THE link with a Blackpool family, whose roots went back to the 1800s and who had contributed to the town’s history and development, has been broken with the death of Memory Lane contributor Bessie Mather.
Bessie, who was 96, had lived in Blackpool for 93 years. She was born in Northwich as Bessie Pritchard Booth, daughter of Harold Booth, a theatre manager, and Florence May Pritchard. She moved to Blackpool at the age of three and lived in Queen Square. Bessie attended St John’s School and became their oldest past pupil.
She then attended Palatine Central School from 1927 to 1931, and in her final year, passed First Class in the Housecraft Examination of the National Council for Domestic Studies and was third in the UK for this award.
Two of the practical tasks were to wash and iron a child’s dress and to make polish for a table.
Her headmaster, Mr A Schofield commented “her character is excellent in every way for honesty and conscientiousness; she is very thoughtful and thorough in all she does”.
After leaving school Bessie became a secretary at Glenroyd Maternity and Convalescent Home working under Matron Bertha Merch, who was quite a formidable character. She spent some time at the Palace Theatre offices, leaving there in 1940 to become a civilian employee of the Ministry of Defence.
During the war she worked for the Air Ministry based in Queen Street, one of 60 girls and older women who administered the payment of meal allowances to thousands of local hotels and boardinghouses where RAF trainees had been billeted.
A later base was a large room at the top of the Co-operative Emporium (now the site of Debenhams) in Coronation Street. In the early days of the scheme Bessie would be accompanied by an RAF officer and an armed RAF policeman, who carried a large bag of cash! The system was eventually simplified by the mailing of cheques.
In the 1950s she became a civilian clerk at the old Weeton RAF camp and this led to continuing duties for the North Lancashire Wing of the Air Training Corps, finally becoming clerical officer of 30 units. On her retirement in 1973 she received a commendation in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, a silver rose bowl and a colour TV.
She was a longstanding member of the organisation of Business and Professional Women involved in many charity fund raising events and remained committed to her charity work, supporting Trinity Hospice appeals, especially in her later years.
Bessie was the last member of the Mather family, whose name was given to the street connecting Talbot Road to Collingwood Avenue in Layton.
Her mother Florence had married architect Robert Mather when both were widowed. Bessie added the surname Mather to her name many years later. Robert was the son of Robert Butcher Mather, his family home being the imposing, long-demolished Courtfield, on the corner of Hornby Road and Park Road, later part of the catering school of what is now Blackpool and Fylde College.
The Mather family were Catholics who had contributed generously to Layton Hill Convent School and to the Sacred Heart Church on Talbot Road. Robert Butcher Mather was the town’s first Catholic Mayor in 1897 and he presented the school chapel with one of the altars and reredos, in June 1898, although it was removed around 2002.
The altar at the Sacred Heart is still there with its inscription. All the Mather children attended Layton Hill School. In 2012, Bessie organised for the “Freedom of Blackpool” that had been presented to Robert Butcher Mather to be returned to the Town Hall for safe keeping.
A friend in recent years, Christina Leigh-Baker, says: “Bessie was most enjoyable company and all her friends, neighbours and carers will miss her conversations and elegant dignity and resilience, as she coped with her recent indispositions. Her greatest disappointment recently was her failing eyesight. At 96 she had a clear mind and charged her medical conditions as ‘something that happens to us all’.
Christina adds: “One can truly state that Bessie had lived up to the testimonial written by her Headmaster, Mr Schofield in 1931: ‘She is unobtrusive but alert to business in hand; she is steady and
reliable with a quiet pleasant manner. I recommend her with every confidence.”
Bessie’s funeral service was today at St John’s Church, and she was later buried at Layton Cemetery with her mother Florence and her “Pop” Robert Mather.