Big John's News Page
The life and times of Ian Willsher 1947 - 2017
Many in the village will have fond
memories of Ian, his humour and resilience. He died recently. His wife,
June, has sent us this remembrance of him.
Ian’s parents were married very
young just before the Second World War broke out . Ian’s father was
posted to Africa for the duration of the war but on his return home he and
Ian’s mother set up home together again, and Ian was born on 13th June
History has taught us that many
soldiers came home from war and found difficulty in settling down to
normal life and Harry Willsher was no exception to this. Ian was only two
years old when his mother left home leaving Ian to be brought up by his
“rather strict father”. Without the softer presence of his mother Ian
became a rather naughty little boy and the final straw came for his father
when Ian was 5 years old and he set the school piano alight by poking
lighted matches through the green material backing of the piano until it
finally went up in flames.
Ian was sent off to a high church boarding school in Reigate, Surrey,
where he stayed for the rest of his school life. Although Ian did well at
school academically, the rebellious side to his nature frequently got him
into trouble and he was the recipient of regular punishments with the cane
(‘6 of the best’). But to his schoolmates Ian was a hero because of
his resilience and determination to speak up for himself and any other
chum, if he felt that he or they were being mistreated in any way.
After leaving school Ian joined the
Royal Marines and worked his way up to Colour Sergeant, undertaking jungle
warfare in Borneo and serving in the desert of Aden where he was shot in
the leg and was flown home to UK for surgery. The situations he witnessed,
the memories of friends he made and lost remained with him until the end.
He also carried out duties guarding our Royal Family both here at home and
abroad. His lips were always tightly closed apart from some funny innocent
Fast forward to 1985. Ian had left the
Marines, and, now divorced, moved to Northamptonshire to start afresh.
June, similarly divorced, but the two having not yet met, moved in the
same year to the same place and so their paths crossed. “Our children
went to the same school, maybe we brushed shoulders on parents’ evenings
or at the school gates. But it was at a housewarming party of a mutual
acquaintance that things became serious. Midway through the evening Ian
came over and asked me to dance. The music was Lady in Red: there was
something special going on, and we both felt it! From that point on we
became soul mates – and remained so right to the end of Ian’s life.
“We married a year later in
September 1986 and settled down to family life. Jez, my son was just 10
years old and in much need of a father figure. Ian was very good at
filling that role and Jez looked up to him. My girls were older and
Andrew, Ian’s son, spent weekends with us. It worked out well.
In 1996 tragedy struck when we lost my
daughter Ellie to leukaemia. Ian propped the family up during those
months: he was kind, caring and carried the responsibility of the family
on his shoulders while spending hours reading to and caring for Ellie.
“We moved to Abthorpe in 1998 when I became housekeeper to Angela and
David Darling in Leeson House. Unfortunately the household duties became
too much for me following an operation in 2000. We were very happy to be
able to stay living in Abthorpe as 1 Cadogan Place was empty.
I got very involved with village life
through The Abthorpe Fund Group, which I enjoyed. And Ian helped whenever
he could. “Ian loved living in Abthorpe – we both did. Many happy
memories were made there, many friends and acquaintances never forgotten.
We would happily have spent the rest of our lives here but three years ago
with Ian deteriorating fast and in desperate need of help to look after
him we moved to Wales to be with Jez and his family. The close bond
between Ian and Jez came to the fore again, only this time the tables were
turned and it was Jez who had the broad shoulders for Ian and me.
4th November 2017
Len, the oldest man in our village,
died recently. His family has issued the following statement of thanks: -
' Peter, Carole and the Bodily family
would like to thank the Abthorpe community for the love, care and
friendship that they have shown to Betty and Len. Both in times of good
health and more particularly in recent times of failing health the
community has reciprocated the feelings that our parents felt for the
tight-knit village group. We will always remember your support throughout
and the strong presence at the funerals. With much gratitude, Peter and
Len’s funeral his son Peter delivered an emotional eulogy – a fitting
testimony to his father’s long life. The following is an edited version:
Len, was born locally and lived with
his parents and Bet, Billy, Phin, Albert, Frank, Maggie, Violet, Fred,
Kath, and Ivy. Dad was the youngest and the last surviving of this family
Dad started as a farm labourer. He
married Betty in 1949,and shortly after that they moved to Abthorpe to
live with Granny Cann. That was their cherished home until the very end
and the spiritual home to Carole and I to this very day.
Dad then worked on the presses at
Plessey before moving to Hadsphaltic for a happy, but hard-working 15
years. He then moved to Atkins and Shaw for 4 years. These were some of
the best years of his life, happy at home, Carole and I growing up and
many work friends from Abthorpe ( now nearly all deceased ) working
together throughout those years in the construction industry. Those years
were brought to an end by having a serious operation on his overworked
back . He finished his working days as a quality inspector at British
Timken. He quickly established himself there. When the news of the birth
of his first grandson Sam came through during a board meeting the Chairman
cracked open a bottle of champagne. Such was the respect for Len.
Our dad was a hard- working, strong,
loyal, and kind man with true working class family values. He loved his
wife, his children, and his wider family. Mum and dad provided for us to
the extent that if needs be they went without to give us what we needed.
Both Carole and I vividly remember Saturday tea time. Dad insisted on
cooking that meal instead of Mum, always bacon, mushrooms etc…to the
accompaniment of Billy Two Rivers, Jackie Pallo and Mick McManus.
Dad also loved his garden and his
greenhouses, and the garden always looked colourful and immaculate.
Despite all of this, his family was
what he was most proud and protective of. He and mum, never failed to
support me through university and onwards. Carole stayed closer to home
and she was a constant source of joy for them. Her children Sam and Alex
and her grand-children Jacob and Zachary were precious to him, especially
the little ones during recent times of illness.
Mum and dad spent much of the last few years helping and looking after each other. Now I am sure that they are together again.
26th June 2017
Sadly, Betty Bodily a very long
term resident of our village, has died at the age of 88. Looking back over
her long life, her son Peter recalled that his Mum, Betty to everyone
else, was born in Birmingham to George and Gladys Cann. Her beloved
father, a policeman, died as a result of events during the Second World
War and mum moved to nearby Slapton with her mother. They then moved to
Cadogan Place in Abthorpe where they kept pigs.
and her close friend Kath Redford occasionally saw my dad, Len, and his
friend Bob Salmons near the New Inn in Abthorpe. The two couples married.
Betty and Len were married in
Abthorpe in 1949 and went to live with dad’s sister Violet and her
husband while new houses were being completed. After a short time in the
new house in Plumpton Rd, Woodend and conceiving Peter, Granny Cann had a
fall and it was decided that we would move in with her to help out. That
was mum and dad’s home from then onwards.
Mum worked as a caretaker at
Abthorpe Primary School once her son Peter was at school there. Later she
worked at the Towcester show factory either side of producing my sister
Mum was a loving, compassionate and
strong woman. Her main motivations in life were three things, community,
family and marriage. Her only two ‘vices’ in life were chocolate and a
small glass of Bailey’s.
In the community of Abthorpe mum
and dad lived together through work, children, school and friendship. I
can remember the ‘Lane’ (Brackley Lane)….Balderson, Bunting, Bodily,
Kendall, Snelson, Rush, Dancer, in and out of each others’ houses, but
only when they wished to let their privacy slip. It is pleasing for Carole
and I to see that the ‘new side of the lane’ has developed that same
caring community spirit. Indeed Trish Holmes and her family became the
nearest thing mum and dad had to ‘an extended family’.
The butcher’s van would arrive
and I would run out to it with mum to get my favourite lump of raw suet
that obviously made me the fit man I am today. The men would arrive home
together and mum would have dad’s tea ready…after he had kicked a ball
around with me for a while. At university and later at work, Betty’s
generous hospitality became famous from London to Portsmouth to
Bedford and onward. Friends came home for the weekend in the assurance
that they would be provided with a huge meal for free. All the time I was
away my lovely little sister was forging a closer and closer loving
parental relationship that would last with mum until the very end.
The family was my mum’s main
focus. The ones who really mattered were Carole and I, our partners
Virginia and Colin, the grandchildren Sam and Alex, and the great
grandchildren. Sam’s twins Jacob and Zachary have been the ‘apple of
the eye’ of both mum and dad, giving them much joy and relief as health
declined. As long as we were all in touch mum and dad were fine.
The defining part of mum’s life
though was her marriage to dad. They adored each other, helped and
supported each other through all those 68 years. Indeed my mum fought
illness with conviction and through pain to be there for dad: that was her
job in life, and we all knew it.
Betty though would not wish for us
to be sad on her parting. She would want each of us to carry on with her
love in our hearts, and to be remembered in our prayers every day.
7th May 2017
Bob Carter our serving Parish
Clerk has died. At the Abthorpe Annual Parish Meeting on 8th
May, the Chairman Cllr Keith Fenwick made this tribute to his
“I start my report this
year on a very sad note. Sitting next to me should have been our
clerk, Bob Carter. As many of you already know, Bob very sadly
died last Thursday. For me, this was a personal loss. He was a
great friend of many years. As Clerk he approached the job with
enthusiasm and dedication. Over the years, the job of clerk has
become ever more complex but Bob mastered all its intricacies. Bob
was tenacious in dealing with the wide range of problems which
have to be solved and in liaising with all the outside bodies
involved in handling them. Bob was well-known for his jokes; some
good, some bad, some simply unrepeatable. He will be greatly
At a subsequent meeting of the
Parish Council on 15th May Cllr Marna Perrigo was
elected Chairman whilst the former Chairman Cllr Keith Fenwick
agreed to act as temporary Parish Clerk until a new appointment
can be made.
25th February 2017
Abthorpe Church was packed for the
funeral service of much loved villager Audrey Dancer who died recently at
the age of 93.
Rector the Rev’d Paul McLeod told the congregation made up of family,
friends and parishioners that Audrey was a true lady of Abthorpe. She was
born in a cottage in School Lane in 1923 and was the youngest of six
children. The late Dorothy Swann, Rene Balderson who is blessedly still
living and Audrey were all born in our village in the same year and were
life-long friends. Audrey lived virtually all her long life in Abthorpe
except for a brief spell working at Northampton’s Manfield Hospital. She
attended our village school and was able to work in the shoe factory that
was sited close to our pub. When children David and Rosemary were born she
did what she liked best and devoted her life to making a loving and caring
home for them and her late husband Tony who died in 2009.
Grandson Andrew Dancer in his eulogy
delivered by Nick Pike recalled that our Gran was always there for us with
a cup of tea and a slice of cake. An invitation was never needed as Gran
was always at home. She would remember about her extended family members
and never forgot the important things they were doing. She would on
occasion be on Facebook catching up with their adventures. Not bad for 93!
Audrey was a life-long member and
supporter of our parish church and would surely have enjoyed the lusty
singing of the two hymns chosen in her honour. “O Lord my God! When I
in awesome wonder consider all the work Thy hand hath made,” and “Lead
us heavenly Father lead us o’er the world’s tempestuous sea.”
As Matthew Farr one of her grandsons recalled in his eulogy. Gran had always been such a big part of his life since the day he was born. And with his voice breaking with emotion Matthew concluded that we all loved her so much ..... and it will never be the same without her.
14th November 2014
family issued the following statement: -
“John was born in
Abthorpe to Maud and Arthur Foster on 4th December
1926. He attended both Abthorpe and Silverstone Schools. He spent
a wonderful childhood in the village and joined the Royal Air
Force Cadets. He trained as an electrician and worked for many
years with Bertie Allen.
He was called-up into the
Army where he served with the Royal Engineers. He served in
England and was then drafted to Egypt where he spent two years
near Ismalia and El-Ballah working in a power station overseeing
Italian Prisoners of War.
After returning to England
and being demobbed he worked for the local Electricity Board and
Griffin’s in Towcester. Later he joined Plessey at Caswell where
he worked until he retired.
He was married for nearly
40 years to Joy until she passed away in July 1991. He was always
prod of his garden and vegetables and spent many happy hours
attending air shows around the country. He was a life-long
Cobblers supporter and an avid footballer in his youth. He was
never one to miss a laugh or a joke.
He died in his sleep at
Duncote Hall on 24th October 2014. “
As the order of service at
John’s funeral proclaimed, “He married Joy at Blakesley Church
in September 1951. They lived in Abthorpe all their married lives
and raised two children. Joy passed away in July 1991 and his wish
has now been granted that they are reunited.”
24th August 2014
In 1975 he went to the Harvard
Business School, where he gained banking and business qualifications.
Around this time he also gained his Canadian citizenship. David
worked in both Canada and the USA, travelling widely on behalf of his
employers. He finished his career as Vice President of the Toronto
Dominion Bank, for a time sharing an office building with Dr Henry
He retired in his mid-fifties and
considered moving to Vancouver Island, but eventually decided to return
home to England. He came to live in Abthorpe 19 years ago choosing
this village quite by chance, but settled in and took an active part in
He had a particular love for the
Church in Abthorpe. He was Church Warden for about 10 years.
David had had heart surgery before he came here so had to exercise
regularly. He made many friends on his daily walk, which had to be done at
a fair pace, on the circle through Slapton.
David spent his time reading and
gardening. Holidays took him all over the world; he was hoping to go on
his first visit to Guernsey in September.
A couple of years ago, his health started to fail. Poor eyesight meant he had to give up driving and could not keep his garden in shape and so last year he moved to Towcester. He always said he had no fear of dying, supported by his strong Christian faith, but just feared the process of dying. The end came peacefully in his sleep.
10th December 2012
church was packed with relatives, friends and villagers for her funeral
service conducted by the Rector Rev’d Paul McLeod. During the service a
eulogy was read that had been compiled by relatives and friends. After
leaving school at the age of 14 and taking a course in administration and
typing, Dot obtained a job at Grooms Garage in Towcester. In 1942 as she
wanted to support the war effort she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Army
the then women’s branch of the British Army. On Victory in Europe Day in
May 1945 she was serving with the ATS at Castle Ashby to the east of
Northampton and was allowed a day off to celebrate. She hitch-hiked to
Towcester and there stopped for a drink in the Wheatsheaf. A friend
spotted her and gave her a lift to Abthorpe in time for the celebrations
and a drink at our pub. On the 60th anniversary of VE Day she
again sat in our pub and reminisced about her wartime experiences to a
small group of enthralled people.
Dot’s maiden name was Townsend but her mother was a member of the esteemed Abthorpe Snelson family. When shortly before her death she was told that the new housing development being built opposite her cottage was to be called Snelson’s Orchard, it brought a tear to her eye. And, the Rev’d Paul concluded, it is with that knowledge it is felt her rest with God is surely assured.
4th September 2012
afternoon a most wonderful service of thanksgiving for the life of David
Darling; who died on 23rd September at the age of 80; was held
in our parish church. The church was packed to overflowing with family, a
large number of friends and of course villagers. An overflow marquee
erected on the village green was equipped with a sound link to the church
to provide shelter for those unable to squeeze into the service.
celebration of David’s life was presided over by Mr Simon Forster and
our Rector the Rev’d Paul McLeod who welcomed everyone to the village.
After the singing of ‘Lead us heavenly father, lead us,’ tributes were
paid to David. He was a keen fisherman all his life and his grandson Ollie
Forsyth beautifully read a most touching prayer – ‘God grant that I
may live to fish until my dying day.’ Three other grandchildren Archie
Forsyth, Minnie and Ella Royden recited another poem ‘God’s Garden’ “It
broke our hearts to lose you, but you didn’t go alone,/ For part of us
went with you the day God called you home.”
Nutting, in a tribute that had the congregation in both tears and laughter
described his long standing friend. David and Angela had been married for
47 years. They had lived at Leeson House here in Abthorpe for 46 years. Mr
Nutting outlined David’s business career as Managing Director of a
textile company that employed over 100 people and also of another company
that manufactured jodhpurs. He was active in village affairs and acted as
Chairman of the Old School Committee for over 30 years and was a long
service member of the Leeson Trust. Mr Nutting also commented on David’s
prowess as a fisherman and described how even four weeks ago he caught
more fish than anyone else in his group of fishermen friends.
Royden, one of David’s daughters movingly read Mary Elizabeth Fry’s
poem “Do not stand by my grave and
weep,” and singers from Towcester Choral Society provided
beautiful renditions of Mozart’s Ave
Verum Corpus and God be in
my head, a prayer for God’s guidance.
With Glory, glory hallelujah, the final chorus of the final hymn still ringing in their ears the congregation walked across the village green for refreshments at Leeson House. Many must have echoed the final words of Peter Nutting’s tribute. “What a character! He will never be forgotten!.”
26th January 2010
When the war ended Truform took over
Abthorpe’s factory so Elsie obtained a job there helping to make shoes.
In 1948 she married Blakesley man Eric
Kelcher. They had a son named Stewart and Elsie was content to remain a
proud housewife for the remainder of her life. She worked tirelessly for
our parish church. Together with her friend Kath Evans she organised a
cake stall for many years at both the summer fete and the Christmas
bazaar. Later with her church warden sister Rene she devoted huge amounts
of her spare time making items for a needlework stall that raised a large
amount of money to repair and refurbish the church roof.
Elsie was buried in Abthorpe church yard extension. She was a very quiet and modest lady – a lovely person who is sorely missed.
26th January 2010
19th October 2009
1940 after the Battle of Britain, although senior railway employees were
in a protected occupation, Shen a junior was called up. Following an
aptitude test he was recruited into the Royal Regiment of Signals and
after an initial posting to
dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of
demobilised in February 1946 and returned to work for the LMS as a
signalman at both Blakesley and Towcester boxes. When our local railways
closed he obtained work with a road construction company. He studied for
an advanced certificate in road works at Southfields College of Further
born here in Abthorpe and except for his wartime service spent little time
away from our locality. During his long life he acquired a huge amount of
what can only be called country wisdom. Many local people have benefitted
from his considered opinions. He was a bachelor and is survived by his
sisters Mrs Rene Balderson and Mrs Elsie Kelcher plus his elder brother
John – known locally as Bill.
Edmund Kendall’s funeral service is at 3:00pm on Tuesday 27th
October in our parish
6th November 2008
12th July 2005
Councillor Bill Kendall
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