Margate girl Olive Higgins's diary put online on 100th anniversary of death

Image caption,
Olive began the diary as she set off to school in Paris in January 1914

At first, Rob McGibbon did not pay much attention to the burgundy leather-bound diary that was given to him by a friend more than 10 years ago.

But almost a century after the death of its owner, 16-year-old Olive Higgins, he says her story has become "a complete obsession".

The only daughter of hotelier Thomas Higgins, who founded the Hydro Hotel in Margate - one of the first so-called "health hotels" - Olive began the diary shortly before she set off to finishing school in Paris in January 1914.

But a mere eight weeks later she was dead, following a grave illness.

Antique shop owner Ian Burt, who gave Mr McGibbon the diary in 2001, had come across it years earlier, possibly in a house clearance.

'Completely captivated'

Mr McGibbon, a journalist and writer, said he became "completely captivated" when reading the newspaper cutting about her funeral that had been enclosed in the book.

"Because then I learnt she was buried in Brockley Cemetery [in south-east London] and it's the exact cemetery I used to look on when I was a little boy," he said.

"I was about six years old and my grandfather moved into a flat overlooking that cemetery.

"So there was that extraordinary geographical connection that absolutely blew my mind and gave me goose bumps."

Image caption,
Rob McGibbon said he felt "completely driven" to research Olive's story

He opened a Twitter account for Olive's diary and is publishing a new daily entry on the blog he has created until 25 February, the 100th anniversary of her death.

"I abandoned my journalism career, went to Paris to research, went all over Margate and the South East charting the history of the family and Olive's life," Mr McGibbon said.

"And it did become a complete obsession."

Olive's first diary entry, on New Year's Day in 1914, says: "Feeling fairly rotten after the Cecil Ball + a very gay Christmas! Paris tomorrow!

"I certainly don't relish the fact.

"Been carpet hunting all day, with lunch at the Buckingham Palace Hotel, plenty to eat, else should not have enjoyed it.

"Going home by the Granville, sure to miss it as we are all feeling a bit slack.

"No! We caught the train. Had a good dinner, my bed is yelling for me! After all, it [sic] the best place!!"

Image source, other
Image caption,
Olive's father Thomas Higgins founded the Hydro Hotel in Margate

Ian Dickie, chairman of the Friends of Margate Museum, said that Olive's mother had died in 1911 at the age of 41.

Her father remarried a woman called Elizabeth, who the children called Pegs, he said.

Olive, who went to Lynton House private school in Margate, also had a brother called Frank.

"We know that she was a very studious girl," Mr Dickie said.

"We know that she wasn't that advanced in languages, but otherwise she was obviously fairly advanced in other forms.

"She was very well educated."

'Like a ghost'

When Olive fell ill, a leading doctor to the British Royal family was sent to attend to her, to no avail.

"Olive was dearly beloved to her father and after she died, he went to Paris and spent about a month there, researching what had gone on," Mr Dickie said.

Image caption,
A new entry from the diary is being published online daily until 25 February

"After he died in 1946 at the age of 81, his body was taken to London and buried next to Olive's."

Mr McGibbon said: "I've spent all these years researching her story and obviously, the overriding question is 'why did the diary come into my life, what does it mean?'

"And also, what did Olive want to be known about her life?

"It's almost impossible to say what she would want.

"But all I can say is that it has been haunting in my life, she's been like a ghost.

"But it's been a benevolent ghost because it's brought me so many good things, from the stuff I've learnt about her life, and about my life."

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