“100 ISN’T MUCH THESE DAYS”

JillJenningsMrs Jill Jennings is one of the oldest residents of Minchinhampton now but is still regularly seen out and about in the town, as well as weekly at church. She was born in April 1918 in Hay-on-Wye, where her father, the Rev John de Winton, was the vicar. The youngest of nine children, Jill was christened Nona—but she changed to Jilly when she married, at the wish of her husband.

Jill first attended a local Dame school but then, at 11, went away to Wantage whilst her siblings were educated at a variety of schools elsewhere. They all got together again in the holidays and enjoyed long camping trips each summer in Saundersfoot, where their father had a boat. They would catch shrimps and prawns which mother would then cook over a primus stove. She recalls that, in Hay, her family had a great interest in the elderly residents of the Workhouse; the entire family would go there after the 11am service on Christmas Day and would wait on the residents for lunch.

When she was 13, her parents relocated to Blandford St Mary in Dorset and then, when she left school, her sister arranged for her to become an apprentice at the prestigious ‘Bradleys’ store in London. This she found very exciting and it suited her down to the ground as she had always had an interest in fashion. There were 80 apprentices and they embarked upon a 3 year training learning how to sell hats to the gentry (Duchesses, Ladies and the like). The hats were made in workrooms at the store and Jill recounted how Miss Collet, who was in charge, would spit into each hat once it was finished, for good luck! Jill was taught that she should always give a hat a slight shake when removing it from a customer’s head, just in case the lady was wearing a ‘transformation’ which otherwise might be removed with the hat.

Free time would be spent socialising in London with friends including the Rev Wilfred Jennings who had first seen Jill when she was still a school girl in Wantage and he was the curate in the town. When war broke out, Jill’s father declared that she must leave London and she returned to Blandford and, with one of her sisters, ran a canteen for the troops who were billeted locally. She became a WAF and was stationed in Ringwood, in the equipment department.

Wilfred and Jill married in 1942 against the advice of her father initially, who felt that she would not make a suitable vicar’s wife! Wilfred had a parish in Taunton and was so popular, the church was full each week. Jill remained in the WAF until 1944 when David, their son, was born. Now finally living at home, she had to admit to Wilfred that she could not actually cook though she could make a cake. They relied on parishioners to help out with meals!

Next they moved to Bath, to St Mary’s Bathwick, where the house had a total of 65 stairs top to bottom. David went off to school in Oxford and Jill meanwhile learned to drive, being taught (and eventually tested) by the local driving test examiner Mr Brunt.

Their final parish was St Stephen’s Gloucester Road, London, a high Anglo-Catholic church with wonderful music. A married priest came as a bit of a shock to some parishioners who were more used to a single man leading their worship; T S Elliot was churchwarden there. David meanwhile went on to study at Kings College, London (and lived at home for the first time in years), then trained for the ministry in Liverpool, eventually being consecrated Bishop of Warrington.

Wilfred’s health was not good and the couple planned to retire, finding a house in Minchinhampton (where they knew the church would be to their liking). Sadly, Wilfred died before they actually moved, so Jill came here alone, knowing only the Rector and his wife, John and Benita Cornwall, who lived next door. The cottage had been bought from an elderly deaconess who was so thrilled to be selling it to a priest, she insisted on knocking the price down by about 10%! Jill had always been a talented artist so she pursued this further in retirement, as well as joining in with many local groups and activities. She regrets not having travelled widely, but feels that the holidays taken in the UK were still marvellous particularly those in Scotland. As for turning 100 in April, she said, “100 isn’t much these days.” She is a little apprehensive of what the day will bring but, whilst not wanting a big party, still feels she will want to thank her many friends.

Angie Ayling