Dorothy Grace Cooley 1909 - 2007

Dorothy with Gay in 1931 "Like all the Cooley girls, Dorothy had her career chosen for her, as their father had the very progressive notion, for the time, that a girl should be able to be self supporting. In her case, it worked out very well.

She became a Norland nanny, the ones that wore grey uniforms and pushed top-of-the-line prams for diplomats and aristocrats.

'Dorothy was Norlander number 2768 and joined Norland on 26 Aug 1927 “as a maiden”, this means that she worked at the college for a year before starting the course in order to get reduced fees. Her previous schools are listed as Hadleigh Secondary School and Sudbury Secondary School, and she had no former occupation or previous experience with children when she joined Norland. Her needle work is described as fairly good, and she played the piano. She arrived in good health, 5ft 5inches and her religious denomination was Church of England. The illnesses listed are measles in 1916 and chickenpox in 1912. Dorothy received her certificate on 1st December 1930'. (Norland College)
She nannied for diplomats in Baghdad before WWII, living what sounds like a thoroughly privileged life, which must have been lovely after all those years of potatoes at Pond Hall! Moonlight picnics and servants and galloping across the desert with dashing young scions of the empire. I think she expected to marry one, a merchant banker, but he went home and married someone richer.

The photo shows Dorothy in 1931 with Gay Leeks

She came back to England for the war, and set up and ran a couple of homes for evacuees, in large country houses on Dr. Barnado lines. After the war she went with a family to Toronto for several years, where she managed her affair with the father with such discretion that she was a close confidante of the mum and stayed much loved by the children for years (they sent flowers to her funeral). When the children were grown she got a referral to the family that owned the San Francisco Chronicle and moved to the cream of San Francisco society until the parents were drowned on the Andrea Doria. She then quit nannying, and taught primary school in a private school in Petaluma, so she didn't have to get California teacher's certification.

Dorothy and John MacCullum

Once she was safely past the danger of childbearing age she met and married John MacCullum, an engineer almost 20 years her senior (pictured left in 1955). She was very happy with him, but he died of a heart attack at the breakfast table after only 10 years together, in approximately 1962.

In 1967 she met Richard Wood, and moved in with him on his 5 acre "ranch" in Sebastopol, a beautiful spot in Northern California. They married in 1969. He was a difficult man, but she had been well trained to live with a tyrannical man by her father, so even though she left him twice, she loved the ranch and always went back. In 1995 they sold the ranch to his granddaughter, Becky Kelso, and moved to a retirement community in Santa Rosa, as Richard, by now 84, [was infirm]. He died in 2000, Dorothy having kept him at home till the end, hiring a private caregiver called Mickey. She found that Mickey had stolen their checkbook and was writing himself good chunks of money, and with her typical toughness, she had him prosecuted and forced, heaven knows how, restitution, This made her very distrustful of private caregivers, and when she needed more help, she tried to get a niece to look after her.

My sister Elizabeth, a struggling-to-stay-in-recovery alcoholic, had been close to Dorothy when Liz lived in San Francisco in the late 60's, and she agreed to go to California to help Dorothy. When Liz died in 2004, Dorothy tried to get me to leave Graham and travel the 1,300 miles to be on hand for her. She had, after all, run her life exactly as she liked for 90 years, knew what she wanted and expected to get it! I promised her she would never have to go to a nursing home, and went out for a weekend every 2-3 months or so, until early 2006, when she began to get more frail. I was able to find a caregiver she trusted who came in 3 mornings a week, and meals on wheels, and went out every 4-6 weeks. Late 2006 she went onto hospice (I was working for a Hospice in Santa Fe, so they were very good about keeping me up to date). In US, Hospice is a variant of home care: the nurses make a home visit 1-7 days a week, and are on call 24hrs, home health aides and social workers are part of the care team - it's a great program, not at all what my mother got in Berkshire.

Dorothy died in January 2007, aged 97, I was with her at the time. She was a strong, independent woman at a time when not many were, and pretty much lived life on her terms all her life. Like my mother (Diana), to whom she was very close, having more or less raised her through Grandma's post natal depression and general fatigue, she loved her garden, her cats and poetry. And, of course, her own way. During her last illness she kept a copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Dirge Without Music" at her bedside, furious at the thought of dying, although accepting that she'd "had a good life so I expect it's my time". In American, she was a pistol!" (Nicola Bowkett nee Dunphy)

A couple of other snippets about Dorothy - She was very interested in, perhaps a member of, the Commonwealth Party during the war, and at some point during her life in California she experienced a sizeable earthquake. This was probably in 1989. As a US Geological Survey spokesman said, "It is one of the wonders of the world to feel solid rock behave like jello".

1914 - 1919 Early Days at Pond Hall by Dorothy Cooley

Since I am the only member of our large family to remember those days I decided to leave some record of my memories. Dilys was there at the time but so much younger that she didn’t know much about the incidents I’m going to write about.

Towards the end of the Great War my father, having recovered from his war wounds, found a large old house in the country and moved his large family there. It was an ideal place to bring up a gang of children with 3 orchards of apple, pear and plum trees, plenty of space for romping and acres of garden already planted with gooseberry bushes and red currents and black, a spacious rhubarb patch (ugh!) and half an acre of asparagus which my father dug up after the first season and planted potatoes instead – a much more filling crop for hungry stomachs. And talking of potatoes – before we left Colchester we dug up all the potatoes from our allotment and put them in sacks in the furniture van. Unfortunately they were close to the paraffin lamps and some of the oil must have spilled out onto the potatoes and the first time my mother cooked some of them they were vilely tainted with paraffin oil. So that was the end of the Colchester potatoes.

I remember the train journey to Hadleigh with Hettie in charge of Vashti, Maud, Charles, me and Frank. Mum and Dad took the two youngest with them and they went ahead of us and got some of the furniture in place before the rest of us arrived. Hettie did a wonderful job of keeping us entertained, getting us to sing rounds and telling us funny stories. Charles as always was obstreperous, climbing on the seats, hanging from the overhead luggage racks until we all got sleepy and dozed the rest of the way to Hadleigh Station. I don’t know how we got from the station to Pond Hall I only remember being so tired that I fell on the bed – all beds were on the floor that first night – and slept for hours.

As soon as there was some sort of order in the house, arrangements were made for school. Vashti, Maud and Charles were to go to Ipswich by train which entailed a mile walk to Raydon Station and a change of trains at Capel where Charles became the bane of the Station Master’s life while they waited for the train for Ipswich. We used to hear the lurid tales of his misbehaviour every evening when they came home. After a few months they were provided with bicycles to get to Raydon and that gave Charles even more scope for mischief and we younger ones loved to hear the tales. He was the clown of the family and endless entertainment all in the spirit of fun.

Hal at Station Hill School

Frank, Hal and I had to walk a mile and a bit to the elementary school on Station Hill and I, at the tender age of about 7, had the job of being in charge of these two little boys and making sure we all got to school safely, usually late. When I saw the kindergarten where Frank and Hal were to go I longed to have access to all the toys and books they were going to enjoy but to my sorrow I was upgraded to the austere and gloomy classroom of Standard 1. By the way, the word kindergarten was not used in those days – all German words were ‘verboten’.

The photo shows Hal (centre) at Station Hill School, Hadleigh

Here I entered into a long enduring rivalry with a boy called Frankie Rowe. We were the two brightest in the class and I hated him. Sometimes after school Frankie walked home with us with his milk can to get fresh milk from Pond Hall Farm and I remember spitefully pushing him into a ditch and denting his milk can, which he took to show to my mother and I was terrified to go home in case punishment was in store for me but my mother laughed at Frankie’s complaint and told him to push me back. I was such a mild-looking blonde child no one really believed I was a spitfire.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When Vashti and Maud were at Ipswich School they saw in the costume box a donkey’s head which had been used in previous dramatics and that gave Vashti the idea to put on the scene from a Midsummer Night where Bottom is ‘translated’ by Puck. So they borrowed the Ass’s Head and as soon as Charles saw it he was thrilled with the idea of playing the part and wearing the head. Vashti and Maud had been reading ‘Little Women’ and impressed by the way the March girls had put on a play to amuse the grown ups so they began to assign parts. Vashti of course would be Titania as well as producer and director, Maud would be Oberon, Charles – Nick Bottom, Dorothy the first fairy, Frank – Puck and Hal the other fairy. I learned everybody’s part but Frank was not good at memorising his speeches so Vashti had to cut them down to the bare bones. However, he was able to lisp as Puck the question “How now Sprite whither wander you?” and Dolly as the first fairy replies at length “Over hill over dale through brush through briar – over park over pale through flood through fire “ and so on and on.

The production was going on as poorly as might be expected when Vashti produced very cleverly a blond wig of unravelled rope for Hal as the second fairy and when he tried it on he made such a pretty little girl that he tore it off in disgust and that was the end of a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. The donkey’s head was taken back to the costume box at Ipswich School before it got damaged beyond recognition by Charles’ clowning.

The girls made some good friends in Ipswich; Peggy Tatum was Maud’s and Mona Creasly was Vashti’s and these girls came to Pond Hall quite often on Saturdays and broadened the horizons of the younger members. Peggy taught me chopsticks on the piano and Mona entertained us with stories of some American friends of her family. We were intrigued by a pair of twins called Katie Temple and Temple Katie. I think it must be Tempe.

All this time the Great War was going on. Before we left Colchester I was out for a walk with Vashti when the air was made hideous by a moaning, wailing noise which Vashti said was an air raid warning and I almost died of fear, not because I knew what an air raid was but fear of the noise itself. Well we got home safely and if there was an air raid we didn’t know about it but later on we all used to go out in the backyard after dark to see a Zeppelin gliding past and through ignorance not feeling any fear at all – searchlights on the Zep.

These childhood years were fraught with shortages; no sugar, no butter just a thin scraping of margarine on our bread or a thin layer of jam – never both at once. We got used to salt on our porridge. We were told that was the way Scottish people liked it.

When we lived at Pond Hall my mother used the family’s sugar ration to make jam. Gooseberry or blackcurrant in the spring and plum jam in the autumn and we gorged on apples, pears, cherries and plums in season and ruined our teeth cracking nuts later on. Only one set back – in the winter we had apples which were kept in the old part of the house until they were finished, and then there was nothing but rhubarb until fruit came again. Stewed rhubarb and rice or rhubarb pies every day. Frank refused to eat rhubarb and Mum, in the interest of keeping everybody happy, used to provide stewed figs for him only.


It’s time to fit Hettie back into her proper place as the eldest of the family. I haven’t mentioned her much so far because she was so much older than the rest of us that she seemed more like one of the grown ups. We never knew exactly how old she was because she let us believe that she was born at the turn of the century but she was at least four years older than that because when the Great War broke out in 1914 Hettie disappeared from our midst and it dawned on us slowly that she had gone to do war work. Later on we realized that she was working in a munitions factory in the south and when she came home on leave she would entertain us with stories about the life at her work. We especially enjoyed the one about the cook at the canteen who used to offer second helpings by shouting, “Annie More for Annie More!” Hettie used to bring presents for us younger children when she came on leave. One time I remember she brought porridge bowls in Devon ware; cream with brown lettering, for Frank, Hal and Dilys and although I envied the porridge bowls each with a different motto and at the bottom of each one after you finished the bowl it said “There’s more in the kitchen”, because I was older she brought me a little teapot in the shape of an elephant which I never liked.

We didn’t see much of Hettie from now on because she got married right after the end of the war and went with her husband to live in his home town in Derbyshire a long way away. Before I go on, a word or two about Hettie’s love affairs. She used to tell us about a young man with the last name of Asquith, commonly known as “Squiffy”. He wanted to marry this lovely girl and took her to visit his family who were very well connected and snobbish. They made Hettie very unwelcome so she dropped Squiffy and took up with Alan Barns but he went out to the battle fields in Flanders and got killed. I think she was really serious about Alan and mourned for a long time but ended up marrying another soldier who was so persistent she got tired of saying ‘no’. He turned out to be a not very good husband and I don’t think Hettie was really happy all her life from now on until the 2nd World War broke out and John went back to being a soldier which he loved. In peace time he had been a musician with a very bad temper. They had 3 children, 2 boys and a girl who was a very disagreeable character but one of the boys, Tony, became her friend for life. John went to the bottom of the ocean when the troop ship he was on was torpedoed. No survivors.

I can’t seem to get to the end of this chapter but I have to go back a few years to tell about what a lovely sister Hettie had been to me when I was very young. Always sunny and singing songs that she learnt at school and I picked them up from her. I can still sing you some of the songs; ‘Daffodil Time in Brittany’, another one about her favourite flower the rose and one about a gollywog lying in wait to scare naughty children. Gollywogs were popular toys in those day – no one realizing that it was a caricature of a real living black person. We didn’t see any Africans in Suffolk in those early days of the 20th century. Of course we saw black children in our story books. There was ‘Little Black Sambo’ and 3 friends; a gollywog, a Dutch doll and a fair haired wax doll who had wonderful adventures. Then there was the Struelpeter story of tall Agrippa who dipped 3 naughty boys in his ink well because they kept on teasing “a harmless Blackamoor”. All these books I read in the kindergarten room where kind Miss Barlow let me spend the lunch hour. I don’t know why I was especially favoured. Perhaps because she didn’t see many children with such a hunger for books.

The family in about 1920

Although Pond Hall was a wonderful place to live for 3 seasons of the year, the winters were quite another story. The war was still very much a shadow over our lives and fuel was rationed. There was enough coal to keep a good fire in the kitchen range in the large kitchen, which was always warm, but the rest of the house was frigid. There was a wood-burning stove (fireplace) in an alcove in the hall and it was kept burning as long as there was an ample supply of firewood, which had to be gathered from the orchards and then chopped or sawn into suitable lengths. This kept that part of the house above freezing but to go upstairs on a cold, frosty night was like a trip to the North Pole.

When we four youngest were very young Mum would allow us to undress in front of the fire on cold winter nights, our pajamas warming on the fireguard. When we were all ready she would say run upstairs and get into bed as quickly as you can and I’ll come up and hear your prayers and tuck you up. So we each gathered up our bundle of clothes and galloped up to bed. Sometimes when it was especially frosty she would say you can sing your evening hymn and I’ll hear you down here and I can remember our childish voices chanting

Jesus gentle shepherd hear us
Bless thy little lambs tonight
Through the darkness be thou near us
Keep us safe til morning light.

We were not the least bit religious but this was a ritual followed by “God Bless Mum and Dad and all I love and make me a good girl, Amen” I don’t know how many winters this took place; not many – perhaps only one – but the memory is very clear.

I learned to knit while at the elementary school and it didn’t come easily to me. The steel pointed needles and the cheap cotton yarn that we were provided with caused me endless trouble. My work was always too tight and my index finger used to get very sore pushing the needle in to the next stitch. Well, one gloomy day in November 1918 in the handicraft lesson I was struggling as usual with my tight knitting when the Head Master, Mr Ringer, came in and said, “Put your work down children and listen”, then went on, “At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month an Armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany and the Great War is over”. I’m sure we gaped at him unbelieving. The war had been part of our lives since as long as we could remember and now life was going to be quite different.

Well changes came slowly but surely. The first one of note was that butter appeared on our table and my mother began to bake bread once a week. And if there is anything more delicious than a crusty slice of home baked bread spread with fresh farm butter I haven’t met it. My mother was clever enough to make individual buns for the children so everybody could have their own crusty bread.

About this time my mother was receiving parcels of used clothing from the Officers’ Family Clothing Fund. There were probably many families with a disabled father trying to get by on a small pension and this fund filled a need. The clothes were mostly unsuitable for young children but Mum could make good use of many garments by taking them apart and remaking them into something we girls could wear. I don’t think there were many contributions for boys but I remember in particular a white lace tea gown – Edwardian style, heavily embossed and many frills and flounces of white net. Much too good to waste but quite useless as it was so Mum took it apart and made a lovely party frock for me. With a pale pink undergarment I felt like a royal princess and wore it to many school functions. I must have been an incongruous sight with a white lace dress worn with black wool stockings and serviceable boys’ boots! When I regretfully outgrew it the dress was handed down to Dilys and she wore it many times but never looked as pretty in it as I did (so I thought conceitedly).
Dilys is pictured with Hal at Hadleigh school gates

One other garment in one of the parcels from the fund was a scarlet woollen cloak which was used by everybody in the family from time to time. It hung in the kitchen and when anyone was sent out to the garden to pick Brussels sprouts or to cut a cabbage they used to wrap themselves in the red cloak. So much more convenient than struggling into a coat. It was toe length when I first used it but by the time I left home it was knee length. I never knew when it was abandoned.

One May morning in 1919 my sister Vashti woke me early and told me to listen, and what I heard was a wailing cry. Immediately in a panic I said, “Somebody is hurt” but Vashti was smiling; “No”, she said, “It’s a baby. We have a new little sister. As soon as you are dressed you can go and see her”. I was 9 years old and yet I had no suspicion that my mother was expecting a baby and I don’t remember ever asking where it came from. Such was the ignorance children were kept in those far off times.

The baby cried a lot. I don’t suppose my mother could produce enough milk so the baby was always hungry and it seemed to be a long time before they found a commercial infant food and fed her from a bottle, but until that happened my mother was suffering from a severe case of post-partum depression with suicidal tendencies. I remember coming home from a party at Kate’s Hill given by a friend. The occasion was a christening party for a doll Norah had been given when she was too old to play with dolls, so it was treated like a real baby at this party. It was dusk when we got home and found Dad roaming the grounds and he told us he couldn’t find Mum and wanted us to help. This was the worst night of my life up to this time and in fear and trembling we went down to the bottom orchard and found Mum sitting on a log beside the stream. She said, “Go away. I’m going to put my face in the stream in a little while”. Vashti and Maud tried to persuade her to come home and at last she consented when Vashti told her the baby was crying and we all needed our mother. After this Mum stayed in her room with the baby and wouldn’t talk to any one when we took her meals up and frequent cups of tea. It was a very subdued family for several days with Vashti coping with cooking and all the rest of us being helpful. After a time everything went back to normal but the sad memories stayed with us for ever.

The baby was given the rather exotic names of Diana Cecilia May and I had better digress to tell you where the names originated. Towards the end of the war there was an aerodrome established near Raydon. The RAF was quite new and the planes were single-engine bi-planes but that is beside the point. Two young lady officers were billeted at Pond Hall and were supplied with a driver-batman; a jolly young Irish airman called O’Rourke, to ferry the officers back and forth to Raydon and in the middle of the day he was appointed to help Mum in the house. I have wandered from the point. The two officers were sisters called Diana and Cecilia Hoard. They were young and glamorous and Dad was quite smitten, so later on in 1919, when they were thinking of names for the new baby, these were the names that were chosen. My sisters and I used to go into their bedroom and inspect the perfumes and make-up creams and powders on their dressing table. Quite forbidden of course but irresistible.

Diana was born on May 24, 1919 and shared the birthday with Queen Victoria exactly 100 years apart. Dad’s sister wanted the baby to be called Victoria but we already had a Victoria in the family; Maud’s name was Victoria Maud but she didn’t use her first name until she went to college.

Diana was a precocious child and learned to walk and talk at a very early age. She was also delicate – a martyr to croup until she grew out of it at the age of 6. If we older children took Diana out with us on our expeditions to Kate’s Hill farm, where we spent many happy hours, Norah’s mother used to persuade us to pump water into the horse trough and then let us go to the farm kitchen where Nance would stuff us with all kinds of sandwiches and cakes. Well, I seem to have lost the thread. I was saying if Diana was with us we had to get her home before dusk because if she was out in the chill mist that used to arise in the evening we might wake in the night to hear her strangled coughing and know she was suffering from an attack of croup. Then it was a case of steam kettles and ipecac. Until my parents learned how to deal with the illness the doctor used to be called in the middle of the night. There was no telephone so a messenger had to go to Hadleigh and ask him to come. I spent many a sleepless night worrying about the baby even though I couldn’t do anything.

I have already said she was a precocious child and Mum used to entertain us when we came home from school with stories of Diana’s funny ways. Once Mum said she missed the child and went to the kitchen door and saw Diana under the gooseberry bushes eating unripe fruit and of course called her in. The baby, about 2 at the time, called back “Go indoors, Mamma, it’s a cold day”.

Another time when she was about 3 Diana went exploring in the orchards and came upon the dump in a corner where for years people had been throwing cans and bottles and worn out metal articles. Diana came to Mum holding an old kettle still shiny on top but with a hole in the bottom and said, “Someone threw away quite a good kettle”. This became a family joke for years.

A final word about Pond Hall. There had been a house on that site back in 1068 when William the Conqueror compiled his Domesday Book which listed all the taxable properties in the whole of England. I have no idea how many times the house had been demolished and rebuilt over the centuries, each new owner adding or subtracting and making alterations according to the fashion of the period but it was recorded that in the 1700s it had been a smuggler’s stronghold. There was a secret underground passage connecting Pond Hall with the river where the smugglers boats would unload their illegal cargoes but although we children hunted high and low for this passage we never found a trace of it.

When the last of the Cooleys left, the house was sold and the new owners completely remodelled and modernized the interior but because it was a place of historic interest the exterior couldn’t be changed. All the owners could do was peel off the old plaster and expose the ancient oak beams. Now the old house looks ready to stand for another hundred years.

Four Cooley Girls
Vashti, Diana, Dorothy, Maud

"Dorothy was a very independent individual.... she was a grand old lady" (Jill)