Margaret Henderson Beacham  (Peggy Beacham)


Mum is  Margaret Henderson Beacham, but was always known as Peggy Beacham, and she was brought up in Musselburgh, east of Edinburgh, with her older brother Ian and sister Doris and a younger sister, Beryl, who, sadly, died in infancy of the scarlet fever that Mum also contracted.    They were all born in fairly quick succession until, it’s said, it was suggested to Granny that she didn’t have to have a baby every year.   

A photo of Mum aged 3 shows her with what I can only describe as Big Hair, although later school photos show an eager girl with a well controlled fringe.    Whatever the reason for the change in style, I think it was part of Mum’s neat and modest nature that she never again let it grow as wild as it would have liked.  

She let us boys grow ours like that instead.    Later photos of her in London show the same style, the same sleek black fringed bob.    And the same open eager expression.


Her father, James Borland, who was gassed in the first world war, died when she was in her early teens and the family found itself in some financial difficulty.   But her mother, our Granny of course, managed to keep the family going:   Mum finished school and in due course took and passed the Civil Service entrance exams.     Granny was Margaret Emelia Borland, and she eventually moved to London and Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, to be near Mum.    She’s the only person I know who won the Pools – something like £25,000, I believe, in the 1960s.   That helped a lot!


She was posted to London in 1940, during the Blitz.   She came down with a recommendation in her prayer book from her minister in Scotland saying that she was in good standing with her church there.    In coming to London she was following Doris and friends from Musselburgh, so was able to share flats with them in West Cromwell Road and Turnham Green.    She worked as a typist, nominally for the Ministry of Education but seconded to the Ministry of Economic Warfare, then to the Ministry of Production.   


It must have been that last environment that fired Mum with enthusiasm for the bottling and jam making that she and Dad used to undertake each year – 120 lbs of marmalade from raw oranges and sugar each January with a top-up in July – and that was just the beginning of the annual cycle.  It wasn’t until recently that I realised how much this huge energy daunted her friends.



Granny then followed the girls down to the prosperity of London, initially to inspect this George that Doris meant to marry, and at the beginning of 1943 Granny and Mum settled in Macdonald Road, Friern Barnet, in North London, where Mum met her fate.

He (her fate) was a smooth-talking insurance company accountant, who provided outer sternness, inner kindliness, a good line of patter and loving security.    He came back from the war to live with his parents in the house over the road.  


When Ian came back from a long trip in 1948, he found this chap, John Beacham, most interested in Mum, and she very interested in him.    John would open the bay windows of his house and serenade the street, and Mum in particular, on the piano with the Moonlight Sonata and Claire de Lune.   


Ian told Mum, who was obviously feeling a necessity to stay and support Granny, that he would lift any such obligation from her, that she wasn’t to feel the need to say no if she really did want to marry - and Mum and Dad were engaged a week later.



When Mum left the Board of Trade to get married, a hundred people signed a farewell scroll for her.    And a grateful Government gave her a gratuity of the best part of a year’s salary – although they did also suggest she might like to buy Government Bonds with it.



Ian gave Mum away.   If you’ve seen the wedding photos you’ll have noticed the glow of a delighted Mum (and the pride of Dad).   It seems that before the service Mum had been feeling the pressure from a rather put-out Granny and was feeling seriously apprehensive about the whole thing.   The extra glow comes from the stiff gin and tonic that Ian poured into Mum before they left for the church.



I believe Mum and Dad were always very proud of each other.    They moved to Thorpe Bay and settled into the neighbourhood activities.    Mum joined the tennis club, the Mothers Union and the keep fit classes - as a small boy I used to find the Indian clubs rather daunting.     She attended St Augustine’s church and she encouraged us through our confirmations.  



Mum was a devoted wife, an unobtrusively supportive and loving mother, quite willing to overlook the sins of her sons (Nicky never had any), and to tolerate Dad’s regular Saturday and Sunday mornings on the golf course.   Dad would, however, always arrive in time to undertake the man’s task at home, to carve the joint of the large Sunday lunch that appeared like clockwork.      Sunday lunches are like that, aren’t they? – they just appear out of nowhere.


Mum was determined to have a go at everything.    She took up Golf (where she was Ladies secretary for quite a few years) largely, she said, in self defence and to see Dad, but well enough to drive a hole in one in one memorable away tournament.   There was bridge, dinner parties, bridge, and later there was bowls – and bridge.    


Thorpe Bay is compact enough that not having a car wasn’t an insuperable problem, and we children all have some memory of riding pillion behind Mum up to the shops on her bicycle.    Sadly it was the bicycle that did for her shin in an accident later on that gave her much pain.   Eventually a motor appeared and at last Mum could take her test – not that she got much use of the motor as Malcolm and I were always using it.



Mum and Dad had 37 years at number 37, and the only hard word that I ever heard Mum say about anyone was after that, when she would say – Oh John, why did the silly man have to go and die?    



When she had reconciled herself to being alone, she consolidated, coped as usual, and took the bold step of moving house.   But it was only a year or two after the move that she fell and broke her hip, and the shock and slow recovery aggravated her increasing inability to remember things.  


She once tried a mail order solution to improve her memory, but fortunately she soon forgot about it.   She remained shrewder than the impression she gave, though.   I had a note from her in that time about some junk mail from Save and Prosper.   She said she didn’t know what it was about,but wondered who did the saving and who did the prospering.  


Then she stopped understanding what she saw and would scare herself and everyone around her.     We were made to face the facts, and the inevitable conclusion, and Mum moved to Sussex where Malcolm and Lucy could watch over her, and have done so so wonderfully for the decade since, yet we could all reach her.    Her first home turned out to be a fair-weather home, and it wasn’t until Mum came here to St Raphael’s seven years ago that she found truly loving care and support.    



Hers has been a life of service, marred by illness in these last fifteen years which should have been the happy time of looking at what she has accomplished.    Since 1993 her mind has been pretty much absent without leave.    She would occasionally realise this, despair of her memory and be so frustrated by her helplessness.  She once observed “I’m not the girl I used to be”. 



But what has been wonderful to see in Mum during all these years, as everything else disintegrated, is her underlying nature shining through and staying with her:  diffident, but always laughing, everything is something to laugh about.    I hope and believe her grandchildren have picked up that laughing nature.   Even in recent years we’ve still seen the sideways look with the raised eyebrows at some perceived cheekiness (which she loved), the flashes of phrases of gentle chiding we remember from years ago, the delighted laugh at something that feels funny.  



Always self-sacrificing, always decorative, always fun and forgiving, always chatty (even when cheerfully burbling nonsense) and the maker of a mean fresh fruit salad. shortbread which was the talk of Thorpe Bay, and astonishing roast potatoes, Mum has always been such a pleasure to be with.   


Now she has gone to join Dad, and Jessica, her lost granddaughter.    On hearing the news of Mum’s death Russell’s immediate vision was of Mum and Dad standing in front of the piano at number 37, arms linked and, as always, smiling


One feels that she’s rather like the Cheshire Cat – after everything else has faded away, what is left is the smile.    That’s what I want to remember.