3b. The Friths

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Barbara Mary Frith 1923-2011

The Cottage was converted into a small dwelling out of  the stables that were situated in the walled garden of no 15 Westgate. Barbara was the youngest and unmarried child of Canon Frith who lived in the big house and she lived on and off in the Cottage from 1950 to her death on 15 Aug 2011 (b. 1923).

Barbara was well-known in Chichester. Here she is in the middle of the crowd at the 2011 Westgate Street Party,the last she was to attend:

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Famous on the street first of all for her welcoming spirit, taking flowers round to any new neighbour and with food always on the go for anyone who might drop in, and drop in they did. She was also famous for the fearless way she rode her bicycle from home into Chichester, to be followed by the sight of her in later life on an electric buggy.

At the Cathedral we owe it to Barbara that there is no entry charge. When this was mooted, she counter-proposed that she should open a cathedral café, the profits of which should go to paying off any costs incurred by keeping the Cathedral open to visitors. The café has gone from strength to strength from those small beginnings and entry to the Cathedral is still free.

Barbara was also known as the person who took the prayers left by the pilgrims to the shrine of St Richard and actually said them at the shrine each week for them. After her death Barbara’s ashes were scattered in the cloister precinct in recognition of her lifelong contribution to the life of the Cathedral. A funeral oration was given in her honour and six bishops were in attendance who, like many priests in the congregation, were all ‘her boys’ from Cuddesdon days. She was like everyone would like their favourite maiden aunt to be.

The Cathedral peroration read as follows:

Barbara Frith taught domestic science in Oxford and Eastbourne for many years and then, around 1970, when Leslie Houlden had become Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, he persuaded Barbara to take over the domestic running of it. She left Sussex to become Domestic Bursar of Cuddesdon Theological College until her return to Chichester after the death of her mother some 5 years later.

On 15th August 2011, Dean Richard Eyre told the story of her life – 60 years of it, on and off, spent in 15 or 15a Westgate. He spoke of the clerical household in which she grew up, the distinction in their different fields of her sister Elizabeth and her brother John: indeed, Richard spoke sensitively of Barbara’s high intelligence but feeling of academic inferiority in comparison with her brother and sister.

Barbara decided to pursue a career in Domestic Science, at which she excelled, as all her boys can testify. For my part, I cannot peel a potato without a feeling of guilt, hearing Barbara in that reedy voice, explaining that all the goodness is in the skin; and my freezer is cluttered with bags of frozen cabbage water and bones and other unlikely ingredients of potentially nutritious stews. Barbara was devoted to her father, and greatly influenced by her mother who had a very strong personality. Barbara spent a short period teaching in Kenya and I remember her saying that this was important for her personal independence and confidence, as were trips away as a demonstrator for the magazine ‘Good Housekeeping’. Then she became Vice Principal of Eastbourne College of Domestic Science, known as ‘Rannies’, from where she went to Cuddesdon, near Oxford.

After her Cuddesdon time came a return to Chichester. Her mother had died in 1974 (b. 1894) and the cottage had been left to Barbara. From now until her death that small but comfortable dwelling was her home. Her taking up residence in it marked the long and vital last phase of her life. First there was a final major piece of active work to be accomplished. Here in the cathedral the Bell Rooms were opened, offering refreshments and meals, a much needed development in facilities for visitors and others. Barbara was invited to become the first manageress, a post for which she was clearly well qualified. Under her initial guidance the Bell Rooms got off to a good start and have never looked back.

For years she had battled with depression and a poor sense of her own value. She was a professed tertiary of the Franciscans for the past forty-five years, and the gatherings of tertiaries and her work for them meant much to her. She gained nourishment from elsewhere as well, not least the Roman Catholic Bible School at Nutbourne. And of course this cathedral church was her place of worship and very dear to her. Week by week she would gather up the paper slips left by visitors with their requests for prayer and pray them through, a significant and authentic and hidden ministry.

Barbara enormously valued her extended family. She was particularly close to John her brother, who corresponded with her weekly, until he became too ill, continuing a tradition begun by her mother. She was, I am told, a wonderful Aunt to her 7 nephews and one niece and unnumbered Godchildren were always remembered. Barbara was a wonderful hostess: a welcomer, a networker, and much given to hospitality. She gave herself to her guests with care, affection and abiding interest, and took mischievous delight in funny stories about people and situations which she had known. These were subject to endless repetition and lost nothing in the telling. She was a much-noticed Chichester character, graduating from car to bicycle to buggy.

One of the sadnesses in Barbara’s life was expressed to a close friend when she said, ‘The trouble is, I’m not special to anyone – not really special.’ It is easy to see what she meant: she led a solitary life, but it was peopled with so many possibilities, so many friendships, that I wish we could have conveyed to her just how special she was to so many of us, often at key moments in our lives.

Her siblings

Then there were her siblings, Elizabeth and John, each of them in due course blessed with distinguished brains, Elizabeth very academic and John to become a skilled accountant and the finance director for Clark’s Shoes in Somerset.

Elizabeth Mary Frith 1920-

Her sister Elizabeth Mary Tuckett née Frith became a pioneer female polymer researcher. She was born 25 September 1920 in  Streatham and educated at Brighton and Hove High School and Benenden. She was student at Girton Cambridge in 1938. She married polymer scientist Ronald Francis Tuckett and had one son.

She co-authored a book in 1951. The following page is taken from Chemistry Was Their Life: Pioneering British Women Chemists, 1880-1949 by Geoffrey Rayner-Canham:

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John Frith d. 2008

John Frith’s daughter in law, Suzy Frith, wrote in the Guardian of 25 Feb 2008:

My father-in-law, John Frith, who has died aged 82, typified the best of the generation that looked to establish a new equality of opportunity after the second world war. A charming man with an easy manner, he had a long career in business, local government, health, education, charity and ecclesiastical administration.

A vicar’s son from Brighton, John became an accountant after a compressed degree at Cambridge and wartime naval service in the war, dancing with Jane Russell during a postwar goodwill trip to Hollywood. In 1956, he moved to Somerset with his wife Jill and young children to join C&J Clark, the shoe manufacturer, quickly became financial director and was encouraged by the Clark family’s Quaker enthusiasm for public service to enter it himself.

In the 1960s he was a Labour member of Somerset county council and Glastonbury town council. Although not a socialist, he believed in opportunity for all; anything less offended his sense of justice. He chaired Somerset area health authority in the early 1980s and was a founder member of St Margaret’s hospice in Taunton. He was also chair of governors at Malvern Girls’ college for many years, bringing it financial stability.

After moving to Wells in 1977, John became immersed in cathedral affairs, chairing the West Front appeal and enjoying many of the same controversies that his favourite author, Anthony Trollope, had described in his Barchester novels. But he still found time to oversee the expansion of C&J Clark and chair a number of other companies, including the upmarket shoemaker Edward Green, Dartington Merchant Bank, and the Wells Cathedral Stonemasons Company. He also set up separate, successful businesses with his daughter and his daughter-in-law. Unselfconsciously, he gave all of these different enterprises the same dedicated attention.

John was the least sanctimonious of men and quick to laugh at the absurdity of life. He loved his wife, three children and their families, who survive him, as well as long walks, red wine, dogs and cats. His optimism helped him cope with severe disability and virtual loss of speech after a stroke in 2003.

Barbara’s parents

Her father was Canon Herbert Charles Frith (Bromley Kent 1871 – Chichester 1953) and he mother, Norah Mary Gabain (Marlow or Wycombe 1894 – Chichester 1974)

It was not long after the end of the Second World War that Herbert and Norah Frith moved into 15 Westgate, the imposing house known to generations of Theological College students simply as The Frithery (listed Grade II on 5 July 1950, English Heritage no 300228) . More than a few of them found lodging in its top floor. Herbert and Norah had married in 1918, when he was aged forty-seven and vicar of St. Alban’s, Holborn, and she exactly half his age. Incumbencies at St. Peter’s, Streatham (1919-1927), and St. Michael’s, Brighton, and finally Rogate followed.

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