It’s feet up for Beryl and Monica after 65 years of talking turkey

Lilley stalwarts Beryl Rowe (left) and Monica Thomas who are retiring after organising Christmas lunches for the village old folk for 65 years
Lilley stalwarts Beryl Rowe (left) and Monica Thomas who are retiring after organising Christmas lunches for the village old folk for 65 years

When Beryl Rowe and Monica Thomas made their first Christmas dinner for Lilley senior citizens way back in 1950, food was still rationed, there was no village hall and guests were given gifts of cigarettes.

Now, 65 years later and in their 80s, they’ve decided to call it a day.

The last Lilley Over 60s Christmas lunch took place on Saturday (December 5) in the Cassel Hall and ended with three rousing cheers for the dynamic duo who’ve never missed a beat in more than six decades.

It all came about because Monica’s dad Ted Holmes, who ran the Lilley Model Club, suggested it would be fitting for its teenage members to do something for the old folk.

Monica, now a grandmother of three, said: “We had it in the school – long since closed – which had no facilities whatsoever. There was no kitchen so all the food was prepared in homes round about.

“I can still remember the menu – tinned meat, chicken, sausages, potatoes, pickles, beetroot and Brussels sprouts, followed by jelly or blancmange and tea and coffee and mince pies.

“We used all our own crockery and cutlery and there was the most terrible muddle at the end sorting out what belonged to who.”

That first year they had a sing-song on a stage made of straw bales but an old lady from Lilley Bottom really got in the mood and wouldn’t stop.

“So the next year we put on a panto,” Beryl smiled, and added: “Looking back I can’t remember how we managed in those early days, especially when we both had babies – it’s a complete blur.”

But manage they did – with a little help from a loyal team, including Beryl’s daughter Libby Tavener and Lilley stalwart Rose Geary.

And even though the hall currently boasts a well-equipped kitchen and industrial-size cooker, they still have their heart-stopping moments – like the Christmas the oven didn’t work and the bird had to be divided into portions and farmed out to volunteers around the village.

The indomitable duo, who are also responsible for Lilley’s famous Flower Festival, met in the choir as teenagers and are now both widows.

Grandmother-of-two Beryl is president of the Women’s Institute and a church warden. She also served on the parish and parochial church councils. She was awarded an MBE in 2010 for service to the community.

Monica plays the organ, following in the footsteps of her mother Maud. She runs the church choir and is in charge of the white elephant stall at the village fete.

Although they’ve officially retired, the tireless twosome are already talking about how they’re going to help next year.