Winifred Burgess

Winifred Burgess – a reminiscence

from the Parish Magazine, November 2003

In the last month or so we have been saddened by the loss of several of those whose lives enriched our community over the years

One who died quietly and almost unnoticed was Mrs Winifred Burgess of Compton. Living alone, in her nineties, though visited each day of the nineteen years she had lived in her bungalow in Attwoods Drove by a faithful neighbour, she had become stranded by time from the social life of the village. Yet in her time, Mrs Burgess was a familiar figure with her cheerful countenance and felt hat, a regular member of the All Saints’ congregation. One who had worked two of the embroidered kneelers in the seventies.

Rachel Fuller (nee Phillips) knew her well and has sent this reminiscence. It gives a fascinating insight into life hereabouts not so very long ago.

“Winifred came into the life of our family, together with her husband, Harold, when we came to live at the Well House, Shawford in 1949. Mr Burgess was employed at the Southampton Waterworks at Otterbourne. As no house was available for them there my parents offered them a large ground floor room across the passage from our kitchen until, two years later they were allocated a house at the Waterworks.

As a ‘daily help’ Winifred gave valuable service to my mother , coping with the challenge of bringing up four lively children in a new environment. Central heating was still out of reach of most, so coal fires or oil heaters kept the cold at bay and needed regular re-fuelling. Journeys down the cellar steps were a regular routine as coal scuttles were re-filled, shoes polished, or the hot mash stirred ready for the chickens’ next meal. All the same my mother enjoyed the privilege of having a twin-tub washing machine and a gas poker each representing a significant easing of the domestic burden. Before the days of easy-care bed-linen and duvets, the chores loomed large for all housewives and Winifed proved a tower of strength to us.

However, the chief claim on Winifred’s attention (apart from Harold) was to attend to the domestic needs of the redoubtable Mrs Longhurst for whom she had worked for many years in Plymouth where Mrs Longhurst’s naval husband had been stationed. Winifred herself was Devonshire born and spoke with a mild West Country burr. Mrs Longhurst lived in the heart of Compton village on the corner of Compton Street and Wiltshire Lane, and later spent her last years in Brackenlea Residential Home, Shawford, where Winifred faithfully visited her each week, collecting and returning her personal laundry which she did for her at home.

Winifred was immensely loyal to those for whom she worked. They in turn admired the calm conscientious way she went about her work. She had been trained in the old – and to modern sensibilities harsh – regime of household service. Duty to one’s employer was paramount and contentment with one`s position in life was the key to survival. Winifred was an outstanding exemplar of these old-fashioned virtues, yet they went hand in hand with an endearing sense of humour. She would often enjoy a quiet chuckle about the idiosyncrasies of folk who came over her horizon. Always appreciative of the gifts my mother gave her, she recalled, with a wry smile how she had been obliged to be grateful when, as a girl recently come ‘into service’ she was given a new apron as her sole Christmas present!

Her life was attuned to the customs of a vanished era when duty, decorum and respect were the prevailing values. Worship at the parish church was a vehicle for these values and helped to reinforce the sense of being part of the established order. For Winifred attendance at Evensong on Sunday was part of the weekly routine, a tradition absorbed from the days when it was usual for the staffs of gentry houses to go to church once they had discharged their domestic obligations.”

May she rest in peace.