Barbara Castle


Barbara was born to Mabel and Charles Russell on the 1Barbara Castle1th August 1930. She lived in Fulham and had a sister who was eight years older. Her father worked in London for Shell Mex BP before the war, until he was made redundant from his job.

This motivated the family to purchase a small shop on the Guildford Road in Chertsey. This shop was open all hours and sold most things. Her father had intended to work in the shop but fate again intervened when he was re-employed by his old company. This then made his wife, Barbara‘s mother, the reluctant shop-keeper. The shop was attached to their old farmhouse, “Ye Wayside Halte” as it was called. It was near the old coaching stop on the journey from London to the coast.

A garden area at the back was set up by Barbara‘s mother, with tables and chairs. Cups of tea and home made cakes were on sale to refresh jaded passengers and also the visitors of the injured service men who were being treated in St. Peter‘s Hospital. The tearooms were open each weekend and became indispensable to the visitors and also to the recovering servicemen from the hospital (who wore blue uniforms with a white shirt and red tie).

It was through watching her father tend his beloved rambling roses that gave Barbara her lifelong love of gardening. To visit Barbara‘s garden at home is a pleasure to behold, as rarely has someone put so much of herself into creating a wonderland of flowers, shrubs and tableaux. Many pieces have been collected from all over England, and lovingly assembled.

Moving to Chertsey when she was only three years old she quickly made friends with Connie who lived nearby in Fox Lane South and they remain friends to this day. Both began school at “Stepgates,” where they were joined by Jean Harding, Jean Birt and Joyce Redstone, all life long friends.

After school Joyce and Jean went to work at the Post Office Employees society and Barbara joined them there as a junior in the office after leaving school at the tender age of fourteen. Later she worked in Chertsey, for P.A. Smith, which was housed in what is now the “ASK” Italian restaurant. P.A. Smith repaired furniture and upholstery and were experts in carpentry and French polishing. Barbara worked there until she was eighteen years old.

Barbara joined the “Women‘s Junior Air Corps” with her friend Jean Birt. Popular dances and Christmas parties were arranged with boys of the Air Training Corps and the Auxiliary Cadet Force. Barbara met Alf, who was to become her husband, at one of these functions.

They were married at St Peter‘s, Chertsey. She remembers The Revd. Archibald asking her how old she was, as he looked somewhat disapprovingly at the slight young eighteen year old, but since Alf was older he thought that it would be all right. Alf was one of five children and the only boy, so he was well used to having women around him.

Married life began with a search for somewhere to live and eventually they had to settle for the front room of the next-door neighbour to Alf‘s parents, but they were kind and they helped them get started. Eventually they found a small flat in Knaphill, where Barbara soon found a job at Slocock‘s nursery on the switchboard.

Barbara‘s grandmother visited England from South Africa and this then prompted Barbara and Alf to decide to go and live out there. Alf soon had a job offer and that sealed it. The Athlone Castle took Barbara and Alf south to a new life in South Africa, and Alf took up a post at Port Shepstone, as a bacteriologist. He was to train laboratory technicians. Barbara had quite a number of relatives in South Africa and felt quite at home in Durban; she soon found a job working in a hardware store in the fashionable West Street.

Barbara tells the story of her great grandmother‘s arrival in South Africa, years before. She had bought a new hat so that she would cut a dash at the new Durban Brown‘s hotel. Sadly however it was blown away, whilst she travelled on the train, and was eaten by the monkeys.

The world news centred on South Africa, when the young and recently married Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh arrived on holiday at “Timbertops” to watch the wild-life. It was whilst they were there that the sad news came through that her father, King George VI, had died, and she was to return to England as Queen Elizabeth II.

Barbara and Alf returned to Chertsey in 1956 with their daughter Lynn and another daughter Dawn was born in 1957. Lynn grew up to be the first female R.S.P.C.A. officer in the U.K. following the Sex Discrimination Act coming into force, and this appointment was reported by an article in the Sunday Times newspaper.

Later came a move to April Cottage in Slade Road in Ottershaw, living there until 1967 when she moved again into Greatwood Close. Her two children went to the local school. Tragedy struck the family in 1972 when Alf died of kidney failure at the very young age of 44 years. Diabetes and a bad bout of influenza had weakened him.

Barbara, now a widow, threw herself into village life and began the Luncheon Club which carried on for 40 years. She also saw a need for a meeting group for women and together with Janet Partridge and Elizabeth Wignal, the New Venture Club was born. This has been running now for over thirty years and is still enjoyed by many. A lot of Barbara‘s life-long friends are members.

Throughout her life Barbara has been a tireless fundraiser, originally for the Charing Cross holiday home in Emsworth which is for patients with kidney failure. Barbara has raised enormous fun £38,000 since 1974, for the Castle Kidney Fund as it became known, and has as she says had enormous fun doing it. There would be themed fun days when much of the village enthusiastically joined in. They hosted, “It’s a Knockout.” There were the Treacle Miners, ( Mick Stride gang) and 101 Dalmatians from Fletcher Road. The village doctors joined in with the fun and Mr Pittard, the Butcher lent Peter Pratt, a huge syringe for a Doctor Who exhibit with a Tardis complete with blue flashing light. They would all parade from Greatwood Close and collect money all the way to the Memorial Fields.

Barbara was recognised in 1999 by a Runnymede Disability Group Award due to her tireless work in enhancing the lives of disabled people in Runnymede. This all epitomised Barbara‘s idea of bringing people together and helping those in need.

Runnymede Borough Council similarly honoured Barbara when in 2003 she was awarded the “Citizen of the Year” for her outstanding contribution in Runnymede. She emphasised that all her fundraising was only possible because of all the help she‘d had from so many, including Margaret and Allan Craig, friends from schools days.

Bringing people together has always been Barbara‘s philosophy and she has helped many people along the way. She has enriched people‘s lives and helped make Ottershaw the pleasant community village it is today. I am sure I speak for many when I say, “Well Done Barbara” and thank you.

 Posted by at 1:41 pm

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