Sarah Bickley 1900 - 1978

Diane Cooper Smith

Sarah Ann Gardner, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Gardner, was born in Hidcote Boyce and radiated a good natured sunny disposition from her birth.  She was ‘four foot nothing’, with brown hair drawn tightly into a bun, round-faced, rosy-cheeked and smiling, but she neither suffered fools gladly nor tolerated injustice.  Her next-door-neighbours, two spinsters, complained about the large amounts of washing on the line of an adjacent household; the offending clothes line belonged to a family with numerous children.  Sarah, incensed by this unjust and unfeeling complaint, standing on a box looking over the wall said to the miserable pair

You’m only jealous ‘cus you ‘ent got any!

In Spring 1932 at Stow-in-the-Wold, Sarah married farm worker George Bickley, son of Edward and Jane Bickley of Westington Chipping Campden.  The couple lived for many years at The Bank, Broad Campden, but they had no children.

Theatrical associations

Broad Campden has had a number of thespian residents, such as Peggy Ashcroft, Richard Todd, Sam Wanamaker, Alan Badel and Elizabeth Sellers, because The Royal Shakespeare Company owned a cottage there, where actors lived while appearing on stage at Stratford-upon-Avon.  Sarah became their housekeeper and George their gardener, many actors staying in contact with the couple long after their Stratford ‘run’ came to an end.  Perhaps the most famous residents were Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh and Sarah and George were frequently invited to the Olivier’s London home.  On one famous occasion, Sir Laurence had insisted that Sarah came to see him in a performance at Stratford; he had secured the tickets for her in the front seats of the auditorium.  In an affectionate display of friendship, the actor threw her a rose.  Sarah, who was singularly unimpressed with such a frivolous gesture was heard to say:

Now what ‘e wunt a gew and do that fer?

How many women in the audience that evening would have ‘swooned’ at the thought of being singled out by their idol?

The couple moved to the Almshouses in Chipping Campden just two years before George’s death, and Sarah lived on there for a further six years.  The delightful, eternally cheerful Sarah was a shining example of a genuine countrywoman, totally lacking in pretention, at ease with herself, undemanding, unimpressed with fame and fortune, reflecting to an extent the very character of Campden itself.  To actors whose professional life required them to play a part, Sarah must have been a refreshingly honest breath of pure Cotswold air.

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