Joan Mary Welburn
Lanercost Eulogies from her Grandchildren
We want to say first how lovely it is to see so many familiar faces [here in Lanercost Priory]. Our grandmother’s life within this community was so very valuable to us, it was part of what shaped us as children and into adulthood. The excitement and anticipation of driving through stunning scenery, the mystery of arriving past a fort on a road where the Romans themselves had walked, turning down the drive to Gunshole, opening the gates to the welcome of dogs, scattering chickens, ducks, a braying donkey, the aga, the smell of excellent home-cooked food, and the delight and anticipation of the adventures to come.
I loved it down by the river looking for fossils with the dogs, touching the roman written-rock and deciphering the history chiselled in stone, watching for fairies in the quarry, collecting wild hazelnuts, counting bats as they peeled out at night, digging through the Victorian tip for treasures, hunting for lost dogs, ducks, chickens and their eggs, watching for stealing weasels, checking the stone wall at the entrance to the wood where money was left under secret rocks – and still is to this day! (fairies again I reckon), walking to Banks Head to collect fresh milk from the Ivinsons, hoping to be invited to help with the cows, seeing any new baby arrivals at Lea Hill with Joss and Joyce, marvelling at the skill of the working sheep dogs, being taken out and about to visit the neighbours, who felt like our own. The winter wonderland, the harsh easterly winds, the endless trips over the fields to retrieve wood. This was the back drop to a thrilling childhood of exploration, wonder and learning, which Joan as a grandmother explored and delighted in with us.
When we were very young, before her move up north, Jo was a prominent and, at times, essential part of our child care. I guess it was for this reason we called her Maman (French for mother).
She certainly took this to heart, and saw her role as our educator and confidant, which she continued throughout our teens into adult life. When we were little she created poems and stories for us, wrote us books about the animals, let us loose on the landscape. She supported our learning though endless discussion, teaching and new experiences. She shared in our achievements, joys and woes, and she listened and questioned with genuine interest. She would think things over and would return maybe hours or days later with possible solutions to problems or opinions to be thought about.
I could feel that she delighted as much in her two grandchildren as she continued, later, to delight in her great grandchild Florence and, through my inherited family, her great-great-grandchildren. She has, in fact, welcomed many young people into her life, identifying clearly what they needed (what she thought they needed!), but always keen to listen, advise, question and encourage, and to welcome them into her extended family. I think it is for this reason she has touched so many people. She had an ageless nature, a real urge to make sense of life and people around her and to struggle through the process, even when she often concluded that animals were much easier to cope with.
It was only as we grew older that we realised how hard she had to work to overcome the habits and expectations of the era, education and class she was brought up within. She was a complex person. Often unable to express the feelings we longed for her to share. Sometimes revealing the fears and frustrations of the 13 year old girl she had once been. Often compelled to say what she believed she ought to be thinking. Sometimes startling and amazing us all with a feisty, controversial, even antagonistic outburst. We feel fortunate to have shared her missing childhood with her – to have grown up alongside her.
Ultimately she expressed her values, her interests and her desires through her actions, through the life she chose in Cumbria.
She was able to enjoy the really good things in life at Gunshole. Space to grow her own fruit and veg, fresh eggs, home-grown lamb, wool to spin and knit – to enjoy the animals she loved. Time to be creative and industrious, to make clothes, paint, read, learn, find out and ponder. She was an expert on Churchill, had a thirst for scientific knowledge, was a dedicated follower of Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’. She possessed a breadth of historical understanding which put us to shame, was a natural history expert, a skilled painter, sketcher, musician and observer of the world. She was a living gardening reference book for vegetable growers. She taught us the correct way to peel a boiled egg (with the back of a teaspoon), to make excellent gravy and hot chocolate – as she did during the war – and countless other skills.
It was a life that many aspire to now, turning away from the fast pace of fast food, waste and exploitation of the worlds resources. She was the epitome of the slogan "reduce, reuse, recycle". The post-war era of ‘make do and mend’ was such a part of her being that she would never let go of it – ironic that we now see on TV the same post-war advice to support us through the credit crunch and towards healthy living.
Many of you have seen the many inventions and gadgets which were created to solve particular problems, my favourite being the long pole with a cleverly fashioned hook on the end to extract eggs from the chimney laid by a demented duck.
And mine was the canvas wheelbarrow that she built to haul logs back from the woods over rough land. She never threw anything away, as our parents know only too well. They found every birthday and Christmas card she received from the 1940s onwards. She always had the ideal piece of material, wool from a cardigan knitted 40 years ago and unpicked for re-use, the exact piece of wire to make a home-made toast rack, the right piece of wood to mend a fence.
Her ingenious invention and problem solving was inspirational. Her independence and resourcefulness in making, mending and problem-solving gave us a role model of modern womanhood which lead us both into worlds often considered to be the domain of men, without even thinking it strange. She was the start of a line of tomboys that we are proud to continue. She gave a powerful statement to all around her of how to cope, survive, and thrive – achieving a quality of life many would be envious of.
She was someone we described to our friends with extreme pride, and still do to this day. But it is difficult to convey the complexity of her whole story. Her early life led to a seemingly lonely existence with a level of harshness unknown in the south. In fact, she was only able to live out the degree of independence she longed for because of the gentle and consistent support offered by everyone around her.
In the face of the relentless battle with the elements, fences, lost, sick animals and the place falling apart we were thrilled that she agreed at last to move to the protection, support and security of Brampton and we have to thank you so much for being part of that security and endless support. It has meant her later years have been fulfilling, purposeful and less stressful.
She could be opinionated, stubborn, insistent, unbending, even rude, but had a tenacity and pragmatism which you just had to admire. And her ageless, childlike nature, especially in her later years when she revelled in the company and lives of others, was a joy to behold.
We remember Jo every day in all the little things we do. When we care for our children and grandchildren, prepare food in our kitchens, dig our gardens, tend our plants and animals, fix, mend and solve problems we hope that we do justice to her.