Harding – A
text was written and read by her son Graham Harding at Jean's funeral on
years ago I stood here to testify to the life of my father Robert. Now
Jean has come – in joy rather than sorrow – to join him in Bromley
Churchyard, looking out over the
countryside that she came in time to love.
as many of those here today will well know, she was not a native of these
parts. The Tendring Hundred was a later love affair after the mountains
that had captivated her heart as a girl.
was born just over 85 years ago in
, the youngest child of Liberal freethinking parents and she retained a
lifelong sympathy for the oppressed and exploited.
father, Duke, was a brilliant chemist and later one of the founders of
. Jean was thrilled to discover earlier this year that his ground-breaking
and highly successful book on Organic Medicinal Chemicals has just been
re-published. Her wise and warm mother, Thea, was the beautiful daughter
of Captain Thomas Wood, a South Seas trader captivated by the youngest
daughter of a family emigrating to
. They married in
and sailed back to
, where Jean’s mother was brought up.
combination in her background made her a romantic at heart – as she
herself said “I enjoyed and grew up into a mind world of art, poetry,
criticism, discussion, literature, joy of nature and the countryside”
– but she was a romantic with a sharp and very practical intelligence
and a strong infusion of her mother’s thrifty Scottish nature. All
toothpaste tubes were squeezed for the very last drop and the paper stock
for her printer invariably consisted of the unprinted sides of official
letters and documents.
|Jean at the Tendring Show in
2003, in the Wivenhoe tent which she inspired.
For more about the Wivenhoe tent at the
Tendring Show, click here
left school at 16 in 1939 and believing that university would be an
irrelevance at such a time went instead to a train in domestic science in Manchester. She became one of the Ministry of Food’s demonstrators talking to
audiences across the country about healthy eating.
and then in Harpenden where her parents had moved to after her father’s
first stroke she was celebrated as an amateur actress of great beauty and
great potential. She gave up the possibility of a professional career to
marry Robert and returned to acting only in recent years when she inspired
and organised play readings in Wivenhoe.
had had both passionate relationships and offers of marriage during the
war years but in the end it was Robert who swept off her feet after a
first meeting at a dance for returning heroes in Harpenden in June 1946.
Three months later they were engaged, married three months after that and
living in Great Bromley at the Hollies (a name she hated all her life) by
the end of the freezing winter of 1947 – the worst of the 20th
century. To live in the country was what they both wanted but after the
urban comfort of Manchester
and Harpenden it was a shock to Jean in particular.
was no hot water and the lavatory was, as a friend eloquently, described
it, a ‘short bicycle ride down the garden’.
three children and a driven, workaholic husband, life was hard at times.
The household budget for food was 10 shillings a week and when money was
short she turned to the wartime staples of nettle soup and herrings in
there was still time for all night dancing and parties and a whole set of
memories could be constructed around the food that we were brought up with
– the hundredweight and more of marmalade she made every year, the near
daily deliveries of bread from the bakery at Ardleigh, the thick cream
bought direct from Barbara Earith at Vinces Farm in Ardleigh, the ribs of
beef and the hams cooked for the annual Tendring Hundred Show parties.
a mum she was wonderful. We ran wild in the woods around Bromley, we
skated on frozen water meadows (with skates bought at auctions by Robert),
we sailed at Wrabness, where we once spent a cramped but idyllic summer
living in a 9 ft by 5 foot cabin. We feasted off fruit from the garden. We
acquired a taste for grown-up parties and the conversation and food and
wine that went with them.
went on epic holidays to South of France and
that started with all night drives across
in a tiny Austin A30 with children sleeping across the back seat and
floor. Once a helpful French policeman had to be prevented from getting
into the backseat to provide midnight directions out of
a change was coming. As we grew older, so Jean had more time and energy
for other interests. She began to find her voice as a woman in her own
right – not without some struggles with my devoted but occasionally
jealous father. It took some time but in the process she and Robert found
a deeper love and deeper partnership – each supporting and challenging
the other to the end.
1971 she started an Open University degree – eventually graduating with
a 2:1 in Humanities. She became an entrepreneur in her own right, starting
the Wivenhoe Bookshop with Penny Bell. The bookshop still thrives under
her successor – indeed it has just been nominated as best independent
bookshop in the country.
marked the real start of her long association with Wivenhoe where they
moved in 1999 when Robert’s Parkinson’s started to make the Hollies
too much of a burden for both of them.
became in this period a campaigner and organiser. She had joined Robert in
the 1960s as one of the founders of the Seven Rivers Cheshire
, the 11th in what is now a worldwide chain of hundreds. In
line with the philosophy of the founder, war hero Leonard Cheshire, she
scrubbed floors, cared for patients, raised money and fought to establish
the home as a going concern.
dedicated service was inspired by the sufferings of a family of close
friends – seven of whom eventually died of an incurable hereditary
neurological condition. Jean became the inspirational founder of the
branch of the Huntington’s Disease Association, with great support from
Robert during the early years of his struggle with Parkinson’s.
the Parkinson’s worsened, Jean became his life support system – caring
for him devotedly, deciphering his increasingly spiderish writing, helping
to bring to life the parties and celebrations that they dreamed up for
a few days ago was the 90th anniversary of Robert’s birth and
over the weekend I went to the Tendring Hundred Show, which he and she
played such a role in developing. Jean was never part of the formal
committees but in the suppers and glasses of whisky after committee
meetings at the Hollies her contribution was vital. She started the Art
Show and helped start the process which turned the Show from a traditional
agricultural show into a county-wide organisation that focused on linking
the vibrant local agricultural community to a wider world and in the
process made it the best one day agricultural show in the country.
is a sketch of her life. It omits so much: her travelling (by banana boat,
by bucket shop airline, by classic train), her eye for colour and beauty
evinced in the dozens of local paintings that fill every serene yet vital
room in her house in Wivenhoe, her intuitive skill as a gardener and much
all it omits her greatest gift. This was the ability to inspire others to
believe that they too could change their lives. A friend of hers and mine
said to me at the Tendring Show on Saturday that she had the capacity to
throw off sparks of inspiration. That gift crossed the generations. Like
her beloved mother Jean had a remarkable ability to form deep and
long-lasting relationships with younger people – often those distant
from their own parents and families. She loved the diversity of views and
experiences they could relate to her and they drew love and strength from
are many here today who were changed by knowing Jean. She believed in
dreams but knew that making dreams come true demanded effort and
commitment. She was a very down to earth visionary.
unerring ability to cut straight to the heart of every and any issue was
both inspirational and terrifying. She had great personal power – though
she did not always acknowledge it and always shied away from fully
exercising it. Several times in the course of her long life she was picked
out from the crowd as someone with the power of healing in her hands or
the power of second sight. Less than a year ago she was taken by American
friends – part of the Stone Family connection that she initiated and
which has done so much for Bromley Church – to a Hopi Indian ceremony in
the mountains of New Mexico. She
was instantly recognised by the elders of the tribe and inducted into
their inner circle. Only Jean!
her energy, her intelligence and her charisma, she could, in other times
and other circumstances, have become something very different. Would she
have had such a full and satisfying life? I’m not sure.
was never afraid to challenge convention. She never accepted mediocrity
for herself and no-one could spend time with her and fail to be infected
with that same sense of possibility. To deal with her you needed to find
your own sense of conviction and your own sense of self.
found on Saturday a few lines in her handwriting on old age (which she
disliked). The last line was this: ‘old age is dying your hair
purple’. And that’s what she did. She never gave in to age or
had beauty, style and attitude – and a wonderful smile – to the very
Jean with purple hair
For a celebration in 2006 of the 30 years existence of the Wivenhoe
Bookshop and tribute by Martin Newell, click here