On a beautiful sunny April afternoon, 100 of us came to give thanks at St.Swithun’s Martyr Worthy for the life of Iris Gray, the widow of Harry Gray, and of Grace’s Farm Martyr Worthy.
Revd. Alex Pease led the service and John Purver played the organ. The hymns were Praise my Soul the King of Heaven, Morning has broken, The Lord of the Dance, and Immortal Invisible.
Lynda Gray read a poem called ‘The Fallen Limb”, Sally Williams read a poem called “I live my life, I don’t know why” and Michael Gray read the Bible Reading John 14:1-6.
The following tributes were read:
Iris was born in Wolverhampton in 1925 to Harold and Lilly Collinswood, who were both born and bred in the West Midlands. Her father, known as Pop, was an engineer and both parents were very artistic, unfortunately this was not to be a lasting family trait.
My mother had a close brush with destiny in her pram when a speeding car left her mother badly injured and hospitalised for months. But the pram was thrown clear and Iris was fostered by neighbours until her mother recovered.
The family subsequently moved to Alloa in Scotland where Iris and her older brother Peter travelled daily by train to Dollar Academy for their schooling. Apparently her mother’s health remained poor and Iris was kept out of school for periods of time in order to care for her.
She often talked about her childhood in Scotland which was probably idyllic given the freedom that children had in those days.
She recalled cycling for miles through the glens with her brother and swimming in chilly lochs, as well as touring The Trossachs perched on the dickie seat of her father’s wonderful new car.
However, at school she was bullied for being a Sassenach and her resentment of this surfaced from time to time throughout her life.
By the early 1940’s the family had returned to Wolverhampton but were subsequently evacuated to escape the bombing, staying at one time in the Cotswolds with the family of Pat Smythe the famous showjumper. I recall my mother describing a Sunday lunch at which one roast pigeon was shared between both families.
By the late 1940s the Collinswoods were established in Southgate Street in Winchester with Pop commuting to London following his very successful career in the fledgling oil industry.
Iris assisted her mother in the sale of posh hats for society occasions, whilst still returning for holidays to her maternal Uncle and his family in Wolverhampton and for stays at his hotel in Prestatyn, a resort in North Wales enjoying its hayday. Apparently, she also socialised with the Young Farmers and at the Rugby Club, which is where she met Harry. They were married on 9th September 1950. Upon her move to Grace’s, her Scottish accent was still discernible.
How does one pick memories from a period of sixty years –in fact longer as my Aunt apparently loved to push me in my pram by the river.
Iris’s mother, my grandmother, or Nana as we called her, had a millinery shop in Winchester where my parents and I lived in the flat above for about a year. Nana used to create wonderful hats for the Ladies attending Ascot and Henley and the other society events of the time. When Nana, went to London on her buying trips, Iris and my mother would run around, making sure Nana had everything that she needed for such a trip –gloves etc. Iris and my mother would then sit down at each end of the long dining table and be served lunch by Parker, the butler.
My personal memories of Auntie Iris start from when she had married Uncle Harry and moved to Graces’ Farm.
Time spent at Graces’ Farm was special. When Iris phoned to speak to my mother, I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of an invitation to stay for a week during the holidays. I travelled down on the steam train, under the supervision of the guard to be met at Winchester by my aunt.
I had fun running around the fields, playing in the haystacks, riding the ponies and helping to fetch the cows in for milking – a different life to mine at home in Surrey. Iris kept chickens in the field behind the garden and we always went to help collect the eggs each day.
I remember the milk coming across the road from the dairy in buckets and, if we were lucky, my aunt would make clotted cream in a basin on the Aga – lovely! Family meals were eaten at the large table in the kitchen. As many of you know, my aunt was a good cook and we were always well fed. I remember teatime particularly for her fantastic sponge cakes
Iris loved a party and was a marvellous hostess. I recall parties in a marquee on what used to be the tennis lawn and another held in the barn – great fun. An anniversary or a big birthday was a time to celebrate.
Iris decided she would have a summer house on the side of the lawn when it was no longer used for tennis. As you would expect, it was well equipped – she had lovely loungers, electricity for the kettle and a telephone was installed. It was certainly very comfortable!
When I visited Iris in later years we went to the Chestnut Horse for lunch, where she had her favourite table reserved, always the same one. On one of the last occasions, Harry decided he was coming with us – he normally preferred to stay at home. We had the pub in hysterics as Harry’s hearing was very bad and the other customers shared our conversation!
My aunt loved her golf and was Ladies’ Captain at Hockley. Harry soon adjusted to the golf days and usually found a Shepherd’s Pie waiting for his lunch in the Aga, but it was self-service!
As I think back, I always recall driving into the yard and walking down the path to the kitchen. The greeting was always a hello, that lovely smile and a big hug. A genuine welcome, from an aunt, whom I loved to visit. Happy memories!
When I think of Iris I smile.
I first met Iris 4 and a half years ago. When I was asked by her family to try and make her life a little easier. Little did I know that Iris was not in on the plan!
The day came when Iris and I were to meet. I can remember the day vividly as I was a bit nervous to meet the Patriarch of the family. I walked into the kitchen of Grace’s Farm to meet Harry and Iris both sitting at the Kitchen table. Iris immediately took control. “Who are you?” she said. I replied by saying ‘I’ve been asked to come and help you’. Iris’s response was ‘we don’t need any help’. Harry of course, with a lifetime of experience, said nothing….
Over the next 12 months we became used to each other and much to my irritation I was referred to as ‘the girl’. I soon worked out that if I was to cope with my new charge I needed to draw on all of my diplomatic skills. As Iris was not always an easy lady to cope with.
Iris broke her hip and made a fantastic recovery and at the same time mellowed into the lovely lady that I adored. Sadly Iris became frail and needed constant attention which resulted in her being moved to Old Alresford Nursing Home. Over the next 2 years I spent 3 afternoons a week with her and came to know her well.
Iris neer lost her pride in appearance, but she needed to be encouraged after a lifetime of life at Grace’s farm. We became friends who went out for coffee and cake but at all times perfectly groomed, especially our nails.
We didn’t only confine ourselves to coffee, as sherry also played an important part in our relaxation regime. I hadn’t realised that Iris was a Scottish Lassy from Clackmannan and so she did not suffer fools likely. I can see her cheeky smile now and the expression on her face with that raised eyebrow look. I will really miss my afternoons with my lovely friend Iris.
I feel blessed to have known her.
Revd Alex Pease read the following address:
I only met Iris at Harry’s cremation and thanksgiving service. But I was left with a clear picture – in one word : elegance. She knew how to do things well.
In her recreation, as much as her appearance: in golf – the accuracy and precision of the drive and putt; and in bridge – the mental acuity and etiquette.
My impression is of someone who lived her life with high standards at her core.
There is, I think, a beauty in self discipline, in a life led doing things well.
Any funeral or thanksgiving service does tend to make us think about our own mortality and to reflect on our own lives. And whether doing things well is important for us or not, contemplating our own death can be a scary prospect: how can we possibly do this final thing, how can we cross this final barrier, well?
Jesus, a person whose life is referred to by non Christian, Roman and Jewish historians, as well as in the gospels and new testament letters; Jesus who lived, died and came back to life at a specific time in history, at a specific place in the world’s geography; whose death and resurrection was attested to by many witnesses, who went to their own deaths, refusing to deny what they had seen; Jesus, the one who has crossed that barrier from life to death and returned to speak to us…that Jesus says, in the passage Michael has just read, ‘Don’t worry’; ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’.
In other words: ‘It’s all going to be fine because, I, Jesus, am going ahead of you. There is room for you all’ and Jesus continues, ‘you know the way to the place that I am going’….
And wonderful Thomas, who may doubt, but is no fool, says very reasonably, as we might say: ‘Lord we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?’ In other words ‘How can we do this well….?’
Jesus simply replies: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’.
Jesus says the way to cross this final barrier, the way to die, the way to live, the way to do these things well is to trust in him.
We can only trust someone that we know. Getting to know Jesus is undoubtedly life’s most important task and its greatest privilege….
And if we want to know how to do this final thing, well, if we want to get to know the way the truth and the life, then the time to start is now…..