Julie: A beautiful soul who ‘will be part of Ipswich history’
- Credit: Archant
Tributes to Julie Welham – ‘the sister I never had’ – who ran Julie’s Afro Hair Supplies in Norwich Road
There's a lovely tribute to Julie Welham on Facebook. "I remember the first time I went to Julie's hair shop. She was so lovely and helpful," writes Talaya Seeley. "She was part of my childhood and adulthood and I will always have nothing but the fondest of memories of this beautiful soul.
"Julie, you will be part of Ipswich history and you will be missed."
Cancer claimed the 54-year-old after a shortish illness, leaving so many people with so many vivid memories.
Friends and family talk of "the sister I never had"; a brave and gutsy lady; a person content with her life; a woman who would check neighbours were all right when it snowed, for example; the possessor of a wicked and dry sense of humour; a villager who arranged community events, such as firework nights; someone not afraid to speak bluntly if the moment was right.
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Here are a couple of examples of mixed dry humour and straight-talking. A hospital consultant asked patient Julie if there was anything they could change. "Yes: put better food on the plates."
And, at one time, mum Janet was having orthopaedic treatment far from home. (She has a lot of medical metal in her leg.) After a long journey to Middlesex to see her mother, involving taxis and trains, Julie arrived as the consultant was looking at X-rays and talking to Janet. Julie heard him say "You've got titanium right up there…"
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"She looked at him and said 'Much scrap value in that, then?' The poor man didn't know whether to laugh or keep serious."
Julie, of course, would have her own health problems, and had to cope with being told she had just six months to live. Her period of illness lasted nearly a year - during which she had to deal with multiple tests, itching, stents and more - "but she never moaned", says her mother. "She only said her back hurt once."
Maxine Howard, Julie's friend for 41 years, remembers how Julie could make people smile and laugh through their tears. There were nights when they'd share chocolate around the hospital ward - especially Julie's creme eggs.
And visitors would take Julie down to the hospital shop to get an ice-cream - something that was easy and pleasant to eat. They'd run along the corridors with the wheelchair… and Julie would strike her best Superman pose!
"It was wicked what she had, but she never moaned," says Maxine. "I think she'd resigned herself to what was going to happen and just got on with it. Amazing lady. She was gutsy."
Gutsy in good health, too. Janet tells how her daughter didn't stand for any nonsense.
One day, one of her staff members came in and said two people had just urinated against the wall of the shop. "Hold the fort," Julie said.
She crossed the road to the errant pair and said "Oi! You know what you've just done up that wall, don't you? Well, I won't put up with it. I own that shop, and you know what you're now going to do, don't you?"
Amazingly, they walked back across the road with her. Julie organised a bucket of water, soap and a broom, and they cleaned it off. "I'm not having that," she told people. "Perhaps it will teach them a lesson."
A love of horse-riding
Julie was born on August 4, 1964, at Manor Farm in Tuddenham St Martin, a few miles outside Ipswich. Nestled in the Fynn Valley - and for a long time bordering the land of cartoonist Carl Giles - the farm has been in the family for 88 years.
Janet remembers her daughter, about 18 months old, wanting to help feed the pigs. "My husband Derek used to carry two buckets over from the meal shed to the pigsties, and she wanted to do the same. So she got a little seaside bucket, trotting behind."
Childhood was a happy time for Julie, who had two brothers. Janet recalls trips down to the river, where the youngsters dangled their feet in the water and played for ages.
Julie began horse-riding at the age of nine - she had a Dartmoor pony called Shandy, who could be a bit of a scallywag and lived to 32.
Julie went first to the little village school in Tuddenham St Martin (long closed), followed by Grundisburgh, Kingston middle in Woodbridge, and finally Farlingaye High in the same town, though mum says her daughter was never much interested in school.
Julie was interested in horses. "She did a lot of babysitting in the village and saved money." At 16 or 17 she bought her own horse: Rustler. Over the years she must have had eight horses at different times, reckons Janet.
Taking the plunge
Through a neighbour who was friendly with the pharmacist, school-leaver Julie learned Evelyn Chemist, in Norwich Road, Ipswich, had an opening. She went to see Mike Evelyn. "Julie was always in trousers and I bought her a skirt to go for an interview, but she went in trousers and crept out without me knowing," says Janet.
No matter. Mike told her, apparently, that trousers were by far the most sensible attire, bearing in mind staff had to use steps to pluck items from the shelves. She got the job.
Julie was essentially a shop assistant, and later not at all keen on suggestions she might want to work in the pharmacy itself. "She liked to see the people at the front; and if you were in the pharmacy you were at the back," explains Janet.
Eventually, when the owner decided to sell up, it was the signal that Julie too might strike out in a different direction.
The business had carried a limited range of Afro hair products, and Julie felt there was potential for more trade. "She decided one weekend that she was going to start up on her own."
A business plan was drawn up. She met a woman who owned shop units further up Norwich Road - virtually opposite the junction with Bramford Road - and rented one.
"That same weekend she went to the warehouses in London and they let her have things like 30 days' credit; and that's where it started, really," says Janet.
Julie's Afro Hair Supplies was born - on December 7, 1995 - selling synthetic hair, hair pieces, wigs and more.
"The first week, she didn't take anything from the money she got. She put it into the next lot of stuff. She asked the customers what they wanted, bought it with the money she'd made the week before, and built it up like that."
Business snowballed - and, later, Julie was able to also rent the neighbouring unit. An archway was created to link the two and things went well. "She started up with next to nothing, and over time she had grandmothers, the daughters and then granddaughters coming in. She absolutely loved it."
Running a shop means you get to know a lot of people, and Julie did.
Her mother was in and out of hospital over the years "and whenever Julie came up, a lot of people would greet her: 'Hello, Julie. Who have you come to see?' This came from cleaners, the tea ladies, porters, nurses, doctors, pharmacists…"
Julie's community spirit
So Julie's life settled into an agreeable routine. She lived at the farm, ran her shop in Ipswich, and loved life in the countryside with her horses and dog Archie.
"She never went on a holiday," says Janet. "The furthest we know she went was London, when the suppliers used to come from America and show their goods, and she used to go. That was a day out."
The pattern of life involved rising at a quarter to six, having breakfast, and walking the dog from 6.15am. "She came back at quarter past seven, got in the shower, and then she was down the bus-stop by eight. (Julie never drove.)
"Then David picked her up every night, and she took the dog out again for another hour."
Julie knew partner David Hamblet for 23 years. "I always call him my son-in-law, because he was here almost every day," says Janet. "He used to pick her up and they'd have their dinner when she came home from the walk. He's done a lot for Julie."
Janet smiles. "She told him it was horses first, dog next, and then him. 'I know my place,' he said."
Julie had in more recent times played darts for a pub team, the Tuddenham Fountain. She also took up golf after being encouraged by a friend - playing at Ipswich Golf Club, Purdis Heath. She loved it, but was able to play for only about six months before illness forced her to stop.
Friends and her home village were important. Julie organised a number of events on the farm's front meadow, raising money for charities including Thomas Wolsey School in Ipswich and the hospital's special care baby unit.
There was also a low-cost barbecue - bring your own barbecue, food and drink - for which she arranged children's games. And a couple of fireworks nights. Unfortunately, these were knocked on the head when the insurance premium hit £2,000 and proved too much.
"She really was a caring person," says Janet, remembering how during snowy periods her daughter would ask neighbours living alone if they needed anything.
It was about a year ago that Julie one day said she had had chest pains since 5.30pm - though she still took Archie on his teatime walk. She said the pain came and went.
Her mum knew it must be something, as her daughter never made a fuss. Once, she broke her ankle in a number of places when a fly agitated her horse and she was thrown off. Bone was sticking out, but Julie never moaned, and declined gas-and-air as medical staff attended to it before she went for surgery to have it pinned.
For the chest pains, Janet called an ambulance. Paramedics couldn't find anything wrong with Julie's heart, but she was taken to hospital.
Between May and August she had a series of blood tests, ultrasound examinations and CT scans.
Julie was referred to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge and prepared for a major operation that would have seen the removal of parts of some internal organs. Sadly, doctors found her cancer was terminal.
"On October 5 they told her she'd only got six months to live. It was six months and four days…"
The disease was centred on a duct in the area of the pancreas. As devastated as she must have been, Julie still mined the black humour.
"When she phoned me from Addenbrooke's, do you know what her first words were? 'I've only got six months to live and I expect you'll outlive me'," says Janet.
Every minute precious
Julie didn't want chemotherapy - if her time was limited, she didn't want to waste much of it feeling ill, and she didn't want to lose her hair.
Julie did, though, go to a clinic that offered different types of treatment. "For the first four months, really, she had a good life." The hair supplies business was shut down and she did different things, such as going shopping in Woodbridge and buying some swankier clothes.
Julie also bought some kind of eye-catching sports car - a model nicknamed Godzilla. (Research suggests it was a Nissan Skyline GT-R, but that might be wrong.) Friends took her out in it.
Janet thinks Julie must have been in it only about 10 times, but it "was a dear ride each time".
More than 300 people attended Julie's funeral at Ipswich International Church, at Barrack Corner, on the Portman Road/Burlington Road loop.
Also present was her old brown riding hat. "She loved that old hat; she wore that for years," says her mum.
"That was getting tatty, so I bought a nice blue velvety one for her birthday. I'm talking years ago. She couldn't go to shows with this old brown one because she could have got disqualified.
"The more people told her how tatty it was, the more she wore it! And guess what was on top of her coffin… The hat. The most tatty-looking thing. She wanted it on her coffin."
Janet nods towards the door. "She's got one here that's never even been out of the box. And that wasn't a cheap one, either. And she's still got the blue one, because she only wore it to go to shows, so it's got no wear in it at all!"
A promise to keep
Maxine was among those offering a tribute: to "the sister I never had". The friends never had a cross word - laughing and crying together, and putting the world to rights on their regular Thursday morning rides.
She told the tale of how Julie, a wonderful "auntie" figure, made Maxine's daughter Natasha blush by giving the teenager her best advice about having a boyfriend:
If your boyfriend has a car, do not park in a muddy gateway, as it will be you that has to get out and push it if it gets stuck. But remember: Persil washing powder gets mud out of your clothes.
Maxine remembers how she and Julie would come back from those Thursday rides. Julie then sorted out the main course while Maxine would take care of the dessert. "She was an amazing cook - roast dinners to die for. Nobody made dinner like Julie. Janet is a great cook, too, so you can see where she got it from.
"Julie had a wicked sense of humour - always laughs and banter." Maxine shares an anecdote from a horse show - one a bit too rude to repeat here…
Now, she comes over to take care of Julie's horses, while Gail (a friend for 35 years) travels to the village to take dog Archie for a walk. "We promised her," explains Maxine.
"She was so happy and content here. She didn't want anything else. Wasn't interested. This was her life. She had 'here', had her mum, the horses, David, the dog… She'd got all she wanted. Work was good. It was lovely to see someone 100% happy."