Even when you are working in pairs, delivering leaflets doesn’t allow much time for conversation. You may have a short discussion with an addressee or passer-by but generally the focus is on completing the round before either dropping from heat exhaustion or becoming soaked by omnipresent rain. It therefore says much in Sandra Abbott’s favour when she engaged with some of the Trimley residents as she cheerfully handed out her A4 notices. When we re-grouped, Sandra told me about one of the people she had met, Jean Haste, and her message was clear,
“I think you should talk to Jean, she is amazing. She’s been an allotment holder for fifty-two years and is still going strong.”
The idea of someone gardening on the same allotment holdings for over half a century was more than worthy of investigation. Taking note of Sandra’s recommendation and after employing some organisation, I later found myself being welcomed into Jean’s house to learn about her life and changing times.
Martlesham is her point of origin, in the days before the village grew to be the enlarged conurbation it has become. In many ways, Waldringfield and the surrounding area continue to be an important part of her life for she is a regular attendee of All Saints.
“I was born on the 14th November 1935.” Jean told me, “Dad was a Gamekeeper who worked for Pretyman’s and we lived in a tied house, the ‘Thatched Cottage’, on the Waldringfield Road.”
The cottage is still extant and continues to sit in comparative rural isolation; it surroundings are still in essence those of the pre-war years, although the British Telecom tower is not far away and there is evidence of the temporary presence of nearby construction works. These are part of the twenty three miles of underground cabling work between Bawdsey and Bramford, to bring electricity ashore from the East Anglian One and East Anglia Three Windfarms in the North Sea, which will feed twenty first century energy requirements. However, In the nineteen thirties, Martlesham was still a small village with a scattered population and the focus was all about the land. For Jean, water came from their own Well and as a Gamekeeper’s daughter, she was surrounded by all the benefits of a rural upbringing. Her father, Leonard Baker, worked on the Waldringfield, Newbourne and Hemley part of the Pretyman Estate where his brother, George Baker was the Head Gamekeeper. The area covered by all the Gamekeepers included Brightwell, Bucklesham and Kirton amongst others.
Jean lived in the Thatched Cottage until she was twenty seven, enjoying a country childhood it would be difficult to mirror today. Whilst we were talking, Jean mentioned hearing Whitethroats and Skylarks on the land next to Seamark Nunn, a sound many children today would find difficult to recognise but being raised in rural Suffolk, it was as familiar to her as the cooing of the pre-eminent pigeons we hear on an almost daily basis. Her father reared ferrets and pheasants, and Jean loved to play with the former describing them as ‘dear little things’. The ferrets were used for rabbiting and long before rabbit meat became part of the Fine Dining experience, it was a regular part of the diet of ordinary people. Part of her father’s duties also included raising pheasants, as well as protecting them from the erstwhile opportunists known as Poachers. Her father would listen for them at night and when a gun went off, he would depart in swift pursuit.
School was about a mile and a half away, close to the Red Lion, then a walk of perhaps twenty five minutes. School Lane was opposite The Red Lion and the school was situated just after the turning; it used to be the first building on the left hand side of School Lane but is now long since redundant. Later on, when it was time to go to the senior school in Kesgrave, Jean would cycle with her friends from Waldringfield, a journey of about thirty minutes. The subjects included Cookery, then regarded as an essential part of the curriculum for all the girls, while the boys did Woodwork. The words ‘life skills’ was not part of a nineteen forties vocabulary but Domestic Science lessons were viewed as a good basis for learning how to feed a family and manage a household. Doubtless this teaching stood Jean in good stead, when she came to embark on her adult life.
Aged fifteen, Jean left school and started a three year apprenticeship as a Seamstress in Frederick Corder’s department store in Ipswich. This was a shop of substance and dignity and during its lifetime was regarded as the smartest and best shop in town. Many people over the age of fifty may recall the solid graciousness of the building and the range of departments. Jean had learnt to fit clothes whilst she was at school and was taken on as an Apprentice in a Fitting department of seventeen other women. The memory of her first pay packet has stayed with her; 19/8d per week. Or for those unfamiliar with imperial coinage, nineteen and eightpence a sum less than a Pound and in today’s money worth about £33.60 Or, to simplify it yet further, a monthly salary of £133.40.
Working for such an establishment indicates her talent for sewing for Corder’s would only have employed the deftest of needlewomen. The shop specialised in bespoke goods and clothes were no exception. When I reflect on the clothes of the time, the Dior line comes to mind and if ever there were substantial hems to sew, it was on those elegant, flowing dresses. The Ladies would telephone in advance of their visit to book a suitable and fitting time and then, when they came in to the shop, the Head of the department would ensure the correct measurements and alterations were mapped out; Jean would sew the hems.
When I conjectured about fluctuations in the size or weight of the Ladies, Jean tactfully told me,
“You came to know the ladies and we all had a lovely time.”
Some dresses such as Bridal gowns, were made from scratch. For these, all the buttonholes would, of course, be hand stitched. They might be piped, bound or fabric looped, to name but a few methods and in essence, the techniques would not have altered much for several centuries. Buttons would also be handmade and required close observation of the patterns of the fabric. For example, a small rose might be at the centre of a button and all the others had to be identically fashioned. The Juniors had to know how to make all types of garment and one area of expertise included sewing underwear and corsets. During the nineteen fifties, Corsets remained a staple requirement in any lady’s wardrobe, to ensure the wearer had firm support and a good body profile. They were frequently made in a particular shade of pink, known as Tea-Rose pink and are now probably unfamiliar to anyone born after 1970 but when some of us were children, they were a familiar sight on the Monday morning washing line. They didn’t flap about but generally remained in a static and womanly pose.
However, one of the requisite skills Jean told me about was particularly specialised. You may already know Corder’s didn’t confine their services to the living but also offered them to the deceased, for they had their own Funeral Furnishing Service based near the Cattle Market. Shrouds were carefully handmade, with pleated collars fitted to their owners’ dimensions. Jean also explained how the seamstresses would fit the coffins with their satin interiors. Everything would have been made to the highest possible standards and Jean was part of this process. I found the breadth of her experience quite astonishing and found myself in awe of the diverse skills required to complete the many different tasks that came her way. Today, there is not much sewing in her life but she continues to knit, making Hats for the Mission to Seafarers.[i] Last year saw over four hundred hats being cast off Jean’s knitting needles, which is a sizeable number by anyone’s standards.
Jean continued to work for Corder’s until the age of twenty seven when the time came for her to marry Ivan Haste in 1965. Their marriage was to last over fifty years until sadly, Ivan died in 2018.
“People thought I wouldn’t be able to stand it,” said Jean quietly, “but having my Christian faith has helped me enormously. It’s a strength you are given.”
Jean has not only received strength but in her time has been instrumental in giving it to others. Her involvement with The Mothers’ Union[ii] has resulted in her becoming the Branch Leader at Waldringfield, the parish where she worships, and also the Diocesan Leader of The Union. In addition, Jean is a Diocesan Trustee for the Colneis Mothers’ Union. The work of this organisation is less familiar to many twenty-first century women as awareness of its work has decreased. Established in 1876 and founded by Mary Sumner, the object of the Union was to support mothers from all backgrounds to raise their children in a Christian household. In our secular society it is too easy to dismiss this work as not being relevant but some of the issues the Union has embraced include; women’s economic empowerment, the Jubilee Debt Campaign and way back in 1965, a Holiday Scheme for disadvantaged families. There is a strong awareness of social inequities and a desire to improve family lives worldwide. Mary Sumner was aware of the influence women have and once said,
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
Being part of this organisation has helped Jean to help others; her actions are underpinned by her faith, as is her life.
To return to the early days of Jean’s marriage. After leaving her home of twenty seven years, she and Ivan moved into a property in Undercliff Road in Felixstowe whilst their new home was being built in Trimley. They weren’t there for long and her next move was to the house where she has lived for the last fifty four years. Her son, Adrian, was born a year later in 1966. As well as motherhood, some part time work followed but this eventually stopped, although later Jean did undertake some alteration work.
And so, we come to the Allotment. When her son was two years old, a plot came up on the Poors Land, which is situated conveniently close to her house. There has been a small change over the years, when another move enabled the allotment to be accessible from Jean’s own garden. The range of vegetables grown is extensive and includes; potatoes, carrots, beetroot, broad beans, runner beans, courgettes, marrows, redcurrants, raspberries and gooseberries. Peas are avoided because the pigeons tend to pick them off and unfortunately, strawberries don’t seem to take, according to Jean. But as she pointed out, with Goslings just over the road, it’s as easy to go there as to grow them yourself. This year, someone has rotavated the land for her and everyday sees Jean working to keep the land prosperous and thriving. The day before I met her, Jean had spent two and a half hours outside tending to her plot; weeds may spring up but they don’t last long in her domain. I suppose if I hadn’t called around, the allotment would have received Jean’s care and attention instead. All is trim and tidy and I imagine after decades working the same land, the soil is of a very fine tilth. I asked if Jean grows flowers but was reminded it was an allotment and only vegetables are grown there.
The land and countryside is woven into Jean’s persona. Here is a Country Child, who respects the land, understands the seasons, knows about our wildlife and how to garden and grow plants and vegetables; she was brought up knowing about her rural surroundings. Her kindness embraces her family and her surroundings, her dextrous talents are still visible. We didn’t talk much about the proposed Local Plan and the Innocence Farm Land development but Jean did comment that it’s ‘green land’ and the development shouldn’t be happening because if we continue to allow urbanisation to expand,
“There will be no sacred places for our grandchildren.”
The Seamstress and Allotment holder who is Jean, has a quiet grace and an understanding of the countryside inherited from a long line of reliable, understated Suffolk workers. Her attitude exemplifies the generations of people who came before her and as with other older Trimley St. Martin residents, it is the respect for where she lives which is a defining characteristic. Sandra Abbott was correct: Jean Haste is amazing.
The Thatched Cottage on Waldringfield Road, where Jean was brought up