Frances Copping – Hay Writers’ Circle Lifetime President 1979-2020

Frances Copping – Hay Writers’ Circle President 1979-2020

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our much loved Hay Writers’
Circle President, Frances Copping, who died suddenly.

Frances Copping (accompanied by her daughter Coralie) at the 2019 Writer’s Summer Lunch celebrating 40 years of Hay Writers’ Circle.

Frances was the founder of the then, Hay and District Writers’ Circle, in 1979.  She was our greatest supporter, mentor and latterly, our Lifetime President. She had remained actively involved with the group right up to the last few months.

Frances was an engaged writer recording with a witty and observant eye the life and times in her home town of Hay, as well as the world beyond. She was always modest about her work, but over very many years wrote a number of memorable pieces published in the Circle’s magazines and read aloud, entertaining audiences at countless Hay Festivals.


Her deep and sustained links with the Florence family were one of the reasons that
the Hay Festival welcomed us each year, and that Peter Florence gave our event
such a memorable introduction at the 2019 Hay Festival, marking our writing group’s
40th year.

She was also able to be guest of honour at The Swan Hotel last summer when we
celebrated our remarkable anniversary and Frances’ huge contribution of over 40
years to creative life and the written word in Hay-on-Wye.

We all valued her guidance, wisdom, humour and friendship enormously and will
miss her very much.

The Hay Writers’ Circle aims to sustain the reputation Frances built for our group in offering opportunity and encouragement to local writers in Hay to flourish and develop.



By Frances Copping

On Tuesdays, rubbish is collected from our cul-de-sac. Recently, due to public holidays, our bags remained sitting on the pavement for three weeks. They looked like black, shiny slugs, which multiplied overnight and spilled over the kerb, and we had images of black bags rising around our houses and lapping at are upper windows.


During World War Two, I grew up in a house where there were four adults and three children. We lived there for eight years from 1939 to 1947. During all that time, I do not remember there being any rubbish collection. But when we left, the house and garden were completely clean of anything which could be considered rubbish. Everything we had was re-cycled, re-used, burned, or put on the compost heap.

Of course it was before the introduction of plastic and, for that matter, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.  My mother collected our groceries in a wicker basket from Mr. Maddy of the Bull Ring, who weighed out of flour, margarine, sugar, raisins, etcetera into brown paper parcels, which were then tied with string. On returning home the string was unpicked wrapped around the fingers and the last bit tucked in to make it secure, before being put in the Players Please cigarette box on the mantel-piece. The brown paper was carefully folded to be re-used, and the margarine paper flattened out and saved to be put over a breast of a roasting chicken.

The vegetables were brought home in a string bag and then emptied into a metal bucket which no longer held water. New potatoes, carrots and onions were layered separated by the pages of The Ladies Journal. – a monthly indulgence on my mother’s part, collected from Mr. Grant of Castle Street on the first Thursday of every month.

ladies journalThe Ladies Journal proved to be of interest to my older brother and sister and I, for on the back page Lady Celia Chatsworth-Todd answered Readers’ letters.

One I remember came from ‘Concerned’ of Littlehampton.

“In these days of falling standards, it’s difficult to raise daughters with a sense of decency and decorum. My daughter, aged only nineteen, was recently escorted home from a party by a person to whom she hasn’t been introduced. Did she do wrong?”

Lady Cynthia replied, “Your daughter was most unwise in the action she took.  Remember –  the journey to fallen womanhood and depravity begins with the first step.”

My mother soon picked up our interest in the back page and in future, after reading it herself, always tore this out and used it to light the fire.

At the back of the house was the compost heap, and anything but didn’t land on this went into the hen bucket – porridge, bacon rind, crusts of stale bread.  Egg shells will put on a metal tray at the back of the bread oven, and when brittle and brown were beaten with a rolling pin until they were like bits of grit, when they were returned to the chicken coop.

There were no milk bottles then. The farmer down the lane arrive each morning pushing a butcher’s bike which held a drum of milk.  To alert his customers, he would ring his bell, and hence was referred to as Tinkle the Milk.  Mother would take out of Jug, which was covered by a lace lid held down by several blue beads. Tinkle measured out the milk with his billy can and poured it into the jug. On returning to the house, the milk was then poured through a fine mesh to remove the foreign bodies before being put into a cabinet on the north wall of the house.

What remained of The Ladies Journal also came in useful.  The pages were torn out, folded into long strips and twisted at the end to hold them fast, then placed in spill jar and used to light the fire in the sitting room and the candles at night.  Only one match was allowed to be struck each day, and that was to light the kitchen fire,  but if the fire was banked up correctly, by fanning The Ladies Journal vigorously over the grate the fire would re-ignite and a match would be saved.

Clothing three children must have been a problem, but The Ladies Journal came to the rescue again.  It came up with great ideas in the Waste not -Want not page.  ‘Always remember, ladies, a stitch in time saves nine’.

‘Those outgrown jumpers and all knitwear,’ wrote our Needle correspondent, Miss Martha May, ‘can be re-used. When the jumper is washed, peg it on a line and weigh it down with stones carefully attached to sleeves and seams. This will ensure it will not shrink. When outgrown, carefully unpick the wool and wind it into a long loop. Once undone, to remove the crinkles left in the wool, hang the loop from a door-knob and weight it down.  This will result in straightened wool, ready for re-knitting’.

My mother slavish unpicked our jumpers, and I spent many uncomfortable hours, arms outstretched whilst she unravelled and wound the wool round my hands. The final completed loop of wool would be sung over an apple tree bough which was conveniently situated near the back door, then the good luck horseshoe (which always hang there) was placed at the lower end of the wool, it’s weight stretching the skein into long strands, and after two days it was ready to be knitted into a new jumper.

My sister Gillian, being the eldest, had to have the largest size. This meant that she had jumpers of varying colours, as a smaller one into a larger one wouldn’t go. So wool for collar and cuffs was chosen from a box of saved wool remnants, producing a coat of many colours.

Me, being the smallest, had my jumpers all in one colour, and only every nine inches a kink in the wool, made by the horseshoe, gave away the secret that my new jumper wasn’t exactly new.

Apart from needles, reels of cotton and scissors, most of the sewing box consisted of buttons, belt fasteners, press studs and even collars.  Just anything that could be salvaged from a discarded garment. Nothing, but nothing, would be wasted. When soap bars became so thin that they slipped through one’s fingers, they will gathered up and put in a net and left in damp newspaper until they gelled together, and when dry made another usable bar of soap.

IMG_20200522_131835Sadly, in today’s throw-away society, all too soon this Sceptred Island, and probably the rest of the world will become a round, shiny ball – no dips, no wrinkles or ruptures. Just smooth and clean and tidy.  The Offa’s Dyke will be filled with plastic bags and cartons and disposable nappies.  No more Wookey Hole or Grand Canyon.  All smoothed over, all the Waste Fill sites full up, grassed over, and only the methane burping through the daisies will remind us and the sheep grazing there, that they are standing on trillions of tons of discarded debris of our over-indulgent, throw-away culture.



About thehaywriters

The Hay Writers : a highly active & forward thinking writing group based in Hay-on-Wye, the world famous 'Town of Books'. ✍️ In 2019 we celebrated our 40th anniversary.
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