Meet Florrie Baldwin, Europe's oldest person
A Slice of Britain: She's 114 this Wednesday and once came face-to-face with Queen Victoria, but says there was never any such thing as 'the good old days'
Sunday 28 March 2010
She was three years old when the Second Boer War broke out. She got married two years after the First World War; her husband was too old to fight by the second. And when Neil Armstrong took his small step on the Moon, she had been a pensioner for over a decade. This Wednesday, Mrs Baldwin, better known as Florrie, will celebrate her 114th birthday as the oldest person in Europe. With her will be her 89-year-old daughter, grandsons, great- and great-great-grandchildren as she drinks tea and eats Maltesers, probably wondering what all the fuss is about.
The making of 21st-century Britain is the backdrop to her life, encompassing both world wars; women winning the right to vote; the inception of the NHS; and the birth of flight. As a girl of four, Florrie came face to face with Victoria when the queen came to Leeds.
Sadly, Florrie's memories have now all but slipped away from her – she suffers from dementia – but her family maintains a store of tales from her life, each a rich slice of British history. David Worsnop, 64, her grandson, recalls how she "remembered the flags on the street to celebrate the end of the Boer War, the first aeroplanes and how cars started to appear on every street.
"But it was the little things, like how she would come out to meet the milkman on his pony and cart, who would ladle the milk from big urns into each person's jug, that we loved to hear about."
He adds: "Gran always said there was no such thing as the 'good old days' because she remembered when people couldn't afford to see a doctor and children ran around without shoes on their feet."
One of seven children, Florrie married her husband Clifford in 1920. They saved up to buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house for £350 just before the outbreak of the Second World War; and there she lived for more than 60 years.
Mr Worsnop spent every Friday night and Saturday at his grandparents' house from the age of two until the week before he got married at 22. Florrie would cook up a storm every Saturday: Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy to start followed by a roast beef dinner and apple pie for dessert. And every morning during the week she would leave a home-cooked lunch for her husband and grandson to reheat as she worked full-time for nearly 60 years.
Her first job was in a jewellery shop in Leeds but she spent more than 30 years working as a clerk for an engineering company, retiring at the age of 75. "Gran always said hard work was the secret of her long and healthy life. After she retired, they had to get three girls in to do her job. But she never spent money on herself, saying: 'take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves'."
Package holidays didn't properly take off until after Clifford died in 1973, but holidays abroad, like eating out, were not for people from Florrie's generation or background. They were always glad to get home, even from the occasional caravan holiday in Filey, North Yorkshire.
More than 100 British people have reached their 110th birthday, but with the deaths of Harry Patch and Henry Allingham last year, only 10 super-centenarians are still with us. Many are proud of what has been achieved in their lifetime, particularly the health service and the welfare state.
Most, also like Florrie, cling fiercely to independence: she didn't use the NHS until her 80s when she needed a cataract operation, and insisted on cleaning her own house until she moved into a nursing home at the age of 105. Her grandson laughs: "One day I found her standing on her polished sideboard changing the net curtains: she was 102 at the time."
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