Nurse, business woman, mother.
The quietness of Sunday afternoon rested on the village when I went to visit Jane Smith. All around me small green shoots and buds were pushing their tips into the cool air and everywhere the promise of Spring abounded. At this time of year, waking up to lighter mornings and the sound of blackbirds singing never fails to energise and excite. All things are possible.
Jane welcomed me into her new home, clearing a space at the table and almost before we sat down she started to tell me about her life. We all pass through different stages in our lives, sometimes only understandable only when we reach the other side of our achievements. Jane has moved into the middle period of her life with three achievements already established. I listened as she began to describe the background to her life.
Jane comes from a long established farming family who have worked the land between Rishangles and Bedingfield for many generations. She inherited the farmland where she grew up and with justifiable pride, mentioned a recent heritage report concerning the farmhouse she still owns in mid-Suffolk. It is very old, having its origins in a fourteenth century barn which was converted into a house by later owners. The historical examination places it in the same century as the Black Death and the Peasant’s Revolt. Although Jane has never been a farmer, the land remains in the family and is now managed by her cousin.
However, at that stage in her life, Jane’s career lay in a different direction and after leaving school she was attracted to one of the major caring professions, nursing. Her training as a Registered Mental Nurse (R.M.N.) started in 1979 and the majority of her time was spent working and studying in St. Audry’s at Melton and St. Clement’s in Ipswich. Learning on the job was essential to gain understanding of and compassion for, the troubled patients with whom she worked. Jane’s view of the time she spent working in St. Audry’s is one of personal satisfaction and confidence; she always delivered the best possible service to the patients. Before it closed in 1993, St. Audry’s had a comparatively long history as a mental institution dating back to 1827, when the former House of Industry was converted into a Lunatic Asylum and named St. Luke’s. The start of modern care for those known as Lunatics came about under the Mad House Act of 1828 when the Act made three separate types of provision for those with mental health issues. Firstly, individuals could be placed in private Lunatic Asylums by concerned relatives or friends; secondly, people could be placed in the County Lunatic Asylum; thirdly and very rarely used, individuals could be treated at home, rather like Bertha Rochester in ‘Jane Eyre’. The first choice of a private Lunatic Asylum required money although it didn’t necessarily guarantee better care. The majority of the those deemed ‘lunatics’ or ‘insane’ were likely to be sent to the County Asylum. Although the care patients received was far from being as informed as that of the late twentieth century, there was a move at St. Audry’s in the mid-nineteenth century to provide a more compassionate form of nursing care, which didn’t default to using restraint. The institution came under the management of the new Suffolk County Council in 1888 and then later in the twentieth century, Suffolk Mental Hospital Management Committee.
By 1979 when Jane started working at St. Audry’s it was a therapeutic community and treatment was of a kinder nature. Some of the patients worked. There was a farm, tannery and carpentry centre where patients could make and sell items. This was being to be phased out during Jane’s period of service. There was a national move towards providing care in the community rather than large institutions and whilst she worked in St. Audry’s, Jane saw the changes coming into effect. What sort of training did Jane receive as a mental health nurse, I asked? Her experiences embraced a wide range of mental difficulties,
‘The training lasted three years. We worked on the Wards but studied at the same time. The first ward I worked on was working with psycho-geriatrics. Many of the people were long standing patients who may have been there for years. Some women had gone there when they were pregnant because their families had disowned them and subsequently became institutionalised. There were also patients suffering from long term prescription drug addiction and some suffering the effects of tertiary syphilis. Huntingdon’s Chorea, which is a horrible illness, was another form of mental illness. Many learnt to like being in the security of an institution and learnt to like living there. Overall, it was a caring environment.’
Jane stayed at St. Audry’s for approximately two years and then moved to St. Clement’s as a Staff Nurse, where she also studied to become a Registered General Nurse (R.G.N), a qualification demanding more responsibility and greater levels of accountability. It was a very thorough training with strict protocols regarding uniform and appearance,
“Our dresses had to reach to our knees and our hair had to be tied back. My nursing aunt gave me her own metal buckle but no,’ Jane added, ‘we weren’t allowed to wear them in case they might scratch the patients’
It was while working at St. Clement’s, Nigel Smith entered her life. Jane was visiting the Apollo Club, then situated on Felixstowe Road in Ipswich, which was owned by the Smith family of Goslings Farm. It was a Ladies night and Nigel was serving behind the bar. Both of them had a farming background and there was a degree of inevitability they would unite, sharing as they did so many common points of interest. And so, it fell about that they started to see each other. This one encounter was to change the course of her life and led to the development of a business, now part of the daily life of Trimley inhabitants, Goslings Farm Shop.
Perhaps it was the result of a casual conversation or the conclusion to a more in depth discussion, but however it came about, Nigel introduced the idea of Pick-your-own Strawberry fields into their lives. Jane was about twenty four or five at this time, with all the accompanying energy levels to take on a new project. Jane was both enthused and practically engaged in the new soft fruit business, Understanding the concerns of farming, Driven by her complete belief in the concept of local, organic produce with zero air miles involved in the growing process, she set her hand to the spade and started planting. I was fascinated to learn just how much work was involved, especially as she was juggling this with her nursing career.
Jane’s first task was to plant strawberry plants and as this was before the days when raised beds became common, it was something of a back breaking task. The strawberries were ‘strawed’ in the traditional way and grown from old fashioned plant varieties, which required them to be replaced on a regular basis. The first variety they planted were Cambridge Favourite although ultimately the most popular proved to be Elsante. Other plants followed the strawberries. Raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries; all the delicious flavours of summer. Once Fruit picking business started, the strawberry plants had to be renewed every three years. Much of the fruit growing was conducted on sound principles as it was a very pro-organic operation. As they popularity of pick-your-own took off, the season lengthened until it extended, as it still does, from May to October.
Once the operation was up and running they moved onwards to include potatoes. Care was taken not to spray the plants but to ensure longevity, they would place the Stemsters in cold storage. Stemsters are a cross between Desiree and Cara, Jane informed me adding,
‘My horticultural memory comes from growing up on a farm.’
When Jane told me this I remembered Di Conway telling me Stemsters are one of Goslings’ best sellers and they are certainly a product which has continued to run and run.
As the soft fruit operation grew in popularity and confidence, the obvious development was to extend to a Farm Shop. Initially, everything sold was all Goslings Farm produce, although this changed later. The building was also locally sourced. With its’ warm red Suffolk bricks, it looks as though it has been in situ for evermore. However, it is a comparatively new build made from old materials which came from a local derelict building. With the permission of Bidwell’s, bricks from a farm building adjacent to Alston Hall were removed and transplanted to create the Farm Shop as we know it and with the physical creation of the Farm Shop came yet more products, including preserved fruit. In the early days, home-made jams and pickles appeared, made by a local expert, a lady called Dorothy Gray.
‘Dorothy knew everything about jams and pickles. What she didn’t know, wasn’t worth knowing. Using local Suffolk produce kept the food miles down.’
Goslings Farm, Summer 2018. (Note the old red bricks.)
For five or six years, while this was being established, Jane lived a dual existence as a Nurse, as well as working on the farm but when the Farm Shop and Pick-your-own started to establish themselves and thrive, Jane gave up nursing and worked full-time on the farm with Nigel; as yet there were no children and the business gained all of her attention.
‘I invested so much time there in the early days and was down there all the time, fully involved with everything. I couldn’t wait to get to Goslings in the morning and loved stocking l food that we could sell as ‘Locally Produced’.’ I hours and hours of time gardening at the Farm Shop and neglected my own garden at Longford House. I used to have two people to help me with the house when we moved there. Roy Cook kept the garden looking good and Joyce Cook kept the inside of the house. I couldn’t have managed without them.’
The business continued to expand and Jane decided to enhance it by establishing a Plant Centre from scratch. Polytunnels were installed as well as the display area outside. The first Café on the site was a mobile unit although it was subsequently housed in one of the polytunnels. Now, of course it is independent of the main building, standing on its own two feet, as it were, in a space of its own.
Jane continued by recounting all the houses in Trimley where she had lived. Of course, the Smiths had farmed Goslings Farm for a long time and she described Nigel as a ‘one field man’ for he spent most of his life in view of the Farmhouse in Thorpe Lane.
‘When we first met we spent a short spell living in Ipswich but then we moved back into Trimley. We lived in ‘Roslyn’, ‘Florys Farm’, ‘Four Firs’ and then ‘Longford House’. We bought Longford House in about 1993 and I only moved out in August 2018. I portioned off some of the land to build the current bungalow next to Longford House and this is where I now live. It was designed by the architects to my specifications and one of those was that it should complement Longford House. The colour of the bricks match each other exactly. I’m now having another house built, The Coach House, which will be larger and I’ll eventually move into it and it will also be made of the same coloured brick.’
The new bungalow with brick colour matching those of Longford House. March 2018
For everyone, there comes a time when it is necessary to move on to the next stage of your life. Following the death of Nigel, Jane gave careful consideration about what to do next. There were two factors involved. Firstly, continuing to live at Longford House and secondly, maintaining her involvement with the farming based at Goslings Farm. After consulting both of ‘her boys’ and loving it as she did, Jane decided to cut loose from the ties which held her to her earlier life. The Smith connection with Goslings Farm was a three generation tenancy beginning with Geoff Smith. Nigel was the second generation and Jane could have been the third but there was no farming interest beyond her and Jane wanted to determine her own future, making her own choices and decisions. In effect, taking control rather than having something forced upon her although she still maintains the farming connection with the land and interests in Rishangles. It was the same with Longford House. It is a calm, beautiful building with spacious rooms but as with the Forth Bridge, with space comes a high degree of maintenance, both internally and externally and Jane had to ask herself if this is what she wanted? Her decision was that the time had come to move on, to look to the living and do the best by her own family. And thus, Longford House was sold and everything changed.
Jane’s achievements to date are; her nursing career in all its rich diversity, the establishment of Gosling’s Farm Shop and successfully raising her two boys. Who knows what will happen next and where will life take her now? No-one can say but,
‘If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me.’
Jane wants to choose what comes next because she is mistress of her own destiny and as she said,
‘Life is for the living.’
The view to Cavendish Grove, March 2018.
 Shakespeare, W. Macbeth. Act 1 Scene 3