It always impressed me
that Geoff built the house in School Lane on his own using all the stone
from the old cottages that he demolished, and making all the roof tiles
and large corner stones by hand with his home made formers and a
vibrating machine made up from a singer treadle sewing machine and a
Geoff was either on the allotment, in the barn or in
the churchyard digging a grave and you could generally find him by
locating his white bike. He was always on this bike which had no brakes
and a clothes peg holding it in third gear which he could change into a
lower gear by taking the peg off, but as this was beside the back wheel
it took quite a bit of skill when in motion, and he usually had an
extension ladder under one arm with a bucket of tools on the handle
bars. The only time I recall him coming off was in the early hours after
an extended single malt session in the Eliot.
Sue and I married in 1990 where Geoff’s advice to Sue
as he walked her to the church was "ere our Suze, its not too late to
call it off" I was never quite sure that he approved of a future son in
law that made a living sitting down in front of a computer.
Sue and I later moved into the other house that Geoff
built in Meadow Way where we started the task of clearing it out and
finishing it off. Geoff had turned the house and barn into his very own
South Cerney recycling facility and had managed to fill every room of
the house with various bits and pieces over the years. We had to
negotiate for the removal of his collection of 20 odd toilets in the
bedrooms, bathroom suites in the dining room, dozens of doors, a few old
kitchens, and there was the Morris Oxford in the lounge which was
eventually moved to the garden to join the other Morris Oxford which was
on the patio together with a Rover, Austin A35, two Metros, two cement
mixers and collection of old bikes which were all going to come in
useful one day.
Geoff was very generous until it came to giving money
to utility companies and so it was with Thames Water and his response to
an extortionate quote for a water connection was to get out the spade
and say, come on Patrick you’re going to dig a well. The Equipment
consisted of some 4 foot concrete rings which appeared from somewhere, a
spade, a bucket and two ropes one for me as a safety measure just in
case the sides came in, which he told me at around 12 foot down, and one
to lift the bucket up and down, I was never really sure if he would have
lifted me out before his bucket in the event of collapse.
As you will all know Geoff dug the majority of the
graves in the last few decades not hanging up his spade until he was in
his late 70's, they were all dug by hand and in the early days he would
dig the grave the same day as the funeral, get changed to help carry the
coffin and then fill in afterwards. It will probably surprise you to
learn that one of his last wishes was to be cremated, as he put it - he
had spent too long down holes in that churchyard.
He died at home with Julie and Suzie at his side and
he would have been very proud that on the night he died they were able
to dress him in his suit and sit with him taking a tipple of one of his
favourite single malt whiskies which is exactly the way Geoff would have
wanted. As Geoff put it when he was trying to tell sue of the death of a
relative – He’s called it a day, Thrown in the towel, gone gently
on…………South Cerney has certainly lost a great character.
Talk by Rev. David Bowers. Vicar
of South Cerney
Geoff was born in 1929 and spent his early years
living with his mum, dad and sister Ruby in Siddington. Geoff’s dad was
a cobbler who had a shop in Cricklade Street, Cirencester. Sometimes, if
his dad was working late, Geoff would go on his bike and take his dad a
hot meal. This meant going through Watermoor and the local lads took
great delight in dropping things from the railway bridge as Geoff cycled
by. It meant going as fast as Geoff could, dodging the missiles and
trying not to spill his dad’s tea.
Geoff ‘s first job was with his donkey, which he took
to the local railway station to collect passengers and luggage and took
to their destination in his cart At 14, towards the end of WW2, Geoff
left school and started work at a goat farm in Ewen, run by 2 old
ladies. He did very well for himself there as eventually the ladies left
most of the work to him and by the late 1940’s Geoff earned £1 a day
which was excellent money for a 20 year old. It was about this time that
the family moved to South Cerney.
This hard earned money enabled Geoff to develop his
love of motor cycles and he soon replaced his ex WD Royal with a new
Matchless which he used on the road and also he raced on it at tracks
like Thruxton. Never one to boast about his exploits but a programme for
Thruxton in the mid 50’s listed 2 guest riders, Geoff Duke, who was
500cc World Champion, and Geoff Andrews!
Geoff was a member of the Cirencester Motor Cycle
club and at the annual gymkhana his party trick was to jump his
Matchless through huge panes of glass to the delight of the crowd.
Health & Safety concerns were different in those days.
He hated holidays much preferring to spend his time
chatting with his friends whilst working on the motorbikes putting them
Then Geoff met Jean - Jean loved dancing so racing
took a back seat and Saturday night dances took over. They would travel,
on his motor bike, to the local village halls, and Geoff would sample
the local ale whilst Jean danced the night away.
Geoff and Jean married in the late 50’s and took over
The Old George public house. Jean would look after the pub, most days,
whilst Geoff took on some extra work such as grave digging and water
bailiff, and then they would both run the George in the evenings. Geoff
went into building work and in the late 60’s bought a plot of land in
Fairford and a derelict cottage in School Lane, South Cerney. In his
spare time, Geoff built a house in Fairford which he sold to fund the
building of a family home in School Lane. It turned out to be a perfect
location with an allotment next door and both the pub and church within
Although life sounded quite idyllic, there was a
great sadness as Jean developed dementia at a very early age. Geoff
cared for her at home and nursed her up to her death.
After this period, Geoff re-kindled his interest in
motor cycle racing mainly going to watch road racing, at the circuits
that he raced at, Thruxton, Silverstone etc., and occasional scrambles.
He loved classical music and radio 3 was always on either at the house
or in the churchyard whilst digging a grave. He was a friend to many
people in the village helping with tasks ranging from mending broken
drainpipes to keeping the Arnhem veterans graves tidy at Down Ampney.
He enjoyed countless tea breaks with his friends in
the village talking about anything and everything. Subjects included
potato blight, 18th century music, damned dogs!, European politics and
A proud moment in his life was when he received the
Maundy money from the Queen at Gloucester Cathedral in 2003, the
absolute delight at receiving an invitation from Clarence House!!
I know that everyone will have their own personal
memory or tale to tell of Geoff and as so many of the lovely cards that
the family have received say “He was a true gentle, gentleman”
Talk by Rev. John Calvert. Vicar
of South Cerney until 2007
I am very sad that I am not well enough to be with
you today to share in this celebration of Geoff’s life. I had been so
looking forward to reminiscing about his life and my working
relationship with him. So, this electronically ‘penned’ missive will
have to do. This is not a eulogy – merely my thoughts on Geoff. There
are many aspects of his life that can be better covered by others.
A year after I retired I attended a Vaughan
Williams memorial concert at Down Ampney and, by coincidence, Geoff
turned up in his van to dig a grave. We had a little chat and then I
said: ‘I’ve got my camera here so can I take your photograph?’ Geoff
slewed round in his seat and looked at the camera. What I took
epitomised Geoff. Ruddy complexion, cap, braces, a little rough
round the edges, a man of the soil (very much so as a gravedigger),
comfortable in the surroundings of his rather dilapidated van. It is
picture I shall continue to treasure because he was such a unique
In my 20 years as Vicar of South Cerney I got to
know Geoff well. Not that we socialised but we had plenty of chats
to put the world aright over a half-dug grave. He was in the true
sense of the word, a colleague. We both had a mutual task – to care
both for the dead and for the living, so that everything at that
Funeral hour would be perfect.
Geoff did not just dig the graves, he was my
right-hand man in terms of who was buried where – and in this respect he
was a fount of knowledge. ‘Do you think anyone else could be in here’ I
would ask. ‘I’ll have a dig around and let you know’, would be the
reply. ‘Can we get another grave in Cerney Wick?’ was a question raised
over the years. Geoff would have a chat with villagers, investigate and
say, to my surprise, ‘Yes, we can.’
Geoff, despite his relatively slight build, was
tough. I certainly couldn’t have done what he did in the short time he
had to dig a grave. But he was tough in another sense – and that was in
caring for Jean, his wife, struck down with Alzheimer’s in her 50s.
There was no fuss, no histrionics, Geoff just quietly got on with the
job of supporting and caring for Jean. It must have been a very hard
time and he would certainly have valued the support of Sue and Julie.
Geoff was a person of routine – every Sunday evening,
for instance, he and Jean would sit in the south aisle at Evensong.
After Jean’s death Geoff was still there every Sunday – a solid,
dependable member of All Hallows. However, he was also a man of
surprises! One evening I went to a meeting of the Cirencester Gramophone
Society and, low and behold, Geoff was there, smartly dressed. I learned
that he had a great interest in classical music and was a regular
member. I wonder what other surprises he had in store for people who got
to know him?
One of the great pleasures I had was in recommending
Geoff to receive the Royal Maundy money when the Queen attended
Gloucester Cathedral. Didn’t he look smart in his suit! I hope the
photograph of him holding the money is on show today.
Why did I put Geoff’s name forward? Because Geoff was
one of Gloucestershire’s unsung heroes, going about essential work
quietly and unobtrusively. Giving a lot to the community in which he
lived and breathed, without fuss. It was time to make a fuss of him.
I hope this service also makes a fuss of him. He gave
much in the service of this village church and this village community.
We place him in God’s loving arms at the end of a worthwhile life of
service to God and South Cerney. God bless him.