Winifred Little died on 20 December 2021 aged 92. She spent her life in the Eden Valley, that gentle, understated, pastoral land between lakes and north Pennines.
Winifred Wilkinson was raised in Culgaith, married Norman Little from Renwick, lived in Langwathby, then Lazonby, Kirkoswald and finally Penrith. She and Norman raised three children, the eldest of whom was a couple of years junior to me at Penrith Grammar School, the other two following after.
Why do I write about Winifred?
With her death, there is now nobody left of the older generation that influenced me. Winifred’s guidance was not dramatic or earth-shattering, but gentle, enabling and kindly – words that describe Winifred herself.
Winifred nurtured my musical gifts long before anyone else.
Monkhouse life in the 1950s in Langwathby revolved around the Methodist Chapel. Sunday School at 2 o’clock followed by the main service at 3. There was the rota for entertaining visiting preachers (imagine my alarm when later on it was our turn to feed and water the Grammar School deputy headmistress). There were Kirkoswald Methodist Circuit socials in the village hall. Chapel was pervasive. My memories of Sunday School are in no way grey, dull or controlling but warm, informative and interesting to a somewhat solitary and self-sufficient boy in short pants (though I took against felt crafts),
And that atmosphere was down largely to Winifred. Don’t get me wrong – she was not mumsy, indulgent, or sentimentally emotional: fellsiders know nothing of indulgence or emotional sentimentality. She was kind, unassuming and considerate – but firm.
Winifred played the hymns on the foot-pumped reed organ. She schooled us for the big events like Sunday School Anniversary and Harvest. She gave me my first solo “Jesus, friend of little children”. I was about eight and can remember exactly where I stood and how I felt – nervous. I made a mistake but there was no criticism, just encouragement. Winifred pushed me to play for Sunday School and later for the main service, and she made sure I could play hymns properly. Because of Winifred, I began to uncover the riches of the Wesleys’ hymns.
She shared her gifts with the surrounding area by teaching, and running and accompanying choirs, her musicianship far exceeding that to be expected in what was then a remote rural backwater.
Long before piano and organ lessons and O level music, Winifred Little opened a door through which I glimpsed enchantment and enlightenment.
To say that I am thankful for her is truly an understatement.