Memories of Barbara Priestman 

The following is a compilation of memories from Barbara’s family, village neighbours and friends.

Martin and Chris Priestman - Barbara’s brothers

Barbara piggyback

The eldest of four children, Barbara Priestman was born in West Hartlepool in January 1946, and grew up in Birmingham. In 1956 the family – Barbara, her parents Eric and Rosalind, and siblings Martin and Janet - moved to Maidstone, Kent, where Chris was born. After leaving Maidstone Girls’ Grammar School in the mid-1960s, Barbara went back to Birmingham for teacher training at Westhill College, and then taught English at Harborne Hill Secondary School. While there she met and married Roger Bennett, another teacher and a keen rock-climber, with whom she visited many of the rockier parts of Britain and elsewhere. However, the marriage did not last and in the early 1980s she moved to live in a shed (no longer there) in the front yard of Creek Cottage in Walberswick, working as a cleaner and behind the bar at the Bell Inn.

Creek Cottage, just off The Green, had been bought in 1951 by Barbara’s great-aunt Francesca Wilson, chiefly for her five nieces and their children to enjoy on their holidays; later she also bought East Point in the angle between the creek and the river, before transferring it to her sister-in-law Dorothy Wilson, the mother of three of those nieces. Without children herself, Francesca was an ebullient writer and ex-relief worker who was surrounded by a bevy of younger friends and what she called ‘waifs and strays’, many of whom also spent time in Creek Cottage and/or East Point.

Having visited Walberswick every year since she was four, Barbara was always completely in love with it, and often declared a wish to live here permanently, preferably with a dog. After Francesca’s death in 1981 Creek Cottage was taken over by Barbara’s parents, who let Barbara live in part of it. After adding some clerical jobs to her cleaning and bar work, she took a course in Business and Management Studies at Lowestoft College, where she went on to lecture until she retired at the age of sixty. By this point she had moved into the main part of the cottage, with the new annexe (replacing the shed) being used either by visiting family members or paying holiday guests, whose contributions to the Cottage’s upkeep Barbara handled with her usual calm efficiency, making good friends with many of them.

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Barbara’s capacity for warm and enduring friendships is well illustrated by the fact that each of the key stages of her life brought her one of the loyal friends who remained devoted to her well-being right up to the moment of her death: Gill from Westhill college, Jean from her rock-climbing days, Margaret from her first cleaning job in Walberswick, Jennifer from Lowestoft College, and Claire through her dog Raffi in her later years. All contributed hugely to making her last months of life more bearable; but a fuller list of good, enduring Walberswick friendships would take up far too much space here, you know who you are. As the calm, welcoming centre of all our innumerable happy visits here, and as our beloved sister, aunt, or in-law, we in her family will miss her terribly. 

Richard Scott - friend and next-door neighbour 

I first met Barbara (then aged 7) in the summer of 1953, when she was on holiday with her family at Creek Cottage, which belonged to an aunt, Francesca Wilson. For quite large sections of the year Francesca enabled family members and other London-based families, as well as tenants living in her capacious Hampstead house, to enjoy seaside breaks in Walberswick. The tenants from Hampstead seem in my memory to have been almost universally eccentric; I particularly remember an American lady whose vivid blue blouse was home to a pet rat, and Peter Buxton, a ‘dropped out’ architect, often described as ‘an aristocratic tramp’, who was adopted by Francesca when he was living in a packing case on the river bank, near East Point. She found him a temporary home in a gipsy caravan near the edge of the marshes, and before long he was settled in what had been a potting shed at Creek Cottage; this stood roughly where the car port is now. Here, he acted as a caretaker with carte blanche to make structural ‘improvements’ to fenestration etc. – another story!

I hope that the above – or perhaps some of it – conveys an idea of the evolution of Creek Cottage life in the 1950s/60s, which must have fuelled Barbara’s inclination to make her permanent home here.  I was next door rather spasmodically between 1956 and 1965 and memories of Barbara as a neighbour only resumed significantly in the 1980s, by which time Peter Buxton had died and Barbara was living in another shed where Peter’s had been, but slightly larger and a great deal more civilised!  The cottage itself, by now fully ‘de-Buxtonised’, continued to be occupied variously by family and holiday tenants, and I also remember Barbara working for some time behind the bar at the Bell at around this time.

By the end of the 1980s Barbara’s life had settled into the form it would take for the rest of her active life; there was part-time teaching (business studies) at Lowestoft College, and time spent as Clerk to the Parish Council and a later chairing the Walberswick Common Lands Charity.  I served on both these bodies at this time and can vouch for the extremely thorough and efficient way in which she carried out her work, often going a very long way beyond the call of duty.

Barbara on the common

Barbara appeared to thrive on solitude, and seemed to me to be the perfect neighbour; we enjoyed a very good friendship without invasion of privacy (I hope she saw it that way, too; the steady stream of ‘indoor campers’ taking refuge in the Samphire Cottage annexe in the summers of the 1990s and a little beyond must have seemed a bit of an intrusion).

Jennifer Langeskov - friend and colleague: reflections on a friendship

Barbara and I met as newly appointed lecturers at Lowestoft College at the end of 1986.  We found we had much in common and quickly became friends.  We sat side by side in the staff room for most of the twenty years Barbara was at college, invariably lunching together with our friend Judith.

Barbara was the epitome of the professional teacher, not always the case in Further Education where experience and knowledge of the workplace rather than educational achievement were generally the norm.  She quickly realised that her limited business experience would hamper her advancement to the higher level courses she aspired to and, in her own time, studied for the Diploma in Management Studies.  She then went on to be a leading lecturer on management courses and also taught on the Teacher Training programme and mentored her students in the workplace throughout Suffolk.  Barbara was highly respected for her calm, authoritative demeanour and teaching excellence by both staff and students alike. 

Out of college Barbara and I spent a good deal of time together over the years.  Southwold Theatre was an annual must, and we went to every play each year and only once walked out at half time!  In the early days we would enjoy a glass of wine but as time went on this eventually changed to stem ginger ice-cream.  When Barbara no longer felt able to drive she would take the ferry to Southwold where I would meet her and drive her home at the end of the evening.  Sadly we missed the last two seasons due to her failing health.  What else did we share?  Curry nights in Beccles, lunches at the Anchor and Bell, delicious and varied vegetarian meals when she entertained me at Creek cottage, long walks with her beloved dogs and the occasional Christmas lunch with my family in Beccles – and much, much more.  

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The mark of a true friend is to be there for you when the chips are down.  I experienced two deeply traumatic events during the years we knew each other and Barbara was there for me without hesitation.  She left her comfort zone at the end of a day at College to be with me when I was alone and in need of comfort.  Well, when Barbara was at her most vulnerable it was truly remarkable how many people rallied round to help and comfort her and make her life that little bit easier.

Looking back on our friendship I think of the qualities I so admired in Barbara.    Barbara was non-judgemental, non confrontational and a peace maker.  She was very patient with her more volatile friend and I don’t remember ever falling out with her, although we did not always share the same views.  She had that special gift of making and keeping friends throughout her life, which was so clearly demonstrated by the outpouring of love for her during the weeks leading up to her untimely death.  Barbara’s modesty would have prevented her from expecting such a reaction.  But the qualities I most admired and which stood her in such good stead were those of courage and fortitude in the face of adversity, in recent years cancer and Parkinson’s.  She rarely complained and never showed any self-pity.  She was an incredibly brave woman who will leave a gap in the lives of all who loved her. 

It is difficult to envisage life without her.

Barbara and Raffi

Summary from friend and News Editor

Barbara’s contribution to the community was far reaching and she will be remembered by many in the village as a reformer. The common response to hearing of her death from those who had known her well was not just sadness at the way in which her health had deteriorated so rapidly in the last 6 years, but gratitude for her selflessness and hard work on their behalf when she was fit and well. Barbara set a very high standard without enforcing her principles. She always had the answer and knew how to find solutions, but had the rare skill of enabling others to work things out for themselves. She did not look for gratitude but she has it, regardless. Her legacy to the village is immeasurable.

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Further information may be found here about Barbara's memorial service.