A GREAT grandmother of 14 whose refined upholstery handiwork adorned mansion houses of London has received her telegram from the new King after celebrating her 100th birthday surrounded by close family.
Mary Hackworth once trained as an upholsterer and seamstress in Bangor and in her younger years helped bedeck the London house of Cyril Lord, the ‘carpet king’.
And with one of his factories in Donaghadee, Mary’s handstitching talents also went into creating the beautiful soft furnishings of his Warren Road home.
Mary, nee Cleland, has lived close to the place of her birth in Ballyhaskin outside Millisle, in 1923, all her life, walking daily to Carrowdore Primary School, where her attendance attracted the beneficence of the owner of Woburn House, understood to be Arthur Reynell Pack-Beresford.
He was the antecedent of wealthy industrialist John Gilmore Dunbar who built the home – better known as Millisle Borstal – in the late 18th century and used it as his summer mansion in Northern Ireland.
Mary’s daughter, Paula Spence explained how the death of her mother’s father when she was just three years old placed her and her five siblings in the category of orphans, despite having a living mother.
Their situation led Mary and her Carrowdore classmates to enjoy the generosity of Dunbar’s ancestor, receiving new shoes and coats from the wealthy landowner once a year, and also enjoying the annual Christmas party at Woburn house.
“My mum always remembered the grand staircase in the house, and a lot of locals would have worked there, as maids,” said Paula, who is 59.
Mary, who also had another daughter, her first child, the late Fredagh, and a brother George, worked as an adult for the Fire Srvice, manning the switchboard at a Belfast brigade, before marrying Paula’s father, the late Freddie, in 1950 at Christ Church in Carrowdore.
Continuing her seamstress work throughout her life, Paula said her mother sewed and stitched for ‘everyone’.
“She kitted out our house and everybody’s when she was fit and well. There was no such thing as Harry Corry for her,” she quipped.
“Unfortunately she didn’t hand it down to us, but she did fantastic cross-stitching for us and patchwork quilting. We were all big Disney fans when we were kids and she made us all Mickey Mouse pictures in cross-stitch,” she recalled fondly.
Recalling another noteworthy aspect of her mother’s life, Paula revealed Mary had been ‘recognised by the British Legion for selling poppies for 40 years, in the times when people went to people’s doors to sell them’.
In her later years, and up to her retirement in her early 70s, Mary helped manage her son-in-law’s tobacconist and confectionery shop, the Candy Corner, in Ards Shopping Centre.
Mary, having reached a century, remains in fine fettle, and now grandmother to five children and 14 great grandchildren aged from 19 to four, she was surrounded by her loved ones at a special event at the Ava in Bangor.
The popular local eatery is owned by the son of her late daughter Fredagh, well-known Bangor businessman, Andrew Gedge.
Mary only recently moved into Copelands Care Home in Millisle, where she is a few years senior to a handful of others who have reached their early 90s.
Manager of the home, Sharon McIlroy, paid tribute to their oldest resident by hosting an afternoon tea for Mary, allowing other residents to wish her well on her special day.