Gillian Clegg – a personal note

This is the text which Janet McNamara, Vice-Chairman of the B&CLHS, read at Gill’s funeral on 3 March 2012.

I met Gill on one of my first outings with the B&CLHS. We were both having a sit down and a rest in a museum and got talking. I can’t even remember now where it was but when we got back to Chiswick I gave her a lift home. I think she’d only moved to Chiswick Staithe a short time before as I was quite taken by the fact that she wanted to live there to be able to lie in bed and see the river.

Some time later I was persuaded to join the B&CLHS committee and discovered that she was the editor of the society’s Journal. Around that time in the Museum of London bookshop I came across books she’d written – I felt proud to think that I knew someone who had written books on sale in shops! It wasn’t part of my experience then.

At that time I think she was writing Chiswick Past and I was a local Heritage Guide researching Brentford history, so when she started on Brentford Past we were exchanging information. As by then she was less mobile I drove her around to meet people, look at places and buildings so she could see things herself and not rely on pictures and maps.

On these outings she was very trusting as I wasn’t very good with a wheelchair, but part of the outing was always a good lunch. We managed to get at least one parking ticket which she did manage to get cancelled!

Any time I went to see her after Brentford Past was published she told me that Patrick, her husband, deliberately went out. She said he was scared of me! It seems he was worried that I’d start asking him questions about Brentford and he hadn’t read the book.

She was the editor of our Journal for over 10 years. Carolyn Hammond, who took over in 2007, says that Gill would always be available to help her with the complicated or ‘difficult’ articles and could always rewrite things in ‘proper prose’.

I heard something about her archaeological activities. The Field Group were obviously a close knit friendly group of very busy, involved people. I was particularly interested in one dig in what is now the supermarket car park in Brentford as I went there once when they were looking for volunteers. I only managed one day. My knees couldn’t cope and I couldn’t wheel the barrow to the tip. Perhaps if I’d stuck with it I might have met Gill and others who are probably there, 20 years earlier. Her years of work in local archaeology and editing the LAMAS Transactions were recognised with the presentation of the Ralph Merrifield Award for services to London archaeology in 2001. I think she was really delighted about that.

Researching Brentford and Chiswick Pubs was an excuse to visit several of them. I’m sure there are a quite a few other people here who did that with her too. We went around several I knew and into a couple of real dives in Brentford that I’d never have gone near on my own. In one we were enquiring about a possible ghost and in another it was their darts team.

There were also some good lunches with other Brentford friends. They say how they enjoyed her company and how interested she always was in what they were doing and wanting to know more. Sharing puddings and cigarettes (not me there) were also mentioned.

When we met to talk about the pictures I’d sent her for Brentford Through Time it was always

Tell me about such and such . . .
What’s happening at various places . . ?
Who is so and so . . ?
When did such and such a thing happen, etc.

She also wanted background on local newspaper articles. I couldn’t always answer her and I suspect she then approached someone else.

Last year on the day of the Royal Wedding there was a big party in Brentford and she sat in The Butts with a collection of her books in front of her. When I arrived she introduced me to the man whose boat she’d chosen to put on the front of Brentford Through Time. She hadn’t known him before but he, and dozens of other people were really pleased to meet her. She sold lots of books there, too.

Last spring the local Heritage Guides led a walk around Chiswick House Grounds. Gill came along on her scooter, which was rather intimidating for the leader, hoping she’d got all her facts right, but at the end they exchanged notes. Later in the year she invited the Chiswick Guides to her Chiswick House & Gardens book launch in the Camellia House. It’s so very sad that she didn’t hear that English Heritage has agreed to sell that book in the House.

At the launch she was wearing the most gorgeous jacket with a peacock feather design and looked really lovely. I’ll be remembering her like that.

I admired her strength, her determination and her bravery – I understand she was still planning her next book. I’ll always be grateful to her for the chances she gave me over the years to play a small part in producing what was described this week as what will be for a long time her ‘definitive histories’ of our area.

I’ll miss her.

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