Pen Portrait of Betty Crawford (1913-2007)

The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Betty is her smile.  She is omnipresent in the life of the village, always ready to help, her bluey-green Mini never far away.

When asked if she would be willing to give us an account of her life in the village she said, characteristically, “Why me? – you must mention my brother, Edward”.  Many will remember him as Parish, District and County Councillor and as an accomplished singer who was a prominent member of Leigh church choir for many years.  Betty has many tales about his life abroad, first in Kenya where he was farming coffee and maize in the early thirties and then during the war years in Burma, India and Ceylon where he met Roy Brooker from the village and where he was seconded to an East African regiment because of his proficiency in Swahili.  Sadly, Edward left us ten years ago but is still remembered by all.  It was on Edward’s return from East Africa in 1933 that the Crawford family – Nana, Edward and Betty – decided to settle in Leigh after Dr Crawford’s death in Switzerland.  They looked at many parts of Kent but fell in love with Leigh.  Betty had just qualified as a young P.E. teacher and her first job was at Fosse Bank School in Tonbridge.  This started a career which went on for thirty-three years, of which twenty-eight were spent at Hilden Oaks, a pre-preparatory school for Tonbridge School.  There, she taught everything under the sun but, notably French which was her mother tongue, her mother being Swiss by birth.  She looked after boys and girls aged five to eleven.  Her gift for communicating with the young was a great asset to the school.  She only left in 1969 to look after her mother who lived until 1974 when she was ninety-one.  From 1935 onwards, Betty taught French to innumerable private pupils who still keep in touch and to this day Betty will occasionally be asked to help out with some coaching in French – she loves it.

Betty has fond memories of pre-war years in Leigh.  “In those days there were hardly any cars in the village – fifteen at the most and, of course, no television.  People provided their own entertainment.”  She recalls that the Conservative Party organized a dance every year in the Large Village Hall (entrance fee 5 shillings), a garden party at Paul’s Hill and a men’s dinner served by the ladies on the Committee.  The British Legion, too, used to hold a dance every year in the Village Hall.  Betty has been selling poppies for them for over fifty years.  Leigh had its own choral society which took part every year in the West Kent and East Sussex Festival at the Pump Room in Tunbridge Wells.  Betty and Edward were enthusiastic members and took part in many concerts, some under the baton of Sir Adrian Bout and Sir Malcolm Sargent.

The war years strengthened the community spirit of the village and Betty and her mother joined the Women’s Voluntary Service, helping children from a catholic school in London; finding accommodation for them and preparing their meals in the community kitchen.  She was also involved with the Red Cross and still collects for them.  She learnt to drive an ambulance at Edenbridge and also drove a lorry with a team of four, recovering salvage for recycling – she once brought back part of a Spitfire.  Betty vividly remembers a 500lb bomb falling within yards of her front garden and making a crater 6ft deep, fortunately with little damage to the house.  Next day, people queued to see it, some almost falling into the hole.

During these hard war years, in 1941, Betty and her moth joined the Leigh church choir; a memorable occasion for both of them because they were the first ladies to do so.  Extraordinarily, Betty is still an enthusiastic member after fifty years and celebrates her half century of membership this December [1991].  In 1941, the organist was Geoff Hitchcock’s father.  (Geoff has since been a churchwarden).  Betty has known five vicars of Leigh.

The first, Rev. Leofric Sealey, used to organize tennis parties on Saturdays at the Old vicarage.  The rev. John Eyre-Walker, his successor in 1948, started the Church Fete where Betty has had a cake stall ever since.  Carol singing was very popular, with the choir singing round the village – the tradition of singing at Lord and Lady Kindersley’s home, Ramhurst Manor, started then and continues today.  The Rev. John Bounds was vicar from 1957 to 1980 and, during that time Betty served on the Parish Council for four years.  More recently, Rev. Christopher Miles organized picnics which she never missed, and now Rev. Tom Overton has arrived.

After the war, village life picked up again and Betty was always involved.  She had fond memories of entertaining the Gold Years and, in particular, one year when Edward, Ken Brooker and Dick Wood paraded as mannequins, clothed with dyed sacks expertly executed by Betty to illustrate Yves St Laurent’s new creation, the Sack Line.  Many celebrations were held on the Green, notably in 1951 when, during the festival of Britain, Betty dressed as Pharaoh’s daughter with a baby in a basket for a sketch entitled “Moses in the Bulrushes”.  The then Lord Hollenden came up to her and whispered in her ear: “I hear Moses was a girl!”  Betty replied.  “That was all I could find at the time!”

Betty is still as active today as she was fifty years ago.   She collects for lifeboats and for cancer research, belongs to the W.R.V.S., helping in the canteen at Pembury hospital, and has only just resigned from the team of Meals on Wheels after many years of service:  she is the sort of person who can always be relied upon to help.  Long live Betty!

Her comments on Leigh today are very favourable:  “I find the village very friendly, perhaps even more so than when we first came.  People are very kind.  One sad note though is that not many people want to get involved in organizations, and it is difficult nowadays to find people to sit on committees – there are so many distractions.”  Perhaps we can take heed of such comments to preserve our village.

By Christiane Fisher: Parish Magazine October 1991


For more memories from Betty Crawford, see “We Had Everything …” by Chris Rowley, p. 271.

Betty Crawford was born Marguerite Elizabeth C Crawford on 28 April 1913 in Keighley, Yorkshire, her father was John Crickton Crawford born Ayrshire and her mother was Marguerite Lydia (née Chavannes), from Lausannes, Switzerland.  Her brother Edward was born on 5 May 1911.  She was buried at Leigh on 15 August 2007, aged 94.