Our congratulations and best wishes to Peggy Redford, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday and who has spent more than 70 years of her life on the Hadlow Estate, known as the Somerhill Estate when she first moved to the area.
Peggy, who spoke to our Residential Lettings Manager, Louise Wixen, about her life, has seen major changes on the Estate, where she raised a family with her late husband, Bob, who served as a Desert Rat in the Second World War.
She put her long life down to “cussedness” and hard work and spoke of her love of gardening and the importance of her family. She revealed she was named Alice at birth but had always been called Peg or Peggy. She had a brother and two sisters, who she used to see regularly, although all but one of her sisters, Jean, have now passed away. She lost her husband ten years ago.
Peggy moved to what was then the Somerhill Estate in 1952 from Wittersham, near Rye, with Bob and their son Gerry and daughter Jackie, when both the children were young. She said the family travelled to Tudeley in the back of a cattle truck.
Bob worked on the Estate as a woodsman and Gerry and Jackie attended the local Capel Primary School. Gerry joined his father working on the Estate when he left secondary school at the age of 15.
Their first home on the Estate was the Old Laundry, with a big iron range in the kitchen but no bathroom or inside toilet. Nevertheless, Peggy recalled it as a beautiful place to have a home when the weather was good.
She told Louise: “It was an idyllic place to live in the spring and summer – the dawn chorus was incredible and at night nightingales sang. Winter was a different story, there was just a track from Park Farm to the Laundry and it became impassable in the winter because the cattle used it.
“We used to have to walk from there to Goldsmid Hall, on the Tudeley Road, to catch the bus and got used to wearing wellingtons and changing into shoes and leaving the boots in the hedge at the Hall before we could get on the bus. Happy days,” she recalled. She also remembered walking up through the woods and across Park Farm to Crockhurst Street hamlet where there was a village shop for her groceries.
“Sir Henry (Sir Henry d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, former owner of the Estate) used to host guests for lunch in our living room when he had a shoot and I cooked on an open fire,” Peggy recalled. “We would also see him ride past the Laundry on his horse.”
Recalling the quiet and birdsong from the early days on The Estate, she also recalled how dark it was at night and how, one evening during a great storm, she and the children took shelter in an understairs cupboard until the thunder and lightning had passed.
She added that she thought there was no better place in the world to live than the Old Laundry. She recalled parties in the old washroom of the building – complete with the original large round copper vats for the washing and huge range to heat the irons, which were all still in place at the time.
Peggy worked on Bourne Mill Farm, picking hops, apples and potatoes, and beating on the local shoot, as well as looking after her family. When daughter Jackie contracted polio and was treated at Hawkenbury isolation hospital, Peggy and Bob visited her every evening after finishing work.
Jackie said: “They did drive there every night after a hard day’s work, and I cried hysterically every night to go home. It broke my poor dad’s heart. I was only five or six and it was a traumatic time. He made me a kidney shape dressing table out of an old chest of drawers for when I came home.”
Bob was also unwell around this time, suffering from a slipped disc after an accident. He was x-rayed at Sevenoaks Hospital where doctors found he had a bullet lodged in his spine from the time he was shot serving in Italy during the Second World War.
Peggy said the Army doctors had believed the bullet had exited his body – but it actually remained in his back for the rest of his life. Bob left the Estate to become self-employed in 1959 and the family moved to Castle Hill. He was a woodsman, ran a milk round and worked as a turfer.
By 1963, when the Old Laundry became vacant, the family moved back in. Peggy worked at nearby Park Farm Oast, on the hop machine. But in the 1980s major refurbishments were carried out to the Old Laundry and Peggy and her family moved to new accommodation on the Estate, where Peggy still lives.
When she gave up work on the farm she became a regular cleaner at the church, determined to always keep busy. She also helped on the Estate, assisting the head gardener on the new gardens at the Old Laundry created for Lady d’Avigdor Goldsmid. Peggy is an expert on orchids, her favourite flower, and looked after them for Lady G. “I couldn’t sit still,” she said.
She said the extent of changes on the Estate during her lifetime hit home earlier this year when the forestry team arrived to remove some dead trees from outside her home. “I watched as they made light work of it using such modern machinery,” she said. “When Bob started as a woodsman all he had was an axe; in later years they moved onto saws and then chainsaws.”
Peggy also recalled the Great Storm of 1987 which caused a lot of damage on the Estate, including bringing a tree down on the corner of the Old Laundry, although the family had by that time moved out.
She has been honoured for her gardening expertise and has won many awards on the Estate for Best Garden and for her exhibits judged best in show. These awards were presented to her by Sir Henry and later by Chloe Teacher.
To mark Peggy’s birthday, Residential Lettings Manager, Louise, arranged to take her back to the Old Laundry for tea and cake.
Louise said: “It just happened by chance that we had a small window between two tenancies at the Old Laundry that coincided with Peggy’s 100th birthday. We thought it would be a lovely way to celebrate her centenary.”
Kate Teacher said: “We were so pleased to be able to take Peggy back to the Old Laundry to see how its gardens and buildings are looking today. She liked the light-filled kitchen-family room and thought Lady d’Avigdor Goldsmid would have approved of the renovations! We loved hearing her reminiscences of life there and agree that it’s a unique and special place. It was a very happy afternoon.”
Peggy is a woman who speaks her mind. She has a wicked sense of humour and keeps up with the news every day. “Life has been hard,” she told Louise. But she said she had a loving husband and family and was content with her lot in life.