Mildred Burlinson

22nd March 1917- 28thApril 2008

It was a very different world to today when on March 22nd 1917, Mrs Knowlson gave birth to a daughter. Most adults would be able to remember Queen Victoria's reign and yet the old order was rapidly changing. The horrors of the stalemated war were forcing technological change as well as a questioning of the old social order.

Mildred was the only child of Mr and Mrs Knowlson. Sadly, her mother died when she was very young. Mr Knowlson was Company Secretary of Kerfoot Pharmaceutical Chemists. Young Mildred grew up very much as an outdoor child, getting to know intimately the surrounding countryside of fields and wooded valleys leading to the River Medlock and what is now Daisy Nook Country Park. Old photographs of 1920s garden parties suggest a genteel atmosphere. However, her father's elevated position never led her towards snobbery, throughout her life Mildred would treat everyone with great respect and make the humblest person feel welcome. Aged 86 she even had a reasoned and respectful conversation with a burglar who had invaded her bedroom. He left empty handed after giving his name and address!

At school she excelled at sport, having a particular passion for cricket both as an excellent player and a pundit. Had her gender not disqualified her from chairing the MCC selection committee, England's test match record would surely have been better. Being of mixed Lancashire and Yorkshire parentage she was a life member and ardent supporter of both county cricket teams, though she never revealed where her loyalties lay when they played each other. Her choice of employment on leaving school was influenced by the lucky company's proximity to Old Trafford. During the war years she was secretary to the headmaster of Audenshaw Grammar School.

Romance came into Mildred's life when her father offered lodgings to a young chemist named Harry Burlinson who had taken up a position at Kerfoots. After their marriage the couple continued to live at No 3 Oaken Clough Terrace. Harry became a globally renowned pharmacist and Mildred used her great social and organisational skills to back him up. One of the great days of her life was a visit to Buckingham Palace to receive Harry's OBE.

Mildred and Harry

Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s the couple lived a stylish but not extravagant life. They loved to travel the world and supplemented necessary trips to international conferences with journeys off the beaten track. Voyages were often undertaken to out of the way harbours, eschewing the hedonism of the cruise liner in favour of the workaday honesty of a cargo ship. Travels even included the occasional peek behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the cold war.

Voluntary roles included being Honorary Secretary of the Fairfield High School Old Girls' Association for 25 years and area organiser for the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. She raised the funds for 97 guide dogs throughout her life, largely by arranging the collection of aluminium foil. In the 1970s an overriding interest became conservation, a word always spoken as though of holy significance. Long before the words 'carbon footprint' had entered into general usage, Mildred realised that mankind's impact on the natural world had reached catastrophic proportions. She liked to quote the words of Gerald Durrell - "touch one thread of the delicate web that is the Earth and you send shivers running through the others. Now, it isn't being touched, it is having great holes torn in it" She became Secretary of the Medlock and Tame Valley Conservation Association in the mid 80s and through this organisation conducted many campaigns. Of great importance to her was always the protection of the green belt. Woe betide any developer who sought to intrude into it!

A methodical approach enabled Mildred to build up an award winning archive of newspaper cuttings on subjects that were of interest, Cricket and Conservation. In the mid 1970S a major setback was caused by a road accident when an errant lorry "demolished" her face. Though surgery repaired the visible damage she was left feeling intense facial pain outdoors in cold weather. The wearing of various masks alleviated the problem around Oaken Clough, but she would not be seen in public wearing these contrivances and so the world had to come to see her rather than the other way about!

After losing Harry, her husband and best friend, in 1987, Mildred decided to carry on with her conservation work. In about 1990 she began the project which is the most important and, I hope, long lasting monument to her efforts. The end house of the Terrace, number 5, came on the market and Mrs Burlinson bought it in order to secure the huge garden that includes a significant area of woodland. Working to her principles of respecting all life forms (even slugs) the area has been developed into a wildlife garden including a wide variety of different habitats in a relatively small area. One of her first projects was the construction of a large pond and the discovery that this had become a breeding ground for the rare Great Crested Newt led to the area's listing as a Site of Biological Importance in 2004. The garden is now a beautiful magnet for a wide range of wildlife, from foxes and woodpeckers down to the tiniest creepy crawlies.

It was always Mrs Burlinson's wish that she would end her days in the place of her birth. Unfortunately this was not to be the case and for nearly two years she had to stay at Bourne House care home on nearby Taunton Road. It was there that she passed away on 28th April this year. She had achieved her ambition of leaving her little patch of the planet at least as good as she found it 91 years before.

The Medlock & Tame Valley Conservation Association is the organisation entrusted by Mildred with the responsibility of continuing her work by maintaining the wonderful wildlife oasis that she created. It's a difficult task but a worthwhile one.

Chris Leah

Registered HQ: MTVCA, 5 Oaken Clough Terrace,
Ashton-under-Lyne,Lancs, OL7 9NY
Charity Number: 504558