(1917 - 2007)
AN APPRECIATION BY PETER MACKNESS
“I’m just a Sulgrave girl…” is how I remember starting our first conversation in the autumn of 1991. In fact with the tilt of her head and a knowing smile, beneath the jaunty Balmoral bonnet and tweed suit she loved to wear, she looked every inch the Scottish lassie she was; and she never lost affection for the country of her birth.
The Battle of Passchendaele was still raging in Flanders when Emma was born on the 11th of October 1917 at Wemyss, Fifeshire. She was christened at Wemyss Castle. Her father had left the family home in Sulgrave some years before, married, and tenanted a farm in Scotland.
Meanwhile, at Sulgrave, grandfather Cave was writing to persuade his son to return to farm in the village. In those days it was not uncommon for railway companies to be asked to transport farming families, their implements, livestock, and household contents, to another location. And so, it was, in 1919, that a special train was arranged to transport two year old Emma, her family, and their possessions to Helmdon station. She recalled that the consignment included three shire horses, Beauty, Bonney and Scot, which gave many years service at what was to become Wemyss Farm on Dark (now Park) Lane. Her earliest memory of Sulgrave was when, at about the age of 3, taken to buy provisions at the shop on Church Street – now Church Cottage – looking in wonder at the sights and smells inside.
In 1922 Emma started at the village school and recalled memories of Mrs Webb, the “motherly” head teacher from Paulerspury and her staff of “pupil teachers” (today’s classroom assistants), and later, a Mrs Carter. The ringing of the school bell “a job the boys did”; and playtimes, when girls and boys had separate play areas. “Morning assembly when I dropped the apple my mother gave me. It rolled past the vicar’s feet and I never owned up. It stayed on the window ledge until it went rotten!” Regular visits were eagerly anticipated from the “dear old vicar”, Pakenham-Walsh, who used to warm himself by the winter fire while testing pupils’ knowledge of the scriptures. “One year we children each took turns at knitting him a very long scarf for his birthday .”
Emma gave her time and energy to everything she could in Sulgrave. She did that, she said, because, she never went anywhere much beyond the village, such were her duties at home. She became a governor at the school, giving support to her sister Victoria who had become head teacher there; and for a while even lived at the school house while continuing to work at Wemyss Farm. She loved her church; and playing the Sunday School harmonium in her late teens led the vicar to insist she should take over as organist, on her sister Eva’s marriage. Emma complied and performed dutifully until she was in her late 80s - her long service being commemorated on a plaque in the church. She played for countless weddings, wistfully commenting, “but not for my own.” Singing at village concert parties, helping with the youth club, a staunch member of Mothers’ Union; and since 1937, a continuous member of the Women’s Institute. Many in the village still remember her annual appearance perched atop a tractor trailer accompanying carollers on the harmonium at Christmastime.
Following her sister Victoria’s retirement to Scotland, Emma was, at last, able to enjoy many visits to the country of her birth. Last year Emma celebrated her 90th, and final, birthday, surrounded by family and friends at Sulgrave Manor. It was as a parish councillor she will be fondly remembered for prefacing her views with “Well, of course, I’m just a Sulgrave girl, but….” This was Emma’s way of persuading anyone with an ounce of common sense that they should share her viewpoint on some village matter or other! She even used the same ploy when, several years ago, she asked the parish council if they might arrange for some steps to be built to link Manor Field (now Castle Green) with Church Street. She would be delighted to know that her persuasive ploy still works!