Mary’s Funeral Service was held at St Oswald’s Church on 17 October 2016.
Mary was born on 6 December 1927 at her family home: a two-up, two-down cottage in Courier Row, Bollington. Her mother Annie’s first husband had been killed in the First World War and Annie subsequently married Jack Williamson. They had four children: Margaret was the eldest, born in 1923; her brother John was born in 1925, then Mary came along in 1927 followed by Brian in 1934. Little red-headed Mary was the last of her siblings to survive. In these later years Mary had become the acknowledged matriarch (“Mother Mary”) and the keeper of family memories (which is why in these very recent weeks she shared with me how she had become a little troubled as symptoms began to show the early stages of losing her memory, her mind otherwise remained sharp enough though). Mary (like her siblings) was baptised here at St Oswald’s, and later on became a pupil next door at Bollington Cross School: in fact I gather that Mary started school at the tender age of three-and-a-half, because she was so anxious to follow in her older sister Margaret’s footsteps and to be like her!
Their father Jack worked for the Co-op, mainly delivering coal, and he used on occasion to send his children round to collect the money due from his customers. After Brian was born, around the time Mary was six or seven, the family moved to No.6 Princess Street, near the Waggon & Horses: they still had no bathroom even in the new home, but despite this, their mother made sure the whole family was always clean and tidy. Annie was a good home-maker and both daughters inherited their mother’s talent and love of knitting and embroidery. Mary also remembered joining her brothers and sister as schoolchildren, mostly at weekends but sometimes of a weekday evening, when they helped Bill Berry and his horse Molly to deliver milk from their neighbour Hannah Barlow’s place, Bollington Hall Farm. (In those days of course people would come out from their houses with a jug, to collect milk from the churn on the milk-float.) As they got older, Mary also recalled going with her sister to the local Empire Picture House, sitting in the “one and nines” or perhaps even the “two and threes”! The children would also help with haymaking when harvest-time came round each year.. It all added up to a real old-fashioned country childhood, and it left Mary with enduring memories of perhaps less sophisticated (but arguably happier) days…
On leaving school, Mary was employed at Miss Froggatt’s shop on Sunderland Street, Macclesfield, a ladies’ outfitters, and she struck up a lifelong friendship with Nora, another member of staff there. (A young Hylda Brogden remembers being hauled up over the steep front doorstep of that same shop and being fitted for that special dress which was a must-have for all self-respecting Bollington girls in readiness for Sermons Sunday at the beginning of May each year!) When Margaret married Tom Cumberbirch on 28 July 1945 here in St Oswald’s Church, on the Saturday of Bollington Wakes, naturally her younger sister Mary was a bridesmaid. Romance soon blossomed for Mary herself too! On her daily bus ride to and from Macclesfield going to work at Miss Frogratt’s shop, Mary soon caught the eye of a young bus conductor called Arthur Houghton! They too were married here in St Oswald’s Church, on 29 January 1949, the happy couple initially moving to live in Macclesfield, but soon returning to Bollington to what became their family home on Grimshaw Lane for about 50 years…
Mary and Arthur’s family began with the arrival of their eldest son David in 1950, followed by their daughter Anne in 1952, and the family seemed complete when Alan was born about a year later. Then after a gap of about 13 years, Mary and Arthur surprised everyone by welcoming their second daughter Jane into the world, followed a couple of years later by the arrival of their youngest son, Simon! This meant that Jane was about five and Simon just two years old when they were bridesmaid and pageboy respectively at their sister Anne’s wedding!
The children all have fond memories of their Mum: for instance, David recalls his Mum sternly telling him that he’d get his name in the Macclesfield Times for drinking under age!
Anne remembers when they were little and going over on errands to Barrows the butchers for their Mum! Mary would say: “Ask them if they have an Ox tail? When they say yes, tell them to turn round so you can have look!” Or she’d say “When you go past the chip shop, ask them “Have you got any chips left?” When they say yes, tell them it serves them right for cooking too many!” I’m not sure parents should really encourage their children to be so cheeky, but Mary was always fun and smiling! Anne also recalls Mary often baking cakes with pride, then teasing the children saying they weren’t for eating – they were for putting in a glass case!
One of Jane’s vivid memories is of her Mum singing “Scarlet Ribbons”… then there was the way of passing the time which Mary encouraged by making up words out of car number plates! On New Year’s Eve, she’d tell the children to “go the bus stop and look for a man with as many noses as there are days left in the year”!
As the youngest, Simon’s memories include Friday washing nights, with the twin tub going from 7.00pm, the fire stoked up by 10.00pm and about 3 maidens stacked around it – mainly with our David’s mucky overalls from the farm! Another memory would be getting Alan up on Saturday mornings when John Bennett (the milkman) was throwing stones at the window, then having to go round to the back and knock on Mum’s bedroom with a prop. One special treat that stands out for Simon is of his Mum making him his favourite dessert (lemon meringue) and then of her making oatcakes ready for Sunday morning and having bacon and sausage wrapped in oatcakes – delicious! Simon also now treasures the memory from just last year of taking his Mum to their caravan – she absolutely loved it: she sat out in the sun, did her puzzles and then visited some places in North Wales that brought a lot of happy memories back for her.
Other memories of their Mum was her always having a smile, always being there, and trying to keep the peace in times of disagreement. She was a great knitter and sewer – producing lots of dresses and jumpers over the years. She was great at cooking, and made super celebration cakes and had real sugar craft skills. Mary enjoyed preparing food for family gatherings – one speciality being Boxing Day turkey soup! She was always very organised – everything would be labelled and boxed, clean, tidy and well presented – she never went to bed without making sure the house was tidy and that everything was put away. One of her last little notes Jane found was to say: “I hope I have left the house in order, I’ve been doing it for a long time and things may have piled up – sorry!”
Over these many years Mary has not only cared for her own five children, but also I understand she looked after the children of the Beech family for a while. She also worked in Bollington Cross School as a dinner lady and playground supervisor. She worked with a fantastic team of good friends there: Jane remembers her Mum and all the ladies from the school kitchen once performing a song-and-dance routine, in leotards and tutus, at a Church Talent Show – they really enjoyed themselves and certainly entertained everyone else! And then of course, who could forget that Mary was well-known in the whole village as the Lollipop Lady! She loved this role and carried it out faithfully, rain or shine, for almost 20 years! She would sometimes give out proper lollipops to the children too, and then when her two grandchildren Catherine and Elizabeth were born, she even attached pink balloons to her lollipop sign in celebration!
Sadly her husband Arthur suffered a stroke in 1990 and she dedicated herself to nursing back to health as far as possible. They joined Macclesfield Stroke Club and were grateful for their support. Arthur began to get quite frail and in 2002 he died at Mount Hall Care Home aged 81. Nothing daunted, Mary in her characteristic way got on with life and made the most of things. She had volunteered for many years in the Age Concern Charity Shop in Macclesfield – eventually retiring from this in 2006 – she used to say that at least they hadn’t put a ticket on her yet! She made some very good friends there, especially Jan Burton who supported her each week in the later years. Mary really appreciated all that Jan was able to do for her and in turn Jan said Mary was like a second Mum to her.
Mary was also a member of Macclesfield Carers until it disbanded. She has been a member of the W.I. since 1963, and at one time was their president. She was a patron of Bollington Light Opera group and Bollington Brass Band – she loved to attend the concerts and events and to support them, often with her great friend the late Peggy Wakefield. She and Peggy used to love going on coach trips all around the UK. She belonged to “CHUB” (the Church and Pub group) – she loved to go out and see all the different places and enjoyed the friendship and fellowship, as well as a good meal. She never let her health problems stop her from joining in, although latterly she had to be more cautious about only having foods that wouldn’t upset her digestive system. I was full of admiration about how she coped with her medical condition in recent years and the way she quietly just got on with it.
Mary loved to go out on day trips and away on holidays. These trips were mostly in the UK; however she did visit the South of France with Jane, Russell, Joel and Lydia; and twice travelled out to California to visit her niece Kathleen and her family – spending a month there in 1993 with Arthur, and then visiting again in 2006 – apparently she had a wonderful time! She also went up to Lerwick for her granddaughter Joanna’s wedding to Dave – “quite an experience” she wrote in her diary!
Mary moved to Crossfield Road in August 2007. That was when (as the relatively new Vicar) I was summoned to come and collect a Teddy Bear that she had just won on a raffle. Incidentally Mary was incredibly lucky in winning raffles – her numbers always seemed to come up, didn’t they?! Anyway Mary thought this particular prize was a bit big for her new home and she was sure the new Children’s Corner at church would be a better place for it… I duly arrived at her bungalow, and after a cup of tea I collected the Bear from the top of Mary’s wardrobe and drove him down to St Oswald’s, strapped in to the front seat of my car!? I had been somewhat apprehensive that small toddlers would be overawed by this huge creature, but I was proved wrong and he was soon christened “Oswald Bear” by the local pre-school children next door and was an honoured guest at their annual Teddy Bears’ Picnic! In case you’re wondering, it was Mary’s express wish that Oswald Bear should be placed for today’s service in the particular seat she herself usually occupied!
Mary told everyone that all her neighbours in and around Crossfield Road were super, especially Jim and Sue who lived next door. She felt so fortunate to be in the bungalow and to be surrounded by such good friends and neighbours. She loved being able to wave at passers-by as well as to enjoy the view of her garden. She was a great one for socialising – she belonged to the weekly Faith Hour group here at church – enjoying good discussions about variety of things on a Wednesday afternoon over a cup of tea, made just as she liked it. She discovered a latent talent for writing verse and contributed to an Autumnal anthology produced after an entertaining evening of poetry and music held here in September 2012. She was a great supporter of all our church fundraising and social events, including Songs of Praise and Posh Teas, and notably dressing up in Edwardian costume for our Grand Centenary Dinner in October 2008. She also valued the fellowship and support she received from Ovenhouse Lane Community Centre- including their Knit and Natter group – though she used to say she no longer joins in with the knitting – she just natters! She went every week to the Centre for lunch – even right up until the day she died.
Mary will be much missed as a faithful member of this congregation and as a personality within our local community. However, she left this significant note amongst her things: she insists that we are not to be morbid, but to have a good get-together after the funeral! She wished us simply to think of the good times – as she said, there have been many.