Biography and Notes
Tribute delivered at Judy's thanksgiving service at All Saint's, Sparkwell, Devon on Saturday 9th April 2016
I am both honoured and privileged to be invited by Caroline, Charles and David to speak about Judy. I am particularly happy to do so because my family and I have so much to be grateful for.
Traditionally such talks open with the words ‘I first met so & so at such & such a place’. I won’t break with tradition….. I first met Judy across a roulette table! Quickly, lest you think I was a high roller from Monte Carlo (I wish!) or, worse still, that Judy was a scantily clad croupier, let me explain. It was a Regimental Charity Dinner Night in the mess at Knook Camp in 1954. Michael and I had been delegated the task of running the roulette table. It was a truly bad decision, to give a task requiring at least a modicum of mathematical competence, to two subaltern brothers who had recently graced the infamous Remove X at Marlborough. We got the odds wrong, the mess lost out, but Judy won Michael! Not as a result of a bet, I hasten to add.
Judy had arrived on the arm of brother officer Butch Carter who, though we all remained good friends, was swept aside and Judy’s enormous and unquenchable love of Michael was instantly born. No surprise that they adopted “Some Enchanted Evening” as their signature song. It was a love that was to last 47 years with Michael and a further 14 years during which poor Judy never really recovered. It is wonderful to think, as she surely wished, that they are now together again and it is right that we celebrate their reunion. Judy was always a great one for her kip; I just hope my brother gives her a chance to get some rest this time round!
Her departure is arguably more historically significant than some may realise. Land, now known as the Newnham Estate, was first acquired through marriage by John Strode in 1400. Early Strodes were politically active, one Richard , MP for Plympton, being imprisoned in 1512 for imputed offences which gave rise to the principal of Parliamentary Privilege, in force to this very day.
Before she died Judy oversaw measures that would see the estate pass within the family to about the 25th generation; as far as we know, it never having changed hands for money. Being much more recent, the house we know as Newnham Park today (to which you are all invited afterwards), built in 1700, with extensions by Judy’s grandfather, was termed her new house by Judy’s aunt, from whom she inherited.
An ailing parent presents many problems to the next generation. I want to pay tribute to Caroline and David who have risen to the occasion splendidly and Caroline has shown her metal as a true military daughter.
Judy was born in Paddington – Inverness Terrace, not the GWR terminus- but sadly we don’t know much of her early childhood. Her mother died when she was only 15. Her father, Lewis was a tall slim handsome man of military bearing who had a champagne importing business and Judy often travelled to trade functions with him as his consort. Lewis had a mischievous twinkle in his eye which did not escape my mother’s attention and added a little zest to her visits to Newnham!
Lewis and Judy lived at Dale Park, not far from Knook camp and it was between the two that a rather memorable rescue took place. On one occasion Michael, never one to do things by half measures (and particularly not his courting) decided to leave Dale Park very late…or, more accurately…very early one morning and I have always understood his departure from an upstairs window via a drain pipe was solely to avoid disturbing the dog! (Now I first learned that Michael was a dab hand on drain pipes when as a child he poured cold water down my neck through the window when I was sitting on an upstairs loo!) On his way back to camp Michael was the victim of a minor navigational error which resulted in his car ending up straddling a branch railway line. We were of course pre-Beeching - he legged it back to the mess, woke me and we just managed to get the car off the line before the 5am milk train arrived! I remember the car was a 1935 Riley Sprite.
On another occasion during their courtship I recall volunteering to drive them to a party so that they could indulge in a little snogging in the back of the car. Respectfully I dipped the rear view mirror, but I have to say that as a 1950s virgin bachelor for whom a mere taste of lipstick won in the fray, was a triumph, I was quite envious!
They married in Sutton Veny in 1955, with a guard of honour provided by brother officers of the Wiltshire Regiment. Judy’s granny Hanbury-Webber aged 80 danced an eight some at their reception. She wore black and with a wide, flat face she looked the spitting image of Giles’s cartoon grandma and inevitably became known as such.
Judy became the loyal daughter of the Regiment which she remained throughout her life. Indeed the places of birth of their children exactly mirror Michael’s postings. One of Judy’s many endearing characteristics was ‘loyalty to the cause’ and being married to Michael taught her that there could be many of them. Undaunted she took up hosting, sheep farming, sailing and ballooning to name but a few, all the time tenderly caring for her three children and ministering to a seemingly endless string of visitors. As a visitor, whether family or friend, there was always a joyful welcome from Judy; the more the merrier, tea in the morning room, roast pork in the dining room or Lasagne and Bull’s Blood round the kitchen table, it made no difference you felt you belonged - which probably explains why we came back time and time again.
Before moving up to Newnham Michael and Judy lived at Loughtor Mill and it was there that my three boys stayed with them for a while and where they learned to swim in a huge surface mounted pool, and this is where my family started to incur our enormous debt to Judy. She loved them, fed them and played with them unreservedly. And when I say fed them, I mean just that…tea was Thunder & Lightening…large slabs of soft white bread smothered with clotted cream and loaded with golden syrup!...certainly not on today’s approved list. Little wonder that to this day she has remained their favourite aunt.
One of my most prized possessions from this era is a letter sent to me by Judy the day after her birthday in 1972. She thanks me for some trivial present I had sent and then goes on to describe her day. “I need hardly say that your boys opened all my presents for me and then, as a surprise, presented me with a birthday cake which I had baked myself that morning!”
Moving up to Newnham in 1974 was really the start of Judy’s halcyon reign. Emma recalls the sheer joy with which she went round the house opening all the shutters to let in the sunlight. Her enthusiasm was so great it was infectious. There were children in the house for the first time in years and the walls echoed with laughter.
They took up sheep farming and Judy’s maternal instincts were never better displayed than during lambing, indeed it was one of the very few activities which she permitted to rob her of much cherished sleep. Lambs recovering by the Aga in the kitchen were an every day occurrence in the spring. I cannot resist the temptation to read you Christopher Curtis’s little ditty so reflective of a military man turned sheep farmer and which I found in Michael’s wallet.
I’m a well endowed ram and I’ve got where I am
By performing my act right on cue.
When it’s time for a tup, I just line ‘em all up
And shout “Volunteers? Ewe, ewe and ewe!”
Judy took to hosting the RNLI Ball at Newnham with such enthusiasm that it was repeated many times over. The billiard room was decked with a marquee lining resembling a sultan’s palace from which the indomitable Poppet Wixon dispensed irresistible food and the house exploded with music, dancing and laughter.
Judy was the hostess for wonderful family parties too. Dozens of birthdays and Christmas were celebrated at Newnham in great style. My mother, a formidable lady by any measure, used to delight in coming to ‘help’. She must have put the fear of God into Judy as she arrived proudly bearing aloft her huge basket of culinary weaponry and woe be tide anyone who didn’t pay attention. Amongst others she instructed on how to make meringues in your airing cupboard! Judy took it all in her stride.
Chris, a friend of the family going back to David’s school days, a regular at Newnham parties, living by the creed “Have Party – Will Travel” is very disappointed that he is not well enough to join us today. In better health I know he and Lisa would have been here like a shot.
21 years ago this July we partied into the night to say ‘bon voyage’ to Kate, Charles and Edward who were off to Australia the following day, and to Nicola, Humphrey and Jack who left for South Africa at almost the same hour. It is wonderful that Charles and Edward are with us today but we bitterly regret that Kate and Nicky were not able to come too. As you have seen Edward is nursing a broken shoulder so virtual hugs only please! The previous Christmas was the occasion for what has become a legendary family photograph on the stairs. Newnham was made for parties and it was Judy who made parties for Newnham.
Following family lunch one day Judy took us all for a walk on the moor; it was pouring with rain and one of the boys fell in the river. Struggling to get out another fell in and in no time everybody was in the water and the family sport of swalking had been born. Dangerous by today’s standards but gosh…what fun! Judy’s wholly unalarmed response was to run a hot bath and pile everybody in yielding another famous family photograph.
She took the move into Mountain Biking and Shooting in her stride and always attracted helpers. Nigel regarded ’Mrs C’ as his second Mum and is hugely disappointed not to be here today. He recalls catering for shooters and rushing into Plympton to bring back the event photos before the contestants left. 14 years ago Carole arrived to help ‘Mrs C’ and they instantly got on like a house on fire and shared much light relief. Vivian, a brother officer, who kindly spoke at Michael’s thanks giving phoned me to say that Michael and Judy were the best friends he ever had. John K who also spoke for Michael and with whom Michael taught sailing at Kelly, stayed on board to help Judy with Michael’s will trust. Such was friends’ loyalty to her.
Gardening was not top of Judy’s preferences but the exceptions were her Magnolia Grandiflora and her rhododendrons! Closest to her heart was the fine Cornish Early Red at the South West corner of the house which we think was planted around 1900 and is reputed to be the biggest in the county. As if to join the celebration it is in bloom now and that alone is good reason for you to come back to the house afterwards. (Bowl on pulpit)
Judy loved her bridge four with Annie, Joan and Jean, loved Bagpipes, loved NADFAS and loved figs (but not necessarily in that order) but above all she loved Wimbledon, so much so that the family went into weight-loss mode for what became known as ‘starvation fortnight’.
Judy was without doubt a paragon of virtue but even paragons of virtue have days off message. Judy relished her instructions from Michael – most of the time – but when he was gone she would gladly take ‘time-out’ from his ceaseless bustle and became a self-confessed lazy bones.
She never did much enjoy the idea of exercise and although I thought I was onto a winner when I persuaded her to buy a lightweight flymo so that she could tend the little piece of grass outside her window, I was of course wrong – she was more than capable of using her charms to persuade someone to do it for her.
In the 70s crystallised fruits and Newbury Fruits were all the rage as gifts. Their fall from favour rather passed Judy by as she continued to distribute them some 40 years later!
In earlier times, as Charles has told us, Judy scorned Labradors in favour of Great Danes for which she always had a soft spot. From her favourite, “Tivy” she bred a handsome puppy named “Trump” who frankly was better looking and would have made a vastly more agreeable candidate than Donald. Earlier this year I stumbled across the perfect birthday card which I was to give her next month. It was a picture of a Great Dane but the caption was Great Dame.
Judy was indeed a great Dame, a great wife, a great mother a great chatelaine of Newnham. With her huge heart she loved us all, cared for us all and, rightly, was much loved in return.
Judy, In celebrating your life today we thank you for your unstinted love over the decades, for your numerous kindnesses and for an abundance of the happiest memories. To borrow your favourite valedictory expression…Judy….Bless you!
9th April 2016
At her wedding the two elder bridesmaids were Miss Jill Gibbons and Miss June Stores who wore dresses of cream satin with red velvet boleros. The younger bridesmaid was 11-year-old Deborah Hughes-Hallett (bridegroom's cousin) who wore red velvet. They all carried bouquets of scarlet carnations. The best man was Mr Anthony Cobbold (bridegroom's brother) and the ushers were Mr George Thompson, Capt. David Fladgate, Capt. Donald Welsh and Mr Hugh Canning, all of The Wiltshire Regiment. A reception at the bride's home was attended by 180 guests and for the honeymoon in Ireland the bride travelled in a tweed suit with tan accessories and an emerald green hat.
Judy inherited the Newnham Park estate from her aunt Dorothea Grig-Strode.