Independence beckons ~ Evelyn taking flight


“These are the things that I want in life: 1. A library of my own; 2. All Rudyard Kipling’s Works; 3) lots of money so that I can make poor people happy.”

Evelyn Ashford aged 14, 1937


Evelyn trig point standing (2)

I don’t know who took this photograph of my aunt, Evelyn Ashford. Probably it was my father. I’ve posted it before, but now we’ve cleaned it up a little. It was taken at Pitch Hill, Surrey in around 1937 when Evelyn would have been fourteen. This was the year when she was forced to leave school to both take care of an invalid mother, and then to start work as an apprentice in the local draper’s shop in Guildford.

Given the high hopes she had for herself, leaving school before sitting her Primary School Certificate would have been a deeply wounding blow. In an English exercise of that last year at school she wrote:

“These are the things that I want in life: 1. A library of my own; 2. All Rudyard Kipling’s Works; 3) lots of money so that I can make poor people happy.” She also wanted to have lots of REAL friends and play Madame Defarge in a stage version of Tale of Two Cities. The people she most wanted to meet included Jean Batten, famous New Zealand aviator, H.G. Wells and Alfred Hitchcock.

She did not achieve these ambitions, apart from the Kipling works perhaps. All her life she struggled to make up for her lack of education. All her life she did what she could to enthuse and encourage others to make the most of themselves in whatever community she found herself. She also survived being bombed on a train, breast cancer, and accidental attempts on her life through medical negligence. But she ended her days, cut off from all of us, her mind in another place: abiding in that state they call dementia.

I have written more about her life in other posts, but I always come back to this image of her, on the trig point at Pitch Hill. She died a year ago last October at the age of 90, but still her spirit survives in this photograph: a truly independent spirit I think; one that still has the power to move and inspire.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


The Many Faces of Evelyn Mary Ashford

Grand Girl, Great Prospects


Inspired by Ailsa’s challenge ‘independence’ at Where’s My Backpack  Please visit her blog for more interpretations of the theme.

Off Season and Off Centre at Old Orchard Beach

OOB 4 - Copy (2)

It was late September when we headed for Southern Maine. By ‘we’ I mean Graham, my sister Jo and her chap, Bob, and I. The trip had been Jo’s or G’s idea, we couldn’t agree who had started it. But it felt like a jaunt, or as G put it later ‘Four Go Mad in Maine and Mass.’ We were going with the aim of meeting up with our third cousin, Jan, whom I had never met (being away in Kenya when she and Craig had visited the UK). Jo had met them, though, and shown them around Shropshire. Now Jan had kindly invited us to stay in her beach cottage for a week before travelling on up to Richmond to the family alpaca farm.

The day was hot as we drove up from Boston, but already I could feel summer slipping away. There was a dreamy, dusty air about the small towns we drove through, the civic gardens still brightly neat with flowers, yet with that ‘nearly over’ look.  Salem, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Kittery, Biddeford, Saco,  we passed on through, except for a quick pit stop at Kittery, and our first taste of Maine clam chowder. The first of many ‘tastes’ I should say, since we all became hooked on the stuff.

And so well and severally chowdered, we sped on northwards up route 95. The trip was taking longer than we had reckoned on. Being the end of the  holiday season, the highways department had started digging the road up for what seemed like miles. We could spot  no useful turn off, and we were keyed up in the knowledge that Cousin Jan was meeting us at the cottage with the keys at 3pm.  Back at the farm, the alpaca moms were busy having babies and she was on tight schedule.

But then just when we thought we’d never get there, there was the sign we’d been looking for.  Ocean Park. We turned off the highway into the maze of pretty lanes and avenues that make up this quaint seaside community.


Our destination was in fact just a step away from the beach, in what had started out as a single storey, verandahed cabin, but later had been jacked up on cinder blocks to provide another floor. The verandah had been enclosed and turned into two rooms. Jan told us that the cottage had originally been the 1920s retreat of an Englishman who had lived in India. Many of his books were still on the sitting-room book shelves where he had left them. He had apparently later created the lower floor for his mother  so making two little houses in one.

Jan was sitting out on the lawn reading when we arrived. The sunlight had that honeyed September glow, but the sea breathed autumn at us. Jan was worried we would be cold at night since the cottage had no insulation. She had come armed with extra duvets from the farm. It was an odd feeling that meeting. Although we were strangers, I felt instantly embraced by family affection. For one thing, Jan so looked like my Aunt Evelyn.


Apart from the occasional and poignant call of a passing train (a sound we grew quickly to love), Ocean Park is a serene and leafy enclave. A place out of time. Most of its houses date from the late 19th century when the Free Will Baptists founded a family summer resort there. The presence of water and a grove of trees were requisite for such a retreat, while religious and educational meetings and all round self-improvement were the focus of the gathering’s activities.  The Tabernacle Temple meeting hall is still there amongst the pines and maples.

071 Hall in the Grove

Meanwhile, a couple of miles along the beach, the resort of Old Orchard Beach aka OOB, could not be more different.  In season it is teeming with humanity, the coastal strip lined with cheap boarding houses and motels. It is not the sort of place we would normally go to in any season, too much razzamatazz and bustle, junk takeaways, and nowhere to buy real food. But now, at summer’s end, it did hold a certain doleful fascination – you know, the kind of fascination of the David Lynch Twin Peaks sort.



IMG_0058 - CopyWhat else can you say, off-season resorts are simply desolate. When summer ends they lose their reason ‘to be’; the body is there, but someone has switched off the blood supply. We wandered up and down empty streets, feeling somewhat perplexed. Most of the shops were shut.  The rides at Palace Playground had been wrapped up for the winter. There was scarcely a soul around.

It was only when I had a notion to take the Downeaster train to Portland, and we ended up in the library, trying to find out how to buy tickets (the station machine being terminally out of order), that it was all change. Inside the library it was humming with cheerful librarians and  young moms with kids. And so just when we thought we were all alone on Planet OOB, lovely human life was discovered. The librarian even let us use the phone to reserve train tickets, and then print them off from her computer. So thank you Libby Library, you surely know how to give good service – in or out of season. We hope, too, that by now you have reached your building fund target. ‘Support Your Local Library’ – that’s something we all need to do.


copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


Follow the links for more bloggers’ off season off centre posts:

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge Off Centre at Where’s My Backpack


The birds: who, where, when?


Evelyn Mary Ashford 1923-2013


Some time-travelling is definitely called for  to unravel the context of this photo. It was scanned from a tiny loose snap found inside in my Aunt Evelyn’s photo album. Frustratingly, there were no accompanying details. I am sure, though, that it is Evelyn. Also the girlish pose would suggest late teenage years. Since she lived in Cranleigh, Surrey, and nowhere near the sea, and as I’m assuming that working people did not go on holiday during war-time, my guess is that this photo was taken sometime before the summer of 1939.  There is no clue either as to location, or who the photographer might have been. There is only this frozen moment in time as Evelyn throws bread to the gulls, the paper it was wrapped  in pressed by the breeze across her knee.

Evelyn died this autumn at almost 90 and a half. She lived a good and creative life despite many set-backs. Somehow this striking shot of her amongst the wheeling birds captures much of her spirit.

For  more of Evelyn’s story see earlier posts:

Grand girl, great prospects…?

The Many Faces of Evelyn Mary Ashford

Eve trig 1

© 2013 Tish Farrell

For more birds:

Ailsa’s Travel Theme Birds


Zebra Designs and Destinations

Figments of a DuTchess

Postcards from home and away…

Edge of the Forest

Grand girl, great prospects…?

Eve trig 1

Pitch Hill, Cranleigh, Surrey


Don’t you feel the rush of energy as you look at this photograph? An impulse captured, hopefulness personified. The gaze is so sure, the balance perfect with no hint of a wobble. It makes you ask: what is this young woman surveying? How does she see her future? And with a stance like that, isn’t it bound to be glowingly brilliant?

If I tell you that the year when this snap was taken was 1937, whatever  image you have just conjured will fragment into uncertainty. With hindsight we can see what her young eyes cannot: soon there will be war, some six years of it.

This, then, is my aunt, Evelyn Mary Ashford, who was ninety in June 2013. I have told the story of the 1942  train bombing that she miraculously survived here.  But since I wrote that post I have found an aftermath photo of the actual incident.


Photo from War on the Line by Bernard Darwin, Middleton Press

Evelyn, then, was the daughter of the Head Gardener at Redhurst Manor, Cranleigh, one Charles Ashford of Twyford Wiltshire, and Alice Gertrude Eaton, a former accounts cashier from Streatham, London. My father, Alex, was born nearly thirteen years earlier than Evelyn, and by the time she was born, her parents were middle-aged, and my grandfather’s hair already white. This is how I remember him too, for he was long-lived, although a Victorian through and through – a passionate gardener and meticulous horticulturalist typical of that era.


The Ashford Family c. 1930

Grandpa Ashford 1952

Charles Ashford c1952 in his late 70s going rough shooting with Smudger.

Evelyn was around fourteen years old when the Pitch Hill photo was taken. I imagine it was my father who captured her on the trig point. The week before her fourteenth birthday she wrote an essay for her English homework. It is called “I had sixpence…” and gives a surprising insight into this particular village girl’s mind.  Seventy six years on, it still has resonance.

“Money! What a lot that word means today. Everyone is out for as much as they can get, the businessman in the City goads his employees on to fight for supremacy and money.

What would I do if were a millionairess? How should I plan my life?

First of all I would find a home, not just anywhere, but where I should be happiest. Preferably I should live in Devonshire. To be out on the open friendly moors, with the tang of sea in my nostrils, warm streams of pure air fanning my cheeks and the sound of the sea breaking upon the rugged rocks.

Another thing that I would delight in, is travel. To see the great places of the world renowned for mighty deeds and people. Rome, Venice, Athens, those beauty spots of the world. The ruined Coliseum, the forum, the mighty arena once thronged with sturdy, carefree Romans, with swinging togas. The gondolas, moonlit canals and gay masques of Venice, that city of song and laughter…

To return to England and my Devonshire home. One of my favourite pastimes would be reading. A large shady room with deep armchairs, soft long piled carpet that deadened all sound and a baize door, with shelves packed full with books on all sides, a veritable sea of books. Kipling, Stevenson, Edgar Wallace, Horler, ‘Sapper’, Dickens and all those famed authors. That would be the domain of my heart. What strange people would flock down from the shelves to meet me: Sam Weller, Drummond, Pickwick, Jim Hawkins, Kim, Tommy Tradles, Madam Defarge and lord of them all, Sidney Carton.

Oh! But I am thinking only of myself. My money would not be spent on myself along. There are millions of others who would know none of the joy I have experienced. I mean to make myself prominent in government affairs; to get into Parliament if I possibly can. The working class must have more freedom for they are hemmed in on all sides by government officials. What do we pay taxes for but to keep fat officials in the lap of luxury? That is what I would be all out against…”

She concludes by saying that on her death all her wealth would be shared equally between her chief friends and interests.

 And of course she is not dead yet, although she is very poorly, and she no longer communicates on this plane of existence. All her young and adult life, she did whatever she could to help other people, this despite feeling sorely thwarted by a lack of education. My grandfather made her leave school before she could sit for her Primary School Certificate, and anyway would not have been able to afford for her to go on to high school. Instead, she looked after my grandmother, and then was apprenticed to Gammon’s Drapers in Cranleigh, working a twelve-hour day. 


Evelyn with my grandmother in the 1940s.

Like so many bright women of her generation, her true talents were never fully nurtured or allowed expression. She married a man, a war-time sweetheart, whom she once described as “a good man”, but who was in no way a kindred spirit. Their married life was also blighted for the first fifteen years by having my grandfather living with them. This was  a terrible trial by any standards, for he allowed them no privacy, and Evelyn found herself endlessly torn between father and husband.

But for all her domestic ups and downs, she never stopped learning, any way she could, or passing on the things she had learned. Now, though, her gaze looks inward rather than out into the world. Perhaps she is back in the walled garden at Redhurst, watching her father in the big glass houses, propagating primulas or grafting peaches, or getting her knickers green, sliding on the velvet lawns that were cut by garden boys leading the  big horse-drawn mower. Or perhaps she is thinking of the young American bomber pilot whom she did not marry, but to whose family she wrote breathlessly chatty letters about doodle bugs and food shortages during the last years of the war. “Dear Momma and Pop” those letters begin…


Evelyn around 4 years old in the Redhurst kitchen garden where her father ruled.


The legal profession talks of ‘lack of capacity’ when it comes to consider the fitness of people like Evelyn to participate in the man-made fiscal world. She lacks capacity. She does not talk. She cannot read or write anymore. A couple of years ago when we first went to see her in the Welsh nursing home where she lives, and before her so-called capacity had totally shipped out, she was able to tell us that she was happy enough there because she had “so much to think about.” So I’ll second that, Evelyn Mary Ashford Gibbings. In my mind’s eye I stand on a trig point too, and I salute you for a life well lived. For although you never realised your entire capacity, at least  in the sense that I understand it, as a creative person exploring their full potential, you are  still a hero. Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!


Evelyn feeding the gulls, unknown date and location, possibly 1940s.

copyright 2013 Tish Farrell