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Our journey to Castle Henry

Updated: Oct 8, 2022

Our journey to retirement in Castle Hedingham. Was it luck, being in the right place at the right time or was it where we were meant to be?

Let’s go back to the beginning, my grandparents lived on opposite sides of the same street in Glasgow (in fact you could see into one living room from the other) but due to my dad being in the Merchant Navy and my mum working in town they never met until a street party to celebrate VE day brought them together.

Married with two sons and a daughter on the way they moved to East Kilbride (New Town). We then moved to Harlow New Town when my dad changed jobs to work for Johnson Matthey in the early 1960’s.

Sandy was born in Epping to parents who met after the war. She went to a comprehensive school in Harlow which is where we met when she was in the upper sixth and I was in the lower sixth. After her fiancé broke of their engagement we dated for about 2 weeks. Sandy however went back with her fiancé and married a year later. She went on to have 2 children (Jamie and Kris) with her husband and lived in Harlow occasionally bumping into my parents, brother and sister.

On leaving school I managed to secure a job as a Lab Assistant at Smith and Nephew Research for several years gaining an ONC/HNC in Medical Laboratory Sciences in haematology. I co-authored several scientific papers which were published in scientific journals. The company policy changed on scientific articles and I could not progress any further career wise.

I moved to Kent to work for the Alfred Chester Beatty Body Dynamics laboratory, a private research facility. However sadly a year later Chester Beatty passed away and his widow was not prepared to fund our work and I was made redundant. During this time I lived in a converted chicken shed called Pullet’s End in the middle of an orchard. This is where my bar tending started. Around the corner was a pub called the Lord Raglan. Having only just moved to Kent and knowing nobody I asked the landlord for a job. Initially I was employed as a barman but progressed to looking after the pub whilst the landlord was away on business and holidays. It also enabled me to get to know local farmers and I asked if there were any properties for rent and was offered three cottages one of which was Lilliput Cottage (a Grade 2 listed cottage on a fruit farm) where I ended up living in for 34 years. I married in the mid 80’s.

I was not able to find another job in the scientific world and therefore joined the Royal Mail as a postman in Maidstone for several years. I was offered a job as a company rep for a MOD approved plastic packaging company who had a factory on the farm where Lilliput Cottage was situated. This did not really work out well and I ended up redundant again along with my marriage breaking down too.

I worked as co-manager of a fairly famous pub in Harrietsham called The Ringlestone Inn. (It was famous due to being run by 2 sisters who if they didn’t like the look of you would not let you in. They were known for discharging a shotgun through the letterbox and some of the internal beams are still peppered with lead shot. It seems it was a badge of honour if you could gain entry, be served and leave the pub successfully) The owner of the pub eventually decided he would manage the pub and once again I was made redundant. This was the real changing point of my life.

I applied for and secured the job of rural postman in Harrietsham and after a year transferred back to the Mail Centre in Maidstone. This started my 28 year career in Royal Mail. I moved from postman to Letter Administrator moving around the mail centre’s various departments. It was during this time that I reconnected with Sandy.

My brother was still living in Harlow and Christmas 1992 he invited me along to a Christmas Eve disco at the local community centre. We decided to go to his local for pre-disco drinks and as I walked in I recognised the person sitting at the bar with long hair. It was Sandy who was meeting a friend for a drink who thankfully was running late or we would not have met again. Surprisingly Sandy was going on to the community centre from the pub to check that her daughter had arrived there safely. Having gone to the disco and Sandy having left to catch up with three other groups of friends she returned to the disco. We had a couple of dances and I was warned by a very young Jamie to ‘leave her mum alone’. A week later Sandy came down with my brother and a mutual friend for New Year’s celebrations at my local pub The Pepperbox Inn. The rest is history.

Sandy moved into Lilliput to live with me, my dog Holly, three cats Becky, Emma and Sam and Phil the sea cucumber. Sandy and I have been inseparable ever since. A couple of months later our landlord visited us to tell us that due to a divorce within his family they needed to sell off some of the farm properties which included Lilliput Cottage. He offered us several options one of which was to buy the cottage. We were now the lucky owners of a dilapidated Victorian cottage. Luckily we managed to renovate the cottage along with the help of some professionals and eventually Lilliput was pulled into the 21st Century with central heating and double glazing.

During the preceding years Sandy had worked as a trainee accountant at RHM, Accounts Clerk at Arlington Motor Company, and as a Poll Tax Recovery Officer with Harlow Council. After moving to Lilliput she started work with NHS logistics in Maidstone until she was made redundant. She then worked for Computer Science Corporation and Johnson Controls Ltd where yes you’ve guessed it she was made redundant yet again. She then secured a job at System C Healthcare as an Accounts Assistant and then an HR Officer. This was amazing as it was located just the other side of the car park for the Mail Centre so we could travel to work together and meet up at lunch time too. After 6 years System C was taken over by an American company and sadly she was made redundant again. Not being beaten she managed to find a job with Mr Clutch in Strood and surprise surprise Maidstone mail centre was moved to a new 78 million pound Mail centre in Strood. She was promoted to Management Accountant just as an opportunity came up for me to take early voluntary redundancy.

Our house was put on the market and we started looking for properties in Essex to be nearer to Sandy’s mum and her children and grandchildren.

We put in offers to buy on several properties in Sible Hedingham, Braintree and Halstead none of which were successful and then we found the property in Castle Hedingham which although slightly out of our search area ticked all the boxes. We found a buyer for Lilliput and everything was moving along until our chain broke down. So Lilliput was back on the market and straight away the first couple that viewed it offered the full asking price. We contacted the estate agent and the owner of the property in Kirby Hall Rd agreed to restart the sale so our time at Castle Henry was set in stone. We thought it was like going back in time as everyone spoke to us whilst we were out walking our dog Benji. It was nothing like our life at Lilliput which was very remote and secluded.

Our world was soon put into turmoil as in 2016 Sandy was diagnosed with a chondrosarcoma of the larynx and subsequently had a hemi laryngectomy which is why she has such a husky voice. Thankfully she is now 6 years clear.

We wanted to integrate into village life and I applied for the Village Maintenance Operator’s job but on failing to secure the position I was appointed the keeper of the public loos and Assistant Village Maintenance Operative. However Adam Redgewell had to give up the maintenance job due to health reasons and so I took over the job from him.

Sandy volunteered in the village shop until Covid but had to give up as being deaf she was unable to lip read. Currently she has a couple of small part time jobs within the village. In 2018 she took over the position of Treasurer of Castle Hedingham Club and I joined the committee as Assistant Chairman in 2021 which keeps us both very busy. We also deliver the parish magazine and once a month get to open and close the church with the largest key you could ever imagine.

Our time in Castle Hedingham has been a challenge but we love our life here at Castle Henry and feel it is the best move we ever made. We have so many new friends and acquaintances and really feel that we are blessed.

Alan Claire Sandy Alan and Sandy

at The FOSN cocktail party in the keep - June 2022

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