Vashti was born on 23rd November 1904 at Lucknow and was baptised in the Memorial Church at Kanpur (or Cawnpore as it was called in those days). According to Diana, her name was supposed to be Vashti Hester but her godmother dropped her aitches and the vicar, naturally enough, considered Esther a perfectly good name!
When she was 2 years old Vashti contracted malaria and suffered bouts of illness well into her teens - again, this information comes from Diana's notes; Vashti never mentioned it to her children. However, she definitely suffered terrible 'sick headaches' (what would now be called migraine) in her childhood and beyond.
In 1915, her mother had a miscarriage which nearly killed her. "Hettie did some of the nursing but was working during the day and it must have been at this time that Vashti, aged about 11, moved into her position as ‘second Mum’, which she continued to occupy even after she was married”. (Diana)
Diana also says of Vashti that “she alone of us saw Het as a person, instead of just ‘Mum’. During Het’s frequent bouts of illness Vashti simply took over. She made dresses for the younger children, cooked and did the laundry and made special little appetising dishes to take up to Het on a tray. But best of all, she spoke the same language, they laughed at the same things and read the same books.
Vashti was still in her teens at the time, but even after she married in 1928, she and her husband had rooms at Pond Hall and she continued to be Het’s rod and stay. Harry was also devoted to her, as he was not to all his children….. she was extremely pretty and highly intelligent, yet I never for a moment had the impression that she thought she was wasting her life in that backwater”.
Vashti’s marriage, on the 28th April 1928, was in Hadleigh. The lucky man was Edmund Leeks, who had been born in Hadleigh in 1902, the youngest of 11 children. Ted, or Teddy, was a water and sewage engineer and, although the first 10 years of their marriage were spent in rooms at Pond Hall, when Teddy was promoted to manager they moved to Brett House.
All 3 of their children were born at Pond Hall. Gay (Gabrielle Cecily Ann) on 15 November 1930, (Vashti) Marigold on 13 May 1934 and Tom (Thomas Charles) on 27 February 1937. Tom says of Brett House “for obvious reasons there were not many other houses around us, so I spent many happy hours roaming the fields and river banks of the local farms. It was almost as good as living on a farm in that respect. It definitely fostered my love of the countryside and wildlife. My mother certainly encouraged me in that too. If I ever found a plant or flower or saw a bird that I did not recognise we would search all our reference books together.”.The photo, left, is of Vashti and Dilys in summer 1932 or 1933, with Gay toddling into the bottom right hand corner.
The group picture below, taken at Brett House in the 1960s, shows Teddy, Het, Vashti and Hettie, with Hal lying on the grass in front.
Het's diary for 1965 not only mentions Vashti's help with laundry, cleaning and extra help when Hettie was away at a dog show - and bringing fish and chips every Saturday - but also that on 10th August 1965 Vashti and Laura went to see the Beatles at Ipswich.
Vashti - “the prettiest girl I ever saw off the screen”(Diana) - died on 7 December 1987, having spent the last 16 years of her life as a widow. Teddy died on 31 December 1971.