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 Frances Alice <I>Wood</I> Purnell

Frances Alice Wood Purnell

Bristol, Bristol Unitary Authority, Bristol, England
Death 18 Apr 2012 (aged 97)
Bristol, Bristol Unitary Authority, Bristol, England
Burial Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol Unitary Authority, Bristol, England
Plot 298 T
Memorial ID 88689689 · View Source
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My rare and beloved mother was born at Clifton, Bristol. Her father was the eldest son and senior employee of the locally well-known and prosperous family business of Wood Funeral Directors at 10 Perry Road, St. Augustine, Bristol and her mother was a dressmaker. Although they should have rightly been financially well off her parents were kept short of money because her mean grandfather treated his family as employees and paid low wages to all his staff in order to become even wealthier himself. An act that adversely affected her family and made her normally very peace-loving nature angry all her life.

As a young child she lived at 10 Sandford Road, Hotwells and remembered her mother lifting her up to see a German zeppelin at 2 years of age whilst standing on the Cumberland Basin bridge during the First World War. And while staying on a holiday with her mother and her aunt Marion in a rented cottage at Langford, Somerset when she was 4 years of age she picked some wild poppies from a field feeling she had discovered great treasure and when she got back and gave them to her aunt was amazed to be rebuked for being late.

For her 7th birthday she was asked what she wanted and she said a Bible and her mother wrote a few words in the flyleaf. A little later her mother sent her to have piano lessons but Frances was not too enthusiastic because although she loved music she preferred the violin. Most tragically, when only 9 years of age her mother was killed in a road accident. A kind neighbour, Mrs. Murphy, took pity on her and every day gave her a banana and sometimes suet pudding as she went to school. Always very nervous and shy in character but increased by her over strict father, when this neighbour said she would give her a 6d (about 2 1/2p GBP or 3 cents USD) if she would say her name she never got it!

At 10 years of age she had two friends at school, Edna Sage, the nervous daughter of the local grocer and Catherine Rahtz whose father was a professor at Cotham Grammar School. This latter family went to Switzerland every summer for a holiday and were of easy means. When she was invited to a party at their home she was made to feel extremely embarrassed because her father was in the habit of repairing his children's shoes himself by just adding pieces of leather to the worn parts which often left them with badly uneven leather soles and heels, and on this occasion made her wear his homburg hat with the brim pulled down to save money!

During her childhood she and her sister and brother were never given an egg to eat since they were quite costly and children then were generally regarded as inferior burdens on the family budget but Frances, as the favourite of her father, was often given the top off his boiled egg at breakfast. An act that exasperated her younger brother who was always disiliked by his father. Her mother had often given her tasty fried bread for breakfast cooked in the bacon fat she acquired for free from her kind spinster aunt Kate who ran a grocery shop but later on after her mother's death her stepmother mainly gave her bread and milk which she did not like much and she spent the morning thirsty because she received no drink as her stepmother insisted the milk was enough. Her mother had always given her tea.

She showed outstanding intelligence at Hotwells Primary School and her teacher, Miss Veysey, once told her she was the brightest pupil she had ever taught. At 11 years of age she passed the examination for her secondary education very highly to attend Redland High School for girls but instead was sent to the less academic Kingsdown School because her stepmother had no interest in her education. She was given as a Christmas present by the lodger who would eventually marry her sister a used scooter at 11 years of age and adored this gift scootering around with her younger brother. On one occasion she had an accident and fell on top of him and made him swear he would not say anything at home. All the family were frightened of their tyrannical father and she knew he would take it away from her.

At 14 her parents terminated her education so she could earn a salary. Her first interview for employment in October, 1928 was with a vicar and his family to look after their children which she was not keen about but when she discovered she would only be given meals and not be paid a salary she ran all the way home in amusement because she knew her stepmother would be disgusted and not send her there. Her first job was as a junior helper with a small firm which hand coloured sepia photographs and although she enjoyed the beautiful work of the artists she was very nervous of doing something wrong and spoiling the photographs. But this was only seasonal work and after a few months she had to leave.

Then she got a job at Parker's Bakery in Whiteladies Road, Clifton, which she liked because the manageress, Miss Bendell, was very kind and she got free cakes for tea. She also at her tea time break started to write stories. Growing up in a romantic era she adored the current music and romantic films, especially those with Greta Garbo, and a little later on dancing. On one occasion being completely innocent at 15 she accepted the attention of a sailor on Durdham Down (the large central park in Bristol) thinking it was very romantic but was immediately frightened when he tried to attack her and cunningly relaxed so he would do the same with his grip and ran as fast as she could away.

After about a year at Parker's Bakery her stepmother thought the wages were not sufficient and got her employment as a buffet hand at Carwardine's Tea and Coffee Rooms at Corn Street, Bristol, which served coffee, snacks and ice creams. She hated this job because the manageress, Olive Green, was extremely nasty, the hours were long and some of the customers were immoral. Always a lover of beauty, her only solace was they played romantic music on a gramophone all day for the customers. She also liked cleaning the washroom because she got tips to add to her meagre wage and was mostly on her own. Her older sister realizing the environment was bad for a 15 year old girl and knowing how unhappy she was there and that she was suited to something much better got her employment, due to the fact that she was very quick with figures, as a cashier at The Supply Company, Whiteladies Road -- an elite grocer for wealthy customers -- which she liked very much. The staff were invited to place a bet for the 1933 Derby horse race and she gave 6d (about 2 1/2p GBP or 3 cents USD). Her colleagues were pleased when she won her bet. Her winnings were 10s (50p GBP or 80 cents USD). With this money she bought herself a pair of white correspondence shoes which she was very proud of and went dancing in. She worked there for 5 years until 21.

Frances, at 17, decided to leave home to be away from her father whom she feared and lived with her divorced stepmother, Betty, and her older daughter, Norah, until she married. The three of them moved several times to different flats in Bristol and went on many day excursions and once on a ship to the island of Jersey off the French coast.

When she became 18 she bought on instalments a Raleigh bicycle which she very much admired and appreciated so she could go and come from work more easily and one day in Whiteladies Road her wheel lodged in a tramway track which made her fall off an injure her left eye brow and bruise her eye. A chemist treated her but said a doctor should put a stitch in her eye brow. Her stepmother joked about it because she had landed with her mouth open by a piece of bread. She had a craving for cream at about this time having had a frugal upbringing and bought herself a 1/4 pint. When she consumed the lot it made her feel sick and her craving thereafter ceased.

During this period she had a platonic boyfriend relationship with a relative of her sister's husband called Joe Watts who lived at Whiteleaf, Surrey, near London. Joe lived with his mother and wanted to marry her. She often took the weekend train from Temple Meads Station to stay in a spare room at his home and his mother assumed they would become engaged. On one outing together she saw the Hollywood film star Myrna Loy at Windsor and said to Joe whom she had seen whereupon others heard this and a crowd gathered for autographs.

Frances went to an interview for shorthand typists which were better paid but discovered she would need to pay them to teach her and this was out of the question on her salary. And she also attended another interview at Southmead Hospital with the idea of being a nurse as the prospects were superior to that of a cashier and it was a respected profession. Without a higher salary she could never be independent of her stepmother. After the sister had shown her around a ward and explained the duties that were expected of a junior nurse -- in those days life for a nurse was much harder and more unpleasantly menial -- she decided it was not a profession suited to her.

She left The Supply Company hoping to increase her small wages and for 3 months prior to Christmas 1935 worked at David Greig butchers. But the hours were long and exhausting and the staff too lowly for her so she finally got employment at Eastman butchers shop at Clifton, Bristol where as the cashier she mainly dealt with the upper or middle classes. However, the manager disliked her because she was female and was unpleasant to her until one day she thought it might improve matters if she told him her mother had once been a customer. It worked. He had liked her mother as most people had done and was much better towards her after this. At this job she got paid the most she ever received: £1.10s (£1.50p GBP or $2.41 USD) per week. In those times women were paid half the salary of men for the same work and there was much prejudice towards females in a male dominated world.

By instalments she bought an old German violin from the archade in Bristol (she possessed perfect taste because it was a very fine instrument with a sweet tone similar to a Stradivarius) and took music lessons from a Mrs. Darch who lived in the flat below her sister's. My mother since childhood adored violins and in her lunch breaks rushed home to practise whilst she cooked under the grill her free steak with bubble and squeak and learnt to play well. Along with another pupil called Grace and her tutor they performed on the stage when she was 24 at the Victoria Rooms with my mother playing the guitar in the current fashion of Hawaiian style. Her favourite was gypsy violin music. Whenever she performed she always drank two glasses of Whiteways wine just before going on to the stage to steady her nerves. In an evening gown she looked beautiful. Cocktails were highly fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s and my mother most enjoyed "gin and it" (gin and sweet vermouth) and also Late Night Final.

She had three dreams: learn to play the violin, fly in an aeroplane and visit Spain. During her life she satisfied them all. The 1930s was a wonderfully exciting period for early flying records and Amy Johnson, the famous English aviator, was a heroine of hers. Frances had an affinity with the small wooden biplanes and monoplanes as a means of female accomplishment and daring. In this way she wanted to learn to fly too but the lessons were too expensive at 12/6d (about 62 1/2p GBP or $1 USD) from Whitchurch Airport, Bristol.

In August, 1939, a quiet and respectable young male member of the staff called Gilbert Purnell suffered the deep loss of his much loved mother and after recovering began to take notice of her. She preferred him to Joe because he was much more generous and she had become tired of low paid jobs and wanted to be a housewife so they soon became engaged. After about a year they married on December 14th, 1940 and spent their honeymoon because of the war in a spare room at her sister's home at 16 Charlton Road, Westbury-on-Trym on the other side of the city which then was almost rural. Their first home, a flat in Park Street, Clifton, was bombed before they could move in.

Eventually, they moved from her sister's home to the centre of Bristol in the low class district of St. Werburghs and lived at 221A Mina Road which my mother detested. Her father-in-law had found the house without considering the unsuitable district. They lived there throughout the war and because the air was polluted she developed several illnesses. She spent a week at St. Monica Home Of Rest, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol recovering after a cyst was removed as her health was run-down.

On April 10, 1942 she gave birth to her first child, Graham Clive, at Southmead Hospital and nearly died because the nurse left inside her some of the afterbirth. During the birth she lost several pints of blood which gave her a very acute thirst to drink much water. Afterwards, when she had fully recovered, she would even laboriously walk the more than 4 miles distance pushing a pram to her sister's home.

Her second son, Robin Julian, was born on April 18, 1947. While my mother was ill she placed the child with a relative of her husband who lived closeby and with insufficient care became very cold and this caused him to develop meningitis which affected his brain and made him mentally handicapped. Being extremely upset over his condition she showed remarkable care and determination by exhausting every possibility of trying to help him. She took Robin to the Burden Neurological Hospital at Frenchay, Bristol which was difficult by bus and even a spiritualist healer at Horfield, Bristol. But he was beyond their abilities. This caused her deep depression. Later, after she very nearly suffered a nervous breakdown from constantly having to cope with his precarious behaviour, at the age of 11 he was reluctantly placed in an institution at Hortham Hospital. Her third son, Timothy John, myself, was born in April, 1952.

When the shortage of housing because of the Blitz was being replenished they were able to at last move from St. Werburghs, Bristol, to a newly built house in rural Warmley at 13 Far Handstones just outside the city in 1956 and spent a very pleasant year there. But her husband was too far from his work and they searched for another home. When the house which was attached to her sister's home at 16 Charlton Road, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol became for sale she struggled to buy this on a mortgage and succeeded. They moved into number 14 Charlton Road on January 4th, 1957 and she lived there happily until 1988.

In January, 1959 she was preparing Sunday dinner when she suddenly had great pain in her stomach and collapsed. Her eldest son, Graham, carried her to her bed and a cousin who lived in the next house and possessed a telephone called our doctor. Dr. Margot Dickson (1916 -- 2006), the outstanding family physician, came at once and was puzzled so she sent for her senior partner, Dr. Wethered, and he could find nothing abnormal. In the late afternoon Dr. Dickson again came and was troubled about her condition. Although Frances had some symptoms of appendicitis the area was not consistent. Dr. Dickson's next act saved my mother's life. She had already ignored her senior partner and arranged for an ambulance to rush her into hospital at once. The surgeon later stated he had never seen anything so bad and she was within hours of dying. Her stomach was a mass of stagnant blood clots. During the previous summer she had struck a sharp corner of the kitchen table whilst serving a meal but had forgotten about it afterwards. It had actually perforated her stomach and she had been in this state for months. After an emergency operation and 10 days in the Bristol Royal Infirmary she was discharged. Although only 6 years of age her youngest son, Timothy, stayed home from school and undertook all the basic housework and cooking as she was greatly weakened for a long time.

My mother always subtly wore when she went out a little red lipstick both on her lips and discreetly smeared on her cheeks but rarely wore perfume. Her favourite perfume was Ashes Of Roses that her stepmother, Betty, had used in the 1930s. Since this could not be any longer obtained in later years she liked June scent which was also the fragrance of the rose. When I was 9 years of age I remember buying her this in the school lunch break for her birthday in 1961. The children at school teased me about this and the teacher wondering what the commotion was about asked me to show her. She smiled and said I had good taste and it was her favourite too.

When I attended primary school I nearly always returned home for lunch as school meals were meagre and often not to my taste and the highlight of the day for me was my mother's cottage pie and stews. Though she was only average at cooking and careful about expense I never knew anyone make these dishes and Christmas pudding so very good.

Frances had a deep love of Spain and in the early 1960s learnt Spanish at home and at night school and also a little French and in June, 1963 my parents and I flew to France and explored the OLD and soon vanished France and Spain by car which was our holiday of a lifetime. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously! But then her husband soon afterwards became ill with two heart attacks in August, 1963 and he died in September, 1970. During this time she looked after the large garden and we went on annual holidays all over Britain. In 1969 she suddenly and mysteriously developed a painful slipped disc in her neck. She attended an osteopath at The Bristol Homeopathic by the university and after about 5 weeks it gradually improved. Although she was highly diligent about housework because of mild insomnia it was a family joke how she always loved sleep and made sure of her 40 winks in the afternoon and hated early rising. On her 60th birthday I stayed up all night secretly baking a large decorated 3 tier birthday cake which in the morning gave her a wonderful surprise.

In 1970 and during most of that decade she was a member of the Henbury Townswomen's Guild and accompanied her sister, who became the chairman, and also sometimes a neighbour to their meetings at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month. She went on many highly fascinating trips with this guild and always dressed, in a conservative manner, very smartly. Little summer treats were strawberry milkshakes sometimes with ice cream at a cafe in Westbury, and at home orange squash was her favourite drink.

She and her youngest son, Timothy, (myself) who always lived with her and were very close, decided to move to a croft high above the North Sea near Macduff in Northern Scotland in May, 1988 because all their close relatives and original neighbours had died and the area had become less pleasant. Shortly after arriving she was discovered to be diabetic. After seven mostly happy and tranquil years they moved several times to various homes at Gartly, Aberdeenshire and Forres, Moray. Whilst out walking one afternoon near Gartly the intense noise of a low flying RAF jet fighter damaged her right eardrum and she became somewhat deaf. They then purchased a motorhome travelling all over northeastern and southern Scotland and the Lake District in England. My mother especially enjoyed this period and her favourite places were Cruden Bay or Port Erroll and Lower Largo where Alexander Selkirk (Robinson Crusoe) was born.

At about this time she began to experience increasing difficulty in breathing and her son, Timothy, strongly advised her to cease smoking. She had smoked up to five or six cigarettes a day since 15 years of age. Reluctantly but showing admirable control of her will she never smoked again.

They returned to Bristol on November 17th, 2004 and temporary lived for a short period with her brother until a home was found.

In 2006 she was amazed to be informed by her doctor that clinical tests revealed she had unknowingly suffered two minor heart attacks due to hypertension caused by arteriosclerosis and from then on needed medication and a low salt and low cholesterol diet.

She lived quite happily at Henbury, Bristol, enjoying reading numerous library books -- especially those by Catherine Cookson -- and the charming "People's Friend" magazine and watching several favourite old-fashioned serials on television with her son, Timothy, looking after her until her sudden death from a severe stroke aged 97 years and 7 months. She had been watching television in the evening when she groaned, called for Timothy and went partially unconscious at 8:50 p.m. on Saturday, April 14th, 2012 and was rushed by ambulance to Frenchay Hospital. Without regaining consciousness she died at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18th, 2012. She was buried in the family grave at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 27th, 2012.

Frances most unusually never changed from the romantic and principled age of her youth. At 5 ft 1 3/4 ins (157 cm) with dark brown eyes and hair she was always kind, humble, unassuming and completely honest. Since childhood she was a true Christian and deeply pious minded. She, too, loathed the increasingly degenerate changes after the 1960s and once said: "Nature is the same but everything else isn't!".

Towards the end of her long life she was so grateful for any little help. Though increasingly frail she remained fairly active and just needed a walking stick in her last years. She must have been close to God because whenever there was a problem she could not personally solve for someone she held dear she would quietly pray and almost always it came to be and then tears of thanks would fill her eyes! Her favourite foods were very simple: bananas, boiled eggs and roast chicken. She was a very good mother and very good lady from the old world which has now completely vanished. Her loss is truly profoundly sad and irreplaceable.

A strange footnote.

The day before her fatal stroke she gazed at a small red rose in a pot on the kitchen windowsill and remarked about it to me since there were no roses outside. She liked that rose a lot and looked at it often. After her death in my intense grief I would do the same. Despite other roses having appeared and withered away on this miniature bush since then and though its petals have dried a little that rose ALONE still has its original colour and hangs there as she knew it! I think it is our spiritual bond of love that preserves it. For the remainder of my life I have left her personal things, even the last cup of coffee she drank, undisturbed so something of her former presence remained.


Family Members


  • Maintained by: MPM77
  • Originally Created by: Timothy Purnell
  • Added: 18 Apr 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 88689689
  • Timothy Purnell
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Frances Alice Wood Purnell (23 Sep 1914–18 Apr 2012), Find A Grave Memorial no. 88689689, citing Canford Cemetery and Crematorium, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol Unitary Authority, Bristol, England ; Maintained by MPM77 (contributor 47679266) .