Obituary: Town's first female Freeman with 'encyclopaedic' knowledge dies aged 87

Auriol Hughes was announced as the first female Freeman of Thorpe St Andrew, and is pictured with The Revd James Stewart

Auriol Hughes was announced as the first female Freeman of Thorpe St Andrew, and is pictured with The Revd James Stewart - Credit: SUPPLIED

A community stalwart who made history when she was awarded the honour of becoming a Norfolk town’s first female Freeman has died aged 87. 

Auriol Hughes was announced as the freeman of Thorpe St Andrew after more than 40 years of dedication to the place she set down roots. 

The honour dates back to the Middle Ages and is awarded to a prominent person in a local community. 

Miss Hughes, of Yarmouth Road, was also given the title of Churchwarden Emerita ahead of her retirement as a churchwarden at Thorpe St Andrew parish church in 2013. 

Auriol Lafford Hughes was born on October 10, 1934, in Orpington, formerly within Kent. She was one of four siblings and also had three older half-siblings born during her father’s first marriage. 

The family moved to Norfolk in 1961 and lived in Oulton, near Aylsham, before moving in 1965 to Thorpe St Andrew, on Yarmouth Road, on the outskirts of Norwich, where Miss Hughes remained. 

The youngest child of the family, her brother John Hughes, known as Bill, described her childhood as a difficult one.

"Our father died when she was just eight," he said. "It affected her quite a lot. She did have mental health problems as a teenager but she managed to overcome them. 

Most Read

“She was fairly reserved but once people got to know her she was warm and friendly. Although she was shy when she was younger, she became more outgoing with age.” 

Spending her entire working career in the civil service, she also worked as a secretary at the Pastoral Care and Bereavement Group and had been active in the Women’s Institute and local history groups, and took art classes.  

Auriol Hughes was involved in the life of Thorpe St Andrew since 1961, when her mother and family moved to the town

Auriol Hughes was involved in the life of Thorpe St Andrew since 1961, when her mother and family moved to the town - Credit: Archant

During the 1970s, she began her many years of service to her church community including taking on the role of churchwarden. 

In 2013, the Bishop of Norwich dedicated the parish church’s new building work where around 140 people packed into the 19th-century building. At the end of this service, gifts were presented to Miss Hughes ahead of her retirement after many years in charge of church refreshments. 

She then made history in 2019 when she was announced as the first female Freeman of Thorpe St Andrew. Speaking at the time, she said she was “absolutely amazed” to receive the award, and added: “I haven't done any more than anyone else, but at the same time I am very privileged to be honoured in this way."

Miss Hughes also became a regular sight on Yarmouth Road delivering the Parish Life magazine or catching a bus and attending Mothers' Union meetings where she became treasurer and would hand out handwritten notes of the meetings. She was also a keen singer and bell-ringer and collected money for charities including the British Red Cross, Christian Aid, and Oxfam.

Paying tribute to her, the Revd James Stewart, rector of the church, said: “Auriol was a much-loved member of our church community. 

“Often, when we needed to know something about the parish or where something was, we would go to Auriol first since her knowledge of the workings of the parish of Thorpe St Andrew was encyclopaedic and she kept everything. 

“She was extremely kind and thoughtful but at the same time had a searing wit and a steely determination.” 

Miss Hughes died on January 10 and leaves behind her brother and sister, Helena, and many nieces and nephews. 

Her funeral will take place at the parish church of Thorpe St Andrew on Tuesday, February 15 at 1.30pm. Family flowers only. Donations for Thorpe St Andrew PCC may be made at the service or via c/o Gordon Barber Funeral Home, 2 St Williams Way, Thorpe St Andrew, NR7 0AW.