The Saviour of Puttenham Church

After sharing memories with two residents of Puttenham, one person stands out as a character and a benefactor to the village. We therefore decided that this person, Joan Newman, who died over twenty years ago, deserves a separate tribute, based on the facts that we have been able to establish.

Joan was born in Gubblecote in 1921, to a family of farmers. Tragedy hit her family during the Second World War when her father William was killed in a motor accident in which two other local farmers also lost their lives. Joan, her mother and two sisters felt unable to continue with the farm and decided to sell up and leave Gubblecote to live in Weston Turville.

Joan’s commitment to Puttenham began when her mother died in 1964 and was buried at Puttenham. Though she fell in love with the village and the church, she was surprised and upset by the appalling conditions that those attending the service had to put up with – stinging nettles at the door, floor rotting away with woodworm – which meant that attendees had to walk over duckboards to get in.

Joan’s sisters were much older than her – differences of ten and fifteen years – and it was the eldest Molly who was the first to take action. Molly was a professional florist and, with help from the Aylesbury Florist Society, she began fund raising activities, including demonstrations and flower shows. Particularly memorable were a floral demonstration ‘Autumn Glory’ held in Long Marston Hall and a Flower Festival in St Mary’s Church with the theme ‘The Farmer’s Year’. These events provided the funds for other activities, including a Christmas Fayre with Bring And Buy Sale, Raffle, and Cake Competition. Joan, who was building a career as an accountant, soon joined in and used her office facilities to help with administration.

Molly helped in even more practical ways. She agreed with the vicar, the Reverend Warwick, that she would clear the right hand side of the churchyard while he concentrated on the left. Joan joined in the clearing work using the family’s own garden tools until the vicar bought a lawn mower – which only he could start – for £10. Further fundraising enabled the purchase of a more powerful mower and this remained in use for many years.

Within a few years funds had been raised to repair and improve the church, as well as rescuing the neglected ‘Parish Room’ which was derelict and had no water, no lights and plentiful rats. It had originally been donated to the village by a Mr Williams of Pendley in 1915 and brought from there by two local farmers using a dung cart. After renovation, the room was used for all the indoor social events until Cecilia Hall was built in 1991.

The sisters’ involvement continued until 1976 when Molly had a stroke and Joan took early retirement so that she could care for her. She took over the leadership and administration of the fundraising activities which diversified into a wide range of events – harvest suppers, craft fairs, horse shows, fetes, concerts and plays. Long term residents remember the ‘lavish food’ which was provided. Joan was also the inspiration behind ‘Friends of Puttenham Church’ and later the Puttenham Trust. She provided funds through the properties she owned and the energy required to raise regular funding through continuation of the many social activities.

Christine Rutter and Joan Newman working together at a Church function
Christine Rutter and Joan Newman working together at a Church function

Joan was supported by many other Puttenham residents, notably Margaret Vincent who came up with many of the new ideas for fundraising. Margaret is also remembered for bequeathing the proceeds of her bungalow in Long Marston to fund the building of Cecilia Hall. After Margaret died in 1987, Christine Rutter became more closely involved and enjoyed a working partnership with Joan. ‘A character and a half’ is her description of this memorable lady. Apparently she always spoke her mind but did not allow any ill feeling afterwards; ‘sharp of tongue but a heart of gold’ was Christine’s fond recollection.

Joan died around the turn of the century and is fondly remembered by those who knew and worked with her. The time and energy she gave to the village is quite remarkable considering the fact that she and her family never lived in Puttenham.

Before she died Joan wrote about some of her experiences and this quote perhaps sums up the reasons why she gave Puttenham so much time and commitment;

That is the over-riding memory of 30 years at St Mary’s …. a continuous period of happy relationships and fun with all those who worked at and visited St Mary’s. The humorous anecdotes and occasions are limitless.

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