My family's life in Castlethorpe - Colin Mansell Brown

Our life story at Castlethorpe and before

We moved from Bletchley to Castlethorpe in August 1968. I was 24 years and Phyll 21 years old. It took five months to build our bungalow in The Chequers. As soon as Mr Doug Bird and his brother Tom, an established local building firm from Old Bradwell, had finished the building of our bungalow, in we moved, but we started our married life in Bletchley, prior to Castlethorpe. I, always having lived in Bletchley, and Phyll, having moved with her family down to Bletchley, from Greenock, Scotland in 1960.

We had been married on a wet October day in 1967, temporarily renting from a family friend, a spacious bungalow in Bletchley, whilst we weighed up our options on where to move next. We had no definite plan initially, except to live somewhere rural, now the new city of Milton Keynes was proposed. At the time, I was aware a work colleague (in the Drawing Office with me, at High Precision Equipment) had built his own family house and a second colleague was in the middle of doing it also. But it was my grandfather on a walk through the Galleon Estate in Old Wolverton, who at least, made my mind up. One Boxing Day afternoon out for a walk and approaching the Galleon Pub, he made a passing remark, saying he thought he could throw the bricks straighter than they had been laid on some of the newly built houses there. He was a master carpenter & joiner, a master craftsman, and that got me thinking: ‘Build your Own? We soon looked at the possibilities for this and quickly set out looking for land.

In due course, asking around, we soon heard on the grapevine that Newport Pagnell RDC had self-build plots for sale, at Bow Brickhill and North Crawley. We went scurrying off over to Newport, only to learn from Mr Dunbabin, the then Clerk to the RDC that all their plots had just been sold. But he said, just one might, be coming back on to the market at Castlethorpe. And where’s that? Yes, I did know Castlethorpe existed but neither of us had ever been there.

Thus, another flying visit came next, this time to view the location and village. We came, we saw and fell for it! It was just what we wanted and so, one Saturday morning in the Spring of ’68, we bought my father over to see the plot. He already knew the village, having spent his schooldays growing up in Wolverton. Having seen what we wanted, we ended up calling into the local, the Carrington Arms, for a pint. That was an experience! I remember, Dad went and sat down on an old sofa whilst I waited to be served at the bar. At that point, one of the elderly villagers came in, went straight over to Dad, and announced in a stage whisper, that this was her seat! Bless him, in gentlemanly fashion, he got up and moved. Anyway, we had a nice pint, and I met the late Bert Tapp for the first time.

A Mr Tapp was what I had hoped to find; someone to glean information from. I mentioned to Bert our hopes of a plot coming back onto the market, and discovered, low and behold, that a self-build in the Chequers was exactly what he had done. Bert let me know, all other plots on the Chequers had gone for £750 to £1,000 and he guessed I would need to offer £1,000 plus. He was also aware that the plot right next to his had fallen through or soon likely to. I think he said, a couple had to back out for some reason. And it came to pass! We quickly arranged a bridging loan at the bank, coupled with a Building Society (drawdown) mortgage and submitted our bid for £1,200. It was some 20% more than Bert suggested but we were so keen to win the bid, which we did!

We instructed (someone I knew from my youth, Gerry Neale), to be our solicitor and it turned out, he was in the middle of building his family home at Great Brickhill. It was very helpful with him being on the same wavelength as me to discuss the issues involved or sometimes arising.

I needed to get our bungalow designed during that Summer and get the Detail Plans and Building Regs. passed by the RDC (Newport Rural District Council). At the outset, designing the layout, I remember it took me three frustrating weeks of getting nowhere and then, a ‘eureka’ moment occurred. It hadn’t crossed my mind to think of it before, but I cut out our ideal room sizes drawn to scale, and then simply juggled these pieces to suit on a plot outline, also drawn to scale. This action was a winner and from start to finish, I got the room layout finally solved in 20 minutes, in my lunch hour! The remaining design took a further week, with me, only needing to research how to attach a tiled roof to masonry. Happily, my work colleague helped with that one. I had to negotiate just a few features with the Planning Authority, to get the design as we and they wanted before submission, but they were finally submitted in the October of ’68 and approved in early March 1969.

With the signing of contracts for the land, we appointed an established firm, Bird and Sons (from Old Bradwell) as our sole builder. I was more than happy with their excellent workmanship, from seeing their work on completed dwellings they had already built in The Chequers. I had my grandfather check them out as well, but he already knew of their good reputation.

Living on a bridging loan, we did not like the idea of multiple sub-contractors, all vying with each other and worse, blaming each other for any delays. The Bird brothers were a joy from beginning to end. We didn’t even have to lift a paintbrush before moving in on 01 August 1969. As well, before finally moving in, we had got to know Bert Tapp more and more, and Phyll and I turned up on the last Saturday morning in July, only to find our next-door neighbour to be, Bert, had dug our entire garden! Wow, as it was full of builder’s debris!

Bert Tapp digging the foundations - Phyll watching

Bert Tapp, our new neighbour, digging the foundations. Phyll stands watching.

Foundations for No 6 The Chequers

Foundations for No 6 The Chequers. Rear gardens of Station Road houses in background. Yellow brick garage of No. 7 The Chequers on right.

Michael Bird with bedrooms to plate level.

Michael Bird with bedrooms to plate level. House in the Chequers to the rear.

Roof timbers well underway.Construction now up to wall-plate level.


View of No 6 from No 15 

View of No 6 from No 15


Roof finished and now moved in. 

Roof finished and now moved in. Our first visitor at front door, Paul Frost.

Thus began our lives as villagers, albeit with building work by others on plots surrounding us. New neighbours building all around us were really cooperative with loan of the odd tool and soon had us visiting the pub after labours ended. It was here as well that we were introduced to other villagers and they too were just as sociable and welcoming. I fondly remember the late Stan Nichols’ contribution; it was a root of bright yellow Easter Daisies (doronicum) and they got the flower garden started!

What happened next perhaps, could have been predicted looking then at our nicely cleared garden! In the following November having moved in during August, a friendly Bert Tapp now our next-door neighbour, called round around to say, “Could I think to do him a favour?” He had called, I imagine now, as Chairman of the Parish Council, only to announce that a Mr West was retiring as the Parish Clerk. He wanted me to step in to become the next Clerk! The Office is as a Clerk to the third tier of the Local Authority (County, District then Parish) and not connected to the Church, which I first thought but then learnt, that was the Parochial Church Council.

No pressure then, but what could one do after having had our garden dug! Anyway, I gracefully accepted and got stuck in. I really enjoyed it and it was a very fulfilling use of my leisure time, which continued I think for about five years, when my business interests proved a greater priority. I think my predecessor Mr West had served some 38 years as Clerk and I regret somewhat I could not emulate that impressive achievement. I did however deal with lasting or significant (for Castlethorpe) issues like the new Definitive Parish Footpath Map, the developments of Shepperton Close and Mill View. Any issues arising for the PC to resolve, Bert as Chairman, invariably delegated me to initiate or reply with suitable letters or obtain advice from the Clerk and other Officers at Newport RDC.

There was always a degree of tension at council meetings back then I thought, between ‘rival’ factions. The contesting parties being the farming fraternity versus the Wolverton Works’ employees, and (bless him), Ben Sawbridge. Ben was fiercely independent with his views, and he could be guaranteed to find an aspect of debate not broached (or sometimes wanted!), by any of the others. His heart was in a lovely place, a really generous man, and his knowledge of and how to test/prove the local drains was unsurpassed, at least on my watch.

I used to get paid as well; I think it was £25 per year. Incidental I know, but I only had to deal in the main, with the ceaseless complaints of dog fouling, malfunctioning street lights and obstructed footpaths. Chairman Bert was more than helpful here; once the council had resolved their plan of action, Bert left me completely alone to put together all the letters required, and have what I thought were firm, albeit diplomatic exchanges with any offending farmers over Rights of Way. I probably enjoyed that the most, but also dealing directly with the late Bob Dunbabin, RDC Clerk at Newport, together with Ray Tetlow, the RDC Solicitor at Newport.

I can remember from those days as well, as Clerk, attending at Cublington, a huge public demonstration to oppose the building of a third London Airport. That must have been about 1971. Another incident I well remember in my time as Clerk was the occasion when an Otter Hunt descended on the village. It was around the same time, and besides the Hunt members assembling on Station Road down by the river bridge, there were crowds of villagers, plus many noisy Anti-Hunt supporters and the Police. I remember I ‘pulled rank’! The police would only allow the Anti-Hunt brigade to follow the hunt along the bridleway, well above to the river along the Mill Drive.

My hidden sympathies though were with the Otter. I recall Bert Tapp telling me at the time, that the last Otter seen in this area was on the Great Ouse at Stanton Low in 1951. I felt so indignant with the thought of hunting the creatures that I insisted to the police, that as Clerk to the Parish Council of Castlethorpe they needed to allow me to accompany the huntsmen with the hounds up to Bozenham Mill, to observe,

The police agreed, and I set out along the riverbank with the hunt in full cry. It was a very pleasant day for a walk I recall and the huntsmen were seemingly very welcoming, but the hounds, beautiful animals in themselves, savaged every living thing they could find. I saw ducks, moorhens, coots, water voles simply torn to shreds and was shocked at the brutality of it all. All very needless and sad to say, no sign of an Otter. I put it down to experience but vowed then, never to let something like that wash over me again without a fight.

That was the only excitement of sorts, I had with my time at the council. My business for me became more important, but we continued to live in and enjoy our surrounds in Castlethorpe. A lot of the names from the council days, the Carrington Arms and our young days are now only memories, but I can still happily recall a good pint or two with Ben Sawbridge, Joe Gobbey, Paddy Mullins, Fred Keeves, ‘Nobler Ray’, Frank Bavington, Norman West, Guy Stacey, Fred Lane, Len Grace, Bert Tapp, Tom Bird, Alan Payne, Reg Crompton and they are just some of the ones who have sadly departed this earthly life.

Also during my time as Clerk, I remember an event, namely when a garage at the rear of Bullington End Road caught fire. It was at the time of political unrest when many union workers were on strike, including members of Fire Brigades. The local police had called villages to a meeting, in the Carrington Arms I think, to advise what could be done if there was a fire. The two shopkeepers in the village, Nancy Sawbridge and Mrs Sills would start telephoning villages on a list they had, each one from the top or bottom of the list in turn, and then call them up to attend wherever there might be a fire. In addition, Ben Sawbridge was to provide what firefighting equipment was available from his yard. Well, I did get one such call. Nancy phoned one very dark frosty morning around 5.30, to say there was a fire at the garages. I rapidly got dressed, put on a GPO hard hat and Donkey Jacket, borrowed from my father and shot out of the door to Bullington End Road. Others were there before me and more still arriving, but we all stood there helpless until

Going back again to our moving-in time, all the neighbours were having their housewarming parties and we were no exception. Ours was one dark, foggy November Saturday in 1968. A lot of fun, I can see it now; Bert Tapp wheeling Reg Crompton around the back garden in a barrow! I know the next morning, queuing in Nancy Sawbridge’s shop, the lady in front of me was telling a lady then unknown to me (Gertie Cook), queuing in front of her, that she ‘had heard nothing like it since the war.’ I’m still left to wonder what they did in the war! For our part in the early ’70s, we had parties in the Village Hall and there was even a ‘Men’s Only’ evening organised by the late Reg Crompton. He was building opposite us at Number 18 The Chequers and it involved a coach trip; I think it was to some pub out beyond Bedford. A great laugh I recall and even to this day, I think Grahame Williams (then at Number 27 The Chequers) and I could still twirl tassels on our nipples!!

Not long after moving in, we began our family; Stuart being born in 1970 and Suzanne in 1972. Others around us were doing the same and it was a lovely time getting to know everyone; largely it began with the wives and children and socialising in the Play Area, Play School and I’m sure the Church; the men getting to know each other, helping with building work or socialising in the Carrington for a pint.

In October 1971, I was Initiated into Freemasonry. I am still a Freemason, and it has provided me with some very happy occasions and lasting friendships. It’s been a source of pleasure and fellowship ever since. More later.

In 1969, I was working in Bletchley as a Development Engineer for Cigarette Components Ltd (part of Bunzl Pulp and Paper Group) when we moved here, commuting every day. About a further year on, 1970, Phyll gave up her job in the offices of the S.S. White (Dental) Manufacturing Company in Bletchley, to have our firstborn, Stuart. Suzanne followed on in 1972.

Before we moved to Castlethorpe and got married, I was living with my parents in Bletchley, being born at the Barratt Maternity Home in Northampton during the war in 1943. I attended several schools: Bletchley Road Nursery, Infants’ and, Bletchley Road Junior Schools. and a new Holne Chase Junior School, Wolverton Grammar and then the newly built Bletchley Grammar School.

My first employed position was a draughtsman at the S.S White (Dental) Mfg.Co., where I met my wife Phyll. I had a day release to attend Wolverton College of Further Education. Once I attained my Ordinary National Certificate in Engineering, I moved on next to High Precision Equipment Ltd as a Machine Tool designer and continued my education at Luton College of Technology to get my Higher National Certificate. On completion, I became an Associate of the Institute of Engineering Designers (A.I.E.D).

Once qualified, I again moved on to become a Production Engineer at Cigarette Components Ltd, before finally getting fed up with the industry’s uncompetitive pay structures and went into a self-employed private partnership. I had two partners, a near neighbour Bob Caswell and his colleague Steve Armstrong. Our firm we called C&B Engineering and we commenced by setting up a factory producing dowel bars for the construction industry. Our clients were the big national builders, firms with household names like Alfred McAlpine and John Laing etc. For this, we first leased an old shoe factory (Whittons’ Last Works and now an apartment block) by Northampton Station. We did well and soon moved to a much larger site in the Robin Hangar No.1, on Sywell Airport.

Our seed corn of raw materials is worth a mention. We bought the HT Steel bars left over from the construction of the M6 Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham. It cost us as I recall, £750.

We started the operation in 1972 and I stayed with the partnership for 4 years before again realising it was not what I wanted to do for the next 50 years and so, parted company. However, our first 15 months in business resulted in a turnover of some £500,000 and it gave me a huge amount of useful business and accounting knowledge.

What prompted the move was coming home early one day, to find my five-year-old son on the driveway. He moved too quickly to get out of the way of my car and fell over, grazing his knees. I got out of the car to attend to his distress, only to find him pulling away as if frightened. It made me realise he found no comfort in me, I guess because all I did was work dawn to midnight, all too often. That changed the very next day. I gave my notice to my partners and withdrew.

It was later that year, November 1976 that Phyll’s father suddenly collapsed at work and sadly died (actually on her birthday). It was a big shock all around, especially having to tell her mother Annie, and take (we chose) our 6- and 4-year-old Stuart and Suzanne to his very packed funeral at St. Martins Church, Fenny Stratford. We didn’t take them to the committal at the Crematorium.

Thus, in the mid-seventies, I found myself unemployed. I needed to find something productive to do but avoiding working from dawn to dusk again. Towards this end, a chance event was to play its part.

To keep myself occupied after leaving the business at Sywell, our neighbour (the late) Terry Porter, a renowned Antique Gunsmith, needed help at a London Antique Gun Fair. Terry’s real expertise was in restoring these ancient firearms and I could tell, even from attending this one Exhibition at the London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel, he had quite a countrywide reputation of excellence.

Besides restoring old guns, Terry also sold antique gun spares by mail order, but he often had difficulty sourcing parts like percussion hammers. I told him that I knew how to reproduce one, and that was by lost wax casting and so he commissioned me to try and make examples.

I thought I could attempt it because, the final project I had in the design office at HPE years previously, was part of a design team, building the UK’s first automatic lost wax casting machine (it was to manufacture the turbine blades of the Rolls Royce RB211 aero engine).

So, I set about making a few of these gun hammers, but then something extraordinary happened. In May 1977, Terry, invited me to attend with him, the momentous Sotheby’s auction of the Baron Mayer de Rothchild collection at Mentmore. One of Terry’s dealer acquaintances had successfully bid for a massive pair of ormolu encrusted candelabras. He had an American buyer for them and was aiming to promptly shift them over to the USA after the sale. However, someone seeking a souvenir presumably, had pinched one of the ormolu cherubs off one of these extremely valuable candelabra.

The dealer was bereft because his outlay had now completed the at auction, but finalising his potential sale, was at risk. The candelabra could only be valued if sold in perfect condition, some £10,000, which would be hugely devalued without this cherub to make it perfect. I don’t know why, but probably because I knew how to, I said via Terry, I could possibly help him.

Again, lost wax casting I realised was how this cherub was originally made. I offered to cast one within a week (for a price), so long as neighbour Terry could get it gilded. We did it and I was paid £500 for the same. A lot in the 1970s for a weekend’s labours, but it let me set up a Cire Perdu production line in our garage!

I continued to supply Terry, but soon found a new and wider stamping ground, obtaining commissions from London Antique Houses to repair valuable items of furniture for museums in the main, but also swanky West End antique shops. Cire Perdue, by the way, is what the original French craftsmen knew as the Lost Wax process, but the term was often used by the posh West End dealers. The only person I could find doing this work is worth a mention. It was Sir Nicholas Goodison, Chairman of the London Stock Exchange at the time! My process was to mould from an existing original or look alike, produce a finished replica in wax, then transport batches of waxes to W.J. Hooker’s foundry in Brightlingsea. At the foundry, the waxes were dipped in a ceramic slurry that then set hard into a ceramic mould. The moulds were then heated, the wax melted out to leave a hollow mold. Next, molten metal was cast into the molds, which usually for me, was, in brass or bronze. The castings were so accurately reproduced, that I could cast my thumbprint when the wax became too soft to handle on a summer’s day.

About the same time (1977), Stuart had joined the 1st Hanslope Cub Scout Pack. He hadn’t been there a full term before the two lady Cub Leaders, through changing circumstances for each, unfortunately, needed to move on and/or away. They called a meeting of parents at Hanslope First School, where the cub meetings were then held, and told us that without parents helping, the Pack would have to fold with their leaving. It was Dads to the rescue, headed by a near neighbour Alan Payne, with Robin Coles (Western Drive Hanslope) and myself offering to support him. The Pack survived and we all discovered we enjoyed it, sufficiently so to take up our Warrants by 1980. The rest can be seen, clicking on the MK Heritage website, under ‘Castlethorpe’ and then ‘Societies’, but it was my two hours of sanity every week. It allowed me to escape the ‘rat race’, for a couple of hours, just as my freemasonry did and still does. I often see Freemasonry as ‘Grown-up Boy Scouts’!

By late 1980, our Stuart was getting ready to go off to his high school (Wolverton, Radcliffe), becoming gradually more independent, and my being at home with the children became a less important need for me. I decided to look for a job and increase the family income. I didn’t know what to do particularly, but thought perhaps a change of direction, train up to become a Chartered Accountant would appeal.

Searching around, I happened to ask an acquaintance (the late Ken Fuller) whose firm ‘Keens Shay Keens’ are Chartered Accountants, then in Bletchley and I think Stony, about my prospects. His advice was to say, having gone all through all my engineering studies, did I really want to endure learning another academic discipline? That was a bit of a shock, although I think true, but at the same time, I saw another possibility being advertised. It was to be trained up for a career in the Life Assurance Industry. A franchise with Hambro Life was being sought. I applied, was interviewed, was offered a franchise, and spent the next 18 years establishing a Financial Services practice, based in Northampton. I had found my forte and really enjoyed it, especially providing investment advice.

The family in the meantime were growing up fast and our Suzanne was next, getting a place at (the recently built) Stantonbury Campus. By then, Phyll had got time on her hands and looked around for something, finding a secretarial position in John Lewis, CMK and at the same time, we moved to another dwelling, this time a house.

This was 01 Aug 1984 and I describe it as a wheelbarrow job! By then, Stuart, closely followed by Sue were starting to become noisy teenagers. Our bungalow at number 6 The Chequers, we designed to be extended easily, but providentially, the house nearly opposite at number 16 came up for sale. My work was proving intense, and a move would give us more space and solve the noise problem. We snatched it up, as we also preferred the larger garden with its brook and its lovely outlook onto the pasture of Gobbey’s Field beyond. A good move we’ve never regretted.

1984 was also the time I became the Worshipful Master of St. Martin’s Lodge of Freemasons at Bletchley. I really enjoyed those days. We had six meetings per year, and it meant an evening off to relax in great company but also regularly see my father for a pint! Cub night was my two hours of sanity every week and Lodge night the same but not so often, although a lot more effort was needed in Lodge, learning the little rituals.

I progressed in Masonry as well and was made a Provincial Grand Steward (Province of Buckinghamshire). This also led me to joining another stage in a Mason’s life, Chapter, when in 1987, I became the first Exalteee of the Buckinghamshire Provincial Grand Stewards’ Chapter. I was really pleased and honoured, even more so later on, to become for the Millennium, it’s First Principal. The Chapter is based at the Masonic Centre in Beaconsfield, although it would also meet at times in many other Masonic Halls around Buckinghamshire.

Looking back now on my Lodge excursions, I feel they were not without cost. I likely did too much, having the young family we had, and I think my family rightly felt left out sometimes. Including work pressures, it was a balance I didn’t always keep.

On a lighter note, we did always manage to have nice holidays for the children, albeit not abroad, other than Jersey C.I. We all have fond memories of the New Forest, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, even Scotland and Wales. We went just with both with the children, but also their grandparents, and other times with our friends and their families. It was great.

In the late 80s with the children becoming teenagers, life was somewhat challenging, but we managed it all and saw them away to college. Going into the 90s, Suzanne went to Hull whilst Stuart remained at home with us, but both got through all their exams, achieving their HNCs and started on their careers.

Phyll eventually changed job, moving from JLP to MK Council and remained there, working as a secretary in the Environmental Health Department.

The mid-1990s, saw Stuart and Suzanne moving out of our home to their (at least to them) new ones. Suzanne had found the love of her life, Spencer, and Stuart with his school pal Gary, set up home (as I imagined), ‘Men behaving Badly’! This was for each, all very new and exciting, but I hoped after Hull when Suzanne reprimanded me to say ‘…and you didn’t even tell me I had to pay Council Tax!’, that her housekeeping had improved.

This same time, besides having the house very empty and to ourselves, was the time we needed to turn our attention to ageing parents. After Christmas 1996, Phyll’s mother Annie became ill with a blood disorder, and we decided it would be best to have her stay with us in Castlethorpe. Phyll applied for Leave of Absence from her job at MKC and became her carer. This was all very easy to arrange and so we looked after Annie for the remaining year of her life. Annie was not demented at all, and she had a happy final year, sadly but peacefully passing away 4 Feb 1997, surrounded by her family.

Events were then compounded later that summer. My father, Gerry, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in that early August and given three months to live. Knowing the consequences, it was a relief to see him quietly pass away in the Saxon Clinic, on the same day Princess Diana was killed in the infamous car crash, 30 August 1997. Broncho-pneumonia can sometimes be a blessing for old people.

It was another completely full church, St Mary’s Bletchley, which saw Dad off at his funeral, with a wake for friends and family afterwards. However, that left my mother bereft. She did have a lot of friends and being a Yoga Teacher still, a lot of caring people in her Yoga classes to comfort her, but it wasn’t easy at 81after 58 years of marriage.

We were able to see her frequently, letting her life continue at Bletchley for a year or two, but gradually the loss took its toll, and she became more and more forgetful. I think it was approaching Christmas 2000 that after confirmation of her having memory loss, and with metal food wraps and packaging causing problems being put in the microwave, that we decided this time, to move Mum in with us at Castlethorpe. Phyll again needed to arrange Leave of Absence, which remarkably and thankfully, the Council did.

Mum became diagnosed with Alzheimer’ Disease but we had her remain with us until she died. It was unbelievably difficult as well, trying to cope with Mum’s uncharacteristic behaviour. We did get our conservatory built at the same time, giving us that bit of extra room. The idea was to allow Mum to receive her own visitors – friends and doctors etc., thus retaining some privacy for ourselves, as our house was open plan.

Mum’s dementia increasingly worsened, with her having distressing delusions of strange noises and/or persons, but which to us were clearly not apparent. If she or we had visitors call round, who were not always to her liking, uncharacteristically, she made it very obvious, and she certainly knew how to ‘stage whisper’ her disproval! Initially, we took advantage of the ‘Meals on Wheels’ service and had carers to get her up and wash and again get her to bed. The carers were really kind and caring to her, but I had many rows with their employers, Milton Keynes Council, for the way I thought they acted so poorly as the carers’ employers. It was all about common sense and communication, but I failed to see they had any of it.

The one lifesaver that was provided, although Mum had to pay a lot for it, was respite care. Every six weeks, we would take Mum off to the care home at Neath Hill, for a two-week stay, usually allowing us to get away or at least have a break. Did we live for that break to come around! But it wasn’t forever, and Mum died, sadly at the Nursing Home, but having seen the family and with us both being there for her, on 20 June 2003.

As all this started with Mum, in the summer of 1999, I had a weekend away with the 1st Hanslope cub pack, climbing the Shropshire Hills, staying at Wenlock Edge YHA. I became somewhat concerned when these 9–10-year-old lads were zooming up the Long Mynd, way ahead of me with the other leaders. Back home I casually called into our Hanslope surgery and had Dr Barter refer me to the MK Hospital Cardiology Clinic. Attending the Unit very soon afterwards and with Phyll, Dr Gwilt the Specialist said to Phyll after giving me a once over, ‘…you had better go and get his pyjamas, he’s not leaving here without surgery!’. And within days, I was transferred by ambulance, to the John Radcliffe at Oxford and had the notable cardiac surgeon Stephen Westerby, replace my aortic valve on 10 September 1999. It was I maintain, a ‘black and decker job’, open heart surgery!, but it saved my life.

I think I remained at Oxford for 10 days, with Phyll and lovely friends finding time, thankfully, to visit me. When I returned home, my physical recovery seemed too slow, and I brain was reacting slowly as well. It used to be sharp but now it wasn’t. However, to improve my strength, one of our near neighbours Phil Jones, a fellow Freemason, soon came visiting and started taking me walking around The Chequers. Then it was Station Road etc and gradually increased to walking right round the village with him and every day. It was a super kind gesture and huge help to restore me back to where I was.

One thing remaining though, which affected me; with the operation, I had lost a lot of my self-confidence and although a good countryside walker previously, now I would not walk out of sight of houses. It was all in my head, but it was soon to change for the better; on the 2nd January 2000, I joined the Milton Keynes Community Cardiac Group at Hinton Hall, Whaddon Way, Bletchley. Phyll came too and this was to prove hugely helpful to us both, and quite quickly too. The Cardiac Group is a gym class, but being for cardiac cases, our activities are ‘counted in and counted out’. Our pulse and blood pressures are all regularly recorded, qualified health professionals look after our wellbeing, our exercising is organised at appropriate levels and supervisors watch over us working out. It’s a remarkable and professionally managed set-up, and I’ve not looked back since. I am so grateful and that following year, Easter time, I was back climbing Mam Tor (Derbyshire Peak District) with the grandchildren!

Thankfully, nine months prior to this event, I had sold my Financial Services Practice on my 55th birthday although still working three days per week quite happily, as part of the deal. That all had to stop with being hospitalised and remained so for the next couple of years. By then, I had recovered, all the gardening and loose ends had been tied up and I needed to look for the buzz of office life again. I had seen an ad in the Citizen, and wrote off an application for the FCO (H.M. Foreign and Commonwealth Office) and was called for an interview in October 2000. Didn’t think much to it because all the interviewers wanted to know was how to run a cub pack! Anyway, the following Spring, I received a job offer for a part-time position in their Treasury Unit. I had applied for a part-time position within their Archive Unit, but I accepted and began a very happy period with the FCO, planning to work there until I reached 60.

The work involved me chasing debtors, but in that first week, two memorable events occurred. One was the aircraft demolishing the twin Trade Towers in New York and the other, rather more personal. An office colleague, from my earlier days in Northampton, had found himself and his daughter, robbed of their debit/credit cards whilst holidaying in Spain. Brits abroad who find themselves in such circumstances can call on the British Embassies or Consulates for assistance to be repatriated. However, they all must sign beforehand, an indemnity to repay the British Government. Amazingly, in that first week at Hanslope, I had Harry’s Indemnity Form cross my desk. Thankfully he had settled it promptly on his return, so I didn’t have to chase him! Another of life’s little coincidences, I think. These indemnity forms came in from the Scilly Isles to the Orkneys and everywhere in between.

Phyll retired from the MK Council in 2006, but I contentedly stayed at the FCO, with different roles over time. Retirement rules changed and I remained in post, past both my 60th and my 65th birthdays. I was expecting to finally retire at 60, but their rules changed, I was enjoying it, so I eventually called it a day, when they announced the Unit itself, was having to move offices away from Hanslope Park and make way at Hanslope, for FCO personnel migrating jobs out of London.

And so in 2009, my retirement began. It involved seeing even more of our six grandchildren, an absolute joy, but it started with an Allotment! By then I felt it was time to hang up my boots and both Phyll and I continued very happily to live our retirement to the full, until the summer of 2019. At this point, our ages pushing it a bit, we began to feel somewhat vulnerable. My driving days were numbered and if that happened to Phyll, we would be stranded, so to say. We, therefore, decided to look for a new home much nearer to shops and surgery etc., particularly Stony Stratford. But Stratford was not to be. We rapidly had a buyer for our house but dreadful machinations of the legal and banking processes, and thankfully, the amazing fortitude of our keen buyers to wait, we did not move until the following February 2021. Sadly, my Phyll died on the first day of lockdown, 21st March, one month following. Phyll died peacefully and in our new home, surrounded by all her loving family, and our 51years in Castlethorpe had come to an end. I’ve set a little plaque in the Sports’ Field to remember Phyll and give thanks for the wonderful time we spent living in the village. The plaque marks the three trees the Parish Council kindly agreed we could plant for wildlife, one for each of our families.

So thank you Castlethorpe. 1st December 2021.

Comments about this page

  • This is a fascinating Insight into this wonderful family’s life, beautiful written too, thank you

    By Michelle (28/01/2022)
  • I much enjoyed reading this: thank you, newly-discovered distant cousin.

    By Heather Holden (26/02/2018)

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