Obituary: How raven-haired Joyce Hornsby found love over the teacups
PUBLISHED: 07:35 31 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:09 31 May 2019
Joyce lived at Henley for nearly 50 years. She worked at Ipswich Hospital and loved the WI, New Wolsey Theatre and Eastern Angles
The Midlands Electricity Board, just after the war, might not appear the most romantic setting. But no. Here's Anne Hornsby, on how her parents (16-year-old sweethearts Joyce and Arnold) met. "My dad said he remembered seeing this stunning young woman with raven-black hair… and in a knitted jumper he didn't like! Her mum had knitted it for her. But that didn't get in the way. They used to make the tea together in the office, so I think they got chatting there.
"My dad used to go out cycling at weekends, so he would cycle past where she lived… just happened to be passing!
"They started courting; and then they had a tandem. My dad used to cycle a long way out to her house" - perhaps seven miles - "and they used to get on the tandem and go into the Peak District, have a day out and cycle back. Then he would have to cycle the tandem single-handedly, as it were, back to where he lived.
"That must have been love, mustn't it?"
It was. They married, had two children, moved to Suffolk in 1970 (the year the half-crown coin ceased being legal tender and Paul McCartney revealed he had left the Beatles) and stayed.
Both quickly became part of their chosen village - involved, for instance, in the project to build a new community centre at Henley, a few miles north of Ipswich.
Joyce that year joined the local Women's Institute - and was still a member when she died recently, in her late 80s. There was standing room only at the church of St Peter's, Henley, as almost 200 people packed in for the funeral. Among them were many ladies wearing WI badges and scarves.
"It was almost like a guard of honour. It was really touching," says Anne.
Joyce was born in 1930 and hailed from Shoeburyness, at the mouth of the Thames Estuary, near Southend-on-Sea. She had three younger sisters.
"I know times were hard and they didn't have much money," says Anne. Joyce's father was, she thinks, some kind of salesman and away a lot. "They did have good neighbours. My mother was actually named after one of the daughters, so they must have had quite a close-knit community."
Joyce went to primary school locally and then at 10 was evacuated, in 1940. She went first to Ashbourne, near Derby, and then Mansfield. It's thought one of her sisters went to stay with another family, and that after a while her mother moved up to Derby with the two youngest girls. "But I don't think they saw much of each other." Travelling during the war was not easy.
Anne adds: "She was excited to go, but of course it was very new and different. She was always a very pragmatic person and very down to earth. She would just get on with things.
"I think that had a lot to do with being sent away at a young age. She was never one to sit and weep about things; she was a very positive person and it was a case of moving on to the next thing. I think that did come from having to stand on her own two feet, like all those children did."
Happily, the family with which young Joyce spent most time had a daughter with whom she became friends. They kept in touch, too. "They were just like sisters and got along brilliantly."
Sunderland to Suffolk
Joyce was reunited with her mother (who'd stayed in the East Midlands) and sisters after the war. An able pupil in Nottinghamshire, she'd gained the School Certificate early.
"She wanted to train to be a nurse, but her mum was disabled by that time and said she (Joyce) needed to live with her - basically to go out to work. There was no question of her being able to go off and study. So she started work at the electricity board in Derby and that's where she met my dad."
Arnold was a trainee accountant and fellow 16-year-old Joyce a Hollerith punched-card machine operator. (Early digital data processing!) They married after turning 21.
Arnold's career was spent with various electricity boards. His job-related changes and promotions took the family on a series of moves - to Nottingham (where children Anne and Stephen were born), followed by Newcastle and Sunderland.
Then, in 1970, came the biggest move: to smaller Henley. Arnold joined Eastern Electricity Board and worked in the Portman Road area of Ipswich.
"For my brother and myself it was very strange, because we'd moved from quite a big town to a little village and certainly I had a strong Geordie accent. Everyone used to laugh at me at school!" says Anne.
They went to Henley's primary school, "which was very small in those days. I think there were three age groups in one classroom. That was very strange, being in the same class as him".
Why did their parents settle in Henley? "They visited several places and just really liked the village. They wanted to get away from bigger places and it seemed to suit what they were looking for."
In fact, they never moved home again.
After a couple of years, Joyce became a dinner lady at the school. (Anne, who'd left by then, says there was a clutch of ex-pupils from that time who in adulthood would forever refer to her as "Mrs Hornsby". "It's a bit like when you have a teacher; you would never call them by their first name!")
After three years or so Joyce became a hospital ward clerk, working first at the old site in Anglesea Road, Ipswich, before moving to Heath Road.
"So she did end up working in a hospital, which is what she'd always wanted to do. I have to say that, from all accounts and what I could imagine, she was a very efficient ward clerk. She had very good organisational skills.
"We found something she'd written about her time at the hospital. She said 'I've lost count of how many young house-officers (a first-year doctor) I've introduced to the notes trolley, and how many impossible-to-find X-rays I have found for registrars!'"
Joyce spent 20 years with the NHS before retiring. "She loved her work. They had a very good team of people and she liked being busy, so it suited her."
Nearly a half-century
If working life was busy, life away from the hospital ward was equally so. Joyce was not a woman content to while away her time in front of the TV.
Next year would have marked 50 years of continuous membership of Henley WI. "She was on the executive practically the whole time. Several times she was president. Several times she was secretary," says Anne.
"It was so nice, because they always used to defer to her. Even very recently they would say 'What does Joyce think?' I suppose she had so much experience and knowledge."
Dream comes true
When the family arrived in Henley, and for a good many years afterwards, locals had what Anne calls "a tiny little wooden village hall - very old-fashioned". Folk dreamed of better facilities, and acted.
"She and my dad - and with his accountancy skills he was very useful - were part of a small but very active and capable group that did all the applications and helped with the planning - the logistics you need when it's a community project."
Henley Community Centre opened in the summer of 1998.
Also, Joyce helped her husband organise the local Workers' Educational Association.
She belonged to the Mothers' Union, the Prayer Group and the book club, and was involved with Ipswich Historic Churches Trust and the Anglo-Scottish Society.
Joyce went often to the theatre - The New Wolsey in Ipswich (she also joined the Wolsey Theatre Club), Eastern Angles productions, and stagings at Seckford Theatre in Woodbridge.
She enjoyed classes and talks at the Ipswich Institute, which also had a lending library. "She loved the Institute, especially after my dad died (just after Christmas 2016). She'd go in there and have lunch.
"One of the things I had to do after she died was take back all her library books and audio books. She really made the most of the Institute. It's like a little cultural haven in the middle of town."
Cakes and washing-up
The couple were invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace to recognise their services to the community.
"My mum was someone who contributed a lot, but she was very happy to be in the kitchen, making cups of tea and doing the washing-up," says Anne.
"In fact, the Rev Cathy Austin, at the service, said 'I'd like to say "rest in peace" but I rather feel that in some corner of Heaven Joyce has found some washing-up to do!' She was particularly known for that."
Anne chuckles at another memory. Joyce, then in her 70s, once said "Well, I've got to go, because I've got to help cook the Christmas dinner for the over-60s."
She says her mum had a genuine concern for other people. "She would visit anyone who was sick. Her cake-making was legendary; she would bake cakes for any occasion. (Including to help the homeless in Ipswich.) She was a very selfless person, I would say, and she put that to practical use by making cakes and washing-up.
"A lot of people said 'She was like a grandmother to me', or a mother; or an auntie or an older sister. She very much had that sort of personality."
Joyce had oesophageal cancer nine years ago and the family feared the worst, yet she came fighting back. "She was a survivor. She had chemotherapy and then radiotherapy, and she came back with a vengeance and took up all her activities again. She had nine more years than she would have done, and seven of those were with my dad. It is amazing she did so well.
"The great thing was that she had so many friends. Especially after my dad died, they'd say 'I'm going to that, Joyce. I'll give you a lift.' Initially I think she thought she wouldn't be able to keep up with so many of her activities, but thanks to friends and neighbours she managed.
"And she was very independent. She would go on the bus. In the end she had two sticks, but she'd go into town three or four days a week. 'I'm going to my play-reading; I'm going to my poetry class; I'm meeting a friend at the Institute.' She'd be off with her two sticks, catching the bus from Henley."
After Arnold died, the family did discuss the idea of moving to sheltered accommodation, "but she was surrounded by friends and she loved being part of the village. She could walk to things like Mothers' Union and the WI and church. We could have uprooted her, but I think she would have gone downhill, really, if she didn't have all that 'life' to sustain her."
No clubbing tonight
Joyce was known for her humour.
"A lot of people said she would tell them little stories and make them laugh, but for me it was often the incongruous things," says Anne. "She would come out with these almost-throwaway lines that you wouldn't expect - especially looking at her in the end.
"She looked like a little old lady, but she used to say to my son - he's musical - 'Let me know when you want me to turn up for a gig; but give me a bit of time because I've got to dye my hair blue and get my tattoos done.'
"Even just a couple of days before she died - she was a bit tired, but she was still concerned about family and other people - she said to me 'I don't think I'll go clubbing tonight.'
"It was often the quiet little asides that used to make people laugh."
Joyce did keep up to date and was very aware of what was going on in the world. "She kept her sharp wits. A lot of people said she was inspirational, and I do think that concern for others - thinking outside yourself - helps you to keep going: to keep strong."