Former nurse who cared for babies and elderly in Northampton for more than 50 years organises her own 100th birthday party

Ellen Matthews celebrates her 100th birthday with her daughter, Beryl, nurse and staff at Shades
Ellen Matthews celebrates her 100th birthday with her daughter, Beryl, nurse and staff at Shades

A Northampton woman who organised her own 100th birthday has spent the morning getting ready at a mini celebration event at one of the town’s newest salons.

Ellen Matthews, from Wootton, turned 100 on Tuesday and will be marking the milestone with a party at Wootton Community Centre tonight in the company of more than 100 friends and family members from around the country.

She said: “There will be music and food and dancing until midnight - but I will probably go home around 10 o’clock as I get a bit tired.”

Mrs Matthews, who now has a six-month-old great-great-grandniece, first moved to Stoke Goldington at two years old, when she was evacuated from London as an orphan during the First World War with her brother. She said: “I had a band around my arm saying where I had to be put, and we moved in with a widow who was very strict and religious. I never knew my parents and my father was already away fighting, but when I was born my grandmother sent him a message to say that he had had a lovely ginger-headed baby girl.”

At 14 she was offered a place at college to study nursing and “domestic training” and at 17 was given her first job taking care of a severly disabled five-year-old boy, during which time she met her soon-to-be first husband, Alfred Garlick.

Mrs Matthews said: “He worked at the farm next door and he seemed like a big strong man, very blonde, and he always used to whistle at me.”

The pair were married for 27 years before they divorced and had two children together: Beryl and Donald.

Mrs Matthews’ career as a nurse took her across the East Midlands, including a placement working at Northampton General Hospital (NGH) taking care of premature and thalidomide-affected babies, and the south coast. She then returned to Northampton to run care homes around the town where she met her second husband, former Navy sailor and Chronicle and Echo foreman, Wally Matthews.

“Wally used to come to the care home to put on games for the residents and visitors,” she said, “We had both turned 60 and were quite lonely, and one day he asked me to the cinema. A year later we were married.”

Wally passed away in February 1995, but Mrs Matthews has kept herself busy with her family, friends and favourite hobby: painting.

She said: “I was recently named Northampton’s oldest painter in the Chron. I love to paint the sea, especially crashing waves, and I also enjoy flower arranging - I think that’s related to my autism.

“But I enjoy life, and I enjoy people. Over the years I have done a lot of things and travelled a lot. The most memorable trip was when I went to Rome and saw the Pope in St Peter’s square. It was raining, but there were so many people that you couldn’t even fall over.

“Yet, at heart, I am a country person and I have very lovely memories of holidays on the canal with my second husband, seeing all the animals and nature in the summer.

“I suppose I still have a lot I can learn and I hope to continue being able to enjoy life with the people around me. The only thing I cannot master is anything to do with online technology; sometimes I feel like I am living in a different planet because everything has changed. It’s not the same world as I used to know.”

Mrs Matthews has been preparing for her party today by having her hair and nails done at Shades salon in Gold Street in Northampton town centre, where the entire staff team greeted her with balloons, cake and even a red carpet at the entrance.

Her daughter Beryl, aged 78, also came along and said: “Mother is even fitter than I am and I am so proud of her.”

Mrs Matthews said she was very much looking forward to tonight’s event and listening to some of her favourite music, including Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley.