In Stoke Lacy the term "Herb Growing Heritage" is synonymous with our very own dear neighbour and friend, the late Madge Hooper.
In the late afternoon of Thursday 22 November 2017 Madge Hooper died just as she would have wished, in her bed in The Herb Garden with the late afternoon sun shining through her bedroom window and with her children at her bedside. She was just three months short of her 103rd birthday.
Madge was one of those extraordinary people whose zest for life was never diminished. Only a week before she died she was writing a list of suggested herbs for a planned Herb Garden in the churchyard. For her 90th birthday she took a trip in a hot air balloon from Worcester to Eastnor Castle, and for her 80th she spent some hours abseiling in the Brecon Beacons.
However these events took place in her later years. Her life’s work was to make the Herb Garden at Stoke Lacy known throughout the country. Indeed her overseas lecture tours took her to places as far apart as New Zealand and America. Her tour of New Zealand took place at a time of life when most people would be content to sit by the fire in their slippers.
She arrived in Stoke Lacy in 1939 having grown up in the Gower Peninsula. She was the youngest of four children with three beloved older brothers, with whose children, grandchildren and great grandchildren she remained in touch always.
Stoke Lacy was where Madge became a professional herb grower. As a girl she had been greatly inspired by a book containing herbal recipes advising how to take culinary advantage of the meadows and hedgerows. When she was twenty she enrolled on a four year course which took place in Kent. The renowned herbalist Dorothy Hall was her tutor.
Following this course, herb growing became Madge’s vocation and indeed passion. Stoke House in Herb Lane became the family business. Initially from 1939, she rented the House for £70 a year. When war came she had to follow Ministry of Agriculture Directives but she developed a useful sideline in sending pot pourri to America . After the war she built up a flourishing business in the growing and then selling of herbs which she ran on her own having separated from her husband. To develop this business at the same time as managing three children was quite a feat.
In 1954 she bought Stoke House and six acres from the Morgan Family at a cost of £1,400. In 1974 Madge sold the house and built a bungalow for herself in the garden. This is the bungalow which in her later years became the venue for her well attended and fun tea parties at which conversation roamed over so many topics.
In the 1950’s not only did she sell herbs but she ran a simple tea shop in the sitting room at Stoke House. The scones were delicious. She became well known partly through her lively and knowledgeable pieces on the BBC radio gardening programmes. On one programme she mentioned a herbal mixture which she had made which would bring the colour back into ageing men’s hair. It became a best seller!!
She also ran courses for soldiers in the SAS on how to survive on herbs and grasses. She became popular with Women’s Institutes throughout this region who booked her for talks on herbs and herb growing. Her booklet on herbs and medicinal plants was published in 1989. This book was followed up by three other Herb books.
Madge had an extraordinary gift for friendship. She was able to make friends throughout her life and to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – her life in this regard was the antithesis of that of the sad lonely old lady. Indeed one never thought of Madge as being old. She maintained an interest in the events of the day and was curious to learn about the lives of others. She was a good reader of character and utterly discrete.
In 1985 Madge bought a new machine called a word processor. This was the start of her interest in modern technology and very quickly she progressed to the internet and emails became her main means of communication. This was indeed extraordinary and her facility with the mysteries of the ipad was one of the factors which helped her to stay in touch with scattered family and friends at a time when her physical horizons had become so constrained.
Over the past ten years or so her mobility became less steady but this did not stop her from all the activities she loved. Gardening and entertaining friends and neighbours to tea and coffee. This lead her to many ‘falls’ and visits by paramedics became more frequent. Her stoicism and determination to carry on was amazing. And so has ended a remarkable life. She is sorely missed by her family and all her friends. No longer will ‘Ben the Postman’ be asked to deliver her notes throughout the village. Madge, we will all miss these beautifully scripted notes.
Madge Hooper 1914-2017