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Jessie Lavers (nee Matthews)

Also known as: Edna.

Picture of Jessie Lavers (nee Matthews).

Jessie Edna Matthews was born on 12 January 1916 in Bristol, the eldest of a lively family of three girls and two boys. Her dad was a saddle-maker who took her on his cart to visit the outlying farms when horsepower was still prevalent, and she fondly remembered them both stopping off for refreshment on the way back; it was a good job (she said) that the horse knew the way home! Her abiding memories were of a carefree childhood with summer holidays on a cousin’s farm, and cycling around country lanes with friends blackberry-picking. She was also a bit of a tomboy, and loved joining in cricket matches with the local lads.

The skills Jessie learned as a child, including cooking, gardening (on her dad’s allotment) and sewing, sustained her throughout her life together with the ‘make do and mend’ philosophy typical of her generation. Jessie showed an aptitude for any manual task including pottery, painting, knitting, and sewing, and always reserved her greatest admiration for those who worked the land or lived by manual or artistic skills. As someone who applied herself in such fields she could be quite dismissive of those who couldn’t be bothered (as she saw it) to learn how to do anything properly.

Jessie’s early aptitude for painting led to an opportunity to attend Art College after leaving school. Her greatest regret in life was that she wasn’t allowed to go, and pursue a professional career in the Arts. As the eldest daughter Jessie was instead expected to help at home and work to contribute to the family income, and as a consequence she always actively encouraged anyone thinking of going on to further education and pursuing their dreams in whatever field.

During the Second World War Bristol was a prime target for German bombing raids, and Jessie recalled many close encounters including being chased down the street by a dive bomber, and an incendiary bomb on the roof of their house which failed to ignite. She was working in the wages section of the Bristol Aeroplane Company when one day she was allowed to leave early. That afternoon the staff air raid shelter at BAC took a direct hit, killing many inside. Evenings would be spent on the Downs watching aerial battles over the city and docks.

Married life with John Lavers started in the aftermath of the war in that other devastated city of Coventry, where they brought up two boys John and Bob. After a while they moved to Solihull, then Hampton in Arden until John took early retirement and they moved to much loved Devon. Any free time was spent painting, and an interest in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. At that time the specially designed vases and bowls could only be expensively imported from abroad, and typically Jessie said “I can make those” so she took up pottery for her own displays, which led in turn to supplying fellow enthusiasts. Commissions grew as she was the only person in the country at the time supplying pottery for this specialised field, and at one time even exported by the crateload to the Bahamas.

Jessie always had a deep love of the sea and her favourite occupation was painting and sketching fishing boats and harbours. She was a popular member of arts groups wherever she lived, and her paintings were regularly exhibited in group shows as well as the prestigious Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and the Royal Bath and West Show. She painted for quiet pleasure and never for commercial gain and often if a visitor admired a painting it would be given away.

Jessie passed away peacefully in her sleep on Christmas morning, leaving a surviving brother Gerald and sister Betty, her two sons and grandchildren.

Added by: Robert Lavers on 8 January 2011.

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