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James Campbell meets with Notable Parishioners

Susan Derry

John Collins

June Marchant

Alan Rabson

June Noble


Susan Derry

Susan was brought up at Fisher’s Gate Cottages with her two older sisters as her father worked for the present Lord De La Warr’s grandfather.

As a child, she went to Withyham School, being driven there with others in a farm vehicle. However, she had to walk back to Fishers Gate - even as a four-year old - unless they were lucky enough to get a lift in a passing Land Rover (it takes an adult half an hour to walk).  The head teacher, Mrs. Gunson, sat at a Dickensian desk with a cane lodged in the ink-well!  Sue describes her childhood as ‘1950s Enid Blyton’ with the children outside making their own amusements, on bikes, making houses in the woods and climbing haystacks in the barn, only returning home for mealtimes.  The farm was a big feature living at Fisher’s Gate, with a constant hive of activity with a herd of Jersey and then Friesian cows.  She remembers leaning over a gate watching a large Sussex Saddleback sow feeding her many piglets.


In those days, the Welfare’s Shop was really the centre of the village; there was a large, old taxi kept round the back that could be ordered at will.  She remembers the local policeman bicycling over from Groombridge, standing and observing life from a safe position, and then biking back again.  The village was better served with activites for young people at that time, with a Youth Group in the Hall as well as Guide packs in both Hartfield and Groombridge.  


After school in Tonbridge, Susan went to work in London, though often returning home for the weekend. Initially she worked for London Weekend Television before spending two years in Montreal in Canada.  On her return in 1976, she applied for a job at Buckingham Place and, to her surprise, got the job just before Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee.  So began a long career at ‘BP’ which continued until she left after the Golden Jubilee in 2003.  Initially she worked in the Master of the Household’s Department – involved principally with entertaining – and later as assistant to the Communications Secretary who was appointed to run the Press Office after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.


After leaving the Palace, Susan worked in the House of Lords for Baroness Hale, a Law Lord, until the creation of the Supreme Court.  She was then asked to return to the Palace to help with arrangements for the late Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.


Sue has had the privilege of an almost unique insight into inner workings of the Royal Family over a period of more than 35 years and participated in three of our late Queen’s Jubilees.  She now lives happily in the cottage in which her mother lived until two days short of her 101st birthday.

A Family Tradition:


Every Sunday morning John continues a proud family tradition assisting at Withyham Church.  His grandfather Joseph was the Sexton from 1930-40, living in the western half of Rectory Cottage below the Church. Here he is in c. 1947 – he came out of retirement to dress up especially for the photo shoot. (Left photo)

The same day John’s father, Joseph William, also posed outside the porch in his choir robes.  (Middle photo)


John’s parents had met in London; his father was a builder and later a gardener / handyman. John was born at No. 6 Balls Green in June 1942. He went to school in Withyham until the family moved to Crowborough in 1949.  There he attended Sir Henry Fermor Primary School, before spending two years at Crowborough County Secondary School (now Beacon Academy). Leaving school in 1957, John completed a City and Guilds apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner, going on to work for Connor Bros in Crowborough for seven years as a joiner. When their business closed, he joined Don Lavington in his small joinery business in Crowborough. He continued to work for him for the remainder of his career, retiring in 2007 after 43 years. John has continued to live in the family home in Whitehill Close for over 60 years.      


After several years attending All Saints Church, Crowborough John was drawn back ‘home’ in late 1990s to the Church where his parents had been married, and where he’d been baptised and later attended Sunday School. He began to take on tasks his grandfather had done before him, being formally appointed Sacristan and Verger in 2012. (Right photo)


As a joiner John has left a remarkable legacy in the interior of Withyham Church: the choir stalls; re-ordering the Sackville Chapel for the choir providing a cupboard for their robes and a hanging cupboard for the altar frontals; the Rectors’ Board on the north wall, (recording my predecessors and patrons back to 1328); the large chest inside main door and the two bookcases; and the two noticeboards in the porch – in all, an extraordinary achievement of high quality craftsmanship.


Some of John’s earliest memories are sitting with his father in the choir stalls during communion and being taken up to the bell chamber and onto the Church roof.  John continues his family’s long record of service to Withyham Church – and we are all very grateful to him.     

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On my continued rambles around the village, I recently met up with another long-time resident. June has the distinction of having lived in two properties on the Buckhurst Estate within yards of each other for the past 65 years.

June was brought up in Crowborough, the fourth of six children, and attended St. John’s School. Her father had various jobs after the war including with the Water Board. Her mother suffered from Spinal tuberculosis and at one stage had to rest on her back for 4½ years. June helped at home before obtaining her first job in domestic service near the Royal Mires.

In those days a highlight for the young were the dances held at the Kings’ Hall – “the best for miles.” June met Eric – though not on the dance floor. He was a plumbing and heating engineer working on the Buckhurst Estate. They were married at Withyham Church in 1958, followed by a reception in the Dorset Arms. Initially they lived in Station Road with Eric’s mother. Then, following a tip-off from the Rector Peter Scott, they moved to Clock Cottage at Buckhurst Park. June used to bicycle through the park to her work in Lye Green.

Nicholas was born in 1961. For 2½ years June helped in the nursery at Buckhurst Park until the arrival of Yvonne in 1965.

The family moved to part of Rectory Cottage – in those days a pair of cottages, with one half occupied by the verger at the Church.  The accommodation was quite small, so June and the growing family were delighted to be offered the Old School House overlooking the Cricket Ground. June is pictured here outside his delightful house that was to remain her home for nearly 40 years.

Eric continued working on the Estate, later also taking on other work. June worked at Duckings for the Cheadle and then Delaney families, and more recently for Ro Goolden at Forge Cottage for 23 years.

They watched the construction of the new Almshouses next to the Old School House. When the Queen Mother opened it on 22nd March 1977, it was Yvonne who was chosen to present the late Queen’s mother with a bouquet.

Eric adored fishing, travelling as far afield as Scotland, and he taught June to fly fish – even though killing anything wasn’t, she says, in her nature. On a particularly successful outing, when asked by an old boy what her technique was, she replied, “standing still, waiting and letting the fish take the fly.” Holidays with the family were mainly spent in Devon and Cornwall, often under canvas, though they did venture to America to visit one of Eric’s sisters. However, as Eric often said, “England is beautiful.”

Locally June helped with the boutique at the Fete and the long-gone Boys Club jumble sales. She remains a faithful member of Withyham Church.

Sadly, in April 1997 Eric died of leukaemia soon after he had retired; he was only 70. His exposure to asbestos and lead roofs was undoubtedly a contributory factor. It was only natural that June later moved literally next
door to the end Almshouse that she had watched being built. She has now been there for over 13 years and has the joy of five grandchildren and five great grandchildren, including Harriet’s son George christened on St. George’s Day this year.

Let Me Tell You A Story – With ALAN RABSON


Alan can almost certainly claim to be the village’s oldest inhabitant or to have lived in Withyham longer than anyone else – probably both. We met recently over a pint at the Dorset Arms and he told me his story.

Alan was born at Inchreed Farm, Jarvis Brook in 1931. He had three sisters, one of whom is still alive. When he was four years old, the family moved to Hadlow Down. During the war, he remembers a doodlebug crashing nearby during Sunday lunch; part of the ceiling came down and spoilt the meal. The solution was to go out a shoot a rabbit instead. He attended Hadlow School, but when Alan was 12 years old the family moved to Withyham.


In the subsequent 80 years, Alan has lived in three properties on Lye Wood Common and four on the Buckhurst Estate. Alan left school at 14. His first job was to keep an eye on four Italian POWs – he was the cheapest Englishman available, being paid 6d a day! 

His next job was working for a contractor at Cowden. Alan had learnt to drive a tractor, passing his test at 16. Jobs included baling hay and working the threshing machine. In 1947 and 1948 he spent 10 days haymaking at Chartwell
and met Winston Churchill on four occasions. At the age of 18 Alan came to work for the Buckhurst Estate in the woods. Because he wasn’t a farm worker, he was called up for National Service aged 20 and spent 20 months with the East Surrey Regiment serving mainly in the Sahara and the Suez Canal. He was known as the best shot in the regiment with both a rifle and a Light Machine Gun.

He and Betty were married in 1956. Trevor was born in 1959 and Paul in 1960. After being demobbed, Alan had returned to the Estate driving tractors and helping with the sheep. When the shepherd died suddenly, he was offered the job with flock of 300 ewes. Alan became an expert shearer, managing a staggering 150 ewes ‘on a good day’, 4-5,000 during the year. Alan was later offered a farm at Lye Green with a colleague. 

Being only 90 acres, it was often a struggle over the 15 years they ran it. Betty sadly died in 2016 just two days before what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary. However, apart from the family – now comprising 6 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren – Alan’s recipe for a long life is to keep busy. Every day he drives from his home, for the last 27 years in the Almshouses, to his workshop in Crowborough at 6am, returning between 1 - 3pm. A remarkable countryman who’ll be happy to tell you a few other stories whenever you have the time.


JUNE NOBLE  at 90 in June

June was born opposite St. John’s Church in Tunbridge Wells, the youngest of three sisters. The family then moved to near the Station. Her father, who had suffered badly in the First World War, died when she was only nine. The family moved to Withyham, two doors from the school, when she was 11. She can remember the Army’s Field Ammo Dump, located where the lower two rows of houses in Balls Green including her own were later built. It was manned by two Italian POWs, one of whom loved singing, including a song from The Marriage of Figaro.

After leaving school at 15, June worked ‘in service’ principally as kitchen staff in a number of big houses, including Clarence House for Princess Elizabeth 1949-1951. Not liking London, she was asked to move to Scotland, to work in Nairn near Inverness. One evening a man called Angus went to a local dance with one lady and left with another... whose name was June! They were married at Withyham Church in 1955, where her parents had also been married.

Once Angus and June’s four children reached a certain age, June went back to work. Arriving at Withyham School as the cook, she was asked to do a six-week course. The tutor had to warn a group of eight participants to ignore the ‘know-all’ Catering Corps sergeant and the other participant. Nine years at school was followed by work as a ‘Home Help’ and then for Lord and Lady De La Warr both at Thatcher’s and then Buckhurst. Happy local memories include Bonfire night with the processions to the Recreation (Cricket) Ground. June worked part-time until she was 80.

Throughout the years June has been a faithful member of the Church, cooking and flower arranging and much else. June has had more than her fair share of family sadness, including Angus’ death at only 68. However, she always remains incredibly positive. She has mastered Zoom Church and often expresses her gratitude to her marvellous friends and neighbours in Balls Green.

Let’s wish this special lady, who moved to Balls Green in December 1955 and has never left, a very Happy
90th birthday on 20th June.

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