The Filton couple together until the end

by Shane Gibson

A husband and wife, who were married for almost seven decades, and lived in the same Filton house for 64 years, have passed away, just two days apart.

Hilda Hennessey died on March 16, followed by her husband Richard only two days later.

Their son Bryan and daughter-in-law Alison have put together an account of the couple’s lives taken from sources written by Alison and letters (circa 2016 – 2019) from Hilda and Richard to Bryan.

Hilda was born on August 1, 1931 and spent her childhood living with her three siblings at Ash Road in Bishopston.

Richard was born at Clement Street, in St Pauls on June 29, 1930. He had seven siblings.

During the war, Hilda was evacuated to Buckland Dinham in Somerset where she lived with Mrs Rabbits and her son Hugh.

Richard and his brother Pat were evacuated to Exmouth but they didn’t stay long as they had their belongings stolen by some boys from London.

They made their way to the train station where the station master notified the police and their sister Flo came down to collect them. They remained in Bristol.

In his letters, Richard wrote: “In 1939, war broke out. I was about 11 and we had terrible bombing in Bristol.

“Mum asked if we could use the corporation air raid shelter. As soon as we heard the sirens go off, we would rush to the shelter.

“That night the German planes came over and bombed Bristol, St Clements Church and most of the town shops were demolished and all hell was let loose.

“When the ‘all clear’ went off, Pat and I went outside to look for shrapnel and incendiary bombs. Castle Street had been gutted.”

Fate would bring Hilda and Richard together on Valentine’s Day 1947 at Morris’ Dance Hall. It was at the Jamaica Street venue where Hilda was learning ballroom dancing.

Hilda wrote: “Our dances were the poly slide, tangos of different names, Gay Gordons, and that’s when dad [Richard] saw me dancing with various boys, and he thought, ‘she’s a bit of alright’ and he came over to where we all sat and asked me for a dance.

“He had wavy, fairish hair, lovely teeth and wore a white scarf … that was the fashion. Then he walked me home.

“He would wait at the centre after I finished work (he rode his bike) and persuaded me to go out with him.

“He also watched me play table tennis and came to meet me from night school. We must have been made for each other.”

Richard would recount a similar story to Bryan.

“I met your mum when I was seventeen. I thought, she is a bit of a smasher. We sat on one side of the ballroom and the girls on the opposite sides.

“I did pluck up the courage to ask your mum for a dance or many dances and I would walk her home to Ash Road. And that was the beginning of our extraordinarily long-loving relationship.

We would go to the Hippodrome and sit up in the Gods. We used to walk up the Downs or walk around to St. Andrews Park.

“The premiere picture house was at the bottom of Ash Road, and we went to see a film most weeks.”

Their relationship almost did not get off the ground. During one of their first dates, they were stopped by a policeman and charged for riding two on a bicycle and for riding through a halt sign.

They were fined ten shillings each by the magistrate. As a result, Hilda’s parents thought Richard was a ‘bad ‘un’. When the couple decided to become serious, Richard gave up football, and Hilda her dancing.

Hilda wrote: “We got engaged when I was 21 years old, Mum bought a lovely cake, and my party was in the front room with Doreen, Joyce, Jack, Norman, Grandma Harris, and Auntie Olive. Dad took photos. I had lots of lovely presents and Dad bought me my three diamonds ring, for £26, which was lovely.”

On the June 12, 1954, Richard and Hilda married at Horfield Baptist Church. In February 1957, their son Bryan was conceived but only two months into the pregnancy, Richard fell seriously ill.

Richard wrote: “Easter time April 20, 1957, I was working at the BAC. On Good Friday I was very poorly. I felt and looked bad. I thought that it was some sort of food poisoning. I went to bed.

“[Hilda] rang the doctor, and I was taken to Ham Green hospital. My stomach was bloated, [Hilda] was not allowed in, and my hankies had to be thrown in from the door onto my bed.

“I was at once taken to Southmead hospital for an emergency operation. [Hilda] was told that I was terribly ill and only had a 50-50 chance of survival. It was only then that I was told that [Hilda] was two months pregnant. I am sure the news helped me through the operation.

“My burst appendix gave me a worrying time and [Hilda] wondered if our baby would have a daddy.”

Hilda believed that when Richard knew about the baby, it would give him the strength to get well again.

Eventually Richard did get better and he did get to meet his son. Bryan became their greatest joy.

The family settled into their home in Stanley Avenue, Filton when Bryan was two years old.

Hilda and Richard would continue to live a rich and full life facing adversity and fate together.

Alison said: “In 1986, Hilda and Richard were travelling in their Danbury van to their static van in Dorset when a driver on the opposite side fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into them.

“Richard swerved so it was not a head-on collision, but they still both ended up in hospital in Southampton. Hilda also survived breast cancer in 2007.

“They were a pair of proper survivors, until it was no longer possible.

“When Richard was given a diagnosis of multiple myeloma this year on January 7, it put a huge strain on Hilda.”

Bryan and Alison helped her to visit Richard in hospital, but it was too much. Hilda sadly passed away on March 16.

That evening, Bryan gently broke the news about Hilda to his dad, with the help of Andy the carer.

Richard slipped away just two days later, on March 18.

Alison added: “It was as if they could not live without each other.”