Bernice Lashbrook 1942-2024

Bernice Lashbrook

Bernice Lashbrook died on Monday 11 March 2024 at Musgrove Park Hospital. She had been admitted at the end of January, but had improved sufficiently to be on the verge of going home, but took a sudden turn. She will be deeply missed, being very active for the good of the town’s heritage for many years. 

Details of the following have been gathered from recollections, an interview Bernice gave to the Bridgwater Mercury 28 February 2008 and an article she composed for the ‘News and Views’, the magazine of the National Unitarian Federation. With thanks to Glynis and Jeff Finch, Tony Woolrich, Mike Searle, Astrid Wilkins.

Bernice Axe was born in Hayes, Middlesex in 1942, the youngest of three children of Herbert Axe (Royal Fusiliers and then factory worker) and Rose nee Burrell. Growing up she wanted to be a doctor, but on leaving school she worked as a junior and then as a secretary in various offices around London.

For a time she made home in a basement flat in Earls Court Gardens, Kensington, where in February 1967 a dog playing behind some curtains started a small fire (Kensington News and West London Times, 3 February 1967). She was very fond of dogs, her favourite was a black and white collie named Charlie, whose ashes are to be scattered with hers up on the Quantocks.

Bernice had impeccable skill as an administrator. She then joined an advertising agency and was allocated a small client base and also dabbled in small time modelling when clients could not afford professionals.

Bernice married Geoffrey James Lashbrook in the early 1970s. Bernice and her husband ran a reproduction furniture and import/export business. He sadly died of heart problems in October 1980, leaving Bernice without home or business. Now widowed, Bernice took up secretarial work again and was employed by the German company Siemens in 1982 and spent twenty happy years there, rising to become secretary to the UK managing director. She learnt German and made several trips there through work.

She retired to Bridgwater in 2002, following her close friend from Siemens, Glynis.

She was always public spirited, for example in May 1993 she was active aid relief for Albania, being appalled by the suffering occurring there. She was living at Rabournmead Drive in Ruislip at the time (Ealing & Southall Informer 28 May 1993). However, it was after moving to Bridgwater that she threw herself into service to the community. Bernice would write the following about her move to Bridgwater, which she described as her greatest achievement and the happiest time of her life:

When I moved to Bridgwater just over 20 years ago, apart from a friend with whom I had been working for many years in Sunbury and then Chertsey and who had moved with her husband to Bridgwater a year or so before me, I didn’t know anyone else.

With a love of history and having discovered there was a small Museum in the town, I visited and before long I found myself acting as Secretary to the Friends of the Museum.  It was at an interesting time as the local Council who had custody of the 16th century house in which the Museum was situated decided to close the building and develop the land for other use.   No need to go into the finer details but they failed and we survived! 

I also joined the Bridgwater & District Civic Society which did, and still does,  a sterling job in keeping an eye on protecting precious buildings within and on the borders of the designated ‘Conservation area’ of the town.  I again found myself acting as Secretary – funny how quickly a new person can find themselves doing this sort of thing isn’t it! 

For the museum Bernice also conducted research and transcription. She was heavily involved in cataloguing the John Chubb letters, which are now available to the public on the Bridgwater Heritage Group website. She also compiled a 26-page history of the museum, which was a working document composed to provide detailed administrative notes during efforts to save the museum from closure, following the withdrawal of Sedgemoor District Council. This sort of essential but seldom acknowledged work that Bernice was so active in. She was also prepared to roll her sleeves up and directly help with redecoration when the museum closed for refurbishment in 2009/10.

I (MKP) first met Bernice when I started volunteering for the Civic Society in 2006. At that time the society was headed by a powerhouse of talented retired grandees, particularly Dr Cattermole, Philip Smeed and Derek Gibson. Bernice was able to keep these gentlemen coordinated and provided the administrative professionalism that enabled various ambitious projects to be fulfilled, notably the heritage lottery grant that enabled the first two waves of Blue Plaques. She was unafraid to keep these gentlemen in check and rebuke any lapses into pomposity! Rightly, she was held in very high regard by them. She remarked:

Engaging with various local organisations and by offering a skill I thought might be helpful, not only did these activities enrich my life but I made an awful lot of friends so many of whom remain to this day  and that has given and continues to give me much pleasure.

She left the Civic Society in about 2012, about the time she stepped down at the museum. This was when she was most involved with the Unitarian Congregation, having been secretary and treasurer and becoming a lay preacher. Before moving to Bridgwater she had been an Anglican, but via her close friend at the museum Eleanor Dixon, she found a spiritual home. In 2019 she was President of the Western Region of Unitarian Chapels. She officiated at numerous civic event, and always offered a thoughtful spiritual reflection appropriate to the occasion. She had great love for the building and people, although in later years was less able to attend.

The only other voluntary position she retained alongside chapel was her role in the Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery. She was instrumental in the formation of the Friends, serving diligently as secretary from 2010 to 2019, but still attending meetings thereafter, as recently as the AGM in September 2022. At that meeting, although somewhat frail, she was characteristically joyful, thoughtful and energetic, peppered with her occasional wicked sense of humour, which she reserved for close friends.  

For the interview she gave to the Mercury, when asked what three items would you take to a desert island, she answered, “a thick notebook, an everlasting pen and a box of Mars Bars.” When asked who were her dream dinner party guests? She replied “Archbishop Tutu, Charles Dickens, Lenny Henry, Dawn French and a young Gregory Peck.” She loved going to national trust houses and also we went to Westonbirt Arboretum, which she loved. She had a passion for wild birds and fed them religiously in her garden.

Bernice was an accomplished writer of history, poems and stories, although she was too modest to consider herself a writer or historian. Sadly, her history of the Unitarian church was lost when one of her laptops died, something which is a great loss to the town. Her transcription of the Unitarian burial register was saved at least, and is published on the Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery website. The Friends published a collection of her short stories about the Critters of the Cemetery, which raised a hearty amount of money for the restoration of memorials in the burial ground.

It is perhaps only right that Bernice Lashbrook should have the last word of this obituary, this being her poem on the topic:


Death is an unbearable shock. It can hurt us to the very core of our being.

It can steal a parent; child; partner; lover; family member; dear friend at any time it chooses, often without warning.

It can visit someone whom we only know from a distance or someone we don’t know at all. The news is still received with sadness.

We cannot come to terms with it; question every aspect of it; curse it; get angry with it. We cannot hold back the tears; cannot eat or sleep properly. It seems there will never be a time when we can get away from the loss and pain it has inflicted upon us.

No-one seems to know exactly the right words to say at this time. We hear platitudes, kindly meant, but which do nothing to ease the numbness we feel. We go over memories time and time again which reduce us to tears; we cannot listen to music which we shared with our loved one without it tugging at our hearts and the tears flow again.

Why are others going about their business? Why are they laughing? Don’t they know or understand? It is said that ‘Time is a great healer’ but at this time, for us it isn’t. How can it be? This wound has cut deep and surely cannot heal.

But then, with the passing of time, the process of recovery begins. It may be short or long. Sadly, for some it never comes completely, if ever.

Most of us have close family and friends who will catch us and comfort us when we stumble and fall along the way. There are others who don’t have such comfort from anywhere. When they fall, they must try and pick themselves up and carry on the best they can.

Hopefully, with the dawning of each day the rawness of loss is eased by those memories, once so painful to recall, and which we can more comfortably visit; gradually bringing back recollections of the good times and, yes, sometimes the not so good times. They connect us to our loved one in a way which we can never explain nor fully understand.

Perhaps it is that capacity for love which is inside us all that helps us along the path of acceptance; that deep love which gives us strength but which we cannot adequately put into words. The hand of the Divine, in whatever form it takes for you, will hold you and gently lead you back.