Ella Knight: Her Life & Times.



Ella 1982 Trowbridge
Ella at Trowbridge Folk Festival 1983

Ella Laura Elizabeth Knight


by John Langford


Ella was born on 6th May 1932 to Edric Richard & Emily Adams, in Winchester. She had a younger sister Hazel, who is here with us today. Ella’s father was a stoker on the ill fated battle cruiser HMS Hood and, luckily, was transferred to another ship before the Hood was sunk. There were just 3 survivors  


They later moved to Swanick near Fareham. During the war years, with their mother working and a father in the navy Ella & Hazel lived with their paternal grandparents, Elizabeth & Richard where they were well looked after. Elizabeth made them dresses with matching knickers. Richard was a gardener at the local ‘big house’ & lived in the gardener’s cottage. He and Ella bonded and doted on each other. This was a very happy period in Ella’s life & certainly formed her love of gardening. When Richard died they both had to return home to their parents. That was not an easy time for them.


Ella remembers seeing propaganda leaflets being dropped by German  planes, watching the dog fights & the doodlebugs. Together with her mother & Hazel she would take shelter under the stairs which she hated. It was perhaps that that caused her life-long claustrophobia.


Ella enjoyed school. She really enjoyed the nature walks which formed her love of the countryside. She also enjoyed, & excelled at reading & poetry. She wrote an award winning essay that she had to read out to the school. She also took to acting in the school plays. The one subject she really hated was sport!


Ella developed TB when she was young & had a cloud on her lung. She was confined to bed for 6 months & so missed the end of her schooling. Chest infections dogged her for the rest of her life.


As teenagers Ella & Hazel were keen on speedway. Ella also took part in cycle speedway. They both rode motorbikes and Ella would drool over the old British classic bikes whenever she saw one.


Much to her parents’ dismay at 21 Ella gave birth to Linda. In keeping with the practice of the times she was disowned and despite her best efforts and much to her great distress, Linda had to go for adoption. The happy outcome was, when in 1985 Linda traced Ella, they were able to keep in touch and Ella became a grandmother over night to Wayne, Donna & Wesley


Living back in the Portsmouth area after Linda’s birth, Ella worked at Johnsons baby powder factory. She also worked with Shirley at a garage in Fareham – Ella on pumps, Shirley in the office. That was the start of a long friendship.


Ella married Harry in 1953, and was very happy. They lived at near Fareham, in a little wooden bungalow.


They decided to move to escape the development that was going on all around them and had seen a little cottage at St Allen when they were in Cornwall on holiday. They moved down in the 60’s & bought Ventontrissick. They acquired dogs, cats & a goose. The dogs were the first of a long line including Ben, Mutley, Little Ben, Holly & Polly. All rescue dogs or in need of a good home.


When Ella went into the Care home Holly went to Cheryl & Roger and settled happily much to Ella’s relief. Is Holly here today?


Ella & Harry both worked for Holywell Diary. Ella is still friends with people from her days on the milk round & many have memories of her delivering the milk, barefoot with her dog Ben. Bare feet, Ella’s  trademark, until more recent years when she became diabetic. It did cross our mind when we came to write the dress code. Dare we?


Tragically their cottage burned down & together with Shirley who was living with them they lost everything. Ella & Harry parted & Ella lived in a caravan on the site of the cottage before moving to The Field. She relished the seclusion, the wild life & bird life, the trees were always adorned with bird feeders. She was comfortable in solitude though she did go on to have 2 other long term relationships first with Paul, then Andy, and remained good friends with them. Both of whom are here today.


After losing the cottage at Ventontrissick Ella worked as a taxi driver & at the Wheel Inn Tresillian.


Being made redundant from the dairy was the spark that started her gardening career, being taken on at Comprigney gardens in Truro which supplied local shops with fruit & vegetables.


Ella was made redundant again when Comprigney was sold & got a job in the kitchen at Treliske hospital. She hated it. So it was back again to Comprigney, until the owner died. She then went to Killiow Gardens where she gained her knowledge & love of Camelias. Ella described these as the happiest days of her life. She loved the gardens & would talk about the bird life including a family of nuthatches that nested in the potting shed. Ella got on well with Penrose family & Mrs Penrose senior was always known as “mother” by Ella. Described big parties at the house to which everyone was invited. She would also house sit at Tretheague house at Stithians, another large house owned by the Penrose family. Eventually the nursery at Killiow was closed & Ella worked as a jobbing gardener before starting work at Trewithen nursery. When she finally finished work at aged 82. She had worked there for 22 years. The family threw a party to celebrate her 20th year.


As well as working in the nurseries Ella would attend Cornwall Garden Society flower shows at Falmouth & Boconnoc & enter her camellias, often winning awards. Lots of friendly rivalry between her & Oliver.   She built up a large collection of Camelias & luckily, a few months before she died she arranged for some to go to Kelnan Nursery at Gulval where they are being used for propagation & the rest to Enys gardens, Penryn.  More of that from Alan later). As a member of the Garden society & enjoyed trips to visit other gardens in Devon & Cornwall with friends.


In the mid 90s her caravan burnt down, Ella had a lucky escape. Friends clubbed together to buy a new one. She also had a narrow escape when her Morris 1000 was hit by a swinging crane on the back of a passing lorry. Luckily Ella was not in the car but one of her beloved dogs was killed & the car written off. Ella also virtually lost the sight in one eye when she was watching the Morris team performing a mummers play. The wooden sword wielded by St George or the Turkish night broke & hit Ella in the eye. In spite of this life changing injury Ella was most reluctant to claim compensation from the Morris dance group saying “they are my friends” She took a lot of persuading that she was claiming from their insurance co not them personally.


Folk music was a huge part of her life. She & Harry went first in the 60s when the Folk Cottage started. Ella was very keen but Harry not so & he didn’t appreciate late nights when there was the milk round to do in the early morning. After their separation, Ella started to go again & became a regular at the Folk Cottage, & was one of the select few who got to sit on top of the piano at the side of the stage. Shirley & Ella had a joint birthday party in 1966 at the folk cottage, an all-nighter. Lots of the artists were there. Ella also attended the Count House at Botallack where she became good friends with Brenda Wootton and her family, attending events & spending social times with them. The Folk Cottage moved to Rose and Ella took over the running of the club with Carrie & I then eventually organizing it on her own for many years. After several changes of venue the club settled into The Swan at Truro, finally closing in the 1980s.      


Ella would coordinate the bookings with other clubs at Penzance, Falmouth & Par so the performers worked on a circuit. Part of the deal of running the club was accommodating the performers & some were very dubious about the caravan & elsan facilities. For a while she ran a club at Juliets Well, Camelford. Many of the performers became life long friends & remained in touch with her to this day. Ella was also involved with the Falmouth Folk Festival in the late 1970s, which became the Cornwall Folk Festival & Ella was on the committee for a few years. She was a recipient of the coveted Charlie Bate Memorial Award


Ella drove up to both the iconic Cambridge & Norwich Folk Festivals. At the Village pump festival in Wiltshire she was very much part of the organization helping with the stewarding & working in the Artists box office. Even when she no longer drove she would get friends to take her up there & she would camp with friends Joy & Will. The last few years she was unable to get to the festival but in 2014 Richard & Kate took her up there for the day. She was treated like royalty, Festival organiser John Alderslade took her for a tour the site in a golf buggy. She met up again with many of the regulars & friends of the Festival & of course many of her favourite performers.


In later years & even when at the Care Home Ella loved to attend events & her many friends helped her to get to concerts & performances. She was bitterly disappointed in the last few weeks because she was not well enough to see Tom Paxton at the Hall for Cornwall, having seen him first time round when it was the old City Hall,  or Wizz & Ralph at the Tolmen Centre.


As well as the clubs & concerts Ella loved the annual events like Padstow May Day & Mazey Day at Penzance. She was a regular at these. It was a great sorrow to her when she could no longer go. She told Carrie she cried when she saw May Day on the TV because she could not be there.


Ella loved a good party, & had one for her 60th, 70th & 80th. She would announce a few months beforehand – “Carrie will organise me a party!” Great events, 80th attended by about 100 friends many had travelled from “up country”. Lots of music & dancing too at the earlier ones.


                              Another of Ella’s passions were her Morris 1000s but we will be hearing about this from Alan, of the Morris 1000 Club.


Ella was a regular church goer & made many good friends there. They were very supportive, visiting her & getting her to services when she could no longer drive. Many are with us today.


Ella adopted Cornwall as her home in a very wholehearted way. She loved the countryside, beaches & coast & long walks with her dogs & good friends like Roger. When she gave up driving she would travel to places by public transport. She dearly missed the countryside & coast when she could no longer get out & about. She continued to go to Truro once a week up until the time she went into Antron Care Home & enjoyed meeting up with friends. She relished chatting to people & soon got to know the staff in Tescos & Nick, the Big Issue seller, who took her under his wing.


As Ella’s health & mobility deteriorated her friends worried about her living in such seclusion & isolation. She had huge support from her excellent neighbours Richard & Kate who went beyond the call of duty to help. She was determined not to get any professional help & those of us who tried to suggest it were given short shrift & told to shut up on more than one occasion. Eventually things came to a head with hospital admissions & falls & she was persuaded to go to Antron Manor Care Home on a temporary basis. Her stay became prolonged but it took many months before she admitted she would not go back to the caravan.



She was very happy at Antron, the staff enjoyed her lively company & she was well looked after, enjoying wonderful food & regular visits from her many friends. She vehemently resisted going to Treliske until the doctor said I’m calling an ambulance. But she was made most comfortable there and well looked after. She had so many visitors and they ended up asking people not to ring up as they were blocking the switch-board. We are all so relieved that she ended her days in warmth & comfort.


Summing up of Ella; A very down-to-earth woman, she planned her own funeral several years ago & asked (or should that be told?) Carrie to organise it. She had signed a Do Not Resuscitate order & when her treatment for pneumonia was not successful decided that she had had enough & it be discontinued. Independent, enjoyed her own company & solitude but also loved being social & seeing people, made excellent & lasting friendships. Very determined, could be inflexible, knew her own mind & difficult to change it. (some have a phrase for it) She had a tough life but did not let it detract from her joy of living & finding pleasure in simple things. Some words have come up often in the many tributes that have been paid to Ella – legend, colourful, much loved. Young at heart, a dynamic force, someone who stuck to her own principals & lived life as she wanted & on her own terms.


An extract from Alan’s tribute;


Ella as everybody knew had a vast collection of camellias at her home of which she really treasured, with her approval these have been donated to Enys Gardens near Penryn where they are restoring the vast gardens that were abandoned for several years. They intend to display them as ‘Ella’s Camellia Collection’ with her story on view for all to see, an excellent and permanent tribute to her, available for all to visit. It is hoped in future to hold an annual ‘Ella’s Day’ at Eny’s in conjunction with the Morris Minor Club. This has yet to be rubber stamped but would be perfect I am sure you would all agree, we will keep Carrie up to date when we have more information.



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