Meet Barry Keenan

In the days before ‘Benefits’, if people were ill, handicapped, couldn’t find work, or a woman was pregnant, – if you couldn’t ‘pay your way’- one way to avoid living on the streets was to go for shelter to a Workhouse, even though not all of them were friendly places. My mother, Ellen Rose Barrett, was born in Rockland Workhouse in 1913.
To save costs, the Workhouse would foster children out, and this happened to my mother. She was fostered by a woman in Old Buckingham. This does not seem to have been done out of kindness. The woman was cruel to my mother. So when she was able to, she ran away. She went to Croyden, and found work ‘in service’.
My father, James Joseph Keenan, was born in 1910, in Castle Bellingham , County Louth, in Ireland. Sometime in 1920, his family moved to Liverpool. After his father died, his mother married again, this time to a soldier who was sent to Caterham barracks, near Croydon.
That’s how my parents met one another. It was in a Music Hall in Croydon.
My father died in 1967, but in spite of her poor start, my mother lived until 1986.
My name is Barry James Keenan and I was born in Redhill Hospital, Surrey. I was christened within half an hour of being born as I wasn’t expected to live through the night. I’d two sisters and two brothers.
My first school was Farnborough Primary. At the start of WW2 we lived at the end of Biggin Hill Airfield. When Spitfires flew back from a mission, they flew so low in the valley that they started knocking off chimney pots. So our bungalows were demolished.
One night, a 500 lb bomb fell into a manhole right beside our air raid shelter with us all inside. So we were moved to a half-way house in Orpington. I got Scarlet Fever and had to go to hospital in Bromley. One day I looked out of the window and saw a land mine hanging in a tree. If that had hit the ground, the ward would have been demolished.
Us kids used to collect live bullets, shrapnel and incendiary bombs and take them to school to swap. I remember taking a live incendiary bomb one day, and I put it on my desk. They had to clear the school in case it went off.
At 11 years, I moved to Charterhouse Secondary School in Orpington, Kent.
When I left school at 15 I had to go to work until I was 18 that’s when I got a job at Farnborogh engineering doing a mans job for boys pay. Young men were at that time obliged to sign on at 18 years of age for two years National Service, and I served my time from 1952 – 1954 in the Royal Corps of Signals.
Afterwards, I did several jobs before working as a carpenter/joiner. One day I was working with an elderly chap who had been badly injured in WW1. He told me I ‘didn’t know much’ and gave me some books about carpentry. So I went to Evening School 4 nights a week for some years and gained the full City and Guilds Certificate in Carpentry. Then I went on to get Ordinary National Certificate, then Higher National Certificate in building. Then the Institute of Building and Surveying.
I worked with Farnborough Engineering.


I married Sylvia Gallagher on 21.3.1959 and we were divorced in 1978. It had been a disaster. On the day of our wedding an Aunt came to me at the door of the church and told me ‘Barry, you have married a sulky and selfish person.’ Unfortunately, she was right. She lives in Portugal.
We had three children, Linda, Philip and Roger, and I now have six grandchildren.
In 1984, I married Yvonne Batchelor. She died in 2014.
At the time of the Foot and Mouth disease in 1990 – 2000 , I was involved with building a scale model of the Solar System. I was a Parish Councillor in Otford, Kent, when the Council was approached by someone with a proposal to build a scale model. I looked at his proposal and told him he had got the Solar System upside down. Asked how I knew, I said I was an amateur astronomer. So I got the job to sort it out. The model was designed to show the positions of the planets as they would be at the Millenium – 0.0 hours, year 2000. So I had to calculate where the planets would be at that moment in time.
I knew Patrick Moore. I took him round the model a couple of years after it was completed. The completion was delayed because of the Foot and Mouth outbreak.
We decided to move from Otford in Kent as the village was on the route to London and we had cars passing through nearly all night. We had been travelling up to Norfolk doing family history and I had traced my mother’s family back to 1728, all working in farming. We moved to Wereham in 2001; I was looking for a bungalow which had a south facing garden for my telescope and my late wife wanted to live near a bus route. After a wide search we found my current bungalow in Wereham. I had a telescope in my garden which I used to observe the stars and the sun until the telescope was stolen!
Another of my hobbies is bookbinding. I restore old books and must have restored or rebound about 300. I started collecting Victorian Astronomy books. Some of them needed repairing. I went to a bookbinder but didn’t like the prices for restoration, so I went to evening classes in Sidcup, Kent and learnt how to do it myself. Now I’m a member of the East Anglian Society of Bookbinders. I’m still in contact with my Tutor.
I’m a member of King’s Lynn U3A – University of the 3rd Age – where I lead a Family History group. I also attend a Bridge Group.
Favourite places. I like the area round Shropham where my mother was brought up. I would have liked to visit Castle Bellingham where my father was born, but Irish records are not very helpful. Have to admit I don’t find Wereham a very friendly place. They call it the village to nowhere.
I used to go to the theatre, but now that I’m hard of hearing I watch television. I used to read Arthur C Clark. I have a book signed by him.

I like most food. When my wife was alive we used to like the Berny Arms in Barton Bendish. But since my wife died in 2014 I don’t go out to eat on my own.
I enjoy travelling by car, and going for a drive to visit other villages. And I drive to the Supermarket once a week to do my shopping.
I don’t like pigeons, but I do like dogs and cats.
And one last titbit for you. You are lucky that I’m here to write this. One time when I was riding my bicycle I was run over by a car. In 1950, my obituary appeared in the newspaper!

Barry Keenen

Edited by Jean Marler on behalf of the Editor


Leave a Reply