Family recalls Gwen's colourful life - from working for a Lord and Lady to growing her own veg at the allotments

Woman posing for pic on seafront

Gwen at Rock Walk - Credit: Submitted

The much-loved 'Matriarch' of one of Torquay's most well-known families has died at the age of 94.

Gwen Simmonds was the eldest of six children for Doris and Fred Chalk from Warren Road

Her brothers were/are Derek, Gordon and Colin with sisters Pam and Janet.

She was born on March 14, 1927, and all the family lived at 12 Warren Road.

Gwen left school at 14 worked in several hotels. She was a waitress at the old Addisons cafe and evenings at the former  Marine Spa Ballroom or at Torquay Town Hall. She saved all her massive tips from the American GI’s (they hated British coins) to pay for her wedding

She married painter and decorator Geoff Simmonds in 1947 at St Luke’s Church. Geoff lived opposite her in a guest house at Culverdale 41 Warren Road.
Geoff died in 1990 but Gwen had daughters, the late Wendy and Julie. They lived in Torridge Ave in Shiphay for 18 years.

Gwen also worked for British Ambassador Sir Ian and Lady Henderson in Wellswood as a cook for many years. She was then cook and housekeeper for Mr and Mrs Thorpe in Vane Hill Road. Mrs Thorpe was secretary to Mr Lily from Lily & Skinner of London.
Gwen took in visitors for many years and grew her own veg and fruit.  Later she had an allotment at Barton where she lived for 21 years  before moving to a sheltered bungalow in Wallace Avenue in her beloved Shiphay where she lived for the last 27 years of her colourful life.

She volunteered a day a week in the Save The Children shop in Union Street for five years and then the Scope charity shop  for five years before retiring completely.

She had five grandsons and 12 great grandchildren aged between seven and 27.

Family photo

Gwen with daughter Julie and Julie's eldest son Jonathan. - Credit: Submitted


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She wrote frequently about bygone days and she also organised an annual reunion of residents in Warren Road for 10 years which put old school friends and neighbours in touch again. She kept scrap books of the reunions.

Reunion party for residents

One of the reunions - Credit: Submitted

Daughter Julie said: "There was one word in her vocabulary that didn’t exist for mum. That was 'no'. She was generous to a fault and never had a bad word to say about anyone. All the family have very fond and happy memories of her,.

"Mum was an excellent daughter, sister, wife, aunt, mum, gran, great gran and friend to so many. I’m devastated as I have lost my best friend too."

End of war street party

Celebrating the end of the war in Warren Road - Credit: Submitted