Universal Aunts Limited is nearly 90 years old, and our business has evolved much since 1921 with the changing social scene; however, we still carry out many of our original services. An example is the escorting of children, at the request of parents or guardians who are overseas, between airports and railway stations, or to and from school.
This is very much in the tradition of our founder, Gertrude Maclean. Before the First World War, with 7 brothers and sisters scattered throughout the British Empire, Aunt Gertie took over the role of caring for her numerous nephews and nieces who were sent back to school in Britain. She was adored by the children, who described her as a rock and a sport - high praise from a child. She gave hugs and kisses, told stories, kept secrets, and "always looked and smelt delicious.”
With the end of the war, her brothers and sisters began to come home to settle and Gertie bemoaned the passing of her usefulness, until an elderly uncle came up with a solution: "why not do for others as you have been doing for your family?" Gertie's reply was instantaneous, “and be a universal aunt?" She decided to offer a personal service with the motto "Anything for anyone at any time."
Having found a partner, Miss Emily Faulder, she started her business in a little room behind a bootmaker's in Chelsea. Their lease did not allow them to work in the afternoons, so they went, with their papers in a capacious knitting bag, to Harrods' Ladies' Rest Room where they received clients and applicants on a sofa in the corner. So began a business that by its 80th year had employed over three quarters of a million men and women, and undertaken over a million services.
Universal Aunts has developed and diversified over the decades. Apart from meeting children off aeroplanes, the 'Aunts' take care of the elderly, ill or those in crisis; animals, houses, gardens, children whose parents are away for any reason, and people who need nannies, housekeepers or special staff for special occasions. They find staff for clients both in the UK and overseas.
Our archives are full of wonderful stories of unusual commissions and fascinating anecdotes. There was a Universal Aunts flying club and clients were given flying lessons by one of our Directors; we even sponsored a Lancaster bomber in the Second World War. A second book about Universal Aunts history is currently being written and there has been a television series made about us. Our Managing Director has regularly been asked to lecture on the history of the company, both from the entertainment value of our past, and also the fascinating social history of working women between the wars.