|Title||Margaret Doreen Haigh (Peggy)|
|Date||1920 – 2013|
|Written By||Ken Yeadon|
|Comment||I received an email from Stuart Andrew yesterday (25th March 2014) and wanted to share it with you.|
I want to share with you the life story of Peggy Haigh our much loved local character who recently passed away as I am sure you all know.
This story has been put together by Ken Yeadon who after many, many attempts… finally persuaded Peggy to sit down on several occasions and tell him her life story.
Here is the first instalment written by Ken Yeadon from the spoken words of Peggy.
The Life Story of Peggy.
Not many people can claim that they travelled half way around the world when only a few months old.
But Peggy Haigh, one of Rawdon’s best known and well-loved characters can.
That week’s long voyage by sea with her parents that took in Australia, South Africa and America, was effectively the start of a roller coaster of a life that brought her a mixture of laughter, tears, tragedy and bitterness.
Today as she nears her 90th birthday, Peggy can look back on a life lived to the full.
There’s a story to tell in every decade of her life – from being bullied at school, seeing death at first hand in the Land Army days, the suicide of her mother, to fighting malicious rumours that her maiden aunt who brought her up was her mother. On a happier note there are the days she has spent walking and bird watching in the Yorkshire Dales or on the Essex beaches with her long time dear friend Rene Walters or her laugh a minute experiences as a bus conductress.
There’s also the re-union with her half-sister who for many years she never knew she had and her lifelong passion for horses, dogs, art, music, archaeology and her talent for writing poetry.
Margaret Doreen Haigh, known affectionately to everybody as Peggy, was perhaps destined to be different. For one thing, like the Queen, she has two ‘birthdays’.
Her baby book shows the she was born at the maternity hospital in Singapore on January 5th 1920, her parents being Fred Dunwell Haigh, librarian for many years at the Singapore Free Press and Straits Times and her mother Carman Marie Page, of American and Irish ancestry and the daughter of a sea captain.
They married at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore followed by a reception at Raffles Hotel. But her official birth certificate Somerset House, gives her birth date as January 8th 1920. That’s the date she now regards as her birthday.
After her unusual start in life sailing the high seas, Peggy was brought to Rawdon where she was cared for and brought up as a baby, toddler, school girl and teenager by her aunt Maggie – her father’s unmarried sister.
She didn’t know of course that her parents’ brief marriage was going through turbulent times and that they would soon separate and lead independent lives.
Home for Peggy, Aunt Maggie and her grandmother was “Kurnool” a large stone built house on the main Leeds-Ilkley road overlooking the Aire Valley.
Recalls Peggy “I understand that my father made some financial arrangements with Aunt Maggie over my up bringing.
“Aunt Maggie was wonderful to me. She gave me love and a home. I later learned that she would have liked to train as a nurse but had to give up that ambition because she had to care for me.
Aunt Maggie’s income was derived from letting out rooms at “Kurnool” to business people and commercial travelers . But when the recession hit and people started losing their jobs, Maggie had to sell the house – for £400 – to buy a smaller stone built house – number 33 a few yards away. Peggy has lived there all her life. Because she lived in a large house and was always well dressed – thanks to Aunt Maggie’s skill as a dress maker – she was frequently bullied at school. But she soon learned to stand up for herself.
Basically, however, she loved school – particularly English (including Shakespeare), history and spelling – but not arithmetic.
Possibly the biggest influence on her schooldays at Rawdon Littlemoor was Miss Bauer, a teacher who Peggy and others who went to Littlemoor at the time like Nancy Blezard of Rawdon and Francis Oates, of Guiseley, believed to be of German stock.
Says Peggy: “Miss Bauer was a wonderful teacher and spent a lot of time both in and after school with me. I always wanted to know things and Miss Bauer was always willing to help especially if it was connected with the arts. “I remember her telling me ‘when you write poetry, it must have a rhythm. It doesn’t have to rhyme’”.
Many years later when Peggy gave her first public talk, Miss Bauer was in the audience. “It was wonderful to see her there. She gave me confidence”. For many years, Peggy was in popular demand as a speaker on the Art and Architecture of Florence and Egypt and St. Francis of Assisi and illustrated her talks with slides. She spoke mainly to members of the Women’s Institute and church groups.
When war broke out Peggy was determined to serve her country in some capacity. Initially she applied to join the Wrens with two friends – Eileen Stalworthy and Marjorie Smith. They were accepted but Peggy heard nothing. Tragically both were killed in a raid on Portsmouth.
“That could have been me,” reflects Peggy. Later, she received a letter saying that there was a job available at Avro aircraft factory at Yeadon.
Recalls Peggy, “I was there about two weeks but I never actually worked. I hated it. I spent most of my time playing patience. The boss said that I could pretend to work. But I wouldn’t do that. I just wanted to get out. After two weeks they gave up on me and asked me to sign a formal piece of paper. I didn’t but I took the money.”
Eventually she joined the Land Army and was posted to a 3,000 acre farm at Barming near Maidstone in Kent that had heavy horses. She was in her element. The next few years were a cocktail of heart ache and tears but a lot of laughs. There she ploughed, drove horse drawn fruit and vegetables carts – and narrowly escaped being killed on more than one occasion. Once, both men and horses died when a ‘doodlebug’ (Ed: German V1 Rocket) exploded only a few yards from her.
Another time when she was breaking in a chestnut pony it started sweating and then bolted. “I only just managed to cling on,” recalls Peggy. “Seconds later a bomb landed near where we had been. I hadn’t heard but the pony had. He saved my life. After that I called him Destiny and wrote a poem about him.”
“Then again as I was cycling down a country lane, a German fighter plane flew over and bullets started hitting the spokes of my wheel. Those pilots thought nothing of strafing strawberry pickers. I fell off but I survived again”.
During the war, women were drafted in from London to help with the fruit picking and told not to bring their children into the fruit fields. But many did. Once there were tragic consequences when a horse drawn cart ran over a child that had been left sleeping in a basket. Its feet were severed and it died”, says Peggy. But life down on the farm did have its lighter moments like resisting the advances of Canadian servicemen billeted nearby who used to “get a bit fruity” after sampling the local cider, competing and winning at local point to point meetings, helping out a steeple chasing racing stable and riding a Grand National runner Davy Jones.
There was also the occasion when after being duped into buying a broken winded nag she managed to sell it on to the brother-in-law of the person she had bought it from in the first place!
Not surprisingly in war time Britain, events could get out of hand. On one occasion Peggy remembers a woman of “questionable morals” being lured into the woods, stripped and then tarred and feathered. But instead of tar, the farm workers used creosote. “She stunk to high heaven”, laughs Peggy, “but we never saw her again”. It was while she was still in the Land Army and on leave that Peggy met her mother in London’s Hyde Park. It was a highly emotional and bitter meeting.
Peggy was convinced – and still is –that her mother had ruined not only her life, but also that of her father’s and Aunt Maggie’s.
There is also one other family member who has been directly affected by her parents’ marriage break up – her half-sister. Like Peggy, Jacqueline Powell-Davis was brought up by an aunt – in Dorset and Devon. She is married to a clergyman and they live in Tasmania. The sisters met for the first and only time in Rawdon many years ago. “Apart from the blood link, we didn’t have a lot in common,” recalls Peggy, because we had led entirely different lives.
But I welcomed her to my home.
While the war years were a mixture of laughter, excitement and life threatening experiences, the 1960’s brought her contentment and fulfilment. In one year alone – 1964 Peggy walked the Way of the Cross in the Holy Land, stayed in Egypt to study Egyptology (visiting Cairo, Luxor and Abu Simbel) and then went on to Florence and Rome. “I ended up with no money but such wonderful memories,” she says. Florence has extra special significance. It was here where she worked voluntarily to repair master pieces in art galleries damaged by severe flooding and where in 1965 she first met her longtime friend Rene Walters.
“I’ll be honest. At first I did not particularly like her. I thought that she was a typical stuck up Southerner. But eventually I realised that she was basically a kind, quiet and shy person”.
Over the years, the friendship blossomed and together they spent many hours walking, bird watching, listening to music and visiting art galleries. Rene’s relatives acknowledge that it was through Peggy that Rene broadened her love of art and archaeology.
Says Peggy: “We had an understanding between us. We could sit for hours bird watching together without saying a word.”
Peggy readily admits that Rene was a calming influence on her. “If I lost my temper over something and swore she would just look at me and quietly say ‘Peggy’.
(Aunt Maggie too didn’t always approve of her choice of words and frequently reminded her to “keep that kind of language to the stable”)
The friendship between Peggy and Rene endured right up until this year when Rene, who retired in 1983 after many years with the British Council, died of cancer. “I still miss her a lot,” says Peggy.
Peggy did not go to the funeral. A few years ago because of their ages and the 400 mile trip that would be involved they mutually decided that whoever survived would not be obliged to attend the funeral of the other. So Peggy didn’t make that long journey to Essex. Instead on the day of the funeral she said a prayer for her in Ripon cathedral.
Last year Peggy had bowel cancer surgery and has made a good recovery. Currently she is attending St. James’s Hospital in Leeds for treatment for a worrying eye condition.
She has many memories of their time together. Once for example they were bird watching in Essex when they accidentally encountered a naked man on a naturist beach. On another occasion it was Peggy who was caught unawares.
She explained “I was having a bath at home when I suddenly remembered that I had left some trousers outside in the garden with quite a lot of money in a
wallet. Without thinking I dashed straight outside completely forgetting that I didn’t have a stitch of clothing on”.
Neighbours still talk about it.
Although a country woman, Peggy has lived all her life by the side of a busy main road.
She loves the freedom of the countryside. She has always been a keen competitor and won prizes at local shows not just for jumping but also for knitting.
Now her forays into the countryside – usually by bus but occasionally by car if a friend takes her – are as a spectator. For years she was a regular at the Appleby Horse Fair and the Branham Park Cross Country championships.
She hasn’t been there recently however, because with advancing years she finds she is not able to walk the course. She says simply: “If I can’t see what the riders have to tackle then in my opinion there isn’t much point in going.” But she still enjoys the Great Yorkshire Show at Harrogate and makes sure she has a grandstand seat for all three days.
“Wherever Peggy goes,” says one of her former walking companions, (Noreen Myers, of Rawdon), “she seems to know somebody. It’s probably because she is such a strong outgoing character and can talk knowledgeably on a variety of topics.”
One particular Dales Walk, however, ended painfully for Peggy. Noreen recalls: “We had done about 13 miles when Peggy tripped and fell very heavily cracking a few ribs and dislocating her shoulder. Fortunately a kind gentleman took us to Leeds General Infirmary in his car.” There nurses tried unsuccessfully to put the shoulder back in place. In the end a man had to use brute force to put it back.” Six months’ physio followed.
In those days, Peggy dressed comfortably rather than fashionably invariably in scout type shorts. Now she favours trousers and perhaps one of her own designed and knitted sweaters.
But what has not changed are her fresh faced complexion and twinkling blue eyes now topped by short cropped snow white hair.
In the friendly atmosphere of a pub like the Emmott Arms, a short walk away from her home, Peggy can soon bring the house down with tales of her life – especially if she has a pint of bitter in her hand.
She doesn’t drink as much now, but the tales she tells are as good as ever. Like Peggy they get better with the advancing years. Travel with her on a coach trip, say to a walled garden and it will invariably be Peggy who leads the singing on the way home. Songs from the war years and just after come thick and fast but so too do her favourite hymns.
ON THE BUSES
In the days when all buses had conductors, Peggy soon earned a reputation for not standing for any nonsense from her passengers.
If you travelled on Peggy’s bus – she was usually on the Sammy Ledgard’s Horsforth, Rawdon, Yeadon, Guiseley and Otley route – you invariably had a laugh – as long as you behaved yourself.
If you had upset her in the past she simply wouldn’t let you on her bus – as one particular would-be passenger found out to his cost.
For example there was one chap who had given Peggy some grief in the past. Recalls Peggy: “As he started to get on I said ‘Get off’. He backed away as I went towards him not realising that there was a low wall behind him. He went straight over the other side without me touching him. Mind you, I did have my wooden ticket rack in my hand at the time!”
Then there was the time when Frank “Ginger” Slater had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting a sheep. All standing passengers shot forward and a scout master finished with his shorts round his ankles when one of the scouts grabbed him by the waist to stop him falling.
It wasn’t unknown for passengers to do their courting on the buses – not necessarily with their husbands or wives. Once a chap got on with a woman who wasn’t his wife. “He said to me “Here’s five bob you haven’t seen me”.
The bribe backfired though because a few stops further on his wife got on with her boyfriend!
In those days Peggy didn’t drink much. She remembers that one year just before Christmas a lady who was slightly lame and was a regular traveller on her bus with her dog gave her a bottle of Tia Maria as a thank you for helping her. Recalls Peggy: “It was the last bus of the day and by the time we got to Horsforth I was well away. It was only a small bottle but I had drunk the lot”.
Possibly the most bizarre incident occurred when a mouse was spotted running round after Peggy had dumped a bundle of hay on the bus platform to drop off for Carousel. “There was uproar,” laughs Peggy, and one particular woman started screaming her head off only to be told by a fellow passenger and local character Wingy Watson (he only had one arm) to shut up, lift up her skirt and the mouse would disappear.
It would be in the 1970’s when Martin Binks, then head of music at the former Aireborough Grammar School heard her whistling an aria from an opera while punching tickets.
“He asked me if I liked opera. When I said ‘yes’ he regularly sent me tickets for musical performances and always for the best seats.”
It’s a friendship that has endured to this day. Martin is conductor of the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and West Riding Opera.
She has friends from all walks of life, one of her closest being Thelma King of Yeadon, who rings up or calls in on a regular basis.
To have had a better education and to have ridden in the Grand National and tackled those magnificent fences and water hazards.
When I first saw Carousel – her favourite bay – she was in such poor condition that lice could have played leapfrog on her back…
I have been concussed but have never fainted. I’m afraid of missing something…
If I lose anything. I always pray to St. Anthony, the finder of lost things. It usually works…
You don’t ride horses without getting hurt sometime. I have had toes fractured by being trodden on. The hospital saw to my toes and also removed my bunions as well …
They don’t come much bigger than this – while holding a couple of prize winning cauliflowers in front of her amble bosom …
Although I’ll help a rider by correcting an obvious fault, I have never actually instructed even though I have qualifications. I haven’t got the right temperament …
Nothing can beat the thrill of riding across country in full cry after a fox.
Peggy’s poems, mostly written as a teenager and young woman, reflect her many interests. Horses, the countryside and the wonders of nature feature prominently. But so too does death, the futility of wars, her deep Christian faith, the afterlife and God’s part in it.
Perhaps her most moving poem is the 44 verse poem entitled “The Dying Soldier’s Prayer.
So slowly sank the setting sun
Upon the battlefield
It’s beauty lighting up the earth
Which once God’s fruit did yield
But now the rays fell on a lad
A youth who lay so still
Amidst the wreckage of the guns
Upon a lonely hill
And now across the dreary wastes
And bloodstained snowy sod
The soldier saw stretched out before
The long lost path to GOD
Now once again Peace reigned alone
The moon shed down her light
Then spread o’er all the battlefield
The silence of the night
When the war in Europe ended, Peggy was in London. While all around her were celebrating the end of hostilities, Peggy found a quiet spot on the step of St. Paul’s Cathedral and put her thoughts down in verse.
Although Peggy admits that she finds it difficult relating to children, she writes movingly over six verses of a child’s simple faith in Jesus. Entitled “A Child’s Prayer.
Jesus keep me through this night
Till again shall come the light
May thine angels speak to me
In my dreams at my decree
Lord I ask thee me to bless
Let me share thy happiness
Let me tread where saints have trod
In the path that leads to GOD
The life story of ‘Peggy’ Haigh as told to Ken Yeadon by Peggy and shared with us by Ken Yeadon.
This is the concluding part and I thank Ken and Anne Yeadon for offering to share this with us, more so because neither Ken nor Anne have internet access and are therefore not able to enjoy seeing the story published.
Peggy’s home – over four levels – is much the same as it was when she first lived in it as a baby.
At the top is a store room which is reached via a spiral staircase.
Peggy only goes up there now when there is someone else in the house as it’s somewhat precarious to climb.
The bottom level is the cellar where Peggy used to brew her various types of beer including lager, dark ale, light ale and stout. She had one batch tested. It showed a reading of 13 per cent proof “probably because I always used plenty of sugar,” says Peggy.
On the ground level, the kitchen and living room are somewhat cluttered to say the least – in direct contrast to the stables for her horses. There, Peggy always made sure that every blanket was folded, every strap in its place and the brass work highly polished.
Her home was left to her by her Aunt Maggie – on the proviso that she would never sell it. “I never will of course, says Peggy “because it has so many memories for me”.
Towards the end of her life, Aunt Maggie started to go blind. When Peggy dies, the money from the proceeds of the house will go to her aunt’s favourite charity – Guide Dogs for the Blind.
What little money Peggy leaves will go to the World Horse Welfare charity – formerly known as the International League for the Protection of Horses.
Her Work CV
Peggy could – and did – turn her hand to virtually everything. Her work portfolio includes:
Two weeks at the Avro Aircraft factory in Yeadon.
Office work at Yeadon (she walked out after half an hour)
Burling and mending at Yeadon and Guiseley Woollen Mills
Upholstering at the famous Silver Cross Pram Works at White Cross, Guiseley
A spell at W.B. Cartwright a pharmaceuticals at Rawdon (she lost that one for throwing pills at Pauline Eastwood)
When her land army stint ended in Kent, Peggy nearly became a business woman in partnership with a friend who ran a fish and chip shop but it was not to be. There was a disagreement and it ended with her would be partner crashing through a plate glass window after the disagreement.
She also toyed with the idea of becoming an art gallery guide but gave up that when she overheard a woman comment to her friend: “There’s nowt much in here is there?” Says Peggy: “I could have wept. There I was in a room surrounded by some of the world’s greatest masterpieces worth millions of pounds and this woman had the cheek to say there was nothing worth looking at”. I ask you.
ON THE ALLOTMENT
Until a few years ago, Peggy was an enthusiastic gardener on the Crowtrees site near her home.
She had always grown a few vegetables and flowers in her little back garden, but when Donald Grimshaw, now of Ilkley, and secretary at the time offered her about 50 square yards of his plot rent free, she jumped at the chance. She was so successful that she won a prize.
“I loved it up there” she says. I usually took my whippet, Queen, with me. After an hour’s work I used to relax on a folding camp bed while Queen snoozed beside me in an onion patch. If the weather was hot and sunny, Peggy would whip her top off and sun bathe.
One year was particularly good for cauliflowers, so it was decided to give a few away to old people who lived nearby. “If there was no answer to our knock on the door we would move on and not leave one because we did not want to alert any would be burglar that there was no one at home”.
She recalls: “After we had given them all away, one woman came up to me and said somewhat sharply ‘Where’s mine then’?
We did not give her one because of her cheek. After that we stopped giving them away. She had spoiled it for everyone.”
There’s always a little bit of pilfering on allotments. Peggy likes to tell the story of the time when Arnold Wood and Jack Exley came across one elderly gentleman wandering around the allotment site obviously looking for something to nick. When they challenged him with a cheery “Good morning” the startled gentleman tried to make a hasty get away. But he couldn’t. He was using a ‘zimmer’ frame!
When Peggy was growing up, horses played a more important part in everyday life as they do today. Then they hauled coal and vegetables and pulled milk floats. Peggy says that her aunt told her that every time she heard a horse clip clopping past our house, she would rush to the window.
She was only seven when a local farmer allowed her to drive a horse drawn hay rake. In the 1920’s and 30’s gypsies along with their horses and ponies were more in evidence than they are today. Peggy used to spend hours talking to them and learning of their ways and traditions. It was on Yeadon Moor for example that Peggy learned to ride bare back without a bridle.
Of all the horses she has owned, ridden, cared for and admired, Carousel, a 15 hand high bay, is the mount that has had a special place in her affections.
When Peggy first saw her she was called Julie and was in a terrible condition. She recalls: “She could hardly stand up and you could see the outlines of nearly every bone in her body.
“She had been badly mistreated by a man and consequently was savage with men. But she was a different animal with a woman .
“When I first saw her I knew that I just had to buy her. For one thing she had a thumb sized mark on her shoulder which by tradition is a sign that the horse is special”.
When Peggy was haggling over the price – she eventually paid £36 – the theme tune from the musical Carousel was playing on a car radio. That’s the name I gave her. Gradually Peggy managed to restore Carousel to full health, so much so that a dealer wanted to buy her for £300. “There was no way I was going to sell her. She was a lovely animal. You didn’t actually have to call her. She just came to you as soon as she saw you. In the 20 years I had her she never refused a fence.
There was another four legged mount which Peggy remembers well – for a different reason. It was a donkey with a mind of its own.
Peggy had volunteered to lead it from Rawdon Cricket Club about 300 yards to the Parish Church as part of the Palm Sunday processional service with the choir following behind. But it was a little bit temperamental. When the organ started playing and the choir started singing, its ears shot up and it shot out of the church with Peggy in pursuit.
“By the time I had caught and controlled it, the service was nearly over”, says Peggy.
It’s nearly 40 years since Peggy had a horse of her own although she did ride about four years ago. “It was a very quiet gelding with a long stride and was wonderful to control and ride. But I realised that I did not have the same confidence or control that I had when I was younger. If the horse had been startled by something I wouldn’t have been 100 per cent sure that I would have been able to control it.
Written By Ken Yeadon
James Powell-Davies Thanks Carlo for sharing, what a wonderful FB page, and AHS website too. I am especially grateful to Ken Yeadon for his tremendous work in interviewing and editing, I am in awe of Peggy Haigh’s standing in the community. Much to my Aunt Peggy’s initial surprise, once we learned of each other’s existence and met for the first time in the 1980s, we got on quite well. She once complimented me (I think!) by saying that I have the common touch, I replied that it was due to being brought up in Australia. Peggy’s assertion that she and my late mother had different fathers may or may not be true, but despite different upbringings I noticed striking similarities. Both were intelligent, strong minded and outspoken. They both loved animals including horses, both followed Francis of Assisi. Both had a passion for poetry and prose, including Shakespeare, although Peggy’s spelling was apparently better than my mother’s. On a darker note, there were parallels in their medical histories. I was very fond of Peggy and shall always regret not being able to spend more time with her, my infrequent visits being all too brief, but I am richer for having known her.
Consolidated by Jack Brayshaw. 03 August 2022.
Last updated: 25 September 2022 – Image & text.