Category Archives: Uncategorized

OBITUARY: Richard Jemmett 1922 – 2021

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 42 (2021)

Richard Jemmett, always known as ‘Dick’, was born in Ilfracombe, North Devon, 17 months after his elder brother John.   His parents had a greengrocers’ shop in the High Street, and an extensive nursery outside the town.   His mother, Elsie, was a trained florist, often ordering flowers from Covent Garden for wreaths that she continued to prepare for many years after they retired from the shop.  His nurseryman father, Arthur, tended the produce in the greenhouses.  

Dick was educated at Ilfracombe Grammar School between 1933 and 1939, and on leaving school, he was articled to A.J. Westway, Engineer, Surveyor and Water Engineer to Ilfracombe Urban District Council.  Completing his articles in 1942, he married his teenage sweetheart, Avice Phillpots (born 1923) who he had met at Grammar School, and they moved to Calne.  There he qualified as a municipal engineer while Avice completed her training in Bristol as a primary school teacher.

By 1948 they had moved to Watford where daughter Claire was born, and from there the family moved around the country as Dick obtained increasingly senior positions with local councils. At various times, they lived at Grimsby, Wroughton (near Swindon) and Dorchester where initially the family lived in a flat in a grand old house, with bedroom windows that rattled when the trains on the nearby railway line passed by.  In Dorchester, Dick designed a house which was built for the family situated immediately next to Max Gate where Thomas Hardy had lived. This was where Claire often enjoyed hearing Dick play a favourite piano piece while waiting for Avice to get ready to go out.

Another treat for Claire at this time was when she was allowed into Dick’s darkroom while he was developing and printing photographs.   “The eeriness of the faint red light added to the mystery as each image was slowly and magically revealed by the gentle rocking of the developing solution”, she recalls.

Early in the 1960s the family moved again, to Wells in Somerset and then to Wellington, Telford. In 1969 Dick successfully applied for the position of Borough Engineer in Saffron Walden. In his application he listed his skills and experience under seven headings:  Organisation and Administration; Planning and Development Control; Highways, Car Parks, etc.; Open Spaces and Recreation Grounds; Housing and Industrial Development; Sewerage and Sewage Disposal; Refuse Collection and Disposal, providing a detailed summary of his past responsibilities in each area.  No wonder they gave him the job in Saffron Walden!

Dick started work in January 1970, and one of his first and most controversial tasks was to supervise the demolition of the fire-damaged facade of the Rose and Crown Hotel, which had been declared unsafe. His employment with the Corporation, however, only lasted four years, as the Corporation was abolished with Local Government re-organisation in 1974, and many of its powers and responsibilities were transferred to the newly create Uttlesford District Council, and Dick was offered and accepted early retirement., although he retained his interest in the infrastructure of the town, especially anything involving waterworks.

In Saffron Walden the family lived at 9 High Street, a narrow-fronted building with a brick facade that concealed its 14th century timber-framed structure – part of which had been incorporated into the building next door, originally a brewery, but then part of Raynham’s garage with its massive art deco showroom.  Dick delighted in recounting how, when the garage was demolished, the workmen had great difficulty in cutting through the iron-hard timbers.  Number 9 runs back from the road, and is a comfortable jumble of corridors, staircases, half-landings, alcoves and attics, which provided plenty of space for his beloved magazines and growing collection of photographs and slides.

Retirement enabled him to pursue his many interests. Avice had retired from teaching by this time but helped look after the retired clergymen at St Mark’s college near Audley End and joined local women’s groups.  

Dick meanwhile belonged to the Camera Club, the Historical Society, the Museum Society, the Library Society, the Friends of Bridge End Gardens, and the local area Residents’ Association.

Dick played an active role in the Historical Society, as Treasurer from 1985 until 2013 and when he retired afte 28 years he was made an Honorary Vice-President of the Society. As treasurer, he kept most of the Society’s financial records in a tiny notebook, which he would refer to during committee meetings, and in the early days, he made notices for meetings by hand and wrote subscription receipts, often using his skill in calligraphy. He then delivered them by hand to members.

In 1984 the Historical Society played a major part in promoting a special Essex History Day held in Saffron Walden. Dick was one of a small sub- committee that took responsibility for arranging a ‘history fair’ in the Town Hall as the main attraction of the day.  Over 3,000 people attended the History Day, most of them going to the History Fair, which was packed throughout the day. Dick also made a photographic record of the Fair.

Dick also helped with the production of the first series of Saffron Walden History, preparing precise drawings for use as cover designs, while in more recent years his photographs have been used in the ‘Saffron Walden Historical Journal’. He also frequently contributed photographs to ‘Essex Countryside’ magazine in its heyday, and some of his photos were selected for two books of photographs published by the magazine. He was interested in the minutiae of everyday life – researching odd objects that had been left behind by history, such as parish and telegraph boundary markers, but the only article he wrote (as opposed to illustrated) for Saffron Walden History Journal was in 1981 – entitled “A Wall-Builder’s Joke”, about a flat iron inserted into an old brick wall.

Photography was his main hobby, and he saw his retirement as an opportunity to take hundreds of photographs while he and Avice explored different areas of the country on holiday, usually sporting a jacket with large pockets to accommodate various cameras and lenses.  Sadly Avice died in 2004.

Dick was a member of the local Camera Club from the time it was restarted in the early 80s. In the days of film he used quite basic camera equipment to good effect, keeping up a steady stream of entries to club competitions. He gave several fascinating talks to both History Society and Camera Club members over the years, based on his enormous collection of prints and slides of the town, and the History Society relied on his rather elderly projector which he would trundle up the High Street to the Quaker Meeting House in his shopping trolley, both for his own talks and for visiting lecturers. 

He joined Royal Photographic Society in 1982 and gained his Licentiate the same year, becoming a member of the Historical, Archaeological and Heritage, and Visual Art special interest groups of the Society.

 Although he didn’t have a computer, Dick embraced digital photography, and was the only camera club member who printed directly from his camera without use of processing software. Fellow-member Dominic Davey remembers that:

At studio portrait sessions he would wait for quiet moments to take his pictures without benefit of flash, unphased by the wealth of camera technology used by other members.   Dick’s last Camera Club competition entries were in 2014 and he won the Saffron Plate for the ‘Members Choice’.

A quiet, reserved and learned man, Dick’s archive of several thousand photographs and slides reflects his interests in photography, engineering, buildings and local history, recording many now lost buildings such as the Ashdon Road Convent, and changes in the local townscape, such as the felling of the horse chestnut trees in the churchyard. It was his dear wish that the local part of his archive should be conserved for others to enjoy after his death, so with the agreement and support of his daughter Claire, his collection is being sorted and transferred to the Gibson Library, where it will be a fitting tribute to his memory as someone who made Saffron Walden his home, and played a quiet but active part in its civic life.

Martyn Everett

OBITUARY: John Frank Woodhouse Read M.A. 1933 – 2020

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 40 Autumn 2020

John Read, born in Winchmore Hill in 1933, was the oldest surviving child of Dr Frank Read and Margaret Woodhouse, who had spent seven years in India with the Church Missionary Society where, tragically they lost three previous babies. Soon after their return to England John was born, and the family then settled in Brighton, where at the age of five, John a bright lad, commenced his private education.

With WW2 came the inevitable disruption with his school having to close in 1940, so he was moved to another establishment in the town namely the Xaverian College. At the end of the war John’s father gained a position as a GP in Nottinghamshire, so it was decided to send John to Epsom College in 1946. He did well at GCE O Level, showing skill in sciences and mathematics, but opted for A Level languages as he had a particular interest in these subjects. He was accepted to study law at St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford at the age of 17.

National Service, however, stood in his way so in 1951 John found himself in Aldershot, but after only 6-8 weeks was on his way to Bodmin in Devon to join the Joint Services School of Linguists. This was at the height of the Cold War and the Army was looking for suitable candidates to learn Russian. John passed the assessment with ease and so was sent to Cambridge on the Interpreters’ Course. He emerged from there speaking the language fluently; indeed he added to his credits by taking and passing his fourth A Level in Russian. After another period at Bodmin to learn Military Russian, he spent the rest of his sojourn at the Intelligence Corps Headquarters at Maresfield, Sussex.

Oxford University beckoned and John went up to St Edmund’s Hall where, after a change of heart, he decided to read English – two of his tutors were J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis. Upon graduation he was snapped up by what is now the Standard Chartered Bank, which was looking for young men with a strong mathematical aptitude to work abroad in credit control. After a relatively short training stint in London John was posted abroad in 1957. He spent many years overseas in such places as India, Malaysia, Borneo, Bangladesh and particularly Saigon during the Vietnam War. His comment about that time was: ‘It was a wonderful life, it took me to parts of the world I’d never been before’. John’s final overseas stint between 1969 and 1972 was spent in Indonesia where he met his future wife, Farida who was working at the Jakarta branch.

After their marriage in 1972 they returned to the UK and settled upon Saffron Walden, as John could commute to the bank’s London office from Audley End. Additionally, although John at that time was a reluctant churchgoer, his interest was aroused by bellringing, not just because of the strange jargon used, but also the mathematical formulae of change ringing. Coupled with this, St Mary’s Church unusually has 12 bells, thus making it fairly exceptional in campanology terms.  

John then threw himself into a variety of organisations and pursuits, especially in the role of Treasurer. He was the longest-serving Council member of the Anglo-Indonesian Society at 41 years. The Saffron Walden branches of the United Nations Society and the Essex Society for Family History, of which he was a member since its inception in 1974, greatly benefited from his experience and guidance. He also spent many years as an active member of the Saffron Walden Archive Society, and until last year fulfilled the role of Auditor for the Saffron Walden Historical Society.  

One of John’s hobbies was recording old documents. He single-handedly transcribed the St. Mary’s burial records from 1558 to 2000, using the original entries in the National Burial Index; and for the last ten years had been actively involved in the St Mary’s Baptism Register project just completed by the Family History Society local branch. In 2017 John completely revised and updated Dr Kenneth Dixon’s A History & Guide of St. Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden, by using additional material from his own research on certain features of the church, notably the war memorials and ledger stones.

Mike Furlong

OBITUARY: Lizzie Sanders 1950-2020

Edited from original article, published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 40 (2020)

With a huge sense of loss, we record the death of Lizzie Sanders in August 2020, aged 70. She had lived in Littlebury since 1987, but I think our first encounter was probably when she produced the Parish of Littlebury Millennium Album (2000), a portrait of the village residents at the turn of the century. This was followed by an even bigger volume, the magnificent Littlebury: A Parish History (2005), co-edited with Gillian Williamson, and surely one of the best village history books ever published. Not the least achievement was leading a local group of other residents to take up historical research, but this was typical of Lizzie’s community approach. By going on to edit The Life and Times of a Country Gardener at Howe Hall (2007), for Sarah and Stan Casbolt, she enabled others to get into print a unique slice of oral history.

The culmination of her historical works was Audley End Landscape Histories (2019), based on a series of articles written for the Saffron Walden Historical Journal about the hamlets along the river Cam. Lizzie’s painstaking research, careful writing and sense of design ensured she knew exactly what she wanted for the book, and the result is a fine volume on a subject little explored before. The book was launched in December 2019, with her many friends and family present (see Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 39, p.1).

Through the Recorders of Uttlesford History, she took over the role of Local History Recorder for Littlebury some 15 years ago and, as always, carried it out with enthusiasm and unfailingly high standards. She was a stickler for getting things right – a great attribute for a historian. Her annual reports are not just lists of village events, but personal essays presenting a picture of parish life over the course of the year, written with affection and insight. Re-reading them online (www.recordinguttlesfordhistory.org.uk) is a reminder of the numerous other activities – oral history, transcription, archival scanning, beating the bounds, visiting lecturers, website, house history days, guided tours of the village, junior history days in the summer holidays (including the memorable re-creation of the Eddystone Lighthouse story), the discovery of a stone circle, a stall at the Uttlesford History Fair, field-walking with Prof Tom Williamson which produced Celtic and Roman coins, a summer evening visit to Ring Hill at Audley End, and a Saffron Screen presentation of the Littlebury film she compiled. Plus all the day-to-day demands that come the way of a Recorder – family history enquiries, collecting ephemera and newspaper cuttings, taking local photos, recording memories, updating parish magazines and website, etc.

Somewhere in the midst of all this hectic activity, she found time to do a Master’s degree in Modern History at King’s College, London, graduating in 2014. A particular joy was the discovery of the oldest known map of Saffron Walden, which aroused much interest when put on display in the town hall.

She also did an excellent photographic project on the 1758 map of the town, which has been useful time and again for articles in the Journal. She decided that ‘the thought that someone else, a new Littlebury Recorder coming after me, would have to be able to understand how to access information within the materials I had assimilated, was a stimulus to freshly organising them’. At her own expense, she then compiled 11 huge bound volumes of about 275 pages each of Littlebury material gathered, all sorted into subjects, and donated them to The Gibson Library, Saffron Walden where anybody can consult them. Most recently Lizzie organised a very successful village arts festival, and extracted references to other villages in Victorian Littlebury parish magazines, passing them on to other Recorders. Her very last project, to catalogue the 1758 map of Saffron Walden, is being completed by her son.

Lizzie was also a campaigner, writing, for instance, against excessive signage spoiling local heritage; highlighting the importance of the Gibson (formerly Town) Library; and opposing new flight path proposals from Stansted Airport.

None of this even touches on Lizzie’s earlier career over about 40 years as a highly successful illustrator – contributing to numerous publications, designing book covers and so on. An obituary appeared in The Guardian with a picture of the Yorkshire Tea image she painted (6.9.19). A phenomenal personality who crammed so much into her 70 years.

Jacqueline Cooper

OBITUARY: Stanley George Sutherland. 1931-2018

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 36 (2018)

On Wednesday 18 July 2018 family and friends, including a strong representation from Essex Society for Family History, attended the funeral of “Stan” Sutherland at Radwinter Church, a place that he knew well with over 40 years residency in the village. Possibly many of those present would be unaware that Stan had single-handedly undertaken the transcribing of baptisms, marriages & burials from Radwinter Church Registers between 1813 and 2004.

Stan Sutherland was the founding Chairman of the Saffron Walden (North West) Branch of the ESFH in 1986 and for many years he and his wife Joan regularly attended the Chelmsford meetings. He also served on the Executive in his role of Branch Chairman. He was a genealogy encyclopaedia, inspiring so many people to take up the hobby with his introductory courses. He gave talks on numerous aspects of family history, both locally as well as in Scotland and instigated several initiatives for Saffron Walden Branch, including the transcription process for Saffron Walden Cemetery.

He was a friendly, active and enthusiastic member with a wicked sense of humour and always there to welcome people to the meetings and rope them into a job if he could. He undertook the role of quiz master for his well-established brain teasing quizzes at the Christmas meetings. For over 30 years Stan remained as a Branch committee member, even after handing over the reins of the Branch library and moving to Great Easton. He continued to attend meetings right up to March 2018 before ill health set in. Stan will be greatly missed by all who knew him. 

Mike Furlong

OBITUARY: Michael Swindlehurst (1929-2017)

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 34 (2017)

Michael Robert Carol Swindlehurst was born on Christmas Day 1929. He went up to Oxford and read history at Worcester College, where he took his bachelor and master’s degrees in 1952 and 1956. After going down from Oxford he joined the Civil Service but he had long nourished the call of ordination. Michael trained for the ministry at Cuddesdon College, Oxford, during the days of Robert Runcie as Principal. He served his first curacy at Havant, Portsmouth, a leading training parish for those in the Catholic tradition. His second curacy was at Hellesdon, a large suburban parish lying on the north-west corner of Norwich. In 1969 Michael was instituted as Vicar of All Saints with St James Brightlingsea. There he remained until his retirement in 1995.

Brightlingsea is a coastal town situated between Colchester and Clacton-on-Sea at the mouth of the River Colne. In the latest census the town had a population of just over 8,000. Michael threw himself into all aspects of life in Brightlingsea and was given an award by the town council when he retired. He was much involved with the Mission to Seamen (now the Mission to Seafarers), and was Rural Dean of St Osyth in the Diocese of Chelmsford for ten years from 1984 to 1994. Michael was appointed an Honorary Canon of Chelmsford Cathedral in 1989.

Michael chose to retire to Saffron Walden where he lived a very active life in retirement. He exercised a regular ministry at St Mary’s Saffron Walden and in the neighbouring villages. There were few societies and charities in the town in which Michael was not involved. These included the Bible Society, the United Nations Association, the Museum Society. and many others. He played a large role in the Saffron Walden Historical Society, and was its chairman for some 16 years. At the Annual General Meeting of the Society in May, Michael was unanimously elected the Honorary Life President of the Society. 

Michael will be remembered as a caring and compassionate human being, as a wise and faithful pastor, and as a good and loving friend to all who were privileged to know him. We will miss him greatly.

Jeremy Collingwood

OBITUARY: Jeremy Collingwood 1937–2020

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 41 (2021)

The Rev’d Jeremy Collingwood retired to Saffron Walden with his wife, Margaret, in 2002, after a very full and varied career. In retirement he devoted much of his time to his love of history and research; he had already written several books and he soon embarked on a biography of the town’s Victorian philanthropist, Mr Saffron Walden: the Life and Times of George Stacey Gibson (1818-1883), published in 2008.

Jeremy joined the Saffron Walden Historical Society; he became a member of the committee in 2012 and in 2015 was elected as Chairman of the Society. He contributed a number of articles to the Society’s Historical Journal and also gave several talks to the members. In 2012 the Society published his next book, Sir Thomas Smith: Scholar, Statesman and Son of Saffron Walden, a biography of the eminent Tudor statesman (see opposite page for extract). Jeremy then led a memorable Society outing to Hill Hall, the unique classical mansion at Theydon Mount, which Sir Thomas had designed and where he died.

His final book, completed in 2017, was: Rab Butler: A Short Life of Lord Butler of Saffron Walden (1902-82). He felt it was important to keep alive the memory of Rab Butler, who had served Saffron Walden as MP for nearly 36 years and yet had little written about him. Sir Alan Haselhurst, who was then the current Member of Parliament, wrote a foreword to the book, calling it ‘a worthy reminder’ of Lord Butler of Saffron Walden.

When Jeremy retired as Chairman, he was invited to become the Historical Society’s Honorary Life President. This was warmly and unanimously approved by the AGM at which it was announced in 2019.

Jeremy himself wrote that in his career he had served in four instruments of state. The first of these was when, aged 18, he joined the Royal Navy for his National Service, spending time in the Mediterranean at the time of the Suez crisis. Much later in Saffron Walden, he retained a naval link by acting as chaplain to HMS Lapwing Association. After National Service, Jeremy read Law and Economics at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and on graduating he entered the overseas civil service and went to rural Northern Rhodesia as a colonial District Officer. He was then appointed Head of the Law School in Zambia and wrote his first book, Criminal Law of East and Central Africa, which for many years was the official and only text book on the subject for the whole of that area.

After nine years in Africa, Jeremy returned to England in 1970 and began work as a barrister for the Director of Public Prosecutions. One of the cases with which he was involved was a murder in Saffron Walden; his first contact with the town long before he moved here! But he felt called to train for the ministry and so he became a student again at Trinity College, Bristol in 1974. After ordination, he remained in Bristol, first as a curate at St Peter’s, HenleazeenleazeHHHHHHHHHH and then as the vicar of Holy Trinity, Hotwells and Rural Dean of Clifton. In 1991 he moved to Surrey, becoming vicar of Christchurch, Guildford and Rural Dean of Guildford for eleven years, before retirement brought him to Saffron Walden, where he became a member of St Mary’s Parish Church.

Although retired, Jeremy found plenty to do in addition to his historical writing and research. He took services in many local churches, particularly in Debden and Wimbish, and led Bible study and discussion groups. He loved exploring the countryside and led walks around the paths and fields of north-west Essex. He had long had a deep interest in Israel and in the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, and he led several study trips to Israel with people from the Saffron Walden team parish and from further afield.

The Saffron Walden Historical Society has many reasons to be grateful to Jeremy. His wide knowledge, interest in local history and his thorough, detailed research led him to identify the three important individuals whom he felt had no easily accessible biography and who deserved to be better known in the town; so he wrote about each of them to rectify this. The varied contributions written for the Historical Journal and the talks he gave at Society meetings were both interesting and much appreciated. He was a calm and gracious chairman, always thoughtful and encouraging. It is a cause of deep sadness that his time as our Honorary President was cut so short by his last illness and death in December 2020. He is greatly missed.  

Kathryn Fiddock

OBITUARY: JEAN GUMBRELL 1926 – 2016

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 32 (2016)

Born Jean Belshaw, Jean grew up in the Lancashire town of Wigan, where her parents owned a successful grocery business. She left school at the age of 14 to study stenography for two years at Smart’s College, Southport.  This was a fortunate choice, as it enabled her to find work easily, but also provided the necessary skills to enter journalism later in her life. She worked at a number of jobs in Wigan and Manchester before being attracted to the bright lights of London in 1953.  In London she found work with a pharmaceutical company before working for a year or two at the Admiralty.

She was working for Shellmex in Berkley Square when, in 1960, she met Michael Gumbrell, a young man from the Isle of Wight who was working for at Elliott Brothers, an electrical firm in Boreham Wood.  They first met in a club called the Allied Circle, which had an international membership.  When Michael walked in, Jean said: ‘That’s the man I’m going to marry!” and she did!

Michael Gumbrell was a bright and hard-working young man with a keen interest in science.  He had taken a degree in Physics at University College London, and then studied part-time for an MSc in Maths while employed by the General Electrical Corporation (GEC), before working for Elliott Brothers.  He subsequently studied part-time for a PhD in Physics, and eventually began teaching at the Sir John Cass College, (which became part of the new City of London Polytechnic in 1970), commuting to London for several decades.  

Jean and Michael married at Kensington Registry Office in March 1961 and Jean moved to Hampstead where Michael had a small flat.  Shortly after they married, Jean wrote her first magazine article, about meeting Michael, which  was successfully published in Woman – the first small step towards her later career in journalism.

In 1963 they purchased a run-down house at Gambles Green, in the south Essex village of Terling, where they soon became known as the ‘Gumbrells of Gamble’s Green’.  They spent two years renovating the house, with Michael doing much of the work himself.

They lived at the White House’ in Terling for five years, but in the late 1960s, when they were considering a move to France, they made a chance visit to Saffron Walden, On a ‘whim’ they went to an auction at the Rose and Crown, where they successfully bid for a run-down thatched cottage.  Like their previous home, Little Mortimers at Ashdon was in need of considerable restoration, and again, Michael did much of the work himself.  Together they created a tiny thatched paradise in the remote Essex countryside where they spent the next fifty years.

While living at Terling, Jean worked for a company that specialised in agricultural market research and she continued to do so after the move to Ashdon, travelling to farms around the Essex countryside and interviewing the farmers. But then she was offered a job working for the Stansted Magazine, a new publication specialising in the airport’s activities before it was expanded. Jean did just about everything involved in producing the magazine except printing it! The highlight for her, however, was going to Barbara Cartland’s house and interviewing her over afternoon tea!

While still working on the Stansted Magazine, Jean started writing as a freelance for the Saffron Walden Weekly News, where her talents were soon recognised and she was offered her own weekly column – well, I say column, but it was nearly always a double-page feature each week.  Entitled ‘Down Your Street’ the first article appeared as a four-page ‘special’ in April 1984 with contemporary photographs provided by Dick Harding, the Weekly News resident photographer.  Jean’s detailed and sympathetic interviews with local people, and her carefully researched profiles of local businesses and buildings soon became very popular and won her a place in local affections – a difficult thing to do in a town where even second-generation residents were classed as ‘outsiders’. ‘Down Your Street’ appeared nearly every week for six years, eventually finishing in 1991.    

Down Your Street was a real labour of love, involving many hours of knocking on doors, extensive interviewing and the transcription and editing of interview tapes, as well as painstaking research in the old Town Library in Saffron Walden, all of which had to be completed before Jean could start to write the articles.

Jean worked as a freelance for the Weekly News for 11 years, and was upset when the paper unexpectedly ceased publication many years later, in 2014:

I cannot imagine Saffron Walden without the Weekly News!  After all – it’s my newspaper! When the editor, Gordon Richards, offered me the opportunity to do a regular series called ‘Down Your Street’.  I was appalled at the thought of tackling such a mammoth task.  Previously I had only written the occasional feature, mostly on local businesses. But I needn’t have worried – Gordon (alas no longer with us) was a tower of strength and a wonderful editor, and Di Pohlmann – Reporter in Charge – was a rock! She was someone I could always turn to when the going got rough – as it sometimes did! Now I look back on those eleven years with the Weekly News as one of the happiest and busiest times of my life.

Many of her ‘Down Your Street’ articles, carefully shortened and edited were later self-published as three stan- alone volumes.  This in itself was a major task, and I still remember the book launch arranged at Saffron Walden Library for the first volume, when the printers only delivered the books about twenty minutes before the launch, and the packets of newly printed books had to be carried in and unwrapped in a rush before guests arrived.

Part I of Down Your Street was published in 1989, to be followed by part 2 in 1992 and part 3 in 1996. Then in 1995 the Tourist Information Centre (TIC) published a booklet of local ghost stories, Favourite Haunts In And Around Saffron Walden.  This rapidly sold out as did a sequel, More Favourite Haunts In And Around Saffron Walden also published by the TIC.  Many of the stories Jean included were later used by other writers without acknowledgement.  Her ghost stories also resulted in frequent invitations to speak to local organisations, and she soon became a familiar face at Women’s Institute meetings.

Her other books included Saffron Walden Through David Campbell’s Camera and Saffron Walden (Archive Photos series) in which the photographs were arranged around five key themes, including ‘The Changing Face of Saffron Walden’, ‘Schooldays’, ‘Walden at Work’ and ‘Old Family Businesses’. The ‘Local Personalities’ section featured historic local characters such as ‘Navvy’ Elsom and ‘Gran’ Porter, alongside more recent familiar faces such as Joe Stojic who sold home-grown vegetables from his wonky- wheeled barrow; district nurses, Kathleen Lambert and Margaret Anderson; and the retired thatcher, Walter Jarvis who was notorious for his wide repertoire of ribald folk-songs.

Voices of Saffron Walden and the Surrounding Villages was another pioneeringwork in oral history, using short extracts from her numerous interviews with local people, many of them living in the villages rather than the town. As Jean described:

With their own words they have painted a picture of a way of life which has gone forever. It was a way of life in a tight-knit agricultural community, when both town and village needed and depended upon one another.

In addition to the many books she wrote, Jean was a prolific contributor of articles to many popular magazines and occasionally appeared on radio and TV. She was also an active member of the Society of Women Writers’ and Journalists and a member of the National Union of Journalists.

Jean loved cats and dogs, but especially cats and for many years she worked tirelessly on behalf of the Cat’s Protection League, rescuing strays and raising funds.  Little Mortimers itself was rarely without at least one cat.  She also enjoyed sewing, gardening and was a gracious host who really enjoyed cooking, especially using her Aga – her mouth-watering tarte tatin made to a secret French recipe was legendary!  Jean and Michael both enjoyed travelling and spent lots of adventurous holidays together, in Yugoslavia, Russia and Georgia They also went on several river cruises as well as visiting France on numerous occasions. 

Jean was very attached to her sister Enid, and loved her annual visits to Enid’s home in a converted chapel in Shetland.  Later, Jean and Michael would often recall the difficulty of carrying two pianos up the narrow pathway when they helped Enid move into the building.  Determined not to do things the easy way, Jean and Michael returned to Shetland every year driving the whole distance except for the final leg on the ferry.  Enid in turn was incredibly supportive of Jean and Michael during the recent years of Jean’s illness.

Jean originally worked on a typewriter, but later acquired an early Amstrad computer which she loved, but which eventually became obsolete. In spite of increasing disability she learnt to use a more modern computer – and more recently took great pleasure in learning how to use an i-pad with Enid’s help, so that she could keep in touch with friends and relatives.

Even during her illness, Jean was determined to continue writing if she could, and put a lot of effort into finishing an article on the soldiers commemorated on the Ashdon War memorial for the Ashdon village magazine, carefully writing up David Green’s research.  It was her last article.

Martyn Everett

OBITUARY: KENNETH JAMES NEALE (1922-2016)

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 32 (2016)

Kenneth James Neale had a very distinguished career in the Civil Service and was also a notable historian of Essex. He died on 18 April 2016 at the age of 93. He accepted the invitation to become the Honorary Life President of the Saffron Walden Historical Society in 2000 and remained a great source of support and encouragement for the next 15 years. One of the last letters he sent to the secretary was an appreciation of the Society’s latest publication of Chepyng Walden, last summer.

Ken was born in Hackney on 9 June 1922; he won a scholarship to Grocers School, where he acquired his great love of and discipline for learning, which he always retained. When war broke out in 1939 he became a young member of the Hackney Home Guard, until he was old enough to join the Royal Navy from 1941–1946. This time made a deep in impression on him and he served in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific, becoming a commissioned officer and being appointed as Intelligence Officer on HMS Anson a battleship assigned to the Pacific Fleet, which was to restore British control of Hong Kong, after the Japanese surrender.

After the war, Ken returned to the Civil Service and having passed the Executive Class exam, he joined the Colonial Office, serving in difficult and tense political situations in Cyprus and then in central Africa, now Zambia and Malawi. For his work in the former he was awarded the OBE. In 1965, after much travelling abroad, he decided to transfer to work at the Home Office where he headed a new division responsible for young offenders, women and girls. He became an expert on prison regimes and penal reform and chaired European Committees on crime problems. He had a long involvement with the Council of Europe, particularly helping newly formed governments of Eastern Europe to work towards compliance for admittance to the Council, after the collapse of communism.

On retirement, Ken and his wife Dorothy came to live in Great Sampford, where he enjoyed village life and founded the Sampford Society in 1984. He later co-ordinated the Heritage Sampford project, based on field walking, which revealed much of the area’s rich early heritage and resulted in a very successful exhibition and a publication studying the archaeology and history of a single parish. He was greatly involved in county societies, becoming Chairman of the Essex Archaeological and Historical Congress (1987–1990) and also of the Friends of Historic Essex (1985–2004). He was on the editorial board of the Essex Journal for many years and produced a number of valuable books on Essex history, among them Discovering Essex in London (1969) and Essex in History (1977). He edited three major festchrifts: An Essex Tribute (1987) for Dr Frederick Emmison; Essex Heritage (1992) for Sir William Addison and Essex Full of Profitable Things (1996) for Sir John Ruggles-Brise.

Ken was dedicated to his family, giving his wife Dorothy devoted care when she suffered ill-health in later years. He is survived by Dorothy, their daughter and three sons, nine grandchildren and nineteen great grandchildren.

Ken was always quietly courteous and kind, giving generously of his time and knowledge. He gave a number of talks to the Saffron Walden Historical Society in Saffron Walden over the years and as our Honorary President, was always anxious to attend AGMs when he could and wrote frequent appreciative notes to the officers, encouraging their work. He was very interested in and supportive of both the Historical Journal and of the more recent programme of publications. The Society was privileged that he retained his association with it until the end of his life.

Kathryn Fiddock

Obituary: Ena Alice Wright (1920-2014)

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 30 (2015)

A familiar face at meetings of the Saffron Walden Historical Society, Ena Wright died in 2014 at the grand age of 94. Ena was born on 26 April 1920 at Radwinter Road, Saffron Walden, her parents being Percy and Edith Wright. She always joked that her home was ‘between death and starvation’ [the cemetery and the workhouse].

Her grandfather, who lived in Museum Street, was a shoemaker like his father before him, and was secretary of the Congregational Church, where Ena went to Sunday School.  She attended Priory School, a small private school for children aged 5-15 all taught in one room at Audley Road. and she had many happy memories of her childhood.

The family moved to West Road in 1933 and her life continued to revolve around the Abbey Lane Congregational chapel. In her younger days she enjoyed badminton and tennis, and was a member of the Grove Tennis Club for 50 years. During WW2, Ena volunteered with the Civil Defence, and worked in a nursery looking after evacuee children. Later she worked in the offices at Engelmanns Nursery, and then joined the family firm at James the Jewellers, where she was a familiar face behind the counter, working alongside her sister Olive Newman and her family. An invaluable worker, she was known particularly for her beautiful copperplate handwriting, a legacy of schooldays. Ena went on working there part-time right up to Christmas 1913, only a year before her death – a remarkable achievement.

She was always a busy lady with many hobbies – a keen member of the National Trust with a particular passion for historic houses, and a regular attender at the Saffron Walden Historical, Town Library and Museum society lectures, in addition to travelling widely, birdwatching and enjoying walks on the Suffolk coast. She was devoted to the Congregational Church her entire life – a lovely, cheerful lady who is much missed.

Howard Newman

Obituary: Dr Kenneth Dixon (1920 – 2015)

Published Saffron Walden Historical Journal No 29 (2015)

Dr Kenneth Frank Dixon, who died on 4th February 2015 aged 94, had a keen interest in local history and was the author of the informative history and guide to St Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden. Ken did not have an easy start in life, as his father died when he was just 5 years old and he was sent to the Royal Russell School in Croydon, established to educate fatherless children whose fathers had been involved in the wholesale and drapery trade. He did well at school and excelled at several sports, leaving aged 17, with school certificate, to join the Westminster Bank.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, he enlisted in the Fleet Air Arm in 1940, serving as a pilot on one of the Arctic Convoys and then in the Far East on aircraft carriers. At the end of the war he returned to work with the bank, where he continued until his retirement, becoming an area director and the Senior Executive for European Affairs. At the same time he continued to educate himself, gaining a degree in Economics and later a PhD, with a dissertation on ‘The History of Early English Money Markets’.

On retirement in the mid-1980s Ken and his wife Brenda moved to Saffron Walden where they became regular members of St Mary’s Church. Ken’s interest in history led him to research and write many articles on aspects of the church’s architecture and its history for the Parish Magazine. In 2000 these were collected into a booklet, edited by Hamish Walker and illustrated by Peter Naylor, which was sold as part of the millennium restoration appeal and raised over £900 for the church. It is now out of print, but can be read on the Internet: http://www.stmaryssaffronwalden.org/History.htm

In retirement, Ken worked as a Blue Badge Guide first in Cambridge, where his French and German language skills were useful, and later in Saffron Walden. He also served on the committees of the Friends of Audley End and the Friends of St Mary’s Church. He never lost his thirst for knowledge.

Kathryn Fiddock