Peggy Gye – 1921 – 2010

The article below was written for publication as a supplement to the March 2010 issue of the local area parish news letter.

Peggy Gye – 1921 – 2010

Peggy Gye was genuinely a unique individual. She was not only the only Peggy Gye  listed on Google, but also a source of information to people from around the world. She was a help to many different local organisations and will be remembered for many years.

Marjory Welch, who came to be known as Peggy or Peg, was born on 10th May 1921 at Meadow Cottage, Market Lavington. Her parents were James Welch and his wife, Florence. James was a tax inspector, then assistant bursar at Dauntsey’s School, and also a property owner in the village. The Welch family and the Gye family knew each other well – indeed, Peggy and future husband Tom were very distant cousins.

Peggy Gye (bottom left) and friends

This picture shows Peggy at bottom left with Tom sitting on the photographer’s ‘table’ above her. The other girls are all Tom’s sisters.

Peggy attended a local private school, in West Lavington for her primary education. She moved on to the secondary school in Devizes, leaving after passing her School Certificate.

Peggy always had long hair, often in pigtails. On one occasion her hair caused trouble. The Welch family always had the front pew in church for Sunday services. When Lord Warrington came to Clyffe Hall, Peggy’s father refused to yield front row to him. Peggy’s hair draped over the pew and when Lord Warrington stood he held Peg’s hair down on the back of the pew and Peggy could not stand. Her father, not realising the problem, chastised his daughter, but of course there was nothing she could do.

Peggy as a flower girl - possibly for a carnival

Sadly, Peggy’s mother had died in 1933. Peg was just 12 at the time. As she entered her teens she found herself to be the lady of the house, with a father to look after as well as a younger brother

Her father wanted to move away from the family home (Now Spring Villa), which held so many memories for him.

When Beech House, a Welch owned property, fell vacant, Peggy moved there with her father. This move brought Peggy closer to Tom for they now lived on opposite sides of White Street. Romance blossomed between these two young members of long standing village families.

Marjory E Welch (Peggy) married Thomas E Gye at the end of 1940. Who says teenage marriages don’t work? The couple were able to move into their High Street home soon after.

Peggy became billeting officer for Market Lavington as soon as evacuees arrived in the village. It must have been daunting for Peggy  – still a teenager – to tell older residents they had to accept strangers in their house.

Whilst Tom was away during the second world war, Peggy invited a local Land Girl to share her home. The two of them managed a quarter acre allotment, growing their vegetables. During this time Peggy was given a puppy, which had big ears, so she called it Dumbo. This dog, which grew to be akin to an Old English sheepdog was very jealous of Tom when he returned on leave.

Tom and Peggy also kept a pig. It seems that Peggy did most of the looking after of this animal, which was, of course, destined for the table.

Peggy and Tom’s first child, a daughter, born in 1942, did not survive. Peggy recalled that she got little sympathy from older woman who assured her you were never a proper parent until you had lost one child.

Tim arrived in 1943 and Johnathan followed in 1946. It seems they quickly caught the ‘Lavington is Interesting’ bug and there had to be a family rule that Peggy wouldn’t answer questions before 8 o’clock in the morning.

The family pose for Tim's christening in 1943

In the early 1950s, Peggy was active in the Women’s Institute, which her mother had set up in the village. Peggy was much involved in a local history project. In the museum there are two large typed folders that members of the WI  produced under Peggy’s editorship. She had certainly been involved in an epic project. But it was knickers that really set off Peggy’s collecting bug.

Apparently Peggy was helping at a jumble sale and some Victorian undergarments were left at the end. Peggy thought they were far too good and interesting to go to the rag and bone man and took them home. Her collecting of Lavington relics had begun. Needless to say, we have those knickers in the museum.

Peggy took an active part in many aspects of village life. Apart from the WI, she was involved with youngsters. At one time she was clerk to the governors of the village school. She was also a member of the local Scout group committee. Many women in the village will recall that Peggy helped at the weekly baby clinic, making sure the little ones were weighed accurately.

Peggy was much involved with fundraising activities and will be remembered from the plaque on the wall of the Scout Hall. Amongst the fundraising activities were dances held in a now demolished oast house. One of Peggy’s roles within the scout group, was emptying the buckets that were used instead of toilets.

Peggy’s father was a long-term chairman of the Parish Council and Peggy, too, had joined that body by the end of the 1950s. In 1976 she became the vice chairman and in 1984 she took over the chair. She held this position until 1988.

Peggy and her father considering the future of the Market Place in the late 1950s

After the death of Peggy’s father, Tom and Peggy moved back to Beech House and Peggy was immediately struck by a change in sound since she had lived there in the early thirties. It took her time to realise that, as a girl, she had been used to the clatter of buckets as people came to Broadwell to collect water. Mains water was piped to houses from the mid 30s, but some people continued to collect water from the spring at Broadwell until the 1950s. By the 1960s, when Peggy and Tom moved back, mains water had taken over and the buckets were silent.

Peggy’s collection of Lavington memorabilia grew and, from time to time, she staged big displays in various locations around the village. One such event, in the Old School in 1973 converted that building into a temporary museum.

Peggy with temporary museum in 1973

Setting up these displays was obviously a hard task and Peggy realised that a permanent home was needed for her collection. What was wanted was a Market Lavington Museum.

In 1984, the museum was founded. The trustees had managed to rent the old schoolmaster’s house but this needed much renovation and rebuilding to make it fit for purpose. Nothing daunted Peggy. Funds were raised and the museum opened its doors to the public 25 years ago in 1985.

Peggy was the first curator, but she also found the time to for those other voluntary activities. But increasingly, her love became the museum. Peggy spent many an hour getting displays together and also fund raising. Peggy’s plant sales became almost legendary within the village. She was always working, organising and moving the museum forward.

Peggy in the new museum, soon after it opened in 1985

Under Peggy’s direction, the museum went from strength to strength. Peggy was never content to see a static museum, but always had ideas for new ways to display the collection. She also remained keen on taking the museum to the people. Peg gave talks to all sorts of groups – adults and children – and they all loved listening to her. We are lucky to have a tape recording of one of her presentations in the museum.

In 1990, to celebrate their Golden Wedding, Peggy and Tom had the church clock and weathercock re-gilded.

Real sadness hit the family in 2001 when younger son Johnathan died of cancer. It must have been a cruel blow to the Gyes, but Peggy carried on her voluntary work and, on the surface, seemed undaunted

In 2002 Peggy was voted ‘Museum Volunteer of the Year’, worthy recognition of what was then 18 years dedication to the cause.

Peggy receives the Museum Volunteer of the Year Award in 2002

Peggy was clearly a key figure in the village through the years. In the 1970s, the garden of Peggy and Tom’s home at Beech House made a delightful venue for church fetes. When the Workman’s Hall was refurbished and re-opened, Peggy was the obvious choice to carry out the opening ceremony and she was still the obvious choice to open the Community Hall in 2007.

Peggy often said it was gardening that kept her going and she and Tom maintained a superb garden after they moved to The Loose Box – so good that they were asked to open it to the public.

Failing health and mobility forced Peggy to relinquish the post of curator but she still remained central to the museum as the Honorary President. Peggy continued to provide her wit, wisdom and knowledge to help the museum until illness forced hospitalisation last year.

One of Peggy’s last public outings – opening the Community Hall in October 2007

Peggy will be sorely missed, not only by Tom, Tim and the family, but also by the community of Market Lavington and people with links to our village across the world. One tribute has come from Betty Dunn of the Lavington History Society in New South Wales, Australia.

‘We are so sorry to hear of Peggy’s passing. Though I have never met her, her letters made me feel as though we were old friends. A lovely lady.’

Amongst Peggy’s lasting contributions to the village are two publications. ‘Village under the Plain’ bears the name of the author Brian McGill, but he’d be the first to agree that the ideas and information came largely from Peggy. This book, now in its third reprint continues to spread the story of Market Lavington around the world. More recently Peggy wrote a comprehensive history of St. Mary’s Church. Both books were, of course, written for the love of her village, Market Lavington

A family saying from the Welch family might be used to sum up  Peggy‘s approach to life, ‘She started to sing as she tackled the thing that couldn’t be done and she did it’.

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4 Responses to “Peggy Gye – 1921 – 2010”

  1. Kitsch and quirky tribute Says:

    […] Peggy Gye – 1921 – 2010 « Market Lavington Museum […]

  2. Spring Villa – Then and Now « Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] the two homes shared an owner as well, for both belonged to the Welch family. Our former curator, Peggy Gye (née Welch) was born in Meadow Cottage but moved to Spring Villa as a young […]

  3. The 1937 Coronation Committee « Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] Peggy Welch […]

  4. Remembering Peggy « Market Lavington Museum Says:

    […] we know from her obituary, Peggy did much more for Market Lavington than just found and run an excellent museum. As a […]

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