John, Agnes and Elizabeth
Aldington Mill and The Laurels, Offenham
Selby's mother was born at Aldington Mill. She was part of the Sharp family
which ran the milll for more than 40 years. In this article Peggy describes
her family, and how her mother's love of gardening and growing things
led to her becoming a professional botanist.
mother, Agnes Elizabeth Sharp, who passed away last summer aged 90, was
born at Aldington Mill in 1919. She was the only daughter of John and
Agnes Sharp and always known as Elizabeth, sometimes shortened to Lisbeth.
and Agnes were married in 1915. Agnes was born in 1882, the eldest daughter
of William Harris (1853-1910) and Agnes Gower (1859-1919). My mother didn't
know very much about her mother's side of the family; apparently there
was some great family quarrel and her mother never spoke very much about
her family. Agnes trained as a nurse and was at some time employed by
an elderly gentleman in poor health; the photograph was taken when they
were staying in Southport.
was the son of Jerry Sharp, who took over the mill at Aldington in 1885.
John was born in 1890, the only son (as far as I know) with several sisters.
After his father died in 1916, he took over the mill and always described
himself as a corn miller, although the mill closed in 1927.
had very happy memories of her childhood at the mill; her uncle Walter
(Walter Harris, her mother's brother) worked there with her father "he
was great fun to be with, more like an older brother than an uncle". When
the mill had to close in 1927 because of lack of trade, Walter went to
work with a Mr Olsen, who had a number of glasshouses for tomato growing
Sharp family moved to Offenham in 1927. John had been left a house there
(The Laurels) by his uncle Joseph. Apparently Agnes wasn't happy about
this, either because of something to do with the family quarrel, or because
it was a large house that had been somewhat neglected. Joseph Sharp had
never married and the house had been run by his sister Mary Anne. Mary
Anne died twenty years before he did and from that time he hadn't touched
or moved anything that belonged to her, either because of grief or (more
probably) inertia - there's a family story that someone calling at the
house for him one day was told by Mary Anne they were unlikely to get
anything out of him, "he's got his arse in his sitting breeches today".
When Elizabeth came to clear the house in 1964, the attics were full of
Victorian paraphernalia, much of which went to the museum service in Worcester.
they moved to Offenham, John didn't take to the idea of working for someone
else; he tried using the land at The Laurels for market garden produce
but they mainly got by through running the house as a guest house. I believe
one of their visitors was J R R Tolkien, Elizabeth remembers being sent
into the garden to pick parsley to make parsley sauce for the great man's
dinner. I don't think it was an easy living, though, neither in the 30's
nor during the war, when Elizabeth used to come back home at regular intervals
to help with all the paperwork that went with running a guesthouse during
the war when food rationing was in place. John and Agnes continued to
live at The Laurels until they both died, Agnes in 1960 and John in 1964.
remember John as a lovely granddad who liked to tease his grandchildren.
He was also very practical - I have a table that he made, I believe that
when they first had a wireless at The Laurels in the 20s, he devised a
speaker system that enabled Agnes to be able to listen to programmes if
she was in the kitchen. I remember Agnes as rather more reserved but very,
very hardworking, a characteristic inherited by Elizabeth.
attended Prince Henry's Grammar School in Evesham where she won a scholarship
to study Botany at Queen Mary College at the University of London. War
broke out in the meantime and her college was evacuated out to Oxford.
The idea of going to university was not something her parents would have
ever considered; apparently one of the teachers from school was instrumental
in explaining to them how it could be possible. Elizabeth supplemented
her scholarship with a bank loan and often described to us how she was
never able to enjoy her student days as much as other students because
of her great fear of not getting a good degree, not getting a job and
then not being able to pay back the loan. To her daughters, who went to
university in the days of student grants, this seemed very strange, but
of course the wheel has come full circle now. She also had to contend
with her parents not being able to understand that she needed to study
during the vacations when she was at home - and at the same time being
intensely proud of her and her achievements.
she graduated, she worked in research in a number of places including
the Botanical Gardens at Kew and Rothamsted Experimental Station in Harpenden.
In 1949, she applied for a job at a new research laboratory being established
at Pitlochry in Scotland. There she met the officer in charge, Kenneth
Pyefinch; they were married in 1950. As was the custom then, she gave
up paid employment when she married and devoted herself to her home and
her family (they had four daughters). She lived in Pitlochry for the rest
of her life.
garden was always very important to her. In the early years in Pitlochry,
she turned a large part of the garden over to vegetables, although the
Perthshire climate and the stony Perthshire soil must have presented quite
a challenge compared to the fertile ground of the Vale of Evesham. Although
she derived the most immense pleasure from her garden, it was always very
much a workplace for her; the idea of sitting doing nothing in the garden
was quite alien to her. She came from a part of the country where growing
things is an essential part of life, chose Botany to study and was a devoted
gardener for the greater part of her life.
also the 'Aldington Mills' chapter by Mike Lovatt in Aldington
and Badsey: Villages in the Vale.
Top picture: Agnes
Harris as a young woman (before she married John).
and Agnes much older, taken at The Laurels, Offenham.
Sharp as a young man.
Below: Aldington Mill in the early twentieth century.