I have lived through much tougher times before says Grace as she celebrates her centenary

Written by Gerald Isaaman on .

Dressed in pink for the occasion, Grace enjoys her 100th birthday telegram card from the Queen, one of more than 70 that arrived in the first postDressed in pink for the occasion, Grace enjoys her 100th birthday telegram card from the Queen, one of more than 70 that arrived in the first postWhite-haired Grace Denman celebrated her 100th birthday today (Saturday) with a visit from the mayor – plus a telegram from the Queen of course – and her own words of wisdom on how to beat the recession. 

'Young people must give up their “gimmie, gimmie.gimmie” desire to have everything now and learn to save with the help of an old fashioned money box if necessary' is Grace’s message. 

And before the arrival of Marlborough’s mayor Edwina Fogg at Grace’s home in River Park, the quietly-spoken, elegantly dressed centenarian told Marlborough News Online how she faced up to the difficult days of the depression of the 1930’s when she earned just £1 a week.

She expressed her views on today’s fashions, pop music, television and her delight in living in such a friendly town as Marlborough since 1985.

“I never thought I’d reach 100 – of course not,” she giggled. “When I was a girl people used to live to 60 and that was quite old.  I am very well in myself.  And I think I am still young at heart.”

However, the age of austerity is nothing new to her. “I have been through tough times before,” she said. “I joined the civil service in 1930 when it was much tougher financially than it is now.”

“People must buckle under and see it through.  And they must try and save money.  I find young people say, ‘Oh spend your money.’  It’s all live now and pay later.  Then they go off on holiday with their Barclaycard, so I’m told.”

“In my day you had a money box and saved up.  If somebody came to tea with your parents they might give you a sixpence if you were lucky.  And that sixpence went straight into my money box.”

“We were all taught to save.  There was a lovely expression, ‘Put money away for a rainy day’.  But now quite a section of younger people expect to have everything.”

“It’s gimmie, gimmie, gimmie all the time with people saying, ‘Why should I save?’, which I think is rather sad.”

Marlborough’s mayor Edwina Fogg presents Grace with a bottle of vintage champagne to mark her centenaryMarlborough’s mayor Edwina Fogg presents Grace with a bottle of vintage champagne to mark her centenaryGrace grew up in Tiptree, the Essex town known for its strawberry jam, her father dying when she was only 11 from an infection caught serving in the trenches during World War I but her mother proving the longevity genes in the family by living to within three months of 90.

She found herself fluent in French at school and also learnt German thanks to private tuition, which enabled her to work at the War Office with the Free French during World War II, later in Paris for the peace conference, and from 1948 at the London headquarters of the Post Office, having previously worked on the continental telephone service speaking French all the time.

“During the war I was working right in the centre of London when it was terribly bombed but I was very fortunate and came through alright,” she recalled.

It was in her early days training for the civil service she earned 17s 6d a week, then £1 only to face cuts.  “I remember having a half a crown (two shillings and sixpence) on my birthday in August and they took it away in September.”

“Then the following year without any further rise they took another half crown away.  It meant that for two whole years one had no rise in salary.”

“One pound a week was a lot of money then, though by the time you paid for your season ticket to London there wasn’t much left.  But you could get lunch in the canteen.  The first time, I remember, it cost seven pence for meat and two vegetables and a tiny sweet.”

Grace didn’t marry until after she retired in 1972 and had 17 happy years with Teddy, a widower.  He was 14 years older than her and died in 1990, five years after they came to live in Marlborough.  For the past five years she has lived with the help of a permanent carer.

Grace still attends Sunday morning service whenever possible at St Mary’s, where she used to run the Mother’s Union and coffee mornings, also playing a role with the Marlborough Brandt Group and the Prospect Hospice.

Marlborough was much smaller when she arrived, she points out, and remembers in particular a fashion store now departed where she could buy Windsmoor suits and lovely underclothes.

“Mostly the clothes in the High Street now are for trendy dolly birds not old ladies like me,” she insisted.

She has been following Olympic cycling events on TV, Eggheads being one of her favourite programmes along with watching Channel 4 news – “it is the best news, much better than the others” – as well as tuning into concerts.

“I don’t like jazz and none of the pop music,” she declared.  “People say someone is a wonderful singer but for me it’s just noise, an absolutely noise – because I am so old you see.”

But not too old to use her computer occasionally.

Now she is throwing a 100th birthday party for no fewer than 56 friends she has won through her devotion to the town.

“I am fortunate to live in Marlborough where the people are so friendly,” she said. “It’s a lovely town and I love it here.”