The funeral of Miss Jean Papworth was held at St James the Great Church, Thorley on 12th October 2023.
To a packed church the tribute below was given by her close friend, Marcia Slaughter.
The announcement in the Daily Telegraph of Jean passing away says “Loving Aunt and friend to many” - and here we are, and so many more in other parts of the world who can’t be here.
As I share Clive and my memories they will, no doubt, echo many of yours, as we say goodbye to her today.
Jean was my dear friend, a friendship lasting over 36 years, starting with a phone call when she invited Clive and me to lunch shortly after our arrival in Thorley from South Africa in May 1987 - Clive as the newly appointed Rector of Thorley with Holy Trinity, and me struggling to get used to the cold, missing my family, and a sunny climate!
It was obvious to her that we needed looking after and she took us and our three girls under her wing with enthusiasm – we loved Stortford Park, her wonderful garden, and need I say = her delicious meals!
She had a strong Christian faith and she loved this CHURCH where she worshipped each Sunday until in her last years she became housebound, and then she participated in the services via Zoom, with Lina regularly bringing her Communion.
In her earlier years she told me that her sister, Phyllis, encouraged her to join the Blood Transfusion Service in Cambridge. These were very fulfilling years for her, and it’s where she made, and kept in touch with many friends. Especially important to her was lovely Peggy, whom we got to know, and who sadly pre-deceased her.
She introduced me to NADFAS – the ARTS SOCIETY, and I furthered my education through those brilliant monthly lectures! Together we went on several NADFAS holidays, travelling to Jordan, Istanbul, a Baltic cruise to St Petersburg….and days out all over the UK. She had no head for heights and I remember holding her hand, with her eyes tightly shut, as our bus climbed dizzy heights to our hotel in Jordan. But, she was brave enough to experience the London Eye with us on a hot summer’s day!
She was a member of the Flower Club - AND there was the joy of her own lovely garden, which I’m sure you’ve all visited, and which she opened annually for her friends, always giving credit to her Gardeners, Derek and Chris, and followed by a wonderful tea party.
I’d never been particularly interested in gardening until I met Jean – she soon put that right! She taught me so much about how to garden, giving us plants and cuttings for the Rectory garden, which was still very new.
Lina tells me that Leslie Stew, a well- known Bishop’s Stortford artist, visited Stortford Park regularly, and gave lessons in that lovely venue. Thereafter the artists get together became an annual event, followed by a good lunch!
This was all before she and William, with the help of Derek and Chris, built the Japanese garden a few years later. This was Jeannie’s great dream come true after a visit to Japan several years earlier, when she had been inspired by the gardens she visited there.
William says it was such fun – all hand done, and eventually the huge stones swung into place with a large crane over the laurel hedge – on the only wet day! Then the exquisite tea house was built, with the bridge and waterfall. The beautifully coloured coy carp were carefully placed in the new pond. Such a lasting legacy. Sometimes, Jean used to garden past 10 at night! And some plants must have grown legs as they were moved so often!
Annie Lovegrove, Clive’s first Curate, and her husband, Philip, reminded me that Jean gave their son, Christopher, holiday work – there was the memorable day when he drove the tractor into the pond and had to be hauled out. Not sure you were best pleased William!
There was also the occasion when she and her dear friend and companion, Richard, took the boat out onto the pond, and managed to capsize – with great hilarity – the water wasn’t too deep – just as well, as Jean had never learned to swim!
She loved children and took great delight in just being in their company.
She supported a young girl from Guatamala in Central America through the CHARITY, COMPASSION, right through her school years - delighting in receiving her news and photographs.
She was a huge supporter of the Monarchy and dearly loved our late Queen. One of the highlights of her life was receiving an invitation to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party! I’m not sure whether she managed a few words with the Queen? - but the joy and excitement of that special day lived long in her memory.
AND She just loved meeting and bringing people together. Her hospitality at Stortford Park was legendary.
Our daughters grew up, and there were weddings, baptisms, 18th birthday parties – she came to all of them, usually providing the Bubbly, and accommodating my South African and Parisian families, entering into spirited arguments with my Uncle Henry from Paris on the merits or otherwise of the EU.!
While at school she made a Norwegian penfriend, and never lost touch with her – when Babbin and Ivar, her husband, visited, they arrived laden with delicious Norwegian food – the best smoked salmon! We were usually invited to share in the feast.
And of course her own family, proudly displaying all the latest photographs of her nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews on her mantlepiece.
Each Christmas she would organise a lunch at The Countryman in Hatfield Heath – her family and our family – followed, despite the Christmas feast there, by a gorgeous festive Christmas tea at Stortford Park. She was quite set in her ways and liked to have things done properly – china cups, sandwiches first, followed by cake and scones, and then the opening of the presents – each so carefully chosen! And the younger members escaping to play billiards in that lovely billiard room.
As time went on It soon became clear that this little Church was too small for the fast- growing congregation of the newly developing Thorley. The belfry floor was lifted to make more seating room, and even then it wasn’t enough -so plans were drawn up by the Diocesan Architect for an extension to the Church. Jean became very involved in the need for growth, especially the need for the children’s work, which at that time was taking place in Portacabins in the car park. She generously offered to help finance the extension.
And then came about a piece of God’s perfect timing.
At the same time that our plans went to the planning authorities in Hertford, our farming neighbour submitted plans for the development of his Barn – a dilapidated Piggery, for light industrial use.
The Planning Authorities turned down the plans for an extension to the Church, and instead suggested that here was a farmer wanting to dispose of a building next to the Church and here was a Church needing a building, and suggested that the Vicar and the farmer get together to talk – which they did!
However.. to purchase and renovate the old Barn was going to be a great deal more expensive than an extension, so heart in mouth Clive went to Jean and they discussed the difference, and Jean said - I’ve made a promise – let’s go ahead with this.” We had never been into the Barn – and as the three of us entered through the back door, past a slurry pit, we were amazed by what we saw – pig sties still in place, the odour of pigs too, cobwebs like Christmas decorations from beam to beam, it was magnificent.
We’ve often been asked why we named the Barn THE ST BARNABAS CENTRE ? You’ve just heard to story of St Barnabas, read by John -
Jean was our Barnabas.
After the service, when you go across to the Barnabas Centre, as I hope you all will for tea and cake – look at the plaque in the entrance adorned with wheatsheafs - which mentions her name – and also the wheatsheafs engraved into the glass doors leading into the worship area – all telling the story of how this had become possible from the sale of her fields.
Under the careful surveillance of English Heritage the transformation took place and if you want to hear the story in detail you must meet and talk to Bill Hardy who knows each lovingly restored beam!
The St Barnabas Centre was consecrated on 28th April 1996 by Bishop Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans. In his opening words he said “This is a great day in the life of your parish. It’s not for me to mention individuals by name, but you will know to whom generous and heartfelt thanks are due for this magnificent achievement. Thank you for all you will do in the future to create hope and love and fullness of life in Christ’s name and for His sake”
It was also decided that with a new place of worship, it would be good to have modern vestments, altar frontals and stoles - and so a band of enthusiastic embroiderers got together to put this into action – there was Daphne, Christine, Linda, Jean, Doreen, Elaine, Anina and Ann - and our dear Jean then arranged and paid for a teacher from the Royal School of Church Embroiderers in London to come and give lessons on exactly how to go about it. Thus was born the HOLY SEW AND SEWS who produced some beautiful work, including kneelers.
Jean mostly enjoyed the quieter Sunday service held in the Church, but sometimes she would come with me to the family service held in the St Barnabas Centre – full of children, chaos and noise – and she loved it!
I don’t want to paint Jean as a saint – none of us is! There were times when, if I said something that she disagreed with, she could be quite waspish, and I was firmly told off – but I could count on a phone call soon after – never with an apology but an invitation to somewhere nice just in case she had hurt my feelings!
There’s so much more I could share – like our lovely evenings at Audley End and pub meals - AND The famous flower festivals here, when she always provided the greenery from her garden. As you know her garden was lovingly tended by Derek and Chris, and later on Simon. Thanks to them we were never short of vegetables and fruit!
In the early days of our friendship we met Wendy, who was her housekeeper, followed by Carolyn for several years, and then when Carolyn retired, Wai came – and she became everything to Jean in her last years, welcoming visitors with her lovely smile, providing endless cups of coffee, keeping her diary, cooking and caring and devotedly looking after her, even moving in with her during lockdown.
And there were her Night time Carers – Dawn and her team who became close friends.
There was a little gang of us who visited regularly, usually on a Saturday morning when we, with Pam (famous for her delicious cakes) - and John and Lina and Pat just chatted, enjoying each other’s company, until Jean said at 11.45 - ‘time for a glass of sherry’?
We were with her two days before she died in Cambridge – she was fading, she held my hand and said ‘thank you for coming, please come again’.
I had a feeling it was Goodbye – and so I wasn’t surprised when William rang us a couple of days later with the news of her peaceful passing.
Jean’s death has left a huge gap in our lives, but I take comfort that she is now with the Lord she loved so much.
The photograph on the cover of the Service Sheet was taken on her birthday, Boxing Day, a few years ago – smiling a welcome, with a glass of champagne in her hand – perhaps that’s how she’ll greet me when we meet again.!
Thank you, William, for allowing me the privilege of sharing some of my memories. You know that your weekly visits and care for her meant so much, and sometimes bringing Matthew bearing flowers, and cutting the lawn at Stortford Park .. just the cherry on the cake!
She has enriched our lives, and we are so grateful!