Obituary: The London girl who 'engineered' a full Norfolk life

Tribute has been paid to Nancy Downey following her death at age 90. 

Tribute has been paid to Nancy Downey following her death at age 90. - Credit: Supplied by the family

A retired businesswoman from North Walsham, who was heavily involved in community life in her younger days, has died aged 90.

Nancy Downey was for many years company secretary at Ladbrook Engineering, the firm founded in London by her father Jack Spinks and relocated to his native Norfolk in 1947.

She was born in South Norwood, London on November 11 1931 to Jack, originally from Felmingham, and Miriam (nee Kilby), from Stratford, who was a Royal Academy of Music trained singer.

A happy childhood was spent with brothers Don and David, surrounded by pets, loving parents, and exploring the countryside as well as playing in the stands of the nearby Crystal Palace football ground. Her mum even knitted jumpers for the team goalkeeper who lived next door. 

When bombs rained down on London during the Second World War Nancy was evacuated to Tackley in Oxfordshire for about eight weeks.

She often recounted the story when in 1945 she and younger brother David heard a V1 doodlebug’s engine cut out above them – but instead of plummeting straight down to earth it glided to earth and exploded two miles away. 

Most holidays were spent in Norfolk at granny Spinks’, who kept Felmingham Post Office for 50 years.

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Nancy left school at 14 and went to Pitman’s College in Thornton Heath on a two-year typing and shorthand course cut short after eight months when the family moved to Norfolk.

Nancy Downey, pictured back row fifth from left, with other members of the Girls Friendly Society.

Nancy Downey, pictured back row fifth from left, with other members of the Girls Friendly Society. - Credit: Supplied by the family

There she joined the local Girls Friendly Society, performing concerts and singing and dancing at village fetes as well as a big rally back in London at the Albert Hall attended by royalty.

Nancy also joined the youth club, and enjoyed playing tennis and captaining the town’s women’s cricket team.

At 16 she started work at the family business when Ladbrook – now on Norwich Road - was based in the Old Corn Hall off the Market Place, doing bookwork, typing letters, invoices. She later became a director and company secretary.

Nancy and Pat on their wedding day in 1956.

Nancy and Pat on their wedding day in 1956. - Credit: Supplied by the family


It was also where she spotted husband Pat, who was a carpenter working opposite the factory, and she recalls “I thought what a handsome chap he was”.

Their first real 'date' was to visit a friend in Kelling Hospital – where Nancy spent her last days as her health failed this summer.

Despite Pat not being a dancer, due to a polio-affected leg, they went to many social events with the Young Conservatives, Round Table and Ladies Circle and Nancy recalled “pushing him around the dance floor.”

They married on October 13, 1956, at North Walsham parish church, and remained together for 56 years until his death in 2013.

Nancy also used to work on the family farm, milking cows in the morning – which she loved - before going to work in the office. She even did a milking shift on the morning of her wedding because her dad had a cold.

Nancy used to work on the family farm, milking cows in the morning. 

Nancy used to work on the family farm, milking cows in the morning. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Daughter Angela was born in 1960, and son Colin in 1963. The family had fun on caravan holidays across the UK and Nancy enjoyed farther flung adventures abroad with Pat including three weeks in New Zealand, Bali and Bangkok in 1996 for their 40th wedding anniversary, as well as visiting Colin in his new home of Dallas, Texas.

Back in her home town, Nancy was a committee member of the Hospital Friends for more than 40 years, and treasurer of the town historical society for two decades.

Nancy Downey third from left front row flanked by brothers Don and David - with the Ladbrook Engineering team in the 1970s.

Nancy Downey third from left front row flanked by brothers Don and David - with the Ladbrook Engineering team in the 1970s. - Credit: Supplied by the family

She was a founder and fundraiser at the Mike Thurston Water Activities Centre due to Angela and Colin’s membership of the Guides and Scouts. 

Her community and charity work also included serving as a committee member at the local Trafalgar Lodge of the Oddfellows, knitting 500 teddy bears to send to orphans in Romania, delivering Meals on Wheels, and doing teas for the Blind Club.

Nancy was diagnosed with kidney trouble in 1991 and began dialysis six years ago – making new friends on her twice weekly trips to Cromer Renal Unit and enjoying a 1960s weekend away with them at Potters resort in Hopton.

Nancy died at Kelling Hospital on June 10. Daughter Angela said: “Although mum was a Londoner, and retained her accent, she loved living in Norfolk and getting involved in local life. 

“She was a really sociable, fun-loving person, with a great sense of humour, even in failing health in later life. Everyone who met her loved her.”

Nancy, centre, with daughter Angela and granddaughter Sophie on Christmas duties with the North Walsham Hospital Friends.

Nancy, centre, with daughter Angela and granddaughter Sophie on Christmas duties with the North Walsham Hospital Friends. - Credit: Supplied by the family

Nancy also leaves grandchildren Patrick and Sophie. A funeral service will be held at Cromer Crematorium on Monday, July 11 at 11am. Donations are invited for Faith Animal Rescue at Hickling from where dog-lover Nancy re-homed her last pet Daisy the Patterdale terrier.