GREAT FOOTSTEPS AND FOOTPRINTS
“We all do think of doing something in life; be it significant or not, do something positive. If you pursue great footsteps, you leave great footprints”. This is a quote taken from the book ‘Distinctive Footprints of Life: Where are You Headed To?’ by the author and philosopher Ernest Yeboah.
Well, Liz Hall is someone who epitomises the phrase “A Truly Remarkable Woman” and she has lived in our community for nearly 50 years. Liz has certainly left a great footprint in many ways through her life and we will explore for the next 2 issues of the Parish Oak her contributions in the development of the charity Mencap and the work of Mencap with learning disabilities here in Andover: the changes she has helped to bring across the UK in the way that we care for those with mental health difficulties. Finally we will describe her love for cricket and her care for the local community here in Smannell and Enham.
Liz Hall was born in Hove in Sussex on March 13th in 1926. Still at a young age Liz moved with her family to live in Ascot in Berkshire.
Her father, Adrian Fossbroke-Hobbs, was a soldier in the first World War and won the Military Cross when he was only 17 or 18. He was promoted to the level of Major in the Royal Horse Artillery, but before the end of the War he was wounded and left his military career with a permanent injury. He went on to work for the government in London and was given the task of forming the Racehorse Betting Control Board which was created in 1928 and later became known as the Tote. This was the first legalised form of gambling at horse races.
Major Fossbroke-Hobbs died a hero in 1935, when he shepherded passengers from a crashed aeroplane to safety. He had just returned to the plane to check that everyone was out when the plane burst aflame with a mighty explosion, killing instantly both him and a colleague.
The aircraft was taking a group of wealthy businessmen to view the King’s inspection of the Fleet at Portsmouth. The tragedy was later proved to be caused by the actions of an intoxicated pilot.
Although there was initially generous support from several of the wealthy survivors of the plane crash, Liz’s mother was left to raise the 3 daughters with very little long-term income.
The family were staunch worshippers with the Church of England, but Mrs Fossbroke-Hobbs managed to get Liz a place at the Catholic School, St Mary’s, in Ascot. Liz was the only non-Catholic pupil at the school, but she thrived at her first school experience!
It had always been her father’s wish to see the girls educated at the Royal School in Bath. This was a military girls’ school and each year 5 places were awarded to girls whose military fathers had been killed and could get sponsorship from charitable sources.
Liz’s mother wrote numerous letters to the Ladies of England and Liz was eventually invited to be interviewed by a panel of the society high and mighty in London. As Liz recalls “I and my sister were paid for by the Ladies of England. We had to walk into an enormous room in the middle of London with a row of ladies all sitting with their backs to the windows, so we couldn’t see their faces properly. We had to walk in with my mother and face their questions. All three of us were sponsored to go to Bath. My mother had no money at all.”
When World War ll began, the pupils of the Royal School were evacuated to Lord Bath’s magnificent home at Longleat, as the school in Bath was taken over by the government, and the Admiralty's Hydrographic Department was installed at the Lansdown premises.
Liz remained at the school, in its new setting of Longleat, until the summer of 1944 when she was accepted to study for a degree in Social Work at the Liverpool University. It wasn’t until 1946 when Liz finally went to Liverpool however, as first she worked in Ascot and then in London to earn money to fund her university course and her stay in digs at Liverpool.
Liverpool had been ravaged by the bombing of the war and the streets and people were in desperate straits during her stay in the city. Liz still has vivid memories of the houses she visited during the practical part of her Social Work course; memories of the children dressed in rags, starving for lack of food and covered in fleas.
Train trips back to Ascot were in carriages full of soldiers moving out to the war front in France as the war came to an end, but still the trains ground to a halt as there were bombing attacks overhead and the trains were hopelessly late in reaching their destination.
Liz had left home to go to Bath as a young child – now she was returning to Ascot as an adult, but it was to a different world devastated by war and to a community still bereft of men ... men who would never return from the fields of Europe.
This is the second instalment on the life and times of Liz Hall – a truly remarkable lady who has lived amongst us here in Upper Enham for many years and has recently celebrated her 90th birthday.
In the last issue of the Parish Oak we covered her early life up to the completion of her university studies at Liverpool University.
Through Liz’s childhood, she had developed a great talent at striking a cricket ball across the outfields and on to the boundary! Of course, in those days women’s cricket was quite a rarity, but it was a sport that Liz excelled at, first at the playing fields of the Royal School at Bath and then at Longleat she had to be content with playing against the men from the Longleat Estate and village, but of course there would only be one winning team (that for which Liz played) through most of those occasions. At Liverpool University Liz continued her prowess in front of the cricket stumps and inevitably her success with the bat led to her selection to play for England in the third test series between England and Australia in 1949.
Unfortunately this time England were planning to travel to Australia for a 3 month tour and the sheer cost was beyond the meagre funds that Liz was able to contribute, and so she had to forgo this great opportunity.
In later life, Liz qualified as a cricket umpire and travelled across Hampshire to umpire numerous matches. But still cricket was considered to be a sport that women should not be encouraged to partake in and Liz has had to fight against great prejudice to enjoy her sport over the year. Of course all the facilities for umpires across the country were found to be built for male umpires, but little daunted Liz in continuing to enjoy her cricket. She still visits Lords and the other great cricketing institutions for Test matches, even until quite recently.
Liz married Philip Hall in the June of 1955 in Ascot, when she was 29. Philip’s family had recently returned to live in Ascot having been living in Sri Lanka where they were tea planters. Philip in fact had been schooled in South Africa, where he had been living with an aunt. By the time of the wedding, Philip’s family had bought a farm near to Oxford, and so it was as a farmer’s wife that Liz commenced her married life.
Philip and Liz had their first child, Jonathan, born at the farm near Oxford in 1956. Once a month, Liz would walk a good couple of miles to the nearest village, with Jonny in his pram, to attend the local baby clinic. It was becoming more and more apparent that Jonny’s rate of development was far behind that of other babies born at a similar time. Neither nurses nor doctors would tell Liz what was wrong with Jonny, but Liz became increasingly concerned that his poor rate of development was signifying a serious underlying condition.
Liz confronted her GP and eventually a consultation was arranged with a paediatrician in Oxford. In fact, again no real explanation was given to the anxious mother. But then when Liz came for the second time (on a very warm day) to the Oxford hospital clinic, Jonny and Mum were taken into a room where there were a stream of doctors (Liz remembers as many as 16 doctors were present) to examine the baby. None of the doctors spoke to the worried mother, they seemed to be intent on examining Jonny’s hands..particularly the lines in his hands.
Liz asked them "What are you doing, what are you looking for.." they said "We can't say..".
Jonnie had been waiting for a long day and it was very warm..he began crying and was very depressed by it all. Liz picked him up and said "I've travelled a long way and Jonnie has been waiting for ages to be seen, please tell me what is the matter with my son?" The consultant said "Don't worry dear, we have a lovely place..we can pop him in tomorrow..in fact he could go in today if you like.
"But what is the matter with him? I don't want to pop him in anywhere!". So he said "Well he has..he's a Mongol..we have lots of them here at this place..but we have staff to look after them..you go away and have another baby.." Liz said "I'm sorry, but I don't do things like that". She picked him up and took him back home. He was only 5 and no way was he going to be taken from this redoubtable mother!
And so Liz resolved to raise Jonny herself. She was to face great pressure, both from her own wider family and from the medical profession who all felt that Liz should conform to the usual practice of that day and age where a Down’s Syndrome child would be immediately left in a sub-normality hospital where they would be incarcerated for the rest of their lives.
Liz was anxious to find any literature that would describe the condition and to meet others who might be similarly defying the authorities and keeping their children at home.
In 1946, Judy Fryd, a mother of a child with a learning disability formed “The National Association of Parents of Backward Children”. She later wrote to “Nursery World” inviting other parents to contact her. Many, including Liz, wrote back to Judy as she wrote numerous articles in magazines through the 1950s, expressing their anger at the lack of services for their children.
As such, there was a great outcry about the hospitalisation of these children and ”The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children” formed in 1955.
Liz was instrumental in setting up the Oxford Mencap group and then later the Andover branch of Mencap. She is the only remaining life member of Royal Mencap, and we will focus in on the work she commenced and the great contribution that Liz has made for children suffering from mental disabilities in the Andover area in the next issue of the Parish Oak.
This is the third and final article chronicling her achievements and in this issue we will recall her contribution to help mental disabilities and in particular her work with the Andover and District Mencap (ADM) charity.
ADM had its origins in 1962, when a group of local ladies began to meet at the original ‘Copper Kettle’ in the High Street in Andover. Their objective was to raise funds, provide help and give small cash grants to local people in need. The ladies included Shari Whatley (the wife of the then Town Clerk, John Whatley), together with Mrs Griffin (head of the WRVS), and the Countess of Brecknock. The group called themselves ‘The Anton Companions’.
During this year Liz Hall, who had recently moved to the area together with her husband Phil and their children, including her son Jonathan who had Down’s Syndrome, joined the group and suggested looking at the needs of the ‘mentally handicapped’ in the town.
The ladies agreed with Liz’s proposition and started to fundraise towards this cause. They set up a base called the Gateway Club in the building attached to Old Carruthers Market off Bridge Street (on part of the current site of the Borden Gate car park).
The Gateway Club began meeting here and was the first service provided in Andover for people with a learning disability.
Liz Hall had set up a Society for Mentally Handicapped Children (which were
forerunners to Mencap Societies) in Buckingham where the family was living when Jonathan was a baby. With her encouragement, the Anton Companions became the nucleus of the ‘Andover Society for Mentally Handicapped Children’, with Liz appointed as the Chairman. The charity was formally created at a public meeting held in St. Anne’s Hall, Suffolk Road, in 1964.
The Society began fundraising with the aim of providing a permanent base for the society’s growing activities and one of the major events which took place in 1967 was a sponsored walk along the ‘Spratt and Winkle’ railway line which received publicity in one of the national newspapers.
The group approached the Andover Borough Council for a site to build a meeting hall and were offered a plot on South End Road, which was part of the allotments which were about to be redeveloped for housing. When planning permission was applied for, over 80 letters of objection were received from local residents. Liz Hall and Mrs Bradley, another parent of a Down’s Syndrome child, took their children to meet each of the objectors and all bar one withdrew their objections.
Andover Borough Council very kindly supported ADM by renting the ground at a peppercorn rent. The money for the building of the Bonhomie Centre was raised in the main from football pools run by the Bonhomie Charity – hence the name of the building, and was organised by Sid Vincent. However financial help was also forthcoming from The Rotary Club and many other local organisations.
In 1969 ‘The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children’ shortened its name to ‘Mencap’ and shortly after the ‘Andover Society for Mentally Handicapped Children’ became ‘Andover and District Mencap’, and Liz continued to serve as chairman of ADM until 1976.
In February 1967 the Bonhomie Centre was officially opened by Baroness Brooke, the wife of the then Home Secretary, Sir Henry Brooke. The building cost £5,000 to build and a further £5,000 was spent on equipping the centre.
The Crossman Commission presented a national report in 1972 entitled ‘Better Services for the Mentally Handicapped’ which amongst other things recommended the closure of institutions where many children had been wrongly cared for. This report led to ‘Care in the Community’.
Liz Hall had a dual role in this exercise, firstly by presenting evidence to the Crossman Commission and secondly in her role as a Psychiatric Social Worker in helping to close down the local Subnormality Hospitals (Coldeast and Tatchbury Mount Hospitals).
ADM was asked to search for suitable properties in Andover which could be
converted into three ‘locally based hospital units’ and to put forward the names of people from the local area who could be considered for placement in these new facilities.
Liz was instrumental in finding the Homeward Care Home in Enham Lane, Charlton. She recalls the purchase as follows: “I thought this property would be ideal for our purposes, so I zoomed down to the Lloyds bank and asked them how much we had in the account at Mencap. We bought the house for £20,000. It had a war shelter in the garden that the children would play in. We negotiated with the Hampshire County Council to use the property as a home for young people coming out of the hospitals. There were 10 bedrooms and Lady Corven formed a committee to fundraise to set the house up with staff and to renovate the building.”
Liz Hall has continued throughout her life to fight for better services for people with learning disabilities. She has maintained many public roles in this focus, including being a Governor on The Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a Governor for 5 local schools (including the Smannell and Enham Primary (CE) School) with an emphasis on Special Educational Needs, a board member of the local Sure Start program, a Trustee of Hampshire Carers Together and also the Local Implementation Group representative on the Hampshire Partnership Board for Learning Disabilities. In 1997 she was awarded the MBE for her commitment and dedication.
A Truly Remarkable Woman has lived and worked amongst us for nearly 50 years! And the innings is still continuing ...