|Bernard Ratcliffe of New Hall Cottages Little Wigborough died April 2020. This obituary was written by Anne Owen for Peldon Parish Magazine
Memories of Bernard Ratcliffe (Bernie)
Bernard Ratcliffe, of 1 New Hall Cottages, Copt Hall Lane, Little Wigborough, sadly passed away on Monday 6th April, after a short illness bravely borne. He was at home following a brief stay in hospital where Stage 4 kidney disease was diagnosed. His daughter Carole was by his bedside and said he was very peaceful at the end. There was a crematorium service for Bernard on Monday 27th April, but only 10 mourners could attend. Bernard's daughter, Carole Humm, will arrange a memorial service for Bernard in Great Wigborough church once the virus lockdown is over.
Bernard was born in Dedham on 19th December, 1933. He was the eldest of four children, with two sisters June and Betty and one brother, Ronnie. His father, Ernie, was a farm worker who moved his family to different farms in Steeple Bumpstead and Wivenhoe before settling them in Great Wigborough in 1948. This became their permanent home as Ernie Ratcliffe worked for the Baines family at Hill Farm for at least 40 years! The family lived in the cottage on School Lane, at the beginning of the Hill Farm drive. Bernard went to Birch school briefly before starting work, aged 15, for Mr Victor Gray of New Hall farm, Little Wigborough.
The story is that Bernard's mother was chatting to Mrs Eva Gray on the local bus one day, and Bernard landed his first job! He worked with the cowman at New Hall, and helped with the chickens and milking the cows. The farm was derelict when Mr Gray first left the Navy after the war, and rented it from Mr William Burrill. Bernard was involved in field work and building a new pig house when pigs and also sheep were added to the farm's enterprises.
In the early 1950s, the Burrills moved to Copt Hall in Little Wigborough, and Gladys Gammon their nanny came with them. Gladys would walk down Copt Hall Lane pushing the pram. Apparently Bernard kept looking out of the window at this gorgeous young lady on her regular walks! Romance blossomed and they had many trips out on Bernard's Triumph motorbike to watch scrambles and to visit the seaside. It was in 1954 that Bernard popped the question and received the answer 'Yes'! They married on a very cold and snowy day, the 5th March, 1955, in Great Wigborough church and were the first couple to have a wedding reception in the newly restored Coronation Hall in School Lane, which had been the old school building. Bernard said the reception cost him £33, which was a huge amount considering a farm worker's pay was about £4 per week.
The couple settled down to married life in New Hall Cottages. David was born in 1956 and Carole in 1959. They all loved going out on Sunday afternoon drives, and for family picnics, and to the seaside.
Bernard also loved watching the grandchildren grow up - that's Russell, Jenny, Emma and Amy - and followed their progress with great interest! And it was very special when Bernie and Glad heard about the twin great grandchildren Scott and Chloe! Since Glad's sad death in 2014, there has been a third great grandchild born, Monty.
It was very sad that with the onset of Alzheimer's, Gladys could no longer remain at home so the final 14 months of Glad's life were spent in the Residential Care Home at the Old Rectory, Spring Lane, Colchester.
Bernard spent most of his working life at New Hall, with only a few years during the late 1960's working at Parkgate Farm, Rivenhall, Silver End. The farm work involved drilling, spraying, harvesting, cultivating etc. as well as looking after animals. Later on Mr Gray kept turkeys for the Christmas market. So Bernie worked at New Hall for nearly 40 years, until Mr Gray retired in 1988 and gave Bernard a carriage clock and a pension. Then Bernard continued living in New Hall Cottages and worked for Mr Robert Davidson at Brickhouse Farm in Peldon, part-time for a few years, and on full retirement still did some gardening work for the Stuttafords at Moulshams Manor, Great Wigborough.
Bernard's hobbies included gardening, collecting photographs of farm machinery, classic cars and motorbikes and going for days out to farm shows, farm machinery exhibitions and rallies of many sorts. His garden was very productive in vegetables for the family, as was his father Ernie's. Even after Bernie's stroke in 2001, when he suffered permanent paralysis of one leg, he persevered to remain independent and was very active in his garden right to the end. Over the years he acquired three motorised scooters: first one for the garden, then one for inside the house, and then one for the road when he could no longer drive his red and white Mini Cooper'S' safely any longer.
Bernard's daughter, Carole, says of her Dad: "He was an even-tempered man with an amazing memory! He was passionate about gardening, interested in all things to do with farming and what was happening on the land. He also loved motorbikes, football (supporting Colchester United) and his family. He took the Essex Countryside magazine and listened to BBC Radio Essex, often telephoning in when they discussed local topics that he knew about. He enjoyed watching 'Songs of Praise' on BBC television and always sang along with the hymns. He loved steam engines and stationary engine rallies, farming machinery shows and tractor rallies. He drove the TD-18 Crawler tractor (1940s built) at shows for Mr Richard Carr, who had bought New Hall land, barns and some machinery from Mr Gray, and entered ploughing matches with it. He kept magazine and newspaper articles as well as photographs of everything of local interest. This included photographs and information about the L33 Zeppelin which landed near New Hall Cottages in 1916".
Mr Victor Gray's son-in-law, Wayne Brietbart, says, "Love to my friend Bernard. I spent many years discussing tractors, cars and motorbikes with him. We often discussed the farmland, the Gray family, his family, the Peldon and Wigborough areas. Occasionally we talked about my staff and the youngsters we dealt with. We talked and laughed so much it was very relaxing. Now I pray he is happy with God and family."
Mr Robert Davidson, of Brickhouse Farm, Peldon, says, "Bernard was always cheerful and got on well with everybody so he was a good team member. He loved his machines!"
Mr Colin Baines, of Hill Farm, Great Wigborough, says, "We knew Bernard for most of his life. He was always cheerful, happy and willing to have a chat. We used to see him taking Gladys out on his motorbike with sidecar." Mr Steve Copeland, of Elmdale, Little Wigborough, says, "Bernard taught me everything I need to know about David Brown tractors!"
In the last year or two, Bernard has enjoyed attending all the fortnightly coffee mornings held in Great Wigborough church on Friday mornings. He always brought magazines, articles, photographs and memories of local people and events. Many who came from Peldon and Mersea as well as Wigborough were pleased to chat with Bernard and share his memories. There are also many in Little Wigborough who will miss Bernard. After his stroke, he often sat out in his conservatory, and enjoyed a chat with anyone who saw him and stopped. I am sad for Peter Martin of Coopers Farm, because Bernard used to visit him regularly when he still drove his Mini. Bernard will be greatly missed.
Anne Owen (née Gray)
Elaine Barker wrote an article for Peldon History Project in March 2018
Bernard Ratcliffe of Little Wigborough