Tree planted for community stalwart

December 22 2018
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A TREE has been planted in memory of a Downend woman who fought to save Lincombe Barn from demolition.

Jean Hamner MBE was one of the founding members of Downend Folk House Association which she helped set up in 1970, two years after saving the barn from a road-widening scheme which would have seen it bulldozed.

She became the first female chairman of the former Mangotsfield Urban District Council and was chairman of governors at both Kingsfield School, now King's Oak Academy, and the now defunct Grange School in Warmley.

At the time of her death - on her 100th birthday on March 5, 2018 - Jean was still on the management committee at Lincombe Barn and was a regular face at Staple Hill Methodist Church where she had been attending for 60 years.

Members of her family met at Lincombe Barn, together with present members of the Downend Folk House Association and children from the Barn Play Group, to plant a Japanese Rowan tree in her memory.

Roy Taylor, from Lincombe Barn, said: "Jean, together with another councillor Cliff Werlock, insisted that Downend needed a community centre, secured a lease, and with a small team, they renovated the dilapidated building. 

"The Barn Community Association opened in 1970 with 75 members. With further developments, in which Jean provided an active leadership, it is now a busy meeting place with an extensive programme of social and learning activities for people from Downend and the neighbouring communities."

Jean was brought up in Dulwich, London but instead of joining the family commercial laundry business she went into education, going to Bedford College in the mid-1930s, then Oxford University, something which was then rare for a woman to do.

After Oxford, Jean taught geography in Ludlow during the war, then moved to Derby where she met her husband James. After the war James taught near Doncaster, Yorkshire before the family moved to Grace Road, Downend in 1952 when he got a teaching job at Chipping Sodbury Grammar School.

Jean and James had four children - Owen, a retired paediatrician; Ruth, a retired teacher; Frances; a retired social worker and Patrick, a tropical forester.

Jean, who was a Methodist preacher, gardener and keen traveller, was awarded an MBE for her community work, something which took her by surprise as glory wasn't important to her.

After James died in 2002, Jean continued to travel, visiting places such as Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa. She recovered from bowel cancer and two mini strokes, going on to spend her later years in good heath. 

Son Patrick said: "Jean was a forthright extrovert, with a huge capacity for good. A woman of great principle and spirit, with a deeply held Christian belief. She was a great communicator, even inspiring, taking a personal interest in people and the community. Nowadays she’d be called a great ‘networker’. Her positive, sunny nature was absolutely instinctive; there was nothing false about her.

"She was always determined to ‘do something’. She was a local Methodist preacher for many years, always very liberal and open-minded, mindful that society is always evolving, moving forward.

"At the time of her death she had 11 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, with one more due – so passing on the genes in quite a determined way! She was very proud of them all, taking a keen interest in them individually right to the end of her life."

Her family believe it was her dogged determination to become a centenarian and receive a birthday greeting from the Queen that kept her alive until she succeeded in reaching her milestone.Patrick said: "She was probably hanging on as she was always determined to achieve milestones and make the most of everything."

Jean died at her Downend home of 66 years surrounded by her family.A thanksgiving for her life was held at Staple Hill Methodist Church in April.