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Podcast script - Wednesday, April 22, 2020

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Good Morning Chelveston, Caldecott and Chelston Rise. It’s Thursday 23rd April and St Georges Day. The flag poles of Caldecott will certainly be fluttering today.

Which raises an interesting and long standing question. Should this Village have a Parish flag pole and if so where should it be sited? The Parish Council has always stepped back from the idea of a Parish flagpole as it would be YOUR money being spent on erecting and maintaining it. Surely this isn’t necessary expenditure? At least that was always the argument.

However, with our new found sense of community pride, is now the time for change? Should we have a Village flagpole? If so where should it be sited, the War Memorial, the Village Hall, elsewhere? Let’s hear your views.

Today is so much more than St Georges Day, it is the 149th Anniversary of the birth of Miss Mary Helen Simpson MBE of Chelveston. Miss Simpson (and no one dared used her first name) was not born in the Village, she was born in Tunbridge Wells. She spent her first few years in Irchester and then Higham Ferrers, but eventually they settled in Church House on Caldecott Road, where the Mommersteegs live now.

Her father William Simpson was educated at Uppingham School and St Johns Cambridge. He became the Clerk of Higham Town Council, a Parish Councillor in our Village as well as being a Justice of the Peace. He was later awarded a CBE – Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

However, no-one remembers her father. It was Miss Simpson MBE of Chelveston that was the stand out character of the household. Like many before her and since, she came to the Village a stranger, stayed longer than she intended and then died here, knowing she had found home.

She was fiercely proud of our Village and insisted that her name and Village always went together. She was Miss Simpson of Chelveston MBE. Full stop.

She died in 1947 so I rang Aitch to see if he remembered her. Oh yes he certainly did, she was a formidable woman, she strode around the Village in a trilby hat, a collar and tie and plus fours. She was always smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. No one messed with Miss Simpson, she was a legend. At the time, no one was certain which side she batted for but who cared. She got things done.

She was an accomplished horse woman, learning to ride a horse, not a pony, as a very young girl. She was also an accomplished tennis and hockey player who went on to represent her county. She was captain of the “Invincible ladies” hockey team in Higham Ferrers.

She championed the repairs of St Marys Church in Higham Ferrers and of St Johns in Chelveston. She taught in the Sunday School, sang in the Choir and served on the Parochial Church Council. She was certainly a local celebrity, but the First World War brought her skills into sharp relief. She volunteered for war work and was assigned to the Land Army. She was a regional organiser was part of the foundation of the Womens Institutes in 1915.

She was awarded an MBE for her war work in 1919 but didn’t rest on her laurels. She pushed hard to ensure that the Womens Institutes became embedded as a democratic force for women and for self sufficiency in our countryside and she devoted her life to the movement at a local and national level.

She was the founding president of our own Chelveston-cum-Caldecott WI. They met in her barn at Church house for many years until she died. After her death, numbers dwindled. At one point the national movement wondered whether our branch should be closed. There was a national outcry. “You cannot close Miss Simpson’s branch” An appeal to the National President, Lady Denman resulted in a clear verdict. “Miss Simpson's W.I. should never be dissolved"

Our WI survives to this day, now meeting in the Village Hall. They are there at every civic function and annual parish meeting. They have a permanent position on the board of Trustees of the Foulger Trust because Christine Foulger was one of the longest serving presidents.

I bet that most of you will not have heard of Mary Helen Simpson MBE before today, but I hope that you will now see that she was one of the founders of this Village’s tradition of public service. She was ahead of her time, a one woman storm, and all in this sleepy Parish called Chelson-cum-Cawcud.

When you next go into the Churchyard, her grave is the prominent Celtic Cross on the left as you enter. Please give a moment’s thought to the service she gave us.

Thank you