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Birthday memories of Miss Wood

Francis remembers castle owner from 1970s

Francis Paynter is celebrating his 50th birthday at Cardigan Castle - more than three decades after he used to regularly visit castle owner Miss Wood.

Francis first met Miss Wood in the mid 1970s and used to get water for her in a jerrycan from Selby's the butchers in the High Street.

"All the utilities had been cut off and she was living in a caravan in the grounds. Every Sunday I used to climb over the main gates and visit her. She'd come out of her caravan door completely covered in white talcum powder. She'd make me a cup of coffee and I'd help her with the garden."

He remembers a TV crew coming in the 1970s and helping Miss Wood go into the now derelict Castle Green House for filming.

"We had candles in cat tins and it was pitch black inside the house. When I went through the main door I tripped over something on the floor. Miss Wood said 'oh that's the bare bear from India!' It was a threadbare bear skin on the floor."

He remembered the drawing room - now the Cardigan exhibition room - with a white grand piano complete with a picture of Noel Coward on the top.

"She adored Noel Coward and loved music," he said.

He added that even though the garden was horribly overgrown, Miss Wood still tended her flowers.

Francis recalls that she was particularly fond of a star-shaped flower bed with blue moon roses. After her death in 2009 he recreated a similar shaped flower bed at his home in Cilgerran.

During Miss Wood's last years Francis cared for her at Brondesbury Lodge nursing home.

"She really was like Alan Bennett's 'Lady in the Van' but a real character and a tremendous mimic. She used to imitate all the council officers that came to see her to a T," he said.

Miss Wood came to Francis's 21st birthday party - one of the few trips she made outside the castle gates.

"I think it's fitting and come full circle that I am having my party in Cardigan Castle," he said.

Francis Paynter in the Miss Wood gallery at Castle Green House