Tributes to perennial campaigner

A tireless veteran Horsham campaigner, whose victories kept country paths open, helped preserve a canal, and saved a woodland church, has died aged 94.

Sunday, 18th May 2014, 6:00 am
Peggy Gledhill obit SUS-140513-114721001

Peggy Gledhill, who was awarded the MBE in 2009 for services to Horsham, was still crusading for the good of the town almost until her death.

Her most recent mission was an unsuccessful legal bid to have Denne Hill designated a town green. Another - the upkeep of a footpath in St Leonard’s Forest - triumphed in 2004 after 30 years, and the resurrected right of way was named Peggy’s Path in her honour.

She was vice president of preservation group the Horsham Society, a Red Cross and Ramblers Association stalwart, and part of the Wey and Arun Canal Trust which reinstated a five-mile stretch of waterway at Loxwood.

Former trust treasurer Jim Phillips said: “She was a great supporter, came to all our meetings beautifully dressed with her hair styled, and kept us chivvied in her typical Peggy way, demanding to know why things weren’t being done - and faster.

“If something was important she’d pursue it doggedly.”

Born in Godalming in 1919, Peggy started work aged 16 in the mapping department of the Land Registry in London. During WWII the bombed office was moved to Bournemouth, and by 1944 her train commutes were beneath the terrifying hail of doodlebugs.

In 1947 she married colleague Walter Gledhill, who had fought as a Royal Marine before being taken PoW. They moved to Horsham, where Peggy had enjoyed childhood holidays with her aunt and uncle, picking wildflowers and taking country walks.

The house they bought in 1948 - a tiny beamed cottage with inglenook fireplace in an acre plot on Highlands Road - was to be Peggy’s home for 65 years.

The couple, who named their idyll Thimbleshaw in tribute to Walter’s childhood in Shaw, Lancashire, created a breathtaking garden with vegetable beds, fruit cages, greenhouses and a well, growing everything from roses and runner beans to redcurrants. They sold plants for good causes, and threw open their gates for fundraising summer garden parties.

Peggy baked lemon drizzle cakes and orange iced buns, made fresh mint sauce and horseradish from her herb garden, and cooked jam with berries picked from the hedgerows. All her meals were from scratch, even in her 90s. Breakfast was full English with lashings of loose leaf tea; lunch was salad from the garden; dinner was fish and homegrown veg followed by stewed homegrown fruit and cream.

Qualified in nursing and first aiding, she was Red Cross Horsham branch Commandant until she was 70. As an offshoot she formed the New Runners Club for the disabled and, 40 years later, at 92, was still organising trips, talks, even sailing in the Solent for 30 members many in wheelchairs.

Five years ago, aged 89, Peggy was made an MBE - but said the award was not just for her but ‘all the wonderful people who have worked with me’.

Fellow Horsham Society vice president John Steele said she ‘always looked to the future’. “Yes she had fond memories of old Horsham, but she was most concerned with the next generation having access to green spaces and the unspoilt historic parts,” he said.

At home, her dining table - when not in use for Scrabble with sherry - was heaped high with handwritten correspondence to councillors and MPs.

“She would fill up my answerphone with what needed doing,” said John. “She will be greatly missed, not only for what she achieved in the town but for her character and persistence.”

Peggy was a committed churchgoer, for years at St Mark’s in North Street, then after its demolition at the ‘Church in the Forest’ - St John’s in Coolhurst - where she played organ. In the 1980s the tiny chapel was threatened with closure, and Peggy was among campaigners who kept it open.

Peggy and Walter, who died in 1992, did not have children but took great interest in their nephews, nieces and their children.

In 2013 Peggy suffered a stroke and moved to Heathfield care home, Hurst Road, where she died on May 5.

The funeral is next Thursday, May 22, at 2pm, at St John’s, Coolhurst, followed by burial in the churchyard beneath a copper beech Peggy grew from a sapling.

She is survived by her brother Len, 93, in Gloucestershire.

Donations are welcomed for the Open Spaces Society, or the Campaign to Protect Rural England, c/o Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors, 9 North Parade, Horsham, RH12 7BP.