Britain's first dating agency, 20, lonely hearts later By KATHRYN KNIGHT Last updated at When a young Stella Groschel heard of her friend's plans to join a marriage bureau in her search for a husband, she was shocked to the core. It was the Forties and, quite simply, respectable girls just didn't do that sort of thing. I thought it was rather on the dangerous side and something that only really desperate, peculiar people would consider.
Now aged 83, she can lay claim to the title of the country's oldest and most long-standing matchmaker, still dispatching affairs of the heart at the country offices of her own dating agency. In almost half a century of romantic busybodying, nearly 20, people have passed through her books - from Bluebell girls and businessmen to beauty queens and barristers. There have been hundreds of weddings and, today, in a world of speeddating and internet romance, she still has around clients of all ages hoping Stella's personal touch can help find them their Mr or Miss Right.
In the process, her work has become a fascinating barometer of social change: But some things remain comfortingly constant, among them people's expectations - which are, she says, on the whole, generally unrealistic. Today, she still sports the steely, scrutinising gaze that has been her principal professional tool during her year career - a career she fell into by accident to distract herself from an unhappy marriage of her own the irony of that inconvenient fact does not, of course, escape her.
Born in Farnborough, Kent, in , Stella Flanders, as she was then, initially trained as a nurse. Then, aged 24, she married Ernest Groschel, a Czech engineer 13 years older who had come to Britain to escape the war. It had been a heady romance, but once married, Stella regretted the union almost immediately. We had nothing in common and simply couldn't communicate. I was very young and we'd never spent any proper time together.
In fact, despite Stella's unhappiness, the couple remained married for 14 years, during which time Stella fell pregnant, aged 38, with the couple's daughter, Emma. By then working as a journalist on her local newspaper in Sheffield, where the couple had settled, Stella knew she would be unable to continue with her career but, with a stultifying marriage, was aware she needed something else to distract her.
I thought at least given my experience, I might be able to help other people. Marriage bureaux were still in their infancy and, bound by the sexually conservative mores of the time, Stella found it difficult to gain publicity: In order to surmount this opposition, Stella had to get personal references from her local MP and the Bishop of Lincoln. But it was still a huge battle," she says. Each came for a personal interview, with Stella carefully jotting down their age, hobbies and preferences into a notebook.
She matched her very first client, a shy widow in her early 40s who was looking for a new partner to help with the upbringing of her young children. I had to decline as she was now in her late 60s and I didn't think I could help her. There were no average types. Those Stella has helped over the years include television personalities - although Stella is resolutely declines to name them - and members of the aristocracy.
It is the ordinary folk, however, of whom she is most proud, and whose thank-you letters she treasures. Like the one from the widow with three children who came to see her despairing that she would find love again. Our matchmaking service is probably very different to what you would expect from an Introduction Agency.
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