Hay-On-Wye resident Lynn Trowbridge is celebrating her 100th birthday today, the 7th of November. To celebrate, we look back on Lynn's extraordinary life, from finding herself in a 'waifs and strays' home when she was a child, to becoming the first woman manager of a business.
Born in Trethomas, Lynn hasn't always lived in Wales. She returned back to Wales after regularly visiting Hay-On-Wye throughout her life. "I've lived in Hay for about twenty-five years, but I've been coming here for a long time. I had a friend who lived on a farm in Clyro and one of my hobbies was horse riding, so that brought me here and I'd come down here most weekends. When I retired I moved down here. It was the best thing I did, really, because I had so many friends here, and it's a lovely place to be. For the first time in my life, for the last ten or fifteen years, I feel like I finally belong. I never felt like I belonged, but I have this sense of belonging being here."
That sense of belonging was once missing from Lynn's life, who recalls a less than favourable childhood. When she was a child, her parents passed away, and she was moved to the midlands, where she found herself in the Church of England's Home for Waifs and Strays in Leamington Spa.
"The very name is a downer. Even then, I remember thinking that I was not a waif and stray. It was an unfortunate description but that's how things were those days. We were not encouraged to do aspirational things those days. We were told we would only be domestic servants and that was it. If we went into domestic service, we'd have a roof over our heads and we'd be fed. I could understand that part, but there was no encouragement to aspire to anything different."
She left school at fourteen and was obliged to go into domestic service. "It didn't suit me at all. I thought, 'I'm worth more than this'. I left the first place I was assigned to because they didn't pay me, and then I got a job in domestic in the local hospital, being paid seven and sixpence. Out of those wages, I would pay for night school to learn typing. I don't know why, but I knew I wanted to do something other than domestic work. I always knew I was worth more than what I was doing."
At seventeen, Lynn saw an opportunity to develop herself and joined the RAF. "I fought through life and during the war, I joined the RAF for five and a half years. I went abroad to North Africa and Egypt. Volunteering to join the RAF, in a way, was the best thing I could have possibly done. People there didn't know me. They didn't know my background. I could be whoever I wanted to be. I never spoke about my background because the last thing I wanted was for people to feel sorry for me. I could be my own person and I flourished. When I came out of the services, I was able to get a job as a clerk. I finished up as a branch manager for a national company. I've had quite an eventful life, really. Life has been good to me. Whatever misfortune befell me when I was a child, life has made it up to me 1000%.
"I saw quite a lot of changes for the better. Not always, but mostly. Life has been better as I've aged. The older I've got the better it's got. I didn't have a happy childhood but I survived it and did the best I could."
She went on to rise to the highest position in a company called John Blundell's Limited. "I was the first female boss of the company. It was always men before that, so it felt good. I suppose I stood out a bit, but I don't remember coming up against any bad attitudes because of where I was."
When she retired, moving to Hay was an easy decision for Lynn. It turned out to be a good choice for her, too. It was here she discovered her talent for writing, going on to author two books about her life. She's even spoken at the Hay Festival and shared her talent for writing with other budding writers in the town of books. "One of my hobbies was making pictures and cards out of pressed flowers. There was a cafe in Hay that used to let me bring my work in. Out of the blue, I had a phone call from someone who said they'd bought some of my things from the cafe and asked if I wanted to supply her with more. She asked to meet me, so we met at the old Stables cafe and then after that, we started a correspondence through letters. She asked me if I wrote the next time we met, and when I said I didn't, she told me I should, because she said I wrote amazing letters and said if I can write letters I can write."
This friend helped Lynn explore the medium of writing, which would lead to her eventually joining the Hay Writers' Circle. After a few years, she became chairman. "My friend gave me a magazine that was asking for accounts of people's childhoods in Wales. I sent off the article and to my surprise and delight, they accepted it, paying me £20. The person I'd met was a writer who belonged to the Hay Writers Circle and asked me if I'd join them, so I did and eventually became the chairman. After that, I never stopped writing. It revolutionised my life in many ways."
She continued until she had a heart attack eleven years ago. "After that, I thought it was time to pack it in."
Age hasn't slowed Lynn down. She still writes and is still an active member of Hay's society. "I still feel useful. I go to church on Sunday and the community aspect of it is good. A lot of my friends are churchgoers."
Now, on her 100th birthday, Lynn has two celebrations planned. One, with her family, and the second date with her friends, including the writers of Hay's Writing Circle, and Father Richard Williams, parish priest of St Mary's Church in Hay. "I have mixed feelings. In some ways, I would like it to pass quietly with nobody none the wiser, but that's a selfish way of looking at things. I think a lot more people are looking forward to it than I am. I'm looking forward to it. I just hope I can stand up to the celebrations of it. When you get to my age you do get tired fairly easily."
But she's not slowing down, and her secret to a healthy life is simple. "I've always been health conscious and I do exercise every day, and I'm happy. That's the secret."
There's also another reason that might be at play, but Lynn wouldn't admit this is the reason for her long life. "I never wanted to marry. I'm happily single. I had a boyfriend who was keen on photography. He got on my nerves. Everyone after him also got put in the dustbin."