country workshops. As well as various booklets and reports, it published a quarterly magazine, Rural Industries. This was an ideal very close to Hay's heart and she took up a position as a researcher for the RIB. The rest of Hay's life was devoted to her first love, the promotion of rural crafts. Under her married name, Mavis Fitzrandolph, Hay wrote and published many books about rural crafts, including 30 Crafts, written for the Women's Institute. She wrote numerous books about her passion, quilting, and won great respect for her work in developing the Welsh quilting industry.

Hay made her home in Gloucestershire and died at the age of eighty-five. Her last book, Quilting was published in 1972. She showed no obvious desire to return to writing detective fiction.

To all appearances, despite the terrible losses that Hay suffered in the two World Wars, she went on to have a long and fulfilled life doing work that she loved. However, I am intrigued by the question of why Hay wrote three  detective novels in three years and then abandoned crime writing. While none of her crime novels can claim to be profound or ground-breaking, all three of them are pleasant and enjoyable reads, especially to lovers of the  Golden Age, who are used to the language and manners of the 1920s and 1930s.


Carol Westron  is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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