Mary Rattee

Grandmother-of-three, Mary Rattee, 82, still knits for pleasure but 40 years ago, she was a key member of the very first Hospice Bazaar group, devoting her time to creating and making everything from toys, teddies and knitwear to jam, marmalade and patchwork quilts in a bid to raise funds to found the Hospice. Here she shares her recollections...

“In 1978, just over 40 years ago, I, with my husband Colin and children Mike and Chrissi, then nine and 14, moved to Berkhamsted after spending time in America with Colin’s work. I knew no one there and I wasn’t working. One day, I saw a shop open in the town – a little charity shop near Tesco’s which was only there a few weeks. I went in and asked about it, and met a lady, Thelma Childs, who I’m still in touch with. I asked if they’d like some knitted goods. ‘Yes please,’ came the reply – I took in two pairs of babies bootees – the very start of it all for me.

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Thelma contacted me and asked if I’d like to join a handicraft group they were trying to form. About 24 ladies met in someone’s front room along the High Street and all decided they could help with raising money for the forthcoming Hospice. This was still very early days, as it was Pam MacPherson and three nuns who had decided they would help to build this Hospice in Berkhamsted.  The NHS was getting very crowded and this was an alternative source of help for people.

The real beginning was a coffee morning – three people met – they then had coffee mornings and invited three folks each – and so it went on. I believe this really did raise quite a lot of money.

Back to our group – we met and decided what we could all do. It turned out there was quite a lot of talent among us! One lady, Zina Downs, had worked in a London college doing fashion and needlework for many years. In her time, she made and helped to make many more beautiful patchwork quilts, some of which were raffled.

Year by year, the group produced enough ‘stuff’ to have a bazaar in the Court House at Christmas. We had several ladies who did very beautiful knitting, which in those days sold very easily. One lady, aged 80, made lovely Aran sweaters.

Thelma and I used to go to Watford and Hitchin market quite often to buy wool. One day we got the train with several bags of wool, which was not appreciated by the commuters!

Pic 3 At Opening of new Hospice 2007 - (l-r)Mary Rattee, xx, Pam MacPherson (centre)

As time went on, we decided to make toys (before all the health and safety rules!). This we bought at a little shop in Apsley – we bought fabric by the yard and eyes, noses etc by the 100s. When we had lots of orders I cleared my dining room and about six of us met and worked all day, two sewing machines going, one stuffing toys and one cutting out. Much work was done in one day – with lots of coffee and chatter – much fun we all had!

The Hospice brought people together. There was a great sense of community and belonging and much friendship among the people helping when we had ‘events’. At weekends our husbands were very good. They all helped out and transported goods for us – they became friends too.

Many things were done to raise money for the new Hospice. One man, a Mr Wilson from one of the churches who collected newspapers, kept the weekend magazines separate and would take out all the ‘money off’ coupons, which he gave to Thelma and me - £2 every few weeks. We used this to buy sugar at Waitrose to make jam and marmalade. We bought Seville oranges in the new year, bundled them up in 3lb bags and kept them in our freezers. Our kids used to say “do we have to have orange flavoured fish fingers?”

As time when along the Hospice was invited to have a stall at the Halton Air Show. One year we took over 100lbs of jam! The next year, people came back for more!

Maybe the greatest asset we had in the early days was Angela Russell-Smith who was great friends with Pam MacPherson. She did so much and inspired the town to get involved. She managed to get estate agents to let us have an empty shop for six weeks (twice), which we used for putting and selling anything anyone could bring in. Thelma and I did this with many willing, devoted helpers. Any goods thought valuable, including some silver I remember Angela buffing up with a lemon, Angela would take along to the auction. It was a case of getting what you could for whatever you could! We always believed she managed to get away with no commission!

Jumble sales were also a great thing. One we had lasted from Thursday afternoon until Saturday afternoon at the Court House – this was tiring!

Then we had ‘collecting boxes’. As many people who could delivered boxes in their road and collected them at the end of the year. One lady weighed her collection and it weighed 100lbs!

So many people were so good. Looking back, it seems to me that people thought about each other a lot more in those days and everyone was so very trusted. Nobody doubted anyone and there was never any suspicion. One time I remember the accountant giving me £150 for stuff we needed to buy just like that but there was just mutual trust and we all worked together so well to get the Hospice going.

By the time the Hospice opened at Shrublands Road we still kept our ‘working group’ up and other groups and villages decided to collect a box of goods and sell them for us. We also had a couple of shelves in the hall of the Hospice and much was sold there - visitors were very good. One day a nurse asked us if she could buy a teddy for one of her patients who said she had never had a teddy all her life.

I believe this is what it is all about – the kindness of so many people. As the saying goes “from small acorns, great Oaks grow”.

From the very simple things that happened 40 years ago, one great Oak grew – The Hospice of St Francis.”


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