A Tribute to Local Preacher, Frances Roberts

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Francis Roberts

A Tribute to Local Preacher, Frances Roberts, who passed away on 14th March 2021, aged 92 years.

Frances was born in 1929 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. She was 6 weeks old when she and her brother Norman, 2 years older, were adopted by Fred and Annie Wilcockson and they went to live in Shaw Mills, nr Harrogate. They instantly gained a brother Harold. Life there very much revolved around the village Methodist Church, where Frances first learned to play the organ and sang in the Choir.

Over the course of WW2 having seen one brother off to the Navy and another brother to the Army, Frances's parents housed more than 12 evacuee children mainly from the South of England to whom living in the countryside was a whole new experience. There were always stories about walking to school over fields or having to wash in a tin bath in front of the fire as the cottage had no bathroom.

Frances's first job was with a well-to-do Yorkshire family working as a nanny before moving on to start nursing training at the local hospital. She had to give this up due to a back injury and became a telephonist at the Pilkington Glass Co.

In 1947 she met a Probationary Methodist Minister working in the Glasshouses Circuit in rural Yorkshire. They became engaged, which led to her move to London where she lived at The Garth, a Methodist Hostel for Ladies. She worked for many years at The Epworth Press
in Holborn. She attended both Wesley's Chapel and Westminster Central Hall where she became a member of the Choir under the Directorship of Dr William Lloyd Webber.

Frances and Eric married in 1952 at Wesley's Chapel, London. Their Circuit Ministry took them to three countries in the UK including the East London Mission in Stepney; Watford, where their daughter Lesley was born; the Hackney Mission and Finsbury Park North London; Treherbert South Wales; the Glasgow Mission; Liverpool; Southall and the Isle of Man. The work of a Minister's wife enabled Frances to overcome her extreme shyness. She was able, during her time in Liverpool, to work part-time for Methodist International House, which involved visiting many students and other people who had come to the UK from across the world, helping them settle into life in the UK. This work was repeated, although unpaid, in Southall where she visited many homes of people just arriving here from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Frances studied to become a Local Preacher, which she found nerve-wracking but something she so enjoyed.

Frances and Eric also spent time in the USA on two ministerial exchanges, to New Jersey and Texas. Eric passed away in 1980 in Hucknall, Nottingham

In 1980 Frances began an almost 15-year career at Highcliffe, Methodist Guild Holidays in Swanage, eventually becoming the Manager, a job she loved. She remained in touch with guests and staff who had become friends.

On retirement Frances moved to Cranleigh where she lived in the flat above Rev Dr Kenneth Crosby, very much enjoying the fellowship of Cranleigh Methodist Church. She began another career working part-time in Debenhams, in soft furnishing and then as the Janome Sewing Machine Rep which meant she could spend her working day doing what she loved, sewing.

In 1998 the house was sold and she moved to Stoughton and joined Stoughton Methodist Church, where she became a steward and latterly Frances also enjoyed fellowship and activities at St Mary's, Guildford. It was at this time Frances had to give up her beloved car and became a regular and well-known passenger on the bus route into town.

For several years Frances was a helper at Northmead Junior School, reading with children in class and helping at times with sewing lessons, school performances, etc.

She had many hobbies including sewing, card making, gardening, listening to & playing music and cooking, being particularly famous for her Christmas puddings and lasagne.

In 2006 Frances received Maundy Money presented by the Queen at a service in Guildford Cathedral. Always a Royalist this was a huge honour for her.

Frances had a great love of travel and had no fear of taking herself off alone to wherever she fancied. It was once a 4 day stopover in Bangkok en route back from Australia. She joined tours to China, India, with a visit to the Taj Mahal, several times to The Gambia and then Kenya. She also visited the Holy Land on two occasions. Frances joined a Mission in Sydney, Australia led by Rev Rob Frost and for many years kept in touch with people she had met there, most lastingly a young woman from Japan. Her favourite trip was a week spent in Tonga on her way back from Australia. She was able to meet people from, and attended the local Methodist Church and was invited to meet the Queen of Tonga at an Island event , which she was very proud of.

Often these trips were on an Airline Staff, parent ticket, so no confirmed booking or seat. She travelled on a flight if there was a seat available, if not, she got the next one! New Zealand was high amongst her favourite trips, where she went twice, getting on and off trains and buses to get around and staying in youth hostels for her accommodation. She used to say that the youngsters on their world travels treated her like their grandma, as they were away from their own.

Frances loved Australia, having visited on several occasions in the early 2000s, with the family and on her own. From then this became her favourite trip, to see family who had moved to Australia. Her last big trip there, although this time not alone, was to celebrate her 90th birthday in 2019.

She was hugely proud of all her family: Her daughter, Lesley and son-in-law, Richard. Gareth, her grandson, who lives in Melbourne with his family and granddaughter, Rebecca and family, who live in Perth.

At home, Bryony her granddaughter, at whose wedding to Alex she will be very much missed, not just as the first on the dance floor!

Frances will also be missed by her nephews, great-nephews and their families.

Lesley concludes her reflections on her mum's life with these words: At first small changes began to appear, she increasingly became forgetful and sometimes more cautious of new things and new routines than was usual. In July 2019 she became very unwell and it became all too clear that she would not be able to stay living alone and Frances went to live at Surrey Heights Care Home in Wormley, where she stayed lovingly cared for until her peaceful passing.

Written by her daughter, Lesley Holloway.

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