The Coalpit Heath centurian with a firm grip on the 21st Century

August 18 2013
The Coalpit Heath centurian with a firm grip on the 21st Century

Alice Witherall may be 101, but she's not being left behind by technology. The resident of Woodlands Manor is always keen to get on the computer.

“I’LL just see if Alice is free; I think she’s Skypeing her niece”. That was the greeting when Frome Valley Voice called to say Happy Birthday.

Alice Witherall might have been born in the early years of the 20th century but she is certainly not afraid of 21st century technology.

The centenarian has just celebrated her 101st birthday at Woodlands Manor in Coalpit Heath, where she has lived since last October

Alice was born in Tipton in the Black Country on July 19, 1912 – the year the Titanic sank and two years before the start of the First World War.

Her father Tom was an engineer and she has many memories of her tender years in the West Midlands.

“It was very industrial, with canals and lots of dust from when there had been mines. There were no parks and not much grass – nowhere to play really. I remember collecting lumps of coal to take home to my mum.”

Tom and his wife Annie moved with Alice and her brother Howard and sister Unita to Wantage in Berkshire at the end of the Great War. When Alice was 14, she got a job in a a drawing office at an engineering works as a draughtswoman/tracer – an unusual role for a young woman.

She left ten years later when she married Stanley Witherall, who was a school teacher.

It was Stanley’s job at a school in Staple Hill that brought the couple to Bristol. They made their home in Montpelier, in a large house off Sussex Place.

But Stanley had to give up work after suffering fits and blackouts and surgeons at Frenchay Hospital discovered he had a brain tumour, which led to his death in 1960 at the age of 53.

“I was able to pay the mortgage off out of the superannuation but I had to go out to work to keep myself,” said Alice.

“I worked in the shoe department at Lewis’s for 14 years. I was busy earning a living and had no time for jollifications. When I got in I was tired out. I used to watch a lot of television.”

After she retired, Alice sold the house and moved to a bungalow in Abbeydale, Gloucester, near her brother where she lived alone until after she received her 100th birthday card from the Queen.

“I have always been a bit of a loner. I did not make bosom friends. My nieces and nephews help look after me.”

Alice celebrated her centenary quietly with family members, some of whom joined her a year later for a party to remember at Woodlands Manor, with plenty of food, drink and entertainment.

Asked for the secret of her long life, she said: “I have always bought good food and never squandered what I had.”