Mary died on 17th September.
These tributes were given at her funeral at St Thomas’ Church.
It is lovely to see so many people here today to say farewell to one of Winchelsea’s oldest residents, Mary Hodgson.
It is an honour to be asked by her family, to pay tribute to Mary and I will attempt to give an overview of her life and Geraldine will mention a few anecdotes afterwards.
I appreciate that some of Mary’s family here today, will know much more about Mary’s life before Winchelsea, particularly her cousin Gill, but I hope I can give a flavour of her fascinating life here.
Joan Mary Chevallier Hodgson was born on the 17th November 1922. I remember this date so well, as on our visits to the GP she always reminded me and the whole of the waiting room, of her birth date, as she wanted everyone to know she was well into her 90s.
Mary and her mother, Frances, came to Udimore from Hertfordshire in 1945, so that Frances could be near an old schoolfriend. They moved to Winchelsea in 1946, although Mary claimed it was 1945, which would have been 75 years ago this year. She thought it sounded more impressive than 74 years ago! Mary and her mother lived in four houses in the town, the first being the Lookout, then South Mariteau and Forge Cottage, before settling in Ivy Cottage. Many years later, her dear Sister, Barbara and Philip, her husband, moved to Winchelsea, which meant so much to Mary.
I have been reliably informed that Mary soon involved herself in the life of the town, in a variety of ways. I do recall her telling me how much she enjoyed polishing silver and brass and before long she became gainfully employed in this capacity and I am sure most of us will have noticed that she kept her letter box, beautifully polished.
My first encounter with Mary was 25 years ago. I was walking up School Hill, when I saw somebody immersed in a lavender bush at the roadside. After an inquisition as to who I was, she explained that she was counting Bumble Bees! Then, for almost two hours, I was told all about her passion for bees, birds, particularly Owls, animals – such as horses, ponies & cats, astronomy, trees, plants and flowers. I was absolutely amazed and fascinated by all this and over the years I heard about them time & time again, which I never minded.
I would just like to mention ponies in particular, as we had a shared interest in horses. For her 80th birthday, Mary treated herself to a carriage ride around Pett, a nearby village and she kindly invited me to accompany her. In effect, the carriage was a fairly small trap, attached to an even smaller pony! The owner took control initially and then offered Mary the reins. She so enjoyed it until a car came towards us and she let go of the reins and we were all thrown around and to this day, I do not know how we didn’t land on the road! A truly memorable experience.
Apparently, Mary so enjoyed a carriage ride at Winchelsea Fete one year, that she decided to book some lessons, so maybe this was one of her first lessons, of which I was totally unaware.
Amazingly, Mary was seen driving the same carriage, as she called it, down School Hill sometime later, so the owner was obviously a very brave lady.
Mary derived a great deal of pleasure in talking to people on her ambles around the town and in the Little shop, where she repeatedly regaled townsfolk, with stories of her life. As a result, she developed a number of lasting friendship and many of those who left the town, maintained contact with her. She so enjoyed hearing from them and loved their visits, particularly if they brought a dog with them!
Someone here today, came to the town, with her mother, in 1948 at the age of 7. Both mothers became very good friends and the family were very fond of Mary, who was 24 at the time. The mother of the lady here today, told Mary that she always made her laugh and that she was worth ‘a guinea a minute’. Mary would have loved hearing that no doubt!
She also appreciated visits from friends and family and especially visits from her dear nephew, Anthony. In recent years he and his family, Claire, Tim and Victoria, arranged for the whole family to stay near here for Christmas, with Mary joining them on Christmas Day. She often told me that she insisted that she was back home to listen to the Queen’s Speech at 3pm. Perhaps Victoria and Ellen, here today, may remember this!
Over the last year or so, Mary’s hearing and mobility were somewhat restricted and she relied on her nephew to take her shopping and much more. He was a wonderful support to Mary and in recent years, Anthony was often joined by Marilyn, his wife. The highlight for Mary was when they all went to our local pub, where again she recounted her life story to the staff and customers too!
Sadly, Anthony, her beloved nephew, tragically lost his life in April this year, during the Covid crisis. As you can imagine Mary was greatly affected by this. Her near neighbours and others of us supported her on a regular basis, but at times it was not easy to comfort her as we might have wished. It was hard for dear Mary to understand social distancing and our visits were conducted from either the front doorstep or from her back garden. Her near neighbours produced lovely dishes for her, which she called her Meals on Foot service!
Following Anthony’s death, Mary was visited by his family and her cousins during this difficult time, which helped her enormously. She also received numerous telephone calls from many friends & family, including Marilyn, Anthony’s widow, who felt so sad for Mary, despite coping with her own grief. Mary was also supported by other people, such as her two carers, Julie & Joanne, Bruce her longstanding and extremely patient Builder and decorator, her many gardeners and Philip, our amazing postman. They probably knew more about Mary, than any of us in the town!
Over the last few months, Mary’s health declined, which might be partly attributed to the loss of her nephew. She became more dependent and it was obvious that she could not manage on her own in Ivy Cottage. It was a sad day for her and all of us when she left her cottage to go into a care home. She took some time to settle, despite regular visits from her family and neighbours. The staff tried to reassure her as best they could, but towards the end of her life she repeatedly said that it was time for her to leave this world. She often said that she wanted to join her beloved mother, her devoted sister and dear Anthony, here in the churchyard and today that time has come.
We will all miss Mary and will treasure our own special memories of her. She was always fun, with a wonderful sense of humour and much more!
Geraldine I’Anson Lusk
Many of you here today have known Mary for some considerable time, and will remember her gift as a remarkable story teller. It was not merely that she had the stories to tell, but it was the way she told them. They were often full of whimsy, certainly humour, and so descriptive, with even a hint of drama.
First of all she had a phenomenal memory, and with an exemplary command of the English language, which made her stories compelling to listen to; despite her limited education, having been ill for a long period as a child.
She was however critical of today’s lack of vocabulary and diction, albeit she was devoted to the ‘East Enders’ soap, in fact, all the Soaps from Lancashire and Yorkshire to Australia, which I always felt was something of a contradiction!
Especially one day, when she told Philip, on one of his daily deliveries of her post;
‘Philip, wait for it!’, she said, She would always embark on a tale with ‘Wait for it!’, repeated of course, to add drama, and have you sitting on the edge of your seat or, in Philip’s case, on the door step. She went on, ‘I was trying to order some roses from Scotland, and I could not understand a word that was being said. I thought, was I hearing Greek, or was the girl just eating a large bun!’
The stories of her life here in Winchelsea were interspersed with tales, and in some cases even exploits, of her service in the Wrens during the war. Unlike her sister Barbara, whose birthday it is today, she turned down an officer’s training course in order to remain loyal to her friends, retaining the rank of leading Wren.
One thing that the discipline of her service time never left her, was her meticulous timekeeping. She would always say if you were a minute late the ship would have sailed…..
Once Mary was released from her military service, she settled down to civilian life in Winchelsea and set about finding work. She began to learn about horticulture through a kind neighbour who taught her all she knew about plants, and so began her life as a gardener. She would also undertake household duties and would, as Ann has said, have pleasure in cleaning silver and brass for some of her clients. It was through these activities around the town that Mary found the source of many of her stories.
She was to become affectionately known by many, as Mary ‘Socks’, as her daily uniform, to set about her various jobs around the town, was to wear grey culottes and white ankle socks.
She could have been the town archivist, she knew so much about her neighbours, and the history of their houses and many of them became her good friends.
It is difficult to condense the 74 years of stories that she told of her life here in Winchelsea. But one thing we can all agree from those who knew her well was that her tales were full of fun and pleasure, often told with a twinkle and just a little mischief too.
Mary loved to know who was who, and about anyone new in the town. If visitors to the town would walk past Ivy Cottage, she managed to engage them in conversation wanting to know where they had come from and even were they thinking of moving here? She did so with both her neighbours whom she managed to persuade, to buy their respective houses, simply as they were passing by admiring the gardens!
Another example of her alluring charm was, when one day tending the garden opposite which she used to do; the then rector was passing. He stopped to admire it, and the care she was taking over it. He said to her’ Mary you are terrific’! I am, aren’t I, she replied!!
The love of her country surroundings gave her a great interest in wild life. She longed for the arrival of the swifts, and would be thrilled if you could tell her that you had heard the first cuckoo. She was very knowledgeable not only about so many species of birds, but also had a passion for owls, and concern about their numbers. Fortunately for Mary we had a distinguished ornithologist in the town who would take her on several memorable outing to visit local owl colonies.
It was never a surprise to see multiple birthday cards on her mantelpiece featuring magnificent owls on the cover.
One comfort out of the great sadness of Anthony’s death and the Covid crisis was, and that she could hear, and identify so many more birds, which, with the quiet pall that was to come over the town, she could enjoy, including the croaks from various visiting frogs. In short there was hardly an animal or creature that she did not care for.
Ann has told you of her devotion to bumble bees. She used to complain bitterly if she could not find any in her garden, so we would have to give her a daily reckoning, of our sightings in the summer, which would make her happy.
She was a great walker, and would often be accompanied by friends and family, with whom she would share the best route to take, the easy styles to climb and where best to cross the river, canals, and railways tracks through the Brede valley.
Another joy which Mary would regale you with, was her early morning forages for mushrooms, which she did right up until to her late 70s. She knew all the best fields to find them. And if you were lucky, she might share one or two if she had found a good quantity on her early morning sorties.
As we all know, Mary, was very sociable, and loved to be entertained, and she would meticulously return the compliment, either with drinks, tea or coffee at Ivy Cottage.
Another of her charms, was when coming to lunch or supper, being asked if she would care for a little more of anything. She would always politely decline, then swiftly say ‘Oh well! Maybe just once more around the buoy’! She had a passion for chocolate and would think nothing of consuming an entire bar at a stroke, despite proposing that she should consider it, as her supply for the week. A suggestion she happily ignored.
Whilst neighbours have kindly shared their recollections, it has been suggested, that all of Mary’s story should be written down. Some years ago that idea began to take shape. At 11am every Wednesday morning at Ivy Cottage, after a sustaining cup of coffee, we would sit down and I would take notes. Then after a few months of hearing some remarkable tales, Mary suddenly said, ‘Stop, we can’t go on!’ ‘But why Mary’, I said. ‘Well I would be sued for slander and libel’!!
But the stories didn’t end there,.. just the note taking!
There is so much more one could say, like her passion for racing on TV. The many visits from the poltergeist, the frequent loss of teeth, asking the rector to dispose of a mouse at their first meeting, and the excess tins of prunes purchased in lockdown, and many more besides.
Today, as we reflect on happy memories of Mary’s life, we can enjoy the stories we were able to share with her. She will remain forever unforgettable as a unique character. In fact she made sure of that!
One day getting off the bus, returning from the dentist with an extracted tooth, she thought it would be fun, to plant it in the recently cemented mortar of the bus shelter, telling all who heard the story. ‘This will ensure there will always be a bit of me that will remain in Winchelsea’.