Obituary: Grandmother affectionately dubbed 'the old woman who lived in a shoe’ dies at 99

Gertrude Wells, known affectionately as Gertie or Gert, loved animals, especially dogs

Gertrude Wells, known affectionately as Gertie or Gert, loved animals, especially dogs - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

From giving birth "out of wedlock" to becoming a housekeeper and falling in love with the head of the household – the life of Gertrude Wells sounds like something taken straight from a 19th-century romance novel. 

The great-great-great-nanny, who became well-known as a local character in her beloved north Norfolk, died a month after her 99th birthday. 

And it comes as no surprise that she was affectionally dubbed “the old woman who lived in a shoe” after the popular children’s nursery rhyme due to her hordes of grandchildren. 

Gertie Wells, nee Wright, was born in Edgefield, near Holt, in 1922

Gertie Wells, nee Wright, was born in Edgefield, near Holt, in 1922 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Born Gertrude Amanda Wright on October 17, 1922, in Edgefield, near Holt, she was the youngest of five children. 

Gertie, or Gert, as she was often called, grew up with her siblings Henry, Madge, Val, and Roland, and attended the local schools in Corpusty and Briston. 

As a child, she would help on one of her father’s farms in Briston. She continued working there until she was old enough to join the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) during the Second World War, and she Served in Cromer, Sheringham, and Weybourne.   

Gertie Wells smiles at the camera

Gertie Wells smiles at the camera - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

In April 1946, she gave birth to a son named Carol, which caused a scandal at the time - the family explained - as he was "born out of wedlock". Soon after, she went to work as a housekeeper in Itteringham, between Cromer and Aylsham, after being employed by the head of the house, Arthur John Wells, who lived with his two sons, John and Raymond. 

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Gertie helped to care for the boys and Mr Wells, who worked as a nurse at Kelling Hospital, following the death of his wife and baby daughter. Gertie and Mr Wells eventually fell in love, married, and had two further children together; son Paul, and daughter Jennifer.   

While living in Itteringham, Gertie had a bicycle and sidecar and would often travel around 18 miles to Fakenham or Holt with her three youngest children to get clothes for the family from the thrift and second-hand shops.

Her money-saving skills continued into her later life as she enjoyed shopping for bargains at car boot sales and Nobby’s discount stores.     

To supplement the family income, Gertie worked on the fields picking fruit, potatoes, beans, and sprouts, and also hoed sugar beet.      

Following the death of her father, the family moved to Little London, near Corpusty, to one of the two terraced houses he left to her. They sold up after around six years and bought an end terraced house in West End, Briston.  

Gertie Wells with her husband Arthur, who she met when she became his housekeeper following the death of his wife

Gertie Wells with her husband Arthur, who she met when she became his housekeeper following the death of his wife - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

In 1980, they bought the last place they shared and where Gertie lived until moving to her bungalow at Mill Bank, also in Briston. Mr Wells died from cancer on March 21, 1991. 

Her family paid tribute to her. 

“Known to all her friends as Gertie or Gert, she was loved by everyone that knew her and would always worry about everybody else rather than herself. 

“She loved to listen to country music and enjoyed watching the country music channel on the television. Singer, Daniel O’Donnell was one of her favs. 

“Gertie also loved her animals and owned birds, cats, and dogs. Dogs were her favourite and her bungalow was filled with many ornaments and pictures of all types of dogs. This filled her with joy.  

“She was known in the village as the ‘lady with the little dog’ as she used to travel with them either in the basket of her bicycle or in a shopping trolley. Many also said that she was like the old woman who lived in a shoe due to her large family.  

“She will be greatly missed.” 

Gertie Wells became known as "the old woman who lived in a shoe" after having numerous grandchildren

Gertie Wells became known as "the old woman who lived in a shoe" after having numerous grandchildren, including great-great-great-grandchildren - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Gertie became one of the oldest residents in the village and she often received visits to make sure she was well.

Suffering from arthritis and osteoporosis resulted in her going to Lyles House care home in Hildoveston, near Dereham, in 2018 where she died in her sleep on November 9, 2021. 

She had 11 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren, four great-great-grandchildren, and at least one great-great-great-grandchild - although the family is not sure of exactly how many. Her stepson Raymond died of cancer in 2011. 

Gertie’s funeral took place at All Saints Church in Briston on November 29. Donations in her memory are being collected via Just Giving to Wood Green animal shelter.

Gertie Wells died peacefully in her sleep aged 99

Gertie Wells died peacefully in her sleep aged 99 - Credit: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY


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