At the age of 87 years and one day, my father passed away earlier this year. Writing and doing the eulogy was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. There was an incredible turn-out for the funeral and a few people asked me to share what I said. In one sense, it seems too private to post, but on the other hand I hope it is a fitting memorial. I am afraid it is rather long but here it is:
Back in the 70’s an American lady contacted us asking about the Spurrett’s to whom she was convinced she was distantly related. My father took the bait and we began an amazing journey of discovery. It fascinated us – discovering the lives of our Spurrett ancestors.
When I began writing a book on what we found, I asked Dad to write some reflections on his early life, which I used to prepare for today. I’ve also had some help from his brother Phil, as you’ll hear.
The story begins 98 years ago – actually 98 years ago tomorrow – when his parents were married.
My father’s parents, Joe and Maggie, lived in various places in East Hagbourne, including the Travellers Welcome Pub. My father’s two elder brothers George and Ron were born there, followed by his sister Jean. Eventually they got a house in Shoe Lane, Hagbourne, where on Oct 15th 1934 my father was born, and then finally Phil followed in 1938. Sometime later they moved to a council house in Harwood Road, which was regarded as complete luxury, as his bedroom in Shoe Lane didn’t even have any glass in the windows.
Many times, he recounted the stories of cycling the 21 miles with his Dad to visit relatives in Aston Bampton, including his grandfather George and great uncle Joe, who at one time had the Bull Inn in Aston. But mostly his youth seems to have been spent larking around with his younger brother. Phil tells this story of one high jinx that went wrong:
We went to Blewburton Hill and Jack decided he would ride down the steps but unfortunately he lost control-fell off and knocked out one of his front teeth. They tried a few times to stick one tooth on a plate- without success so he just went with the gap- they didn’t do implants in those days.
My father was very taken with religion in his youth and he was always delighted when our family research threw up another story of religious connections. His brother Phil also recounted this story:
In his younger days Jack was very religious, at Hagbourne School they gave what was called the Fletcher prize for someone showing an aptitude towards religious studies which Jack won. On one occasion we had been fishing in the local stream and caught some tiddlers which unfortunately died. They didn’t take well to living in a jam-jar so Jack decided to hold a funeral. He put the fish in a cardboard box inscribed “here lie the bodies of fishes three”. Jean and l had to carry the coffin but she was twice as tall as me in those days and so the coffin was at a steep angle which highly amused her but Jack didn’t take too kindly to her laughing at a funeral
It is a scene I can easily imagine. In another life, he would happily have been a preacher. I would like to say that we are grateful to Josie Midwinter of All Saints for conducting the service today. Although we are very much considered a Hagbourne family, he actually lived at Cronshaw Close in All Saints parish for the most of his married life.
I guess the reason the family is associated with East Hagbourne is due to the connection to the pubs there. My Dad’s parents took on the licence for the Spread Eagle in 1952, and it was clearly a time of stress for Dad and his siblings. They had got used to the comforts of Harwood Road but it was back to basic living again. At the time, darts was very popular in pubs so it was agreed that they should try to build some teams.
His elder brothers were already playing for the Fleur de Lys in East Hagbourne, since they lived around the corner in Shoe Lane. Dad passionately tells of supporting his brothers George and Ron who were part of the winning of The People National Darts Competition in 1954 – the trophy is still on display in the flew-er, as locals call it.
My Dad came to love life at the Spread Eagle. It was a family affair – his siblings all playing their part in running the pub or associated side events that were key to trade, such as the darts events and the annual pram race.
The thriving railway in Didcot brought many Irish railway workers to the area who would happily travel a good distance to find well cared for Guinness. My father often told the story of his mother keeping the crates of bottles in the family lounge in order to age the bottles at room temperature before declaring them fit to be served – she was the official taster. In one of life’s strange twists, my father also ended up working on the railway in later life.
But before I get to his working life, there is the story of his marriage. Our mum Sheila was not really a drinker, but in those days the pub was the social centre of the community. She caught his eye and they were married on March 7th 1959. Together they would run the pub with his brother George, when Joe and Maggie went on holiday.
On their 50th anniversary they renewed their vows at Hagbourne Church. The letter from the Queen on their 60th anniversary in 2019 was something my father treasured.
My brother, Nick, and I came along in 1964 and 1967 respectively. To me, my father will mostly be remembered as a JCB driver. I loved the rare occasions when I got to share the cabin of the digger with him.
To my brother and I he was ‘The Boss’ – a nickname that arose from the caption on a mug I bought him when I was a teenager. It was of course ironic. We all knew who the real Boss was in the household, but the name stuck as a private family joke.
In later life he also worked on the building section for UKAEA Harwell and found himself another strong little community there. Goods friends who continued to socialise long after they all retired and some of which are here today. Thank you for coming.
In retirement, his appetite for darts and social events never diminished. As his brother Phil recounted:
Once a year we used to go to London, at first we went to places like The Imperial War Museum, St Paul’s and Highgate Cemetery and many others. Later, as Pat Belcher used to organise the local News of the World Darts play offs, he got us tickets to go to the Grand Finals at Wembley Arena. And when the News of the World folded, we went to the London Marathon for several years – as spectators l might add. After all our London visits we used to call in at Chiswick on the way home to visit our relations. Being the two youngest siblings we were closer and spent a lot of time together, constantly being mistaken for each other.
It was a physically hard-working life and one that saw my father severely incapacitated in later life. My mother cared for him at home until last September, when he needed more specialist around-the-clock care.
He was very well looked after at the Wantage Care Home and we are very grateful to the caring staff there. Once again, he turned up and seem to touch the hearts of the carers. In the end it was a chest infection and his weak heart, following a long-standing condition, that brought about his demise. Thank you on behalf of the British Heart Foundation for all the donations we have received on-line, and there will be a collection box at the wake for anybody else that wants to donate.
My father was very popular, but it would be a stretch to say that Dad was the life and soul of a party. However, he was always there enjoying every event heartily, sometimes dispensing his potent home-brew, and always laughing. A raucous Fred Flintstone laugh – I never noticed that before, until our very good family friends Jo and Derek pointed it out – and they are right.
There is a thread that links these stories which I only came to realise in the last few weeks. All the things he loved so dearly, and was passionate about, involved community: whether that was a gathering of friends and family, the village community in his youth in East Hagbourne, or the pub community from the Spread Eagle, or friends from work.
Through our family history research going back 500 years, we were amazed to realise how many Spurrett vicars and publicans there were – perhaps that sense of community was part of his DNA.
He was also a passionate follower of football – Charlton Athletic in particular. But the football event that always mattered most was FA Cup Final Day. It didn’t matter much who was playing, and we liked nothing better than cheering on the underdog. We would all gather: family, close family friends, partners etc – and often people would travel from far to be at Cronshaw Close on FA Cup Final day.
Although technically my Dad’s brother-in-law, Gary was like a son to my father, and a brother to Nick and I, and he was a regular participant. The Arsenal – Man Utd final of 1979 was legendary, the story of which was recounted by my father for decades afterwards. Over time, new participants came, and old friends moved away, but were often fondly remembered and toasted each year. Once again, Dad was the glue that brought it together and made it a community. And of course, that is why the FA Cup anthem ‘Abide with me’ was playing as we came in. My father’s ‘pilgrimage’ to the church where the vicar preached who wrote the hymn was another commonly told story.
So on behalf of all those communities he touched, and shaped, I would like to say thank you Dad. Thanks for being the hearty laugh in background who inspired, promoted and enjoyed those social events with great vigour. At such events, you did not need to ask him to ‘smile for the camera’, it was simply a matter of pointing the camera and catching his ever-present smile.
May you rest in peace Dad.
5th November 2021