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Post Memories: Dagenham dancing queen celebrates her 100th birthday

PUBLISHED: 09:39 20 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:48 20 January 2017

Winifred Chappell, who has danced in Dagenham for 50 years, celebrates her 100th birthday with a telegram from the Queen.

Winifred Chappell, who has danced in Dagenham for 50 years, celebrates her 100th birthday with a telegram from the Queen.

Archant

Every Wednesday, a music fan hops on the bus to head to her favourite dance hall.

Harry and Winifred Chappell attend their son Roger's wedding in August 1977. Pictured with their grandchild Stephen Chappell.Harry and Winifred Chappell attend their son Roger's wedding in August 1977. Pictured with their grandchild Stephen Chappell.

Unremarkable, perhaps – except this woman has done so for half of her life, and despite turning 100 on Saturday shows no sign of stopping.

Today, surrounded by her fellow dancers, great-great-grandma Winifred “Win” Chappell will celebrate a century with a surprise party at her weekly tea dance in Kingsley Hall Church, Dagenham.

The centenarian will be surrounded by a throng of dancing veterans in Parsloes Avenue, as she looks back on a life dancing the quick-step.

But Winifred Gladys Huggett, as she was born on January 14, 1917, was never able to learn from where her musicality stemmed.

Winifred Chappell looking after two of her grandchildren, c1980.Winifred Chappell looking after two of her grandchildren, c1980.

A foster child who was never told anything about her real parents, she had a tough childhood growing up with an “elderly” foster mum.

One of her six sons, Roger Chappell, said her early life in Shepherd’s Bush “wasn’t easy”. “My mum says her foster mum wasn’t that nice,” he added.

Despite a difficult start, Winifred remained close with her two foster siblings, Alan Keeling and Dorothy Eaton, until their deaths.

Winifred would meet husband Harold “Harry” Chappell at the age of 22 in south London, and marry him in 1940.

Sons Roger, 66, and Andrew, 59, remember their parents as an independent couple.

“Dad was quite quiet,” Andrew reflected. “Mum had her dancing and dad had his allotment.”

For 25 years the family lived in cramped conditions in a Victorian property in Shepherd’s Bush. The age range of Winifred’s six sons spanned 16 years, meaning there was little chance of escaping child rearing.

But Winifred developed a life-long love of clubs, joining the nearby Women’s Cooperative Guild: “It was a way of getting out once a week,” Roger reflected.

“I think she thought it was her job to bring up children. The whole family was centered around the children, doing whatever they could for them.”

With 23 great-grandchildren, two great-great grandchildren and counting, Winifred is the matriarch of her family – despite not knowing her own roots.

Husband Harry, who died in 1994, was a Central Line Tube driver after leaving the army as war ended. With a train discount from his day job, he would take his family holidaying every summer.

“They always made certain that we went on holiday,” added Roger, a conveyancer who lives in Chelmsford. “We had good memories of those times.”

In 1965, the family moved to a council home in Ilford – Roger believes due to the proximity of Newbury Park on the Central Line. More than 50 years later, Winifred still lives there – now with her youngest son Andrew, who has moved back home to look after her.

As well as dancing, Winifred is a great lover of bingo – and still calls at Parkside Community Centre in Ilford every Friday.

Only in the past couple of years has Winifred’s hearing and health deterioriated, but she still hops on the bus to Kingsley Hall Church – no longer to dance, but to watch the twirling couples.

Tea dance organiser Ted Berry, of The Drive, Barking, admitted she was a “fiery” woman.

“She’s very independent coming here on the bus on her own, she’s never missed a day,” the 79-year-old added. We’re making a bit of a party for her, with a nice-sing song. It’s really amazing how independent she is.”


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