Leigh: ‘Sorry to bother you but are you Tara Nash daughter of Penny Nash. Apologies for asking’
Tara: ‘Yes, that’s right. Did you know her?’ I see you worked at Horncastle! I am Penny’s youngest daughter’
Leigh: ‘Oh Fantastic say hello. I used to drive Lisa and Polly to school. Your Dad wanted me to do that for him. Last time I saw you, you were running around the garden. How are your sisters?’
Do you read text messages so fast that you read them incorrectly? Well, I do that a lot! In that last sentence, I read:
‘Oh fantastic, your Dad says hello, he wanted me to do that for him’
I replied excitedly:
Tara: ‘Hi! Are you connected to my Fathers spirit? My sisters are both great, we are all very close. I will let Polly and Lisa know you said hi’
Leigh: ‘I loved working with your Dad, such a man. I will always remember him and your mum. Pls say hi to both of them, great to hear from you’
We exchanged a few more sentences. I told him that I had been looking back recently and and had been interviewing family friends about them, I asked if he would be willing to have a conversation with me and he was open to that.
I realised quite quickly that he must have thought I was slightly mad when I asked if he was connected to my Fathers Spirit!! I decided to ignore that comment since it did not change the rhythm of our conversation.
I do love to speak to mediums and psychics and astrologers you see, but Leigh was not one of those! He was a die-hard fan of my Fathers and I was excited to talk to him about the past.
I personally do not remember Leigh, he worked for the business in the late 80’s early 90’s when I was 6 – 10 years old. He remembers me racing around the kitchen, said I was a real live wire. He worked at the dealership, but for a side hustle he used to drive my sisters Polly and Lisa to school and help with other taxying errands as they were in their teens and starting to party.
Leigh had this real admiration and love for Horncastle, he said he wished he had been born 10 years earlier so he could have had 10 more years working for the business, the 10 years that my Dad was in charge, when it was a true man’s world! He said it wasn’t like going to work and the benefit was, you got paid for it! Leigh said he felt very proud working for my Dad, and it was a privilege to be close to our family.
Even though my Dad was in a senior position he was still ‘one of the boys,’ he would go to the pub with them all, drink whisky, smoke and play Poker. Leigh told me that sometimes, when my Dad would be getting quite drunk, they would play Poker for day’s off!
Leigh said ‘we sold a lot of car’s in those days and it was a work hard, play hard mentality, everyone was on the same page and we worked as a team.’ He remembers my Dad walking into the showroom on Thursdays or Fridays and ask the salesmen, ‘what cash deposits do you have? I can’t be bothered to go to the bank!’ and they would just hand him over wads of cash and off he would go with it.
What a different era it was back then, the days of wads of cash, smoking cigarettes at your desk, playing poker for days off, spending quality time with your staff – much more relaxed than the days we live in now.
Two years ago, I discovered the Facebook group ‘Horncastle Ford…Gone, but not forgotten’ I was really taken by this. Employees are re-connecting and reminiscing of their time working for our family business.
This has opened me up more to the exploration of my family history and particularly the characters of our parents as entrepreneurs. I find it so interesting that they created more than a business, they created a community and they left a legacy of memories that were created by everyone who worked there.
Some comments from the Facebook group are:
‘one of the best places I ever worked, such a laugh!’
‘Wish I loved my job like I did then and the people I worked with’
‘They were the best days; I so miss this place’
It made me think, what was it that made such a community that its memory remains vibrant today?
There were a lot of social events, parties and fundraising initiatives photos of these are being shared on the Facebook group. I am sure getting people out of their work environment regularly and into a social mix made deeper friendship bonds and more cohesive teams.
During the booming 80’s the annual Christmas parties had no expense spared, they were incredibly generous affairs, 3 course meals, live music, entertainment from magicians to hypnotists, a free bar flowing, and everyone’s taxis home were paid for.
Were these simpler and more cohesive party times? Smoking was not banished to the pavement, class A’s and dietry requirements were yet to be a thing, everyone was eating the same menu and riding the same high of alcohol and nicotine. This was a time for everyone to let their hair down and in true British style get blind drunk if they so wished.
These annual lavish parties would often have a theme like the ‘Swinging Sixties,’ they were always held at the same location, The Reading Masonic Lodge. A purpose-built entertaining venue, a very large room, with patterned wallpaper in golds and browns and clashing patterned carpets, the central focus was a stage with a wooden dance floor and there would be a DJ or live band at the back. The room was always decorated with balloons, a Christmas tree and healthy measures of tinsel!
During this time the late 70’s and 80’s it was BDD (Before Dad Died), our Mum was chief party organiser, she would decide on the theme and organise the room decoration, buying up party favours of cheap accessories like sunglasses or hair pieces to liven up the outfits.
Our Mum was very creative and good with the details. It was her job to decide on the menu, I even found one in the Horncastle Archives, safely stored by the organised sister, Polly
Our parents had a natural flair for holding a good party and making people feel a certain way, they made everyone feel relaxed and they connected to people. They were people’s people and took an interest in everyone they worked with.
And our home lives and family lives were punctuated in the same way, by parties. We have so many memories and photos from parties throughout our childhood.
I noticed on the Facebook group, photos of my sister Polly’s 21st, it was a Roman style Toga themed party. I wondered if this was confusing for some people because it was not a company party, but a lot of employees were invited, it just goes to show this over lapping, interlacing business and family, because that’s how it was. Some employee’s became family friends.
This is a delicate balance, particularly when you need to fire people or make cuts. It makes me think a lot about a great company I worked for before starting my own business, called Anya Hindmarch. This business also has a family flavour, Anya’s husband is her finance director and her father would sometimes drop into the office for board meetings.
This was also a special place to work and attracted a certain type of employee. I have many friends from my time working there that I still have them in my life today. We have fond memories from that time, also great parties and company day’s out.
Sometimes, people were asked to leave, and I would think, well this is not really a big family is it? I would sit a little bit in judgement at Anya in her choices, I know certain people would not necessarily be a fit and then they would sort of disappear and I would think, why does she call it a family, when it’s a business?
Well I have more years of life experience behind me now and having run my own business, I know that managing teams and staff are the hardest part and a great deal of responsibility. Not only that, but I do not have such a rose-tinted idealistic view of families, I know plenty of people that have essentially fired their parents or siblings because they are not a good fit for their lives anymore.
So I digress, on a bit of a tangent because it makes me see the stress and strains, the wins and gains for the leaders, the successful entrepreneurs like my parents and Anya Hindmarch and to a much lesser degree myself at Chic&Seek. The decisions made at the top cannot be always be liked by everyone.
I am interested to know more about those parts about my parents, not all the celebratory, complimentary sides. I want to hear more about the things that upset people, the things that happened they didn’t agree with or the people that were employed to try and steer the business towards continued success.
I know that when my Dad died, it affected so many people, and Leigh told me,
‘it changed overnight, with Peter not rowing the boat, it didn’t feel secure a lot of people left.’
Leigh left a couple of years after my Father dying, I could tell he did not have anywhere near the same admiration for my Mother as a boss. The grief and shock of my Father’s death hit hard for a magnitude of people far reaching beyond immediate family.
At the end of our conversation I did acknowledge my comment to Leigh about him being connected to my Fathers Spirit! I said,
‘you must have thought I was completely mad, I am glad it didn’t put you off talking to me.‘ We both laughed.
I will end this piece where my Father died, it was the very start of the 90’s and my Mother was suddenly widowed with three daughters. She decided to step into the very male dominated business of running a car dealership and also filling the shoes of my Father who was so loved, a man’s man and the boom of the 80’s was coming to an end and recession was looming fast.
She had tough shoes to fill, how would she do?
A special thanks to Leigh and and others who I have spoken or have taken the time to write to me about their experiences of Horncastle, I am so grateful.
If you have memories or stories about your time working for Horncastle or about my parents in general, I would love to hear from you!
Please do not hesitate to get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org and lets arrange a time to chat!