Obituary: This Ipswich love story began in hospital and lasted nearly 55 years
PUBLISHED: 16:05 06 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:50 09 July 2019
Smitten country boy Paul Stewart would walk 32 miles to enjoy a precious few moments with Ipswich sweetheart Cheryl
A hospital isn't an obvious romantic setting, but for two young patients love was the best medicine.
Paul Stewart was in for kidney trouble; Cheryl Twaits for an eating difficulty. The country boy was barely 20; the girl from Ipswich not quite 16. They clapped eyes on each other through a window "and we fell in love with each other straightaway. I was only 15, but I knew I wanted him", Cheryl laughs. "And he knew he wanted me."
This is a slightly unusual obituary, for Paul died a while ago. But his wife has only just given his ashes a permanent resting place. 'I miss him so much,' she says. 'We were soulmates.' This is their story.
The die was cast.
Married life initially involved living in a caravan, and later they'd nurse each other during debilitating periods of illness, but they were man and wife for nearly 52 happy years. Sadly, Paul died two days before their anniversary.
After keeping his ashes at home a fair while, not wanting to part with them, Cheryl has just put them in the grounds of a church near her Ipswich home.
She did it on what would have been his birthday. They're in a casket featuring the image of a sunset. "I can go round and see him every day."
Paul Stewart was born in 1943 and grew up in the Buxhall area, near Stowmarket. With nine brothers and sisters (he was the third-oldest) Paul must have found space a bit tight. The children obviously had to share bedrooms.
"They never had any (mains) water," says Cheryl. "His mother used to go up to the pump to get water. But she always used to keep the children really lovely. People used to compliment her on her washing - it was always so white on the line."
The tone of Paul's rural childhood can perhaps be gleaned from a book written by Stowmarket author Graham Chaplin: "Please try not to be late for tea".
One tale tells of a group of pals who had seen the 1953 big-game film Mogambo, starring Clark Gable, and decided they'd make spears. Paul bumped into them and decided to tag along.
They made a good job of crafting spears from old planks. Somehow, Paul (nervously) volunteered to stand against a "wall" of straw as a "pretend prisoner". The lads threw spears towards him - their aiming skills giving a good clearance, though some got to within a couple of feet. And then Paul found one heading straight for him. It embedded itself in the straw… between his knees. The volunteer withdrew his services.
"I ain't doing that again!" he's quoted as saying. "No chance. That's dangerous."
Walked 32 miles to see her
The summer of 1963 saw Paul in Ipswich Hospital - not with a spear injury but a kidney complaint. He'd been in a week or so when young Cheryl arrived. He was on Sherrington ward; she was admitted to Addison.
"They had a balcony and we could see each other through the windows and we fell in love with each other straightaway," she remembers.
So they'd look at each other through the glass, "and the nurses got us together. He wanted to come and see me, and they told me".
On the third day, Paul came round to see her. The young lady, like other patients on the ward, had had something that disagreed with her and was a bit poorly. "The nurses said 'Pull the curtains round and give her a kiss' - and he did!"
The star-struck youths did their early courting in the hospital corridor, basically, and Cheryl would help with the teas so she could go round and see him.
What did she like about Paul? "He was so handsome. He'd got lovely black wavy hair." She feared she didn't stand a chance with such a good-looking lad, but the stars aligned.
"He was a country boy. He said to me 'Are you on the phun?' I said 'What?' He said 'Are you on the phone?' That was the very first thing he said!"
Cheryl was discharged from hospital first. Paul asked if she'd visit him. Of course she would.
When the time came for him to leave the Heath Road wing, his sweetheart received a letter at home, with a rose. Would she meet him by the postbox on Norwich Road, Paul asked. So she got dressed up and went. They later walked up to her mum and dad's house in Elmcroft Road, in the Castle Hill area of town.
"We started going out with each other. He had a bike at first. Then that went wrong and he couldn't afford another. He walked from Buxhall, every night, to see me, and that's 32 miles (return). And he had to go to work the next day!"
In the end, Paul got himself a motorbike and sidecar and Cheryl travelled in it. One day she banged on the window, to attract his attention, and it fell out…
'I knew he wasn't jilting me'
The couple courted for about three years, got engaged, and married on March 19, 1966, at the Church of St Thomas in Bramford Lane. The reception was at the Suffolk Punch pub on the Norwich Road/Cromer Road corner.
"He came up to see me that night (before the wedding) and I said 'Don't be late, will you?' He said 'No'. And he was half an hour late! I had to go round four times!
"It was the football on and we didn't realise. His car got caught in the crowds. I knew he wasn't jilting me, but I wondered if he'd had an accident."
Paul had a number of jobs during his life. He worked on a farm, for instance, and for wholesaler Palmer & Harvey. The firm made the couple a cake for their wedding.
"We couldn't afford a house, so we bought a caravan and took it up to Martlesham Heath. That was a beautiful caravan - a 32-footer."
Cheryl became pregnant three months after the wedding and son Mark was born in 1967, just before his mum and dad's first anniversary.
Beautiful it might have been, but the caravan wasn't big enough for a growing family. The Stewarts secured a council house in the Whitton neighbourhood of Ipswich and moved in 1968. It would remain the couple's home for about half a century.
'So clever, but wouldn't admit it'
The family became four-strong with the arrival of Marie in 1969. Later, Cheryl started to get ill, with pains in her kidneys. It went on for years, on and off, with no solution in sight.
"I got so ill that Paul looked after me. He did housework and he looked after the children; did all the decorating. In the end I went up to a London hospital. It was years later." Actually, a string of hospitals: St Bartholomew's, St Paul's, St Peter's.
"A doctor said 'The poison is going in your kidney instead of coming out.' I was born with the tubes round the wrong way, and they found I'd got a 'horseshoe' kidney.
"Paul used to come up and see me every day. He used to take the children to school - we had four by then (James was born in 1973 and Ian in 1974) - and then come up to the London hospital."
Cheryl's husband was a grafter. He'd worked in the plastering trade with his father-in-law. Paul also taught himself to do textured ceilings. To earn extra cash he'd often come home from work and then go out to do a ceiling job.
When he wasn't dealing with Artex and suchlike, Paul would often come home, have his tea, and get out in the garden. He had green fingers - producing tomatoes, potatoes and other crops.
"He was always on the go. He could do anything. He could mend washing-machines. He used to do beautiful paintings and glass pictures. He built a metal-detector, too. He was so clever, but he wouldn't admit it."
Paul earned himself a reputation as the neighbourhood odd-job man. Fixing TVs was one of the repairs people asked him to do. Cheryl remembers him one day asking if she'd like a garden pond. He installed her outside on a kind of camp bed, so she could watch it coming on, and dug a pond that's still there.
'Nothing he couldn't do'
Cheryl was 40 when she had surgery for her medical condition, at St Thomas' Hospital in the capital. About a decade later, her husband began to suffer a series of serious health issues, such as diabetes and prostate trouble. About 15 years ago he was diagnosed with lung condition COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), heart failure and kidney failure.
After being looked after for so long herself, now Cheryl looked after her spouse, helped by a carer when assistance was needed.
She had to get a hospital bed installed downstairs at home as Paul couldn't get upstairs. He was in and out of hospital. "He suffered so badly," she admits. "But I promised I would never put him in a home. And I didn't."
For such a previously-active man, debilitating illness was hugely frustrating. Paul had enjoyed many hobbies and interests.
Given permission by a farmer to search a field using the metal detector he made, he and some of his brothers found a number of Roman items, says Cheryl, a grandmother of five.
Then there was his (artistic) painting, and the making of stuffed furry animals (often from his own patterns) such as Bugs Bunny. Once, Paul made a huge teddy-bear someone wanted for an auction. He was also good at woodwork. "There's nothing he couldn't do," says Cheryl.
'There was a nice charisma about him'
The couple hoped to renew their marriage vows, but Paul was too ill. Eventually, medical experts said nothing more could be done. He died at 74.
Cheryl has only now felt able to put his ashes in the grounds of the nearby church, along with some red roses. She did it on what would have been his birthday.
"He was a lovely person. He was kind to everybody and there was a nice charisma about him. He liked helping people.
"I miss him so much. He used to say we were soulmates. I'd never had a boyfriend before. I just fell for him and he fell for me.
"That's our love story."